Today is Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s 103rd birthday, and do we have a gift for him!
A year after Hubbard died in 1986, the best book ever written about him was published by a British journalist named Russell Miller. Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard was immediately sued by the Church of Scientology all over the English-speaking part of the world, but only in the United States was the church successful at shutting it down, and only a small number of copies have been available here. But now, Miller’s book is getting new life as Humfrey Hunter’s Silvertail Books (the same UK publisher who put out John Sweeney’s book Church of Fear) is releasing Bare-Faced Messiah in hardback and as an e-book. Copies started arriving this week, and so we had a conversation with Miller about his book’s struggles, the harassment he went through personally, and what he thought of The Master.
It’s been 27 years since Bare-Faced Messiah was first published, have you kept up on what’s been happening in Scientology since then?
I haven’t really kept in touch with it. I’m not sure how things are different. At least this time they haven’t tried to sue me. When Bare-Faced came out, they sued me essentially everywhere. My American publisher fought it as hard as they could for two years, and they just went mad. Scientology was going to keep suing me in one court or another. This will be the first occasion when the book will be published in the United States.
I understand that this project began as an article that you were doing for the Sunday Times?
It was before Hubbard died. He had disappeared. Nobody knew where he was. Those were the days when the Sunday Times had good funds for pursuing investigative projects. I suggested we should try to mount a serious search for a worldwide scoop. But either way we’d have a good story to run. I knew he was in California. And I ended up in the San Luis Obispo area. I knew we were close. Then, after I got back home, I woke up one day and learned that he had died.
So by then you had enough for a book?
It went straight to a book. The Sunday Times serialized it in three parts, just before the book was released. And the Sunday Times became a target. People were talking their way into the office to snoop for information.
You went through some harassment of your own.
Oh sure, yeah. It started off with, the first thing they did, when I was in California doing some research, one of the early interviewees said to me, “Are you being followed?” And I said no, I mean I’d never been followed in my life. It didn’t occur to me that anyone would follow me. But having been asked the question, I then started checking my rear view mirror driving around and I was being followed. I was being followed every single day. And I was living in Pacific Palisades. It was a cul-de-sac, you know, a dead end? And so they could pick me up every morning as I left in my car and they followed me religiously every single day. Even on days I wasn’t working. I was there with my family and we’d go out shopping and stuff, they’d follow me to the mall. It was just mad. I think I mentioned it in the preface to the new edition. At one point they followed me with a bright red car, a red sports car — clearly they wanted me to know I was being followed. And I stopped, and they stopped, and I turned round and they turned round. At one place where I stopped there was a police car, and I thought maybe I’ll go tell the cops I’m being followed and see what they could do about it. And I went to the police car and it was a woman police officer. I really can’t go up to this woman and say, “Excuse me, I’m being followed and I’m frightened!” So I didn’t do anything. But then a wonderful thing happened. I was going to Hemet, and up that sort of low hill or mountain there, and there was a long roadworks with a stop-go sign at either end. I pulled off the road, and they went zooming past when they were given the go-ahead, and I lost them for that whole day. That was the only time I lost them.
Did you ever find out who they actually put on you? Was it Eugene Ingram, Scientology’s legendary dirty-tricks private eye?
Eugene Ingram was certainly the major figure, because later on they then tracked down virtually everybody I knew in the United States and Europe. I mean, it was amazing to me. They found every single person I knew in the United States, and I knew a lot of people there because I worked there frequently. So they were in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington, and it always seemed to be Eugene Ingram turning up. I don’t know whether it was him or whether it was just people using his name. And the same in Europe. They showed up at a flat where I’d lived in central London, oh, maybe ten years earlier. They knocked on the door of my neighbor, so my neighbor called me and said, “Hey, Russell, what’s going on? There was this private detective who knocked on my door and inquired about you.” And I said, “Would you inquire about where he’s staying?” And he said yeah, and he gave me the name of the hotel. And so I called Eugene Ingram. And I said, you want to find out about Russell Miller, well, this is Russell Miller, ask away. What’s your problem? What do you want to know? And so, he said — this was the real knockout blow — he said, “We know you killed Dean Reed.” And, this is a long story, Tony, but Dean Reed was an American who defected to East Germany — nothing to do with Scientology.
The ‘Comrade Rockstar’? Tom Hanks is supposedly working on a movie about him.
I had arranged to interview him in East Berlin for the Sunday Times and I went out there on a Friday and there was a lot of muggering around. His manager called me. I was going to cross to the East, and his manager said no, wait, wait, Dean’s not well, or Dean’s just gone out. There were endless stories, and then I realized it wasn’t going to happen and I went home. And the reason I wasn’t able to interview Dean Reed was that he was dead. He’d killed himself on the day I arrived. It had nothing to do with me. Anyway, they found this out, they found out I was in Berlin to interview Dean Reed, they found out that my wife was born in East Germany. Now, how the hell they found that out I’ve no idea. I said to him, you’re going to have a tough job proving I killed Dean Reed — first of all, he committed suicide, secondly, it’s just not in my working method. And then he reeled off these things: “Well, you were in Berlin at the time, Dean Reed died that weekend, your wife was born in East Germany, we have every reason to believe you’re working either for Stasi or the KGB or MI-6 or a combination of all three.” You know the typical paranoia of the church. And so they put these things together. It was all nonsense, but to them it made perfect sense.
Was this before the book actually came out, or after? Because they tend to do this stuff up to the date of publication and then kind of drop it.
A few weeks before the book came out. The Sunday Times got a reporter to do a story about the dirty tricks, because their serialization was coming up and it was all grist for the mill to them. And so their reporter found a private detective in Bristol, a local private detective, who gave the reporter some information about what was happening and how they were trying to dig up dirt on me. And then the reporter went back with a photographer to get some more information, and the guy had obviously been told not to speak, and he opened the door with a gun and said something to the nature of, if you value you’re life you’ll get out. The photographer took a quick picture and then they both ran for it and the guy fired at them. But I think it turned out in the end that it was a starter’s pistol. The reporter said, I didn’t know that at the time. And the Sunday Times ran this picture on the front page of this man wielding a pistol. I think that was maybe a week or two weeks before publication.
That’s scary. I’ve only had one interaction with Eugene Ingram. He called me an asshole a few times and hung up on me, unfortunately. You got more out of him.
There’s a writ of certoriari I think it’s called where I think they took it up to the Supreme Court and there’s one passage in it where the Holt lawyer — my American publisher’s lawyer — suggested that they only wanted to stop the book, they weren’t interested in the technical difficulties of copyright or breach of confidence or anything. And the Scientology lawyer said “That book, that scumbag book is full of bullshit!” — it’s all recorded in this writ, it’s wonderful.
Was that a disappointment for you that it went through such a struggle in the courts and maybe didn’t get the audience it deserved?
Exactly, Tony, it was a huge disappointment. The book did very well in Europe, as I’m sure you know. We won the lawsuits here in London — they applied to take it to the House of Lords and were refused permission — they lost in the High Court, they lost in the Court of Appeal, they sued in Canada, South Africa, Australia and we won in all of those places. And we should have won in the United States. Except, it seems to me, if you forgive me for saying so, that a ferocious litigant with access to unlimited sums of money in the United States can just keep a case going forever and ever. Here it’s called vexatious litigation, I’m not sure if the same situation exists in the United States. It was clear to Holt that they were never going to win, or only at horrendous cost. I think the legal fees were already in excess of a million dollars, and their insurance company was kicking up. What subsequently happened was interesting. I think 12,000 copies of the book got out, and they went mainly to libraries and institutions. But then I discovered that it was being stolen from libraries, and so they were putting it on special order, behind the counter, and you’d have to make proper application to borrow the book. And then they put inserts in — they were congratulating you for showing interest in Scientology, but you won’t find the truth of Scientology in this book, what you need to read is a whole list of official publications. They did everything they could to sabotage the book, and sadly, in the end, successfully. So I’m really pleased that we’re having another shot at it this time around, and I hope it gets out to a much wider audience. I haven’t looked at the book for a long time, but I did, obviously, when Humfrey said he wanted to republish it. I looked at it, and I thought, well actually, it’s OK, it doesn’t really need updating. As you know, it’s a biography of Hubbard, it doesn’t purport to be a history of the church or a dive into the church’s doings — it’s a pure biography of the church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. And as it ended with his death, you know, it’s fine. I think it stands the test of time.
I still think that your book, as far as explaining Hubbard, nothing else comes close. And it’s also such a great read. This is what I’m looking forward to, is more people getting to experience it, because it’s just a cracking good tale. And it should be. I mean, Hubbard, as much as he exaggerated his life, and as much as the church tries to hide what his life was all about, he really did lead a fascinating life.
No question, absolutely no question. He’s a fabulous character for a biography. My God, you couldn’t ask for more. But what made it possible, as I’m sure you’re aware, Tony, is the Freedom of Information Act. Without that, I couldn’t have got access to all those records. I mean, the central part of his life was his war record, and I got every single page of his war record — it’s a stack of paper about, I don’t know, six inches high. And after the book came out I did a live debate on British television with representatives of the church, actually rather impressive young people — good looking, very articulate, and put their argument very well. But they came off with this thing, well, of course, what the record you’ve got has been “sheep-dipped.” It’s another record to cover Hubbard’s behind-the-lines activities in special forces in every theater of the war, etc. And I said to them, look, if that was the case, if this is a sheep-dipped record, it would be anodyne, it would be absolutely seamless. There wouldn’t be any question marks. It certainly wouldn’t have any courts of inquiry, it wouldn’t have Hubbard firing on Mexico, and fighting submarines that didn’t exist. And it had sort of bills from his tailor because he never paid a bill. And dozens of pieces of paper with his signature, which was so recognizable. There’s no question that it was the right record, and their argument didn’t make any sense to me. And I said to one of them afterward, actually, in the Green Room, “Do you really believe that my book is all bullshit? I mean, tell me honestly.” And he looked me in the eye and said, “I do.” I said, well here is all the documentation for my book, show me yours. Show me the real record if you’ve got it. And he said, “We’ve got it but we’re not going to let you see it.”
And not just the Freedom of Information Act, but also of course Gerry Armstrong. I mean, it seemed like all of the books of that time owed him a debt.
Oh God, yes, a huge debt. I should have certainly mentioned Gerry. He was fundamental to getting a lot of stuff on the public record. Of course the church claimed it was not a public record. I was in court when they said you weren’t allowed to use it because of breach of confidence. That argument didn’t wash here in the courts, but it had sway in the United States. As you know, I think, the copyright laws changed suddenly at the time. It had to do with the J.D. Salinger book, do you remember that? Some academic had found some letters of J.D. Salinger in a university library somewhere and Salinger found out about it and sued, and the copyright law was suddenly changed to make it harder to use stuff like that. That worked against me too. But Gerry was not only fundamental in getting this stuff out first of all, but was also a prime source for me and was extremely helpful in every way. I spent a lot of time with him in the United States, in Boston I think. He did everything he could to facilitate the book.
I wanted to talk to you at the time, when I got a copy of Paul Thomas Anderson’s script for The Master several months before the movie came out. I wanted to call you then because I couldn’t imagine Paul Thomas Anderson writing that script without mining your book. Was there any contact from him?
There was not, and unfortunately, Tony, I didn’t know about this until the bloody film was out. Had I known this was in the pipeline I would have got my agent to ask to see the script. Because I agree with you, I don’t think there’s any question that they must have used my book. I would have A) liked credit and B) I would have liked some acknowledgment in terms of some cash. But I had no knowledge of this movie until it was about to be released. Of course by then it’s far too late, no point in trying to get at them then, they’ve got the movie out and they’re not going to be interested in roping you in in any way. The answer is no, I wish I had done. For authors, as I’m sure you know, when stuff is in the public record and in the public domain, it’s hard to prove that they’re using your book, and the only real way of doing it would be to have gotten sight of the script beforehand and then compared the script with the book to see if there was direct thefts from the book. But I’m bloody sure there was.
I was with The Village Voice then, and we interviewed him and he admitted that he had done a lot of research about Scientology history, and he talked about going through old copies of “The Aberree.” And I had to give him credit for actually going to primary materials. But as far as the narrative, of the decisions that Hubbard was facing in 1951 and 1952 about whether to accept the past lives stuff and how to keep his donors happy, I mean, that’s straight out of your book.
Yeah, exactly. And the scene in East Grinstead. Boy, that’s East Grinstead. But there’s no point in crying over spilled milk, Tony. It’s just one of life’s little nags.
The situation today is very interesting. In the last couple of years what I’ve been covering is the real crisis that Scientology is in because of so many longtime, loyal church members turning against leader David Miscavige and leaving. And they’re not leaving because they’ve suddenly had some — they would say “cognition” — that Scientology is incorrect. In fact, they’re still very loyal to Hubbard. And they’re leaving because they feel Miscavige has turned away from Hubbard. And so, even 28 years after the guy died, L. Ron Hubbard is still not only ‘Source,’ and the reason that Scientology exists, but he’s also right in the middle of the crisis. Were you aware that Hubbard is still this important to what’s going on today?
It’s always been an utter mystery to me, a complete utter mystery to me that anybody could read Bare-Faced Messiah and then still take Scientology seriously. I mean, you know, to have a founder with a track record like his doesn’t make any sense to me, but there it is. People who take on Scientology are very enthusiastic about it. But I’m not particularly surprised by that. It seems to me that Hubbard and Scientology are essentially one, and they’re bound up so closely together. And I suppose what happens is that if you’re a believer in Scientology then you take it from Dianetics onward, and you ignore everything that happened before Dianetics, I suppose. That’s the only way it would make sense to me. But I could never be a follower of Scientology knowing what I know about Hubbard. I think the other problem is I imagine Miscavige is a very controversial character and I imagine it’s alienating a lot of people.
It’s interesting because when they come out, these Scientologists — they call themselves “independent Scentologists” — and they’re denouncing Miscavige, they’re denouncing the “security checking” and the way the Sea Org people are treated. But as soon as I bring up your book, they will often say, ‘”Oh, we hate that book. That book is so bad, it’s so incorrect.” I find that endlessly amusing, that they can see all these faults in Miscavige and the current Church of Scientology, but they still can’t accept what you wrote 27 years ago.
Yeah, it’s amazing, isn’t it? And you know, Tony, at no time, in any court room, anywhere in the world, did anybody question the content of the book. There was never any suggestion made by a lawyer anywhere in any of these hearings that the book was incorrect. What they were saying was that it breached confidence, it breached copyright — they were technicalities. And it was extremely frustrating to me, as the author, and I sat in the High Court right through the whole hearing, hugely aware that I was the only person in the entire courtroom who was not being paid. Everyone else was on salary except me. But there was a moment when the judge looked as if he was going to say something along the lines of, the reason you want this book stopped is that it’s very damaging to Mr. Hubbard. But he didn’t actually come out with the words. But it was interesting that nobody questioned it. It was very frustrating — it was very clear to me and everybody else why they wanted the book stopped, because it was damaging to Hubbard. It’s a very damaging book because it shows Hubbard to be a total and utter confidence trickster and a charlatan and all those things that I called him. But it was never addressed, and that was very frustrating. And the other interesting thing, I thought, too, was the guys I was interviewing, mainly in California, all of whom I’m sure you know, they were extremely disaffected, not so much with Hubbard but with Scientology, also, at that time. They would describe to me the crazy things that they had had to do within the church. You know, mad, stupid things. You remember when the Sea Org was in Corfu, and they had morning parades, and anyone who had transgressed the rules on the previous day was thrown over the side of the ship? And the Corfu locals would gather every morning and watch this thing. That’s amazing. Henchman would grab people from the parade and chuck them over the edge. Anyway, that’s the kind of things that were happening, and I would say to these guys — and I found them impressive people, these Scientologists I interviewed. They weren’t fools, they were decent, good people. And I would say to them, God, why did you do that? Why did you put up with that? And they would look at me, and they would shake their heads, and they’d say, you know, I just don’t know. They were so enthralled with the organization. You know the way cults work, you know better than me, the process of alienation, of getting withdrawn to the inside, and they’d been made to believe the outside world is a dangerous place. But they were unable to explain to me why they put up with the miseries and the humiliation and the punishment that they did. So I thought that was fascinating.
One of the questions I get asked the most is about Hubbard’s sincerity. How aware was he that this was all a con, or did he believe some of it, to a certain extent?
I think that he came to delude himself. You know, I was never able to answer the question where Dianetics came from. I thought that was a fascinating unanswered question in my book. You know, as far as I was aware he just came up with it. But I think he began to believe his own message, and that’s what happens, isn’t it? You get so wrapped up in yourself and the success of what you’re doing, that you — and I think it’s also true of the movie, The Master — you’ve come to believe in what you’re doing because it’s self-delusional. That’s my view.
We want to thank Russell for taking the time out to talk to the Bunker. And to the Commodore, happy birthday, wherever you are!
UPDATE: WOW. Read Marty Rathbun’s reaction to this interview and his apology to Russell Miller.
Chris Shelton and the Basics
Another fun video from Karen de la Carriere…
Posted by Tony Ortega on March 13, 2014 at 07:00
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