More than a year ago, we started a project — ‘Up the Bridge’ — which we thought would be very useful for our readers, particularly those who had never been members of Scientology. With the help of experts — Claire Headley, Bruce Hines, and others — we ventured step by step up Scientology’s legendary “Bridge to Total Freedom.”
Even members of the public with only a vague understanding of Scientology seem to realize that the church is unique in that it involves a series of ever more expensive courses or levels that members go through to reach higher states of spiritual enlightenment. But what were these steps, and how much did they cost? With Claire’s help, we started at the very bottom, learning how something like “Study Tech,” for example — a course about how to use a dictionary to look up or “word-clear” concepts — contributes to the organization’s layers of control. Some of these lower level courses cost very little.
At the upper end of the Bridge, we’ve been going through the “Operating Thetan” levels, which can each require weeks or even years of counseling — called ‘auditing’ — and can run several hundred dollars an hour. In our last installment, Jefferson Hawkins helped us understand one of the “L Rundowns” — a sort of booster to the OT levels — and by that time we had reached a running total in course costs (not counting transportation, lodging, and other costs and donations) of $460,805.50. And now, finally, we’ve reached the highest level of them all — Operating Thetan Level Eight.
Released in 1988, two years after the death of L. Ron Hubbard, OT 8 has only ever been delivered to church members in one place — aboard the church’s private cruise ship the Freewinds, which sails between several Caribbean islands and made its maiden voyage that year. But there’s been a running controversy over what materials those students in 1988 were given when OT 8 was debuted. In 1993, a bizarre document purporting to be OT 8 showed up in a giant court filing — the notorious “Fishman Papers” — which a man named Steven Fishman submitted in a lawsuit that resulted from Time magazine’s 1991 cover story calling Scientology “the thriving cult of greed and power.” (Briefly, Fishman was being sued for things he said about the church in the magazine article, and Scientology claimed he had to be lying because he had no real knowledge of the church. So, in order to prove that he was a knowledgeable member, he submitted Scientology’s entire secret upper level teachings as a court declaration. The Fishman Papers then began leaking out on the early Internet about a year later, and it’s all been pretty much downhill for Scientology ever since.) The OT 8 document was so strange — with L. Ron Hubbard telling his followers that he was a prophesied reincarnation of the Buddha, and that he was the “Antichrist” predicted in the Book of Revelation, and that Jesus was not the figure most Christians made him out to be — there have always been doubts about the document’s authenticity. (Scientology officials have dismissed it as a hoax.)
Before we move on in the next installment to what Scientologists learn today on OT 8, this week we wanted to deal with this controversy. It’s something we’ve been waiting to do for a very long time, and in part inspired this series to begin with.
In September 2012, a man name George White contacted us with a fascinating tale. He said that he had been among those early OT 8 students in the summer of 1988, and he had the documentation to prove it. And furthermore, he said, the notorious “Antichrist” court document was nearly identical to what he received during his time on the Freewinds. (He later said as much in brief comments on Marty Rathbun’s blog in July 2013.) And now, finally, we can tell his story and examine this strange moment in Scientology history.
George White is originally from Holyoke, Massachusetts and went to college in nearby Worcester at Holy Cross. He served in Korea during the Vietnam War, and then got an MBA at Columbia in 1972.
It was when he was stopped in the street in Greenwich Village to take a personality test that he first encountered Scientology. A photograph of L. Ron Hubbard piqued his curiosity, and he began taking classes.
“I was never on staff. I was always a public,” White tells us, explaining that he was enthusiastic, but always maintained a level of skepticism throughout his years of involvement.
The prices in the 1970s were more reasonable, he says, so he went through classes rather quickly and became a Class IV auditor — someone who was trained to counsel other people in Scientology’s processes. On the Bridge, he rapidly went up intermediate levels known as the “Grades,” which he enjoyed.
At the time, in the early to mid 1970s, L. Ron Hubbard was running Scientology from the ship Apollo in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. But White says he was able to send a few letters to Hubbard and get responses. “I still have the letters. But I think someone was ghost-writing for him,” he says.
Working for Dun & Bradstreet, White had the money to pay for bundles that included several different courses. He went “Clear” and then began the Operating Thetan levels. At OT 3, Scientologists are first exposed to the story of Xenu and the disembodied alien souls — body thetans — that are clinging to all of us, a story South Park made famous in a 2005 episode.
“I had gone to Holy Cross College, and had studied the Bible with Jesuits,” White says. “When I saw that stuff about Xenu, I thought, well, that’s an act of faith.” He found that the material produced a “read” on the Scientology E-meter (in other words, the needle reacted when he considered the Xenu material), so he accepted it as fact.
“I learned later that the reason it reads on the meter is that you’re already conditioned to believe it,” he says.
As he continued up the Bridge, he was influenced by other people, particularly a girlfriend who was a step ahead of him and urged him to keep going. “For me it was just something I felt I had to get through, because I wanted to get to the highest level,” he says.
As he worked his way up the OT courses, prices began going up sharply. Hubbard had gone into total seclusion in 1980. Increasingly, a new young guard of executives, including a man named David Miscavige, was beginning to exert control over the organization.
OT 7 cost White $17,000 to complete — when everything before it had only cost him about $10,000 in total, he estimates. And Scientology was changing in other ways, as well. Flag, for example, just wasn’t as much fun.
In order to complete high levels such as OT 7, you were required to take them at Flag — the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida, which had been taken over by the church after Hubbard had finally docked his armada in 1975.
“That place rocked,” White says of Clearwater in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “When you went to Flag in those years, you met people. You want to get a girlfriend? You got five of them. You want to have a party? You’d have these massive parties.”
By the time White finished OT 7 in 1987, however, Hubbard was dead, and the party was over. “I didn’t want to do OT 8. I was done,” he says.
But it nagged at him — he wanted to know what secrets were revealed in Scientology’s ultimate level, which was finally being released.
In May 1988, friends of his were going on the maiden voyage of the Freewinds, and they were going to be among about 150 people who would receive the newly released OT 8. But despite the encouragement of his friends, White didn’t go. When his friends returned, they told him he had to do it.
The church wanted $28,000 for the course, but White only had $18,000 from a work bonus that he could spend on it. A Scientologist friend loaned him the other ten grand, and then George had no more excuses.
He sailed on July 1, 1988. He was surprised to learn that only about 35 people were there to get OT 8. And White’s course completion was one of the last in the group recorded. The certificate he received after completing the cruise shows that he was OT 8 number 184.
“I got on the ship at Curaçao. There was a steel drum band. All you wanted to eat. They had a five-star chef. It was first class. It was like being in a hotel better than the Hyatt. It was phenomenal,” he says.
Scientologists can be put through time-consuming preliminary matters before a course can begin, but White says that wasn’t the case this time. “I had to do some sec-checking, but it was minimal. Maybe 15 minutes,” he says. (“Sec-checking,” or “security checking,” is interrogation that Scientologists are subjected to in order to make sure they aren’t security risks.)
White then sat through a briefing, and an individual auditing session, and then he says he was told to go back to his cabin and wait.
“There was a knock, and someone slipped an envelope under the door. It had an embossed card saying that I was invited to do OT 8. I was to come to the course room at 8 am the next morning.” he says. When he got there, a supervisor handed him a folder. Inside there were familiar items — like the usual “Keep Scientology Working” material — and there was a student briefing.
The briefing was a letter by L. Ron Hubbard dated May 5, 1980, and it was written in a style as though Hubbard was letting the reader into his biggest secret — by the time this letter was handed out he would be dead, Hubbard wrote, but then he would return, just as the Bible had predicted when it spoke of an Antichrist…
No doubt you are familiar with the Revelations section of the Bible where various events are predicted. Also mentioned is a brief period of time in which an archenemy of Christ, referred to as the Antichrist, will reign and his opinions will have sway. All this makes for very fantastic, entertaining reading but there is truth in it. This Antichrist represents the forces of Lucifer (literally, the “light bearer” or “light bring”), Lucifer being a mythical representation of the forces of enlightenment, the Galactic Confederacy. My mission could be said to fulfill the Biblical promise represented by this brief Antichrist period. During this period there is a fleeting opportunity for the whole scenario to be effectively derailed, which would make it impossible for the mass Markabian landing (Second Coming) to take place. The Second Coming is designed, among other things, to trigger a rapid series of destructive events.
The scenario fits Hubbard’s earlier writings, which describes the universe as trillions of years old and subject to a mass space opera narrative of which human beings, living on their prison planet, are oblivious. The world’s religions, Hubbard had suggested in the earlier OT 3 materials, were only stories that more powerful galactic forces wanted Earthlings to believe. The solar system had been visited by waves of “Marcabian” invaders and other alien forces. Here, Hubbard suggests that the writers of the Bible are so ignorant of what’s really going on in the galaxy, they have the roles of good and evil reversed.
White says the Biblical references really didn’t startle him too much.
“I had already been through Bible study with Jesuits. To me this was all just faith,” he says. “As far as calling himself the Antichrist, I thought, well, that’s in the future, we’ll see.”
Hubbard then refers in the briefing to the Buddha as someone who had realized what was really happening — the galactic forces at work on a long game. “Having caught on to this operation, he postulated his own return as Meteyya, part of which prophecy will have been fulfilled upon the passing of L. Ron Hubbard,” Hubbard writes, referring to himself in the third person.
At this point in the briefing, Hubbard apparently realized that he would be upsetting some readers who might bristle to read about the Antichrist or that Buddha was in on the galaxy’s overarching melodrama. Then comes the document’s most-quoted passage…
For those of you whose Christian toes I may have stepped on, let me take the opportunity to disabuse you of some lovely myths. For instance, the historic Jesus was not nearly the sainted figure he has been made out to be. In addition to being a lover of young boys and men, he was given to uncontrollable bursts of temper and hatred that belied the general message of love, understanding and other typical Marcab PR. You have only to look at the history his teachings inspired to see where it all inevitably leads. It is historic fact and yet man still clings to the ideal, so deep and insidious is the biologic implanting. It is a good joke that the Galactic Confederacy is associated with the Serpent in the Garden, the Beast and other emissaries of the “Prince of Darkness.” Yet in certain passages and esoteric interpretations of the Bible (much of which has been taken out and effectively suppressed for centuries) as well as the Kabbalah, the truth reveals itself quite nicely for the clever and the ungullible.
White says his feathers still weren’t ruffled as he hit that passage. “The thing about Jesus being a lover of young boys and men didn’t bother me one bit. I thought, ‘That’s his speculation. He can say whatever he likes.’ I was looking at it from a point of view of, where’s the punch line? When are you going to get me into this OT state?”
In other words, like other Scientologists White had been spending years — and plenty of money — trying to get the secrets Hubbard had supposedly discovered that would unlock superhuman abilities that were supposed to come with Scientology processing. But level after level, those superpowers never materialized.
White says he knew that accepting Hubbard’s strange ideas about the Bible weren’t going to do anything to get him OT abilities. But he didn’t dwell on the situation. The auditing portion of OT 8, which followed that briefing, went really well, he says.
“You look at your past and you make comparisons and make conclusions. It’s just a formalized method of self-examination. I did that, I had some personal things that I wanted to do,” he says. Yes, it’s true that during such auditing, you’re being asked to hunt down “implants” that you received millions or billions of years ago during past lives, he admits. “But that’s all symbols. What mattered was that you find your problem and do something about it. I thought it was great.”
After days of such auditing, there was an exam. “They never even asked about the Antichrist stuff,” he says.
White was then asked to give a speech — a success story — and he did it.
But soon after he returned home, word spread that OT 8 had been a disaster.
White says that his group was the last to get the Antichrist briefing. The stories about how much damage it had caused spread quickly, and within six months of his trip, he was being called multiple times a day, told that he had to come back to the Freewinds. There had been a problem, he was told, and he needed to redo OT 8.
“I told them no. First, I got a lot out of it. Second, I didn’t mind the document, it didn’t bother me. That was all I expected. You delivered what you promised to do.” he says.
He never went back, and by the Spring of 1989, he was out of Scientology for good.
He left quietly, and didn’t suffer any real harassment, he says. He was just finished with Scientology and walked away. He wasn’t bitter, and he didn’t really pay attention to the press accounts of defections and controversies that dogged the church over the next 20 years. He didn’t even realize there was a controversy over the OT 8 briefing.
Then, in 2007, White says he got a call from Ohio State University professor Hugh Urban. “He had heard about me from a blog. He asked if I’d done OT 8,” George says.
George says Urban asked him if he’d been given a copy of the Antichrist document that talks about Jesus as a pedophile.
“I told him the document I received definitely mentioned the Antichrist, but I didn’t remember the word ‘pedophile’,” White says. Urban sent him a copy of the document that had been introduced in court in the Fishman Papers. And George was right, the word ‘pedophile’ does not appear.
The copy Urban sent him was the first one he’d seen since he was on the ship. “Oh my God, it is the same. But I didn’t remember the last sentence — it’s a call to action. I don’t remember that being on it. But everything else is what I saw.”
We asked him how he could be so sure that the language in the document from the Fishman declaration is so close to what he was given on the ship.
“We word-cleared it!” he says. (In other words, in typical Scientology fashion, they were required to go through every word on the document and look up their meanings, as an exercise.)
White took one more trip on the Freewinds after his OT 8 experience, in September 1988. On the way there, he met a woman, also going to the ship. They were married in 1990, had a son that year, and a daughter in 1992.
“She stayed in Scientology for a lot longer than I did. Until 6 or 8 years ago. I didn’t get declared until three years ago,” he says, referring to Scientology’s habit of excommunicating people in a formal way.
The Whites today live in Ruskin, Florida. George is 68, and the former marketing executive is semi-retired.
He’s heard from other Scientologists who did OT 8 after he did, and who tell him that he’s wrong about the level. He ignores them, saying that they weren’t around for what he experienced. But he warned us that “There are still a lot of people who don’t believe me.”
What else does the record show? Carnegie Mellon University professor Dave Touretzky maintains pages about Scientology’s upper-level teachings, and on a page about OT 8 written by Karin Spaink, she points out that during a copyright battle over Arnie Lerma’s web pages, Scientology attorney Kendrick Moxon identified the “Antichrist” document as copyrighted material. (Touretzky points out, however, that a week before the raid on Lerma, another Scientology attorney, Helena Kobrin, had left OT 8 out of the list of copyrights she said Touretzky had violated by posting the Fishman Papers.)
Touretzky urged us to check with former Scientology official Marty Rathbun, who in 1988 was rising to be a major force in the church under Miscavige. But Rathbun says he wasn’t around the Freewinds in 1988 and wasn’t OT 8 himself at the time. His knowledge is second hand.
“While I was in the church, everyone said it was bullshit. And I was not OT 8, so I wouldn’t have seen it,” he tells us. “But it’s all much ado about nothing to me at this point.”
Another former top official who was around Miscavige at the time was Jesse Prince. In a 1998 taped interview with Lawrence Wollersheim, Prince said that there had been a big upset over the initial rollout of OT 8 in 1988. Prince wasn’t privy to what had been delivered on the ship, but he worked closely with Miscavige, and gave his sense of what Miscavige felt about the OT 8 problem.
“Very intense reaction. He didn’t even want nothing to damn do with OT 8 was the feeling I got from him. It’s like, ‘This is a mistake’ or ‘This is beyond anything even I would have thought of, to now put this on the public.’ This is what I’m now feeling from him,” Prince said in the interview.
Another person we talked to was Frank Oliver, who in the early 1990s worked as an operative for Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs, its intelligence wing. He told us that in 1991, he came across the document in Scientology’s own files — two years before the document became public through the Fishman Declaration.
“The red on white, I saw it,” Oliver tells us, referring to the Hubbard document, which was typed in red ink on white paper.
“When we were setting up the CAN unit, they brought in file cabinets from ASHO,” he says. At the time, the Office of Special Affairs was setting up an operation to harass the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), an effort that would result in CAN’s bankruptcy and then sale to Scientology a few years later. In 1991, Oliver was helping to gear up the spy operation to wreck an organization that had been a thorn in Scientology’s side. File cabinets were brought in from the American Saint Hill Organization (ASHO), one of the main components of Scientology’s “Big Blue” complex in Los Angeles.
“The goal was to destroy the Cult Awareness Network,” Frank says. And part of his job was going through piles of records to prepare a strategy. While he was going through a file cabinet, he opened a folder and found Hubbard’s 1980 letter with the statements about an Antichrist.
“I remember reading the document, then reading it again,” he says. He turned to the programs chief and asked him what his case level was.
“He was an OT 5, but I handed him the document anyway. He smirked. ‘This isn’t real,’ he said. ‘It was created by the Whitfields.’ They were our targets at the time. He was just fucking with me,” Oliver says.
In other words, the programs chief blamed a defector, Hana Whitfield, for creating a fake Hubbard document to slander the church. But Oliver didn’t buy that explanation.
(We’ve sent multiple messages to Hana Whitfield to see if she has a comment, but she hasn’t got back to us. We’d still like to talk to her if someone could point out that we’re trying to reach her.)
“I think that document was something Hubbard wrote and it was PR-unfriendly. So they came back later with an excuse,” Oliver says.
We asked University of Alberta professor Stephen Kent about the document, and he pointed out that what Hubbard said about Jesus might not really be all that controversial…
Unlike just about everyone else, I never got bent out of shape over the statement that Jesus was “a lover of young boys and men” because of the neglected passage in the oldest (and least embellished) of the Gospels: Mark 14:51. Jesus has left his disciples in the lower part of Gethsemane, and they fell asleep. Soon afterward, Judas came with a crowd to take Jesus away, “And a young man followed him [i.e., Jesus], with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” Scholars do not know who this boy was.
The passage exists only in Mark, and nothing else in the New Testament or even the Hebrew Bible (as I understand the scholarship) provides any basis for comparison. I do believe, too, that a subculture of young male (pre-body hair) prostitution existed in the Greco-Roman world.
Several decades ago, the biblical scholar, Morton Smith, claimed that, while separating sheets of paper covering ancient books in a Middle Eastern monastery, he found a letter from a Church Father claiming that Jesus likely was initiating the youth into esoteric Christianity — a claim in line with Gnosticism. Years afterward, another scholar alleged fraud on Smith’s part. In any case, no one knows what the passage means.
If the words about Jesus have attracted the most attention, Hubbard’s other statements about his own fate are also fascinating. Near the end, he writes…
I will soon leave this world only to return and complete my mission with another identity. Although I long to stretch my arms back in repose on some distant star in some distant galaxy, it appears that, that is one dream that will have to wait…I will return not as a religious leader but a political one. That happens to be the requisite beingness for the task at hand. I will not be known to most of you, my activities misunderstood by many, yet along with your constant effort in the theta band I will effectively postpone and then halt a series of events designed to make happy slaves of us all. So there you have it …. The secret that I have kept close to my chest all these years. Now you too are part of this secret and I no longer have to shoulder the burden alone or live with the possibility of body death before all the data could be released.
The briefing ends with some typical Hubbard bravado. Years earlier he had claimed that he’d almost died learning the secrets of OT 3, which were protected in such a way that anyone trying to learn them without the proper preparation might catch pneumonia and die. And now, the secrets of OT 8 also appeared to be booby-trapped, except that those “who happened to stumble into this area in their sleep or in moments of reverie…[experience] an hitherto mysterious phenomenon known as ‘spontaneous combustion’.”
Well, so far we haven’t burned up after reading about OT 8 without being members of Scientology. But after talking with George White and Frank Oliver and the others, we’re feeling much more confident that L. Ron Hubbard did pen the original “Antichrist” version of OT 8.
It’s actually one of Hubbard’s most creative pieces of writing. It’s a shame the church disowned it.
Posted by Tony Ortega on June 24, 2014 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43