Our man in Paris — British journalist Jonny Jacobsen — has a special report for us today about what’s been happening in Switzerland. Almost a year since the last new “Ideal Org” opened in Sydney on May 4, 2014, a new one is set to open this weekend. That’s a much slower pace than Scientology leader David Miscavige was on in past years, an indication perhaps of how much more difficult it has become to raise funds from a dwindling membership.
Jacobsen has been talking to the locals, and he sets us up for this weekend’s festivities. Take it away, Jonny…
Local residents and critics of Scientology — including former members — are mobilizing Saturday in Basel, Switzerland, to protest the official opening of the latest “Ideal Org.”
Local resident Thomas Erlemann got official clearance for his counter-demonstration earlier this week, and it will run from from 1:30 pm local time (12:30 London, 7:30 New York) at Burgfelderstrasse — just over the road from the official opening.
Supporters from Austria, France, and Ireland are among those expected at the three-hour event, says Erlemann. There will be music, there will be speeches and their permit even clears them for two five-minute bursts of “ALLES WAS KRACH MACHT” — which appears to translate mean “EVERYBODY MAKE A RACKET.”
Erlemann means business: In his announcement about the protest, he invites participants to bring drums and trumpets. And the Swiss edition of the free paper 20 Minuten has a photo of him holding a vuvuzela, those god-awful horns used during the 2010 South Africa World Cup. (There’s a reason they were banned from last year’s Brazil World Cup.)
But in his statements to fellow protesters and to the press he has also stressed — time and again — that this is to be a peaceful, festive affair. They are not looking for a confrontation.
Erlemann, 50, is a social worker who lives next to the new 4,600-square-meter Scientology building at Burgfelderstrasse 215 in the Iselin district of Basel, a city in the mainly German-speaking part of Switzerland.
When he first learned about the new building last year, he knew next to nothing about Scientology, he told the Bunker. “I didn’t even know who L. Ron Hubbard was,” he admitted. “So I started researching on the Internet.”
Once he had done his homework, he decided to start warning local people about their new neighbours. He set up a Facebook page for his campaign — 1,397 likes as of Thursday — and sent out a press release.
“For the last three or four weeks I have been getting calls nearly every day,” he said: Newspapers, radio, and the local television. “And now people who were members of Scientology have been getting in touch.When Erlemann started doing his research online, he quickly discovered that he wasn’t the only person tracking development at Basel. For several months now, former Scientologist Wilfried Handl has been following developments from his base in Vienna, Austria, via his German-language blog.
It was not long before the two of them were comparing notes and exchanging information. Handl does not get the impression that Scientology is booming in Switzerland — far from it. But he is still glad someone is sounding the alarm.
“I consider him my friend, even if I haven’t met him,” Handl told the Bunker.
Scientology’s official opening had originally been scheduled for early March, but they had to postpone because they weren’t ready.
Rolf Moll, Scientology’s spokesman in Basel, has told local papers they are expecting between a thousand and 1,500 people to attend their opening ceremony (Erlemann is hoping for more than 300 people at the counter-demonstration.) Moll didn’t say if Scientology leader David Miscavige would be attending.
Another ex-member who has been following developments is Izhar Perlman, an Independent Scientologist (OT VII) based in Portugal, who monitors the development of the Ideal Orgs at his “Idle Orgs” website.
Bunker regulars will know that Tony has more than once noted the way Ideal Orgs have been the kiss of death to once-thriving Scientology locations, draining off resources into grand buildings that are as imposing as they are empty. That’s pretty much the point that Perlman’s website is making too (the clue’s in the name).
Perlman started it in response to an April 2012 post by Mike Rinder over at Mark Rathbun’s website, in which he dismissed Scientology’s claims of massive expansion. After Rinder pointed out the moribund state of the US orgs, Perlman decided to apply the same idea internationally.
He launched the website, appealed for help and now he has people filing pictures and commentary on the various Scientology centres around the world — and it seems to be a similar story every time.
So far as one can see from the photos at the sites of both Handl and Perlman, Scientologists in Basel are keeping the shutters down and a low profile until the big day — when they are not snapping anyone taking too much of an interest in their building.
Erlemann isn’t the only person the Swiss media has been talking to.
Amid what looks like a steady stream of sympathetic coverage in the local media — including more than one front-page splash — Hania Mrkos, who helped set up the original Basel org in the early 1970s, has also been telling his story.
He took time to talk to us too — and his story is a cautionary tale all too familiar to Bunker regulars.
Mrkos is 67 now, but as a young man in the late 1960s he fled communist Czechoslovakia for the West. He was someone influenced by the Beat generation — Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg — a free-thinker even before the hippie era.
He spent several years traveling and exploring different spiritual paths: Gurdjieff, occult philosophies, Zen Buddhism — even the native American tradition. “But with these techniques I never found enough stability — I was trying to find something new that would stabilise my mind.”
Then around about 1973, a friend, a fellow seeker, introduced him to Scientology. At the time, Scientology had a major centre in Munich, southern Germany. So in the summer of 1973 he sat the Oxford Capacity Analysis Personality Test — the point of departure for so many new recruits — and was duly told he had major problems.
“I was really bad,” he recalled. “I was totally wiped in this test. So they said the solution for that was the Communication Course.”
Bunkers regulars will know that some members say the course really did make them more confident in communications. But some graduates have also pointed out that it is as much about controlling people as improving their communications skills.
For Mrkos, at any rate, it felt like just what he had been looking for. “I felt very, very good. ‘Woah, great!’ I had stabilised myself, I had a big gain. I could confront things. There was none of the indoctrination. I found it very useful.”
Not long afterwards, he was back in Basel introducing the people in his circle to the techniques he had discovered. Back in those days, he recalled, the hard-sell attitude did not dominate the movement. “There was no pressure at all, it was very spontaneous.”
And that’s how the Basel centre grew: Spontaneously, with Mrkos and his friend introducing friends to the techniques. And since they didn’t have much money, they paid for more courses for themselves by selling books on the street and drawing more people in. (Though as he recalls, the book that really sold the best was not one of Hubbard’s but Ruth Minshull’s Miracles for Breakfast — long since dropped from corporate Scientology but still popular among the independents.)
For a couple of years, things went smoothly enough: They would sell books and introduce people to the basic principles during the week, then jump into a minibus and drive the 240 miles to Munich to get more training and stock up on books. “For us it was to expand our consciousness, to understand more about what was going on,” he said.
Even then though, the pressure from above was beginning to build up. “We were forced to produce more people for the seminars and I started to be — I didn’t like it too much.”
Because the Basel org had expanded so quickly, Mrkos and his then wife decided to move to another Swiss city, Berne, and start a new operation there. There again, their unorthodox approach — mixing free talks and seminars with community activities such as photography workshops and concerts — allowed them to build a following, he said. (He even recalls meeting Diana Hubbard during this period: as he recalled it, she was a very good pianist.)
They were aware of a more regimented, hard-nosed side to Scientology, but they tried to keep as far away from it as possible.
“By then, we were sending people to Copenhagen,” he said — in part because they were unhappy with the increasingly harsh regime at Munich. “We were very successful.”
But then in 1976 they started having problems with Munich officials. Since he believed in the system, Mrkos asked for a Committee of Evidence in which he could put his case.
Instead he walked into a Johannesburg Security Check, the most brutal of the interrogations Hubbard devised.
28. Have you ever had intercourse with a member of your family?
29. Have you ever been sexually unfaithful?
30. Have you ever practiced Sodomy?
31. Have you ever consistently made a practice of sexual perversion?
32. Have you ever slept with a member of a race of another color?
33. Have you ever committed culpable homicide?
34. Have you ever bombed anything?
35. Have you ever murdered anyone?
“They made me do it 12 times in a row,” he said.
“They even inspected my teeth: Czechoslovakia was a communist country, my father was in the military — they thought I was some kind of communist spy.”
After that, understandably, he stepped back from Scientology for a while.
Commie spy or not however, it seemed that they still needed him when things were not going well. On more than one occasion, he said, he got called in to try to sort out problems that cropped up in the Basel org that he had helped set up. As the year went by and he built up a profitable real estate business, he started paying his way up the Bridge.
But in the 1980s, he went to Clearwater, Florida — supposedly a center of excellence for Scientology — to do the Ls, an extremely expensive set of auditing. “I actually almost went insane…I was totally fucked up,” he said. In the end, he was in such a mess he had to be accompanied on the flight back to Switzerland.
At times after that, he was suicidal, he said. It took him two years to recover, his business collapsed in the interim and his marriage ended. But the hardest blow has been the loss of his daughter, Jelena. Against his better judgment, he said, he let her attend the Scientology-run Delphi School in Oregon, in the United States. Far from her parents’ influence, it was not hard for the Sea Org recruiters to talk her into signing her billion-year contract.
A couple of years ago, when they tried to sell him the Golden Age of Tech — again — he started researching Scientology on the Internet. When he read the accounts from former senior figures such as Mike Rinder and Debbie Cook, he began to distance himself from corporate Scientology. By then he and his second wife were back in the Czech Republic and they were giving informal counselling based on Scientology principles. That of course got them in trouble with the official movement. Then one day, in June 12, 2014, he got a phone call from his daughter.
“There was a lot of noise in the background and I said ‘What’s going on?’ and she was very depressed. She said that I was against her group and so she had to disconnect from me.”
That’s just one more reason that he is supporting the campaign against the Ideal Org in Basel.
“They don’t accept freedom,” says Mrkos. “Switzerland is a free country with free people and they are enslaving people.”
And that’s what people in Basel need to understand, he says. If you enter Scientology you are gradually delivering yourself into slavery.
“In the beginning, they do a little bit, and then a bit more and then you get more and more enslaved.” And he is not just talking about the Sea Org members, he says. “Most Scientologists are heavily in debt.
I don’t understand — now we know so much about Scientology’s crimes — that some countries can accept them as a church.”
— Jonny Jacobsen
Nick Xenophon, doing it right
We don’t know why the video is repeated, but a double dose of Nick Xenophon never hurt anyone…
On May 14, you will be able to purchase ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ from Amazon in either electronic or print format, and simultaneously in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
The book will not be available for pre-order before that date. It is going live for sale on Thursday, May 14, and not a moment earlier. And hey, that’s just a few weeks away, so you won’t have to wait long.
May 16: Santa Barbara Humanist Society (with Paulette Cooper), 3:00 pm
May 17: Center for Inquiry-West Los Angeles, 4773 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, 11 am; ALSO: CFI Orange County (Costa Mesa), 4:30 pm (with Paulette Cooper)
May 20, San Diego Hey, folks, we could use some help. The San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry (SDARI) wants to put on an event for us, but it’s not their regular night for meetings and they need to find an alternate venue. Can any of our San Diego readers help us find a space?
May 22: San Francisco (with Jamie DeWolf and Paulette Cooper)
(Finalizing a New York City event in early June)
June 20: Chicago
June 22/23: Toronto (with Paulette Cooper)
July 12: Washington DC, Center for Inquiry
Posted by Tony Ortega on April 24, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield