On Friday, January 24, 1986, L. Ron Hubbard, then 74 years old, went to his reward after suffering a stroke at the Creston, California ranch where he’d been hiding out for several years. Three days later, the top management of Scientology gathered Sea Org, staff, and public members of the organization at the Hollywood Palladium in order to announce the news of Hubbard’s death, which up to that point they had successfully managed to keep from the press.
The young managers of Scientology wanted that news to come from them, and not “on other lines.”
Video of the briefing that was held at the Palladium has been online for a long time, and to many of the readers of the Underground Bunker it’s probably very familiar. But on this, the 30th anniversary of that singular event, we thought we’d take another look at it and also talk to some of the people who were there that night and were hearing this news for the first time. We think you’ll find what they had to say pretty interesting.
But first, let’s look at the tape and remember how the news of Hubbard’s death was broken to his followers. For the first part, watching the event again, we hadn’t really noticed before that it started out with some pretty bizarre music to set a very eerie mood…
Then David Miscavige comes out on stage, and the first thing he says is, “My name is David Miscavige.” If that seems superfluous, keep in mind that Miscavige was not so well known then to the non-Sea Org members of Scientology. We’ve talked to people who were in the audience who had never even heard of Miscavige when he came out on stage.
Miscavige then famously delivers the news that L. Ron Hubbard had not in fact “died,” but had decided quite voluntarily to leave his body so he could continue to do “research” in an incorporeal state. Says Miscavige…
He has now moved on to his next OT…level of OT research. This level is beyond anything any one of us ever imagined. This level is in fact done in an exterior state. Meaning, that it is done completely exterior from the body. At this level of OT, the body is nothing more than an impediment, an encumbrance to any further gain as an OT. Thus…Thus, at 2000 hours Friday, the 24th of January, A.D. 36, L. Ron Hubbard discarded the body he had used in this lifetime for 74 years, 10 months, and 11 days. The body he had used to facilitate his existence in this MEST universe had ceased to be useful and in fact had become an impediment to the work he now must do outside of its confines. We felt it was important as Scientologists, that you were the first to become aware of this fact. I can understand that many of you are probably experiencing the effect of a secondary. However, it is important that you can put this into the proper perspective.
After an arcane technical description, Miscavige winds up his unlikely tale…
The being we knew as L. Ron Hubbard still exists. However, the body he had could no longer serve his purposes. This decision was one made at complete cause by L. Ron Hubbard. Although you may feel grief, understand that he did not and does not now. He has simply moved on to his next step.
After explaining that Hubbard had given instructions that he be cremated and that his ashes should be scattered at sea — which Cooley made sure was done — he then tells the biggest lie of the night: “The body of L. Ron Hubbard was sound and strong, and fully capable of serving this mighty thetan for many years, had that suited his purposes.”
That’s contradicted by the testimony of Steve “Sarge” Pfauth, the Creston ranch caretaker who was interviewed by Lawrence Wright for his book Going Clear, and by Marty Rathbun for his book Memoirs of a Scientology Warrior. Pfauth, consistent with others, described Hubbard’s failing health in his final months as he was debilitated by a series of strokes.
Cooley then explains that he had seen Hubbard’s will, in which Hubbard had left everything to Scientology after making “generous” gifts to his wife and family. (This was another contested fact. Pfauth said Hubbard was in no shape to be making the last-minute changes that were made to his final will.)
Cooley then expresses confidence in the current management of the church, and there’s more extended applause. (Segment 5.)
Miscavige then brings on Pat Broeker, who, along with his wife Annie, had been with Hubbard during the years he had gone into total seclusion after February 1980. (Segment 6.) Pat once again reiterates that “Yes, it was absolutely his causative decision to discard that body.” And now it’s Pat’s job to explain just what amazing things Hubbard was up to in his final years. He had finished OT 8, Pat says, and had gone on to write OT 9 and 10 (something Marty Rathbun later denied).
And while he was working on OT 10 and researching the “Whole Track” — Scientology jargon for the entire history of the universe — Hubbard had managed to go back in time an incredible distance. To prove that, Broeker holds up a piece of paper with a massive set of numbers on it.
“This, there, is a date,” he says, to the astonishment of the audience.
In 2012, when your proprietor was at the Village Voice, we wrote this about LRH’s big number…
Now, I did my best to read that fuzzy image, and to my eyes, that looks like the number “24” followed by a whole lot of other numbers, separated by commas. I counted ten sets of three digits across by 11 rows, plus five more sets on the top row. (In a number that large, all of the numbers after the first couple might as well be zeroes). My count came to 24 followed by 345 zeroes. Which, I kid you not, can be expressed this way: 24 billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years. (I checked this with a friend who is a radar systems engineer and telescope builder. He confirmed my method to come up with the number, but couldn’t seem to stop laughing.) [Chuck] Beatty was in the audience that night, and tells me that seeing that number thrilled the Scientologists in attendance. If Hubbard could go back that far into his own past, they would someday as well. (When you put it that way, $8,000 for 12.5 hours of counseling sounds positively cheap!)
Broeker goes on to say that it took Hubbard two years to complete OT 9 (“Orders of Magnitude”) and OT 10 (“Character”), and then, in the summer of 1984, he began telling the Broekers that there would soon come a point at which it would be time for him to move on from this planet. (Segment 7.) Broeker announced (Segment 8) that Scientology’s senior case supervisor international, Ray Mithoff, would be the first to do the new OT 8, and that Pat would be case-supervising him. OT 9 and 10 were written up and waiting, he says, and Hubbard had also written up “the OT level you get when you discard the body.” He then nervously adds, “Now, don’t take that as an invitation,” and there’s laughter in the crowd. (And remember, this is just a little over seven years after Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple had committed mass suicide, making this moment even more funny ha-ha.) Pat then makes an important announcement on Segment 9 — “There is only one Source,” he says, and “Source does not pass to management.” In other words, no one will be replacing L. Ron Hubbard as the source of “technology” for the Church of Scientology. After more applause (Segment 10), Miscavige then introduces former Apollo captain Norman Starkey, who then reads (Segment 11) a dreary “funeral service” written by Hubbard himself. (And so much for the “discard the body” idea.) “Your debts are paid,” Starkey says of Hubbard, but actually written by Hubbard. Odd.
There’s more odd music, and then in Segment 12 Miscavige brings on the commanding officer of the Commodore’s Messenger Organization, Marc Yager (since 2004, confined to “The Hole”), the Executive Director International, Guillaume Lesevre (The Hole), Inspector General of RTC, Vicki Aznaran (who left Scientology and was involved in litigation against the church before settling and going silent), and the president of the Church of Scientology International, Heber Jentzsch (The Hole).
Yager (Segment 13) and then Jentzsch (Segment 14) say some happy words about management continuing the objectives set out by Hubbard, and clearing the planet. And then finally, Miscavige ends things by introducing a few words by Hubbard on tape (Segment 15), which puts an eerie finish on an eerie event.
“Thank you very much for being here. I appreciate what you’re doing. I need your help, and I’m very grateful for what you have done. Goodbye for now. I will see you up the line at the other end of the Bridge.”
Amy Scobee tells us that at the time she was in the Commodore’s Messenger Organization and was assigned to the International or “Gold” Base near Hemet. She said that the order came for a mandatory event in Los Angeles, and so almost the entire base was shuttled there on buses, leaving behind only a skeleton crew.
Gary “Jackson” Morehead was on that crew. As head of security at the base, he stayed there with a handful of people he had to keep an eye on. He didn’t hear about what was said at the briefing until later. Sinar Parman, who had been Hubbard’s chef before Hubbard went into hiding, was watching the event via satellite from Creston ranch — he had driven up there the day after Hubbard’s death.
Amy arrived at the Palladium, a venue she had not been to before. Usually, Scientology events were held at the Shrine Auditorium. (The Palladium was very familiar to us at the time. We saw many shows there in the early 1980s, including Big Audio Dynamite and the B-52s. It was a great venue for seeing a band — it had no seats, just a giant dance floor. For this event, chairs had been brought in, but you can see on the tape that there is no slope to the seating.)
“I remember right where I sat. If I’m facing the stage, to the right, about 15 rows back,” Amy remembers. “I had never seen Pat Broeker before in my life, I didn’t know who he was. Miscavige I knew existed, but I’d never had any interaction with him. He was ASI [Author Services Inc., L. Ron Hubbard’s literary agency]. I had been at Int Base by 1983.”
We asked Amy what her reaction was when Miscavige explained that Hubbard had discarded his body.
“OK, so he’s going to continue his research,” she says, remembering how she thought then, as a hardcore member of the Sea Org. “Most people had never met him, so it wasn’t like people were breaking down with grief. We were all about having our TRs in and that we’re not our bodies. I think that the less indoctrinated people were the ones you can hear gasp. Because we were trained not to have ‘human emotions and reactions’ — they actually call it HE&R,” she says with a laugh. “The only discussion we really had was how does the CMO continue without a commodore to be messengers for.”
Jefferson Hawkins, meanwhile, was sitting in the balcony. He was immersed in running the wildly successful Dianetics television advertising campaign, with the exploding volcano imagery that became so familiar to anyone who watched TV at the time. We asked him to think back to hearing the announcement for the first time.
“I felt a little choked up. I was a true believer at the time. But no, you can’t show any emotion. We’re not going to show any emotion. He did this causatively,” Hawkins remembers thinking. “He’ll see us all up the line, we shouldn’t be sad. We shouldn’t be low-toned about it. We should be stoic about it.”
But he said that people also understood what was really going on.
“I understood what they were saying and what they were trying to do, that they were trying to sugar coat the news that he’d died. I think the gasp you hear was partially, oh my gosh, he’s dead. But also, a little bit of what the hell is going to happen now?”
We told Jeff that it seemed to us that Miscavige and Broeker seem somewhat terrified. Were they worried that they might lose control of the organization once its founder had died?
“I’m sure they were a bit freaked out. But I also think Miscavige must have been relieved, because Hubbard had become an impediment to what Miscavige wanted to do,” he says.
Some people were genuinely overcome with grief, Marc Headley remembers. He was only 13 years old at the time, and he had been kept in the lobby during the briefing. But he vividly remembers seeing some of the adults coming out of the event in tears, and seeing some people getting Scientology processing on the spot.
“People were getting locationals right there in the lobby,” he says. “They were told, ‘look at that wall,’ and so on. It was wild.”
Mike Rinder was there, but barely remembers the event at all. “I was on the RPF. I don’t remember it well, probably because I wasn’t sleeping.”
The next morning, back at Int Base, Amy Scobee says they all braced themselves for what they assumed would be a mountain of press coverage on Hubbard’s death now that the news had become public.
“We were checking to see if there was anything on the radio about Hubbard dying. My friend Tom Ashforth, he was checking the news, and he said, no one is talkng about LRH, everyone is talking about the Challenger blowing up. Wait, what do you mean? I said. I ran to the garage, where there was the only phone I knew I could use, and I called my dad.”
Her father’s brother, Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, she knew, was the commander of the shuttle Challenger that had been scheduled to fly into space that day, January 28. She now learned what the rest of the world was talking about, that the Challenger had disintegrated after take-off.
“We thought Hubbard would be in the news, but it was overshadowed by catastrophe,” she says.
We have one more item from the LRH death briefing. It’s the telex that was sent out afterwards to the orgs around the world, supplied to us by a tipster who heard it read out at the New York org.
An event has just been held in Los Angeles at 1900 hours Monday 27 Jan. A video of this briefing is being rushed to your org to brief all staff and public. The following is to inform you at once of the news in this briefing. Upon receipt of this telex call a meeting and read this briefing to your staff and public: “LRH has been doing intensive research into the upper OT levels in the past several years. You have already witnessed this. With the release of New OT 7/Solo NOTs. Also, you heard in RJ 39 that OT 8 is fully ready for release. LRH has researched many more OT levels above this. His next level of OT research is done in a fully exterior state. In order to do this, LRH left his body on Friday, 24 January, 1986. This was absolutely his (UL) causative decision. Ron spent the last several years on a ranch in central California intensively working to complete the final upper level OT research completing the Bridge to Full OT. This is now done. What he came to do he did. He finished his job here. LRH wanted it expressly stated to you that there was to be no grief. No mourning. He also is absolutely confident that he will complete the job of clearing this planet letting him continue to wear his hat of researching upper OT levels and paving the way for us. You will be receiving a full video (it’s being rushed to you now) of the briefing held in Los Angeles containing all the information LRH wanted you to have and it will answer all your questions.” LRH wants Scientologists to see this as another giant step in the research he is doing. He has fully entrusted us to complete the job of clearing this planet with the exact (UL) application of his technology. I am counting on you as LRH’s communicator and personal PROs to relay this message as LRH requested it to be. ML LRH PR NW EXEC CMOI
Bonus photos from our tipsters
Hey, it’s the Clearwater Scientology choir!
Youth for Human Rights invades a Mexican classroom. (Thanks, Legoland.)
The Way to Happiness volunteer Gary Levin with his buddies in the LAPD in Hollywood.
Actual caption: “We just paid for my son’s training package at Tampa Org. He will soon be a class 5 auditor and coaudit to Clear. He is 11!!!! What a future”
E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.
Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. 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
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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