Jon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and for more than three years he’s been helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet.
Standing Order #1 is one of the enduring myths of Scientology. In 1961, Hubbard wrote: “Standing Order No.1 ‘All mail addressed to me shall be received by me’.” He added: “I am always willing to help. By my own creed, a being is only as valuable as he can serve others.”
In reality, letters to Hubbard had long been outsourced, as seen in a memorandum of March 9, 1953, and reissued in a bulletin of 24 January 1958. This apportioned certain responsibilities to the “Hubbard Communications Office Office of L. Ron Hubbard” [whole statement sic and rendered as written]. The first task of this office was: “The receipt and answering of correspondence addressed to myself, some of which is personal, much of which is to the interest of the general operation.”
Putting aside that lovely phrase “the general operation,” it is clear that the task of responding to Hubbard’s mail – whether personal or not – devolved onto underlings from the very outset of Scientology.
Perhaps Hubbard revised this practice in 1961, I hear you say, and at least “received” the mail thereafter, even if he didn’t actually read or respond to it (we should be precise, after all)?
Well, no, because in 1965, he clarified the situation in two policy letters, the first on February 22nd, where he said that the SO #1 line “is watched and kept in order by the Executive Director.”
On September 17, that same year, Hubbard issued “Executive Letter Unit” which tells us that this new unit: “consists of a knowledgeable person who can answer SO #1 type mail…in very small orgs this is done in its entirety by the LRH Communicator.”
Standing Order #1 was posted prominently in the Orgs when I was a member. Like most Scientologists (and possibly all), I wrote to Hubbard and for the first few years imagined that he answered my letters. I was very young and evidently gullible (I’m fairly old now, but evidently still gullible). Then, in 1981 I received a letter from “Ron,” but with an initialed signature.
In the same envelope came an Executive Directive written by Laurel Sullivan “on behalf of L. Ron Hubbard.”
“Your Letters to Ron” not only tells us that Hubbard “has a professional background in about 29 different professions” but also that “a pool of secretaries has been set up and added to over the years to assist Ron in the handling of his mail. He has endeavored, whenever time permits, to stay abreast of his mail and to see letters individually, but due to volume and his research and writing projects it is not always possible.”
I wrote to Laurel Sullivan, who assured me that the SO #1 notice was under revision, and that “communication as from him should not be invalidated…”
It took a year and a half for Hubbard to wake up to the lack of mail. On May 10, 1982, an Executive Directive told us that “the other day” Hubbard had “suddenly noticed there were only two mail bags for the week.” He was “informed that earlier [16 months earlier, as we’ve seen], an unauthorized person [his senior public affairs director], using my lines, had inferred [!] I did not ever see your mail. I almost wept.”
The fake “Ron” signatures on the letters were no longer initialed and most Scientologists continued to write to the Commodore with their “wins” and their quibbles, and, no doubt increasingly, their complaints.
Hana Whitfield added a fascinating gloss to this tale at the Getting Clear conference in Toronto. She told us that as Commodore’s Staff 1, she was in charge of the SO #1 line. At one point, she was so overwhelmed by the volume of correspondence that she used Hubbard’s secret overboarding technology to overcome the problem and heaved the lot into the sea.
I cannot help but think about all of those earnest missives to the Commodore floating out across the Mediterranean as a metaphor for the lost hopes of Scientology.
— Jon Atack
THE BUNKER: We will just point out the additional fact that while this was happening, in 1981 and 1982, Hubbard was in total seclusion with Pat and Annie Broeker. They had gone into hiding in February 1980, and they spent some time in an apartment in Newport Beach, for example, before settling at the ranch near Creston, California in 1983. So the idea that Hubbard was actually receiving bags of mail each week at this time seems a bit far-fetched to us. As John Brousseau explained to us, during this time getting any kind of communication at all between Hubbard and the rest of the Scientology world involved secret late-night meetings at random locations in Southern California, set up between Pat Broeker and David Miscavige. So you might keep that in mind if you have a letter from “Hubbard” dated after 1980.
Chris Shelton interviews Jon Atack
Says Chris: “We cover a lot of stuff about his Open Minds Foundation and then get into Scientology and talking about its membership and what the Church is doing these days that is resulting in its inevitable end. As you know, talking to Jon is always interesting and educational.”
Mike Rinder on Scientology’s playbook against critics
“This is perhaps the most important thing I have put onto my blog,” Mike Rinder announced last night as he posted a comprehensive look at the strategies that the Church of Scientology relies on to attack its critics (such as Leah Remini), and the writings of L. Ron Hubbard that guide them.
Here, in one place, is pretty much everything a journalist needs to understand why Scientology expends so many resources on stalking people, running complex operations against them, and tries to “ruin them utterly” just as Hubbard instructs.
Make sure you bookmark this one, and have it handy when someone suggests that Scientology simply acts like any other “church.”
Not paying taxes is fun!
Back in the late 1980s through the early aughts, your proprietor made several treks out to a great annual event known as RTMC, the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference, which is held near Big Bear, California over Memorial Day weekend. We’d meet up with old friends who made their own telescopes, pick up spare parts, and attend some fun talks. We even gave a talk one year about a fellow we’d written about. Those were fun times.
At a couple of those events in the 1990s, we met a group of comical guys who would set up a booth and hand out fliers. They were a dozen or more like-minded people who had three things in common: They loved telescopes, of course, but they were also musicians (acoustic guitar, mostly), and they all golfed. And so they had started up a club they called GAMA — the Golfing Astronomers Musicians Association.
And the reason they would set up a booth and hand out literature at RTMC, they explained, was that it met the “educational outreach” requirement of their bylaws. See, they weren’t just a group of guys who all golfed, played guitars, and looked through telescopes, they had actually formalized the club with the IRS. Yes, GAMA was a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization!
We can still remember laughing with them about it as they explained how it helped them raise money from donors who could write those donations off — all completely within the law — so they could then further their interests of hitting tee shots, stargazing, and strumming songs. (While generously lubricated, of course.)
We received some panicked messages from folks who wondered if this was yet another example of the IRS caving to Scientology, like it did in 1993 when the agency granted tax-exempt status to the Church of Scientology.
Um, no. While Merrell is obviously thrilled that FICoS has achieved this distinction, this is not in the same realm as granting tax-exempt status to a worldwide racket pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It’s not really very hard for a small organization — especially one that calls itself a church — to get tax-exempt status if it takes the time to fill out some forms correctly. And it’s not really very controversial either. If the goofballs at GAMA could do it, after all…
A more important milestone for Vannier and FICoS is whether they’re going to get a trademark on their name, which makes use of the word “Scientology” that the Church of Scientology claims it owns. And on that score, Vannier suffered another recent setback, which our attorney Scott Pilutik is going to help us understand in a future story.
For now, we send our congratulations to the First Independent Church of Scientology for not having to pay taxes. But they can have their renegade, non-sanctioned e-meters; we’d rather play a round of 18 holes and then sit under the stars with a fat reflector aimed at the sky, with a guitar or two plucking out a plaintive ballad nearby under the Milky Way.
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. 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