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Independent Scientology: The Ballad of Captain Bill

Bill Robertson

Bill Robertson

In 1990, author Jon Atack published what is still one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, A Piece of Blue Sky. Atack now has a new edition of the book out, and it reminded us what an encyclopedic resource he is. So join us as we rely on Jon’s expertise to 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.

Jon, a big part of the current Scientology story is the large breakaway group of “independents” who have left the official church but still adhere to the ideas of founder L. Ron Hubbard. Church leader David Miscavige most definitely perceives these “indies” as a big threat, and it seems like this is the most significant schism the church has ever experienced.

But there were previous groups of Scientologists who left the church to form their own independent groups, and they formed practically from the beginning, when Hubbard got things going in the early 1950s. Before the present indie scene, probably the biggest breakaway happened in the early 1980s, isn’t that right?

JON: Ron Howes* grew new teeth in the fifties, and many left to join Amprinistics in protest at “heavy ethics” in the sixties, but about half the membership left between ’82 and ’84, somewhere over ten thousand people. Most continued for at least a little while, encouraged by the significantly lower cost and the friendly atmosphere. There was no central organization, but groups formed around David Mayo (more about him next week) and a man named Bill Robertson.

[*Howes also was the inventor of the Easy-Bake Oven, and died in 2010 at 83. Adds Atack: “The first major splinter group formed around Ron Howes, who claimed that with Dianetics he had grown new teeth (he didn’t say where he’d grown them, and if I know anything about the Tech it was probably in an embarrassing place).”]

“Free Zone” has been adopted as a catch-all phrase to describe Independent Scientologists, but it actually traces back to Robertson. There have been some eccentric characters in Scientology, but the most thoroughly eccentric must have been “Captain Bill.”


Bill Robertson left a biker gang to gang up with Ron Hubbard. He was a member of the original Sea Project, which transmuted into the Sea Organization. Dispatched to clean up the sexual shenanigans at the Los Angeles Org in the late 60’s, Bill determined that an alien invasion was imminent, and after a hard day’s work, the crew spent the night on the roof, watching for space ships. He decided that two psychiatrists in LA were the root cause of all of mankind’s ills, and personally chased them out of town.

Bill earned sea-captain’s papers so that he could take charge of the Sea Org flagship, the Apollo. He was made “Second Deputy Commodore”: if Hubbard and his wife Mary Sue were incapacitated, Bill would be the head of Scientology. When the flagship landed in 1975, he formed the Sea Org Marching Chorus, with songs uncannily like Hubbard’s own “Thank-you for Listening” (“You’re supposed to eat vegetables, not listen to them” according to White Dwarf’s review). Captain Bill designed colourful banners and new uniforms. Come 1981, having risen to the top of Scientology in the Commodore’s Messenger Org, he was busted along with the public parts of the Guardian’s Office, and was the last but one member of the old guard in power (Norman Starkey, before you ask, was also in the CMO).

It was from Bill that I took my prestigious title, Chairman of the OT Committee UK, back in 1983, although I didn’t realize at the time that I was supposed to believe in Marcabians (an invader force from the Marcab Confederacy — as Hubbard put it: “Various planets united into a very vast civilization which has come forward up through the last 200,000 years, formed out of the fragments of earlier civilizations. In the last 10,000 years they have gone on with a sort of decadent kicked-in-the-head civilization that contains automobiles, business suits, fedora hats, telephones, spaceships — a civilization which looks almost an exact duplicate but is worse off than the current US civilization”). I saw Bill relatively often while he was in East Grinstead. He was deeply upset that I rejected the “Tech,” and came often for tea and conversation. He once told me that he’d seen Hubbard do two things that would put anyone off Scientology, but he would never tell me quite what. As he told me a number of other things that would have put me off, I suspect that they were sexual misdemeanors on Hubbard’s part.

Bill told me that after he was expelled and declared “Suppressive,” in 1981, he locked himself in a wardrobe for a week. His “space” had shrunk so much. He gradually acclimatised to larger spaces and telepathic messages from Elron Elray (!) streaming in from the ether. (Before he’d been kicked out, Bill had been assigned to get Hubbard’s screenplay for OT III filmed, and had guessed that the character slyly disguised as Rawl was the Old Man himself. This was apparently his inspiration for Elron Elray.)

I was privileged to know Bill and, in its first incarnation, my history A Piece of Blue Sky centered on his Free Zone — a new Scientology, but organized in independent cells, without a central and vulnerable hierarchy. Bill said that the Church of Scientology had been taken over by the FBI.

Bill received messages from the “Mothership,” as the Sector Operations Bulletins (or S.O.B.s, I suppose). Several of these were handwritten, the hand uncannily like Hubbard’s own rounded scrawl (called “cloning” by some cult experts). The Sector Operations Bulletins tell the invidious story of the invasion of Earth by the Marcabians, to whose existence we were first alerted by an obscure L. Ron Hubbard tape. According to the S.O.B.s, 200,000 Marcabians had already landed in Switzerland. They used Transcendental Meditation as a front and worked through the Freemasons. They were going to severely affect the price of gold in the coming months to gain leverage on international markets. After that, their takeover would be very swift.

Bill stayed in East Grinstead for about eight months. He several times tried to persuade me back into the fold, but I’d shifted from believer to historian within weeks of resigning the cult. Even so, we remained on good terms, and he had some interesting stories to add to my burgeoning collection.

One day, in the autumn of 1984, I found Bill’s girlfriend in tears in my kitchen, talking to my wife. She explained that they had never had a sexual relationship, but that almost every Saturday, they would travel to London, where she would buy dresses, shoes and accessories in Bill’s fairly large size. He was heavy set and 6’4″ and still preferred the Harley Davidson over other forms of transport. At eight o’clock, he transformed into Astar Paremjian, recipient of the S.O.B.s, and would stand in front of the mirror, preened and prepped for her lover. Elron Elray stayed firmly on the Mothership, however.

THE BUNKER: Wait a minute. You’re saying that Bill’s girlfriend told you he dressed in women’s clothing to receive messages from outer space, and hoping for an incarnation of L. Ron Hubbard to appear?

JON: You seem to think there’s something unusual in that, which is really something, given the years you’ve spent studying the cult. Bill’s gospel spread far and wide. Swathes of the German and Russian “independent” movement were germinated by Bill. He also introduced super complex variants on the Upper Levels. He figured that the existing levels had to be expanded to include not just the self, but all the “Dynamics,” and the whole of the Organizing Board used to administer Scientology. This multiplied each level — by eight for the Dynamics and then by seven for the Divisions of the Org Board (also borrowed from the Galactic Confederation of OT III): which could give as many as 448 OT levels.

Eventually, so I’m told, a tumor started to block Bill’s throat, and rather than having a simple operation, he chose the auditing route, and suffocated to death before reaching his sixtieth birthday. There is at least one moral in this story.

I have happy memories of demonstrating outside Saint Hill, with Bill waving a placard and yelling, “Auditing not Frauditing!” Let’s hope that if his belief in reincarnation is true, he’s been reborn into a more tolerant setting, where it’s OK to dress in whatever clothes you like, without having to join a wacky cult first.

THE BUNKER: We’re going to supplement this lesson with some things to watch and listen to. This first video is a well known example of Bill Robertson in action. We found this description at a Free Zone website:

The Meeting at Crown Hotel in East Grinstead 1983 was the introduction of the Free Zone and New Civilization Game. Capt. Bill Robertson went there after he left the Church of Scientology to lecture about it to Scientologists who either left the church already or who were waiting for an alternative. Shortly after the the meeting started, David Gaiman*, former Guardian for Public Relations, came in and wanted to say a few words to the audience in order to keep them in the Church and loyal to the RTC. He talked about his SP declares, how he made it back into “good standing” with the new rulers. The crowd got furious when they asked what to do and he answered “communicate.” Then Capt. Bill stepped in and said his version.

(*Neil’s dad.)

As you can see, Bill was quite animated. He also wrote and sang songs. We have an example of that in his anthem for the “Galactic Patrol.” We created a slideshow for the song at the Voice in 2011. Get a load of Bill’s pipes!

Jon mentioned that Hubbard spoke about the Marcab Confederacy in a lecture, and we tracked down the one he’s referring to. It’s a portion of a talk called ‘Create and Confront,” recorded on January 3, 1960, and it was part of the State of Man Congress. In it, Hubbard talks about his days as a series of suicidal race car drivers over a 10,000-year period that began about 30,000 years ago. It’s really something…




Karen de la Carriere and Tory Christman appearing together? Wow. And this is fun. Karen is role-playing the patter of an annoying “reg” (short for registrar), trying to get money out of Tory. Give it a look!




As we announced on March 1, we’re joining bracket fever with a tournament like no other. It’s up to you to decide who should be named the new SMERSH, the traditional nemesis of Scientology. Cast your vote for who’s doing more to propel the church down its long slide into oblivion!


Here’s our second Final Four matchup, between the winners of the Diana bracket — — and Operation Clambake, the champ of the Freewinds bracket.

WWPVsOCMB is an online forum for the Anonymous anti-Scientology program, Project Chanology. Wild and woolly, the site became less about the worldwide protests that started in 2008 and more about the research being done by scores of vigilant Internet sleuths. Like any forum, its cast of characters is always changing, but document releases seem to have been particularly good in recent months. (Previously: WWP defeated Anderson Cooper in the first round, Paul Haggis in the Sweet Sixteen, and David Miscavige in the Diana bracket final.)

Operation Clambake, or, was started by a Norwegian engineer, Andreas Heldal-Lund, in 1996. It quickly became a major nemesis for the church as it hosted vast amounts of damaging information that Scientology wants kept quiet. It’s still a great resource today for researchers. (Previously: OCMB defeated Lisa Marie Presley in the first round, Jon Atack in the Sweet Sixteen, and Mark Bunker in the Freewinds bracket final.)

PLEASE NOTE: At 7 am on March 31 — 24 hours after this post went up — Operation Clambake was leading WWP by two votes. At that point, we made the official call and Clambake went on to the final match. Since that time, WWP gained many more votes on the poll, which remains active. That’s led to some questions over at WWP, and we understand that. But we had to call the contest at the 24-hour mark, and at that point OCMB had the edge. Therefore, Clambake is the official winner of this match. — T.O.


Posted by Tony Ortega on March 30, 2013 at 07:00


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