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Scientology’s snitching culture: Jefferson Hawkins explains the ‘Knowledge Report’

Jefferson_Hawkins_ObeyJefferson Hawkins was once the top marketing executive for the Church of Scientology and helped it reach its greatest extent with the famous “volcano” TV ads in the 1980s. He’s told his tale of getting into and out of the church with his excellent books Counterfeit Dreams and Leaving Scientology, and he’s helping us understand the upside-down world of Scientology “ethics.”

One of the things we’ve tried to do, in our radio and television interviews, is make people understand what a paranoid culture of snitching that Scientology promotes among its members. It’s really something that the rest of the media rarely ever explains, but we think it’s one of the most characteristic results of L. Ron Hubbard’s “ethics” rules. This week, in our ongoing series, Jeff helps us see where that idea of turning in your friends, family, and neighbors comes from.

JEFFERSON: this week we’re having a look at Chapter 9 of Introduction to Scientology Ethics, “Ethics Reports.” This is a short chapter, but a vital one in the overall system of Scientology ethics. This is where Scientologists are taught to report on each other.

THE BUNKER: You mean, the infamous “Knowledge Reports”?

JEFFERSON: We know historically that one of the characteristics of any totalitarian, dystopian society is the degree to which citizens spy on each other and report each other to the authorities. This was the case in Nazi Germany, where the Hitler Youth were trained to spy on their own parents and neighbors. In the Soviet Union, citizens reported on those who they considered to be suspicious, disloyal, counter-revolutionary elements, and they were then arrested and sent to the gulags. The East German Stasi, which has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies to ever have existed, had as one of its main tasks spying on the population through a vast network of citizen-informants.

THE BUNKER: Big Brother is watching you!

JEFFERSON: Yes, and little brother too. Orwell describes this vividly in 1984:

It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which the Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak — “child hero” was the phrase generally used — had overheard some compromising remark and denounced his parents to the Thought Police.

This is a mechanism that is also common to cults. In his Combatting Cult Mind Control, Steven Hassan notes that this is an important part of information control:

Information control also extends across all relationships. People are not allowed to talk to each other about anything critical of the leader, doctrine, or organization. Members must spy on each other and report improper activities or comments to leaders.

THE BUNKER: So how does L. Ron Hubbard sell this to the faithful?

JEFFERSON: Very cleverly. He presents it in terms of responsibility and control, two things that are highly valued by Scientologists. To control one’s environment, he argues, one must take responsibility for what goes on around one. Sounds pretty good so far. Then, as usual, he states it as a technical breakthrough based on his research:

In analyzing countless numbers of groups with whom it has been my good fortune — or misfortune — to be associated, I finally isolated ONE factor which made an upstat group upstat and a downstat group downstat and a horror to be around. The single most notable difference between an upstat, easy-to-live-and-work-with group and a downstat, hard-to-live-and-work-with group is that the individual group members themselves enforce the action and mores of the group.

So if you deputize everyone as a part of your internal policing network, anyone who steps out of line can be instantly spotted and handled. Hubbard adds:

Those who would have a tendency to wreak havoc or loaf don’t dare. And the group becomes easy to live with and work with.

THE BUNKER: I feel safer already!

JEFFERSON: Next, Hubbard lays out how these “Knowledge Reports” will be enforced. He says:

Anyone who knew of a loafing or destructive or off-policy or out-ethics action and WHO DID NOT FILE A KNOWLEDGE REPORT becomes an ACCESSORY in any justice action taken thereafter.

Note the ALL CAPS! And:

Any person who knew of an outness or crime and failed to report it and thus became an accessory receives the same penalty as the person disciplined as the actual offender.

THE BUNKER: That’s pretty harsh. So what sorts of things are people supposed to report?

JEFFERSON: Hubbard gives a list of the types of reports that a Scientologist is supposed to file. These include Damage Report, Misuse Report, Waste Report, Idle Report, Noncompliance Report (where someone didn’t comply with a senior order), Error Report, Misdemeanor Report, Crime Report, Annoyance Report, and many more.

THE BUNKER: I’m surprised they get any work done.

JEFFERSON: Seriously, you’d be amazed how much staff time gets absorbed in all of these reports. If someone takes an unauthorized smoke break, the staff around him are supposed to write up an Idle Report and file it. If someone doesn’t meet their production quota, they get a Noncompliance Report — and so on. I remember at the Int Base, vast amounts of time were wasted writing, reading and dealing with these reports.
But more important than the reports themselves was the atmosphere it created. You literally knew you were being watched every minute. So the only way to survive was to toe the line, keep busy on your job, not be observed idle at any time, and be always cheerful and productive. And of course you could never utter a negative word or hold a negative thought about one’s seniors or about Scientology tech.

THE BUNKER: Can a staff member file a Knowledge Report on his or her senior?

JEFFERSON: Technically, yes, and it is done, although it’s generally frowned upon. You can get away with it if your senior is not very far up the food chain, and you can even rein in an abusive senior. But when it comes to filing reports on the senior executives of Scientology, no, that doesn’t happen. I remember one time on the Apollo, a staff member filed a Knowledge Report on Hubbard. It was said that his luggage hit the dock before the ink was dry — he was offloaded instantly. If a Knowledge Report is filed on a senior person, then it is usually the person who filed the report who gets investigated and disciplined. A lot of Scientologists have learned this the hard way when they tried to write Knowledge Reports about the Ideal Org Program, the Basics Evolution or the GAT technical alterations. They were the ones who got investigated and ultimately declared.

THE BUNKER: The most recent and salient example being Leah Remini, of course. In 2006, after she noticed that Scientology leader David Miscavige was at the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes without his wife, Shelly, she asked about it and got a rude response from then-spokesman Tommy Davis (“You don’t have the fucking rank to ask about Shelly.”) Not only was Shelly missing (she had vanished nearly a year earlier, late in 2005, but Leah didn’t know that yet), but Leah was apparently unhappy with David’s behavior around his female assistant. So after the wedding, she wrote up a Knowledge Report, turning in the leader of Scientology himself! For her trouble, she was hauled into Flag and made to undergo three months of interrogations until she agreed to rescind the report.

JEFFERSON: The bottom line is that the Knowledge Report system is there to ensure that Scientologists and staff continually spy on each other and provide a continual flow of intelligence to the Ethics apparatus within the Church. And it’s there to make sure Scientologists know that they are being watched and monitored by those who are closest to them — their Scientologist family and friends. It’s not there to correct Church management operations or abuses. And that’s why it ultimately fails to create the “upstat group” Hubbard claimed it would, and instead creates an atmosphere of fear and paranoia.


Posted by Tony Ortega on January 2, 2014 at 07:00

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