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Jon Atack: How to talk to a Scientologist to plant the seeds of doubt

Jon_AtackJon 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 a year on Saturdays he helped 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. He was kind enough to send us a new post.

Jon, it looks like you have found another fun way to turn the words of L. Ron Hubbard back in on themselves. Let’s hear it.

JON: “More communication, not less, is the answer,” or so L. Ron Hubbard asserted, some time before introducing “disconnection” as a core policy. And there is a key in this statement as to how we might help current inmates of the cult. John McMaster, the “World’s First Real Clear” — who left after struggling with a broken collar bone for three hours, having been hurled from a ship into the sea — used to call Saint Hill just before the bus took the poor slaves back to Stonelands and engage a registrar in conversation. I have little doubt from my meetings with John that these were rambling and long, but they were well meant. And by the time he was done, the registrar would have accumulated some first-hand material about “Tubby,” as John called his former master.

The late, great Cyril Vosper — one of the most amusing friends it has ever been my pleasure to know — used to chat with street recruiters, who would be amazed when he told them he’d spent time with Hubbard on many occasions. They would inevitably ask for his strongest memory of the Great OT, and Cyril would say, “His rotten teeth. He had the filthiest breath. Terrified of dentists, you see.” (if you don’t believe him, watch The Shrinking World of L. Ron Hubbard).

My friend, Mitch, had a very direct approach. He traveled around Europe, in the course of his work, so would find the local org and tell the nearest recruiter about OT III. When Milan Org was at its peak — and more than “Saint Hill size,” with about 200 staff — Mitch found a “body-router” who spoke no English. Far braver than I, Mitch ventured into the busy Org and had a desperate time failing to find anyone who could understand enough English to grasp the story of Xenu and the Wall of Fire. A year or so later, Frank Notaro was dragged into the basement at the Blue Buildings and repeatedly attacked with cattle prods, for parading in his ping-pong ball adorned “body thetan” suit, so I was rather glad that no one understood Mitch.

Another of Mitch’s projects was to write tantalizing letters to “letter regs” in foreign climes. He told one that he had recently inherited and was wondering whether to buy the Bridge or a Porsche. Can you imagine the agony, when he responded to the eager reg’s letter by saying that he was going to buy the car, instead of Total Freedom?


OK, so perhaps there is another way, much as I admire Mitch’s courage and wit. Anonymous capitalized on South Park, by cutting any recruiting lines to the young and cool, but how do we penetrate the walls of the grand edifice and reach inside to the convicted?

Now, Scientology functions on the antique Taylor system of statistical management, and while the “governing policy” of the “religion” is to “make money,” there are a host of other stats, including “letters in.” This leads to an anomaly. As long as your correspondence is not hostile, it increases the letter reg’s stats. The problem, back in the day, was that once you’d let out your address, you would be subjected to whole rainforests of glossy promotional material. And setting up a Post Office box is perhaps too much to ask. With the advent of email, it is possible to remain thoroughly anonymous and to communicate with the prisoners of Scientology.

And there are so many friendly questions that can help a person dislodge even the surest fanaticism (and, yes, an Invest Aide did once confess to me, mid-mission, and she remains one of the finest people I’ve ever met).

My old chum, Steve Hassan, has long spoken about the cult-identity that is grafted onto the authentic identity (if you want to impress people at parties, find Flavil Yeakley’s paper on cloning of identity in cults). As he says, you can shift a person away from their steely-eyed zeal, simply by reminding them of their life before the cult. So, ask the reg what he or she did before Scientology. Ask about the family. Ask about hobbies and passions. I like to ask what the person expected to gain from their involvement (I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually achieved their goal). But also what they expect to achieve and what they’ve seen others achieve. With time, a conversation should develop naturally. The reg won’t give up, because you are adding to the stat which governs all of his or her “privileges” (ie human rights, to the rest of us). And, given enough gentle help, people do decide to leave.

Now, multiply your endeavours by a thousand. If letter regs the world over are flooded with friendly enquiries, but without a penny to show for it, the Orgs will find themselves over-stretched. And some of those regs will begin to waver and perhaps realize that the outside world is not as hostile as they’ve been brought to believe. After all, as the Founder said, “A being is as alive as he can communicate.” Maybe we could bring some of the poor victims of Scientology back to life?

THE BUNKER: That’s a fascinating call to action, Jon. And it raises a question for us: Perhaps our readers who left the church can tell us about conversations with outsiders which might have contributed to their process of leaving?

Was a confrontational approach ever effective? (Someone shouting about Xenu at you, for example.) Or was it someone simply asking about your former life, as Jon suggests here? We think other Bunker readers would be very interested to hear, from former members, what they think is the best way to engage a Scientologist in discussion.


The systematic destruction of Ken Dandar picks up speed

Our longtime readers know we’ve been watching the strange and frustrating saga of Ken Dandar, the Tampa attorney who found his livelihood threatened because he agreed to represent against the Church of Scientology a woman who wanted answers about the death of her son in Clearwater, Florida. Scientology convinced a retired local judge to award it $1 million in damages because, it claimed, Dandar had promised never to sue the church after a 2004 settlement. Dandar denied that he gave up the right to represent a client against Scientology, but the judge disagreed.

Joe Childs of the Tampa Bay Times yesterday reported that Scientology is now beginning to collect on the damage award, and seized the bank account of Dandar’s firm.

We wonder if the American Bar Association is ever going to take notice of this situation. An attorney is facing ruination not because he is accused of malpractice, or because he hurt a client, or even because he sued someone in a vexatious manner. An attorney is facing ruination for the simple act of acting as an attorney and representing a woman who blamed Scientology for the death of her son. (The lawsuit was dismissed for lack of evidence after Dandar left the case.)

This story frustrates us no end, and it is with some hesitation that we mention something that encouraged us when we read it — and that’s seeing the byline of Joe Childs on a Tampa Bay Times story. We sent Childs a note of congratulation recently after the news emerged that he’d taken a buyout from the newspaper which is (like all other dead-tree publications) facing severe cutbacks.

Joe got out while the getting out was still good, and we have no doubt he’ll thrive. We only hope he continues to write about Scientology for the Times when he has the chance.


Posted by Tony Ortega on October 4, 2014 at 07:00

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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ


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