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A Bunker Exclusive: Jonny Jacobsen’s 2008 book introduction describing Scientology

Jonny Jacobsen

Jonny Jacobsen

As 2007 was ending, and then as the Anonymous movement reacted to the Tom Cruise video incident in January 2008, a British journalist living in Paris, Jonny Jacobsen, was racing to put together a book about the Church of Scientology. More than a year before “The Truth Rundown,” the blockbuster series in the Tampa Bay Times that came out in 2009, Jacobsen was ready to expose the shocking nature of physical brutality in the highest echelons of Scientology at its secretive base in California, and many other previously unpublished secrets.

But Jonny struggled to find a publisher for his work, and after writing his introduction, he turned instead to another medium: He began his excellent blog, Infinite Complacency.

Now, years later, Jonny, who has become a favorite contributor here at the Bunker, has given us the rare treat of publishing the introduction he had prepared in 2008. It holds up spectacularly, and we’re proud to be chosen for its debut.

Scientology Works!

By Jonny Jacobsen


If the end justifies the means, what justifies the end?
Albert Camus (*)

Ask the average Scientologist to sum up the movement in a few words and they might describe it as a workable system for dealing with life. They will probably explain that it is an applied religious philosophy or the modern science of mental health. They might even add that the movement is working for a civilisation without insanity, criminals or war.

There is a good chance they will tell you about Narconon, the system that uses Scientology principles to get people off drugs: Actress Kirstie Alley says it saved her life. And Tom Cruise, Scientology’s most famous follower, swears that the movement’s literacy programme worked wonders for him. Members are also proud of the movement’s campaign against psychiatric abuse and its prisoner rehabilitation programme, Criminon.

On the personal level, Scientologists say the movement has made them healthier, happier, and better able to communicate. Some say it saved their marriages and brought them safely though other personal crises. For these people, there is no limit to what Scientology’s teachings can do. But whether they call it their religion, their philosophy, or their church, there is one thing they will insist on: Scientology works.

What they will not do is explain in any detail how it actually works because it is not permitted to summarise its teachings in this way. The official line is that if you want to understand Scientology, you need to try it yourself. But they will insist: Scientology works.

And they are right of course: it does work. The real question is what is it actually doing? For while true believers talk about moving up the Bridge to Total Freedom, some former members insist it is in fact a trap: the Total Freedom Trap.

Scientology was created more than 50 years ago by pulp fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. It still operates worldwide according his blueprint. Hubbard ran the first prototype of his system in 1950 and was tinkering with it until shortly before his death in 1986.

Scientologists still believe Hubbard’s colourful official biography, despite the abundance of documentary evidence refuting it. So they refuse to accept that his youthful adventures in Asia were largely fictional, that his wartime heroics were fabricated, and that the scientific credentials he claimed were entirely bogus. Hubbard was a great story-teller, a man of tremendous charisma: But he was also an inveterate liar.

If Scientologists themselves remain remarkably resistant to this kind of information, it is at least partly down to the fact that the movement explicitly discourages looking at both sides of the question. They are told that entheta — information critical of Hubbard or his writings — inhibits their spiritual development. That is how Scientology works.

Many people join the movement hoping it has the answer to their personal problems, for certainly that is what the recruiters tell them. Others are attracted by the success stories from Scientologists explaining how it transformed their lives, saving them from sickness, drugs or a life of crime. They do not know that attesting to such “wins” is a condition of graduating from one Scientology course to the next.

Some people are attracted by the simple theory set out in Hubbard’s first self-help book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Others are drawn by the promise of the special powers unlocked in the upper levels: Telekinesis, telepathy — even control of the physical universe.

What they do not realise — and what veteran members refuse to accept — is that none of the grand claims made for Scientology have ever been independently corroborated. Scientology does not make you smarter, stronger, or more effective in business; it does not grant you special powers denied the rest of humanity. There are plenty of disillusioned graduates of the upper levels who can testify to that.

Paying members have little idea how carefully the ground was prepared to draw them in. Staffers are trained to attract people using a range of techniques, including a personality test repeatedly dismissed by experts as worthless. They are under constant pressure to recruit and to sell: Their standing in the organisation may well depend on how much money they can bring in. They are taught to get “bodies in the shop,” to sell the product and to keep people coming back for more.

Some experts have argued that the early training Scientologists undergo acts as a kind of covert hypnosis, inducing a euphoric state that persuades newcomers there really is something to the system. Something similar may be happening in the process known as auditing, a central part of Scientology’s practices that involves probing into the intimate details of your life. Scientology’s own literature is clear that auditors need to be able to “control their subjects and to direct people and situations.” That is how Scientology works.

Scientologists believe their movement is dedicated to nothing less than saving the universe, that it is the last, best hope for humanity. But that mission is used to justify the movement’s remorseless pursuit of money and influence, the use of dirty tricks against its enemies and the harsh disciplinary code imposed on its own followers.

So the Scientologist who joined in the hope of improving his relationships and communications skills might one day find himself ordered to cut off contact with family and friends — the notorious disconnection policy. And if he wants to keep moving up the Bridge that is exactly what he will do. For this is part of the war against the “suppressives” of the world — the enemies of Scientology. And in every war there must be casualties.

In the 1960s and 70s government reports in several countries condemned Scientology’s practices as manipulative and fraudulent. In 1978 Hubbard himself was convicted of fraud by a French court (sentenced in absentia, he never served his time).(**) But Hubbard’s wife Mary Sue was among 11 senior Scientologists jailed in the late 1970s and early 1980s for infiltrating and spying on a number of US federal agencies. It was described at the time as the biggest single domestic espionage operation ever mounted against US government agencies.

Since Hubbard’s death, the empire he built has been run by a second-generation Scientologist, David Miscavige. The new leadership insists that those responsible for past excesses were expelled and the movement reformed. Since then however, the courts in several different countries have convicted senior Scientologists of fraud, libel, espionage, and in one case even manslaughter. These cases show how the movement’s ruthless hard-sell tactics have driven some members to mental collapse and even suicide; how its own private intelligence agency spies on its enemies; and how it still uses legal harassment in a bid to destroy its critics. And all of this was sanctioned in Hubbard’s own writings.

In the United States however, none of this seems to matter. For in the United States, the Church of Scientology is recognised as a religion.

In 1993, after a bitter, decades-long battle, David Miscavige persuaded the US Internal Revenue Service to grant Scientology tax-exempt status as a church. It was a remarkable coup by any standards, but especially given the movement’s past record.

Its new-found status, as well as saving it millions of dollars in tax, brought it both constitutional protection and political clout. Thus in the mid-to-late 1990s we were treated to the spectacle of the US State Department lecturing its European allies on religious freedom. For several European countries remain convinced that Scientology is more concerned with money and power than the welfare of its own members. This trans-Atlantic culture clash remains unresolved.

But if politicians in the United States have struggled to get to grips with the issue, effective resistance to Scientology has emerged from another quarter.

In the mid-1990s Scientology carried out court-approved raids on the homes of some of its most vocal critics on the Internet in a bid to shut them down. It was a catastrophic miscalculation, unleashing a backlash from the online community that continues to this day. After a string of pyrrhic victories in the courts (and several losses), Scientology found that it could not stop the contents of its secrets levels from leaking out on to the Internet.

Scientology’s founding myth, as revealed in its secret, upper levels, was splashed all over cyberspace, a lurid tale of galactic tyranny that made Flash Gordon look like high art. More seriously however, it revealed that what most Scientologists thought they knew about their movement was in fact false. It turned out that Scientology was not, after all, compatible with other religions: The upper levels revealed, for example, that Christianity was a false memory implanted by evil aliens.

Scientology’s heavy-handed attempts to shut down its enemies on the Internet inspired a whole new generation of critics who today represent the biggest challenge to the movement. And for years now, they have been asking all the right questions. They want to know, for example, why Narconon gets state funding in certain parts of the United States when some medical professionals describe its practices as potentially dangerous. They are asking similar questions about Scientology’s literacy programme and about Criminon, which operates in US prisons. And when they cannot find the answers, they go looking themselves.

These days, the Internet is where all Scientology’s dirty laundry gets hung out to dry. You can read shocking accounts by disillusioned members of the Sea Organization. The Sea Org is meant to be the movement’s elite cadre, Scientology’s most dedicated members: but it is also where the some of worst abuses occur. Increasing numbers of former executives are speaking out about the violence at the highest levels of the movement, including the beatings handed out by David Miscavige.

Most Scientologists will know little, if anything, of what has been done in their name, of the long list of criminal convictions the movement and its operatives have accumulated over the years. And if they did find out, they might still find a way of keeping their eyes wide shut. For one of the fundamentals of Scientology is that its “technology” is infallible: so if something goes wrong, the fault lies elsewhere.

That is how Scientology works.

For what is striking about the movement is the disparity between its publicly stated values and how it actually behaves; between its carefully nurtured image and the way it treats its followers, its critics and even the authorities in the countries where it operates. Top-dollar lobbying and the glamour of celebrity members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta have blinded many US politicians to Scientology’s dark side. A lot of people who should know better appear to have swallowed their propaganda whole.

But the word is out about the movement, particularly on the Internet. And the evidence is mounting against the movement’s leader, David Miscavige.

(*) L’Homme Révolté, (The Rebel) Albert Camus (Gallimard, Paris, 1951).

(**) Hubbard was convicted in absentia and sentenced to jail. Three members of Scientology’s Paris operation were convicted with him, but they were acquitted on appeal in 1981, the appeal court having accepted that they had applied Scientology practices in good faith. It is difficult to see how the same argument would have worked in Hubbard’s case, but since he never appealed his conviction stands. The final sentence was two years in prison and a fine of 250,000 francs.


ManuelaResponseA note about Manuela Oliveira

Last year, one of the stories that’s meant the most to us here in the Bunker, “Scientology’s Private Dancer,” we published in concert with Australian television journalist Bryan Seymour.

The story involved an Australian couple, Yannus Sufandi and Manuela Oliveira, who had come to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams as professional choreographers. But their dreams had got sidetracked when Manuela got involved with Scientology, which convinced her to sign the billion-year contract of the Sea Organization, split with Yannus, and move into the Sea Org’s restrictive berthing at PAC Base. In part, we did the story to make the point that even today, with all of the information about Scientology online, young people can still be drawn into the organization very rapidly.

Seymour’s contribution to the story got the attention of Scientology’s brass, which reacted in unusual ways. As the update to our story indicated, Scientology took the unusual step of creating a “response video” featuring Manuela that was just as quickly yanked down from YouTube. Then, within a week of our publication and Bryan’s broadcast, Manuela was moved from Los Angeles to Sydney, and we heard from Yannus that she began getting involved in the dance scene there.

Yesterday, researcher Garry Scarff noticed that Manuela is teaching classes at the Sydney Dance Company, and he announced that Manuela must have left the Sea Org.

We don’t know that that’s true. Scientology has reacted unusually to the publicity of Manuela’s story, and the response video showed that the church wanted to counter the idea that Manuela would no longer be able to pursue her dance career while still working for the church.

We are attempting to learn Manuela’s current situation through multiple channels, and when we know more about her situation, we’ll spell it out here. But until then, we would caution against making any assumptions about her status in the Sea Org or in Scientology based on her involvement with Sydney Dance Company or her appearance in any dance videos.


Posted by Tony Ortega on October 6, 2014 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

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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