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LIVE-BLOGGING: The Toronto conference on Scientology kicks off and we’re on the scene

It’s day one of the Scientology studies conference that’s been organized in Toronto by Jon Atack, and we’ve already had a blast. Yesterday, we arrived and began hanging out with a stellar list of people who appear regularly in stories here at the Underground Bunker.

When, for example, do you expect to find Gerry Armstrong sitting with Hana Whitfield? Come on, this is amazing.

The conference gets going today at 9:30 am Eastern time, and we’ll provide some live coverage as we watch Atack get things going. Today’s subject is supposed to be L. Ron Hubbard’s early history.

Later in the afternoon we have to take off as we go to a local appearance with Paulette Cooper for our book about her, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely. Trailing along to film us will be an Australian TV crew.

Last night, we had a little Going Clear reunion, as your proprietor finally got to meet Hana Whitfield for the first time, and we were then joined by our old friend Spanky Taylor.


Hana was recently in London where she helped present Going Clear at a screening there. She thanked us for helping her meet our publisher, Humfrey Hunter of Silvertail Books, and we’re looking forward to hearing more about how that meeting went down.

Another person that we were happy to see was Jesse Prince, who is looking as healthy as a horse. Jesse is not only an important figure in Scientology history, he went through an extremely difficult bout of cancer. The descriptions he posted at his blog, especially about the way his spine was being destroyed, really made us feel for the guy. So to see him so healthy now, we were thrilled. We asked him about it, and he said he had recently taken his final pill in his last set of treatments. How do you feel, we asked. And this is how he responded…


After all the great things Chris Shelton has contributed to the Underground Bunker, can you believe this is the first time we’ve been in the same room?


Another highlight — getting to meet some of our journalistic heroes. We met Australian television journalist Steve Cannane a couple of years ago. He and Bryan Seymour set an example for journalistic coverage of Scientology that their American counterparts just can’t touch. Cannane allowed us to break the news last year that he’s writing a book about Scientology in Australia. Paris-based Jonny Jacobsen, meanwhile, is one of the most criminally underexposed journalists we’ve ever met. His writing is excellent, his accuracy is awe-inspiring, and he should have received credit for huge scoops that he was onto before anyone.

If you’re a regular Bunker reader, you know that we’ve been featuring pieces by Jacobsen as he’s become our European correspondent. But this is the first time we had a chance to meet him in person, and to say that we were awestruck is an understatement.



[Jacobsen, Ortega, Cannane]

Last night, we pulled Cannane and Jacobsen away to have a journalist confab. We had a lot of fun trading war stories and we got to hear about Steve’s book. Bunkeroos, you would have given your eyeteeth to be in the room and hear what was being discussed!

So we’re looking forward to today’s first session, and we’ll do our best to let you know what’s going on. With video livestreams going on, we’re not sure how much you’ll need our observations. But what the heck, live-blogging is fun!



Miss Lovely on parade

Miss Lovely goes north!







We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.

Our upcoming appearances (and check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour)…

June 22: Toronto (with Paulette Cooper) Toronto Public Library, 40 Orchard View Blvd, 7:30 pm, sponsored by the Centre for Inquiry-Canada

June 23: Toronto (with Paulette Cooper) The “Getting Clear” conference

June 28: Clearwater, Florida (with Paulette Cooper) Clearwater main Public Library, 2 pm, sponsored by Center for Inquiry-Tampa Bay and Humanist Society of the Suncoast

July 12: Washington DC, Drummond Hall, 2 pm Center for Inquiry (with Paulette Cooper)

July 14: Hartford, MARK TWAIN HOUSE (with Tom Tomorrow)


July 17: Denver, The Secular Hub, 7 pm (with Chris Shelton)

July 20: Dallas, Times Ten Cellar, 7 pm (with Robert Wilonsky)

July 22: Houston, Fox and Hound, sponsored by Humanists of Houston

July 24: San Antonio

July 25: Austin

July 29: Paris (with Jonny Jacobsen)

August 4: London, Conway Hall (with John Sweeney)

August 24: Boston, Boston Skeptics in the Pub, 7 pm

September 16: Arizona State University


Posted by Tony Ortega on June 22, 2015 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 cover to cover with the help of LA 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

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
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


9:40 am

We’re finally in place and online — and we want to thank Jens Tingleff for letting us piggyback on his hotspot! The room is filling up, and things are about to start.

The contellation of stars in this room is pretty stunning. We just spotted Nan McLean and we haven’t had a chance to say hello to her yet.

This morning we had breakfast with Hana Whitfield and Spanky Taylor, and across the room we spotted Nibs! Well, one of his sons, who is such a Hubbard you’d never miss it. We’ll be talking with him later.

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9:42 am

And suddenly the place is packed. Hana is hugging Jonny Jacobsen. I see Len Zinberg here. And Panoptea. And Andreas Heldal Lund is sitting two chairs over from me.

Jim Beverley is at the podium.
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9:45 am

Jon Atack is on stage now, brooding, as he usually does. Ha. Plenty of video cameras here, but it’s all for recording purposes — NO LIVESTREAM.

I just confirmed that with Beverley.
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9:46 am

Beverley is welcoming us. Atack is also on the stage, “my fellow conference-creator.”


People here from Australia, Russia, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, etc. “So we’ve done pretty well.”
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9:49 am

Beverley said Scientologists were welcome, and also asked for speakers not to be interrupted. Good call.

Telling us how after he saw all the people arriving yesterday, he told his wife he felt like he was in heaven.

And she said, just think, you’ll get to talk about Scientology all week, and then maybe you’ll stop.

Now talking about how he reached out to Atack and went to meet him and how this grew into this conference.
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9:52 am

And, now Jon Atack.

He’s having some laptop issues. OK, here we go. Jon is showing us a photo of him in 1975. He was 19 when he got into Scientology at a time he was going through a bad breakup.

An utterly believing member for 9 years. Never doubted Hubbard. But he says he was fortunate that he never joined staff.


Those who did were humiliated and abused.
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9:54 am

Telling us about how he would do a level in Scientology and he wouldn’t get the promised results — and when he brought that up, he was always told, you need the next level.

And then he heard about Mary Sue Hubbard going to prison. That there was a purge going on in the movement. With 600 people being named suppressive, including a friend of his.

When Atack complained, he got nowhere.
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9:56 am

Jon started seeking out people who had been named suppressive. Met hundreds. I found that most of them were kind, considerate, and intelligent people.

“I decided to stand up against Scientology.” First public meeting of ex-members in 1983 in East Grinstead.

Captain Bill Robinson was there. “He was bananas.” Ha.
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9:58 am

About 60 people at that first meeting in 1983. And there was an awful feeling of betrayal in the room, he said.

Outside the door were two church members with clipboards taking down names. Over the years, he says, that kind of surveillance and harassment became a normal part of his life.

Followed by Eugene Ingram wherever he went, all over the world.

They spread rumors that he was a heroin addict, a drug dealer, a rapist, a molester. He was sued in the US and the UK. About ten lawsuits.
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10:00 am

Jon running through some slides. He’s showing a protestor who carried a sign outside Jon’s house.

A 20-year Sea Org member. “Support your own family instead of destroying ours” was the sign he carried outside Jon’s house.

He learned that the man hadn’t talked to his family in seven years.
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10:02 am

Now he’s put up a slide of L. Ron Hubbard in Queens, taken by Jim Dincalci. They were hiding out in Queens from Dec 1972 to Sept 1973.

Points out the sebaceous cyst on his forehead. Hubbard was so terrified of doctors.
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10:03 am

Atack puts up a quote from the famous Judge Breckenridge decision, which came in a lawsuit against Gerry Armstrong.

Atack mentions that Gerry is here and gets a round of applause.

So now Atack is going to run through a biography of LRH.
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10:06 am

Just running through one point from Hubbard’s biography: that he claimed to a blood brother of an Indian tribe, and he’s thoroughly ripping it apart.

Now he’s pulling out a gem from the What is Scientology? book, about Ron in China, “watching monks meditate for weeks on end contemplating higher truths.”


Hubbard did visit Asia, and kept journals. Atack points out that there were multiple copies of his journals — Hubbard edited them. But in his own handwriting…

“The people worshipping have voices like bull-frongs. The entire place was shabby and too cold…The trouble with China is, there are too many chinks there.”
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10:09 am

Now he’s talking about the ill-fated Caribbean expedition in 1932.

And now we get to his college grades. He claimed to be one of the country’s early nuclear physicists.

Molecular and Atomic Physics, he failed. But he told people he was a scientist.

Now he’s showing the notorious 1938 letter that he wrote his wife, saying that he was going to smash his name into history.
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10:12 am

Now we’re up to Hubbard’s navy experience in the war.

Ooh, he just said that academic J. Gordon Melton, in his book, says it was true that Hubbard sank two Japanese submarines off the coast of Oregon, without any proof.


I wonder if that will be the only mention of Melton this week.
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10:15 am

Atack says that the church spent 0,000 on a mission to try to find the sunk submarines, and found nothing.

Going through some of Hubbard’s naval records. Hubbard claimed to have been blinded and injured, and had been permanently disabled.

But his actual navy records don’t indicate this.

And anyway, as Jon points out, Hubbard himself wrote about getting into a fistfight on the streets of LA at the same time that he was supposed to be blinded and disabled. Oops.
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10:18 am

As for California’s caveat, yes, Jim Beverley is an academic who has worked with Melton.

So what does California think is going to happen? I’m sitting here with Andreas Heldal-Lund, Gerry Armstrong, Jon Atack, and Hana Whitfield.

If Beverley thinks he’s going to get away with any apologism, do you think it would get past that crowd.


Also, California is a loon.

I’ve wanted to say that for years.
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10:21 am

Atack on to the Parsons stuff. Photo of Parsons and Marjorie Cameron.

Talking about the Empress card from the Tarot deck. What it meant to Hubbard. Saw her on the wing of his glider when he was a young man.

Now it’s 1947, and Hubbard has hit rock-bottom, emotionally. Wrote to the VA asking for mental health care.
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10:24 am

Ooh, Atack mentioned your proprietor. Feel like the kid in class who got mentioned by the teacher.

He’s talking about how we’ve been putting out the full interviews from the “Secret Lives” documentary on the Bunker.

The Barbara Klowden interview, which you can see at our site. But he says Klowden also talked about how Hubbard, drinking a bottle of scotch a day, would be morose for days, unable to do anything — and this was AFTER he claimed he’d discovered the secrets of the human mind.


Jim Dincalci backed that up, saying that Hubbard was majorly depressed.
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10:26 am

Ooh, Jon holds up a 1947 book by Hubbard which, on the back cover, talks about his dedication to studying hypnotism.

Now it’s 1950 and Dianetics has come out.

He’s talking about putting on a video of Russell Miller. We’re ahead on time, apparently.
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10:29 am

Russell Miller reached out to Atack in 1985. Offered to pay him to help with research. 2,000 pounds. Nice.

He did incredible work, Jon says. Atack had tried to get his book published and had had no luck. So he decided to let Russell have his manuscript to use for research.

Russell did interviews, got documents, and did an amazing job. And just last year his book, Bare-Faced Messiah, was republished (by Silvertail Books!)

Now we’re watching a video interview with Russell Miller.

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10:31 am

Russell says he was often in the US in the early 1980s for his work. He suggested to his editor, let’s try to find Hubbard and what happened to him.

I knew he was in California, I knew he was north of LA, and I calculated that he was somewhere near San Luis Obispo.

Then heard that Hubbard had died in 1986. So he had so much material, he decided to put together the book.

“Almost everything the church said about L. Ron Hubbard was a lie.”
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10:35 am

Russell: “He [Hubbard] was a complete stranger to the truth.”

He’s running through Hubbard’s lies about his biography, and it’s quite funny. Russell is so fun to listen to.

Even the simplest things, like saying that Hubbard claimed to be born on “Friday the 13th.” But March 13, 1911 was a Monday!

Says it was clear from Hubbard’s Navy record that he was a “malingering coward.” That got a laugh from the crowd.

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10:38 am

After publication of Russell’s book, the church claimed that he had been fooled by navy records that had been “sheep-dipped” and that Hubbard was secretly a hero.

In fact, Hubbard’s record is filled with problems, and hardly the kind of thing that was an anodyne record to cover up something else.

And anyway, where are these “real” records of his actual war activities? The church has never come up with them.

Post war, how Hubbard was always on the take, trying to get payment for wounds that never existed.
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10:42 am

“I was left with some admiration of Hubbard,” Russell says, if only because Hubbard could carry on in this manner for so long.

He’s asked about harassment, and Russell talks about being followed in his car every day. That rumors about him were bring spread.

“They started accusing me of being responsible for unsolved crimes.”

A murder. An arson attack. They’d tell the police that it was Russell.

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10:46 am

So Russell’s book was sued all over the world by Scientology, but he prevailed everywhere — except the US.

In the US, a well-heeled plaintiff can keep something like that go on forever if they try hard enough. And Russell’s publisher couldn’t keep it up.

Private eyes tracked down virtually everyone he knew in the US. (It was Eugene Ingram.)

Russell called Ingram. “what precisely are you trying to prove.” “Well, we’re pretty sure you killed Dean Reed, and we’re trying to prove it.”

I wrote about this at the Bunker earlier. Reed was an American singer in Germany. Russell had gone to interview him when Reed committed suicide. And so Scientology was trying to prove that he had been responsible for Reed’s death.
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10:49 am

“I stand by the book. It was the most deeply researched book I’d ever done” — Russell

The church never questioned what he’d written, they just harassed and followed him, and sued him over things like copyright.

He holds up what he calls a very rare American edition of the book — Hey, that’s the same version I have! I can’t remember who I stole it from. Graham Berry, probably.

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10:55 am

Jon pointing out a couple of corrections to what Russell said in the video.

Russell had said that Gerry Armstrong was the church’s official biographer of Hubbard — actually, Gerry had secured a huge amount of Hubbard documents, and he helped copy them for the man who was actually hired to write the official church biography, Omar Garrison.

Gerry’s story is really complex, and we all make mistakes like that in his story. I know it drives him nuts, but Gerry, we do our best!
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10:59 am

Gerry pointing out that the photo of Hubbard is in Queens was in 1973, not 1972. (I noticed that too.) And he wants to correct the notion that he took documents from the church.

(See our previous comment. Gerry is sensitive about how those particulars tend to get misrepresented.)

Jim Beverley now talking, saying how church officials recently gave him some dead agent packs. He says one of them was bout your proprietor. Interesting.
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11:01 am

David Pike asks Atack if Hubbard ever got a disability pension from the Navy. Yes he did, Atack, says, but it was very small.

So that’s end of the first session. Time for a 20 minute break. Time for me to say hi to the people I didn’t get a chance to greet yet.

The guy next to me is about to pour water over my smoking fingers. Aaaaah.
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11:28 am

I took some photos at the break. Check out these pairs I snagged!

First, from one of my favorite stories of all time, Tory Christman and Andreas Heldal-Lund!

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11:31 am

And how’s this for the glamor couple!


L. Ron Hubbard’s great-grandson, Jamie DeWolf, and Going Clear star Spanky Taylor!

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11:35 am

How’s this for a historic meeting. Nan McLean, who plays an important part in our book and lives not too far from here, and our host, Jon Atack!

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11:38 am

Just the other day we featured a moving essay by Len Zinberg, who was a surprise in our book. Forty years ago, he was tasked by the Guardian’s Office with trailing Paulette Cooper — but he never got the chance.

Now, for the first time, they meet! Wow.

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11:45 am

OK, we’re starting the second session, and Jon Atack is on stage with Gerry Armstrong.

Gerry’s starting to talk. Mentions his wife Caroline Letkeman. She’s apparently made cards for everyone. Ooh, tchotchkes!

Gerry’s telling us his story, about growing up in Chilliwack, BC, and ending up in the Sea Org. Joining the Apollo in 1971 and was on it for four years.

Telling us about his various posts on the ship.
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11:50 am

Gerry is telling us that part of his responsibilities had to do with tracking down people who blew.

He also worked directly with Hubbard a lot. His later posts involved intelligence.

“The Sea Org was an incredible experience. In a way it was terrifying. I believe I was in a state of fear virtually the entire time.”
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11:52 am

Gerry is saying that he’s critical of New Religious Movement scholars, who often consider former members to be “apostates” and shouldn’t be listened to.

In fact, he says, those are the people who are telling the truth.

Couldn’t agree more, Gerry.
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11:59 am

Gerry talks about being locked up on the fifth or sixth floor of Fifield Manor circa 1976. (The chateau that is today the Hollywood Celebrity Centre.)

Gerry has us laughing over the wedding (most of you have seen the photo) when, after the ceremony, the gifts all went to Hubbard rather than to the brides and grooms.

Now he’s talking about the deprivations of the Rehabilitation Project Force. Ended up sleeping in a parking garage at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater (same as what Nancy Many went through when she was five months pregnant!).

Interrogations. Whatever you said was written down and recorded and could be used against you.
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12:04 pm

Gerry is running through OT 3, and once again, it’s the spaceships in the form of DC-8s that always gets the biggest laugh.

Oh, El Ron.

Atack interjects about how the Scientologists who met with Beverley made the usual points, such as that “Christianity is completely compatible with Scientology,” Atack said.

And Gerry, totally straight-faced, quickly added…

“The same way Satanism is.”

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12:07 pm

Gerry says the getting rid of his body thetans helped him leave Scientology, because he had love for his BTs and didn’t want to cast them out.

That got a good laugh.

Gerry says that your body is supposed to be actually composed of body thetans, and Atack points out the problem with driving them away if that’s true.

These jokers ought to take their act on the road.
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12:14 pm

After the FBI raid, and after Hubbard hid out in Nevada for a while, LRH came back to the California desert and started making training films.

Gerry says he was Props I/C and Sets I/C.

Then later was at the Gilman Hot Springs, setting up another operation. A raid threat. One of Gerry’s underlings, the LRH Gear I/C, brought a box of material and said, what should I do with this?

They were trying to find stuff to destroy that might incriminate Hubbard. But this was a pile of documents from Hubbard’s childhood and entire history. No, don’t destroy these, they have value.

He went to where they were stored, and took 20 or 21 boxes of old material. Gerry thought that it might form material for a library or archive and for public relations purposes.
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12:21 pm

Gerry says his last communication with Hubbard was in February 1980, when LRH went into permanent hiding.

Fun moment: He said he had money to purchase a car because he had an unlimited budget in a project to get Hubbard a Nobel Prize for the sauna program (Purification Rundown).

Talking about working with Omar Garrison, the writer who was hired by Scientology to write an official biography.

Interesting: Gerry said that having access to the actual Hubbard documentation helped him deprogram himself.
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12:24 pm

Gerry says Omar’s nickname for Hubbard was “Johnny Goodbugger.”

Ha. The hero of Battlefield Earth is Johnny Goodboy Tyler, and Gerry says there was data in the documents that in his youth about buggery. Wow.

Beverley cutting in now, as we’re running into lunch. Wow, time is flying. That’s a good sign.

OK, we’ve broken for lunch. See you back in about an hour.
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1:51 pm

OK, starting the afternoon session.

Jon begins, “What is Scientology?”

Hey, if you don’t know no one does, Jon.

Ah, he’s reading from the Latey decision. Yeah, that one left a mark.

“[Scientology] is dangerous because it is out to capture people, especially children and impressionable young people, and indoctrinate them”
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1:58 pm

Jon’s doing an archaelogical dig of Dianetics now. What was the base material that Hubbard was influenced by when he dreamed it up?

He tells us about a book named “Men Under Stress” that Hubbard might have run across at Oak Knoll Hospital after the war.

Also how Hubbard co-opted Freudian terms, and added pheno-barbital to the mix.

In Dianetics, Hubbard made various promises for Clear, including raised IQ and imperviousness to certain ailments.
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2:03 pm

Dianetics sold 150,000 copies in 1950, probably reaching something like 370,000 people. But then things fell apart.

The publisher withdrew the book, and all but one of his chief initial followers abandoned Hubbard.

His second wife, Sara Northrup, accused Hubbard of torture.

Now he’s talking about Hubbard and hypnosis. And Science of Survival — which he says Hubbard didn’t write.
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2:06 pm

Here’s another shot. Paulette came by to say hello as our lunch was wrapping up. That’s Nan McLean, 92, and her son John.

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2:12 pm

“This is the primary textbook of the Church of Scientology,” Jon says as shows the cover of “Magick: The Master Therion” by Aleister Crowley

Atack says he traced 120 different ideas Hubbard plagiarized for Scientology, and 60 of them come from this book — which Hubbard actually recommended that his followers read (but they never do).

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2:20 pm

Jon is telling us what fun it was when he finally realized that “thetan” is how a lisping person says Satan.

He’s describing how much Hubbard’s ideas about Body Satans comes from Crowley.

“He’s torturing a tomato!”

Well, you can imagine which slide he just put up.
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2:30 pm

Jon just put up the handwritten notes to OT 3 on the screen, and now everyone around me has pneumonia.

Thanks, Jon.

He’s put up a copy of the Sea Org contract, and he’s asked Hana Whitfield to come up to the stage.

They rearranged the chairs and now Atack is on stage with Gerry Armstrong and Hana Whitfield.
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2:31 pm

Hana was the second person to sign a Sea Org contract.

She’s telling her history. From Johannesburg, and how the title of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health grabbed her.

She had seen someone electroshocked in a hospital and it traumatized her.
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2:35 pm

She got to Saint Hill, and attended LRH speeches that became part of the Special Briefing Course.

She’s describing what it was like to watch Hubbard bound to the speaker’s podium. And what it was like to hear him speak.

How Hubbard would go into a reverie and take off on a tangent, then get back to the main point and shake off that reverie.

Did anyone else notice there was something wrong the guy? But the others were staring adorably at him. She decided she better keep her mouth shut.
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2:39 pm

Hey, troopers, your proprietor needs a break before the evening activities begin. We have an interview with Steve Cannane and then our book appearance in town, and we don’t want to be drained.

We hate to interrupt the live-blog, but perhaps some of the other people here can provide some play-by-play in the comments.

We’ll show up in the comments later on.

Until then.
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