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Amassing the real history of Scientology has been a long and dramatic relay race

jon_atack4Jon 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 three years he’s been helping 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.

I’m stirred by the Great Wollersheim Debate to make a few historical remarks. Lawrence rightly says that his case was a collaboration between many people; my contribution was but one of many.

The attorneys fought long and hard on his behalf, and Lawrence himself showed unbelievable fortitude. To this day, the only person to defeat Scientology so thoroughly in court is Lawrence. The odds against him were overwhelming, yet he persisted regardless, and we all owe him a great debt.

Lawrence’s words about collaboration are very important. I spent a dozen years gathering and distributing information about Scientology. Sometimes, I was the first person to find a new nugget, but, more often, someone else offered me something that helped to complete a picture.

The “corporate monolith” argument is a case in point. I was surprised to find, when I left the cult in 1983, that there was actually no such thing as the “Church of Scientology.” Rather, there were many interlocking corporations each claiming autonomy. Among these strange creatures were some that I had never heard of – for instance, the Building Investment Committee. Investigation showed that huge sums of money were being transferred between these entities.

The “service” organizations, which offered training and “auditing,” remained in perpetual debt to shady consultancies. From the moment I left – 18 October 1983 – I wanted to find out who was really in charge. I was eventually able to show that there was a “corporate veil,” because factually all of the corporations were under the control of David Miscavige. Legally, such an argument is said to have “pierced the corporate veil” and shown a “corporate monolith.”


My first encounter with the corporate structure came in the Spring of 1984. Robin Scott was gulled into taking a plane that landed in Copenhagen en route to Sweden. A few months earlier, he had been the look-out when Ron Lawley and Morag Bellmaine, posing as officials of the Religious Technology Center, marched into the Advanced Organization in Copenhagen and demanded their OT packs.
Robin was arrested in Copenhagen, and his wife called me to ask for my help. At the time, I was in touch with a chap in San Diego named Larry West, who was embroiled in litigation. My business partner Mitch Beedie ended up spending a small fortune to courier and copy documents for the Danish courts, and I spent many hours making it happen.

Larry West sent over the registrations for various Scientology organizations, including the Church of Spiritual Technology and Author Services Incorporated. Laurel Sullivan and Gerry Armstrong were put in charge of Mission Corporate Category Sort Out, which came to be known as Corporate Sort Out or CSO. Many years later, Larry (later Denise) Brennan gave a thorough account of these machinations.

CSO was part of the plot to deceive the IRS into thinking that Hubbard was not in control of Scientology. It produced an elaborate interlinking web of corporations (about 400 in all, as I remember) that were ultimately controlled by a small number of Watchdog Committee members. Eventually, in late 1986, David Miscavige would take over the whole network after driving out Hubbard’s named heirs, Pat and Annie Broeker.

These documents from Larry West were part of the package used to bring Scott home. The charge seemed to be industrial espionage, and part of the defense was the scriptural nature of the OT levels, which, we argued, made them exempt from such law. We also offered handwriting evidence to show that Hubbard was not actually a signatory to various documents, and voice analysis to show that the latest Hubbard tape might not be genuine either. Scott was deported to the UK, and prohibited from re-entering Denmark for several years, but we saved him from a more serious sentence.

I continued to develop and share the documentation: in 1988, I flew to Los Angeles at the request of Hana Whitfield on behalf of Freedom for All In Religion or FAIR, which was a group of over 400 former members who were suing various Scientology entities.

FAIR had already submitted four complaints, all of which had been denied by a judge. It was surprising that they were allowed to make another filing, but the judge evidently understood that there was likely a case that should be heard.

There were two problems that needed my attention: firstly, FAIR had not legally proved that they were a class with a common cause; secondly, they had not proved that the Scientology entities were a class, either. Miscavige had already wriggled off the docket and been awarded costs.

It took a week of wrangling to come up with a common cause, because of the religious cloak. After his encounters with the AMA, Hubbard had looked for ways to defend against any repetition of the charge that he was practicing medicine without a license (the first Foundation was sued by the New Jersey AMA, before it collapsed into bankruptcy). The “religion angle” (as Hubbard called it) offered protection. All claims are “spiritual” in nature, which is to say you cannot expect to achieve anything at all from Scientology, because none of Scientology’s claims are anything more than the promises of heaven given in other belief systems, and you can’t sue a church for failing to give you eternal life. When Hubbard claimed to be curing cancer, it was only the “spiritual” aspect of the cancer. If you still had the material manifestation, it was your own fault.

In about 1974, Scientology had withdrawn all of its claims for the “upper levels,” and a label was inserted in all books, explaining that Scientology “should be construed only as a written report” of Hubbard’s investigations. I had to find a way around this significant notion: I came up with Scientology’s claims that Dianetics is a “science of mental health” that invariably leads to the state of Clear (save for those with significant brain damage, according to Hubbard).

We had all, as a class, been promised the State of Clear, which included raised IQ and immunity to illness (and much else beside). These and other claims of physical cure were offered alongside the book labels, which read “Although the Church … is free to engage in spiritual healing, it does not…” (no, really, that’s what is says – so not even spiritual healing).

I had spent rather more time preparing an argument to show that the many corporations of Scientology were actually aspects of a single monolithic corporation. I had gathered testimony and affidavits which showed that signed, undated resignations were held against all board members of these corporations and that, by 1988, these were all in the possession of David Miscavige, meaning de facto, that Miscavige was the sole controller of Scientology.

The judge accepted this aspect of the fifth FAIR complaint, which, I believe, was the first time that the corporate veil of Scientology was pierced after the Corporate Sort Out. The complaint itself was dismissed: the attorneys had rejoiced at my ideas (they said they’d had difficulty understanding the case before my explanation, which is hardly surprising, given the complexity of Scientology and the many affronts suffered by the FAIR plaintiffs), however, the FAIR steering committee told me that they did not want to “denigrate” the State of Clear, so had not entered my argument.

I’m told that IRS agents were in court taking notes during the FAIR hearing. It is a shame that they didn’t follow through with this.

I refined the argument further for Bent Corydon, who was trying to recover his Mission building in Riverside. This was in 1990, and I think it is around this time that Lawrence first contacted me and we began to share information. We had a fairly close relationship in the early 90s – I made two trips to Colorado in 1993, and was president of FACTNet for a year (though the database itself was constructed by the brilliant Bob Penny, and Lawrence did almost all of the actual work. I made an occasional suggestion and edited Lawrence’s prolific writings).

Back then, there were only a few of us speaking out. The horrors of the Guardian’s Office had simply been moved to the Office of Special Affairs and external private investigators. The Investigation Full Hat, was reissued – all 800 pages of it – with only one revision: The title page said OSA instead of GO. While the majority of GO executives were humiliated at Gilman Hot Springs, the actual harassment gang – Branch One or “covert data collection” — remained “on post.” So for the likes of Miles Mellor and Peter Stumbke, it was business as usual.

Breaking and entering and the Lying TR (TR-L) remained part of the training (and they still do), along with Hubbard’s dreadful “Conference with the Investigators.” This, by the way, is the fundamental “Tech” of Scientology and no one who has not read it should be selling Scientology: Tech doesn’t go in without Ethics being in, and this is the fundamental “ethics technology” of Scientology. The harassment was incessant for the few of us who spoke out – 24/7 for 16 years, in my case.

Even though there were few of us speaking out, there were some remarkable researchers in the background. When I came to write A Piece of Blue Sky, I made a point of mentioning Michael Linn Shannon, whose collection of Hubbard-related documents convinced me of the Old Man of the Sea Org’s deceptions and exaggerations concerning his exploits. Later, I realised that James Phelan and Alexander Mitchell should also be on the list of significant contributing researchers. Gerry Armstrong’s contribution is unparalleled, but there were others working diligently in the background.
This is a relay race. There have been some stellar contributions – Wollersheim and Armstrong significant among them – but I’m happy that some fine journalists have joined the fray, too. Without Paulette Cooper’s brave stand, who knows where Scientology would be today? Historically, I’m hugely grateful to Dr Joe Winter for his Doctor’s Report on Dianetics, and to Helen O’Brien, Cyril Vosper, Robert Kaufman, and George Malko for their books. I was touched by Margery Wakefield’s heart-rending biography, too.

Russell Miller’s Bare-Faced Messiah remains the only thoroughgoing biography of Hubbard, and I’m proud that I worked with him from beginning to end (ie, the litigation that allowed publication). I’m also happy that Tony Ortega, Johnny Jacobsen, and Steve Cannane have taken up the baton. We are a community and, as Wollersheim says, none of us could have succeeded if this had not been a mutual endeavour.

Since my withdrawal from the fray, there have been many courageous people who have spoken out. I’ve been impressed by Jefferson Hawkins, John Duignan, Jenna Miscavige Hill, Marc Headley, Ron Miscavige and Leah Remini (I apologize to those authors whose work I have yet to read).

Janet Reitman made Scientology a popular topic (there was a silence of 20 years after Blue Sky, because of the litigation against TIME magazine). Lawrence Wright added new material and led to Alex Gibney’s involvement.

Add to this the many personal accounts found on line, and we have created between us a remarkable history of Scientology. Once the fear of Scientology has dissipated, this will be an invaluable resource for historians and social scientists studying this aberrant and destructive movement.

At the Getting Clear conference, it was suggested that I should treat Scientology as an enemy, but my focus has always been on helping those deceived by Scientology to make an informed choice about their beliefs and membership.

For me, the enemy is Scientology, not those tricked into believing it. If David Miscavige would consent to a free and open discussion with me, I’d probably be happy to withdraw altogether. Until that day (perhaps in a billion years), I will continue to make the occasional foray.

However, on the many occasions that I was asked onto talk shows, Scientology always withdrew. Even the famous trial attorney Earl Cooley passed on Larry King Live when informed that I would be sitting across from him. A shame, because I really do believe that old Hubbard dictum that “more communication not less is the answer.”

— Jon Atack


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on October 29, 2016 at 07:00

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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated 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 L.A. 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

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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


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