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Forced abortions, beatings, and sleep deprivation: The FBI on Scientology’s Sea Org

[From drone footage of Int Base, a lake workers were routinely forced to jump into]

Yesterday, we heard from several of the former Scientologists who spoke to the FBI for its 2009/2010 human trafficking investigation of the Church of Scientology. The probe was stopped in 2010 without charges being filed, but now, some seven years later, the FBI has released a 300-page file of documents describing the investigation to Melissa Cronin of RadarOnline.

Marc Headley, Lori Hodgson, Mat Pesch, and Jefferson Hawkins told us what it was like to speak to the FBI in 2009, and what it felt like now to finally speak about it openly. Headley told us he’s still uncomfortable talking about it on the record.

But Cronin is releasing more allegations from the documents today, and she’s been sharing them with us as we also make our way through the file. As we pointed out yesterday, the FBI classified this as a Sensitive Investigative Matter, and took pains to protect the identities of the people they were talking to.

In the initial pages of the file, the FBI explains which laws justified their investigation. They said they would be examining Scientology for violations of “Peonage, Slavery, and Trafficking in Persons.” In other words, they were looking at the conditions of forced labor which existed in the Sea Org, particularly at two locations: Scientology’s secretive Int Base near Hemet, California, and at PAC Base, the “Big Blue” complex in Los Angeles off Sunset Boulevard.

The file specified that the investigation’s focus on forced labor “is not an attempt to discredit the religious belief held by Scientologists.”


What the agents were looking for was evidence that the Sea Org convinced its workers they couldn’t rebel without suffering serious harm. The Sea Org managed this in a number of ways —

— Paying less than $50 a week so its workers couldn’t live on the outside. “Sometimes workers were not paid for months or even years.”
— Monitoring phone calls and mail.
— Limiting access to medical and dental care, and forcing women to have abortions. “CSI viewed young children as having no work value and believed children would only interfere with the employment of their mothers.”
— 16-hour work days, seven days a week, with no time off.
— Confining workers and controlling their movement with the use of fences, cameras, and guards.
— Strict daily rules.
— Inhumane punishments.
— The confiscation of passports.
— The threat of disconnection. If a member rebelled, he or she might lose contact with family members and other loved ones.
— The threat of Freeloader’s Bill. If a member left, they were saddled with bills for huge amounts, supposedly what they had received in classes.

The FBI estimated that there might 1,000 victims of human trafficking in Scientology’s Sea Org.

After introducing the scope of the investigation, agents got down to conducting interviews with individual former Sea Org workers. Among some of the allegations made by those witnesses that Cronin found after looking through the file…

— So many forced abortions were occurring, a local clinic became “alarmed.”
— One of the inhumane punishments was forcing members to jump into ponds of human excrement without protective gear.
— Beatings were common, as were verbal assaults.
— Other punishments were meant to humiliate. “Some people had to stand in the middle of the room with signs around their necks that said things like… ‘I’m a whore.'”
— The most sleep a Sea Org member would get was four hours a night, and often they would go without sleep altogether.
— Members were constantly aware that their movements were being watched, and escape was considered nearly impossible. “Members were so brainwashed into thinking that leaving was not an option, and they were too afraid that the COS would come after them if they tried to leave,” said a witness. “If a Sea Org member escaped … a ‘blow drill’ would be conducted in an effort to find that member.”

So with testimony like this that Int Base was such a hellhole of manipulation and degrading treatment, why didn’t the FBI do something about it? We were asked that question a lot yesterday as we began to reveal what was in the FBI file.

Why the probe ended is apparently not included in the file, according to Cronin. In the movie Going Clear, Lawrence Wright and Alex Gibney promoted the theory that when Marc and Claire Headley lost their civil lawsuit against the church for labor trafficking, it put a chilling effect on the government investigation. “The church is protected,” Wright said in the film, referring to the vast protections of the First Amendment.

But Marc Headley, Mike Rinder, and Marty Rathbun told us that they believed the FBI backed off for other reasons. It’s a complex story that we’ve told at length before, about an FBI agent who had tried to help the Headleys in their lawsuit by giving their attorneys a law enforcement document that was not public. They believe that Scientology would have seized on this and used its connections in Washington — at this time, Gerald Feffer was still alive and was Scientology’s heavyweight lawyer in DC.

Scientology managed somehow to shut down the probe. But even though charges weren’t filed, it’s still powerful to see the records of FBI agents who were obviously very deeply immersed in the subject.


Chris Shelton on debating Scientologists

Says Chris: “What is the best way to change hearts and minds online when talking to Scientologists or people in other destructive cults? What’s the best strategy? What should you do and what shouldn’t you do? Venting and being angry or attempting to shame them may not be the best way to go about it. I hope you all find this useful.”


Countdown to Denver!


HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25 at the Residence Inn Denver City Center. Go here to start making your plans, and book your room soon!


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,740 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,843 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,337 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,377 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,089 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 615 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,704 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,844 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,164 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,139 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 495 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,797 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 904 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,306 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,179 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 760 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,265 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,509 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,618 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on May 4, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

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.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

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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