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Is Scientology’s notorious prison detail — the ‘RPF’ — a thing of the past?

There are so many horror stories about what Scientology’s “Sea Org” members have experienced while serving in the “Rehabilitation Project Force,” the organization’s prison detail.

Among the first that come to mind are both Nora Crest and Laura DeCrescenzo separately attempting suicide by gulping down bleach, so desperate were they to get out of the RPF’s degrading conditions. Originally, the RPF had lasted weeks or months, but by the 1990s it took years to complete its cycle — we’ve talked to people who spent up to 12 years as prisoners on the RPF.

Chuck Beatty was on it for seven years. He’s told us about sitting outside in the dark at the Happy Valley RPF desert compound on the night of December 31, 1999, knowing that around the world, human beings would be celebrating the coming of the year 2000. But after being in the RPF for years, he had no connection with them. No connection with the outside world at all. He sat and looked at the stars, and wondered what he was missing.

Anyway, we’re thinking about that story again because after a few days of checking with some of our best sources and debriefing two of the most recent defectors from Scientology’s Sea Org facilities, we’ve come to a startling conclusion.


The RPF is over.

If our sources are correct, Scientology leader David Miscavige gradually disbanded RPF details at bases around the world, and killed it off for good at the end of 2014.

Here’s how we came to that conclusion. A few weeks ago, a Hungarian man named Peter Nyiri described on Facebook his escape from the Sea Org, which had taken place just a few months before. Nyiri had worked at both Scientology’s “Flag Land Base” in Clearwater, Florida, and on its private cruise ship, the Freewinds. Previously, we posted his account of his run for freedom (2nd item) and the lengths that Scientology went to as it tried to bring him back, and failed (2nd item).

Since then we’ve been talking to him occasionally, hoping to get debriefed on the latest news from inside Scientology’s “spiritual mecca.” Nyiri confirmed what we had reported earlier, that Scientology’s worldwide membership is down to only about 20,000 people, and he added the detail that he had access to Flag’s all-time roster, which had only 70,000 names on it. That’s everyone who has ever enrolled at the expensive center since it opened in 1975.


[Peter Nyiri]

But even if those numbers are much smaller than Scientology would like people to believe, Nyiri confirmed that Flag continues to be the most lucrative facility in the Scientology world, and that even today, he estimates its weekly income at between two and four million dollars. (He says they accomplish this by starving the outer orgs, and by pushing to have Scientologists come to Flag for courses that they could get back at home.)

But he told us something else that really stopped us in our tracks. Here was his statement, in all of its Scientology jargon:

“When I was at Clearwater at the end of 2014, people weren’t being sent to the RPF any more. The RPF I/C [the person ‘in charge’ of the RPF] was put on a different post and the Snr Qual Sec was holding the post from above. Several Fitness Boards were issued to offload long-term RPF members (I printed the issues myself). Then I went to the ship and I returned in September 2016. I met an old friend of mine, Micheal Zwers, who was on the RPF previously. He was holding a post in Department One and he told me that the people who had some worth for the Sea Org had been returned to the org and the rest had been offloaded. This is the data I have.”

What Peter is saying is that Clearwater’s RPF was dismantled, and the “prisoners” on it were either kicked out of the Sea Org, or positions were found for them.

We asked Peter what was being done in Clearwater for punishment if there was no RPF.

“The alternative was either offload if very serious offense, like 2D, otherwise being put on a galley or Renos-type post,” he said. Translating that, he’s saying that for people who were on the RPF for a serious reason — such as a sexual offense (“2D,” the second dynamic, referring to sex) they were kicked out of the organization or, if it was a less serious offense, prisoners were assigned to low-level jobs such as laboring in a renovation project.

This seemed pretty stunning. The RPF began in 1974, when L. Ron Hubbard replaced some earlier forms of discipline on the yacht Apollo. From the beginning, the idea was that a Sea Org member assigned to it had to go through certain steps to “redeem” themselves in the eyes of the larger group. The RPF had elaborate policies for governing this, including an “RPF’s RPF” for those who violated the rules and were put into a degrading kind of solitary confinement.

But now, Peter Nyiri was telling us that the storied RPF was a thing of the past in Clearwater. Did that apply to other locations as well?

We contacted one of our best sources, who was intimately aware of recent conditions at Int Base near Hemet, California, and also at the Pacific Area Command — the PAC base in Los Angeles.

“It was some time in the early 2000s that the idea of an RPF at Int Base was gotten rid of,” our source told us. “And two years ago the PAC RPF got dissolved. So yes, no Flag, no Int, and no PAC RPF.”

Still seeking more confirmation, we contacted Paul Burkhart, one of the most recent high-ranking Sea Org officials to defect, in August 2013. He had worked at Int Base at one time, but was working at the Hollywood Guaranty Building on Hollywood Boulevard when he left. We previously wrote a two-part series about Burkhart [Part 1, Part 2], whom we found to be a knowledgeable and careful source.


[Paul Burkhart]

Here’s what he told us…

What Peter says sounds right from what I recall. When I arrived at Int Base (November 1999) there was an RPF which was housed at Happy Valley Ranch a few miles from the main base. Within a few years it was disbanded. Most of the Int RPFers were sent to PAC, and took posts in Estates mainly. Most of them had “never to be posted as an exec” markers in their personnel files, or “only to be posted on low responsibility estates cleaning and maintenance jobs.” I recall seeing David Miscavige “transcripts” or other communications a number of times in the following years regarding the RPF, mostly in the vein of how it was a liability and that it needs to be done away with. I don’t recall any mention of court cases, suits, police, or the FBI, though I assumed at the time that the RPF would come up in court cases, and it would have to be defended. Possibly it was more of a public relations liability than a legal liability.

It took a while to accomplish the elimination of the RPF in all areas since L. Ron Hubbard had written a lot material on setting up the RPF, and thus abolishing it could be seen as being counter to LRH command. Miscavige had to be certain of his dominance over all Scientologists before he would blatantly counter LRH. His dominance was not as firm back in 2003 as it is now.

Also there was the question of what to do with the people on the RPF — just send them back to post, put them on a lower post, offload them, etc. Miscavige’s view of most RPFers (based on transcripts) is that they were degraded-being saboteurs who would cause havoc wherever they went, if not kept on a tight leash. Thus there was a lot of work to determine what to do with each person individually – for hundreds of people – and the RPF was not the number one priority. So the RPF was abolished at Int first, and then maybe a decade later to fully shut down PAC, Flag, ANZO, Latam, UK and Canada.

Of course without an RPF at Int to send people to, the Hole was invented. And then troublesome Execs from Int, HGB or Flag got sent to the Hole instead of going to the RPF (even though the RPF still existed in those areas for a decade). The Hole was a free-for-all do whatever you want with those people, whereas the RPF was a rigorously defined activity based on dozens of LRH written documents – mainly the “RPF Series.” The RPF Series defines an exact program of work, study, auditing, etc. on a very precise schedule…with rules about everything. What happened in the Hole could never have occurred on the RPF.

I don’t know for sure that the RPF is totally gone everywhere, but that is certainly where it was headed when I was last there in 2013. PAC had only a dozen or so RPFers left at that time. And that is after RPFers had been transferred from Latam and ANZO (and possibly UK and Canada) to PAC. The RPF was almost gone.

Burkhart’s account is remarkable, and because it brings up “The Hole” we want to make very clear that the RPF we are talking about today has nothing to do with it.

“The SP Hole” or “The Hole” was created in January 2004 at Int Base by Miscavige as a bizarre office-prison for some of his top lieutenants. It was not related to the RPF. The Hole eventually grew to about 100 prisoners, and we have eyewitness accounts of it from people like Mike Rinder, Tom DeVocht, and Debbie Cook, who testified under oath about its conditions in 2012.

As we reported earlier, based on accounts from new defectors the Hole still exists, even though Miscavige had to ameliorate its conditions after the Tampa Bay Times revealed its existence in a 2009 special report.

The Hole carries on. But the RPF is dead.

In 2007, when Mike Rinder left Scientology, the Hole was still at its harshest, with about 100 executives kept all day in a locked room, fed slop, and only allowed out for a shower in the morning. Also, Scientology’s abortion policy was still in effect, pressuring any Sea Org woman to end a pregnancy in order to remain on the job. And the RPF was still in existence, with Sea Org members finding themselves isolated in degrading conditions for years at a time for the slightest infraction.

But then, after Rinder and other top executives went public in 2009 with the horrible conditions suffered by Sea Org members, those things changed. The Hole still exists as a segregated group at Int Base, but the people in it are allowed to sleep in beds and eat regular meals. Women who get pregnant get kicked out of the Sea Org, but can have a family. And now, we’ve learned that the RPF has been disbanded, and Sea Org members are punished in other ways.

Besides bad publicity from the Tampa Bay Times series, in 2011 Lawrence Wright revealed in his New Yorker story about Paul Haggis that Scientology had been the subject of an FBI human trafficking investigation. We recently made the documents from that investigation public — it had taken place in 2009-2010, with a large amount of information about the abuses in the Sea Org. No charges, however, were filed.

Did Miscavige realize that having RPF prison details at his bases made Scientology vulnerable to government investigations?

“It has to be external public relations or legal considerations,” Jefferson Hawkins told us after we explained what we’d learned from Nyiri and Burkhart. “Miscavige has never shied away from draconian punishments, so it’s not for humanitarian reasons, that’s for sure.”

We’re especially fascinated by Burkhart’s explanation that for Miscavige the RPF was a liability because it was governed by so many L. Ron Hubbard rules and regulations. By doing away with it, Miscavige can mete out punishment his own way, and he’s already proved how ruthless he can be with “The Hole.”

So, on the one hand, we congratulate Mike Rinder and the other top executives who came out and publicized Scientology’s abuses, forcing David Miscavige to ameliorate or end some of them.

On the other hand, we’ve seen no let up in Scientology’s most toxic policy of “disconnection,” or any let up in its extortion of members through high-pressure fundraising tactics. As it shrinks, Scientology still has the potential to cause great harm.

But at least, it seems, Sea Org members are no longer being sentenced to prison without recourse. And that is kind of amazing, isn’t it? Tell us what you think.


A belated birthday

Gosh, we’ve been so busy here in the Bunker of late, last Thursday’s major milestone passed and we completely ignored it.

On September 28, the Underground Bunker reached its fifth birthday.

Your proprietor thanks all of the great readers and commenters who have made this place such a lively one. More great stuff is coming soon.


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,893 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 39 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,102 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,876 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,650 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,996 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,490 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,530 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,242 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 768 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,857 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,997 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,317 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,292 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 648 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 4,950 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,056 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,459 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,332 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 913 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,418 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,662 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,771 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on October 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 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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