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How L. Ron Hubbard tried to hoax the FBI, and ‘brainwashed’ politicians of the far right

[Image: courtesy Mark Plummer]

Historian Chris Owen has graced us with another terrific deep dive into one of Scientology’s more curious artifacts. Today, he provides new insight on one of L. Ron Hubbard’s greatest hoaxes. Tomorrow, he explains how Hubbard’s prank took on a life of its own with this country’s extreme right wing.

In the late summer of 1955, a curious booklet called “Brain-Washing: A Synthesis of the Russian Textbook of Psychopolitics” began circulating across the United States. Published with a foreword by a “Professor Charles Stickley,” it claimed to be a transcript of an address given to “American students at the Lenin University” by Lavrenti Beria, the head of the Soviet Union’s secret police. It portrayed Beria as describing how to use psychiatry and psychology to carry out a communist takeover of the West. The following year, the booklet became hugely more prominent when it became part of a campaign by far-right groups against a new mental health law in Alaska.

Versions of the booklet have been republished dozens of times since then by far-right groups and activists. It is still in print today. (The text of the original version can be seen here.) Many of those who have republished the booklet over the years would have been surprised to learn that it was a forgery by none other than L. Ron Hubbard and his Scientology organization, created to take revenge against the psychiatric profession for its hostility towards Scientology.

The story of the “Brainwashing Manual” has been shrouded in deliberate confusion for more than 60 years. This account sets out to tell the full story of how and why Hubbard came to be responsible for one of the most persistent political hoaxes of the 20th century, defrauding his own followers and the international far right in the process.

Hubbard was interested in brainwashing well before 1955. He promoted Dianetics and Scientology as being able to reverse and prevent brainwashing of the type that was widely thought to be in use in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe and Asia. The issue of brainwashing was a major focus of public concern in the early 1950s, popularised by books such as Edward Hunter’s 1951 bestseller Brain-washing in Red China: The Calculated Destruction of Men’s Minds, which introduced the term into the English language.


Hubbard’s writings and lectures refer to Hunter’s book and also to two contemporary show trials in Stalinist Hungary — those of Cardinal József Mindszenty and an American businessman, Robert Voegler, both of whom were widely suspected of having been brainwashed. His interest in brainwashing was linked with his fiercely anti-communist sentiments and his concerns about what he called “black Dianetics” — the use of Dianetics as a means of coercive mind control.

By the mid-1950s, Hubbard’s loathing of Communism had merged with a growing hatred of psychiatry and the medical profession. He blamed psychiatrists and the American Medical Association for the bad press, organizational difficulties and legal problems encountered by Dianetics and Scientology since 1950.

Around July 1955, Hubbard was at his house on Sligo Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland with his friend and colleague John Sanborn, a long-time Scientologist and editor of several of Hubbard’s books. Sanborn recalled thirty years later that he and Hubbard were sitting on the latter’s front porch, “talking about how are we going to ‘get’ these psychiatrists. I said, ‘What we need to do is take over their subject. What we need to do is put out a manual of psych-military something or other… as coming from the Communists, and then put a lot of psychiatry in it. And we’re sitting there, with our chairs tipped back on the front porch, tipped up against the house, with our feet up on the railing, and all of a sudden he comes down on his chair and he grabs me. And I thought, ‘I’ve had it.’

“And he said, ‘That’s it!’

“Then he disappeared into this little front room which was sort of a bedroom and study, and you could hear him in there dictating this book.”

Working at his usual frenetic rate, Hubbard soon finished the book and handed the tapes over to be transcribed by an assistant, Barbara Bryan, and his daughter-in-law Henrietta. According to his son L. Ron Hubbard Jr., he then tried to convince the FBI of its authenticity. This was an uphill struggle, as the Bureau had annotated Hubbard’s previous letters with the comment, “Appears mental,” and routinely noted in its memoranda his ex-wife’s description of him as “hopelessly insane.” The manual seems to have been written in part to explain Hubbard’s poor public reputation, as it purported to show that communists were targeting Dianetics and using false accusations of insanity to undermine the reputation of their opponents, such as Hubbard.

Hubbard had previously intended to publish a “Civil Defense Handbook,” which appears to have been envisaged as a manual for preventing brainwashing. On July 27, 1955, two days before he wrote to the FBI, his wife Mary Sue wrote to the Manney Company of Fort Worth, Texas — a printing firm which Hubbard was using as a vanity publisher — to advise the firm’s owner, E.E. Manney, that her husband no longer wished to publish the handbook. Just over a month later, on September 3, 1955, a Phoenix, Arizona Scientologist named Edd Clark was arrested and charged with practising medicine without a license. The incident spurred Hubbard into action, perhaps in the realization that he could exploit the incident to publicize his claims that there was a communist conspiracy against him and his organization. The next day, Hubbard wrote to Manney with the manuscript of the Brainwashing Manual and instructions to start printing thousands of copies.

I enclose a manuscript which I need done into a book on a hurry-emergency basis.

I need only 2,000 copies for the first run. The ms. is short being only 87 pages. I want it in an economical size booklet (according to the best paper cut you can make) around 5×7 inches. A paper cover, very cheap. Saddle stitched of course. The general appearance should be like an Army training manual.

You will get half the cost at once and half on delivery. Delivery of 200 by fastest means, of the remaining 1,800 by cheapest transport. Delivery to Box 242 Silver Spring.

I don’t want proofs. I have to have SPEED!

This ms. is pretty violent stuff. A copy of it has been sent to the F.B.I. of course and there’s no risk in printing it. I need it for circulation to various government agencies. By the time I get through I may need tens of thousands of them so save the type. However, in printing it I wouldn’t let it get shown around as the government may want to get it classified.

You wire me the total cost and I’ll zip half of that to you and we’re on our way.

Hubbard increased the order two days later to 7,000 copies, paying $328.00 (equivalent to about $4,000 at today’s prices) for the first half of the costs. His printing instructions were significant and unusual. Emphasizing its importance in capitals, Hubbard instructed Manney to print the publication with “NO COPYRIGHT NOTICE” and “NO PUBLISHER OR AUTHORS NAME.” This was a striking departure from his usual practice of putting his personal copyright on everything published by his organizations, even material contributed by other people. He evidently wanted to ensure that his own authorship of the Brainwashing Manual, and the Manney Company’s printing of it, would be concealed. Omitting any copyright notice also guaranteed that others would face no legal obstacles if they wanted to reproduce the manual themselves.

Hubbard’s principal motive in writing the manual appears to have been to defame psychiatry and manufacture evidence that he and other Scientologists, like Edd Clark in Phoenix, really were being targeted by communists. It may also have been conceived as a warning to Scientologists of how mental techniques could be used for mind control. He had previously written of how Soviet brainwashing was a “shabby, inefficient, and fifth-rate shadow” of “Black Dianetics,” the use of Dianetic techniques to cause “death, insanity, aberration, or merely a slavish obedience.” He seems to have intended to publish a follow-up work, offering Manney an opportunity to publish “Pavlov’s secret ms that was never before out of the Kremlin” — undoubtedly another forgery — but this was apparently never published.

At the end of September 1955, Hubbard sent a bulletin to Scientologists declaring: “Nearly all the backlash in society against Dianetics and Scientology has a common source — the psychiatrist-psychologist-psychoanalyst clique.” This seems to have been his first public reference in print to the Brainwashing Manual, with a mention of “the strange politics and ambitions of psychiatry, so well covered in the book Psychopolitics.”

After Hubbard put the manual on sale at 50¢ per copy, he evidently received questions about its origins. In December 1956 he gave three different accounts to Scientologists and the FBI within a single week. He first claimed that it had come into Scientology’s possession “mysteriously” in Phoenix and was being released not to attack psychiatry “but as a necessary piece of information for auditors who are confronted with the problems of brainwashing.” He linked it to a 1947 work in German called Psycho-Politik, Zur Demokratisierung, by a man named Paul Feldkeller, that he had recently located in the Library of Congress. Hubbard claimed that Feldkeller’s book was probably a German translation of a Russian original. While this work does exist, it had nothing to do with Hubbard’s Brainwashing Manual and its use of the term “Psycho-Politik” is quite different from the conception of psychopolitics in the manual.

Hubbard wrote to the FBI three days after his bulletin to Scientologists, enclosing a copy of the manual and providing another version of how it had come to be. This time he said it had been “compiled from Communist sources for use of our research department and people.” He suggested that he might “use this in anti-Communist campaigns” as his organization had been “seriously hurt by Communists and Communism and we see nothing wrong in our using their tactics against them.” He advised the Bureau that if it came across further copies of the manual “you will now be able to recognize it as printed and distributed by an anti-Communist group for their research.”

Scientologists were given yet another explanation two days later. Hubbard’s story was now that two copies of it had been deposited at the front desk of the HASI’s Phoenix office by an anonymous individual: “as well as I can recollect, they were left there at the front desk with the request that they be mailed back to their owner. We are not sure exactly from whom these came…” (Hubbard neglected to explain how it could have been mailed back to its anonymous owner, or why he did not make a paper copy for himself.) He explained: “As we needed this material for research, we read it off onto a tape, compiling the two manuals and removing from them some of their very verbose nomenclature, substituting for it more common English terms, and we have had a few copies of this struck off for use in our research.” His account seems to have been intended to forestall questions about why he had dictated the text of the manual onto a tape and published copies of it himself, as witnessed by his colleagues.

By this time, the FBI was receiving a series of enquiries about the manual. Its files show that Hubbard had copies mailed to many recipients who had nothing to do with Scientology or Dianetics. One such was the First Church of Christ, Scientist of Boston, Massachusetts, which had been mentioned by name in the manual and contacted the FBI after being sent a copy by the HASI. Another copy was sent to Alaska Territory Representative Harry B. Palmer, who suggested to the FBI that the HASI had probably obtained his name from the newspapers during a recent election campaign.

The FBI sought without success to trace the fictional “Charles Stickley” and also had the manual analysed by its Central Research Section. Not surprisingly, it concluded that I the manual’s authenticity was doubtful, as it lacked documentation of its sources, did not use typical communist words or phrases, and did not quote from communist works as would normally be the case in a synthesis of communist writings. There were other obvious problems with the manual. It referred to a speech by Beria at the non-existent “Lenin University”; the institution’s real name was the Lenin Institute. Beria was not known to have ever lectured there. The term “Psychopolitics” also did not exist in the Russian language, and the manual reflected an American rather than a Soviet conception of psychiatry and psychology.

Experts on communism, including ex-communists who had attended the Lenin Institute, considered it to be a crude and laughable forgery. Edward Hunter saw the manual as a fictional and inferior version of his own 1951 Brain-washing in Red China. He somehow managed to penetrate the smokescreen of the “Stickley” attribution and in a July 1956 letter, he put the blame squarely on Hubbard. Years later, Morris Kominsky wrote a 30-page rebuttal of the manual in his 1970 book The Hoaxers: Plain Liars, Fancy Liars and Damned Liars, in which he cited numerous experts who concluded that it was a blatant hoax.

— Chris Owen

Tomorrow: Chris explains how Hubbard’s hoax lived for years thanks to politics of the far right.


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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on February 20, 2018 at 07:00

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The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

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GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
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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 | 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


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