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The trauma of leaving Scientology: ‘Who wants to believe they’ve thrown away their best years?’

This week in our series of book excerpts, Chris Shelton has been good enough to share with us a key section from his book Scientology: A to Xenu — An Insider’s Guide to What Scientology is All About. And if you like this, we hope you can join Chris at HowdyCon in Chicago later this week!

Going Down the Rabbit Hole

The last stage of my Scientology story happened, again, in Twin Cities.


When I first left the Sea Org, I landed at my mother’s house in California. My parents had since divorced again (back in the early 1990s) and my Dad was living up in Oregon. They both remarried really nice people who never had anything to do with Scientology.

My parents hadn’t done any official Scientology services since the early 1990s but it was at this point I found out both my parents were, in fact, totally out of official Scientology and were never going back in. They had been out for many years but were “under the radar,” meaning they just quietly faded away, not taking calls from the Church and not being openly antagonistic when any Scientologist did manage to get through to them. Scientology doesn’t really care if you fade away; they go ballistic on you when you speak out against them or do anything which the Church considers will damage its glowing reputation in the media. Little did I realize that was what I was about to do. In fact, being a church critic was the last thing I ever wanted to happen.

I wanted to get back to Twin Cities to be with Joan but I needed to do it in such a way as to not get Joan in trouble by immediately just showing up there and openly resuming our relationship. Plus, I successfully got away from the Sea Org but I still wanted to actually do Scientology and get up The Bridge to OT. I still believed in Hubbard’s goodness, even though I knew at this point the current leader, David Miscavige, was off-the-rails and was leading Scientology over a cliff through his greed and avarice.

In my time on Sea Org projects, I generally left a good impression where I went and people thought well of me. Nowhere was that more true than Twin Cities. I personally helped many of the staff and public there. Through my recovery work, some of the staff at the org were only there because of me. In retrospect, I wish this hadn’t happened of course, but in the context of the bubble world of Scientology, I was a really good guy who did really good things.

It was a bit of a shock to many of them when I got on Facebook and announced I was no longer in the Sea Org, but generally people were excited. I had some phone calls from friends in Twin Cities and whatnot and hinted I might be coming back out that way. Joan arranged to get me a job with a Scientologist out in Twin Cities (without being too obvious about it) and within a month I was on my way back there to start my new life in earnest.

And so it was, Scientology started messing with me yet again in a more direct and harsher way than I’d imagined.

I was driving across the country, somewhere on the road in South Dakota, when I got a phone call from Gavin Kelly, one of the Sea Org members I’d been on my last mission with in Twin Cities. It turns out at some point after I was recalled to Los Angeles back in May, the mission was disbanded and two of the missionaires were put on permanent postings in Twin Cities. When Gavin heard on the grapevine I was not only out of the Sea Org but was on my way back to Twin Cities to live there, he completely freaked out.

This could not be! Shelton coming back to Twin Cities? What bad PR for the Sea Org! What would people think? Someone leaves the Sea Org and is happy and gets on with their life successfully? No way is this acceptable! Absolutely not! Gavin felt it was a moral imperative to put a stop to my move through whatever means necessary.

You see, what I totally spaced on was the Sea Org never forgives and never forgets. It hates ex-Sea Org members almost as bad as it hates psychiatrists. People who leave the Sea Org are considered ‘degraded beings’ who have abandoned their responsibilities and are not worthy of even being a Scientologist until they have crawled through the mud on their hands and knees to beg forgiveness. This comes straight from L. Ron Hubbard’s lips. He wrote a policy letter about Sea Org members who resign and literally labels them “Degraded Beings” or DBs. Sea Org members are all too happy to follow Hubbard’s lead and shower hate and disgust on ex-Sea Org members.

As a Sea Org member, I should have remembered this but I was so enamored with my new-found freedom and my new life, the dark side of Scientology seemed distant and had nothing to do with me.

All this started coming to me in a rush when Gavin called me and told me in no uncertain terms it was unacceptable for me to come out to Minnesota. I’m standing at a gas station in South Dakota listening to this and wondering just what did he think I was going to do? Turn around and go back to California because he felt uncomfortable having me around? It turns out that is exactly what he wanted me to do. I, of course, refused.

Shortly thereafter I got a phone call from Kellen McIntyre in Los Angeles, who also explained to me it was unacceptable and “very senior people” (I never did find out who) were yelling and screaming at her about me daring to show my face in Twin Cities. She made it clear while she couldn’t stop me from moving, I was not to go into the org or contact any Scientologists. Basically, I was being temporarily expelled from the Church for an indefinite period until things “cooled down.”

It was at this point I saw what was going on and I realized I was going to have to cooperate if I wanted to pull off my new life and make a go of it with Joan, so I tried to go along with these instructions once I arrived in Twin Cities and settled in. The only problem was a couple of the staff in Twin Cities really liked me and they didn’t understand what this was all about. It made no sense. Why was I being singled out? Why was I forbidden to come around the org? There was no policy from L. Ron Hubbard saying to do this, yet the Sea Org was doing it!

They too didn’t understand the hate and vile Sea Org members feel toward ex-Sea Org members. I sort of conveniently forgot my own natural revulsion toward ex-SO when I was in, how I thought of them as second class citizens and unworthy of being allowed to continue in Scientology for betraying our trust. Now it was happening to me, my eyes started to open to the fact I had been part of a sort of caste system for decades, with ex-SO members being below the status of “wogs” (Hubbard’s pejorative for people who have never been in Scientology). It seemed perfectly natural when I was in, but now it was happening to me, the situation was taking on a whole new light.


It’s quite amazing how things like this have to happen for so many of us to open our eyes to the injustices and prejudices around us. It’s not until it happens to us personally do we realize what we were doing to others. I wish I could say I never stooped to that level or talked down to people. I wish I could say I never acted like an arrogant asshole when I was in the Sea Org but those would be lies. I did do those things and more. I tried to be civil, helpful and just when I saw gross injustices occur and I know I didn’t get anywhere near as bad as many of my fellow SO members, but that’s no excuse for the poor way I treated many people who did not deserve it.

Seeing what was going on, I tried to counsel cooperation and patience to the two staff members who were railing against the orders coming out of Los Angeles. I tried to placate Joan, who also did not understand what was going on or why I could not go into the org or why we could not be more open in at least showing the world we were dating. It was true there was no written policy or justification for what the Sea Org was doing in keeping me “off the lines” of the org, ordering me not to have contact with Scientologists or be friends with anyone. I was lucky I was able to keep my job with a local Scientologist!

To answer the queries from the staff about me, Kellan and others who used to be my friends in Los Angeles, wrote issues describing what a horrible person I was and sent them to the Twin Cities organization to be posted on the notice boards so people would understand why I was persona non grata. The information in the issues was just made up or exaggerated claims about all the horrible things I’d done over the 27 years I was in Scientology, painting me as a villain in order to justify why I was not allowed in the org.

This is what Scientology does. It uses people until they are no use to them any longer and then it castigates them as villains so no “good” Scientologists will have anything to do with them, pretending those who sacrificed almost all their time, money and energy toward the good of Scientology have suddenly gone evil and must be destroyed. This is a direct reflection of L. Ron Hubbard’s vindictive personality which has been written into the very DNA of Scientology. I will go over this in much more detail in later chapters.

Back when I was in the Sea Org and was doing recovery actions, I used the Internet to locate people and in so doing stumbled on some anti-Scientology articles. I knew there were some bad things going on, David Miscavige was reportedly beating up on his juniors and Scientology had a reputation for being a cult of greed. I’d even seen an email from a former member, Debbie Cook, which powerfully used L. Ron Hubbard’s own policies to show how the Church was not following them under Miscavige’s leadership and was nothing but a greedy money-making operation. I’d acknowledged the truth of some of that but parked the rest of it because I didn’t want to get in trouble for being “disaffected.” Reading anti-Scientology material on the Internet is a very big no-no.


While I understood what was happening, I was also extremely upset over how I was being treated, mainly because it was impacting my ability to be with Joan openly and to continue to get any of the benefits of Scientology. It brought to mind certain things I’d seen from ex-Scientologists in some of those articles I’d perused on the Internet and I decided I needed to learn more. So I Googled “Scientology” and that was literally the beginning of the end for me as a Scientologist. I proceeded to fall down a rabbit hole of amazing depth and scope.

I was fascinated by everything I was finding. I was up late almost every night for a couple of months reading more and more stories, blogs, news media and watching videos from former members and media professionals about what Scientology was really all about. At first I was mainly interested in the abuses of the current regime and how Miscavige had undermined Hubbard’s intentions and policies and twisted Scientology into his own image in order to aggrandize himself and centralize all the power of Scientology under his control. The more I read, though, the more inescapable it was that Miscavige was not the real problem at all. He was just a reflection of the real source of the trouble: L. Ron Hubbard.

I found out Hubbard lied too, and not just a little bit. I came to see Hubbard’s actual war records, school grades, evidence of his multiple marriages and polygamy and pretty clear accounts of his descent into madness during the last half of his years in Scientology before he finally died alone, hiding from the law in Creston, California.

It’s impossible for me to relate the depths of betrayal and anger I felt toward L. Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige at this point. One night it just hit me right between the eyes: I’d been taken advantage of, blatantly used like a chess piece, for 25 years. The vast majority of my life had been spent fighting, sacrificing and slaving over a pack of vicious lies which served only one real purpose: to make money for the head of the Church of Scientology.

It was a bitter and hard truth. Even then, when I did see it all for what it was, it still took me two more years to be able to swallow that bitter pill all the way down. Who wants to believe they have thrown away their “best years” and have been used like a puppet, only to be cast into the trash heap when their strings break and they are no longer useful?

There were two straws which finally broke the camel’s back, so to speak, and led me to the inescapable conclusion Scientology was not just utter nonsense, but was actually destructive.

The first was seeing Hubbard’s confidential directions and policies for the Guardian’s Office (GO) operations which led to the Snow White Program in the 1970s, the largest infiltration of the United States government ever carried out by any group in history. The GO was Scientology’s old legal and investigative division; it is now part of the Sea Organization and is called the Office of Special Affairs. Normal Scientologists and even most people in the Sea Org never see these confidential issues but there they were, leaked on the Internet for anyone to read.

It became clear to me in seeing these issues Hubbard was a paranoid conspiracy nut who literally saw aliens and FBI agents coming after him everywhere he looked. Back in the early 1970s he’d been in real trouble with the law in multiple countries and even had an arrest warrant issued for him in France. In order to deal with this, his solution was to send in his most loyal Scientologists (Guardian’s Office staffers) in a James Bond-esque operation to find and destroy all the government records which documented his criminal activities. It was a gigantic operation carried out over years and ultimately involved hundreds of Guardian’s Office staff (all Scientologists).

The Snow White Program was uncovered by the FBI after a few very big mistakes were made by low-level Guardian’s Office staff infiltrating the IRS. It all came to light in a spectacular FBI raid on Scientology facilities in 1977. Eleven Scientologists went to jail including Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue Hubbard. As the nominal head of the Guardian’s Office, she was the scapegoat who Hubbard threw to the wolves so he wouldn’t have to go to jail himself. In the end Hubbard was not just a liar and con man but a craven coward who could not take responsibility for his own actions and would rather see his closest “loved ones” suffer than face the judgement he so richly deserved.

What I found ironic in learning about all this is in the Twin Cities, I met one of those low-level Guardian’s Office staffers! In fact, I met the man who was more directly responsible for the Snow White Program being blown wide open than anyone else: Jerry Wolfe. He was not only still alive and well and doing Scientology services, but was the best friend of Joan’s father! I had dinner with him and his wife and even worked with him when I was in the SO to get him on services! Of course, he never breathed a word about Snow White or his history with it, but there it all was in black and white: court documents with his name all over them. This guy went to jail for Scientology for two years and here he was, still praising L. Ron Hubbard and eagerly eating up Miscavige’s latest interpretations of Hubbard’s works.

Finding out about the Snow White Program didn’t convince me; it was seeing Hubbard’s explicit instructions to the Guardian’s Office about how to carry out covert operations and destroy the “enemies” of Scientology through any means necessary. “Ruin them utterly” he said in a 1955 bulletin, and in the 1970s Hubbard laid out in detail exactly how to do just that. It put Scientology into a whole new light because I knew while the Guardian’s Office had been shut down because of the media circus following the Snow White Program, a new Office of Special Affairs (OSA) was founded in the early 1980s to take its place. Many of the Guardian’s Office staffers literally just walked right over to OSA and kept working. The operational guidelines and policies used by OSA were just updated Guardian’s Office orders and directives. So it was obvious nothing really changed at all and OSA was carrying out the same mandate as the old GO.

The second thing which tipped me over the edge was when I took the plunge and read the confidential, upper level scriptures of Scientology, the vaunted OT Levels. It can’t really be easily understood by non-Scientologists how much mystique and awe surround these things within the bubble world of Scientology. Hubbard made claims the material contained in the OT Levels is so powerful, if you are exposed to it before you are ready (by doing all the lower Scientology services leading up to them) you will quite literally die. He wasn’t using hyperbole or exaggeration when he made these claims either; Hubbard meant what he said. He told Scientologists the material would kill you if you didn’t follow his explicit instructions. Fool that I was, I actually believed him, as do all other Scientologists.

Over the years, the materials on the OT levels have been leaked into the public domain from former members and they are now freely available in a Google search. I’d saved these for last not because I was savoring the anticipation of finding out about them, but because I was truly scared to read them! Even after everything I’d uncovered about Hubbard being a pathological liar and charlatan and how corrupt Scientology actually was, I was still very heavily indoctrinated to believe the OT materials were the most sacred and powerful scriptures in the universe.

So I opened the first PDF file with great trepidation and started reading about OT III, the Xenu story made famous on South Park. I even went and downloaded the episode and watched it too. Then I read the rest of the OT Levels in order, skimming them quickly and then going back and reading them over in more detail. Included in the same pack of issues were the infamous “L Rundowns” which are also confidential auditing procedures which cost Scientologists tens of thousands of dollars to receive and are only available at the Flag Service Org in Clearwater, Florida.

After reading through them, I wondered if I was now going to develop pneumonia and die, like Hubbard said I would. That’s how strong the indoctrination of 27 years had been. However, more rationally and much more consciously, I was even more pissed off at Hubbard because the bottom line was this: the OT Levels don’t make any damn sense. They are not logically consistent, they do not sensibly lead to the power and abilities OTs were supposed to have, there are gigantic holes of unanswered questions and concerns which are so obvious I can’t believe anyone could seriously swallow them and they were contradictory to the lower level, non-confidential materials. In short, I was not just extremely disappointed but angered that these were the hidden secrets I’d been slaving to protect for all those years.

For decades, people who had done the OT levels smiled mysteriously at me whenever the subject of the OT levels came up and said things like “Oh, just you wait.”

“They contain the secrets of the universe.”

“You’ll never guess what’s on them.”

“They are so amazing. I had no idea.”

“They are going to blow your mind.”

Yeah, they blew my mind right out of Scientology! Reading them was the last nail in the coffin of my belief in L. Ron Hubbard’s genius and goodness. I now saw the Man Behind the Curtain, the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, the illusionist weaving his web of deceit to ensnare the gullible and unsuspecting. In case you’re curious, in chapter 11, I break down all the OT material and point up what is wrong with it.

After all this, I had to vent and had no one else I could really talk to about it in person. My mother was a godsend, for sure, and I spoke with her about all this by phone. I couldn’t tell Joan. She was a church staff member and had a bit of a delicate disposition. I knew if I just unloaded all this on her at once, she was going to freak out. Her parents and her entire family were heavily involved in Scientology and I was going to have to proceed slowly and with caution.

Yet at the same time, I was boiling over inside and desperately needed an outlet for what I was thinking and feeling. I started posting anonymously on an Internet chat board called Ex-Scientologist Message Board or ESMB, a website specifically set up by ex-Scientologists for people in my position who needed someone to talk to and understand what they were going through. This also led me to Tony Ortega’s Underground Bunker and I started commenting there. That’s how they found me.

— Chris Shelton


Bonus items from our tipsters

What a contrast to Chris’s excerpt…




Hey, we’re just five days from this year’s HowdyCon in Chicago, June 21-23. Here’s what we have in store for you…

Thursday evening: At 6 pm, we’ll kick things off at our main hotel (see the website), where Chee Chalker, our coordinator, will be checking you in and handing out packets of information about the location of HowdyCon events and other things to do in town. That evening, Author Alec Nevala-Lee joins us for a casual round of discussion. We’ve read his forthcoming book, Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and it has some wonderful insights about how Hubbard moved from the pulps to Dianetics. Take this opportunity to get to know him and hear about his book before it makes waves in October!


Friday afternoon: Friday is Fly Day at HowdyCon Chicago! Our buzzing insect can only join us for this event, so plan to hang out with us. Bring your own LEGOs.

Saturday evening: Our big event this year features Chicago Fire actor Christian Stolte, who tells us he’s cooking up a good show for us. It takes place in a theater, and you need to reserve a seat by dropping a note to the proprietor at tonyo94 AT gmail as soon as possible.



Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,147 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,750 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 293 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 181 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,356 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,130 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,904 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,250 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 10,816 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 2,484 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,744 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,784 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,496 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,022 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,111 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,251 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,571 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,546 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 902 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,204 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,310 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,713 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,585 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,167 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,672 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,916 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,025 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on June 16, 2018 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, 1995-2017 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)

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 | 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 non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news


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