Wednesday, 31 December 2008

12 Scientology v the Internet

In the mid-1990s Scientology tried to shut down its Internet-based critics using law suits and court-authorised raids. They have been paying the price ever since.

The Internet has been a nightmare for Scientology since at least the 1995, when the movement tried to shut down some of its more vocal critics there. Their mistake was to do it by getting court orders to raid their homes and confiscate their computer equipment.

The critics had been posting Scientology’s secret levels to expose what they said was the true nature of the movement. Scientology simply argued that it was protecting its copyrighted trade secrets from those it called the “copyright terrorists”.

Denis Erlich, a former Scientologist who was one of the movement’s most aggressive Internet critics, was the first to be targeted, on February 13, 1995. A video of the raid shows Erlich watching, horrified, as a posse of Scientology’s lawyers and representatives backed up by a police officer march around his California home.

“The scientologists went through my computer, all my papers, every closet, every drawer,” Erlich later told the judge handling the case.

Scientology lawyer Earl Cooley insisted in a statement released after another such raid: “The Church is a strong proponent of free speech. However, free speech does not mean free theft and no one has the right to cloak themselves in the First Amendment to break the law.”

In the U.S. courts, Scientology tended to win on the copyright issue: critics could not simply reproduce entire copies of the movement’s documents on the Internet.

But Scientology’s tactics sparked a backlash that confronted them with a new problem: how to deal with hundreds of libertarian-minded Internet activists outraged at what they saw as an unwarranted attack on free speech.

The movement has been paying the price ever since.

One of the new critics was Dutch writer Karin Spaink, who got involved after Scientology raided the Amsterdam office of Dutch Internet provider, XS4ALL, on September 5, 1995.

Spaink could not believe the Scientologists had behaved so unreasonably. “If you have an argument with someone you talk or you employ your lawyers, but you don’t raid,” she said.

By March 12, 1996, Spaink had won court approval from the Dutch courts to publish details of the very secrets that Scientology had been trying to keep from the public on her website.

The case went all the way to the Dutch Supreme Court, but Scientology never managed to put the genie back in the bottle.

Another critic who joined the battle was Norwegian Internet activist Andreas Heldal-Lund. He set up his website Operation Clambake on November 7, 1996 as a clearing house for the most important information concerning Scientology.

More than 10 years on, Operation Clambake remains one of the most popular websites on the subject.

For Heldal-Lund, the Internet has changed the balance of power. In the old days, Scientology could pick off individual critics using the vast resources at its disposal. Today however, all that has changed. “All the money in the world can't stop all the critics stirred into action by the information on the 'Net,” he writes on his website.

Neither Spaink nor Heldal-Lund knew much about Scientology before the movement started attacking its Web-based critics. Because of their commitment to free speech however, both ended up playing a key role in breaking the movement’s reputation as a formidable litigation machine.

These days, Scientology has its own network of glossily produced websites promoting its world view. But a disparate group of Internet activists maintains a network of websites that monitor, criticise and ridicule the movement’s every move.

Dedicated news groups and message boards have made it difficult for the movement to launch any kind of major initiative without triggering the ‘Net’s early warning system. And inevitably, the scoops that Internet-based researchers dig up eventually filter out into the mainstream media.

But perhaps the most significant recent development has come from a private corner of the Internet. In October 2004 former Scientologist Mick Wenlock set up a restricted-membership message board called XSO.

XSO stands for Ex-Sea Org: it is exclusively for former members of the Sea Organization, those true believers who signed a billion-contract, swearing to dedicate this life and future lives to Scientology.

Wenlock, an Englishman who now lives in the United States, said he set it up to get in touch with old friends from the movement. “I had no idea how powerful an emotion it would be to actually talk to a lot of XSO people. Some of us met up in Vegas in 2006 – only about 10 or so – and for three days I swear we could not shut up. It was great.”

Scientology’s current leader David Miscavige probably thinks that XSO is part of a conspiracy against the movement, said Wenlock. “But it is just a list of idealistic people who worked in the same organisation and who want to talk to old friends.

“Having said that – and just to brag a little perhaps – I knew that free and open communication was and is the biggest ‘threat’ to Miscavige and the current set-up. The control they have relies on stopping people talking, keeping them afraid to have opinions (other than enthusiastic approval). I am not at all surprised that things started to come out.”

What started to come out on XSO was evidence of just how harsh life in the movement can be. Members swapped horror stories about the kind of abuse they say had become the norm – at least inside some of Scientology’s flagship centres in the United States.

More specifically, a number of former senior Scientology executives have described in detail the increasingly violent behaviour of Miscavige himself.

It was not long before some of those stories began leaking out on to the wider Internet, such as the message board run by Heldal-Lund at Operation Clambake. Now, finally, they are beginning to get the attention of the mainstream media.

As one contributor put it, XSO is really Scientology’s worst nightmare. “We all have finally found a forum to reconnect and compare war stories and find out that we were not alone in our thinking about what was going on in the Sea Org – and that we can't all be wrong.”

Next: The Story so Far

7 John Peeler's Story

For Scientologists who grew up in the movement walking away from it and adjusting to the outside world can be a traumatic experience. John Peeler tells his story.

John Peeler, now 37, did not actually choose to be a Scientologist: he grew up in the movement.

His mother was Scientologist and they sent him to a Scientology-approved school where the teachers used the techniques set down by the movement’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. “There was even an Ethics Officer,” he recalled – a kind of moral policeman who ensured they followed Scientology policies to the letter.

The children were encouraged to write Knowledge Reports on each other: to denounce their classmates if they thought they had broken Scientology’s rules. And if someone did report you, you could end up having to explain yourself to the ethics officer, he recalled. All this was as set down in Hubbard's writings.

Looking back, Peeler can scarcely believe it. “These are children being taught at a very young age to write knowledge reports on other students and keep a ‘watchful’ eye on others. Kids would even be heard saying, ‘Ohhhh, you’re going to Ethics!’.”

Peeler recalled how the founders of one such school were suddenly declared ‘suppressive’ by the movement’s leadership: enemies of Scientology. His mother and other Scientologists at the school immediately withdrew their children from the establishment.

Suppressive persons, knowledge reports and ethics officers: these key elements of the movement’s thinking were all part of Peeler’s early environment. “Scientology conditioning started at a very young age back in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” he said.

And this is still going on today. At one point Peeler’s job was to sign up new members of Scientology’s Sea Organization and he considered the schools he had attended a perfect recruitment pool.

As a young adult, he decided to take a break from Scientology life. “I decided just to live a normal life, go to normal schools, have ‘wog’ friends,” he said.

“Wog” is a Scientology term for non-Scientologists that was coined by Hubbard. One Scientology dictionary defines a wog as “a common ordinary run-of-the-mill garden-variety humanoid.” Another official definition is: “A wog is someone who isn’t even trying.”

Peeler got a regular job and his own place and for a while he led an ordinary life. “This is where I got some semblance of what people in the real world do and I liked it.

“But I also still believed that the planet needed to be ‘cleared’ (converted to Scientology's principles) and that we were in big trouble if we didn’t do it soon. Scientology being the ‘only answer’ was always stuck in the back of my mind.”

Scientologists believe Hubbard developed an unparalleled range of therapeutic techniques that bring previously unheard of levels of freedom and power in mind, body and spirit. They believe these powers are the only thing that will stop mankind from destroying itself.

So Peeler was eventually persuaded back to work for Scientology the Sea Organization, which is acknowledged by Scientologists as the movement's elite cadre.

Between 1990 and 2000 he worked at the Int. Base, a 500-acre, high-security compound near Hemet, California, where Scientology’s leader David Miscavige works. Now Peeler was an ethics officer: he served as a “Master at Arms” (MAA), enforcing security at the base.

His duties included making sure staffers were not in contact with anyone hostile to Scientology – and that involved checking their mail and listening in on their phone calls.

If a staffer’s family was hostile to their involvement in Scientology, he would coach the person concerned on how “handle” them. Since it was so hard for staffers to get leave from the base however, this was no easy task, he said. “Most staff at the Int. Base hardly ever got time off to be able to visit their families.”

If a staffer failed to handle a hostile relative, then they would have to “disconnect”, said Peeler. He had the power to order a staffer to cut off all contact with a hostile friend or relative, a policy known as disconnection.

Scientology continues to deny that it practises enforced disconnection.

He was also responsible for disciplining staffers judged to be unproductive. One punishment was known as over-boarding: it involved throwing staffers, fully clothed, into the freezing waters of the lake at the base.

Peeler eventually tired of the harsh discipline and the increasingly aggressive atmosphere. “Weekly staff meetings became scream fests, finger pointing and pure rage ... David Miscavige was beating people up.”

Other senior executives, taking their cue from Miscavige, were also beginning to use violence. “I even found myself at times displaying this attitude and had to put myself in check because that was never me and not what I ever wanted to become.

“But I realized that to most people at the base, DM (Miscavige) was the leader and so had the ‘winning attitude’ … The bottom line is that it just started to get out of hand and I didn't see conditions getting any better any time soon. So I left.”

Another reason he left was he could not stand having been separated from his wife. After she got sent away from the base on a mission he simply never saw her. “I was separated from my own wife for four years ... I only got to see my family, who lived two hours away, a total of six days in 10 years … I just couldn't take it anymore.”

Adjusting to the outside world was not easy, he admits. “It took me a good four years after getting out, to finally get used to the real world and start thinking and feeling like a regular person again.

“I had nightmares for years, and occasionally still have one ... dreams where I'm back in the organization and having to escape again…,” he added. His ex-wife is still in the Sea Org.

Next: Life at the Base

10 The RPF: "Scientology's Gulag"

Former members of Scientology’s Sea Organization remember the movement’s harsh punishment programme, the Rehabilitation Project Force with particular horror.

Life in the Sea Organization, which was set up by Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard in 1967, was meant to be tough.

Former members have described a harsh regime, in which senior officers were trained to bawl out their subordinates like drill sergeants on a parade ground, and where a culture of bullying was rife.

But the most feared aspect of life in Scientology’s Sea Organization is its punishment programme: the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF). More than one former inmate has described it as Scientology’s gulag.

Former Sea Org member Homer Schomer spent three months in the RPF in the 1970s, on board one of Scientology’s ships, the Apollo. “Life in the RPF was despicable and degrading,” he declared in a March 16, 1986 affidavit.

“You lost all sense of self-esteem, freedom and human dignity. It was a world unto itself and you felt like a leper,” he added.

RPF inmates could not speak unless spoken to and had to run everywhere, he said: living conditions were “damp, cold” and infested with cockroaches. They ate the food left over from the meals of the regular crew.

“Members of the RPF were forced to wear black boiler suits. We slept very little everyday and awoke each morning to swab the decks,” he added. “We were allowed 30 seconds to shower and had to be up and ready in the morning within 15 minutes.”

But Scientology’s leadership insists that criticism of the RPF is based on a misunderstanding – or a distortion – of its role. They say it is about rehabilitating wayward members.

“Sea Organization staff who would otherwise be subject to dismissal for serious and/or continuous ecclesiastical violations are offered a second chance through the RPF,” says a statement in the ‘Misconceptions about Scientology’ part of its website.

“Personnel ‘burn out’ is not new to organizations, but the concept of complete rehabilitation is,” the statement adds.

Those on the RPF enjoy study and religious counselling to address any personal difficulties they might have, says the statement. They work only eight hours a day improving facilities at their place of work, developing a sense of teamwork among the participants, it adds.

“The work allows the individual to regain confidence in himself and the pride of accomplishment.”

Although some critics of the program had “tried to intentionally misinterpret it”, the statement continues, they could not speak from personal experience.

“Those who know – graduates of the RPF program – attest to its enormous personal benefit, and their appreciation for being able to avail themselves of redemption as opposed to dismissal.”

But some graduates of the program retain bitter memories of their experience.

In all, Bruce Hines spent six years on the program, between 1995 and 2001: first at the Hemet base and then at the nearby “Happy Valley” ranch in the desert of southern California.

“There is no question that we were in confinement,” he said. “There is also no question that the program was designed to make us into obedient, unquestioning workers for the Sea Org.”

And yet he at first agreed to do the RPF because at the time he was, as he put it, a true believer. “I believed that Scientology offered the only road to salvation for all people and that it was the only thing in the world that could save mankind from a horrible demise.”

Once on the programme however, there was little chance of quitting. “From that point on I was under close, full-time supervision. I had to surrender my passport and my driver’s license.”

At the Hemet base, they were kept in a special compound fenced off from the other staff, he recalled.

“The area where we slept, ate, showered, and studied was surrounded by a fence at least six feet tall, which had motion sensors on it. The main security guard booth would be alerted if anyone touched the fence.”

He and a group of eight to 10 others were put to work doing manual labour, uprooting bushes and weeds and hauling rocks that weighed up to 200 pounds by hand or by wheelbarrow.

“Frequently, I encountered rattlesnakes, tarantulas and Black Widow spiders,” he recalled. “On one occasion a colleague on the program just missed being bitten by a rattlesnake.”

At night they slept in trailers, one for the men and one for the women, in triple-decker bug-infested bunk beds.

“All night long there was a night watch, or guard, who was a member of the base security force.”

When one night he tried to sneak out of the compound he was quickly intercepted and returned to quarters. And Hines witnessed two other escape attempts by a colleague, Maureen Bolstad.

The first time, one of the guards rugby-tackled her as she tried to run off. On another occasion, guards used a dog to track her down after she slipped away early one morning.

Bolstad herself recalls: “There were three – or maybe four – occasions where I was physically tackled when trying to leave.”

One time, in December 1997, she was frustrated at being confined to a room she got into a scuffle with one of the guards.

“He and I got into a fight and my hand was broken and I had several bruises on my rib cage because he had kept shoving me into these bookcases,” she recalled. She ended up with her arm in a cast.

“I actually did take a swing at him but I think he over-reacted, smashing my hand on the table like that."

It is hard to imagine her posing a physical threat to anyone. Bolstad is only 5’6” (barely 1.68 metres) and during her time on the RPF she was under-weight. Even now, a healthy 125 lbs, she is no heavyweight.

“No one had a car. No one had a radio,” Hines recalled. “No one could receive any magazines or newspapers. No one had a television. No one had a mobile phone. Such things were strictly forbidden,” he recalled.

On the RPF, you worked eight hours a day, seven days a week before any counselling, he said. And what Scientology described as therapy, Hines characterised as relentless pressure to admit that whatever you thought was wrong with Scientology or the leadership was in fact your fault.

“It is drilled into a person over and over that if they expressed some disagreement with Scientology or its main people or its organizations or their actions, then that person must have seriously sinned and have evil purposes,” he said.

One Scientology dictionary defines evil purpose as: "a definite obsessive desire to destroy."

He felt under such pressure during these sessions he even made up imaginary sins to satisfy his questioners, he said. Looking back today however, he saw it differently. “This surely sounds like mind control to me.”

Professor Stephen Kent, a sociologist at the University of Alberta, in Canada, would agree. He published a detailed study on the RPF in 1997, updating it in 2000.

One of Scientology’s most outspoken critics in the academic community, Kent’s study concluded that the RPF was about breaking people, physically and mentally, so they would conform.

He was so concerned about the stories of abuse he uncovered that he wrote to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The gist of the reply I got was, ‘Look it would take people who just came out of that programme to come to us and complain about what had happened to them.’”

In the early years of its creation – in the Hubbard era – you might expect to spend only a few months in the RPF. Since Miscavige took over, say former members, some people have been stuck there for years.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

8 Life at the Base

Former residents at Scientology’s International Base recall a harsh regime where every aspect of life is tightly controlled.

“I worked for many years for Scientology. Some of it was good, some bad,” said Jeff Hawkins. “Then I was transferred to the International Base in Hemet and it went downhill from there.”

The International Base, a compound of 500 acres, lies at the base of a range of hills at the north end of the San Jacinto Valley, southern California, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. It is the heart of Scientology’s empire.

There, a few hundred dedicated Scientologists work long hours for $50 a week – sometimes less – to keep the movement working around the world.

Staff there are all members of the Sea Organization, which was founded by Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard in 1967. And as members of the movement’s most dedicated group, they are expected to submit to tight security and discipline.

“It is entirely surrounded by a chain link fence, topped with razor wire,” said Hawkins. “The razor wire faces inward.” Security guards staff the booths at all five entrances.

Motion sensors every 20 feet are set to trigger an alarm and turn on the perimeter lights. Cameras photograph passing cars on the road outside: they can even capture licence plate numbers. Further up the hillside is an isolated installation known as the “Eagle” look-out post.

Most Scientologists know the site as Gold Base, or Gold, home to Golden Era Productions, which produces the movement’s training and publicity films. Those in the know call it International Base, the Base – or just Int.

For this is where the movement’s leader, David Miscavige, is based. And whatever it says on paper about Scientology’s management, said Hawkins, Miscavige is the only person in charge.

“In reality, he is the autocratic, dictatorial, unchallenged head of Scientology. What he says is what happens, and nothing happens without his approval.”

Hawkins’ description of the base has been confirmed in affidavits and Internet postings by several former members – as has his insistence that Miscavige is the unchallenged leader of the movement.

In describing life at the base, Hawkins evoked the nightmarish world set out in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. “You are literally watched and controlled every moment,” he said.

Most, if not all, staffers lived on site at the base, said Hawkins. And just as you would have a hard time getting into the base unnoticed, a staff member would find it equally difficult to leave without permission – something more than one former worker there has confirmed.

Hawkins said he spent more than a decade at the base. “It is a virtual prison, with barbed wire all around it. Incoming and outgoing mail and phone calls are monitored,” he recalled.

“No one is allowed on the Internet, or to have cell phones, or to watch TV. Calls to family are covertly monitored. You are literally watched and controlled every moment. And staff there get little sleep,” said Hawkins.

“When I was there, over the last four years, I was averaging four or five hours a night,” he recalled. Working 16, 18, even 20 hours a day, seven days a week was not unusual, he added.

John Peeler, who used to be one of those responsible for enforcing discipline at the base, confirmed Hawkins’s account. He worked with what was known as Department Three: the ‘Ethics and Security’ section of Scientology.

Peeler’s job was to check that nobody was complaining about their life at the base – especially not to outsiders.

“For years, I was in positions responsible for reading through people's personal mail from friends and family to make sure that there was nothing negative about Scientology,” he said.

He also monitored calls staff members made to the outside world. “There were rooms with phones that had dual hand-sets, one for the person making the call and the other for security or an MAA (Master at Arms) to listen in on the call itself,” he recalled.

“So when you were talking to your family, you were literally being listened in on by someone sitting right there with you.”

The surveillance made it impossible for staffers phoning home to speak frankly, said Peeler. “When talking to family on the phone, there's literally nothing you can really talk about because your whole life is at the base, so all you can really say is that you're doing fine and miss them and hope to see them someday, ‘Soon, I promise!’.”

Security guards at the base used to search the living quarters of staffers when they were at work. “In fact, you had no idea that you even had an inspection at your living quarters, unless a security guard or MAA pulled you in to confront you on something they found in your room.

“These inspections are done in order to find out if people have any ‘out-security’ or confidential materials, any TV sets, any personal computers, any phones or anything that would seem odd enough to question the individual. Laptops are strictly forbidden.”

Peeler’s job was not just to monitor staff members, but to check that loved ones on the outside were not too hostile to Scientology. If they were, then he had the power to declare them a “suppressive person”, or SP: an enemy of Scientology.

The staffer concerned would then have to cut off all contact with that family member, a practice known as disconnection.

“I personally had people disconnect from family many times,” said Peeler. Disconnection policy is set out in the writings of the movement’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

The policy could also be applied to former members, and any staffer who escaped the base and quit Scientology knew the penalty, said Peeler. “I personally declared a couple of people SP who had blown the Sea Org – people who had taken off and never returned.”

Many of the dozens of people who have quit the senior echelons of Scientology in recent years spent decades inside the movement. Some of them were born and raised there.

In interviews and postings to the Internet, they have spoken of their sense of desolation when they first ventured into the outside world, cut off from their former friends and colleagues.

Today however, there is a growing support network of former members ready and willing to help them, thanks in part to the connections developed by Internet message boards and news groups.

Next: Abuse in the Sea Org

6 Jeff Hawkins' Story

One of the new wave of Scientology defectors describes why he devoted decades of his life to the movement: and why he finally quit.

Jeff Hawkins spent most of his adult life in Scientology before joining the recent wave of defectors from the top echelons of the movement. While he has still has fond memories of his time there, he has no regrets about leaving.

“I got involved in Scientology when I was still quite young,” he recalled. “I was living in Southern California and was part of the hippie culture. I was very actively involved in the anti-war movement, and was a voracious reader.”

Hawkins had experimented with the drugs culture, read Eastern philosophy and dabbled in the ancient Chinese divination system, the I Ching. “Like a lot of my generation, I was searching for a higher reality, beyond the shallow fa├žade of 1960's society. But Eastern philosophy wasn't making it for me - too esoteric for a Western mind.

“When a friend told me about Scientology, it seemed like exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. It was spiritual, yet with a basis, they said, in science. You were told to try it for yourself, and make your own decision about whether it worked or not.”

Back then, he said, Scientology centres were packed with hundreds of young people just like him. “There was an atmosphere of incredible excitement and discovery.”

Hawkins was impressed by a video of the founder, L. Ron Hubbard talking. “He seemed to be a nice guy, very warm and friendly. He wasn't at all arrogant or didactic, but seemed to be a fascinating guy who had travelled all over the world and investigated all kinds of different civilizations.”

It was only after he left Scientology that he discovered that independent researchers had dismissed many of the claims Hubbard made about his life as lies.

Hawkins remembers the powerful effect that some of the early courses had on him. In one exercise, he recalled: “I had an experience of feeling out of my body and very serene.” Other exercises helped him get over his shyness and become more outgoing.

He had extremely vivid ‘past life’ experiences, he said. Scientologists believe that we have all lived past lives and that these can be recovered using the movement’s techniques.

“I also agreed with the aims of Scientology, which were to create a civilization without war, ignorance and insanity,” he said. So he decided to sign up as a full-time staff member.

“Once I was on staff, I began to encounter the ‘dark side’ of Scientology, particularly the late nights, no sleep, no pay, and the abuse of staff who didn't perform to expectations.

“Frankly, I blamed all this on a few individuals who had gotten in control, and believed they would soon be gone, and justice and sanity would triumph. This is sort of what you tell yourself. All this will pass.”

He recalled a constant sense of crisis and urgency inside the movement. “We were told that Scientology was at war with psychiatry and the big drug cartels, who were spending billions to wipe out Scientology.

“We didn't have billions, so we had to work harder and work all night and work for little or no pay, because we had to win the war. And anyone who didn't exert enough effort or who fell behind on quotas was ‘working for the enemy.’” And at the time, he believed it.

Then he was transferred to International Base near Hemet, California, where the most senior executives worked alongside the movement’s leader, David Miscavige.

“I could write a book on conditions at that Base,” said Hawkins. “They were bad when I got there, and went down from there.”

It was not just the long hours, the tight security and the constant pressure, he said. “There is a high incidence of physical and emotional abuse. I was made to run around buildings – up to two miles in street shoes – and thrown in a freezing lake.”

He also had to sit through many late-night meetings during which Miscavige would harangue and browbeat senior executives, accusing them of being incompetent and “suppressive” – an enemy of Scientology. On several occasions, he saw Miscavige physically assault members of staff – and on several occasions he was the target.

“Ultimately I decided that this was no longer the group I had joined, and that the goals I believed in had been betrayed, and that it was never, never going to get any better. At that point I decided to leave.

“I was given 500 dollars’ ‘severance pay’ and basically put out on the street. Fortunately I had a bit of personal money and so was not destitute. A friend of mine literally had to live on the street for two weeks before he found his feet.

“I had no one to go to. My closest friends were still Scientologists and I was told that I could not contact them. This is ‘disconnection’. Any Scientologist in good standing has to disconnect from anyone who had been declared suppressive, as I had been.

“I had no friends outside Scientology. I literally picked a city at random drove up there, checked into a motel and started looking for an apartment. I found one in three days, then began job hunting.”

After 35 years in Scientology, Hawkins has built a new life for himself. But while he is ready to denounce the abuses he says are still going on inside the movement, he takes a balanced view of his time inside the movement

“No, I don't consider my time in Scientology a waste. I made many close friends and knew many wonderful people. I learned a lot of skills over the years. I had a lot of adventures and travelled the world. And I also learned a lot about groups and what can go wrong with them.”

People should avoid stereotyping members of the movement, he says. “Some people have the idea, I think, that Scientologists – or members of any cult or similar organization – are just mindless, brainwashed zombies. It just isn't true.

“By and large, they are intelligent, well-meaning and dedicated people. Some of the finest people I have ever known, in fact.”

But he added: “They are controlled through methods that are not limited to Scientology, things like peer pressure, milieu control, manipulation of purposes, goals and ideals, guilt, shame, the need to belong, the desire for purpose and meaning in life. Thus they can be trapped and used.”

For a detailed account of his time in Scientology, see Jeff Hawkins' blog: “Counterfeit Dreams”.

Next: John Peeler's Story

3 The Case against Miscavige

High-level defectors from Scientology are beginning to speak out about the movement’s leader, David Miscavige and the beatings they say he hands out to fellow executives.

Jeff Hawkins says he had no idea about David Miscavige’s violence until he was himself attacked for the first time in 2002 – and he had been working at the base for more than 10 years.

“People don’t say ‘Oh did you hear that Miscavige beat up so-and-so?’ – it is just not mentioned,” he said. It was only once he started attending regular meetings with Miscavige – or DM as he is known – that he says he found out the hard way.

“We were at one meeting – there must have been 50 people in the room,” said Hawkins, who at that time was a senior marketing executive inside Scientology. “And DM was reading out a report I had written, and he didn’t like it at all. He was reading it and making fun of it.” DM is what many Scientologists call David Miscavige, Scientology’s current leader.

“Then he started looking at me and then he started saying: ‘Look at how he looks at me, look at how he looks at me’. And everybody else is telling me ‘Stop looking at him like that!’ – and I’m like – ‘What?’ I was just there, you know?

“He got madder and madder and madder and all of a sudden he just jumped – he literally jumped up on the conference room table, launched himself at me, started hitting me on the head, knocked me on the ground … grabbed my shirt and just ripped buttons off… and then he knocked me on the ground and then he walked away.

“And the people around me were just – I guess they were petrified, but they were whispering to me to get up and to straighten myself up and to not make him [Miscavige] wrong.”

Another former member, who did not want to be named, confirmed the details of the attack. “I remember afterwards, somebody collected up the buttons and change that fell out of his pockets and gave it all back to him. He was really shaken.”

John Peeler, a former security officer at the base, said he had seen two other attacks by Miscavige on Hawkins.

Peeler recalled that whenever Miscavige singled somebody out for this kind of abuse, the base’s security officers would take that person down for interrogation to find out what their “crimes” were, said Peeler. “The same happened after DM beat up Jeff.”

Looking back at that first beating, Hawkins said he realised now that he had been guilty of what George Orwell, in his dystopian novel 1984, called “face-crime” – wearing an improper expression on one's face. This was one of Miscavige’s obsessions, he said.

Another of Miscavige’s assaults took place when Hawkins was touring one of the buildings at the base with fellow executives, he said. As Miscavige was leaving one room he suddenly rabbit-punched Hawkins in the stomach.

“He just punched me in the gut to the point where I couldn’t talk. I was just croaking because he hit me so hard in the stomach … and he said to the other people, ‘I can smell black PR a mile away,’ and walked off.”

One Scientology dictionary defines black PR, or black propaganda, as "a covert attack on the reputation of a person, company or nation using slander and lies in order to weaken or destroy."

Miscavige is 13 years younger than Hawkins. He prides himself on keeping in shape: he even had a gym installed at the base. “I was 56 when Miscavige beat me up for the first time,” said Hawkins.

Over the years, he added, he witnessed between 10 and 15 of Miscavige’s assaults on at least four other executives. He would slap them punch them, wrestle them to the ground, he said.

And other senior executives, following Miscavige’s lead, started assaulting their subordinates, said Hawkins – a point confirmed by John Peeler.

Hawkins remembered one executive with particular distaste: “[He] used to routinely come by my desk take my head and shove it into my keyboard, just as his way of saying hello.”

As soon as Miscavige called a conference, said Hawkins, staffers would have to run to the venue. Once there, they might wait 20 to 30 minutes for Miscavige and his entourage to arrive.

“He would usually launch straight into an attack on someone. Everyone is hoping it’s not them. It’s usually whoever has submitted something to him – a script, a programme, a marketing proposal, an event proposal, whatever.

“He would rip the proposal to shreds, and the person along with it,” said Hawkins. “I never saw him do other than this. “Anything submitted to him was ‘sh_t’. He would invalidate the person and tear them to shreds in front of the group.”

Miscavige would run these meetings for up to six hours, well past midnight, said Hawkins. “And during the meeting, he would dictate exactly what had to be done ‘and have on my desk when I get up’.”

For one period of several months, said Hawkins, he had to work all-nighters only to have his latest proposal “ripped to shreds” at the meeting the following night. But this was the norm for senior executives.

“No one could do anything right. DM had to do everything himself. This was the constant mantra he would repeat and repeat at these meetings … He would always say he was ‘surrounded by SPs.’”


SPs, or suppressive persons, are enemies of Scientology.

And on top of that, he added, there was the violence. “I saw him beat people to the floor, shove them out of their chair to the floor, slam them up against a wall and so forth.”

In July 2008, Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw dismissed Hawkins' claims as “classic apostate behavior” in a written response to an article in The Portland Mercury.

“He grossly mischaracterizes the church, its purposes, and activities in an effort to harm its reputation,” she added. And she took personal offence at the allegations against Miscavige. “I know him personally, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms that the disgusting claims made by Mr. Hawkins could not be further from the truth.”

But Hawkins is far from being the first person to make such allegations. In many cases, these stories were first aired on a private Internet message board called XSO for former members of Scientology’s Sea Organization: its most dedicated followers. It was only later that they leaked out on to Internet news groups and message boards accessible to anyone.

Most of those who posted such accounts remain wary about revealing their identity. Some say they fear harassment from Scientology, while others worry that loved ones still inside the movement might suffer reprisals. Increasing numbers however are going on the record, and their stories appear to match.

Hawkins recalled Miscavige’s question after another assault. “He said ‘Do you know why I beat you up?’ And I said ‘No Sir’, and he said, ‘To remind you who’s boss.’”

For a detailed account of his time in Scientology, see Jeff Hawkins' blog: “Counterfeit Dreams”.

Next: A History of Violence

2 Accusing Miscavige

Former Scientology executive are speaking out against the movement’s leader, David Miscavige, accusing him of ruling through violence and intimidation.

For at least two years, it was one of the main topics of conversation on the Internet news groups and message groups devoted to exposing Scientology. But nobody was ready to go on the record.


Then in 2008, a handful of senior former members of the movement began speaking out in public to whoever would listen. Their stories were shocking but consistent.

They alleged that David Miscavige, the leader of Scientology, had for years been subjecting senior executives at one of the movement’s California bases to an abusive regime that ranged from expletive-filled tirades to physical assaults.

One of the new wave of whistleblowers is Jeff Hawkins, 62. Once a senior marketing executive with Scientology, he quit the movement in 2005 at the age of 59 after more than three decades.

Hawkins said Miscavige harangued his staff, often singling out individuals for a humiliating dressing down and sometimes physically attacking them. He saw a number of fellow executives assaulted and was the victim of several such attacks himself.

Two former Scientologists who worked alongside Hawkins have publicly confirmed his account, and other witnesses are waiting in the wings.

Much of the reported abuse took place during late-night meetings at the International Base, Scientology’s 500-acre, high-security compound at the north end of California’s San Jacinto Valley, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles.

Celebrity member Tom Cruise used to visit there regularly in the 1990s with his then wife Nicole Kidman.

Miscavige is a close friend of Cruise and served as best man at his November 2006 wedding to actress Katie Holmes. He is revered by many inside the movement.

But Hawkins said: "The International Base in Hemet, California, is run by fear, threats, and physical and emotional abuse.” Hawkins only left after experiencing what he calls "the dark side" of organised Scientology.

Hawkins described being assaulted on five separate occasions by Miscavige himself. "I was slapped repeatedly, punched, and knocked to the ground by him. That was in addition to his constant stream of profanity, threats and verbal abuse."

Other senior executives got the same treatment, he said. "He likes to keep those around him in fear and terror. It is ironic that while Scientology publicly preaches communication and tolerance, its leader, Miscavige, practises just the opposite."

John Peeler, who used to work as a security officer at the base, has confirmed Smith’s account. Peeler, 36, described two of the assaults on Hawkins by Miscavige, or DM as he called him.

“DM was grabbing and shoving him against a wall over and over and screaming in his face about how he was an SP [suppressive person] and deliberately not following his orders. He also punched him in the chest. DM was so mad he was red.”

A suppressive person or SP is what Scientologists call an enemy of the movement.

Marc Headley, another former member, has also confirmed Miscavige’s assaults on Hawkins in Internet postings and media interviews. In a speech in Hamburg on September 4, 2008, he said he had seen Miscavige assault several other executives.

And he has repeated the allegation in his lawsuit, filed in California on January 5, 2009.

Hawkins, Peeler and Headley are among a new wave of defectors speaking out about the abuses they witnessed and experienced at the California base.

Scientology’s representatives have dismissed them as embittered drop-outs from the movement and vehemently denied reports of Miscavige’s violence.

But their accounts echo previous allegations contained in court testimony and affidavits from former members stretching back over the past 20 years.

For years now, defectors have described how executives get training in how to scream abuse at subordinates; and how security officers routinely open members’ mail and monitor outgoing calls.

Former members have also testified to the bizarre punishments practised at the base. Staff members can be thrown, fully clothed, into the lake there. They can be forced to run for hours in the hot California sun in full dress uniform and city shoes.

They also say that those considered the worst offenders in the movement are held in a work camp known as the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) for years at a time.

Miscavige, 48, rose to power in the early 1980s when Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, appointed a group of young executives to reorganise the movement.

When Hubbard died in 1986, Miscavige was one of the most powerful figures in the movement. Ex-members say he is now Scientology’s undisputed leader.

The former members' campaign against Scientology was boosted by the appearance in January 2008 of a group of young Net-based activists known as “Anonymous”.

This group, which has also declared war on what it says is Scientology’s abusive behaviour, has developed new websites critical of the movement and organises regular pickets of the movement’s offices worldwide.

Next: The Case against Miscavige

4 A History of Violence

For celebrity member Tom Cruise, Scientology’s leader David Miscavige embodies everything that is good about the movement: but some former colleagues insist he has a darker side.

For actor Tom Cruise, Scientology’s leader David Miscavige is a shining example of all that is best about the movement: a paragon of compassion, tolerance and intelligence.

In October 2004, at a special event in England, Tom Cruise paid this tribute to Miscavige, Chairman of the Board (COB) of Scientology’s Religious Technology Center.

“Thank you, Sir: Thank you for your trust and your confidence in me. I've personally been privileged to see what you do to protect and help and serve all of us.

“I have never met a more competent, intelligent, tolerant, compassionate being, outside of what I have experienced from LRH [L. Ron Hubbard: Scientology’s founder]. And I've met the leaders of leaders. I've met them all.

“So I say to you, Sir, COB, we are lucky to have you. Thank you.”

Many of those who once worked alongside Miscavige however, recall him as a tyrant and bully. For some of them, he is the main reason they quit the movement.

In a rare 1998 interview with the St Petersburg Times, a Florida daily that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Scientology in 1980, Miscavige was asked about his rise to power.

“People keep saying, ‘How’d you get power?’” he replied. “Nobody gives you power. I’ll tell you what power is. Power in my estimation is if people will listen to you. That’s it.”
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David Miscavige grew up in Scientology: it is all he has ever known.

As an 18-year-old in 1978, he sat at the feet of the founder himself, as L. Ron Hubbard worked on a film project at La Quinta, one of Scientology’s properties in the southern California desert.

Hubbard was by then 67, and the years of conflict with the authorities in several countries were beginning to tell.

Some former members who knew Hubbard during this period recall him as a tyrant who screamed abuse at his minions and continually called for more blood in the film’s increasingly lurid action scenes.

By 1979, some of Scientology’s top executives – including Hubbard’s own wife, Mary Sue – were on the way to jail for an extensive spying operation on the U.S. government. Hubbard himself was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Hubbard chose new people to run the movement from his personal staff and David Miscavige was among them. But as Miscavige and his colleagues took power in the 1980s, in the years running up to Hubbard’s death in 1986, tales of abuse began to emerge.

Respected, senior Scientologists found themselves forced to perform humiliating punishments at one of Scientology’s desert compounds in California, ironically known as Happy Valley.

David Mayo, once a personal counsellor to Hubbard himself, left Scientology after what he said was six months as a prisoner under the new regime. In a 1987 affidavit, he said he had been subjected to lengthy night-time interrogations and threatened personally by Miscavige.

“During that six-month period of captivity, I was forced to run around a tree in the desert in temperatures of up to 110 degrees for 12 hours a day, seven days a week for three months,” he added.

“I was under tremendous coercion and duress I was refused medical and dental treatment … I was not permitted to make or receive phone calls and all letters I wrote were read by Scientology security guards.”

Homer Schomer, another Scientologist who fell foul of the new regime, also described lengthy overnight interrogations in a 1986 affidavit. “I was punched, spat upon, threatened, intimidated and completely humiliated as a human being,” he declared.

And in court testimony, he said that Miscavige and another Scientologist had spat tobacco juice in his face during this time.

Larry Brennan was a senior Scientology executive in the 1980s. He used to travel every week from Los Angeles to the Hemet Base to write up reports for Hubbard. One such visit, in 1982, he remembers vividly.

“I just happened to walk into the office and there were three guys standing up at attention,” he recalls. “I saw him [Miscavige] punch one guy hard on the mouth, slap another as hard as he could and then choke another guy until he was red in the face.”

Brennan saw one of the victims later the same day. “One of those poor guys came up to me at Int [the Hemet base] and he was totally a broken man and he asked me if he was going to jail as he was told he would be.

“My heart went out to him … The poor guy committed no crimes whatsoever but DM [Miscavige] got them to believe that those who opposed him were criminals and would be going to jail for a long time … It was a total horror show from the mind of a madman as far as I am concerned.”
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By the time Hubbard died in 1986, Miscavige and a few others had effectively taken control of the movement. During this period, hundreds of veteran members were either expelled or resigned.

Some of Miscavige’s onetime allies later fell foul of the new regime themselves and ended up quitting the movement.

Don Larson was one former Miscavige ally who fell from grace. He told the BBC’s Panorama programme in 1987 how he saw the young leader rough up a Scientology official.

“David Miscavige comes up, grabs him by the tie (makes punching motion with his right arm) and starts bashing him into the filing cabinet,” Larson told Panorama. “And he’s thrown out in the street; his tie is ripped off.”

More than 20 years on, Larson stands by his story. He still believes that some Scientology techniques offer real benefits. “There are a number of truths that are quite amazing.

“On the other hand,” he adds, “the organisation itself is quite psychotic and dangerous.”

Scientology has dismissed all such allegations as the self-serving accusations of embittered defectors.

Tom Cruise’s devotion to Scientology may have a lot to do with his friendship with Miscavige. Former members say that in the 1990s in particular, Cruise did a lot of his training on Scientology’s upper levels at the California compound where Miscavige is based.

Over the years, he and Miscavige have raced motorbikes, practised clay-pigeon shooting and enjoyed the base’s facilities together. In November 2006, Miscavige was best man at Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes in Italy, rubbing shoulders with the likes of David Beckham and Will Smith.

But some of Miscavige’s former colleagues say he has installed a reign of fear inside the movement. And they say he is dragging it towards disaster.

Next: Marc Headley's Story