Former Scientologist Marc Headley’s September 2008 speech in Germany marked a significant development in the campaign against the movement.
On September 4, 2008, Marc Headley adressed an invited audience in Hamburg, Germany about his experiences inside Scientology. Headley, in his mid-30s, explained that he had spent most of his life in Scientology: his mother had got involved in the early 1980s, when he was six years old.
From the ages of 12 to 16 he had been enrolled at a Scientology school before being signed up for what he called the “paramilitary branch of Scientology”, the Sea Organization. He worked in increasingly senior positions at Scientology’s International Base, in California, alongside the movement’s current leader, David Miscavige.
“During my 15 years working at the Scientology headquarters I witnessed and was exposed to many things that I will never, ever be able to erase from my mind,” he told the audience.
Headley talked about the long hours; he talked about the poor nutrition and the lack of basic medical care; and he described the abuse that executives routinely heaped on their staff: from bawling out subordinates to physical assaults.
For the entire time he was there he and many of his fellow workers, who included children as young as 14, were working on average 100 hours a week.
“When I left in 2005 I was averaging three to four hours' sleep a night and in some weeks I was putting in over 130 hours a week working.” He and his co-workers – sometimes as many as 100 people – would sometimes stay up three or four nights in a row to get the job done.
If Headley's figures are accurate, 130 hours a week on a seven-day week comes to 18.5 hours a day, which makes three to four hours' sleep about right. Jeff Hawkins, another veteran of the International Base, has also said that in his last four years at the Base, he was averaging four hours a night.
Headley continued: “This is not some deep, dark secret … It's a way of life there: everyone there is working those many hours. When you work at the facility at the International headquarters you can’t just say ‘I’m tired, I want to go home’ … You are there until you are done, and if that means you stay there all night you stay there all night, you don’t have any choice in the matter whatsoever.”
After he left, he sat down and worked out how much he had been getting paid during his time there: by his calculations, it came to an average 36 cents an hour, perhaps as little as 1,000 dollars a year (revised to 39 cents in the lawsuit he filed in January 2009). "When you get paid a thousand dollars a year and you want to leave, it's very hard because you don't have any money."
The exhausting schedule, the lack of sleep and the poor nutrition affected his health, said Headley. At one time, at 5’10” (1.78 metres) in height he weighed little more than 100 lbs (45 kilos), having lost more than 60 lbs over six months due to the work rate and lack of sleep.
Headley also talked about the lack of medical care. When recruited, staff members were routinely told that their medical expenses would be paid: but this was simply not the case, he said. If staff members wanted even basics such as prescription contact lenses or spectacles, they would have to join a waiting list of as many as 300 people.
If you were really sick, it was treated not as a physical sickness but as a mental or psychological problem, he said. You were told you were a Potential Trouble Source (PTS), a Scientology term that means that you are in contact with a Suppressive Person, someone hostile to Scientology. You needed to handle that to deal with your illness. Former members believe that this approach to physical health helps explain why some Scientologists with serious, sometimes terminal illnesses sought medical attention far too late.
Headley also accused the movement's leader of violence. “I myself on at least 10 different occasions have witnessed David Miscavige actually physically strike other staff members to the ground, strike staff members so many times – or damage them physically – that they actually needed medical attention or that a medical officer from the facility would have to come and bandage them or treat them.”
Towards the end of his presentation, Headley said: “I have been to many Scientology organisations around the world as well. I have been to I’d say at least 100 different Scientology organisations in my 15 years of working for Scientology and I can tell you that I have witnessed the abuses that I have mentioned above in every single one of these organisations.”
Everything Headley said that day has been confirmed by other former members of Scientology’s self-styled elite, the Sea Org: by Jeff Hawkins and John Peeler on the record, and by other former members not yet ready to go public.
But Headley’s decision to speak out was especially significant.
For more than two years already, he had been posting under the pseudonym “Blownforgood” on one of the main message boards for critics of Scientology: Andreas Heldal-Lund’s Operation Clambake.
When he first appeared in February 2006, Blownforgood – or BFG as he became known – quickly impressed the growing ranks of former senior Scientologist executives with his knowledge of life at Gold, or the International Base. Other recent defectors posted to confirm the details of his reports.
Generally acknowledged as among the best informed of the former members posting there, his reports became eagerly awaited events.
Sprinkled among the insider gossip and in-jokes, BFG revealed glimpses of the increasingly oppressive regime at the Base. He chronicled – almost in passing – the broken marriages as one partner was forced to abandon another when he or she fell from grace; Miscavige’s screaming rages; and how young women at the base were pressured into having abortions if they fell pregnant (it is either that or they quit the Sea Org).
Similar allegations had already been made in affidavits from previous defectors, some as far back as the mid-1990s. And here again, the new wave of Sea Org defectors confirmed BFG’s reports in their own Internet postings.
While Headley had already been speaking to journalists on a non-attributable basis, it was only in 2008 that he started to speak out publicly – and it was only the day after his Hamburg speech that he unmasked himself as BFG in a posting to Operation Clambake.
Headley and two other former Scientologists who spoke in Hamburg were the guests of the Scientology Task Force, which is headed up by Ursula Caberta, one of the movement’s most vocal opponents.
The last time comparable hearings were held in the United States was in 1982, in the city of Clearwater, Florida, when the authorities responded to the growing influence of the movement there.
Since then, so far as the United States is concerned, there has been very little official scrutiny of the movement – except inside the courts.
For more on Marc Headley/Blownforgood, see his website here.
Next: Jeff Hawkins' Story