Maureen Bolstad was sent to California to be trained to work beside the movement’s founder: but she wasn’t told the whole story about L. Ron Hubbard.
Maureen Bolstad was delighted when got the call to transfer from Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida to the International Base at Hemet, California.
For one thing, it meant she would get to go back to her home state. “Florida is nice for a visit, but California has always been my home.”
Her superiors also made it clear that this was a significant step up. Bolstad was “going over the rainbow”, which in Scientology terms meant she would be working closer to L. Ron Hubbard, the movement’s revered founder.
In Florida, Bolstad had already started training for work with the Commodore’s Messenger Organization, a group of teenagers who acted as Hubbard’s envoys and aides. But when she arrived at the International Base, she learned she was in line for an even more important post.
“I was told I was being recruited to be a Messenger on Duty.” That meant she would be working with Hubbard on a regular basis.
“Someone was always ‘on watch’ at any given time to tend to Hubbard's needs and to ‘keep distractions off of his lines’, so that he could do his research and write, etc,” said Bolstad.
But that was only half the story: anyone working with Hubbard also had to adapt to his various eccentricities: a complete intolerance of dust and smells, growing paranoia – and terrible rages.
Adell and Ernie Hartwell could have warned her.
They only got involved in Scientology because of their daughter. Following her in when she joined in the late 1970s they found themselves being whisked to a secret desert location (Indio, California) where Hubbard and his crew were making movies.
Adell Hartwell did not mince her words about Hubbard when she testified in the 1982 hearings into Scientology in Clearwater Florida.
“I saw him throw fits. I actually saw him take his hat off one day and stomp on it and cry like a baby. I have seen him just take his arm like this and throw it wild and hit girls in the face.
“And one girl would follow him with a chair. If he sat down, that chair had to be right where he was going to sit. One girl missed by a few inches, he about fell off of it, and she was put in the RPF.”
Her husband Ernie agreed: “He was a screaming maniac the three or four times that I saw him," he told the hearings.
It was during this time of course, that the young David Miscavige worked at Hubbard’s side.
Back then however, Bolstad had no idea just how difficult Hubbard could be. Nor did she fully understand why Hubbard was living in seclusion.
“I actually did not know that Hubbard was hiding from the law, I was never told this. I was just told that he kept his location secret because he was being ‘fabian’, which is a quality Sea Organization members are supposed to understand.
“It had to do with avoiding evil influences in society by being hard to aim at and find. It seemed all pretty cool, cloak-and-dagger, exciting.”
In the glossary to Hubbard’s Welcome to the Sea Org lectures, fabian is defined as “remaining elusive, hard to hit, refusing direct engagement with an enemy. From the name of a Roman general, Quintus Fabius Maximus (died 203 B.C.) who successfully employed such tactics.”
That definition indicated Hubbard’s real concerns.
In 1977, FBI raids on Scientology offices in the United States had uncovered Operation Snow White, an extensive spying operation on US federal government offices, which led to many senior Scientology executives being successfully prosecuted.
By the early 1980s 11 senior Scientologists, including his own wife Mary Sue, had received jail sentences over the affair.
Hubbard himself had been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case and, fearing arrest, had kept his whereabouts a closely guarded secret.
But all that was about to change, Bolstad was told. Now he was ready to come out of seclusion.
“They needed Messengers on Duty… because the idea back then was that Hubbard was going to come back, he was going to be able to make the Hemet base his home, his office. They needed a new set of Messengers trained to be on duty with him, so I was one of those.”
It was a very specific training, designed to meet Hubbard’s particular needs, she recalled. “I had to learn how to carry a cassette recorder, a notepad and an ashtray and a bag full of things like sunglasses and sun tan lotion and gloves and things like that.”
They would role-play how to behave in front of Hubbard: their trainer played the Commodore and they had to be sure they responded correctly.
“We had to take notes on whatever she was saying and know when to turn the recorder on and know when to hold the ash-tray out so, learning how to basically be a super-secretary… to type really fast.”
Typing was not much of a problem as she had already learned that at school. But other skills were new to her.
“I had to learn how to duplicate a verbal message – meaning the person would say the message and I had to be able to remember the whole message exactly, word for word, and repeat it back to them – and then also go and tell another person that message without any alterations, including the tone that it was said in.”
Miscavige mimicked Hubbard
Bolstad’s account of the Commodore’s particular needs – which matches those of former messengers who worked alongside Hubbard – finds an echo in Miscavige’s later behaviour.
For once he was sure of his position at the top, he became just as demanding, just as intolerant of anything that did not meet his standards.
Int Base veteran Jeff Hawkins, who for years suffered verbal abuse and even beatings from Miscavige, remembers the panic that set in when Miscavige returned from a trip away.
“When he’s about to return to the Base, it’s a scene like the one at the beginning of The Devil Wears Prada where Miranda Priestly is arriving at the office and everyone is scurrying madly: ‘Gird your loins, everyone!’
“The Base is usually cleaned in a panic the day before, offices spruced up, and everyone on high alert,” he said.
“The day he arrives, he usually does a walk-through of the Base, visiting all areas. Everyone knows he is looking for ‘bad indicators’ – someone who tries to hide, or gives an inappropriate response, or doesn’t give a proper greeting, or appears too enthusiastic and so on.”
If you did not pass muster in Miscavige’s eyes, you could be hauled up before the Ethics Officers – Scientology’s thought police – said Hawkins. Their job was to correct any hint of dissent through lengthy interrogations and, if necessary, punishment details.
“Needless to say, there is an atmosphere of suppressed panic throughout the Base, while everyone assures each other ‘how great it is to have COB back on the Base.’”
COB, of course, is Miscavige: Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center.
Everywhere Miscavige went, he went with an entourage, said Hawkins.
“They always dress identically to DM. If he is dressed in all black (a favorite costume), then they are in all black. If he’s all in white, they are too. If he is dressed casually, they are too.
“They carry two small hand-held tape recorders. The minute he starts to speak, one of these is turned on, so that his every word is recorded.”
The tapes would then be rushed away to be transcribed and converted into memos, which when issued had to be given top priority.
“And one could not have or express any disagreement with these orders and reams of paper. To do so, even in the slightest, was to be hauled off by the Ethics Officers…”
All this, however, was two decades down road.
Hooray for Hubbard
Bolstad felt honoured to have been selected and happy she was finally going to meet Hubbard, the Commodore himself.
“I wanted to meet him because so many people absolutely adored him and they would always clap at his picture – hip-hip-hooray and all that stuff.”
In the early days of her membership, back at the centre in California, she had learned that praising Hubbard was part of the routine: it was, for example, a standard part of the graduation ceremonies when someone had completed a course.
“You’re supposed to say, ‘I had these had great wins on my course. Thank you L. Ron Hubbard,’ and they would turn around to his picture and everyone else would turn around to his picture and clap and stand up and say ‘Hip-hip hooray’…”
And Bolstad, at the time, felt the same sense of devotion. “I had this idea that he had discovered this great truth that was going to revolutionise the psychiatric field, I greatly admired and respected him…
“It was sort of like if you’re starving or in need of water and someone gives you a glass of water without you having to ask I mean that is sort of how I felt, like ‘Oh wow, you really understand these things in my life.’”
As things turned out however, she never got to meet him.
Hubbard stayed in hiding, accompanied by just a handful of followers, until his death in 1986.
And when it became clear that Hubbard was not, after all, going to be coming out of hiding, Bolstad was reassigned to other duties.
Before long, she had begun a hectic period of international travel as part of Scientology’s film unit.
For more on the messengers, see Russell Miller's unauthorised biography of Hubbard, Bare-Faced Messiah.