Sunday, 2 August 2009

14 The Suppressive, Brard

Day Six, June 8: Veteran politician Jean-Pierre Brard sketched a damning profile of Scientology in a presentation that ranged from its financial structure to theories of mind control.

Jean-Pierre Brard, a deputy in France's National Assembly, opened the third week of the trial. An experienced speaker, unlike most of those who had appeared before the court, he needed little prompting from the judge to set out his views.

Brard had been called as a witness for the plaintiffs because as a deputy he had served on three parliamentary inquiries into cults – the first of them back in1995. Over the years, he had earned a reputation as one of the most vocal critics of such groups in France.

In a wide-ranging presentation peppered with homespun metaphors and anecdotes, he painted a damning picture of Scientology to the court.

The very fact that parliament should have deemed it necessary to set up three such inquiries was in itself exceptional, he told the courts. “This is the first time since the Liberation that a subject has been taken up three times,” he pointed out.1

If the actual number of Scientologists in France was limited to just a few thousand members, that was thanks in part to the efforts that the authorities had put into raising awareness of their activities, he said – and for once, he grudgingly acknowledged, the news media had played their part.

Another striking feature of how the issue of cults was treated in France was the way it bridged conventional political divisions, he added. “Each time this issue comes up there is no left-right divide: we work together very well.”2

Parliament had a clearly defined role to play, he said: “Our job is not to scare people but to appeal to reason,” In their reports, they had tried to set out how the phenomenon worked. “To explain how cults profit from your weaknesses – just as grandmother used flypaper to catch flies,” he added.

And as parliamentarians, they understood where their role ended, he stressed. “The beliefs of one or other group do not interest us,” he said. For France respected people’s right to freedom of belief.

But he added: “If you put pressure on people, then you cross a line. What interests us is whether you are breaking the law or not.”

The work of parliament came to this, he said: “It is to better protect individuals and collective rights.” For cults were interested in power and money. “People who run cults try to approach power and people of a certain reputation to benefit from their fame.”

Such groups also had a tendency to use the law courts to harass their critics, as many people who had worked in this field had experienced. “From this point of view, Scientology excels,” he added.

Brard blamed Scientology for a campaign in the 1990s that had driven the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), a leading US counter-cult organisation, into bankruptcy.

When the CAN’s assets were liquidated, its files – which included sensitive information from the families of people inside Scientology and other movements – ended up in the hands of Scientology, he added.3

“I cite this to say that if you are going to fight cults you have to be ready to take this kind of harassment.”

Brard also outlined the campaign that Scientology had waged against the US Internal Revenue Service in the 1980s and 1990s to win recognition – and tax relief – as a church.

“Scientology attacked civil servants personally to make them give up, to make them submit,” he said. And it was because the US government wanted to free up its tax service and their staff from this pressure that they chose to give Scientology what it wanted. They had compromised, said Brard – or rather compromised themselves.4

He had spoken personally to one victim of this Scientology campaign, a US civil servant, he said. And he assured the court that a campaign of that kind in France would never be permitted.

'An infernal machine'

Operations of this kind were managed by Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs, or OSA, which he described as the movement’s secret service.

Their job was to deal with the enemies of Scientology, known as Suppressive Persons, he said.

“As you know perhaps, I am a Suppressive Person,” he told Judge Château “But you are too.” And Scientology believed it was justified in using any means against those it deemed to be suppressive, he warned.

Cults thrived on opacity, said Brard: on masking the true nature of their activities. The way they operated was like a drainage system, he said.

“You don’t see the system of drainage but it functions very well; and you don’t see where all these little canals come out, but they come out in any case – and it is the same for Scientology,” he said.

Scientology had made extensive investments in propery, said Brard. It even had an international organisation for businesses run by Scientology: the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE). “That is part of the drainage system.”

Cults, he argued, were on the look-out for people who were vulnerable in some way: whether it was a personal problem such as bereavement, the end of a relationship or problems at work. And in this respect, Scientology was no different.

The works of the founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and the e-meters used for auditing sessions were all sold at inflated prices, for far higher than the usual mark-up – “Business is business,” he said.

The public members who bought services were put under tremendous pressure to buy, with staff members calling incessantly in order to break them down and get at their money, he said.

To illustrate his point, Brard pointed out that in 1996 a court in Lyon had convicted a senior Scientologist there of homicide volontaire – manslaughter – over the 1988 suicide of a local member. The executive convicted had put his client under so much pressure to find the money for the next course that he was deemed to have contributed to his suicide.5

And even when Scientologists had paid for their training, even if they advanced, there was always a risk they would fall foul of the movement’s ethical system. That could mean having to redo levels – all of which would have to be paid for.

Brard mentioned the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) a punishment camp for Scientologists deemed to have offended the movement’s ethics system. One such camp operated at Scientology’s centre in Copenhagen, Denmark, he said.

“They are sent into these centres for correction or punishment – to break them. It is a diabolical system that profits from people’s weakness,” he said.6

“Hubbard knew how to make money,” said Brard. “He received income on all his works and everything sold.” He noted how Hubbard had taken care to protect the texts, symbols and artefacts of his movement with trademarks and copyrights.

“Ron Hubbard is the single creator,” he continued. “Everything is codified.” And the organisation’s pyramidal structure ensured that money flowed up to the top, he added.

The movement’s richer members gave it millions of dollars: celebrity members John Travolta and Tom Cruise had both donated at least 10 million dollars, he said. And others had paid even more.

Scientology got through its members much as we might squeeze a lemon dry before discarding it, said Brard – one reason it was always on the look-out for new recruits.

“The defendants we have opposite are certainly followers: but they are also active participants. They are the cogs in this infernal machine – and it is important to break this machine.”

' addictive relationship'

Brard said he had been shocked by some of the evidence he had heard in the course of the three different inquiries on cults in which he had taken part.

Some of the source material from which the 1999 report had drawn would be kept secret until 2029, he said, and he had to respect the need for confidentiality. But he was able to give some details.

“I remember a young musician at the beginning of his career and then he fell into Scientology’s net, who explained to him that he was a brilliant musician but he could go even further,” said Brard.

“This gentleman finished up in a hospital,” he added. By the time he had escaped Scientology, he said, his fortune was gone and his career was in ruins.

For of all the groups that “colonised the spirit” Scientology was certainly the most skilled, said Brard.

Trying to describe how this control worked, he evoked Arthur Koestler’s classic 1940 novel Darkness at Noon. It describes the Soviet interrogation tactics that led top Communist Party officials to confess to trumped-up charges during the 1930s show trials.

He traced the concept of brainwashing from its Cold War origins during the 1950-53 Korean War. US officials at the time said Chinese troops had brainwashed US prisoners-of-war to get them to confess to having waged germ warfare.

“If this sounds like science fiction, don’t forget that Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer – though not one of the best in my opinion,” he said.

“It sends a shiver down the spine,” said Brard, of the various theories of deprogramming and reprogramming that had grown out of the Cold War.

Science fiction or not, however, Brard seemed to think that Hubbard had developed his own system of control out of this material.

“It is not unique to Scientology, but with Scientology it is particularly effective,” he said.

Brard had managed to come this far without any prompting from Judge Château. Now however, she asked to hear more about the findings of parliament’s investigation into cults.

Had they, for example, looked specifically at Scientology’s personality test, she asked? Yes, he replied – though he confessed he had not filled one in himself. The personality test was a list of 200 questions, some of which were very personal, he said.

The general line of recruiters analysing such a test from a potential recruit would be something like “You have lots of potential but this deserves to be helped and we are going to help you,” he said.

Initially, the warmth of the welcome in Scientology made newcomers feel special, he said. “At last you have found someone who can help you. At last you have found someone who understands your problem.

“That is the seduction,” he said. “Once you have been drawn in, the alienation starts.”

When Judge Château asked how people could come to spend such large sums of money people on Scientology, Brard replied: “We consider that there is a dependence – an addictive relationship.

“Once you are spending more than 10 percent of your income then you are really in a cult-like dependence.”

Brard reminded the judge that the Scientologist who had committed suicide in Lyon had been in dispute with his family over financial problems.

And why were the courses so expensive, asked the judge?

“To make money, chère Madame!” he replied. But the practice of getting followers to pay for courses well in advance was not unique to Scientology, he added.

'It is an obsession: money, money, money!'

Maître Olivier Morice took his turn – Brard had been called as a witness for the plaintiffs he represented.

Morice asked first about Scientology’s reputation for litigiousness. Brard had already talked about how in the United States Scientology had sued the Cult Awareness Network out of business before taking it over.

Was he aware of their campaign here in France against UNADFI, he asked? UNADFI is a national alliance of French counter-cult groups that receives state funding.7 It has had a number of legal skirmishes with Scientology.

“I have the greatest respect for lawyers and for Maitre Maisonneuve,” said Brard, referring to Maître Patrick Maisonneuve, the leading lawyer for the defence. “But I would prefer that he made another use of his skills.”

Scientology, he said, had spent a lot of time and effort challenging the right of UNADFI – and that of a similar organisation, the Centre Contre les Manipulations Mentales (CCMM) – to the state subsidies they enjoyed.8

“They are trying to break their enemies by hitting them financially,” he said.

Morice took Brard back to the 1999 parliamentary report on Cults and Money that he had overseen (he was its rapporteur). It had described what it said was the pyramidal structure of Scientology’s finances.

He read extracts from the report, which set out how the organisation had partitioned its structures to give the illusion of a separation of its for-profit and its spiritual activities.

“No one should be fooled by this restructuring of Scientology,” the passage concluded. Despite the formal legal separation, Scientology’s non-profit and commercial wings shared common premises, practices and interests, as well as having close financial links.9

And was M. Brard aware of the warning that the health ministry had issued on May 27, 1997 regarding the intervention of certain organisations in the domain of psychiatry, asked Morice?

In this context, Morice again dipped into the 1999 report, to mention a case it cited of a Scientologist, a medical doctor, convicted in May 1997 of having defrauded some of his patients.10

Brard was of course familiar with the ministerial note – and with the case cited in the report he had helped to compile.

State officials had in the past been less vigilant than they should have been when subsidising rehabilitation projects for drug addicts, he said. “Sometimes the authorities don’t check their background.”

But this appeared to be a reference not to Scientology’s Narconon rehabilitation project for drug addicts, but to one run by another group.

And what did he have to say about the unusually high number of plaintiffs who withdrew their complaints against Scientology, asked Morice? Brard said he had come across a similar problem during the course of the parliamentary inquiries.

Scientology had the financial wherewithal to investigate its critics, he said. “It was only the most solid who resisted the harassment,” he added. And if people could not be intimidated, Scientology tried to buy them off with financial settlements.

For the prosecution, Maud Morel-Coujard asked if Brard was aware of Scientology’s practice of protecting not just the copyright of Hubbard’s writings but the trademarks of its symbols and the patents on devices such as the e-meter. He was.

And did he not feel that this indicated the movement’s commercial, rather than spiritual preoccupations?

Brard agreed: if they did this it was to prevent rival groups from stealing their material, “– and cults are very careful to protect their processes.”

“It is an obsession,” he said: “Money, money, money!”

Judge Château picked up the questioning again. Had the writings evolved over time, she wondered? “Do the first writings remain valid?”

During his testimony the previous week Alain Rosenberg, one of the defendants, had argued that some of the more compromising policy letters she had quoted at him during his evidence had long since been replaced.

“Scientology pretends that things have changed, but in fact they have not evolved,” said Brard. “They adapt to the terrain, like the military.”11

For the defence, Patrick Maisonneuve quoted Brard’s own words back at him: he had said that the defendants were actors in an infernal machine. Did he think they were guilty, asked Maisonneuve?

“It isn’t for me to say,” said Brard, adding: “The trap is rather obvious.” The principle of the separation of powers meant that politicians should not interfere in judicial proceedings, he said.

“But you said they were actors,” said Maisonneuve.

“I said that those who function inside the machine were the actors,” said Brard.

Maisonneuve tried another tack. What about those active members who worked inside the organisation, but who continued to make contributions, he asked? By Brard’s own account, were they were not in a state of dependence? Brard agreed.

“So their responsibility is relatively reduced,” said Maisonneuve.

“I have already heard this before, when after tragedies insiders said ‘Oh we weren’t responsible,’” said Brard. “I won’t insult your sense of history by explaining further.”

Maisonneuve picked up on Brard’s drainage analogy; his suggestion that Scientology had somehow developed a hidden network to covertly achieve its aims. What evidence could he advance to back up such claims, he asked?

The evidence was in the material during the 1999 parliamentary inquiry and was under seal until 2019, said Brard. “When you are retired in 2019 you can draw your own conclusions,” he said.

“I’m talking about your methods – in the interests of a fair trial,” Maisonneuve retorted. On what basis could he make such claims?

“We work on the basis of hearings,” said Brard.

But the extracts that Maître Morice had read from the 1999 report had in any case described the Scientology's deceptive manner of operating, he added.
1   Brard served as vice-president of the 1995 parliamentary committee of inquiry into Cults; he was the Rapporteur of the 1999 committee of inquiry into Cults and Money; and he was the secretary of the committee of inquiry into the influence of cult-like movements on children, which delivered its report in 2006. Since 2002 he has been vice president of the parliamentary study group on Cults; and since 2003, Brard has also sat on the board of the cult-watchdog Miviludes (the Inter-ministerial Mission for Vigilance and the Struggle against Cult-like tendencies). During his testimony, he also referred to an earlier report, from 1982, written by the socialist deputy Alain Vivien.

2   Brard is a Communist Party politician, but many counter-cult politicians are on the right of the political spectrum.

3   For more on this episode, see these articles archived at this excellent resource, Scientology Critical Information Directory.
4   For more on this episode, see Chris Owen’s Scientology versus the IRS.
5   This was the case of Patrice Vic, whose death was the focus of a 1996 trial of Scientologists that led to several convictions, most of which were confirmed on appeal – and at the Cour de Cassation, France’s supreme court.

6   The RPF is not in fact for public Scientologists – those who pay for their courses – but for those who have signed the billion-year contract and joined the Sea Organisation, pledging to devote this life – and future lives – to the movement. For more on the Sea Org see the first part of this website: Violence and Abuse in the Sea Org, in particular “The RPF: Scientology's Gulag”.
7   UNADFI: the National Union of Associations for the Defence of the Family and the Individual, Victims of Cults.
8   CCMM: Centre Against Mental Manipulation (mind control), also known as the Roger Ikor Centre.
9   From page 34 of the report. The arguments set out there sounded a lot like some of the charges set out in the indictment for the Paris trial against the two Scientology organisations on trial: the non-profit spiritual association (ASES) and the commercial bookshop (SEL).
10  The doctor in question had told some of his more psychologically vulnerable patients that neither traditional nor homeopathic medicine could help them. Instead, he had recommended Dianetics, signing them up for a series of courses held either at his house or in Paris – and for which they had to pay of course. The doctor received a percentage from the sale of goods and services that his recruits purchased from Scientology.
He was convicted in 1997 and again on appeal in 1998, receiving a two-year suspended sentence. He was also fined 150,000 francs and lost his civic rights for five years. The Council of the Order of Doctors had already, in 1990, suspended him from practising medicine for three years. (Pages 117-118 of the 1999 parliamentary report on Cults and Money.)

11   Strictly speaking, some of Hubbard’s writings were superseded by others, but it was an inviolable rule that only Hubbard could cancel or modify one of his own policy letters. For anyone else to do so would be considered “squirreling” and considered a high crime. One of the complaints of some of those among the recent wave of defectors is that it is Miscavige who is guilty of squirreling – that the official movement no longer practises Scientology as Hubbard set it down.

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