Thursday, 13 August 2009

16 The Apostate, Gonnet II

Scientology’s Purification Rundown is so dangerous it almost killed one of his clients, former Scientologist Roger Gonnet told the Paris court.

So far Roger Gonnet had been answering questions from President of the Court, Judge Sophie-Hélène Château. Now Maître Olivier Morice took up the questioning of the former Scientologist, who he had called as a witness for the plaintiffs in the case.

Morice recalled that the defendant Alain Rosenberg, while confirming that he was executive director of the Paris Celebrity Centre, had said his role had been a spiritual one rather than involving any financial responsibilities. Was that Gonnet’s understanding of the post? It was not.

“It goes without saying that if he is the executive director then he has a clear knowledge of what happens at the level of the weekly telexes I spoke of.” According to Scientology’s own literature, these telexes (were sent to the head office in the United States with the branch’s productivity statistics), formed part of his duties.

When he had run the Lyon office he had kept a close eye on financial matters, said Gonnet. “I didn’t read everything, but I knew practically everything that was important. I don’t see how the boss could not know about essential matters.”

“If someone is not happy and says so – is the executive director informed?” asked Morice. Yes, said Gonnet. “There is every chance that yes – if it’s about money, that concerns them a lot.” And another rule in Scientology was that if an org wanted to refund someone then staff at the org concerned would be penalised by having their pay cut, he added.[1]

And when Gonnet himself had been executive director at Lyon, had there been many such requests, asked Morice? Perhaps one percent of his clients had requested refunds, he said – and his policy had been to give it back quickly because he did not have time to lose with long drawn-out disputes.

“But I made them sign a document to the effect that they would no longer have the right to Scientology courses,” he added. It was a means of applying pressure to make them change their mind, he said.

Morice turned now to the high doses of vitamins used during the Scientology’s Purification Rundown, the detox programme developed by L. Ron Hubbard that also involves exercise and long hours in the sauna. When Gonnet was running his Scientology centre, had he known that such high doses were illegal?

“Yes, absolutely, I knew that.” Scientology’s internal documents had even discussed the problem at the time. “I was absolutely aware that there was a legal problem.” And there were medical problems too, he said. “I nearly had deaths.”

He recalled one woman who had done the Rundown after having had an operation. But he got a shock when he went to see how she was doing in the sauna. “When I arrived, her skin was covered with blisters. I said, ‘What is that?’ and she said ‘I don’t know.’”

Gonnet knew that Hubbard’s account of the Rundown claimed that people could sweat out cancers during the process, that all there could be all kinds of reactions. So initially he did nothing, he said.

“When I came back she had finished her four hours and she had much more of these blisters.” At point, he said, he took her off the programme. “I took her to see the doctor, a homeopath. He gave her medicines and said, ‘Bring her back if the medicine doesn’t help.’” The next day she was back to see the doctor.

It turned out the woman concerned had had an allergic reaction to the products she was taking for the Rundown, the effects of which had been accelerated by the sauna. If she had continued on the programme, she might very well have died, he said. “She was saved in extremis,” he said.

Gonnet also made it clear that by taking this woman off the Rundown he had broken with the normal Scientology protocol, which dictated that participants should see it through to the end.

He also recalled Hubbard’s claim in his writings on the Purification Rundown that high doses of Niacin helped people sweat radiation out of the body – “which is nonsense,” Gonnet added.

Scientologists also believed that when people doing the Rundown came out in rashes during the sauna phase of the Rundown, they were simply sweating out past cases of sunburn: in fact, said Gonnet, it was the effect of vascular dilation caused by the high doses of Niacin.

“They had beer glasses of Niacin to take daily,” he said, recalling the quantities taken by Rundown participants.[2]

“Anyone who attacks Scientology is an enemy of humanity”

Morice asked Gonnet to explain what he called the paranoia of Scientologists about former members and the meaning of the Scientology expression Suppressive Person (SP).

“An SP is an enemy of humanity,” said Gonnet. “Anyone who attacks Scientology is an enemy of humanity.”

Any former Scientologist who spoke about the movement would be considered suppressive and risked being subject to a smear campaign to discredit them – and he returned to the attacks on him by the Scientologist Eric Roux.

“We are taken for apostates, incapable of telling the truth. Why would an apostate tell the truth? We are liars, we are ‘archetypes of the paranoid and criminal insanity of anti-religion,’” he said.[3]

And were Scientologists coached on what emotions to display during trials, asked Morice. Certainly, said Gonnet.

“You are not just trained on displaying emotions, you are trained to imitate anger and other emotions to raise and lower the emotional level.” Scientologists received similar training in dealing with journalists, he added. “The idea is to pass a certain message.”

Maud Morel-Coujard, for the prosecution, took over the questioning. She asked first about specific questions in the personality test:

197 Do you have spells of being sad and depressed for no apparent reason?
22 Do you find yourself being extra-active for periods lasting several days?

What was the point of these questions, she asked? Gonnet did not remember, but so far as the suicide in Nice was concerned, the results had clearly been catastrophic.[4]

Morel-Coujard also wanted to know more about the Communications Course that the plaintiffs had taken. What was this about staring into each others’ eyes, she asked?

“You are meant to learn how to confront,” said Gonnet. “You have to learn how to deal with someone without being embarrassed.” The exercise was done seated opposite your training partner, or “twin”, which at first could be disconcerting.

Once the early staring exercise had been mastered, you moved on to more demanding training routines.

“You have to suffer harassment and insults that can last for days, until the person can resist the harassment.”

And throughout all of this, if you flinched in any way you would be failed and told to start again, said Gonnet.

“Flunk! You blinked. Flunk! You laughed.”

Morel-Coujard asked Gonnet why eventually he had left the movement.

“We had a series of problems,” he said. First, he and his wife had had to sign a document handed down from the organisation’s top management bodies, the Religious Technology Center (RTC) and the Church of Scientology International (CSI).

“It was 16 pages, a contract forcing us to declare that neither we nor any other staffers or public members in the past or present or in the future would take Hubbard or Scientology to court. So we had to take responsibility for something in the future.

“I refused for weeks to sign this document. From that point on , they started to keep an eye on me,” he added, with staff from head office being sent on missions down to Lyon to check up on him. “Then they practically forced me to go for a disciplinary hearing in Copenhagen and I was declared a Suppressive Person.”

When he and his wife got back from Copenhagen, he said, he found that the Scientologists had cleared out his office.[5]

“Once we had time to think our doubts began,” he said. “And we realised that the real problem was LRH [Hubbard].”

But he also noted that the changes he had seen in Scientology, changes for the worse, had been imposed from the top down – from the United States. “It is the US who runs things.”

“There is a course in hard-sell”

Judge Château asked about the personal files of Scientologists, with all their personal information and the intimate details of their auditing sessions. Could they be used to put pressure on a recalcitrant member?

“Without any doubt,” said Gonnet. “I have heard of cases of people where Scientology knew their ruin and they used it to get people to go further in Scientology.”

He also confirmed the claims of the plaintiffs that they were obliged to write the “success stories” praising the results of a course they had just finished: the defendants had insisted these were purely voluntary.

For the defence, Maître Virginie Benmayor, defending Jean-François, wanted to know where he had got the information he had cited regarding the defendants Valli and Michaux.

“I read it in the newspapers,” said Gonnet, presumably referring to the trial coverage. “But I know that Michaux and Valli were known as particularly hard sellers by former members – and by hard sell he meant a salesman who did not give up, he added.

He knew of one person who had been stuck with a salesman for 13 hours until he signed a cheque. That had happened over in the United States, he said. But, he added: “Hard-sell is practised everywhere. There is a course in hard-sell.”

To illustrate how far this could go he related an anecdote about a young man, who he said had not been in full possessions of his mental faculties. He had poured 70,000 francs (10,600 euros) into Scientology until his father intervened, getting a judge to put him under temporary guardianship.

In a series of questions, Maître Patrick Maisonneuve, the chief defence lawyer, tried to undermine Gonnet’s expertise in the personality test, which he had after all spent a lot of his testimony attacking.

Had he had any special in such tests, asked Maisonneuve?

No, said Gonnet. “I’m not a specialist in tests.”

Had he compared the test results with other tests, he asked?

No, said Gonnet: what for? He did not see the need.

Did he perhaps have any qualifications in applied psychology, asked the lawyer?

No, said Gonnet. But then it was not so much the test he was analysing as the figures produced in the results.

And had he not admitted to having made mistakes as a Scientologist, said Maisonneuve? “‘I nearly had deaths,’” said Maisonneuve, quoting Gonnet’s own words back at him.

Gonnet acknowledged the point. “Scientologists are to a degree dumbed down [crétinisé] – so far as Scientology is concerned,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean they are stupid,” he added: “Only where Scientology is concerned.”

Maisonneuve quoted comments that Gonnet had made to Libération newspaper: “I’ve got a grudge against them and they’ve got a grudge against me too.” (“Je leur en veux, et eux aussi m’en veulent.”)[6]

Gonnet rejected any suggestion that he hated Scientologists. He proved it every time he helped a member who was trying to leave, he said.

“What I don’t love is the system,” he added. “The fundamental aim is to obtain money and to have power.”

And what about the harassment, asked Maisonneuve? He referred to photos of Gonnet in front of the Church of Scientology premises in Paris.

“That is a demonstration,” said Gonnet. “We went to protest, that’s all.”

Another of the defence lawyers suggested to Gonnet that when he had been the head of the Lyon branch, he had acted in good faith.

“Yes, in part,” said Gonnet. “You can’t do Scientology without having some good faith. But you know you are lying,” he added.

But when he was a true believer he thought he had lived previous lives, as Scientology had taught him; when he had done the upper, Operating Thetan levels, he thought he was inhabited by “body thetans”, he said.

“Even when you have doubts, you usually overlook them.”

Another disincentive, he said, was the threat of disconnection: that your loved ones might be obliged to cut off contact from you if you were declared an enemy.

“But you only found this out afterwards,” said the lawyer for the defence. “When you were in, you were of good faith.”

Further questioning established that during his time running the Lyon branch he had had to occupy several posts at the same time: president, executive directory, case supervisor.

The point seemed to be that in a larger organisation, such as the one in Paris, the posts were distributed among more people – so what Gonnet had known when he ran the Lyon branch more than two decades ago was unlikely to correspond with what Rosenberg knew as head of the Paris Celebrity Centre.

Gonnet had had his say. Now it was the turn of the defence once more.
[1] "STAFF PAY DEPENDS ON YOUR ORG DELIVERY: Your pay, no matter what your post, drifts down in direct ratio to the degree you don't deliver." L.Ron Hubbard Executive Directive,
November 30, 1974. My thanks again to Caroline Letkeman for chasing this one down.
[2] Finally on the Rundown: the name of G&G, a company that sold the vitamins used during the process, had come up several times during the trial. Investigators had been under the impression that it was a Netherlands-based company: in fact, said Gonnet, G&G was run run by Scientologists out of East Grinstead, England – just down the road from Saint Hill, the former home of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and still a major Scientology centre.
[3] Gonnet here is paraphrasing criticism of his website at the website referred to in the previous section:
[4] This was another reference to the 2008 suicide of Norwegian Kaja Gunnar Ballo, 20, in Nice, southern France. See Note 5 of the previous section.
[5] Gonnet’s troubles with Scientology management – he was kicked out in 1983 – would appear to tally with the rise of the new generation of leaders, led by David Miscavige.
[6]Liberation, May 27, 2009: try here or here.

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