British crime writer R.J. Ellory's 27-year-long association with Scientology made the news in France earlier this month. But how committed is he?1
Now here's a twist in the tale: English thriller writer R.J. Ellory, who only last year had to apologise for an egregious lapse of professional ethics, turns out to be a long-time Scientologist.
|British crime writer R.J. Ellory|
Britain's Daily Telegraph reported in September 2012 that Roger Jon Ellory had been caught using “sock-puppet” accounts to write glowing reviews for his own books. As one wag at the New York Times put it a couple of days later: “His Biggest Fan was Himself”.
That might have been laughed off as a sad combination of vanity and desperation – except he used the same trick to rubbish books written by his rivals. Ellory was forced to issue an apology regretting his “lapse of judgment”.
In December, the Telegraph came back with a second helping of humble pie.
This time, he had been caught trying to edit unflattering references to the previous scandal from his Wikipedia page. Wikipedia confirmed to the Telegraph that it had banned Ellory from any further intervention (just as they did to Scientology back in 2009).
A page archived at Wikipedia, where editors exchanged information on the controversy offers an insight into their editing process – and Ellory's growing frustration at not being able to control it.
Media coverage of the affair was extremely misleading, he protested to the editors:
The facts are very simple, and - as you say - I have publicly apologised for this. Over a span of ten years, ten reviews were left on amazon, either self-penned or penned by a family member, one for each book I have published to date. Two negative reviews were left by me, and only two. The newspaper reports have created the apparency that I had used multiple false names and accounts to post 'dozens, if not hundreds' of reviews. This is entirely false...
But as one bemused Wiki-editor observed: “The impression that I got was that Roger Ellory... genuinely believed that he owned 'his page, his life, his bio, his career...'”
The same editor added: “I want to assume good faith, though this may have been feigned. This would explain the bizarre and frustrating one-way conversations and not being able to get through to Ellory.”2
Now French journalist Julien Bisson has unearthed the extent of Ellory's involvement in Scientology in an article for Lire magazine. The French monthly ran the piece in its April edition (which, appropriately enough, was devoted to crime fiction).
|Lire broke the story|
Such is Ellory's profile over here, the news weekly L'Express picked up the story, running Bisson's original article and adding his interview with Ellory.
Ellory told Bisson that he had got into Scientology in 1986 after his brother introduced him to the “purification program”, which had helped him with his drugs problem. He had decided to give it a try because he too, had problems with drugs, he said.
“I stopped taking drugs immediately, and I honestly believe that if I hadn’t done that program I would have been dead before I was 25,” he added. (Our thanks to Bisson for the original English version of his quotes.)
Ellory is presumably referring to the Purification Rundown – the controversial Hubbard-devised programme involving aerobic exercise, long sessions in the sauna and massive amounts of vitamins. Ellory said the “program”, as he called it, helped people with drugs problems make spiritual progress.
The Rundown, of course, is a core part of the service offered at the we're-completely-independent-of-Scientology drug rehab service, Narconon, currently in meltdown across north America because of a series of deaths there.3
In the interview, Ellory was careful to mention his work for Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Their website reeks of the heavy-handed earnestness characteristic of Scientology's work in this field, together with shock facts about drugs, some of which look about as credible as – well, as certain online book reviews I could mention.4
Ellory also praised Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's “humanitarian” work not just in drug rehabilitation but helping develop literacy, a reference to Hubbard's Study Technology. His work with Scientology had also involved “...some fundraising for humanitarian programs etc. – all fairly self-explanatory,” he added.
In 2002 and 2006, a Roger Ellory appears on the Honor Roll in Impact, the magazine of the International Association of Scientologists. Generally that means that someone has contributed significant sums of money to Scientology or recruited a lot of people into the movement, Bisson noted. So, he asked Ellory, which was it?
Ellory said he had helped with some fundraising in the past but he had not earned the Honor Roll status because of money donated, “...and the Church has never been a financial burden to me or my family.”
“He is quite a deep person”
Bisson had done his homework before approaching Ellory – not unreasonable, given Ellory's proactive approach to the truth.
He turned to the Suppressives and Merchants of Chaos over on the message boards for help – and they delivered, hooking him up with some of Ellory's former colleagues.
Haydn James, who ran Scientology's “org” in Birmingham, England, between 1990 and 2005, told Bisson that Ellory had worked there both as an auditor, providing Scientology's version of therapy – and then as a senior recruiter.
To Infinite Complacency, James added: “I worked closely with Roger for 15 years (1990 to 2005). Roger and his wife were at Birmingham org when I arrived. They were both staff there. Pretty much the only staff there.”
John Duignan, a Sea Org veteran who worked out of Birmingham, has known Ellory for more than 20 years. He told Bisson that Ellory's talk of anti-drugs work was a smokescreen. His real job, he said, was as a registrar, hard-selling new recruits expensive packages of auditing.
|"I like him": John Duignan|
Some of you may recall Duignan's book The Complex, an account of his time inside Scientology. If you've read it, you'll know he is not shy of speaking his mind. We asked Duignan to elaborate.
“His actual title was Hubbard Executive Secretary... and then he moved to Chief Registrar,” he said. “But he was basically in charge of all sales. That was his job – it was to get money into the building.”
Before moving into sales, Ellory was already an auditor, trained up to a fairly high level, he added – and that gave him a certain gravitas among his fellow Scientologists. “He used that technical insight into the auditing process to get people to cough up money.”
Bisson, in his interview, acknowledged that Ellory had been very open about difficult events in his life: he has written of a brief spell in jail for poaching and his drug use when younger, for example. Why then had he kept so quiet about his adherence to Scientology?
Ellroy replied that when on tour to promote his books, he just answered the questions he was asked. “If someone had asked me, then I would have answered those questions, of course,” he added.
John Duignan doesn't buy that.
“I know Roger very well and to be honest with you I like him,” he told us. “But there are two sides to the coin.
“I was always irritated as a Sea Org member that he never promoted that he was a Scientologist. Obviously, now that I'm out on the other side ot the fence I'm still irritated – but for a completely different reason.”
Haydn James got a similar impression.
“I am sure that Scientology changed Roger's life but that was in the early days,” James told Infinite Complacency. “It was clear to me back in 1990 that by that time his personal desire for Scientology services had already waned.
“Besides what he told me, the concrete evidence was the fact that in all the years I knew him he did very little if anything by way of Scientology services and I pretty much respected that wish...
“I think he was still motivated to help people, but by 1990 his big wish and focus was to become a writer. I know, because he would stay up late writing at home and fall asleep, often at his desk, in the org the next day.”
Duignan is not even convinced that it was Ellory who answered the questions that Bisson had put to him.
“The interview pretty much looks like Scientology PR from OSA,” he told us, referring to the Office of Special Affairs, the movement's public relations/intelligence/dirty tricks wing.
“It wasn't Roger talking and I think that's unfortunate and maybe a weakness in the interview, because if it had been Roger it would have been a better interview, as he is quite a deep person.”
Bisson has confirmed to us that it was not a face-to-face meeting but an exchange of emails and he was good enough to send us the original text. It does look a little odd that Ellory's answers veer between and American and English spelling (program/programme).
The French connection
So why all the fuss about Ellory in France? Two reasons.
First, you'll have noticed that Scientology is not terribly popular over here. The 2009 convictions of several Scientologists and two of its organisations on fraud charges were just the latest in a series of run-ins with the French courts over the years.
On the other hand however, the French do like their thrillers – and Ellory seems to be doing good business here. At least four of his 11 books have been translated into French and one of them, A Quiet Belief in Angels, picked up a couple of French awards.
|Soon a major film?|
It's early days yet: for the moment, the project does not feature as in production at the International Movie Database. But Dahan is certainly a hot property in the film world, even if he hasn't actually won an Oscar as Ellory seems to think. (That was his leading actress Marion Cotillard in the 2007 Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose.)
Before we light the torches, hand out the pitchforks and march on the castle, it's worth remembering that there is another side to Ellory.
“He's not a shallow person,” says John Duignan. “He is much more multi-dimensional than the typical Scientologist. He has got two lives: a Scientology life and then he has got a life where he loves literature – he is very, very well read.
“He is not as judgmental as the typical Scientologist, who typically would be a fairly poorly educated person who was pulled in and made into a production-line robot. Roger didn't fall into that, he had this whole life that I admired – and envied to be honest with you...
“I admired him because he was able to bridge that gap – because he had those two worlds. I knew the guy for 20 years and he broadened my literary world. He had this bit of himself that was himself, not the Scientology self.
“That was a conflict to some degree, but he was able to straddle those two worlds quite effectively. He was able to have this personal world that he developed and nurtured and kept going that whole time despite the pressure that Scientology put on him – and I really admire that and still
In other words, he had the mindset of a Scientology Celebrity even before he was a celebrity.
Rock and a hard place
Rock and a hard place
Haydn James reminded us just how strong the pull of Scientology, the Scientology community, can be.
“One of the most potent things about the cult of Scientology... is the fact that there is very much a cult community, a culture – no different to any other cult in that respect. By the '90s it was the only community Roger and his wife knew.
“When his first book started to sell, many of his readers were Scientologists. So he was between a rock and a hard place. If he decided to forsake Scientology, all his initial fans would be obliged to disconnect from him – they might even go so far as to write nasty reviews or hurt his fledgling career.
“At the same time he was embarrassed by Scientology, hence his initial book covers spoke in very vague terms about what he had done in life. I remember him blushing when he showed me his first book cover.
“I think the hard place got harder and the rock became heavier as the years went on. He is still in the place he was back in the '90s, but it is harder and heavier for him.
“Roger was always a 'keep the peace' type person: try to smooth things out and don't make too many waves. Hence he stayed on staff all those years while working like crazy on his own time to get his career as an author going.
“I believe he is pretending to be a dyed-in-the-wool Scientologist to keep the peace with his family and his fan base,” James added.
“He knows what Scientology would do to him if he spoke out or even tried to distance himself. All Scientologists tend to know the consequences of those type of actions.
“But, since his career is now much bigger than it used to be, if the movement against Scientology starts to put him in the spotlight and his connection with Scientology starts to adversely affect his career he may be pushed to take action.
“Being an author is his big love. I don't think he would say anything too heavy against Scientology – he was never that brave – but I think he would distance himself from it if push came to shove.”
We have left a message at Ellory's website, offering him a right of reply. That offer remains open.
1 This is an extended version of the piece I wrote for Tony Ortega's The Underground Bunker, published yesterday (April 10, 2013).