Tuesday 30 December 2008

8 Life at the Base

Former residents at Scientology’s International Base recall a harsh regime where every aspect of life is tightly controlled.

“I worked for many years for Scientology. Some of it was good, some bad,” said Jeff Hawkins. “Then I was transferred to the International Base in Hemet and it went downhill from there.”

The International Base, a compound of 500 acres, lies at the base of a range of hills at the north end of the San Jacinto Valley, southern California, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. It is the heart of Scientology’s empire.

There, a few hundred dedicated Scientologists work long hours for $50 a week – sometimes less – to keep the movement working around the world.

Staff there are all members of the Sea Organization, which was founded by Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard in 1967. And as members of the movement’s most dedicated group, they are expected to submit to tight security and discipline.

“It is entirely surrounded by a chain link fence, topped with razor wire,” said Hawkins. “The razor wire faces inward.” Security guards staff the booths at all five entrances.

Motion sensors every 20 feet are set to trigger an alarm and turn on the perimeter lights. Cameras photograph passing cars on the road outside: they can even capture licence plate numbers. Further up the hillside is an isolated installation known as the “Eagle” look-out post.

Most Scientologists know the site as Gold Base, or Gold, home to Golden Era Productions, which produces the movement’s training and publicity films. Those in the know call it International Base, the Base – or just Int.

For this is where the movement’s leader, David Miscavige, is based. And whatever it says on paper about Scientology’s management, said Hawkins, Miscavige is the only person in charge.

“In reality, he is the autocratic, dictatorial, unchallenged head of Scientology. What he says is what happens, and nothing happens without his approval.”

Hawkins’ description of the base has been confirmed in affidavits and Internet postings by several former members – as has his insistence that Miscavige is the unchallenged leader of the movement.

In describing life at the base, Hawkins evoked the nightmarish world set out in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. “You are literally watched and controlled every moment,” he said.

Most, if not all, staffers lived on site at the base, said Hawkins. And just as you would have a hard time getting into the base unnoticed, a staff member would find it equally difficult to leave without permission – something more than one former worker there has confirmed.

Hawkins said he spent more than a decade at the base. “It is a virtual prison, with barbed wire all around it. Incoming and outgoing mail and phone calls are monitored,” he recalled.

“No one is allowed on the Internet, or to have cell phones, or to watch TV. Calls to family are covertly monitored. You are literally watched and controlled every moment. And staff there get little sleep,” said Hawkins.

“When I was there, over the last four years, I was averaging four or five hours a night,” he recalled. Working 16, 18, even 20 hours a day, seven days a week was not unusual, he added.

John Peeler, who used to be one of those responsible for enforcing discipline at the base, confirmed Hawkins’s account. He worked with what was known as Department Three: the ‘Ethics and Security’ section of Scientology.

Peeler’s job was to check that nobody was complaining about their life at the base – especially not to outsiders.

“For years, I was in positions responsible for reading through people's personal mail from friends and family to make sure that there was nothing negative about Scientology,” he said.

He also monitored calls staff members made to the outside world. “There were rooms with phones that had dual hand-sets, one for the person making the call and the other for security or an MAA (Master at Arms) to listen in on the call itself,” he recalled.

“So when you were talking to your family, you were literally being listened in on by someone sitting right there with you.”

The surveillance made it impossible for staffers phoning home to speak frankly, said Peeler. “When talking to family on the phone, there's literally nothing you can really talk about because your whole life is at the base, so all you can really say is that you're doing fine and miss them and hope to see them someday, ‘Soon, I promise!’.”

Security guards at the base used to search the living quarters of staffers when they were at work. “In fact, you had no idea that you even had an inspection at your living quarters, unless a security guard or MAA pulled you in to confront you on something they found in your room.

“These inspections are done in order to find out if people have any ‘out-security’ or confidential materials, any TV sets, any personal computers, any phones or anything that would seem odd enough to question the individual. Laptops are strictly forbidden.”

Peeler’s job was not just to monitor staff members, but to check that loved ones on the outside were not too hostile to Scientology. If they were, then he had the power to declare them a “suppressive person”, or SP: an enemy of Scientology.

The staffer concerned would then have to cut off all contact with that family member, a practice known as disconnection.

“I personally had people disconnect from family many times,” said Peeler. Disconnection policy is set out in the writings of the movement’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

The policy could also be applied to former members, and any staffer who escaped the base and quit Scientology knew the penalty, said Peeler. “I personally declared a couple of people SP who had blown the Sea Org – people who had taken off and never returned.”

Many of the dozens of people who have quit the senior echelons of Scientology in recent years spent decades inside the movement. Some of them were born and raised there.

In interviews and postings to the Internet, they have spoken of their sense of desolation when they first ventured into the outside world, cut off from their former friends and colleagues.

Today however, there is a growing support network of former members ready and willing to help them, thanks in part to the connections developed by Internet message boards and news groups.

Next: Abuse in the Sea Org

1 comment:

  1. Scientology seems to be institutionally psychotic. The waves of so-called 'heavy ethics' followed by a more liberal time followed yet again by more paranoia and harshness just shows how this organisation which claims to offer freedom for all can't even keep itself free of crazy behaviour.

    And, in our org these "thetans" who were claiming they were the creme de la creme of the universe couldn't even keep the org kitchen clean. It was always a total mess. And, as a staff staff auditor I heard how their personal lives were as big a mess as the kitchen.

    What a wretched dishonest organisation Scientology is.