Wednesday 29 April 2009

4 Int Base in the '80s

Former Sea Org member Maureen Bolstad’s move from Flag Base in Florida to the International Base at Hemet, California, was in some ways a relief. But the work-rate remained relentless.

When Maureen Bolstad first arrived at the International Base, in late 1983, it was a welcome relief from the grind at the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida.

For one thing, she was getting more sleep: six or seven hours a night – better than the four hours or so that for a while was the best she could hope for in Florida.

But she was not especially pleased with her sleeping arrangements: she was sharing a cramped dormitory with 12 other girls.

And she could still expect to pull in an all-nighter at least once a week.

Some nights, for example, she found herself on laundry duty for Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Hubbard was living at a secret location elsewhere in California and sent his dirty clothes to the International Base.

“About seven Messengers would gather together to hand wash each piece of clothing in special fragrance free soap, and we'd rinse each article in these five-gallon bins that we filled over and over again with filtered water,” Bolstad recalled.

“We'd stay up sometimes 24 to 48 hours straight – depending on how much we had to wash and if it ‘passed’ inspection or not – passed the smell test.”

As part of her training for this task, she even had to read instructions written by Hubbard about how perfumes were part of a plot by his enemies.

According to LRH, perfumes had been “invented by evil psychiatrists … to confuse the senses and confuse people,” wrote Bolstad in a posting to the Ex Scientologist Message Board.

“That's why we had to use the special soaps and really rinse well. Those darn psychiatrists were trying to distract LRH with perfumed detergents!”

Hubbard was notoriously sensitive on this point. One former messenger, Doreen Gillham, has described how he would throw a tantrum if he thought he detected the least smell on a shirt.

“He would tear them off the hangers and throw them down,” she told the LA Times in a 1990 interview. “We're talking 30 shirts on the floor.”

Bolstad also spent time on something called the Decks Project Force, which involved hard physical labour such as construction work –all for $30 a week.

“I never got an entire day off for anything: I never got to visit my own mother until later, in 1987. I'd been promised three weeks off a year to visit my family and I was being denied that.”

This was 1983, when Bolstad was just 16, going on 17: when she should have been at high school.

While her superiors had managed to talk her out of finishing high school, they were quite happy to take advantage of the skills she had picked up while still in full-time education.

“For example, I learned basic carpentry and wood work in junior high school… I was really good at it.” So they put her to work making cabinets as part of a renovation project for what was meant to be Hubbard’s impending return.

But in the early years, there was a good side to life at the Int. Base, she conceded.

“There were horses and there were chickens and they would follow me around and it was just adorable and there was a rooster that would make noises in the morning.”

For most of her life, she had lived in small houses, so getting the run of “this big old creaky house was really fun – plus I got to ride the horses!” she said.

“I had time to go jogging in the morning, because there was no fence, so I could just go running down Highway 79 at six in the morning or 11 o’clock at night... In fact I would go jogging around the entire property and get a good three- or four-mile run.”

By the time she quit Scientology, security was so tight you could not even get off the base without special permission.

But in the beginning, she was young and strong and full of hope: she was working with Ron to make the world a better place. And she was ready to make sacrifices, confident that in time she would reap the benefits.

Looking back, she feels differently.

“I was pretty wide-eyed and excited about new experiences, but I had no real concept of the fact that I was being taken advantage of.”

Film work

Eventually, when it became clear that Hubbard was not, after all, going to be coming out of hiding – that she would not be needed as one of his assistants – she was given other duties.

Here again, her previous education helped: having picked up some experience making films at high school they put her to work in the Cine-Messenger Unit.

At first, she worked with the film crew, sending detailed notes to Hubbard about their work. “If there was a problem, I had to propose a solution – and I would stay up until three in the morning typing up my notes and my solutions to the problem.”

Gradually, she won more responsibility, to the point where she spent much of the next decade travelling the world doing film work for the movement. It was a period of hectic activity.

“I was a superhuman – I stayed up all night and did videos and I was actually having a lot of fun and I was in perfectly good health and didn’t think I had any emotional issues.”

In Colorado, she did a video about an activist with the Citizens Commission for Human Rights, the Scientology campaigning front against psychiatry; in Rome, she shot footage to promote the Italian branch of Narconon, Scientology’s anti-drugs programme; and in Venezuela, she profiled a leading member of the Scientology community there.

For a couple of years, she even made regular visits to the Caribbean to help the work of Scientology’s cruise ship Freewinds, where public members pay thousands of dollars to receive the movement’s upper-level teachings.

“I did videos of all these different islands and then I took them back to Gold (the International Base) and they were edited to music and given to the island as a gift so they could use that video to promote tourism to the island.”

She visited 22 different islands and ports in the Caribbean and Mexico and still looks back on that period as one of the best in her life.

“I wasn’t getting much sleep and I wasn’t really getting paid that much but I did get food, room and board and I got to go to all these different islands.” And she liked the people with whom she was working.

Bolstad also did a lot of the camerawork at the annual gatherings of the International Association of Scientologists.

These were prestigious black-tie occasions that brought together the movement’s most prominent public members such as celebrities such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

In the late 1980s the IAS events were so important in the Scientology calendar that they were broadcast by satellite to the movement’s centres worldwide.

David Miscavige assumed the role of master of ceremonies at such gatherings, increasing his profile among the membership. By that time, he was generally acknowledged as the movement’s undisputed leader.

And since at this point Bolstad played a key role at the IAS events, she never had any problem with him.

“He would thank me for when I did a good job. He would make a point of telling my superiors that I did a good job and so then I would get respect from my co-workers.”

From a professional point of view at least, this was an extremely satisfying time for her. “The 80s were more fun … and then it got heavier after that.”

Thursday 23 April 2009

3 Messenger training

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.

“Being Fabian”

“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.

Thursday 16 April 2009

2 Life at Flag

Scientology describes its Flag Land Base in Florida as “The Friendliest Place in the Whole World”. New recruit Maureen Bolstad got a very different impression.

Maureen Bolstad agreed to sign the billion-year contract for Scientology’s Sea Organization because of the promises her recruiter had made her – none of which were ever kept, she said.

He told her she would be able to finish high school; that she would get regular visits home; and be trained in Scientology skills that would help her mentally ill mother.

But as she was still a minor, the recruiter still needed to get her mother to consent to her joining the Sea Org.

“He took me to my apartment and got my mother to sign a parental consent form – and my mother was completely drunk, she was just sitting on the couch.”

When her little brother found out what was going on, he insisted on joining too. So her mother ended up signing consent forms for them both.

Bolstad was barely 16 at the time; her brother, just 14.

Within 24 hours, they had left their home in California and flown to Flag Land Base at Clearwater, Florida – also known as Flag.

To talk her out of going to high school, her superiors painted a frightening picture of a world dominated by the dogma of evil psychiatrists.

“It made the outside world seem so horrible and scary – full of evil. I felt, ‘Wow, I’m safer now because I’m away from all these things in society that are actually the cause of everything.’”

Rather than let her complete her high school education then, she was put to work doing laundry and cleaning at the base. Her brother became a runner, delivering messages between the different offices.

“I had to stay up until about four o’clock in the morning ironing people’s shirts. It was ridiculous because I wasn’t really getting any sleep,” she recalled. “And then I’d have to get up at 7.30 to go to work the next day.”

“The Friendliest Place…

Scientology describes Flag Land Base as “The Friendliest Place in the Whole World”.

But one thing Bolstad quickly had to get used to was being shouted at a lot. “It was actually pretty shocking," she recalled. "I was getting yelled at every time I made a mistake.”

In an October 1968 policy letter, Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard wrote about something called ethics presence. “As an executive you get compliance because you have ethics presence and persistence and can get mad,” he wrote.

Bolstad put it another way: “You’re taught that if someone knows that you are going to yell at them if they do it wrong, then they are going to be more motivated to do it correctly.”

This kind of macho management was nothing new.

In a July 1994 Internet posting former scientologist Dennis Erlich describes two particularly aggressive officers he came across back in 1976, when Flag had just opened,

One of them, he recalled, “made a habit of getting up on a chair and screaming his lungs out at individual interns… Students would hear him and go silent with terror at the thought of having to confront [his] wrath…”

And he was the nice guy, wrote Erlich.

The other officer “was famous for getting right up inches from your face, poking you in the chest and screaming ‘PIG SHIT!’ when he didn't like your answer to his questions and wanted to show his disgust for you.”

Several former Sea Org members say this kind of drill-sergeant behaviour was the norm at Flag. Some even said you had to cultivate it if you wanted to get on there (see Abuse in the Sea Org elsewhere on this site).

Bolstad did not take well to this regime: it shook her up so much she only made more mistakes. But her boss did not draw the obvious conclusion.

“She didn’t attribute it to her yelling – she just said I was a Potential Trouble Source, because I had accidents.”

A Potential Trouble Source is a Scientology term meaning someone who is in contact with a suppressive person, one of those inherently destructive people Hubbard designated as the root of all evil.

Clearly, Bolstad just wasn’t getting it: so her boss put her on the running program.

The Running Program

In 1982, when Bolstad experienced it, the running program – or Cause Resurgence Rundown – was something that Hubbard was still developing.

Scientology’s literature describes it as “a special program that can bring about a tremendous boost to one’s levels of cause and control.” Some of its veterans describe it as a living hell.

Bolstad had it relatively easy. “I was on the Running Program for five hours a day,” she recalled. “There was travel time to and from the park where we put up the pole and there were some bathroom breaks and water-drinking breaks.”

With about four hours of actual running daily, she reckoned she was covering about 12 miles – and she thrived on it. “Of course, being 16 years old, running around a pole was actually fun,” she added.

But some of the older people running beside her were clearly suffering, she recalled. “They were just trying to get through it.”

Some 25 years later, former member Marc Headley described how the program worked at the International Base, in Hemet, California.

In those days, wrote Headley in a September 2007 Internet posting, you ran around a pole in the searing California heat to the point of exhaustion. Then after a few minutes rest, you started again.

Inmates had to run at least five hours a day – though eight to ten hours was preferred – and the program could last for weeks, he wrote.

“Most Int base staff who did this program… went through several pairs of shoes, entire feet blistered to shreds, ankle problems, feet problems, leg injuries, extreme weight loss, heat exhaustion…” he noted.

Things improved for Bolstad when she was put to work studying Scientology materials. For one thing, she started getting more sleep, because you were not meant to go into any therapy session without having slept properly.

And with her $30 a week pay, she was able to supplement the communal meals with fresh fruit and protein bars.

So although she was still working or studying 16 hours a day, seven days a week, she began to feel better.

Even her boss’s screaming fits stopped bothering her.

“When I was on this running program I actually felt I was feeling stronger, the exercise was making me happier – so when she yelled at me it didn’t bother me any more.

“I felt better and I also realised that she wasn’t mad at me – she was just mad. That was something I didn’t notice before. I noticed she yelled at everybody.”

By now, Bolstad was being trained up for the Commodore’s Messenger Org (CMO), a group of youngsters who acted as the founder’s personal aides (Hubbard had by this time promoted himself to the rank of Commodore).

She was kitted out in the standard Sea Org uniform: dark-coloured shoes and slacks and an ironed white shirt with a blue-and-gold lanyard, the colours designating her as a member of the CMO.

The CMO was something special, even inside the Sea Org, said Bolstad.

“You are taught there that basically you are an emissary of the Commodore and if other staff members don’t show you the respect that they would show L. Ron Hubbard then that’s wrong and you have to correct them on that.”

At 16, going on 17, she was not completely comfortable demanding respect from people old enough to be her parents. “Personally I don’t think that was very healthy for me as a kid to demand respect from older people.”

But she got that respect.

Then, out of the blue, she got promoted to the International Base at Hemet, California.
For a more extreme version of the running program, see David Mayo’s account in A History of Violence, elsewhere on this site.

Friday 10 April 2009

1 The early years

As a teenager, Maureen Bolstad hoped Scientology would help her treat her sick mother: very soon though, she witnessed the disturbing effects of its therapy.

Maureen Bolstad was only 11 in 1977 when she was first introduced to Dianetics.

Her mentor was the man her mother was seeing, Bill Ward. “He moved in and he had a bunch of books,” she recalled.

One day, she said, she was bragging to him about how she had a genius IQ and had been put in a special class for mentally gifted kids. If you think you’re so smart, he replied, try to read this book.

“He handed me the hardback Dianetics book and he said, ‘You’re probably just going to fall asleep after the first three pages.And I said, I’m smart, I can read this."

“Of course I did fall asleep after the first three pages because it is not that easy to read … I was stumped and I thought ‘Wow, I guess I’m not as smart as I thought I was.’”

Dianetics, the Modern Science of Mental Health, L. Ron Hubbard’s first venture into the self-help field, was a bestseller when it was first published in 1950, despite being dismissed by scientists and mental health professionals.

Bolstad started to do some of Hubbard’s training routines with her new step-father. In one exercise, known as bull-baiting, one person has to try to provoke a response from their training partner, while the other tries not to react.

“I remember the bull-baiting part because he had dentures and I would get to where I could pretty much keep my cool and then he would pop his dentures out of his mouth – and I couldn’t deal with that.”

Ward told her that there were Scientology centres available where she could do more advanced courses. “But he wanted to work with me on it himself because he thought if I went into a church they would just try to get my money.”

Bolstad’s mother had serious mental health problems. “She heard voices and she tried to kill herself seven times,” she said. “You know every kid wants to help her Mom… and he said it would help my Mom if I learned these things.”

But her new mentor died of a heart attack, leaving her with no one to teach her. So when a Scientology personality test came through her mail box, she filled it in and went along to the local centre – the Steven’s Creek mission in Santa Clara, California – to get the results.

Scientology’s personality test is a list of 200 seemingly innocuous questions: Are you a slow eater? Can you be a stabilizing influence when others get panicky?

The movement says it provides a scientific summary of your strengths and weaknesses: expert witnesses in government reports and court judgements have repeatedly dismissed it as worthless.

But when the Scientologists at Steven’s Creek told her she had problems, it made sense to her. “They showed me my test results and said that I was sad and I guess I was kind of sad.”

With the money she had saved up from her newspaper rounds, she paid for a communication course – and since she needed a training partner, she paid for her little brother too. This was 1979, so she was 13 at the time; her brother was 11.

Auditing nightmare

Early on however, she had a disturbing experience while practising auditing – the movement’s version of therapy – on her brother.

Using Dianetics techniques, she had got him to go back to memories from before his birth. (Hubbard claimed that people could remember not just pre-birth memories, but previous lives as well.)

“I got him actually to remember something when he was in the womb,” Bolstad recalled. “He was like floating around and hearing stuff.” But he did not seem to be getting any benefit from the experience.

Following her training, she asked him to describe an earlier incident – at which point he began recounting what sounded like something out of the Holocaust: scenes of torture and of bodies being bulldozed into a ditch, some of the victims still alive.

“I was absolutely shocked,” said Bolstad. Her brother too was in great distress and became increasingly agitated. “At one point he actually opened his eyes and started screaming ‘I don’t know where I am! I don’t know what’s going on!’” His eyes were bloodshot, she recalled.

“I got really upset because I thought, am I hurting my little brother?” Their supervisor came over and managed to calm her brother down, and when he came out of the session he had no recollection of the episode.

That was his first experience of auditing.

Bolstad was consumed with self-doubt. “I thought ‘How can you deal with extreme trauma in an individual and not know what you are doing?’ It seemed kinda odd to me. So they said ‘Yeah … you need to get more training so you know how to deal with this because your brother is a really tough case.’

“My brother? He was about 12. How can he be a tough case?”

Bolstad had put her finger on one of the main charges that critics of Scientology level at the movement.

A report by Kevin Anderson QC for the State of Victoria, Australia, in 1965 described it as “the world's largest organization of unqualified persons engaged in the practice of dangerous techniques which masquerade as mental therapy.”

At the time however, Bolstad was just a teenager. She allowed herself to be reassured by her new mentors, and because she could not afford to buy more courses, she and her brother agreed to work at the centre in return for more training.

“I never actually ended up getting any training – I ended up just working my butt off for them for like 18 years.”

The Posse

Bolstad earned about $20 a week working at the centre after school and weekends (she was making more than twice that – $45 – from her three paper routes). But one of the reasons she persisted was she still hoped to be able to help her mother.

There were still things she noticed that made her uneasy, however.

“There was this thing called the posse back then.” The posse was a group of four or five people who would watch the room at any Scientology events to check for anyone there who didn’t appear sufficiently enthusiastic, she said.

“If they seemed kind of sad or if they left early or whatever, they wrote their name down and then later, three posse members or even maybe four would take that person in to a room and say ‘Okay we noticed you had some bad indicators at the last event, what’s going on? Tell us what’s going on with you?’ and interrogate them.

“It didn’t really mean anything to me when I was a kid, but then it happened to my brother – my little brother who was only 13 years old and the posse took him into a room and were asking him these introverting questions…”

Her bosses had invited her along because they wanted her to try her out for the posse. But she knew why her little brother was depressed: their mother was mentally ill and he was not doing well at school. “I mean he is not going to be like, smiling all the time...

“They just pummelled him with questions … ‘So what’s going on? Is there something you are doing in your life that’s wrong?’ … and my little brother just broke down and started crying. He was like shaking he was so scared.

“That was really mean. I didn’t know what to think or feel: I thought ‘This doesn’t make any sense to me.’”

Years later, when they talked about it together, her brother told her that his problems at school had been directly related to his work at the Scientology centre. "The work there took up so much of his time that he was missing classes due to lack of sleep," said Bolstad.

Kingsley Wimbush, the head of the mission at the time, was subsequently expelled from the movement during a purge of Scientology mission-holders, accused of unorthodox practices.

But Bolstad says that what went on in the posse was similar to what she subsequently witnessed inside the Sea Org.

Suppressive Persons

In 1982, she heard about how Wimbush and a senior colleague, Clay Primrose, had been cast out of the movement. Scientology’s leadership had declared both men suppressive persons: enemies of Scientology and of humanity in general.

“I really didn’t know what it meant to be declared until I saw Clay and his daughter walking to the mall.” She offered them a ride down and then back again, later. But when she mentioned it to her boss at the mission, she was horrified.

“She said ‘They are suppressive! You are not supposed to talk to them any more,’ and I was like, ‘What? I’m not? I mean they’re people!’ and she said ‘No, you are not allowed – you can get declared for that too.’”

Her boss showed her the relevant entries in the Scientology literature.

Sure enough, in Introduction to Scientology Ethics, Hubbard lists the following as a suppressive act – one of the worst things a Scientologist can do: “Failure to handle or disavow and disconnect from a person demonstrably guilty of suppressive acts.”

Hubbard wrote in the same chapter: “A truly suppressive person or group has no rights of any kind as Scientologists.”

In 1982, soon after the expulsions, the Sea Organization recruiters showed up. One of them showed Bolstad photos of Scientology’s base at Clearwater in Florida, known as Flag Land Base.

When he pressed her to sign up for the Sea Org she explained that she wanted to finish high school: not a problem, he replied.

“He basically said if you join the Sea Organization we will help you finish high school, we will help you get an education and go to film school – that’s what I really wanted…” said Bolstad.

He also promised her three weeks a year to visit her mother and full-time Scientology training so she could improve her counselling skills. “I thought ‘Oh wow, great!’ Because I felt that I had messed up on my little brother and I still wanted to remedy that.”

None of those promises were ever honoured, she said.

Thursday 2 April 2009

14 Laura DeCrescenzo's Lawsuit

Another former Sea Org member is suing Scientology: recruited at the age of 12, she eventually became so desperate to escape she swallowed bleach to get herself thrown out.
Laura at the 2010 LA press event

Another veteran of Scientology's Sea Organization, who was just 12 years old when she was recruited, is suing the movement.

After 13 years inside the group, Laura DeCrescenzo became so desperate to escape that she swallowed bleach to get herself kicked out, says the lawsuit. Scientology “stole Plaintiff’s youth and that of many others,” it argues.

DeCrescenzo (née Dieckman) worked in Los Angeles for the Sea Org, which the movement describes as its elite cadre, between 1991 and 2004.

Married at 16, she fell pregnant when she was 17. But her employers forced her to have an abortion because of the ban on Sea Org members having children, the lawsuit alleges.

DeCrescenzo also spent time on Scientology’s punishment programme, the Rehabilitation Project Force, or RPF.

“There are two very different versions of Scientology,” says the lawsuit. “There is the Scientology as presented to the outside world and there is a different Scientology in which Plaintiff lived and worked for approximately thirteen years.

“In the Scientology world Plaintiff experienced, twelve year old children are taken from their homes, asked to sign employment contracts and put to work. Pregnant women are coerced to have abortions.

“Employees work 100-hour weeks in the business ventures of Scientology at far less than minimum wage. There are no contributions to Social Security or employee pensions, although there is plenty of money to pay Scientology’s Chairman of the Board [David Miscavige], private investigators and lawyers.

“Personal freedoms are restricted and severe punishments are used to keep employees in line… That is the context of this litigation.”

Laura DeCrescenzo joins Claire and Marc Headley, two other former staffers, who filed lawsuits earlier this year against the Church of Scientology International (CSI).

Attorney Barry van Sickle, who is acting for all three plaintiffs, filed the new lawsuit in the Los Angeles courts Thursday (April 2, 2009).

In addition to the grounds listed in the earlier lawsuits this complaint develops fresh lines of attack:

  • it challenges Scientology’s practice of using what it calls a “primitive lie detector” to interrogate its employees in security checks;
  • it questions the legal validity of the Sea Org employment contracts, as well as the waiver forms and other documents it says they are required to sign if ever they leave;
  • and it accuses Scientology officials of trying to discourage potential witnesses in the lawsuits through bribery and intimidation.
Laura DeCrescenzo – or Dieckman as she then was – was born into Scientology. Both her parents were members and she grew up going to Scientology schools.

By the age of nine, she was already working on staff at one of the movement’s centres, says the lawsuit. “She obtained a work permit and became effectively a full-time employee of Scientology from age ten.”

In 1991, at the age of 12, she was persuaded to sign the billion-year Sea Organization contract. Leaving her family behind in New Mexico, she flew to Los Angeles to start work for them there. She spent the next 13 years working for the Sea Org.

DeCrescenzo’s Sea Org recruiter had promised her she would be able to visit her parents and eventually have children of her own and raise a family.

These promises were never fully honoured, says the complaint.

“Once in, it was all work and little else. Plaintiff discovered she had almost no personal freedom. Planned visits to family were restricted, delayed and cut short. She was 12 – 13 years old and not allowed unrestricted access to her parents.

“She could not visit her parents without special permission and being ‘sec checked’. She would be ‘sec checked’ again upon her return.”

A “sec check” or security check, is when an employee is questioned to ensure that they are still loyal to Scientology. It is carried out using the device Scientologists usually use in their therapy, or auditing, sessions: an electropsychometer, or e-meter.

DeCrescenzo married a fellow Scientologist when she was 16. In 1996, when she was 17, she became pregnant.

“Having children was against the dictates of top management at Scientology,” says the complaint.

“Plaintiff had been working for far less than minimum wage, had no money, no car, no place to call her own, and no medical insurance or coverage. Plaintiff felt trapped and without viable options.”

To remain in good standing with her employers, she had an abortion, it adds. “Plaintiff has knowledge of other female employees ordered to have abortions.” (For more on abortions inside the Sea Org, see Section 11.)

During her time in the Sea Org, DeCrescenzo performed mainly clerical or administrative work. But for a period, she was assigned to the Rehabilitation Project Force.

Scientology characterises the RPF as a chance for members who have slipped from the movement’s high ethical standards to redeem themselves. But the DeCrescenzo lawsuit describes it as a highly abusive process.

“Work on the RPF is designed to control, coerce, punish, inflict emotional distress and break the will of the victim,” it says.

“The working conditions are severely harsh. Personal liberty is non-existent. Plaintiff worked on the RPF for over two years, which caused her significant emotional distress.” (For more on the RFP, see Section 10.)

The bleach incident was partly due to DeCrescenzo’s determination to quit the Sea Org after having failed to win her release from the RFP.

“Plaintiff spent over two years on the RPF and was headed back to the RPF when she escaped by swallowing bleach and pretending to be suicidal,” says the lawsuit.

She made sure her action was witnessed to ensure she would be kicked off staff. The plan worked, but her employers still wanted to ensure that she left on their terms, the complaint adds.

“After being deemed a suicide risk for swallowing bleach, Plaintiff was brought into a room to sign her ‘exit’ papers. Plaintiff was under extreme duress and just wanted to get out without having to undergo hours or days of emotional abuse.”

DeCrescenzo was required to sign a series of documents before she was allowed to leave, says the complaint. “The papers contained a list of her ‘crimes’ and confidential matters revealed in the ‘sec checking’ procedure described above.” She was not given copies of those documents.

During her exit interview DeCrescenzo was told not just that she had no legal recourse against Scientology but that she owed the movement about 120,000 dollars for the training she had received since the age of 12.

This debt is known as a Freeloader’s Bill in Scientology. A freeloader, according to the definition in one Scientology dictionary, is “any person who has failed to complete a staff contract at a Sea Org or Scn [Scientology] org or mission.”

DeCrescenzo initially paid off 10,000 dollars of this debt: having spent years under Scientology’s “undue influence”, she believed it to be her legal obligation, says the complaint.

“Plaintiff had little formal education or sophistication as she had been effectively isolated from mainstream society and culture.” She is now seeking a refund of what the lawsuit describes as an unenforceable debt.

This is the third lawsuit that van Sickle has filed on behalf of a former Sea Org member since the beginning of the year. But this new complaint introduces several new elements.

Van Sickle focuses on the security checks carried out on employees using the Scientology e-meter. The lawsuit describes the e-meter as a primitive lie detector, echoing the conclusion reached by several court-appointed experts and official reports.

Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard attributed almost supernatural properties to the device in his 1952 operator’s manual: “It sees all, knows all. It is never wrong.”

In a 1960 policy letter (“Interrogation: how to use an E-meter on a silent subject”), he even suggested the device could be used to question criminals and terrorists. “Don’t use guns, use E-meters to make a country safe,” he wrote.

But the lawsuit argues that by obliging DeCrescenzo and other employees to submit to this kind of questioning, Scientology was flouting state and federal laws against the use of lie detectors in this context.

“The sec checking procedure constitutes a gross invasion of privacy and is used to gather embarrassing data on employees,” Van Sickle argues.

“The threat of using confidential and embarrassing information collected and recorded in the ‘sec check’ process is used to control employees. This practice borders on blackmail.”

The lawsuit also accuses Scientology of deceiving its employees by telling them they have no rights.

“[Decrescenzo] was not told of her rights to be paid a proper wage for her labor or of her right not to be subjected to physical punishment, sexual discrimination, coercion, intimidation and forced labor,” van Sickle argues.

Since she signed her departure documents under duress, they should be set aside as invalid, he adds. “[She] did not freely consent to the unconscionable and unlawful terms of her termination papers.”

Finally, the new lawsuit accuses Scientology officials of having contacted former members to dissuade them from backing the legal actions against the movement.

The Church of Scientology International (CSI) and its operatives “have gone on a ‘mission’ to silence and buy off witnesses and potential plaintiffs” says the lawsuit.

“In addition to buying silence with the purported debt forgiveness, Defendant CSI has used threats of punishing friends and family as the currency with which to buy off potential witnesses and claimants.

“Defendant’s efforts to silence witnesses by threats, coercion, forgiveness of alleged ‘Freeloader Debt’ and threats of breaking up families, constitutes obstruction of justice, witness tampering and illegal retaliation…” the lawsuit alleges.

DeCrescenzo is seeking her back pay, damages, the formal cancellation of any illegal documents she signed while on staff and an injunction against Scientology to prevent them either bribing or intimidating potential witnesses in her case.

You can see the full text of the complaint here. For exhaustive and up-to-date coverage of this case, see Tony Ortega's extensive reporting at The Underground Bunker.