Saturday 8 August 2009

15 The Apostate, Gonnet I

Day six, June 8: Scientology’s personality test is fixed to exaggerate people’s weaknesses and Scientologists themselves are trained to lie to the court, former member Roger Gonnet told the Paris trial.

Politician Jean-Pierre Brard's testimony against Scientology, however damning, had been that of an outsider. Roger Gonnet, the next witness for the plaintiffs, spoke as a former insider.

Gonnet became an active member of Scientology in 1975, setting up the Lyon branch of Scientology’s operations and running it until he was declared a Suppressive Person, an enemy of the movement, in 1983. Since then he has been one its leading critics, writing a book about his experiences and setting up a network of websites on the subject.1

Now in his late 60s, Gonnet appeared in court laden with documents and charts for his presentation – it was he who had supplied investigators with much of internal Scientology literature already in the dossier.

Confronted with one of these documents earlier in the trial, the defendant Alain Rosenberg had blamed “the apostate” Gonnet for feeding the court Scientology policy letters which he insisted were no longer valid.2

Judge Château, concerned that Gonnet might introduce documents that were not already in the dossier, made it clear then that she preferred an oral presentation. For the most part then, Gonnet left his documents alone.

He started with two general points. “Systematically, Scientology tries to divert from the debate everything that could be analysed scientifically or medically to escape a real examination of the facts,” he said.

Secondly, rather than deal with the facts, Scientologists preferred to launch personal attacks on their accusers, he added.

Gonnet accused Eric Roux of being behind a website that had defamed him, denouncing him for his “paranoid and criminal insanity.”3 Roux was down to appear later in the trial as the representative of the Celebrity Centre – one of the Scientology organisations on trial here.

The movement could also be just as tough on its own members, said Gonnet. Scientology had an internal disciplinary system that involved members denouncing each other for offences, real or imagined, against the movement.

Rosenberg himself had at one point nearly been declared a Suppressive Person – an enemy of Scientology – and thrown out of the movement for the way he had treated some of the clients in Paris.

“That is to give you an idea of the system,” said Gonnet. “Even people of great value can be [declared] Suppressive Persons.”

And there was another thing the judges should bear in mind. “In Scientology, you are trained to lie in front of a court.”

At a trial in 2002 he had seen one Scientologist say he had spent no more than 250,000 francs (38,000 euros) on the movement: Gonnet said he knew for a fact that this same person had spent considerably more.

Why had the witness lied? Because Scientology had trained him to do so, said Gonnet. They were trained to lie to the courts just as they were trained to lie to outsiders, offering them what was known as a “shore story”. In Scientology, he said, one is trained to tell “an acceptable truth to the people to whom one is speaking.”4

Turning to the personality test, the focus of much of the debate during the trial, Gonnet insisted it had only one aim. “It is a scam, the sole aim of which is to get people in,” he said.

When new people came through the door, staffers would do anything to get them to stay, said Gonnet. “They can influence them by showing them a test, the results of which are fixed, are falsified.”

'Find the ruin'

Gonnet had examined different versions of the test in detail and seemed ready to give a detailed exposition on how the fix worked. But his conclusion boiled down to this: “They give you a worse result than you should have.”

And that, he said, enabled the Scientologist handling the newcomer to say: “You see – you are in trouble.”

The term Scientology used in this respect was “find the ruin”. They had to find the newcomer’s weakest point. This was part of a process Hubbard had developed, which he called the Dissemination Drill.

The first step was to contact people; the next was to handle any initial disagreement they might have with Scientology; and the third was to find their ruin – the thing that counted most to people, that they wanted to fix or improve. The final stage of course, was to convince them that Scientology had the solution to their particular problem.5

“The ruin can be something that is real for the person: it can be something that you make real to someone.” It was enough just to convince someone that they had such a “ruin” – and that Scientology could fix it, he said.

During his time as a Scientologist he had used this process on thousands of people, said Gonnet. “It is not difficult to say to someone, looking them in the eyes: ‘From the test, I see you have problems.’ People enter into the game because the rules are fixed.

“Ron Hubbard had the nerve to call this saving people,” Gonnet added. “But saving people in Scientology costs a lot.” And so far as the Scientologist was concerned, if a newcomer did not buy something in Scientology, then they had effectively ruined their own life.

In fact, he argued, it could easily be the reverse. Gonnet recalled the recent case of a 20-year-old woman who had thrown herself out of a window just a few hours after having received the devastating results of her personality test.6

When he was still a Scientologist, he had never considered that the test might do serious harm to a vulnerable person, someone who was perhaps already suicidal. But that kind of thinking was part of what he called the process of “crétinisation” – dumbing-down – while inside the movement.

“They continue to distribute this fixed [personality] test to bring in the money,” he said. And those recruited who turned out to have little or no money were put to work for the organisation and paid a pittance, he said.

But not everyone lost money in Scientology, said Gonnet. The salesmen had made a lot, he said, referring to two of the defendants, Jean-François Valli and Didier Michaux.

“That is proof of the commercial nature of the system, because these people are paid by the percentage,” he said, a reference to the commission paid to the salesmen already discussed during the trial.

“I don’t know many religious workers who are paid on a percentage basis,” he added. Nor did he know of a church that used statistics to track the productivity of its staff.

Already, some of the defendants were making it clear from smiles or incredulous looks exchanged among themselves just what they thought of this witness. But Gonnet pressed on.

He launched in to what was a fairly technical exposition on just how he thought the personality test was fixed, referring to his papers to illustrate his points. Here again however, Judge Château kept a tight rein on his use of the documents.7

The nub of it was this: “Even if you have a very good test, you are still ‘bad’. You are still criticised,” said Gonnet. “So when you do a test you have absolutely no chance of not being criticised – there is always something that isn’t right.”

Asked exactly how the test was fixed, when it happened, Gonnet said that it could be done by the computer or even by hand – but the fix was in even before the newcomer sat down with a Scientologist to have the results analysed, he said.

During his time as President of the Scientology centre in Lyon, eastern France, he had run the test in just this way, he said. At that time he had had premises of 1,000 square metres, 12 full-time staff and about a hundred active members doing courses there.

As a franchise-holder – Scientology preferred to call them missions, as it sounded more religious – he had to pay 10 percent of his income to the organisation’s US headquarters: he would either pay it in instalments, or would find some way of smuggling the money into the US – a typical Scientology practice, he said.

Gonnet was even one of the few people translating the Scientology texts from English into French – it was Rosenberg who had checked his translations, said Gonnet. “He [Rosenberg] was the only person technically competent to authorise them,” he said.

Gonnet had also done some courses at Scientology’s base in East Grinstead, in England.

It's about control

Judge Château asked him just how important the test was for recruitment, as some of the Scientologists on trial had played down its significance.

It was true that some people were drawn into the movement by others means, said Gonnet: by attending conferences, for example. But the personality test was handed out on the street, at the exit of metro stations… “It is a key element,” he concluded.

Judge Château asked about writings by Hubbard that suggested the need to take control of when they were taking the test.

“In Scientology, there is a certain number of basic elements,” said Gonnet – and one of those was something called the KRC triangle, which stood for Knowledge-Responsibility-Control.

The idea was that Scientologists should exercise knowledge, responsibility and control over society. But it also applied at a more basic level, he said. “Scientologists exercise control over individuals.”

And the personality test was part of that process – though that did not mean to say that Scientologists were not convinced that it was valid, he added.

“But for you it is a tool to get money out of people?” asked the judge.

“Yes,” he replied. “Directly or indirectly it is used for that.”

And why had he himself stayed so long inside the movement, the judge asked?

“I had doubts all the time,” said Gonnet. The trouble was, he explained, he was working so hard – up to 350 hours in a month – that he didn’t have time to think them through.

On top of that, he said, in Scientology you were always being watched by your colleagues, there was always the risk that you might be denounced by them. The implication appeared to be that it discouraged people from sharing any doubts they might have with colleagues.

Gonnet turned now to the e-meter, the device used in Scientology’s auditing, or counselling sessions, which had been examined in detailed during the previous week of the trial.

Passages from Hubbard’s writings that had been quoted to court had suggested unheard of powers for the device.8 But Gonnet was dismissive.

All Scientologists had at one time or another caught out the machine in a clear error, he said. They had all had the experience of having said something false during auditing that had been passed as true by the e-meter, whether through a mistake of the operator of some other anomaly. So the e-meter was not as precise a machine as it was cracked up to be.

But there was no question of ever saying that while inside Scientology. “I don’t have the right to criticise,” he said. “It is always Mr. Hubbard who is right.”

Scientology’s version of ethics, which involved obligatory confessions of one’s most embarrassing secrets “including things about which you felt guilty”, helped keep members in line, he said.

Nevertheless, according to his calculations, Scientology only managed to hold on to a fraction of those who tried it. He reckoned they lost at least 75 percent of people after the first courses.

“So it doesn’t work really,” said the judge. “It doesn’t really attract people and make them pay.”

No, said Gonnet. But those who stayed paid for the privilege: he calculated that during his eight years in Scientology in the 1970s and 1980s he had spent the equivalent of 30,000 euros.

Judge Château returned to the subject of the productivity statistics he had mentioned earlier. Was it true that the movement had graphs to chart their productivity?

Certainly, said Gonnet: in Scientology, productivity was a measure of how well you were carrying out your post. Each job had what was known as a VFP, a Valuable Final Product: you could find the expression at the bottom of the organisational chart of a Scientology Org, he said.[7]9

But the point of all these statistics and charts was to measure how many new members you were bringing in, he said.

Meeting your targets

But the Scientologists had said they were not under any pressure to meet fixed targets, said Judge Château.

“The targets are absolutely systematic,” said Gonnet. “At Thursday at 2:00 pm, you have to bring in more than the previous week. There is a frenzy to find the figures, to raise the figures that are lacking.

“So if M. Michaux has not sold more products than the previous week I imagine he would have to phone around to sell more,” said Gonnet.

Every Scientology Organisation sent an Org Information Center (OIC) cable with all its weekly statistics to the movement’s headquarters in the United States saying how much gross income was coming in.

“All these things are analysed every week and on Friday morning there is a meeting to discuss how to do better the next week,” he added.

Hubbard’s policy letters made it a formal obligation to do better – another piece of nonsense built into the Scientology system, said Gonnet.

It counted for nothing that you had great numbers one week, if they were not so good the next. “They will still be penalised,” he said. “What matters is whether the figures are changing or not.”10 And it was on those figures that your ethics status – your standing inside Scientology – depended, he added.

Asked about the follow-up letters some former members said they had received, Gonnet said that this was a logical consequence of the pressure to meet the next week’s target. “It is in their interest to raise their figures.”

Judge Château asked about the prices for items such as the e-meters, which appeared to vary considerably.

Gonnet gave much the same explanation that one of the defendants, Jean-François Valli, had given: the price varied depending on the package of courses that were attached.11

But he also said that items such as the e-meter were over-priced (a conclusion that two of Scientology’s own expert witnesses had reached the previous week)12. Gonnet said had been able to pick up an equivalent machine in Australia at a fraction of the price.

In addition to that, Scientologists were obliged to get the device serviced at one of Scientology’s US bases at a cost of 800 dollars.

And how easy was it to get refunds from Scientology, asked the judge?

“It is almost impossible in some countries, but not in France,” said Gonnet – but that was more a question of nursing their image here, he added.

One of the assistant judges asked if Scientology staffers knew how much new arrivals earned (something the defendants had denied interested them).

“Not specifically,” said Gonnet: but recruiters would take an interest in people who were obviously from the professional classes, such as doctors for example. “They are the future of Scientology,” he said.

“It is obvious that you are going to take an interest in someone with a higher social standing, or who has a house,” he added.

But when you were handing out the test in the street that was not something you could know, the judge said. No, said Gonnet: but then you would tend to hand out it out in an up-market neighbourhood.

“Scientology considers that people who have no money are ‘low-tone’ people.” For Scientologists, if you were poor, if you were down-and-out, it was your fault, said Gonnet. “It is a kind of karma,” he added.

Next in the series: The Apostate Gonnet II
1   See here for a brief summary of his book in French, which is now also available online.
2   See Part 9 of the trial coverage: “A Man of the Church I”. On the question of apostates, Scientologists have called on sympathetic academics to testify in court on this questions and cited their position that the testimony of disillusioned former members is not reliable… because they are disillusioned former members.
3   Although Eric Roux does have his own website, the passage in question can be found at in a section attacking Gonnet’s website. The website is written under what appears to be a pseudonym, “Pierre du Barreau”: but it is registered under Roux’s name, as a quick check at the EURid website will confirm.
4   Gonnet’s choice of words here echoes a phrase from Hubbard’s writings: “Handling truth is a touchy business also. You don't have to tell everything you know — that would jam the comm line too. Tell an acceptable truth.” This is from the Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, August 13, 1970, from the PR Series: For more on Hubbard’s views in this area, see “Lying as a Religious Rite” by Ted Mayett and Keshet.
5   The first version of the Dissemination Drill appears to date back to an October 23, 1965 HCO Policy Letter.
6  This is a reference to the 2008 suicide of Kaja Gunnar Ballo, a 20-year-old Norwegian student, who jumped to her death from her apartment in Nice, southern France on March 28, 2008. Beside a note to her parents were the results of her personality test, taken a few hours earlier. The local Scientologists vehemently denied having played any role in her death and the investigation into the movement’s possible responsibility in her death was closed last December for lack of evidence. The case received extensive coverage in the Norwegian media, not least because her father, Olav Gunnar Ballo, is a socialist deputy in Norway’s parliament. In April 2009, he published a book about her death, but so far as I am aware it is only available in Norwegian.
7   One document he had given investigators however, was Scientology’s internal manual on the use of the personality test: the same document that according to the indictment, defendant Alain Rosenberg had refused to provide (something he had confirmed during his testimony).
8   See earlier coverage of the trial, in particular “The E-Meter Experts”.
9  On Scientology's organisational chart, at the bottom of each division, in which the various tasks are listed, is the acronym VPF, which describes what that particular division is expected to do. Underneath the chart itself is written: “Org VFP: Valuable Fine People who produce Valuable Final Products who then make up a Valuable Fine Public.” This comes from the February 8, 1980 HCO Policy Letter, “Production and One’s Standard of Living.”
10   See for example the section on statistics in Chapter 3, of Introduction to Scientology Ethics, where Hubbard writes, “…to discount a fall just because stats are high, high, high is folly… If stat declines for the week are brushed off, the organization or activity will shrink, become less stable, will demand more work by fewer and will be a burden.”(Page 54 of my 1989 edition.)
11   See Part 2 “Defendant #1: the Facilitator
12   See “The E-Meter Experts”.

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