Wednesday 18 November 2009

1 Australian senator attacks 'criminal' Scientology

An Australian senator has called for a parliamentary inquiry into Scientology – and the allegations made by former members he cited could help ongoing lawsuits and criminal investigations in Europe and the US.

An independent member of Australia’s senate has launched an extraordinary attack on Scientology, denouncing it as a criminal organisation and calling for a Senate inquiry into the movement’s tax-exempt status.

Senator Nick Xenophon used his parliamentary privilege to list a catalogue of allegations passed on to him by former members, some of whom said officials in the movement had covered up serious crimes.[1]

Xenophon said he had been contacted by several former members after he spoke out against the movement on Australia’s Today Tonight documentary programme.

These same former members have spoken to the programme to confirm and elaborate on their allegations. And the story is already doing the tour of the world’s media.

Many of those who had contacted him were confessing to “truly shocking” crimes and abuses, they said they had been forced to do while inside the movement, said the senator.

One former member had told him had twice been pressured into helping to cover up the circumstances surrounding the deaths of his own daughters, a 14-month-old baby and a two-and-a-half year old toddler.

And another former member alleged he had been ordered to cover up serious crimes:
  • Aaron Saxton told the senator that after a man had attempted to rape him he was ordered not to report the incident by his superiors to avoid negative publicity for the movement;
  • He said he deleted the files of a member who had committed suicide;
  • And he said that on two occasions, when a member confessed to murder, the information was not passed on to the police.
Xenophon’s sources also repeated earlier allegations of abuses including forced abortions, verbal and physical abuse and the culling of members’ supposedly confidential counselling files for compromising information.

The evidence supplied by these former members could be relevant not just to the lawsuits launched in California against the movement but to ongoing criminal investigations in France and Belgium.

The senator closed his speech with a call to other former members to come forward and tell their stories.

Scientology has already issued a statement denouncing what it said was Senator Xenophon’s “outrageous abuse” of parliamentary privilege. It denounced his “fascistic” attack, saying the senator had refused to meet with them to discuss the allegations.

But Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, while responding cautiously to the allegations, has not definitively ruled out launching an inquiry.

The senator used the opportunity of an adjournment debate on Tuesday, November 17, to launch his attack. [2]

Addressing what appeared to be an almost empty chamber, he said: “I am deeply concerned about this organisation and the devastating impact it can have on its followers.”

For while claiming to offer guidance and support to its members, in private it “abuses its followers, viciously targets its critics and seems largely driven by paranoia.”

He recalled the movement’s recent fraud conviction in France and the fact that it faced similar charges in Belgium.

He referred too to the Truth Rundown, the ongoing St Petersburg Times exposé in which former senior executives have denounced the violence and abuse meted out by the movement’s leader David Miscavige (also covered here).

“Scientology is not a religious organisation,” he continued. “It is a criminal organisation that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs. What you believe does not mean you are not accountable for how you behave.”

A catalogue of crimes

Summarising the letters he had received, he said: “There are allegations of false imprisonment, coerced abortions, embezzlement of church funds, physical violence, intimidation, blackmail and the widespread and deliberate abuse of information obtained by the organisation.

“It is alleged that information about suspicious deaths and child abuse has been destroyed, and one follower has admitted he was coerced by the organisation into perjuring himself during investigations into the deaths of his two daughters.

“These victims of Scientology claim it is an abusive, manipulative, violent and criminal organisation, and that criminality is condoned at the highest levels.”

Perhaps the most distressing story Xenophon told during his speech was that of Paul Schofield, who admits to having lied to cover up the truth behind the deaths of his own daughters, under pressure from Scientology officials.

“Paul says his first daughter, Lauren, who was 14 months old, was being babysat at the organisation’s building in Sydney when she was allowed to wander the stairs by herself and fall,” said the senator.

“She died in hospital two days later.”

Pressured by Scientology executives, Schofield did not push for a coroner’s inquiry, said Xenophon.

“He was also told if he sought compensation from Scientology he and his wife would be ineligible for any other services.

“His second daughter, Kirsty, who was 2½, died after ingesting potassium chloride—a substance used as part of a so-called purification program [Purification Rundown] run by the organisation.

“Under the direction of Scientology executives, Paul says he perjured himself to the police,
and during the coronial inquest, in order to protect the organisation.

“Under incredible pressure he agreed to lie because he was scared he would be heavily punished by Scientology if he told the truth. It is a decision he regrets to this day.”

Arguably Xenophon’s most important source was Aaron Saxton, who worked for the movement in both Australia and the United States, was born into the movement.[3]

Saxton told Xenophon his parents had been coerced into handing over guardianship to a Scientology official so he could be transferred to Australia.[4]

“In or around January 1990, he was told by the organisation not to report the attempted rape of him by a man,” said Xenophon. This, he said, was because of Scientology’s public relations policy.

While still a child inside Scientology Saxton was asked to cover up an employee’s credit card fraud, said the senator.

Punishments included being put on a rice and beans diet for up to two weeks, he added, “…and because of Scientology’s bans on medications and seeking medical attention, he says, he was forced at times to extract his own teeth without the aid of painkillers.”

A security guard (master-at-arms?) at the age of 16, Saxton was involved in issuing disconnection orders (Xenophon calls them non-communication orders) on half a dozen families.

“In his statement, Aaron says he was also forced to participate in the illegal confinement and torture of a follower who was kept under house arrest,” said the senator.[5]

Saxton also told Xenophon he had accessed more than 150 files that contained the personal details on Scientology obtained during auditing, or counselling sessions – information that was meant to be confidential.

“It is not,” said the senator. “Aaron says this information was used to blackmail followers to keep them in the church as well as to discredit former followers if they left.”

He and other Scientologists applied the same procedure to the files of celebrity members looking for leverage “to force a greater commitment to the organisation,” said the senator. “Some might call that blackmail,” he added.

Lies and cover-ups

Saxton also told the senator he had deleted the files of a member who had committed suicide and he admitted to having forced female followers into having abortions.

“Aaron says women who fell pregnant were taken to offices and bullied to have an abortion.
If they refused, they faced demotion and hard labour.

“Aaron says the hope in the organisation was that if these pregnant women were given these punishments they would give in and have an abortion or miscarry.

“Aaron says one staff member used a coat hanger and self-aborted her child for fear of punishment. He says she was released from the organisation and the files were destroyed.”

Sent to work at Clearwater, in Florida, in 1991, his duties involved sending more than 30 people to “Scientology’s work camps, where they were forced to undertake hard labour” (presumably the Rehabilitation Project Force, or RPF).

Saxton also admitted to having used members’ personal and financial information to track down people who had tried to flee the movement; and having created fraudulent education certificates for children under 15 in order to allow them to work for Scientology.

On five separate occasions Saxton put people under house arrest until they had signed the statements the organisation wanted them to sign.

And the senator added: “Aaron also claims knowledge of two instances where followers in the United States confessed to murder but this information was not passed on to police.

“He also says while in the United States he was ordered by superiors to remove documents that would link a Scientology staff member to murder.”

The evidence of Xenophon’s other contacts also corroborate earlier accounts of abuse.

The information supplied by Carmel Underwood, a former staffer in Sydney, showed the flipside of the admissions made by Saxton: on more than one occasion she was a victim of the kind of abuse he described.

She was, for example, one of those who had been put under extreme pressure to have an abortion (she refused).

“Carmel also worked for the organisation’s financial planning arm and says that when requests for payments for abortions were made by the organisation’s executives they were never questioned, even though all other requests for funds were met with delays and haggled over,” said Xenophon.

“Carmel says she also witnessed a young girl who had been molested by her father being coached as to what she should say to investigating authorities in order to keep the crimes secret,” he added.

Underwood also told Xenophon that she had been physically assaulted by a Scientologist during an argument, corroborating the reports of the abusive working environment inside the movement.

And when she finally quit Scientology, sensitive personal information she had told them during supposedly confidential counselling, or auditing sessions, was used by the movement in a bid to discredit her – just as Saxton, and others, described.

Former Scientologists Anna and Dean Detheridge also supplied information concerning coerced abortions and the abuse of members’ confidential files for the purpose of blackmail.

In addition, said Xenophon, “Anna says she was instructed by the organisation to disconnect from her sister because her sister was gay and therefore, according to Scientology, dangerous, perverted and evil.”

Peta O’Brien, another former member, said she had been discouraged from seeking treatment for cancer, and said she had been “cut off” (presumably disconnected), from her son while tey were both still in the movement.

And Kevin Mackey told the senator how he and his wife had paid over 26 years paid nearly a million Australian dollars (Aus $1 million = US$930,000) for Scientology processing.

“These victims of Scientology have spoken out at considerable personal risk, and I commend them for that.

“And I would encourage other victims of Scientology to come forward, contact the police or contact my office — but, most importantly, speak out.”

Analysis: a ripple effect

One of the key points that Senator Xenophon made in his speech was that these allegations revealed not a series of random events, but something that was systematic in Scientology.

“What we are seeing is a worldwide pattern of abuse and criminality,” said the senator. And it was not happening by accident but by design.

Even if Australia’s government decides to keep looking the other way then, the senator’s speech has already generated a ripple effect: the allegations set out in his speech will have an impact further afield.[6]

For the claims being made by Senator Xenophon’s sources bear striking similarities with those made elsewhere against Scientology.

Saxton’s testimony alone is devastating. And it could have implications for a number of ongoing lawsuits against — and criminal investigations into — Scientology.

His confession about his role in pressuring Scientologists – presumably members of the movement’s elite Sea Org cadre – into having abortions, has a direct bearing on at least two ongoing lawsuits in California.

As reported in previous postings, both Claire Headley and Laura DeCrescenzo have accused Scientology of forcing them to have abortions because of the ban in the Sea Org on having children.

Their claims against the movement, both handled by attorney Barry van Sickle, echo the accounts told by several other former Sea Org members.

And Saxton’s account is all the more convincing because he owns up to his own involvement in this kind of abuse.

The testimony of Xenophon’s other sources, particularly Carmel Underwood, will likely provide further corroboration of the Sea Org practice of bullying staffers into having abortions they do not want.

Saxton’s testimony about deleting the files of a member who had committed suicide echoes the admissions by Marty Rathbun to the St Petersburg Times about having ordered the destruction of evidence in the Lisa McPherson case.

It is the kind of testimony that the magistrate investigating the suicide of French Scientologist Gloria Lopez might be interested in hearing about.[7]

Saxton’s description of having participated in the “confinement and torture” of another member recalls French Scientologist Martine Boublil’s claims that she was abducted and held against her will in Italy. That is the subject of another investigation in France, (Scientology had denied any involvement).

And Peta O’Brien’s testimony about being discouraged to seek treatment for cancer might also have a bearing on one of the two cases currently being investigated in Belgium. At one point at least, the movement was facing a charge of illegal practice of medicine.

Since at least some of the abuses Saxton describes took place during his time in the United States, law enforcement might also be expected to take an interest. (Reports from some former members suggest that the agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation are taking their stories seriously.)

But it has taken an Australian senator to highlight an issue that US politicians should have tackled years ago. Much of the abuse has, after all, been happening in their back yard – the movement’s leadership is based in the United States.

Instead, in the US at least, that job has been left to a newspaper the St Petersburg Times, which in an editorial earlier this month supporting its own investigative series, argued that an investigation into Scientology’s abuses was overdue.

It does not say a great deal about US politicians that one of the country’s newspapers – albeit one with a great track record in this field – has had to do their job for them.

But US politics is afflicted by what the Danish theologian Johannes Aagaard used to call “First Amendment neurosis”: that anything designated a religion is somehow above criticism, beyond reproach.

One suspects that has little to do with what the US Constitution intended – but everything to do with the way things work in practice.

Senator Xenophon anticipated Scientology’s response that his speech was an attack on their “freedom of speech and the right to religious beliefs.” He had his response prepared.

“It is twisted logic, to say the least. Religious freedom did not mean the Catholic or Anglican Churches were not held accountable for crimes and abuses committed by their priests, nuns and officials—albeit belatedly.

“Ultimately, this is not about religious freedom. In Australia there are no limits on what you can believe. But there are limits on how you can behave. It is called the law, and no-one is above it.”
[1] Briefly, parliamentary privilege allows an elected member in parliament to make allegations in the safety of the chamber that might otherwise leave him open to a lawsuit for defamation. Media reports of such allegations, in most circumstances, also carry some legal protection. For more, see the Australian parliamentary site here.
[2] An adjournment debate, just before the end of the day’s business, allows an elected member to speak on any subject for five minutes.
[3] Aaron Saxton has confirmed to methat he was previously known as Aaron Tweddell.
[4] The senator did not specify, but it sounds very much as if Saxton was recruited into the Sea Org, possibly while still a minor. Xenophon was careful to avoid using Scientology terminology during his speech.
[5] This sounds as if it could have been the notorious Introspection Rundown used on members who suffer breakdowns or psychotic breaks during Scientology auditing. It was used to disastrous effect on Lisa McPherson.
[6] His decision to publicise these allegations in parliament made it that much easier for them to be reported. The mainstream news media has been notoriously wary of critical coverage of Scientology without the protection of court or parliamentary coverage.
[7] Senator Xenophon, in his speech, also referred to reports that a recent inquest in Australia into the death of soldier Edward McBride had been hampered by the movement’s management.
It emerged that McBride had spent 25,000 Australian dollars on Scientology courses just two days before his death. His phone also showed he had been bombarded with calls and text messages to get him to return to their offices.
Scientology officials transferred McBride’s personal records, which the coroner John Lock had requested, out of Australian jurisdiction to the United States.


  1. Thanks for the excellent analysis. Hopefully Xenophon's speech is the begin of the end of this Cult's abuses. At least in Australia.

  2. As ever, Jonny, you have written the best summary of Nick Xenophon's speech with the most insightful commentary to be found anywhere.

    I will spread this far and wide.

  3. A brilliant summary. Thanks, Jonny.

  4. Excellent blog entry about an excellent Aussie politician dealing an excellent blow to a not-so-excellent cult.
    AAAA+ would read again