Tuesday 24 November 2009

4 The Detheridge letters

Dean and Ana Detheridge provided further evidence of the hard sell tactics used inside Scientology in their letter to Senator Xenophon, corroborating the allegations made by Aaron Saxton.

Husband and wife Dean and Ana Detheridge wrote separate letters to the senator, both of which were admitted into the parliament’s archives.

In his letter to the senator, Dean Detheridge explained he had spent 17 years working in Canberra, Sydney and in Los Angeles as a staff member – 10 of them full-time – though he did not serve in the elite Sea Organization itself.

He described the current culture inside Scientology as inhuman, cold-hearted and money-fixated – and so far as he was concerned, that had come from the top down.

Abuse of auditing files

Just as Aaron Saxton had alleged in his letter, Detheridge wrote that he had seen personal information contained in Scientologists’ counselling folders “bandied about in a reckless manner – despite the Church’s advertised respect for confidentiality.”

More seriously, former members turned critics would have their files “culled for embarrassing revelations and confessions.” The material thus obtained would sometimes be used to discredit the person concerned.

Scientology officials have persistently denied that it engages in this practice.

But Detheridge wrote that this material would be produced to explain why the person had quit the movement.[1]

On other occasions, the defector would be confronted with the material in a bid to intimidate them into staying silent about whatever they might have experienced inside Scientology.

“This happened to me within a few months of my departure from the Church,” wrote Detheridge.

Scientology officials also sometimes leaked compromising material to friends, family or employers, causing Scientologists in good standing to disconnect – cut off contact with the person concerned.

Detheridge wrote that he himself had been involved in such tactics, under the orders of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA), when former members began protesting outside the Canberra office.

“First, we approached and said things around the key protestor that could only remind him of his sexual misadventures," he wrote. "We also handed out brochures in his vicinity on the subject of child abuse and incest.”

The brochures had been produced for the sole purpose of intimidating the protestor into silence, using information culled from his supposedly confidential auditing files, wrote Detheridge.

Hard sell, fraud

Just as Saxton had, Detheridge wrote that he had first-hand knowledge of the lengths to which Scientology sales staff would go to land their sales.

“I have witnessed, and participated in, concerted efforts to extract as much money as possible from parishioners with absolutely no regard for the financial security of the individual or his or her family…” wrote Detheridge.

“Anything is acceptable: using all available equity in one’s house or even selling the house; obtaining extra credit cards; submitting loan applications that are rife with falsehoods; cashing in one’s superannuation; concocting a case for obtaining inheritance well ahead of its fruition… etc.”

In her letter, his wife Ana made it clear that the pressure was not just on the public members to buy products and services: sales staff themselves were bullied into meeting their quotas by members of the Sea Org.

Staff at Scientology’s Sydney office were put under immense pressure to sell book and lecture packages at around Aus $4,000 each (US $3,700), she wrote.

“… [T]he Executive Director [name deleted] announced that she did not care if the Church public have to eat rice and beans for a year, they are to buy a book package.”

Sea org officers would stop staff members who failed to sell their package as they left the building at the end of the day and intimidate into working longer hours so as to get the sale, she added.

“Many staff were reduced to tears & stress due to the amount of pressure placed on them to enforce the public to buy the… package.”

She had seen both staff and Sea Org members discussing duping rich public members out of their money, she added.

“I witnessed staff and Sea Org staff saying ‘Let’s call Mr. Got bucks’ or ‘Mrs Got bucks’ meaning parishioners who had money to get them to buy extra so as to get them to buy extra sets of the expensive Basic book packages telling them they would be donated to poor countries or for PR usage or for libraries.

“Many of these packages were never delivered but thousands & thousands of dollars every day was being taken for the packages.”

The hard sell also extended to fundraising events for the International Association of Scientologists (IAS), she wrote. These tactics were directed against “parishioners”, which is to say public, paying members of Scientology rather than staff members or Sea Org officers.

They would be locked in rooms, sometimes for several hours, until the financial target– which could be as much as one million Australian dollars – was reached.

“Many complaints were expressed to me from the parishioners of feeling trapped and forced into having to pay large amounts of money at these events,” wrote Detheridge.

As a result, many public Scientologists simply stopped attending them, she added.

Obstructing refunds

Detheridge said he had both witnessed and participated in the stonewalling of people’s attempts to get a refund for goods and services.

“The routing form for refunds is almost as strenuous as the routing form for leaving staff and many simply give up all efforts.”


Despite Scientology officials’ persistent denials that people are forced to cut off from people deemed to be enemies of Scientology, Detheridge confirmed the practice existed. He himself was pressured either to leave his wife or quit Scientology, he wrote.

“Acceptable truths”

“The Church of Scientology lies. Per existing policy ‘acceptable truths’ are not only permissible but advocated…

“The most lies are told by church management to their parishioners. Glitzy re-recorded events are created by the organization’s cine department for the parishioners’ consumption.”

Seeing the difference between the actual event and the final footage was “a surreal experience,” he wrote.

“I’ve sat at such events in awe that such bald-faced lies could be acceptable in a ‘church’.”

Bullying, intimidation

Ana Detheridge, in her letter, told Senator Xenophon that she had witnessed staff members being abused by members of the Sea Org, the movement’s elite cadre.

She and others were bullied and intimidated into working 24 hours straight by Sea Org officers, she wrote.

She said she worked a minimum 50-hour week – from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm – with extra hours on Saturday and Sunday to make ends meet, because she never received the weekly Aus $700 she had been promised when she signed up.

“When I questioned the executives about this they just said they were sorry but the system had changed & it’s too late because I had signed a contract…

“I ended up working seven days a week, which put a lot of strain on my husband and my teenage son.”

Suicide waivers, information control

While on staff in Canberra, she and other employees were made to sign waivers to the effect that they would never discuss anything that had happened to them; that if they committed suicide it was not Scientology’s fault; and that they had never been coerced into joining.[2]

They also had to sign undertakings not to speak to the media about anything they saw while in Scientology.

She was warned not to look up Scientology on the Internet as some of the upper-level teachings had been leaked. As she was not yet “spiritually prepared” seeing them might drive her mad or give her cancer, they told her.

Purification Rundown cover-up

Detheridge also recalled a time in the late 1990s, when the Australian government was looking into Scientology’s Purification Rundown. There was panic at the prospect that the offices might be inspected.

A senior Scientology executive came to Canberra to take boxes of files away that contained the results from Scientologists who had been through the programme: results “that could be damaging to the Church of Scientology.”

Pay and conditions

During 10 years, between 1990 and 2000, Dean Detheridge was a full-time with the movement, during which time he lived “well below the poverty line” and was forced to fall back on social security.

Given his age – he was between 28 and 38 during this period – and his qualifications in electronics and computing, he felt that this was unacceptable.

His superiors quoted writings from Hubbard in which he said that Scientologists were doing such good work in society that “it was okay to live off the government…

“In fact the policy states that no other organisation even comes close to Scientology in terms of the effectiveness of our ‘social works’,” he wrote.

Abusive interrogation

It was in part because of the poor pay and conditions that Dean Detheridge decided he wanted to leave the movement. As a result, he was held against his will and subjected to abusive interrogation, he wrote.

On one such occasion, “a Sea Org Master-at-Arms [name deleted] questioned me about such sordid things as what had I done to small boys.”

“This type questioning is part of the ‘murder routine’ wherein the interrogator tries to get the person to ‘cough up’ what he has done by asking highly exaggerated questions.”

The idea, wrote Detheridge, was to browbeat him into signing up for another five years (he had already completed three such contracts). If he had complied, he wrote, all his “ethics” problems would have been “forgiven”.

On that particular occasion, he was questioned until 3:00 am.

His wife, Ana, confirmed the pressure they came under. It was like “nothing I have ever experienced before,” she wrote.

“A Sea Org member came to Canberra and threatened to declare him [her husband Dean] as a Suppressive Person…” Being declared suppressive – an enemy of the movement – would have meant all other Scientologists including family members would have been obliged to cut off all contact with him.

Their employers seemed indifferent to the fact that they were in debt and forced to live on credit cards because they were so poorly paid, she wrote.

One reason they wanted to leave was to save the money for treatment for Dean Detheridge, who needed an operation on a cataract in one of his eyes that was threatening his sight.

“There was no care factor from the Sea Organisation regarding my husband’s health deterioration,” wrote Ana.

“We were just threatened and told we did not believe in the tech of Scientology and that a thetan (the human spirit) can survive anything.”

In the end, her husband quit his contact in Canberra, but she was forced to say another six months while they found a replacement for her. (In Scientology, it is a major offence to quit a post without finding someone to take your place.)

Dirty tricks, disconnection

Once they did leave, Scientologist friends reported that they had come under pressure to cut off all contact from her, she wrote.

She found this tactic particularly upsetting as it was also applied against her teenage son who, having grown up in Scientology, had many friends from that community.

Scientology officials also twisted material from her supposedly confidential counselling files to suggest that she was a lesbian and had left her husband, she added.

“I was very upset at hearing this information was being spread about me as it was not true…” she wrote.

She had seen the same tactics used on other people who left the movement and was aware of the homophobic attitudes among senior management, she added. [3]

At one point during her time inside Scientology, she had been told to disconnect from her own sister because she was gay, “which means she is dangerous to have in my life.” She had refused.

Dean Detheridge, concluding his letter, wrote: “I don’t know what the Church of Scientology was really like in its heyday (the 50’s).

“I do however know first-hand what it has been become – living proof that absolute power corrupts absolutely – tyranny under David Miscavige.

“And unfortunately like any high-level corporate criminal, it will now take government intervention put things right again.”

[1] It is certainly true to say that a common reaction of Scientology officials to allegations by former members is to say that they left because they could not live up to the movement’s ethical standards.
[2] This is reminiscent of the waivers that Dave Touretkzy, one of Scientology’s most outspoken online critics, discovered relating to the controversial Introspection Rundown. The IR is a forced isolation treatment meted out to Scientologists driven psychotic by the movement’s techniques. Touretzky dubbed it the Lisa clause, after Lisa McPherson, the Scientologist who died during her Rundown in Clearwater, Florida.
[3] Former senior executives including Jeff Hawkins and Marty Rathbun have remarked on David Miscavige’s vociferous homophobia.

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