Monday 8 February 2010

Disconnection: an introduction

Disconnection, which forces members to cut off contact with anyone deemed to be an enemy of the movement, is arguably the single most destructive policy in Scientology.

There is no consensus among the growing numbers of defectors from Scientology as to how much, if any, of the movement’s “spiritual technology” is worth salvaging.

Those who believe they experienced genuine psychological or spiritual insights during auditing, Scientology’s version of therapy, cherish what they say was its transforming effect.

Others however describe the supposed benefits of auditing as essentially illusory, dismissing it along with the rest of L. Ron Hubbard’s system.

One thing former members do tend to agree on however is the devastating effect of disconnection – not least because most of them have been on the receiving end.

Disconnection is probably the single most destructive policy in the sprawling system that Hubbard developed. Certainly, in the 1960s and ‘70s, several inquiries into Scientology singled it out for special criticism.[1]

This rule requires Scientologists to cut off all contact with anyone who their superiors in the movement declare to be a Suppressive Person – an enemy of Scientology.

And Hubbard saw enemies everywhere.

“Our enemies are less than twelve men,” he declared in 1967. “They are members of the Bank of England and other higher financial circles. They own and control newspaper chains and they, oddly enough, run all the mental health groups in the world that had sprung up…”[2]

And then there was the enemy within.

“People making mistakes or doing stupid things is evidence that an SP exists in that vicinity,” he wrote in a 1968 policy letter.[3]

Unable to consider the possibility that Scientology itself was the problem, he blamed “suppressive” elements for the regular setbacks his organisation suffered.

This scattergun paranoia still permeates the organisation.

Scientology ethics

To understand how disconnection works you have to go back to the Hubbard’s original writings.

Alongside what he presented as a therapeutic system of almost miraculous potential, Hubbard developed what he called Scientology ethics.

If you wanted access to Scientology auditing then Hubbard stipulated that you had to comply with an increasingly oppressive set of rules that stipulates how to behave.

“The purpose of ethics is to remove counter intentions from the environment,” Hubbard wrote in a June 18, 1968 policy letter. “And having accomplished that the purpose becomes to remove other intentionedness [sic] from the environment.”

As more than one commentator has pointed out, this effectively redefines ethics as attacking anything that opposes Scientology.[4]

From Hubbard’s point of view however, this was perfectly reasonable.

“We're not playing some minor game in Scientology. It isn't cute or something to do for lack of something better,” he declared in Keeping Scientology Working, a key 1965 text.

“The whole agonized future of this planet, every Man, Woman and Child on it, and your own destiny for the next endless trillions of years depend on what you do here and now with and in Scientology.”

Hubbard’s system of ethics divided the world into social and anti-social personalities.

Up to 20 percent of the population was made up of people with anti-social tendencies, though only two and a half percent were truly dangerous.[6] These were the Suppressive Persons, or SPs.

Hubbard of course considered anybody consistently critical of Scientology as suppressive. And in his view, a Suppressive Person was an enemy not just of Scientology but of mankind.

Today, all Scientologists, but particularly those working full-time for the movement, find their social circle and their conduct closely monitored for any sign of suppressive influences.

If the movement’s Ethics Officers decide a Scientologist is in contact with a suspected SP – say a parent unhappy about their sudden involvement in Scientology – then they are denied further counselling until they have resolved the problem.

The Scientologist concerned has become what Hubbard called a Potential Trouble Source (PTS): they must either “handle” or “disconnect”.[7]

Handling involves what Hubbard called a “good roads and fine weather” approach to friends or relatives uneasy about or hostile to Scientology. You only acknowledge the positive aspects of any conversation; you do not engage with anything critical or hostile.

Using the communications skills you have acquired from the movement you try to smooth out any misconceptions about Scientology and bring people around to your way of seeing things.

But if handling does not work, the final resort is disconnection.

An instrument of control

It is difficult to overstate the extent to which this policy controls the way Scientologists behave.

Former members have said that the mere prospect of being disconnected persuades many members to keep any doubts they might have about the movement to themselves.

For they know that quitting the movement will have devastating consequences: that they will become an outcast among Scientologists, with even close friends and family shunning them.

Non-Scientologists, those who have lost loved ones to the movement, face a similar dilemma.

As soon as they become aware of Scientology’s disconnection policy, they know they are walking a thin line.

If they do nothing, they risk losing all contact with their loved one; but if they object too forcefully to their new allegiance, they risk receiving a disconnection letter.[8]

The irony is that being prepared to speak out about Scientology has on some occasions brought about a “tactical reconnection”.

For in recent years at least, disconnection has been a mechanism that can be turned on and off, the better to control those inside the movement and their loved ones outside.

In 2007, BBC1’s flagship documentary series Panorama ran a programme on Scientology, perhaps best known for presenter John Sweeney’s shouting match with his Scientology minder, Tommy Davis.[9]

Although they had recorded two interviews with mothers whose daughters had disconnected from them, in the end, they only ran one. In the programme, Sweeney explained.

We filmed another mother who's been disconnected from her only child for nearly two years. No Christmas cards, no birthday cards, nothing. It was a heartrending interview.

Three hours after we left her daughter came round asking for reconciliation. Was this a coincidence? And the next day she begged her mother not to take part in this Panorama.

Her mother feared she might harm herself if we ran the story: so we won’t.[10]

The real purpose of disconnection then, is not to protect Scientologists from “suppressive” influences: it is first and foremost an instrument of control.[11]

The “Misconceptions about Scientology” section of the main Scientology website devotes three paragraphs to disconnection.[12]

It repeats Hubbard’s point that it is a last resort “when all attempts to sort out such situations have failed”.

It even draws parallels with religions such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and practices among certain “Orthodox Jewish congregations” – as if somehow the fact that other religious extremists practise it makes it okay.

But it also gives the impression that a Scientologist’s decision to disconnect is theirs alone.

There is no indication that there is any pressure, or that the decision in fact often comes from higher up – from their handlers in the ethics section of the organisation.

This follows Hubbard’s line in Introduction to Scientology Ethics, when he tried to present disconnection as a positive action by someone determined to maintain control of their lives.

“He is simply exercising his right to communicate or not to communicate with a particular person.”

A more careful reading of Hubbard’s writings however makes it clear that disconnection is compulsory, not a matter of personal choice.

For among the high crimes Hubbard listed for which one can be declared a Suppressive Person and cast out of the movement, is the following offence:

Failure to handle or disavow and disconnect from a person demonstrably guilty of suppressive acts.[13]

Hubbard’s disconnection policy, which he first introduced in 1965, was so controversial and attracted so much negative publicity that he cancelled it in 1968.

But it was gradually reintroduced in the 1970s and was fully reinstated in a September 10 1983 policy letter.[14]

Scientology spokesmen nevertheless continue to deny that disconnection is enforced on its members.[15]

This section of the website will look at the devastating effects of disconnection through the personal stories of those affected by the policy.

[1] They include the 1965 Anderson Report for the State of Victoria in Australia; the 1969 Dumbleton-Powles Report for the New Zealand government; and the 1971 Foster Report for the British government.
Some critics of Scientology have singled out the policy forcing Sea Org members to have abortions as being the one that deserves most condemnation, but as offensive as this is, this policy affects a limited number of people. Disconnection can be applied to any Scientologist and is one of the strongest instruments of control used inside the movement.
Many contacts I have spoken to over the years have either declined to speak out or insisted on remaining anonymous for fear of losing contact with loved ones who are still loyal Scientologists. And as we shall see, for many defectors, the worst part of leaving the movement is the experience of being cut off from loved ones still inside.
[2] Ron’s Journal ‘67.
[3] From the March 12, 1968 Hubbard Communications Office Bulletin “Anatomy of Mistakes”.
[4] “In plain English, the purpose of Scientology ethics is to eliminate opponents, then eliminate people's interests in things other than Scientology,” wrote Professor Stephen J. Kent in “Scientology and the European Human Rights Debate: A Reply to Leisa Goodman, J. Gordon Melton, and the European Rehabilitation Project Force Study” in Marburg Journal of Religion: Volume 8, No. 1 (September 2003). See page eight.
Former Sea Org member Martin Ottmann was even more blunt in his detailed April 19, 1996 affidavit.  Commenting on the same Hubbard quote, he wrote: “The purpose of Scientology-ethics is therefore to impose one’s will on others. The purpose of the Sea Org, which is to get ethics in on the planet, is therefore to dominate the world. Scientology has exposed itself as a fascist organization, who reaches for world domination and nothing else.” This from the conclusion to Section C: “How Scientology Ethics was Applied.”
[5] Keeping Scientology Working, February 7, 1965.
[6] This doctrine is set out in Hubbard’s Introduction to Scientology Ethics. See here for an extract of the relevant passage.
[7] As I have covered elsewhere on this site, a number of former members have confirmed that during their time as ethics officers they ordered people to disconnect from loved ones deemed suppressive. See John Peeler’s account of how he enforced disconnection here; and Aaron Saxton’s testimony here and here.
[8] And I can speak here from a personal perspective: see this account of my relatively limited experience in this area from Scotland’s Sunday Herald, (November 8, 2009). “How do you explain to a loved one your concerns about the movement they are in when they are trained to ignore such information – and could even be ordered to cut off all contact with you? It was bad enough for me, but I can only imagine what it must have been like for her parents.”
[9] Panorama: Scientology and Me, May 14, 2007. Transcript here.
[10] From the official transcript of the programme at Panorama’s website:
[11] The BBC anecdote is not an isolated incident.
On the Why We Protest message board, former member Marc Headley has reported that friends and colleagues of his still in the movement after he quit were offered the chance to reconnect with “suppressives” among their loved ones if they agreed to approach him in a bid to get information about his activities. This phenomenon, which some people are calling “reverse disconnection” – and others “blackmail” – has surfaced on some of the message boards covering Scientology.
Some of the people I have approached over the years have refused to speak on the record – or even to speak at all – because they still had hopes of getting back in touch with loved ones lost to the movement. I scrapped one article on disconnection after my interview subject, the person who had been disconnected, was suddenly contacted by his son and a reconciliation of sorts arranged.
[13] From Chapter Seven of An Introduction to Scientology Ethics. But this originally came from a December 23 1965 Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, “Suppressive Acts Suppression of Scientology and Scientologists” – so it can hardly be said to be a corruption of Hubbard’s policies by the current leader Daivd Miscavige.
[14] “An Ethics Officer can encounter a situation where someone is factually connected to a Suppressive Person, in present time,” wrote Hubbard.
“This is a person whose normal operating basis is one of making others smaller, less able, less powerful. He does not want anyone to get better, at all.
“In truth, an SP is absolutely, completely terrified of anyone becoming more powerful. In such an instance the PTS isn't going to get anywhere trying to handle the person. The answer is to sever the connection.”
"PTSness and Disconnection", September 10, 1983.
[15] On CNN, for example, Scientology’s most prominent current spokesman Tommy Davis denied that Scientology enforced disconnection. He was responding to an open letter by David Miscavige’s own niece Jenna Misavige Hill, who said she had been cut off from her own grandfather by the policy.
Mike Rinder, during his time as one of Scientology’s top officials, also denied in media interviews that Scientology enforced disconnection policy on its members. Since then of course he has quit Scientology and become a victim of that policy himself.


  1. Thank you for that Acticle! It is more than just an introduction and will be very powerful if used wisely.

  2. Wow - excellent work here, thanks for the delicous harpooning ammo this fine piece provides! Cant wait to see what else is yet to come in this new section of your awesome blog!!

  3. I would like to add to [15] that Tommy Davis was recorded in a conversation with Larry Anderson , that was recentlly exposed by the St. Petersburg Times, where he made it pretty clear to him and basically used it as threat, that disconnection is one of the repercussions one can expect, if one ceases membership in the Church of Scientology and requests a refund. This completely contradicts his statement given to the CNN, that there would be "no such thing as disconnection in the CoS".


  4. Good point: Davis makes his reference at the end of part one of the tapes; his colleague Jessica Feshbach says something similar at the end of part 10 of the recording. Neither is explicitly saying that disconnection is compulsory, but that is already a step further than denying that a disconnection policy exists.

  5. Another brilliant article. I look forward to more on disconnection. This deserves to be widely read.