Monday 8 March 2010

LA Press Conference 2: Jeff Hawkins' Speech

Jeff Hawkins, a 35-veteran of Scientology, focussed on the question what draws people to the movement – and why, despite the abuse they suffer, it is so hard to leave.

Jeff Hawkins was introduced as a 35-year veteran of Scientology who had worked alongside the movement’s leader, David Miscavige, and had been a repeated target of his violence.

But Hawkins has told that story elsewhere: this time, he focussed on another aspect of Scientology: what draws people in and why it is so difficult to leave.[1]

Hawkins started by outlining the obstacles he had overcome just to attend the LA press conference, with his fellow ex-members of Scientology Sea Organization.

Soon after committing to the event he had been subpoenaed on the doorstep of his home in Portland, Oregon to appear before Scientology’s lawyers for a deposition. The date and time of the deposition: February 12, 10:00 am – the same as the press conference.

“And I thought, ‘Oh, that's a coincidence – not!’”

And when had decided to quit Scientology, because he had chosen to rout out in the manner approved by the movement, he had been subjected to three months of what Scientology called “security checks”.

This, he said, was when they put you on the e-meter, the device used in Scientology’s auditing, or therapy sessions – except this time it was not being used for therapy. This time it was an interrogation.

“…they ask you, ‘What are your crimes? What have you done? What crimes do you have against David Miscavige?’ On and on and on and on. And they just have you confess to anything and everything.

“This literally went on for three months until they felt that they had enough dirt on me to show that they could shut me up if I decided to speak out. And they've tried that.”

When he gave an interview to a reporter in Portland, he said, they contacted the journalist in a bid to discredit him, speaking of “horrible crimes”.

The material they gave the journalist had come straight out of his supposedly confidential confessional folders, said Hawkins.

“And that's what they do to people. They take their private confessional folders and they'll take anything they've confessed to, and they'll use it to try to shut them up.”

Other elements in the routing out procedure had also been designed to make sure he never spoke out, he said. For after all, he has spent his last 15 years in Scientology working at the International Base in Hemet, California, alongside Miscavige and other senior executives.

“…before they would allow me to leave the church, I had to sit in a room with a bunch of lawyers and sign forms, sign a lot of legal documents saying that I would never, never reveal what went on at Scientology's International Base.”

It was all videotaped and no doubt looked very official, he said. But he added: “…what they don't tell you is that there was a burly security guard standing just out of camera range, ready to take me back to the International Base and lock me up again if I didn't cooperate.”

So he cooperated. He signed everything they gave him so he could leave.

And yet, since leaving the movement, he has been one of the most vocal critics of the violence and abuse at the International Base.

“And the most common question I get, which Marc [Headley, the previous speaker] talked about a bit, is: ‘Why didn't you leave? Why didn't you just get up and leave?’”

For Hawkins, this was a key question, the answer to which went right to the heart of Scientology’s philosophy

First, he made it clear that he would not have joined in the first place if Scientology had not have something to offer.

“…I spent 35 years with it, so obviously there were some things I found good about it, to stay that long. And I was very enthusiastic about it in the beginning.

“This idea of communicating to others and helping others and helping the planet and so forth – that all appealed to me, being an idealistic young man.”

But as his involvement deepened, he got caught up in Scientology’s underlying beliefs, which had major implications for how he saw the world.

The promise of immortality

“… above all of that is really this idea of immortality. In the view of Scientology, this is a prison planet and everybody is trapped on this planet…” he explained.

“One is condemned to live life after life after life not knowing anything, in complete darkness and ignorance – and this is supposedly the trap that we're in.”

Scientologists believe that by moving up what the founder, L. Ron Hubbard, called the Bridge to Total Freedom, one acquires greater spiritual awareness and power, Hawkins added.

“…one is supposed to be fully conscious and aware, and one is supposed to be able to then live life after life remembering everything that went on in your previous lives.

“And this is what they mean when they talk about ‘total freedom’ or ‘your eternity’, and so forth and so on.”

For a Scientologist, this question of immortality, of escaping the state of ignorance and acquiring total freedom was a deadly serious activity, said Hawkins.

He quoted a key Hubbard document, “Keeping Scientology Working”, to give an idea of just how seriously Scientologists took their mission.

We're not playing some minor game in Scientology. It isn't cute or something to do for lack of something better. 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.

“When I was a Scientologist, well, I believed that. I believed this was serious and that the fate of the planet was at stake, and so forth.”

That meant that the greatest fear of any Scientologist was not that they would lose their friends or their family, he said. The main fear was “that they'll lose what they call ‘their eternity.’”

He read from a Suppressive Person declare, a Scientology document officially declaring a former member an outcast: “‘He will never, never, ever again, which I promise you, in any life, ever again, receive any auditing’ – which is the counselling – ‘or ever have a chance to get out of this trap…”

This was a death threat – but to the nth degree, said Hawkins.

“If you believe in Scientology’s belief system, this is a serious threat. They've done the mafia one better. It's not just… a death threat. It's like dying over and over and over again.

The flipside of the promise of total freedom then was the threat of having it all taken away: Scientology’s equivalent of eternal damnation.

Hawkins no longer believed that this threat was real; but for a true believer on the inside there could be nothing worse than the prospect of being cast out.

“So the most important thing for Scientology to maintain control over their people is to keep that belief system intact,” said Hawkins.

The power of these beliefs helped explain why people were ready to follow the rules regarding handing or disconnecting from a critic of Scientology, said Hawkins – and whatever the movement claimed, this policy was enforced on its members, he added.

Control, not freedom

“The irony is that the Church of Scientology says that it's all about freedom, but ultimately, it's really about control. And the further up you go, the more controlled you are.”

Having worked 15 years at the International Base with fellow Sea Org members, senior executives and Miscavige himself, he had experienced an even deeper level of control.

“The place is surrounded by razor wire fences. They've got cameras and motion sensors. There's no way that you can get out of there… without touching off these sensors or alerting the security guards who patrol the grounds, and so forth.

“And if you want to leave that Hemet compound, you have to get permission from your boss and from your boss's boss, and so forth, to be able to leave the compound. You can't just walk in and out. You have to have an okay.

“All letters in are opened – which is against federal law, but they do it anyway. If you get a letter from your parents, they open it first before it goes to you, and if it contains anything critical of Scientology, well, you're hauled in and, you know, you say, ‘Well, you have to handle your parents or disconnect,’ and so forth. And when you write a letter out, same thing – it gets censored.

Then there were the physical punishments, with people getting thrown in the lake or forced to run around the buildings, he said. And then there were the beatings.[2]

“I was personally beat up on five separate occasions by the head of Scientology, David Miscavige, who is supposed to be the leader.”

And with that, Hawkins returned to the original question: why hadn’t he just left?

“Well, it was the carrot and stick. I didn't want to lose my eternity… I still had my faith, even though I was being physically and mentally abused. But I finally said, ‘I don't care! I don't care if I'm damning my soul for eternity or whatever this means. I don't care.’”

So he left, and Scientology’s disconnection policy ensured that as a result he lost his wife and all his friends and family on the inside.

“And I had to go out with a few dollars in my pocket at age 58 and start a whole new life from scratch…

“But I have a lot of friends who are still there. They are still in Scientology. They are still at the Int Base. And if I were able to get them one message, I would tell them this: that leaving Scientology doesn't mean losing your eternity. It means gaining your freedom.”
[1] For a detailed account of his time in Scientology see his own website, Counterfeit Dreams. I have also told his story here, in the opening chapters of the section Violence and Abuse in the Sea Org. See in particular, Accusing Miscavige, The Case against Miscavige and Jeff Hawkins’ Story. For the video of Jeff Hawkins’ speech (and of all the other speeches at the LA press conference), see Mark Bunker’s round-up at Xenutv here.
[2] All the points Hawkins made about conditions at the Int. Base have been confirmed by other former Scientologists who worked there: by Marc Headley in his postings as Blownforgood to the Operation Clambake message board and in his book Blown for Good; by John Peeler in interviews for this website (see Life at the Base) and by previous Int Base defectors, such as Andre Tabayoyon. These conditions have to some extent been duplicated at other Sea Org units, such as the one at Clearwater in Florida (see Abuse in the Sea Org). 

1 comment:

  1. Jeff speaks for many of us who left, and lost our families in the process. It is my fervent hope, that the spotlight stays on David Miscavige, until he is brought to justice. After that, the Church of Scientology needs major reform. I remember a day when it was fun being on course , and using the technology of Scientology. It does have workable, useful knowledge that helps one understand life. It is being misused by the current management to enslave people.