Sunday 22 September 2013

The Third Party, by Jon Atack

'Scientology erodes compassion' (pic by Lizy Atack)
Recovering Scientologists and other campaigners need to shake off the destructive mindset typical of those still inside the movement, writes Jon Atack.

If somebody does you wrong, you must be willing to retaliate a thousand-fold.’ Eric Theodore Cartman.

Ron Hubbard put forward the notion that the only reason people become upset is a ‘third party’ who is whispering in someone’s ear. This is not true, of course, people can become upset without the least bit of help.

The term is general among Scientologists to mean gossip. So, third partying has come to mean spreading rumours.

It is a tool used by the harassment operatives of the cult. So, in How to Do a Noisy Investigation, Scientologists are instructed to use a generalization (the mark of a Suppressive Person, according to Hubbard) about the ‘criminal’ past of the person they are attacking when calling that person’s friends and colleagues.1

Not long after I resigned the Scientology cult, almost thirty years ago, and began unravelling Scientology’s mind-knots, I was approached by a man whom I shall call ‘Brian’ (because that was his name). He advised me that he had been in B-1 – Scientology’s dreaded bureau of ‘covert operations’ and dirty tricks – in London.

He wanted to know if he could help the Independents by running covert operations against the cult. I still believed in the teachings of Hubbard, the Technology, and was at the heart of the thriving independent movement.

Once I had lifted my jaw from the ground, I assured him that I’d left the cult when I realized that it harassed people, which to me seemed a very unspiritual and irreligious practice. Unlike the loyal officers of the Office of Special Affairs, I don’t believe that anti-social behaviour helps society.

Brian’s confederates in the US and Canada had been found guilty of the infiltration of government offices, the theft of a mass of documents and the false imprisonment of one of their number who tried to inform the police. Mary Sue Hubbard, the Founder’s wife, was sentenced to a prison term, along with ten other officials of the Church of Scientology.

A few days later, Brian wrote what turned out to be the first of many affidavits impugning me.

In parting, I’d joked that such ‘operations’ were not my remit, and would have to be decided on by my superiors. Someone in the harassment ‘bureau of covert data collection’ should have checked, but here he was, in a sworn document, asserting that I was simply a tool of the Great White Brotherhood. My sense of humour is a constant cause of trouble.

In those heady days, I was privately assured by a member of the Advanced Ability Center, David Mayo’s independent group, that they would put ‘squirrels,’ like the Phoenix Association and Bent Corydon, out of business. I’d been involved with independent Scientology for a couple of weeks by this time, and I was shocked.

I explained the old dictum that we could either hang together, or the Scientology cult would most certainly hang us separately. We didn’t, and they did. Very few of us lasted any distance.

It still shocks me, three decades later, when I encounter the backbiting and infighting of the unhealed Scientologist, whether they are mindlessly following the implanted command to harass others, or simply ‘third-partying’ or ‘rumour-mongering.’

John Hansen, an important critic and a fine man, who travelled the globe delivering relevant documents to we indies, once told me, with evident exasperation, ‘We are the only people on the planet with the technology of third-partying, so why do we do more of it than anyone else!’

Shooting the messenger

This need to humiliate can have severe consequences.

In the spring of 1984, a distraught auditor told me that she had been woken at 2:00 am by a drunken altercation between her case-supervisor and a fellow auditor. She said that one had tried to run the other down with their car.

My days were just packed, back then, so I made the mistake of delegating. The chap to whom I delegated found a fully-hatted Ethics Officer to deal with the situation.

I expected the two people who caused the disruption to be censured, but I had placed too much faith in the ‘sane’ procedures of Scientology ethics.

It took less than 48 hours for the fully-hatted Ethics Officer to create utter chaos, out of which came disaster, as so often happens when Scientology is exactly applied.

Instead of suggesting they be more private in their drinking and even more private arguing, to my amazement, he focused his attention on the complainant, gathering a sheaf of ‘knowledge reports’ about her.

She was, unsurprisingly, distraught. I was unable to reassure her, because so many willing drones had presented their spiteful and entirely inappropriate observations. So it came as no surprise when the cult swooped in.

Scientology wreathed the poor girl in a fog of promises and she reported her considerable knowledge of the theft of OT materials from Copenhagen. The two people she had complained about had both been involved in the theft – along with former Flag executive Robin Scott, who briefly ran an independent centre up in Scotland.

The victimised auditor’s confession to Scientology led in turn to the arrest and brief imprisonment of Scott in Denmark, and an eleven-year court struggle for Scott and his co-conspirators, in England.

So a single shot reverberated throughout the Scientology world – and all because an Ethics Officer had encouraged ‘third partying’. Not one of those he interviewed had proved unwilling to join in the feeding frenzy.

So instead of dealing with the actual problem – the drunkards – the Ethics Officer had encouraged everyone he could find to ‘third party’ the poor auditor who was the victim of his horrid behaviour.

Of course, such behaviour isn’t unique to Hubbard’s Dev-OTs. A historian studying Gestapo files found that they couldn’t keep up with the flood of reports sent in by vengeful people who were determined to have their annoying neighbours tortured or sent to the camps.

Hubbard cannot claim to have invented the ‘knowledge report’ that Scientologists so gleefully write to the Ethics Office. It was actually old technology. From an earlier civilization that bears marked similarities to Scientology.

When that remarkable film-maker, Carlos Cornier, was at his lowest ebb on the Flag RPF, all hope lost along with all liberty, a protester spat at him. Spleen is not a healthy use of time.

Hate the sin, but love the sinner, as St Paul had it. Hate the thought, but not the person who thinks it, as Gandhi said in agreement.

In this case, I say, hate the disease – Scientology – but not the person infected with it. The spiteful attitude, the rumour mongering and the self-righteousness are part and parcel of the Scientology implant.

Break the vicious circle

The starey eyes and the uncompassionate mindset don’t evaporate, just because you leave the cult.

Too many ex-members are malicious and vindictive, as we see in the chat rooms and message boards. It suggests that they have not recovered. It also suggests that they are very unhappy and want to inflict their misery on others, rather than bringing hope of recovery.

Many years ago, my late and very dear friend, Sheona Fox-Ness, advised me to stop wasting my talents on Scientologists, because, after all, they had ‘pulled it in.’ This is the smug belief that there is no need to help anyone, because of the simplistic notion of karma implanted by Hubbard into his followers.

Sheona had been at the very top of the organization – an L. Ron Hubbard Personal Public Relations Officer – and truly believed that she had shed all of Hubbard’s ideas. I asked if I should intervene, if a child was about to go under a bus, but she didn’t seem to get it.

Maybe she was right. I could certainly do something less stressful with my time than trying to persuade angry people to be more compassionate.

Essentially, Scientology is a system of ‘processing’ and ‘indoctrination’ (to use Hubbard’s own words) that erodes compassion and turns the true believer into a clone, brimming with fear and fury. It will only be done, when the believers begin to care about other people, again.

Or, as Hubbard put it, with inimitable irony, ‘It ill behooves the best of us, to criticize the rest of us.’ Unless they happen to be psychiatrists, communists, journalists, gays or have any reservations about the godlike perfection of the Old Man of the Sea Org.

Luckily, there are many fine and compassionate former members, who make up for the deficiencies in their fellows, and won’t involve themselves in vitriolic pack attacks. I have been charmed and delighted by my contact with them, which has been entirely untainted by ‘natter’ (to lapse into the scientologese).

Sadly, while the intentions of most members of Anonymous are commendable, there are also some among them who delight in spite.

I shudder when I see an Anonymous group venting their amusement on confused cult members. It may cheer up the protesters, but it only rigidifies the members in their cognitive dissonance, making them all the more sure that they are the brave subjects of persecution.

Trolling has become a problem throughout the world, and we have seen the first court cases where such people have quite rightly been found guilty of serious abuse. If we are truly here to help, then we should not resort to public vitriol and should do everything we can to calm down the rage and heal the enraged.

Those who have recovered are able to use taboo words, like ‘victim’, and to feel such emotions a sympathy. They can once again have an open mind and act reasonably.

The clumsy, mock-scientific words are expunged, they once more ‘criticise’ rather than ‘invalidate’; they ‘wish’ instead of ‘postulating’; and those ‘broad generalities’ about the conspiratorial evil of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists are set aside.

Staring is recognized as a dominance behaviour, in no way reassuring to someone in counselling, and hypnosis has been recognized (just as Hubbard insisted it should be, though he didn’t mean us to understand it well enough to see how it is used on a daily basis in his supposed church).

Compassion and fellow feeling gradually return, but the process need not be so gradual.

If the monstrous ego, inflated by years of self-centring, can be quieted, Scientology can be diminished (reduced from infinity to zero, in Hubspeak), and the recovery process can be achieved in days,.

But for most it takes years or never actually happens. All too often, even decades later, the ex-member holds onto ‘ARC breaks’ and ‘missed withholds,’ and the certainty that anyone who makes them feel uneasy is a ‘suppressive person.’

There is no checksheet, no white-taped route, because we are actually and thankfully all different, and part of the trick is to become genuinely self-determined, which means allowing for independent and even eccentric thought, after years of ‘doing what Ron says.’

'We are nothing without compassion'

With freedom of belief must come freedom of disbelief.

Climbing back out of the abyss whence Scientology deposits its victims doesn’t need any bridge. Rather the dissolution of those famous imprisoning shadow bars, of which Hubbard so fondly spoke.

But, of course, Hubbard even faked the derivation of Scientology. He says, accurately enough, that ‘scio’ is the root for the first syllable, but then wanders off into Latin, not the Greek of the second syllable, ‘logos’. Scio does not mean ‘knowledge.’ It means shadows or even shades, so Scientology is the ‘study of shadows.’ Which is far less useful that studying your own navel, and keeps Dev-OTs assured that they too will one day be like Ron (what a ghastly thought!).

John Gottman, likely the world’s greatest expert on relationship, distinguishes between complaint and criticism: ‘A complaint focuses on a specific problem, addressing the other person’s behaviour, not his or her perceived character flaws. Criticism, on the other hand, is more judgmental and global ... Criticism attacks the other person’s character, often with negative labels or name-calling. It often assigns blame.’2

Relationships succeed when people restrict their complaints to actual difficulties, without adding every horrid thing they can think of to the mix. Better to say, ‘You didn’t do the washing up, this morning,’ without adding, ‘As usual, you dumb ape.’ And maybe Hubbard is right, and sometimes critics are shouting to avoid being found out.

Freud and his chums spoke of ‘projection’ and determined that incessant criticism is usually a direct denial of the critic’s own faults. It is one of the few Freudian hypotheses that has stood the test of time.

Of course, Scientology is not the only reason for people to become distressed. Some were angry before they became involved, and non-members also join in, but there is a festering fury that is often expressed by those who are unhealed, and it flares up and blazes out at the least opportunity.

Such people need help, not a platform, because no one heals by yelling, and yelling spreads the hurt all around. As eminent psychologist, Philip Zimbardo, points out, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can leave you suffering for a lifetime.

So, go easy with the brickbats and don’t encourage destructive behaviour. On message boards, that can mean simply ignoring the flames. Better yet, find a message board where the moderator understands the job description and weeds out personal invective.

Aaron Beck, the founder of cognitive therapy, wrote a superb book about the amplification of individual anger into all out war. After a review of anti-social behaviour, from spouse battering and child abuse, to assault and rape, he and his colleagues ‘observed a common denominator … the victim is perceived as the Enemy, and the aggressor sees himself as the innocent victim.’3 

They have no sympathy whatsoever, and, as Hubbard rightly pointed out, they will then claim that their acts were motivated by the victim.

In his essential text, The True Believer, Eric Hoffer said:

That hatred springs more from self-contempt than from a legitimate grievance is seen in the intimate connection between hatred and a guilty conscience. There is perhaps no surer way of infecting ourselves with virulent hatred toward a person than by doing him a grave injustice.

That others have a just grievance against us is a more potent reason for hating them than that we have a just grievance against them … Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us.

I came to Scientology from Buddhism, where compassion is held to be the cardinal virtue. I left Scientology, when I realized that it erodes compassion, causing scorn for ‘raw-meat, dead-in-the-head wogs,’ who are treated as prey, and those evil Suppressives, who always seem to massively outnumber believers and are attacked as enemies.

Jesus advised us to love our enemies, if we wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven (which, as he also said, is all around us). St Paul said that without caritas, or compassion, we are ‘nothing.’

There is every reason for vigorous and open debate, but looking at the message boards, at times, it is as if chains of withholds have been missed, releasing streams of molten natter (for the uninitiated, Hubbard taught that people become hostile if they think someone may have guessed their hidden sins – and they ‘natter’ or criticise the person they fear).

I left Scientology, because I refused to treat people without regard for their humanity. I wouldn’t disconnect from anyone, and I certainly wouldn’t engage in malicious gossip. How about you? Could we try to play nice?
UPDATE: You can hear a terrific interview with Jon Atack by Australian journalist Steven Cannane at ABC in which, among other things, he describes the harassment that he suffered during when he started speaking out against the movement.

You can read his earlier essay, A Cult by Any Other Name elsewhere at this site. Jon also has a regular dialogue with Tony Ortega at The Underground Bunker, Scientology Mythbusting. For more on Jon at this site, see Atack Reloaded and Atack Unchained.

1   “How to do a Noisy Investigation”, Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, September 5, 1966, as quoted on p144 of the 1971 Foster Report into Scientology.
2   Gottman & DeClaire, The Relationship Cure, Three Rivers Press, NY, 2001, pp.72-73.
3   Aaron Beck, Prisoners of Hate, HarperCollins, NY, 1999, p. xiii. 


  1. Thanks, Jon. As a non-former-member critic first on Usenet (ars) which I left in part because it had started to dissolve into this kind of infighting, and on FB pages where "So and so LIED about me and is STILL LYING and here's the proof and on and on for several paragraphs" and when someone tries to calm down the invective, they're accused of "SIDING WITH THE NASTY PERSON WHO LIED ABOUT ME" (caps on purpose) and it just goes on and on, this sheds a lot of light on why people hold on to their petty little hatreds.

    I knew culthink was wrong. I know a lot of people are still working through the damage. But this really does explain a lot to me. Thanks for your humor and your compassion. I will try to be more compassionate for those still caught up in the net of accusation and whining. I try to be compassionate in my own life--to approach from a perspective of mutual respect--while not enabling anyone to use my forehead for a welcome mat, either (a sometimes fine balance.) This explains a lot.

    Thanks very much. This is an excellent blog post.

  2. A treatise on compassion, respect, and leaving Scientology behind after you've left the buildings. Thank you, Jon. Namaste.

  3. Scientology conditions its members to view the tone of the outside world as one of "covert hostility," but this accurately describes the atmosfear inside Scientology.

  4. Thank you so much Jon, for this timely article. We need to stop hurting each other and get on with the business at hand - Taking out the "church" of Scientology


  5. I think you mean to ask "why can't we all just get along?"

    Seriously, though, compassion[1] is an absolutely key ingredient to being a critic. At the same time, forgetting the crimes that the criminal organisation known as the "church" of $cientology makes its victims perpetrate on each other, and sometimes on critics, is to be dishonest, IMHO.

    Along with compassion, one probably needs patience. I believe that several sources estimates that the time to recover from the Co$ mind-fuck is 10 years on average. During that time, the ex-victim sometimes does and says things with which I agree, sometimes fails to do / say things I want and then goes and does / says the exact opposite a few years later. That's life. Being patient with that process is a challenge.

    A "truth and reconciliation" committee is probably what is needed for ex-members to find a way to live with themselves and each other . It's just too bad that the victims of the mind-fuck perpetrated by the Co$ are conditioned to fragment (the behaviour you describe) and that there's no bishop Tutu at hand.

    As for trolling, I have to warn against considering all trolls the same. While a few trolls are indeed engaging in the sort of cyberbullying that should ruthlessly be removed from the Internet[2], the vast majority of the trolling that happens in the "upstairs" parts of WWP - to pick one example - is simply an excellent opportunity to educate the victims by stretching the cognitive dissonance. IMHO.

    The ability to disagree constructively is one that is ironed out of cult victims and one which needs nurturing even in a group of never-members.

    Only the cult needs to aggressively enforce agreement. I can chose to work with people with whom I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes wrong. That's part of being just a plain old Mk I human.

    [1] since they disdain compassion, this alone will stretch their cognitive dissonance; I have seen this happen at a protest

    [2] I.e. the internet equivalent of the actions against Paulette Cooper, the Indie splinter groups, etc etc

  6. Jon, this is absolutely outstanding. It's a message much needed at this time. Thank you so much for saying it so well. Respect!

  7. Thank you, Mr Atack. I respect you and shall take your words to heart.

  8. Spot on. Thank you.

  9. Nice article Jon. I was in Scientology for years and made it to OT7. I agree with a lot of what you say here. Although I would add that mankind in general has a lot of nasty characteristics. I do believe that auditing tech is a form of therapy that can be used to help a person get better. The group think inside of the cult is the more destructive influence in my opinion. If the therapy was delivered by a safe "rational" person who did not enforce things upon him then I think you might see better results in general.
    There is no perfect system.

  10. There may be no perfect systems, but the LRH system is one which only changes itself to reflect its inabilities and the need to keep selling new chunks of blue sky when the old one clouds over.
    Actual therapy as practised by the medical profession may not be perfect, but it doesn't lead to so easily preventable catastrophes as documented in the section on Hubbard and epilepsy on this very blog

  11. Great article ... well done, Jon!!! I like Jen's comment: "I think you mean to ask "why can't we all just get along?" - David Love