Wednesday 2 July 2014

Atack on Roux on Scientology

Earlier this year Scientologist Eric Roux gave a talk on his movement at a academic conference. How well do his claims stand up to scrutiny? Jon Atack marks his copy.

Jon Atack
Since today Eric Roux is presenting Scientology’s perspective on life to an audience of academics at SOCREL, organised by the British Sociological Association, now seems a good time to take a closer look at one of his previous talks.

Jon Atack, for those of you who don't know, is the author of the definitive history of Hubbard-era Scientology, Let's Sell these People a Piece of Blue Sky.

Below, I've put the excerpts from Roux's February presentation to the INFORm conference in London in italics, followed by Atack's response.

The links in the body of the text Jon Atack's, but the footnotes at the end are mine, added to help readers follow the trail of evidence he has laid out.

I've cut back substantially on the passages from Roux that Jon quoted, but you can find the full text over at his website. You might even want to start by going there and reading the complete talk before turning to Jon’s critique.

If anybody wants to chip in down in the comments section with other supporting material, they are more than welcome. Naturally, I have contacted Roux and invited him to respond.

Roux: In 1984, L. Ron Hubbard was no longer involved in Church management affairs and had not been for years.
Atack: Hubbard had continued to run Scientology through his ‘advices’, as attested by various former members of the management team – for instance, DeDe Reisdorf, who ran Scientology under Hubbard’s direction as Chairman of the Watchdog Committee in 1981, and Larry/Denise Brennan, who reformed the corporate structure of Scientology in the early 1980s. Chuck Beatty was privy to these advices and can attest that they were orders, which were complied with by Scientology management.1

Roux: He (Hubbard) was kept informed but his primary activity was to work on his research in order to complete his work regarding the Bridge to total freedom that was the culmination of a life of research and which he left for all those who wish to travel it.

Atack: Hubbard was incapacitated by dementia from about 1983. His post mortem showed that he was taking the psychiatric drug, vistaril, by the time of his death to counter the effects of dementia.2

Roux: The Church of Scientology, especially in the US, was undergoing some quite vicious attacks from some of its detractors, some of whom had the plan to close the Church down.

Atack: Eleven executives of Scientology, including Hubbard’s wife and immediate deputy, pled guilty to breaking and entering US government offices, theft, falsifying official credentials and false imprisonment of a whistle blower. Mary Sue Hubbard signed a confession over 200 pages long. The Sentencing Memorandum in US vs Jane Kember and Morris Budlong further shows the criminality for which Scientology was brought to book. Ron Hubbard was an “unindicted co-conspirator”, and documents clearly show that he ordered harassment of critics and the infiltration of government offices all over the world.3

Roux: … [P]art of this plan was a tremendous number of civil trials that had been instigated throughout America, on fabricated charges by Church detractors… and these false charges were repeated throughout every single state in the USA.

Atack: It should be added that Scientology is the most litigious organization since the beginning of history, and has initiated literally thousands of law suits. “The law can be used very easily to harass” as Scientology scripture states, urging that defectors should be “ruined utterly” by this means.4

The supposed conspiracy of “detractors” is fanciful. Thousands of people have a legitimate claim against Scientology. Many such claims have been upheld. Scientology’s admitted attempt to frame Paulette Cooper for a bomb threat clearly shows that she was not protected by any conspiracy, but rather the focus of a Scientology conspiracy to silence her. She is one of tens of people paid hush money by Scientology (and thankfully, it has not hushed her!).5

Former senior executive, Mark Rathbun, has asserted that there were 2,700 active suits at one point. [Urban, The Church of Scientology, p.171].6

Roux: Facing these attacks, Scientologists from all over the world decided to unite… formed the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) ... to unite all Scientologists as one international body “to Unite, advance and protect the Scientology religion”.

Atack: The IAS was formed not by consensus, but on the order of David Miscavige. In 1987, despite claims of as many as eleven million members, the IAS published documents showing that paid up membership was a mere 25,000, world wide, with a mere 15,000 who were new to Scientology paying for courses. The ‘war chest’ of the IAS was spent on litigation costs.

Roux: In Portland one particular trial had turned bad for the Church, the jury asking for many millions of dollars in damages for a Church apostate claiming to have been defrauded out of 3,000 dollars in course fees… That Church could not have afforded to pay the damages, even if it would have used all of its reserves.

Atack: Scientology had reserves in excess of $300 million when the Titchbourne case was ruled upon. The judgement, which included punitive damages for Scientology’s treatment of Titchbourne, both before and during the ensuing litigation, amounted to about ten per cent of these known assets.

Roux: … [T]his trial was set up to serve as a precedent in the US, and with dozens of other similar trials on-going, it represented the intention of bringing about a complete bankruptcy of Scientology internationally. This was the purpose of the opponents of the Church ...

Then, through the work of the IAS, 15 000 Scientologists from all over the world converged on Portland to protest this ruling which was a denial of the protection guaranteed by the first amendment of the US constitution, and asked the Presiding Judge to overturn the ruling. ... Tens of thousands of Scientologists united in the city.

Atack: About two thousand Scientologists attended the rally, but were bussed back to the beginning of the protest march, repeatedly, to make their numbers seem greater.7

Roux: … [T]he result was unmitigated success, as after having seen the proof that the plaintiff had been “deprogrammed” before having filed her complaint, that her witnesses were in fact acting as government agents, and that Scientology teachings were religious in nature, the judge overturned the judgment... .

Atack: The judge rescinded his judgement because of a statement made to the jury by a prosecution lawyer that challenged the religious status of Scientology, not because of any ‘deprogramming’. Scientology lost a similar case against Lawrence Wollersheim, and was forced to pay almost nine million dollars, despite protest marches where it asserted that it would pay ‘not one thin dime to Wollersheim.’

Roux: The Internal Revenue Service had opened a determined national campaign against all the different Churches of Scientology, refusing to allow them religious status … engaging in malicious rumour campaigns against Church leaders, harassing them by conducting fabricated charges for triggering criminal investigations against them…

Atack: Scientologists working for the ‘Church’ have been convicted in several countries for criminal activities.

Roux: In 1986, when L. Ron Hubbard passed away, the Church had to struggle past this point which can be seen as a critical test for every religious movement: the death of its founder. History showed that this test has been very successfully passed, but few really knew what the Church had to endure during the following years.

Atack: Nor indeed what critics of Scientology had to endure by way of harassment through litigation and by private detectives kept on permanent retainer by Scientology. Tony Ortega has shown that in the case of Pat Broeker alone, over $10 million was spent on maintaining a 24-hour watch for over 20 years.8 Scientology lost cases against Canadian judge Casey Hill, Lawrence Wollersheim, Richard and Bonnie Woods and Mary Johnston, among many others, for its treatment of them. It is startling that this should be claimed as some sort of conspiracy, when the evidence is clear that Scientology mercilessly harassed these people, and hundreds of others. Hubbard personally ordered that a cartoonist who had made a mildly derogatory comment about Scientology should have his livelihood ruined (Operation Funny Bone).

Roux: The battle with the IRS sometimes went to a point where the existence of the Church itself was endangered, and this continued up till 1991, when IRS finally agreed to conduct, at the insistence of the Church, a full and transparent examination (as opposed to biased) which lasted 2 years.

Atack: The investigation was by no means ‘transparent’ and aspects of the decision remain sealed to this day.

Roux: This became the most thorough inquiry that has ever been conducted of a religious movement, encompassing all the Church of Scientology’s worldwide activities including all financial records. It culminated with the issuance, by the IRS, of ruling letters, dated the 1st October 1993, recognizing the tax-exempt religious and charitable status of the Church of Scientology International - the mother church of the Scientology religion - and 150 affiliated Churches, missions and social betterment organizations.

Atack: It was determined that since the death of Hubbard, funds were no longer being funneled to a private citizen, as the IRS had found in earlier investigations. This was the reason for denial of exemption in earlier years. Hubbard left $648 million, almost every penny of which had come from Scientology.

Roux: This was of course a real turning point for Scientology not only in the US, but also worldwide. Indeed, even though Scientology had never ceased growing during these years, this engagement with the IRS consumed a lot of attention from Scientology leaders and management...

Atack: Scientology has a membership of about 25,000, and is more likely shrinking. Reports from around the world show that many organizations, including the major UK operation, are in decline.9

Roux: So, when in 1993 the Ecclesiastical leader of the Church Mr David Miscavige announced to thousands of Scientologists in Los Angeles “The War is Over”, he in fact announced that the real work of the Church could start, as all the resources used to fight this battle were now to be assigned to the fundamental mission of the Church: serving parishioners..., building new churches in every major city of the planet, conducting social betterment and humanitarian campaigns..., and other programs dedicated to forward the aims of Scientology: A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights...

Atack: Under this slogan, governments the world over were infiltrated by agents directed by the very man who claimed to want a civilization ‘without crime.’ Scientology is implicated in the insanity of certain of its former members. Wollersheim was able to prove in court that his own manic-depressive illness was caused by Scientology procedures. Lisa McPherson suffered a psychotic break down and died while under the care of leader David Miscavige. These are two examples among many. Many Scientologists have also committed suicide, see, for instance, the James Stewart case in Let’s sell these people A Piece of Blue Sky (‘The Empire Strikes Back’). Stewart was a Scientology executive, and was on Operating Level Three. He had been ordered to stop having epileptic fits. See also the tragic suicide of Hubbard’s son and successor, Quentin, who had achieved the highest level available in Scientology (ibid, ‘The Flag Land Base’).10

Roux: This was the start of a period of expansion for Scientology that has continued, as the USA became a “safe place” for Scientology, permitting the Church management to focus on global expansion plans… .

One of these major plans has been what Scientologists called the “Golden Age of Tech”, Tech being a shortened form for “Technology”, being the whole body of Scientology religious techniques aimed at bringing total freedom to individuals as spiritual beings… . The goal of auditing is to restore the innate ability of oneself, the spiritual being. This is accomplished by: (1) helping individuals rid themselves of any spiritual disabilities; (2) increasing spiritual abilities,. These “Golden Age of Tech” exercises had been compiled following instructions of the Founder, L Ron Hubbard and their compilation had necessitated hundreds of thousands hours of work … .

Atack: Scientology is a systematic form of thought reform. Its ‘processing’ (to use Hubbard’s term) uses profoundly hypnotic techniques to bring about euphoria and compliance. (Tweet this) Hubbard himself described the techniques used in his Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health as hypnotic, commenting in particular upon the counting technique and the ‘flickering of the eyelids’ as the subject entered trance. He banned use of these techniques for their hypnotic effect in 1951, yet they were reintroduced in the late 1970s and continue to be used. Many far-fetched claims continue to be made for Hubbard’s ‘technology’, but, as yet, no cure for cancer or leukemia has been shown; nor is there any individual who has become immune to illness or achieved perfect IQ. Nor has anyone demonstrated a single psychic ability, despite over six decades of claims.11

Roux: Between 2005 and 2010, Scientologists experienced the completion of a 25-year program to recover, verify and restore the Scripture of the Scientology religion… In all, these materials comprise more than 1,000 lectures and 500 written issues chronicling the day-to-day record of L. Ron Hubbard’s path of discovery in Dianetics and Scientology.

Atack: The sheer quantity of Hubbard instruction should be seen in light of his own statement: “In altitude teaching, somebody is a 'great authority.' He is probably teaching some subject that is far more complex than it should be. He has become defensive down through the years, and this is a sort of protective coating that he puts up, along with the idea that the subject will always be a little better known by him than by anybody else and that there are things to know in this subject which he really wouldn't let anybody else in on. This is altitude instruction ... It keeps people in a state of confusion, and when their minds are slightly confused they are in a hypnotic trance. Any time anybody gets enough altitude he can be called a hypnotic operator, and what he says will act as hypnotic suggestion. Hypnotism is a difference in levels of altitude. There are ways to create and lower the altitude of the subject, but if the operator can heighten his own altitude with regard to the subject the same way, he doesn't have to put the subject to sleep. What he says will still react as hypnotic suggestion.” (Hubbard, Research & Discovery, volume 4, p.324)12

Roux: This review culminated in November 2013 when the Church announced the release of what we called “Golden Age of Tech phase 2”. All these projects have tracked back the original writings and lectures of the founder, tens of millions of words which have been studied in chronological order, and compared to the various existing manuscripts and other primary records, in order to find any departure from the original and correct any impact it had on the delivery of Scientology to Scientologists. This has led to significant changes in the way the Bridge to total freedom is delivered to parishioners,... .

Atack: Levels which previously took tens of hours – at hundreds of dollars per hour – now take hundreds of hours – at hundreds of dollars per hour. Christian Szurko, one of the most eminent authorities on cults and hypnosis, has pointed out that where other groups have only a handful of hypnotic techniques, Scientology uses every available method, in hundreds of procedures. The frequent conflicts and contradictions between Hubbard’s statements have not been addressed. For some of these, see my paper “Never Believe a Hypnotist”.13

Roux: This project has been driven not so much by an ideological desire to have something in its original form but quite simply because, as has been experienced again and again by scientologists, when the technology is applied correctly, it works.

Atack: Scientology has signally failed to achieve any of the many claims of physical and psychological cure made by Hubbard. A few of these fantastical claims can be found here.

Roux: In addition, a major auditing action never released previously, described by Ron Hubbard as able to put Scientologists into a new realm of ability enabling them to create a new world, was released for the first time… .

Atack: It has been asserted by Scientology sales people, contrary to scientific observation, that there is a band around the earth which houses ‘implant stations’ where spirits go after they die to be ‘reprogrammed’ before being returned to earth for reincarnation. Scientologists are warned that if they do not take the Super Power Rundown, at a cost of thousands of dollars, they will be snared by these implant stations when they die.14

There is no explanation of the invisibility of these implant stations to satellites, telescopes or space travellers. Hubbard also asserted that both Mars and Venus are populated by ‘invader forces’ waiting to attack the earth. How they survive the furious temperatures on Venus has not been explained, nor why their encampments have never been sighted by planetary rovers or powerful telescopes. As to the ‘new realm of ability’, none of the many claims made for Dianetics and Scientology has been scientifically demonstrated, almost 65 years since the first claims were made. This ‘new realm of ability’ is simply the capacity to mouth the slogans implanted by involvement with Scientology. The harassment of critics shows the moral inadequacy of these teachings.

Hubbard’s own multiple drug abuse and 100-a-day cigarette habit must cause us to question the efficacy of his ‘drug rehabilitation’ system. Hubbard admitted to barbiturate addiction, advocated the use of amphetamines, and was at times a heavy drinker (“Never Believe a Hypnotist” and Let’s sell these people A Piece of Blue Sky).

Roux: In parallel to these programs, another program has been run for some years in the world of Scientology. It’s called the Ideal Orgs program (Ideal org means ideal organization, ideal church). This program is aimed at making Scientology available to a greater numbers of people and consists of opening new church buildings throughout the world, with each of these buildings being either newly built or purchased and fully renovated to meet the highest standards and full panoply of delivery of Scientology religious services… .

Atack: Staff in these ‘ideal orgs’ work a ninety hour week for a few dollars. They are kept from their children, or indeed persuaded to have abortions, so that they will have no children. Diets are poor. Housing is scandalously inadequate. Staff may be punished by being refused a bed or forced to subsist on table scraps. There is no health insurance and health care is notoriously poor. Staff are often expected to work through the night. There is a culture of humiliation and bullying, where staff are screamed at during ‘severe reality adjustments’. There is nothing ‘ideal’ about the way Scientology treats its staff. Worst of all is the Rehabilitation Project Force, a prison camp where members may expect to serve at least three years. They often sleep without beds (‘pigs’ berthing’), cannot speak unless spoke to by a superior, must comply with any order or be forced to run laps; they subsist on a diet of scraps or rice and beans (for years on end). See Professor Stephen Kent’s analysis of the RPF.

Roux: To date, dozens of Ideal Orgs have opened their doors in major cities across four continents, and new ones are dedicated each month… .

Atack: It would be helpful to know the size of these ‘Orgs’, many of which are merely renamed ‘Ideal Orgs’. It would also be helpful to know how many have since closed. In 1992, Scientology claimed 1,039 organizations. Rather more than this ‘expansion’ currently claims. [What is Scientology?]

Roux: While this is just a rapid overview of these last 30 years for Scientology, doesn’t include many other developments in the Church during these years, I can say that there was a real turning point in our history in 1993 with the US recognition… . Even if there are still some skirmishes here and there, the recognition of Scientology as a bona fide religion has spread to many other countries… . On 17 October 2013, in the Netherlands, the Appeal Court of Amsterdam, in addition to recognizing Scientology as an authentic religion, granted it public benefit status after having ruled that the purpose and objective of participating in Scientology religious services was no different than the purpose and objective of participating in the religious services of other religious institutions. And here in United Kingdom, as many of you will know, on 11 December 2013, the United Kingdom Supreme Court ruled that Scientology was a religion and that the London Church of Scientology chapel “is a place of meeting for religious worship within section 2 of the Places of Worship Registration Act”. The Supreme Court accordingly ordered that the Scientology chapel be registered as a place of worship and as a place for the solemnisation of marriages and in so doing brought the definition of religion, as viewed by the British courts, from the 19th to the 21st century.

Atack: On this point, it must be stated that religious status has long been afforded to the satanic Temple of Set in the US. The test is not whether the ‘religion’ is socially beneficial, but whether believers believe. Tax exemption is given to organizations where monies do not go to private pockets, as was the case with Scientology from its foundation (as Dianetics) in 1950 to the death of its creator, Ron Hubbard, in 1986. The UK Charity Commissioners, whose test is whether a group is beneficial to society have repeatedly denied Scientology charitable status.

Roux: In conclusion, … I would say that 30 years ago, the Church was struggling for its very existence because of the intensity of the attacks against it, but that since then, it has won a sufficient number of battles for it to be no longer struggling for its existence and has reached the point where this is a foregone conclusion and it is now able to concentrate on the help it can bring to peoples of the world, through its religious services delivered to a growing numbers of parishioners throughout 167 countries, and through its social betterment programs which now reach millions of people every year.

Atack: Scientology has made the same sort of claims about its spread and influence since about 1965, when David Gaiman, an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in the US case against Scientology, said that there were five million Scientologists. By 1990, official spokespeople for Scientology were claiming eleven million members. In 1992’s What is Scientology? it is claimed that 493,685 people took Scientology ‘services’ for the first time in 1990. However, in 1987, the International Association of Scientologists’ membership report showed only 15,000 people new to Scientology from October 1986-September 1987. Yet, 150,924 were claimed for 1985, in What is Scientology, in 1992. Just over 2,000 people claimed to be Scientologists in the official UK census, in 2011.
1   Reisdorf worked closely with the Hubbards in the 1970s at the time Hubbard's wife Mary Sue was arrested and eventually jailed for her part in the illegal activities of the Guardian's Office.
Reisdorf told Janet Reitman: "We all knew that Mary Sue ran pretty much everything by him ... maybe not the details of each mission, but up until then, he was very much in the loop on the Guardian's Office stuff." Page 119 of Reitman's Inside Scientology (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).
In the early 1980s, Brennan was involved in setting up "Mission Corporate Category Sort-Out" (MCCS) a new corporate structure for Scientology. He wrote in a May 6, 2008 declaration: "It was expected that the structure hide the fact the Hubbard really was in control of organized scientology and was getting money for same."
Chuck Beatty, who spent 27 years in Scientology's Sea Org cadre until leaving in 2003, gave me details of these advices in correspondence a few years ago.
In an April 2007 email to me, Beatty explained that Hubbard's advices were ...simply despatch orders transferred to despatch format from the tape recorded words dictated by Hubbard onto tape recorder tape routinely by his messengers, who recorded Hubbard when he wanted to issue orders...
He added: On the compilations project I was on in 1983-84, doing my job of researching ALL of Hubbard's administrative orders, I had to skim through many thousands of “advices”. And later, in 93-94, I saw the several thousand advices Hubbard issued to Author Services Inc (ASI) , when I proof-read them to ensure no typographical errors on the copies of Hubbard's advices on ASI's computer system, when I was the computer operations officer over the ASI computers for those years. My estimate there must be around 10,000 total "advices" (Hubbard's day-to-day orders that are in 1-page to multi-page despatch format).
2   See here for the coroner's report on Hubbard, the toxicology report and Hubbard's death certificate.
3  This passage from the sentencing memorandum in the same case shows what the court thought of Ron Hubbard's role – and the movement's complete lack of repentance for what it had done:
Moreover, we submit that in imposing any sentence upon these two defendants, the Court should consider the deterrent effect which a severe sentence will have upon others – besides the defendant Jane Kember who apparently remains the Guardian World-Wide, all other members of the Guardian's Office, and L. Ron Hubbard himself, the ultimate responsible authority. It is clear from the press releases issued by Scientology following the jury's verdict, and their vicious actions against another member of this Court, that they have yet to learn the error of their criminal ways.
(Emphasis added.)
4  “The law can be used very easily to harass...” From Hubbard's 1955 The Scientologist, A Manual on the Dissemination of Material.
6   Urban is citing a 2009 interview that the St Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) conducted with Rathbun: he told the paper: “I was tasked with implementing strategies to try to overwhelm the IRS like they were attempting to overwhelm us – it was sort of like a fight-fire-with-fire situation... it was a huge battlefield that was nationwide. It was literally twenty-seven hundred suits ( 2,700) at one point...” You can find the reference to 2,700 lawsuits just over seven minutes into the filmed section titled “From Renovation to IRS...”. In a January 2014 post at his own website, Rathbun writes of more than 2,200 lawsuits against the IRS, but the point stands.
Jon's more general observation about Scientology's enthusiasm for litigation is supported by the movement's own literature. Have a look at page 22 of Impact magazine, Issue N° 125 (this is the magazine of the International Association of Scientology). Here they are celebrating an IAS campaign against psychiatry which involved intensive litigation against GlaxoSmithKline over its anti-depressant Paxil. “The lead attorney coordinating no less than 2,700 lawsuits, also the recipient of the CCHR Human Rights Award, was part of the team that won the test case,” says the report.
The CCHR of course is the Citizens Commissions on Human Rights, which Scientology co-founded.
7   For more on Scientology's campaign against the Titchbourne case, see Atack's dialogue with Tony Ortega at The Underground Bunker last year. In particular, of the numbers involved, he said: “One organizer of the 1985 march later told me about the elaborate bus system used to bring marchers back to the beginning of the parade to trick the numbers up. Even the two thousand then could be an overestimate.”
8   For more on this, see Tony Ortega's landmark piece “Scientology's Master Spies” from November 2012 at The Underground Bunker.
9   Atack has been saying this for years and a Village Voice piece by Tony Ortega bears this out. He talked to former senior Scientology executive such as Jeff Hawkins who had seen recent internal documents and checked census records, arriving at the same figure.
10   For more on these deaths and others, see the Why Are They Dead archive. Here's Tony Ortega's Village Voice write-up of the Wollersheim case.
11   For a summary of medical claims made for Scientology, see this section of, which is an excellent resource. Have a look too at my write-up of this 1984 death at a Narconon centre in France; and my two-part investigation into the death of Heribert Pfaff.
12   For more on this subject see Atack's essay, "Never Believe a Hypnotist”.
13   Christian Szurko runs the Dialog Centre UK, which describes itself as “...a non-denominational Christian organization serving people regardless of their religious orientation. We offer assistance to the members and ex-members of abusive religious, political and philosophical groups, and to their family and friends.”
14   If you think Atack is exaggerating then try this April 2013 piece from Tony Ortega's Underground Bunker, which comes complete with a lengthy excerpt from a talk by Hubbard himself about implant stations.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

The Cult Wars: a beginner's guide

Scientologist Eric Roux will be addressing another academic conference this week. Will there be anyone on hand to challenge his claims?

Eric Roux
Frenchman Eric Roux is arguably Scientology's most prominent ambassador in Europe. A member for more than 20 years, his current post is President of the Union of the Church of Scientology in France.

During the later stages of Scientology's court battle in France he spoke for the Paris Celebrity Centre, one of two Scientology organisations convicted of organised fraud.

He gave a composed and polished performance at the Paris appeal court, even if his testimony did not in the end sway the judges. In October last year the Cour de Cassation, France's top court, confirmed the landmark convictions against the movement.1

Roux describes himself as a religious freedom campaigner and has spoken on the issue at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), at the Council of Europe and in Washington.2

He also sits on the Steering Committee of the European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF), an organisation whose origins are not entirely clear (anybody heard of Djemad Sedik?).

Roux keeps followers posted on his activities via a blog and a Twitter account. And in addition to his media appearance and other campaign work he also addresses academic conferences.

As reported earlier at Infinite Complacency, in February of this year Roux gave a presentation at the INFORM conference in London: “Scientology: from controversy to global expansion and recognition”.

INFORM, the Information Network on Religious Movements founded by Professor Eileen Barker goes out of its way to build dialogue with movements such as Scientology. It does not consider confronting such groups to be part of its role.

On Wednesday, at the University of Sussex in England, Roux will address another audience of academics, this time on: “Scientology versus Crisis: New Religious Approach or Old Schemes Remodelled?”

This time he is a panellist at a meeting of the British Sociological Association at SOCREL, its annual conference on the sociology of religion.

Is Roux's presence at the conference an issue? Of course not: he has every right to tell the truth as he sees it to whoever wants to listen.

But it does seem worth asking if anyone will be on hand to present the other side of the story – especially given Scientology's troubled relationship with the truth.

Here is what the movement's founder, L. Ron Hubbard had to say on the subject:

THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN CONTROL PEOPLE IS TO LIE TO THEM. You can write that down in your book in great big letters. The only way you can control anybody is to lie to them. … He's got to tell you lies in order to continue control, because the second you start telling anybody close to the truth, you start releasing him and he gets tougher and tougher to control. So, you can't control somebody without telling them a bunch of lies.3

Roux's co-panellists at SOCREL are Donald Westbrook, an academic doing research into Scientology; and lawyer and rights activist Alessandro Amicarelli.

Amicarelli has quite rightly denounced Russia's persecution of Scientology as a violation of human rights.

But the title of his talk at SOCREL suggests more scepticism towards counter-cult groups than to Scientology iself: “The Church of Scientology, from the Attacks of Secto-phobic Groups to the Victories in the Courts: A New Slant on Life for the Heirs of Hubbard?”

Amicarelli's work is cited in five separate posts at the EIFRF website; Roux quotes him approvingly on his Twitter feed. Difficult then to see any tough questions coming from this side of the panel.

Donald Westbrook is a young academic conducting research into Scientology. He takes the movement seriously as a religion and has criticised France's heavy-handed approach to “cult-like excesses”.

It looks then, as if both Roux’s fellow panellists come from the same side in the so-called “cult wars” – the longstanding, acrimonious dispute among scholars over how best to study movements such as Scientology.

For those of you who arrived late, here's a rough map of the battlefield – painted with a broad brush, admittedly.

Hawks, doves and zombies

The conventional approach to movements such as Scientology and others is to label them as abusive cults who practise mind control to manipulate recruits into switching their loyalty from family and friends to the group, with often disastrous consequences.

But while not denying that some movements can be destructive, some academics argue that the situation is not quite so clear-cut.

Some people have perfectly legitimate reasons for joining and staying in these movements, they say – and not all of those who leave necessarily see their time inside the group as having been uniformly negative.

They also argue that we need to get rid of the negative preconceptions we bring to the debate about such movements – which is why they object to the word "cult". The word is problematic because it is a loaded term, packed with negative connotations – it is, in effect, a “thought-stopping cliché” to put it in terms students of mind control might recognise.4

For this reason, these academics prefer what they consider the more neutral expression, New Religious Movement, or NRM.5 This, broadly, is the position taken by INFORM and Professor Barker.

Other organisations however, most notably the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), take a different line.

These scholars, while acknowledging the problems with a loaded term such as “cult”, argue that if the cap fits, wear it – and Scientology, for one, fits most definitions of a cult.

Try this one on for size, from Michael Langone and the late Louis J. West, both veterans of the ICSA (or American Family Foundation as was):

Cult (totalist type): A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.), designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community.6

At the ICSA website, an article by Langone and the late Herbert Rosedale acknowledges the problems with the term.

Even though we have each studied cults and educated people about this subject for more than 20 years, neither of us has ever felt completely comfortable with the term “cult”.

No other term, however, serves more effectively the linked educational and research aims of ICSA...”7

And if the cap fits...

One reason he C-word remains problematic is because most definitions incorporate some description of psychological manipulation or “mind control”. And the issue of “brainwashing” is another of the main fronts in the cult wars.

Many scholars were extremely sceptical of the cruder versions of brainwashing that were circulating in the 1970s: they argued that it was too easy to use it as an excuse to justify forced deprogramming. It is hard to disagree.

In the early years of what some observers considered was the moral scare over cults, some anti-cult activists did use the mind control argument very much as a blunt instrument.

These people considered the members of such groups to be little more than preprogrammed zombies – and that, for them, was enough to justify extreme measures to force people to snap out of the "cult mindset": measures such as deprogramming by force.

Coercive deprogramming is when you hold someone against their will until you can convince them they have been victims of cult mind control (or until they can convince you that you have convinced them).

Thinking has moved on a fair bit since then: advocates on both sides of the argument have more sophisticated models of the control mechanisms used inside Scientology and other movements. And most people acknowledge that old-style coercive deprogramming cannot be justified.

While there are still some scholars who question that there is any such thing as mind control, most observers appear to accept that – even if the idea needs to be treated with caution – it is not meaningless to talk in terms of undue influence.

Today, the real debate appears to be over how far it can be used to explain people's behaviour – how much heavy lifting it can do in the debate over cults.8

But if we acknowledge that there is such a thing as mind control/undue influence/coercive persuasion, there can be little doubt that it exists inside Scientology. At the very least, the movement inculcates an intolerance for – a resistance to – any information challenging its beliefs.

Consider how determined Scientologists are to avoid contact with entheta – material critical of Scientology – to avoid hampering spiritual development. (How's that for a thought-stopping cliché?)9

And consider the overwhelming pressure members come under to shun or disconnect from loved ones declared suppressive: enemies of the movement. Arguably this is Scientology's most effective – and most destructive – mechanism of control.

Despite this there are still some academics who have long been willing to take too much that Scientology and other controversial movements say about themselves at face value.

They have reserved their scepticism for disillusioned former members who have gone public to denounce the movement.

These scholars often dismiss the horror stories of “apostates” on the grounds that disenchanted former members excluded from such movements clearly have their own agenda, their own axe to grind – never considering that this is equally true of both sides.

This is not unlike the line taken by staunch communists in the 1930s and beyond, who dismissed the horror stories told by former communists turned dissidents as the lies of class traitors.

These loyalists – including many intellectuals and academics – were too naïve or too ideologically blinkered to consider the possibility that life in the Soviet bloc was anything other than double-plus good.

So one can’t help wondering: is it bad form at SOCGEN to contradict the guests?

Don't worry: just in case it is, we've invited Jon Atack to correct Eric Roux's copy.

1   See here for the first part of his testimony and here for the second part. He was not himself a defendant in the case.
2   You can find a bio in this document relating to the INFORM conference earlier this year.
3   Hubbard, Technique 88: “On Control and Lying”.
4   The “thought-stopping cliché” of course is one of the elements set down by Robert Jay Lifton as a key component of thought reform in his classic study Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.
5   More recently I've also seen the term NARMS: New Religious and Alternative Religous Movement.
Regular readers of Tony Ortega's site, The Underground Bunker, will know that he too has reservations about using the word “cult”, though for entirely different reasons. For Ortega, the whole “cult-church” debate is distraction from the real issues. See his dialogue with Jon Atack on this point from earlier this year – and note Jon Atack's reasons of taking a very different position on the question: “Jon Atack: Why I call Scientology a Cult and not a Church”.
6   FWest, L. J., & Langone, M. D. (1986). “Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers.” Cultic Studies Journal, 3, 117-134 – and quoted in the cited Rosedale-Langone article.
7   Here are the concluding lines of the same piece: Even though the term “cult” has limited utility, it is so embedded in popular culture that those of us concerned about helping people harmed by group involvements or preventing people from being so harmed cannot avoid using it. Whatever the term's limitations, it points us in a meaningful direction. And no other term relevant to group psychological manipulation (e.g., sociopsychological influence, coercive persuasion, undue influence, exploitative manipulation) has ever been able to capture and sustain public interest, which is the sine qua non of public education. If, however, we cannot realistically avoid the term, let us at least strive to use it judiciously. From the ICSA article “On using the term 'cult'”, by Herbert Rosedale and Michael Langone.
8   For more on the debate over mind control, see Misunderstanding Cults: searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field (University of Toronto Press, 2001): in particular Part Two of the book.
9   For a more detailed treatment of influence techniques used inside Scientology, see Jon Atack's “Never Believe a Hypnotist”.