“We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible. You cannot educate a man wholly out of the superstitious fears which were implanted in his imagination, no matter how utterly his reason may reject them.” -Oliver Wendel Holmes
Recently, I’ve been reading a book that I’d been waiting to pop up on a Half Price book shelf, ever since I saw the author speak at a book signing event a couple years ago. The title of the book is Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by local Austin writer, Lawrence Wright. At one point, the book shot to #4 on the New York Times Best Sellers List for Non-Fiction, which is an astounding achievement for a book that digs deeply into a notoriously litigious and quite often dangerously vindictive cult. Now, award-winning director, Alex Gibney, has turned it into a documentary to air on HBO. Scientology has targeted just about any investigative reporter, whether they hailed from the National Inquirer, Newsweek, or Time Magazine with libel suits, harassment, intimidation, surveillance, and any number of other tactics from their bag of dirty tricks. So, it is with admiration and amazement that such a high-profile author as Lawrence Wright, who had previously won a Pulitzer for his book The Looming Tower about the 9/11 hijackers wrote this detailed account of Scientology. As he said during the talk I saw, he has been primarily interested in the nature of belief systems (particularly fanatical and fundamental styles of belief) that cause them to go to extreme lengths, including willing to die, in order to promulgate them the world over.
As you’re probably aware, it all began with an eccentric, insatiably driven, prolific author, and charismatic megalomaniac/conman by the name of L. Ron Hubbard, who was the infamous founder of Scientology just as he’s spoken of as a god by Scientologists, ever since he died back in 1986. This sea-faring adventurer was a voracious writer of stories of all kinds, an experimental technological tinkerer, con artist, a womanizer, and could be a tyrannical perfectionist willing to smash to bits all who dared get in his way or unwilling to do things his way. With any controversial figure, it’s extremely difficult to separate the man from the myth, the fact from the legend, especially when much of the myth and legend was printed by L.R. Hubbard himself. The truth, however, often lies somewhere in the middle between the demi-god that Hubbard was fashioned into by the church and the complete degenerate asshole that his staunch enemies would paint him as. However, by most accounts, L. Ron Hubbard was his own worst enemy in the end, when you fully consider the sordid saga of his rise to notoriety through a kind of ruthless paranoia and perfectionism that was able to create a fanatical following among his people. This handful of followers were no doubt taken by his cocksure bravado, imagined self-importance, and desire to clear themselves of their own characteristic shortcomings through the so-called E-Meter auditing sessions that they felt would eventually “clear them of suppressive behavior” (SP) as Hubbard called it. Plus, the radical experimentation with novel and bizarre religious beliefs were at their peak in the late 1960s and early 70s when the church of Scientology really took off in terms of numbers.
However, according to L. Ron Hubbard’s own son, Scientology was merely another scheme and ruse of Hubbard’s to make money by starting his own religion…or at least what passed for one using its own unique abbreviations and linguistic mysticisms in their lavishly furnished offices around the world. Hubbard’s particular pseudo-psychological psychobabble was tailor made for those wannabe actors, screenwriters, directors, singers, and entertainers of all stripes trying desperately to gain an edge over their formidable competition to become “known” in showbiz. Scientology was new, high tech, glamorous, hip, and above all knew how to cater to the shallow insecurities of Hollywood celebrities, who would eventually become its biggest spokesmen over the years. Naturally, if you actually rise through the OT ranks in order to gain their so-called secret wisdom to learn what Scientology claims is the origin of humanity to OTIII, it’s absolutely hysterical as the awesome show South Park depicted it. However, even the fearless satirical show of South Park would pay the price of losing Issac Hayes (who played Chef) given that he was a Scientologist along with Comedy Central and the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, being spied upon for a potential smear campaign that is like trying to smear shit on snot.
Now, we know that the church of Scientology uses coercion, threats, intimidation, beatings, blackmail, and even imprisonment in what’s known as the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF). In what was a watershed moment for the church, a major raid was conducted by the FBI in 1977, when they learned about what is known as Operation Snow White. Just what, exactly, was Operation Snow White? Apparently, on April 20th, 1973, L. Ron Hubbard wrote a secret order codenamed “Snow White”. Its goal, in part, was to find as many damning files in government intelligence offices that it felt was being used in order to suppress the church from further expansion. Hubbard tasked the Guardian’s Office with this special mandate that included intelligence gathering, filing lawsuits to intimidate opponents, and attacking mental health professionals. According to the book Going Clear, in just “a few years, as many as five thousand Scientologists were covertly placed in 136 government agencies worldwide. Project Grumpy, for instance, covered Germany, where the Guardian’s Office was set up to infiltrate Interpol as well as German police and immigration authorities. In addition, there was a scheme to accuse German critics of the church of committing genocide. Project Sleepy was to clear files in Austria; Happy was for Denmark, Bashful for Belgium, and Dopey for Italy.” Given how extensive were the operations against Germany, it’s little wonder that the government moved to ban them at one point from the country for being a subversive cult rather than a religion.
Wright continues with, “Projects Witch and Stepmother both targeted the UK, the source of Scientology’s immigration problems. Project Hunter was the United States, where Scientologists penetrated the IRS, the Justice, Treasury, and Labor Departments, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as foreign embassies and consulates…” They also infiltrated several newspapers that were critical of Scientology in the past including the Washington Post. It didn’t end there, however, as Wright describes how- “In an evident attempt at blackmail, they stole the LA IRS intelligence files of celebrities and political figures, including California governor Jerry Brown, LA mayor Tom Bradley, and Frank Sinatra. Nothing in American history can compare with the scale of domestic espionage of Operation Snow White.” [Italics my emphasis]
When the FBI raided what was called the Scientology’s Advanced Org building in Los Angeles, they were shocked at what they found down in the darkened corridors of the basement. As Wright describes it, “They found a warren of cubicles, each occupied by half a dozen people dressed in black boiler suits and wearing filthy rags around their arms to indicate their degraded status. Altogether, about 120 people were huddled in the pitch-black basement, serving time in the Rehabilitation Project Force. The ranks of the RPF had expanded along with the church’s need for cheap labor to renovate its recently purchased buildings in Hollywood. The federal agents had no idea what they were seeing. Within moments, a representative of the church’s Guardian’s Office arrived and began shouting at the agents that they were exceeding the limits of their search warrants. Seeing that the Sea Org members posed no threat to them, the agents shrugged and moved on. It is instructive to realize that none of the Sea Org members consigned to the RPF dungeon took the opportunity to escape. If the FBI had bothered to interrogate them, it’s unlikely that any of them would have said that they were there against their will.”
They were what you could truly call “dyed in the wool” believers and would therefore never leave. However, even if they wanted to leave, fear of reprisal and severe punishment by the church hierarchy was often enough to prevent them attempting escape. Once L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, the current head of the church took over and is certainly the most feared of all in the church hierarchy…David Miscavige. According to whistle-blower accounts of Scientology by defectors, Miscavige makes up for any lack of charm and charisma that L. Ron Hubbard had through his penchant for sadistic terror and unpredictable rage at his underlings. Although he showed sociopathological behavior early on (at one point even beating up his Pre-Clear auditor when he was only 13-years-old), David advanced quickly through the ranks of the Sea Org due to his energy and commitment to Scientology. He credited the church with curing his asthma, even though it really never did. Regardless, he joined the Sea Org at 16 and was thought to have filled the spot that might have typically been reserved for Hubbard’s son Quentin. Wright aptly describes Miscavige (who you can see in a very rare interview back in 1992 on Ted Koppel’s Nightline) as, “tough, tireless, and doctrinaire.”
However, most of the public knows Scientology not by its head figure, David Miscavige, or even by its patron saint and founder L. Ron Hubbard but rather by some of their more glassy-eyed followers that have achieved a degree of fame. The most conspicuous and fanatical follower is, of course, Tom Cruise. Probably next on that list would be John Travolta, who began going to Scientology before he became a household name with TV sitcoms like “Welcome Back Kotter” and movies like “Saturday Night Fever”. Besides these two, however, are many other celebrities of varying degrees of fame, who have walked through the doors of Scientology at one point or another. Some of those that kept coming back and no doubt spending a small fortune in the process were such notables as Priscilla Presley, Kirstie Alley, and director Paul Haggis. Scientology, like Hollywood, breeds the in the murky waters of the desire for omnipotence and its attendant self-importance and vanity. Both are, likewise, a carefully crafted illusion that reflect nothing nothing except perhaps the hollow desperation of their respective beliefs.
The Academy Awards are emblematic of the vacuousness of fame where actors’ innate need for admiration and attention, given to a politically select few decided upon by other actors and directors, make up the Academy. The pomp and sanctimonious gala is mediated through the exchange of little golden idols called Oscars that represent in miniature what the actors hoped to be all along, the object of worship for millions in this country and the rest of the world. For Scientology, the illusion of its promise takes on a far more dangerous imprimatur beginning with its students signing a contract for “a billion years of service” to the church of Scientology. At what point, one may ask, does the illusionary masks worn by both thespian and Scientology alike become the master of the persona and not merely another face fitting the function of the occasion?
One of the stranger phenomenons that I’ve noticed is actors affiliated with Scientology being in a disproportionate number of movies where the mask has been a major motif. Think about it. John Travolta in the movie “Face Off”. Tom Cruise in “Vanilla Sky”, “Mission Impossible”, and the incredibly beguiling “Eyes Wide Shut”. All had depictions of masks as literal and symbolic manifestations within the movie that were key elements in the plot. What might be the significance of the mask symbolism to those within Scientology, given what we know about its inherent duplicity and ability to hide from public scrutiny behind the celebrity faces that make up its roster of adherents? Hollywood, as we’ve come to learn from former child actors like Corey Feldman and his late best friend Corey Haim, hides a dark secret behind the glitz and glamor in front of the camera. As a previous post that I wrote alluded to an interview Feldman gave and perhaps elaborates in his autobiography “Coreyography”, there are a few major Hollywood moguls, directors, and actors that are known to be pedophiles. He wouldn’t comment in terms of names, but there are some clues as to who they might be that were we to follow up on them might lead us to their door. At that point, as the FBI clearly isn’t going to do anything about it, we might as well give “To Catch A Predator” a call.