The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

The Decline and (Probable) Fall
of the Scientology Empire!

Jim Lippard reviews two books: Janet Reitman’s book Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, ISBN 978-0618883028) and Hugh Urban’s The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion (Princeton University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0691146089). This article was published in Skeptic magazine 17.1 in 2011.

THERE WAS ONCE A MAN who considered himself an explorer, a military hero, a mystic, a philosopher, a nuclear physicist, and an expert in human nature. In fact, he was none of these things. He was an adventurer, a writer of pulp fiction, and a teller of tall tales. He was a college dropout, a bigamist, convicted of petty theft and fraud, and named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a plot to infiltrate and steal information from U.S. government agencies. Despite his unimpressive physique, he was a larger-than- life, charismatic figure who persuaded thousands of people to believe in and pay large sums of money to learn more about a view of the world he constructed from a foundation of pseudoscience, bad philosophy, science fiction, and space opera. He came to believe his own claims of developing the power to shape the world to his tastes and improve one’s physical and especially mental states through specific techniques he invented that precluded all psychiatric drugs, and yet he died alone with matted hair and rotting teeth, with the anti-anxiety drug Vistaril in his system.

He left behind a multi-million dollar global empire of organizations that continue to generate interest, money, and controversy, much as they did during his lifetime, and it transformed itself in various ways, from its start as a replacement for psychotherapy, to a new religion or “applied religious philosophy,” to a set of “technologies” to be marketed and sold for the purposes of education, business management, drug abuse treatment, reducing prisoner recidivism, and combatting abuses of psychiatry. After a short period of uncertainty after his death, another man assumed authority by systematically eliminating potential competitors and controlling the flow of information within the organizations.

But now the flow of information has become virtually impossible to control, and as a result, the empire shows signs of crumbling. With the aid of the Internet, those inside and outside the organizations that make up the Church of Scientology can easily find and communicate with each other, and realize that there are others who share their views and concerns. Records of past abuses in the form of documents and personal testimony are but a few short clicks away using a search engine. Virtual communities online have sprung up and flourished, and real-life actions have been recorded and displayed online for all to see, producing new conditions of mutual knowledge about what has been going on in past years, and what’s going on now.1

Two books published earlier this year, Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion , together provide new insight into recent events in the history of the Church of Scientology and the story that continues to unfold, much of it visible online through blogs and YouTube videos. Inside Scientology by Rolling Stone investigative journalist Janet Reitman is a comprehensive and engaging look into the precepts, organizational structure, and history of Scientology. She tells the Church’s history largely through narratives about life within the organization taken from interviews of both major figures who achieved a high rank within the organization (who recently left), and ordinary staff members— what attracted them to Scientology, what kept them in the group, and how they got out when they chose to leave.2 She also looks briefly at the lives of young people raised in Scientology, some of whom are aware of the abuses but are still members. The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion by Ohio State University religious studies professor Hugh B. Urban is a comparatively thin volume that takes a more academic approach and focuses more narrowly on the history of Scientology as a religion. He asks whether it counts as a legitimate religion or a mere simulacrum of one, and who gets to decide. His book looks in detail at Scientology’s penchant for secrecy and “cold war” intelligence practices, its battles with the IRS for tax-exempt status, and its conflicts with the Internet and the “Anonymous” collective, devoting a full chapter to each of these.

The practices and history of the Church of Scientology have been discussed in detail in numerous prior books noted above, but Reitman’s is probably the best comprehensive overview in one book that has yet been produced.3 Urban’s is a unique contribution covering new ground, which also stands on its own, but together they are complementary, with Urban filling in more detail where Reitman’s coverage is scanty, such as on Scientology’s battles with the Internet.4

What follows will recount some of what is new and different in these books, including how Scientology became a religion, how David Miscavige assumed control of the organization after its founder’s death, how it won its battle for tax-exempt status with the IRS, and how the death of Lisa McPherson, Tom Cruise’s renewed zeal for the church, and its battles on the Internet have contributed to its decline and the exposure of abuses going on inside.

L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics, and Scientology’s Transition
to a Religion

Any history of Scientology must begin with the biography of its founder, pulp science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who had an extensive record of biographical fabrication and exaggeration.5 While there is little new material on Hubbard’s life or the early days of Dianetics and Scientology in either Reitman’s or Urban’s books, both present it from new perspectives. Reitman uses the personal accounts of recent ex-Scientologists such as Jeff Hawkins, who discovered Scientology in 1967 in Sierra Madre Canyon after becoming dissatisfied with the hippie scene, and ended up signing a billion-year contract and living on a ship in Hubbard’s Sea Organization before it came ashore in Clearwater, Florida. Urban, on the other hand, identifies precursors of Scientology tenets in Hubbard’s experiences and fiction, arguing that Hubbard was an entrepreneur and “spiritual bricoleur,” using the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s term for “a creative recycler of cultural wares who ‘appropriate[s] another range of commodities by placing them in a symbolic ensemble’” (p. 29). Those precursors include excerpts from an unpublished Hubbard work titled Excalibur, written in 1938, which suggests that Hubbard learned the secrets of reality from a near-death experience during an operation (p. 37).

Both authors steer clear of some of the more embarrassing details of Hubbard’s life, including his expressions of racism and homophobia,6 although Urban does point out the anti-religious sentiments expressed by Hubbard in some of his early 1950s lectures, which were particularly critical of Christianity. For example, there is a recording of Hubbard stating that there “was no Christ” and that the idea of the crucifixion is part of an “implant,” or fixed false memory designed to be harmful to the recipient, called “R6.” It is worthy of note (though neither Urban nor Reitman do) that Hubbard reported reading arguments for atheism in 1927 while returning to Bremerton, Washington from Guam, writing in his journal that “Dick and I have been reading up on atheism…. Such a terrible thing to make an issue of. Something is at the bottom of it. I’ll find out in the States.” Hubbard wrote in his 1951 book, Science of Survival, that “It is an empirical observation that men without a strong and lasting faith in a Supreme Being are less capable, less ethical and less valuable to themselves and society…. A man without an abiding faith is, by observation alone, more of a thing than a man.”7

From these precursors Urban argues that Hubbard’s beliefs shifted as the new “science of mental health” of Dianetics was transformed into the “applied religious philosophy” of Scientology. Dianetics auditing had led to controversy over past lives by 1951, and was beginning to clash with medical regulators over claims of diagnosis and healing, with several Hubbard followers being arrested in the early 1950s (p. 62). Although Hubbard created Scientology while living in Phoenix in 1952, where he formed the Hubbard Association of Scientologists, the first organizations with “church” in their names were formed in New Jersey in 1953 (the Church of American Science, the Church of Scientology, and the Church of Spiritual Engineering). The Founding Church of Scientology in Washington, D.C. received IRS tax-exempt status in 1956, followed by the Church of Scientology of California (CSC) in 1957. In 1958, the Washington, D.C. church had its tax-exempt status revoked on the grounds that it was a “business, a profit-making organization, run by Hubbard for his personal enrichment” (quoted in Urban, p. 159), but the CSC was apparently overlooked.

Astounding Science Fiction (book cover)

Dianetics was first introduced to the public in a 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. (Urban, p.43–44)

While Scientology nominally cloaked itself in some trappings of religion (Urban, p. 66), this was somewhat perfunctory, and did not prevent an FDA raid on the Washington, D.C. church in 1963. This was settled in the early 1970s with the addition of warning labels on E-Meters: “The E-meter is not medically or scientifically useful for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease. It is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily functions of anyone.” In a 1962 policy letter titled “Religion,” Hubbard wrote: “Scientology 1970 is being planned on a religious basis throughout the world. This will not upset in any way the usual activities of any organization. It is entirely a matter for accountants and solicitors” (Urban, p. 160).

In 1965, the IRS began an audit of Scientology’s records, just as Hubbard began to move all of his global assets into the CSC to take advantage of its taxexempt status. This audit led to a revocation of CSC’s tax-exempt status in 1967, which was followed by increased attempts to put on the trappings of religion, including a February 1969 policy letter calling for staff to wear clerical collars and for all “orgs” to display the Scientology cross and the Scientology Creed in public areas (Urban, pp. 161–163). This still, however, seemed mostly for show. In Nancy Many’s book, My Billion Year Contract: Memoir of a Former Scientologist, for example, she writes that when she joined Scientology, she was “told that the religious aspect was for taxes and legal reasons and that no one had to change their personal faith to become a member” and that “I had been to only one church service. Only once in twenty years, and I was in the Sea Org running a large part of Scientology across the entire world for half of that time.” Many also writes: “Hubbard expressed to me the thought that going with the whole church angle for Scientology might have been a mistake in the first place. He felt that the trouble we were currently having with the IRS would not exist if he had not listened to those around him at the time and just stayed as a for-profit corporation and just made more money to pay the taxes.” But in Richard Behar’s Time magazine cover story from May 6, 1991, he notes that the marketing firm of Trout & Ries was hired by Scientology to improve its image shortly after Hubbard’s death in 1986. “We advised them to clean up their act, stop with the controversy, and even to stop being a church. They didn’t want to hear that,” Behar quoted Jack Trout. Trout & Ries was sued by the Church of Scientology in November 1991 as a result of the Time article, on the grounds that the public statement violated their contract. The lawsuit was settled in August 1994.8

Urban’s book is U.S.-centric, and so misses an opportunity to talk about how Scientology has either not had or has lost official religious recognition in other countries (though he notes this and expresses the hope that others will take up the subject, p. 202). John Duignan points out in his book, The Complex, that because Scientology was not a recognized religion in Scotland, the church operated through a non-religious organization known as The Hubbard Academy of Personal Independence, which “was run in exactly the same way as our churches elsewhere in the UK and across the globe, although it was ostensibly not a Church of Scientology” (pp. 158–159), and that it used this organization’s putative independence to its advantage, to store sensitive documents from other countries (p. 159).

Operation Snow White and Tax Battles

In 1974, Scientology began “Operation Snow White,” the infiltration of government offices, including the IRS, to steal and “correct” documents about Scientology. This was a program of Scientology’s “Guardian Office,” a division of the church tasked with responding to attacks on the church, which engaged in activities ranging from making public embarrassing information from ex-members’ auditing records to trying to frame journalist Paulette Cooper, author of The Scandal of Scientology, for bomb threats (Reitman, p. 116–117; Urban, pp. 109–112). After two Scientologists were caught in the U.S. Courts building in Washington, D.C. and their connection to Scientology was discovered, the FBI raided Scientology locations in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. on July 8, 1977, which uncovered tens of thousands of incriminating documents, including the plots against Paulette Cooper and a plan to portray the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) as a CIA front group.9

Eleven Scientologists, seven of them members of the Guardian Office, were indicted on federal charges, including Hubbard’s wife Mary Sue. Although Hubbard was named as an unindicted coconspirator and was sought by investigators, he went into hiding. His wife took the fall for him and went to jail after a negotiated guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy. Hubbard sought to insulate himself from connections with the church, living under the name “Jack” on a 160-acre ranch in Creston, California. But he continued to issue orders through a few trusted Scientologist intermediaries. These were Pat and Annie Broeker, who lived with him on the ranch, and a young member of the Sea Org’s Commodore’s Messenger Organization (CMO), David Miscavige (Reitman, pp. 124, 142).

Nominal Reform and David Miscavige’s Assumption of Power

In response to the legal troubles surrounding Operation Snow White, a group within CMO called the “All Clear Unit,” which ended up being led by David Miscavige as its self-appointed leader, was tasked with finding a way out of the problems. The primary plan was to “create a legally defensible structure that would give Hubbard and the [CMO] full legal control over Scientology while at the same time ‘insulat[ing] both Hubbard and the CMO from any legal liability for running the organizations of Scientology by lying about the level of control they really had’” (Reitman, p. 129). The Guardian Office was abolished and replaced by the Office of Special Affairs (OSA), and a complex corporate structure was put in place. Scientology’s operations were put under the Church of Scientology International (CSI), while the rights to administer its intellectual property and determine what constitutes official doctrine was put under the Religious Technology Center (RTC). Perhaps the oddest corporate entity, the Church of Spiritual Technology (CST), was founded by one Scientologist and several non-Scientology lawyers, including the late Meade Emory, a law professor at the University of Washington and former Deputy Commissioner of the IRS, who was hired to help create the complex corporate structure as part of Hubbard’s estate planning. This entity is entitled to 90% of the net income of RTC and has the right to seize key trademarks and intellectual property from RTC should it judge that organization to be misusing them. Its primary task appears to be archiving and preserving the works of L. Ron Hubbard in permanent form, which it is doing by inscribing them on stainless steel plates, putting them in titanium capsules, and placing them in vaults around the world, such as one near Trementina, New Mexico, where the CST logo may be seen from the air or on Google Earth.10

On January 24, 1986, Hubbard died, and this was revealed to Scientologists at an event at the Hollywood Palladium two days later, where David Miscavige announced: “L. Ron Hubbard discarded the body” and had “moved forward to his next level of research” (Reitman, pp. 142–145). Reitman explains how Miscavige ended up in control of Scientology as chairman of the board of RTC, after removing Hubbard’s wife and dismantling the Guardian Office, removing the Broekers from power by assigning Annie Broeker to the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), and appointing allies to key positions, such as Marty Rathbun to Inspector General of the RTC and fellow CMO member Mike Rinder to head OSA (Reitman, pp. 131–156). Both Rathbun and Rinder have now left the church and are actively working to promote the practice of Scientology independent of the organization.

Reitman also makes vivid some of the abuses that have occurred with Miscavige in control, especially at the church’s headquarters at “International Base” or “Int Base” in Gilman Hot Springs, California, where Miscavige and the senior leaders are based. She describes cases of physical battery, hard labor without pay in the RPF, coerced abortions for women in the Sea Org, and the breaking up of families.12 Scientology has denied these allegations.

Scientology filed about 200 lawsuits against the IRS, to which 2,300 individual members added their own lawsuits. Seventeen individual IRS officials were named personally in Scientology lawsuits, accusing them of illegal acts against the church. Hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests were filed with the IRS. Private investigators were hired to attend IRS conferences and identify IRS agents who seemed to have problems with alcohol or were cheating on spouses. When Miscavige met with IRS Commissioner Fred Goldberg in 1991, Miscavige told him all the problems could go away with a settlement, and a settlement was reached in 1993 (Reitman, pp. 162–166, Urban, pp. 170–177). That settlement was kept secret by the IRS until it was leaked to the Internet in December 1997.11 The settlement granted the church’s religious tax exemptions, settled all accounts for a fraction of claimed owed back taxes, and the IRS agreed not to audit any church organizations for anything prior to January 1, 1993. Scientology agreed not to sue the IRS for anything prior to the same date. The settlement also gave Scientologists the right to deduct expenses for fees paid for auditing or any other religious services (contradicting the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hernandez v. Commissioner, 490 U.S. 680, 1989), including religious schooling. That last point led to a lawsuit against the IRS by Michael Sklar, arguing that if Scientologists can deduct expenses for religious schooling, he should be able to deduct the portion of payments made to an Orthodox Jewish school for his children that was used for religious instruction. In 2008, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Sklar (Sklar v. Commissioner, 282 F.3d 610, 9th Cir. 2002), a decision that underscores the constitutional problem raised by the different treatment for Scientology.13

Internet War and Lisa McPherson

In 1991, an online Usenet newsgroup called alt.religion .scientology was created, and was used mostly by members of the “free zone”—those who practiced Scientology independently of the church—until 1994. In that year ex-members started posting Scientology “trade secrets,” which led to raids on the homes of Dennis Erlich and Arnie Lerma, followed by three major lawsuits and many more lawsuit threats. The outcome of these lawsuits was that Scientology’s copyrights were upheld, their trade secret claims were overturned, and the right to quote from and criticize Scientology was preserved.14 The lawsuits led to real-life protests against churches of Scientology around the globe, and responses by the church with litigation threats, hiring private investigators to dig into the personal lives of protesters, and the creation of online websites to attack online critics. Online information critical of Scientology proliferated.

On December 5, 1995, a long-time Scientologist named Lisa McPherson died in the care of Scientology after being kept at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida. Her death received little publicity, no public police report, and not even an obituary (Reitman, p. 231). But over a year later, on December 22, 1996, her death was front-page news in the Tampa Tribune (“Scientologist’s Death: A Family Hunts for Answers,” by Cheryl Waldrip), and her death became a renewed focus of protests online and in front of Scientology orgs, as well as the basis of a criminal prosecution against the church and a civil lawsuit from McPherson’s family. The Lisa McPherson Trust was set up by critics of Scientology in Clearwater, and new pressure was directed against the church.

McPherson’s case is the primary focus of Part III of Reitman’s book, and she recounts the story more comprehensively than it has been told before. She shows how McPherson went from a happy, vivacious young lady to a woman who began exhibiting signs of psychosis. After a minor automobile accident, she got out of her car and began taking off her clothes, and was taken to a hospital for observation. But Scientologists came, took her into their care, and held her captive at the Fort Harrison Hotel without proper medical treatment as her behavior became more and more erratic. Then after 17 days she stopped moving. They drove McPherson past several hospitals to one where a Scientologist physician was on staff, where she was declared dead on arrival. Reitman points out that David Miscavige personally managed some of McPherson’s auditing sessions and determined that she reached the state of clear (pp. 212–213), and she documents Scientology’s destruction and concealment of evidence in the case, including by Marty Rathbun (pp. 224, 237–239). She describes how the church worked hard to keep McPherson’s tragic death quiet by persuading her family to have her cremated, saying that was Lisa’s wish. She describes how the family was told that she had died of a “fast-acting meningitis” (p. 228), with no mention of dehydration while behaving psychotically and being held prisoner by the Church of Scientology. But what Reitman doesn’t explain is how McPherson’s death became publicly known, a year after she died.

What happened in 1996 was that Jeff Jacobsen (my co-author for our 1995 Skeptic magazine article, “Scientology vs. Internet”) was preparing a Clearwater, FL protest against Scientology for its abuses, when a local policeman who was the liaison for protesters told him that he might find a page on the Clearwater Police Department web page to be of interest. That web page (called “homicide.html”) requested the public’s help in finding information about three deaths, one of which was Lisa McPherson’s. Jeff did not recognize the name, but recognized her last address as that of Scientology’s Fort Harrison Hotel. He posted a note about Lisa’s death to the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup in November 1996, and contacted Tampa Tribune reporter Cheryl Waldrip about it. Waldrip thought it was strange that there was no obituary, and subsequently contacted McPherson’s family, which led to the publication of the front-page story on December 22nd.

In 2000, the medical examiner in Lisa McPherson’s case, Joan Wood, changed the cause of death from “undetermined” to “accident” and dropped references to her severe dehydration, without an explanation. As a result, the state attorney dropped the charges on the grounds that he could not depend on her testimony in the prosecution. In 2004, the civil case was settled.

Tom Cruise, South Park, and Anonymous

Reitman describes how Marty Rathbun was tasked to bring Tom Cruise back into Scientology after he had drifted away from the church (pp. 283, 286). Cruise subsequently became a more zealous public Scientologist than he had ever been, climaxing in the infamous couch-jumping episode on Oprah (May 23, 2005) and his public criticism of Brooke Shields for using anti-depressants and subsequent on-air argument about it with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today show (June 24, 2005).

The iconic protest mask

The iconic protest mask adopted by the Anonymous group was originally designed by British comic artist David Lloyd for a ten-issue graphic novel series V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore. The mustachioed visage was based on portraits of Guy Fawkes and traditional festival masks. When the series became a hit film the image gained even wider recognition. The masks have also been used in many other anti-establishment protests, including “Occupy Wall Street.” Ironically the licensing rights to the image are held by a major establishment player, Time Warner.

On November 16, 2005, Comedy Central’s animated television series South Park aired an episode titled “Trapped in the Closet,” which focused on Scientology and included a summary of the content of Scientology’s Operating Thetan Level III cosmology, as well as playing on rumors about Tom Cruise’s sexuality. This content led to the departure of Scientologist Isaac Hayes from the show (who voiced the character “Chef”), and the episode was not aired in the UK. It was also dropped from planned rebroadcasts, though it aired again in 2006 after viewer protests and can be seen on YouTube. Documents recently released by Scientology’s former RTC Inspector General, Marty Rathbun, reveal that Scientology attempted to dig up dirt on South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and their friends as a result of this episode, allegedly digging through the trash at their office headquarters in search of receipts or any other documents that might be used against them.15

On January 15, 2008, a video of Tom Cruise that was made for a Scientology event in 2004 was leaked to the Internet and posted on the website of the gossip blog Gawker. The Church of Scientology issued legal threats, but Gawker refused to take down the video, though other sites complied with removal requests. The video was widely parodied, and Scientology’s attempt to remove the video from the Internet got the attention of “Anonymous,” a chaotic, loosely organized, originally fictional collective centered around the 4chan web forums, in particular /b/.4chan allows posts to be made without registering or logging in, which all show as posted by “Anonymous.” This led to jokes about whether or not there really is an entity called “Anonymous,” which led to online and real world activity by self-identified members of “Anonymous.”

E-Meter illustration copyright Pat Linse 2011

Scientology explains that when the subject holding the cans “pulls in” or “releases” “mental mass,” the body’s resistance to the flow of electrical energy varies. Mental mass is described as “condensed energy” that will literally register as weight on a scale. (Understanding the E-Meter, P. 50, by L. Ron Hubbard.) Science says that the device measures the ability of the skin to conduct electricity, which varies with the skin’s moisture level. Since sweat glands are regulated involuntarily by the sympathetic nervous system rather than by conscious effort, this “galvanic skin response” cannot be controlled by someone experiencing a series of emotions. Simply squeezing the cans to increase the contact area with the skin can also vary the amount of current measured by the meter.

On January 21, 2008, “Anonymous” posted a YouTube video titled “Message to Scientology” stating that the Church’s attempts to censor the Internet were not welcome and that actions would be taken to “expel the church from the Internet.” A press release the same day titled “Internet Group Anonymous Declares ‘War on Scientology’” complained about Scientology’s threat to freedom of speech and made reference to Scientology’s prior Internet battles that began in 1994. This was followed by denial of service attacks against Scientology’s websites, telephone and fax harassment, and real-world picketing of Scientology organizations worldwide by protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks from the film V for Vendetta on a scale that dwarfed the protests of the mid-1990s. Scientology predictably responded by accusing “Anonymous” of being a terrorist group.16


The final chapter of the Church of Scientology has yet to be written, but the organization shows signs of experiencing its worst crisis yet as a result of the exposure of its secrets, the ease of communications between ex-members, the departure of some of its most senior executives, and the competition it faces from practitioners of independent Scientology.

Both Reitman and Urban document the extent to which the Church of Scientology declined between 1989 and 1997. For example, Scientologists completed 11,603 courses in 1989, but only 5,895 in 1997 (Reitman, p. 284). The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) estimated the number of self-identified U.S. Scientologists at 55,000 in 2001, and at only 25,000 in 2008 (Urban, p. 206). Marc Headley, who worked at Scientology’s Int base, writes in his ex-Scientology memoir, Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology (p. 194), that Miscavige wanted enough Mark VIII Ultra E-Meters to be made for every Scientologist to purchase two, and 30,000 were produced to match the number of Mark VIIs that had already been sold. Ex-Scientology marketer Jeff Hawkins estimates the total number of Scientologists globally at “40,000 or 50,000 max” (Counterfeit Dreams: One Man’s Journey Into and Out of the World of Scientology, Ch. 15).

Recent departures include very senior former members such as Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder. These former Scientology executives have begun speaking out publicly and releasing key documents, as well as promoting the alternative of practicing Scientology independently of the church. Blogs such as Leaving Scientology and online forums such as Ex-Scientology Kids and the Ex-ScientologistMessage Board now provide a support structure available for those leaving the church that was not available in the past, as well as a source of continuing new accounts of abuses occurring inside the church.

While the church is still a financially formidable force with extensive real estate holdings, it is now in a very different environment in which its ability to control information flow among its members and ex-members has been greatly diminished. And there is hope among many outside (and almost certainly inside as well) that Scientology faces a potential revolution, or possibly even collapse. END

A Few Scientology Policies Associated With Claims of Abuse

“The DEFENSE of anything is UNTENABLE. The only way to defend anything is to ATTACK, and if you ever forget that, then you will lose every battle you are ever engaged in, whether it is in terms of personal conversation, public debate, or a court of law. NEVER BE INTERESTED IN CHARGES. DO, yourself, much MORE CHARGING, and you will win.”

—L. Ron Hubbard, Magazine Articles on Level 0 Checksheet, p. 54, emphasis in original.

“The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway…will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly.”

—L. Ron Hubbard, Magazine Articles on Level 0 Checksheet, p. 55. “Fair game.” “ENEMY-SP [suppressive person] Order.

“Fair game.”

“ENEMY-SP [suppressive person] Order. Fair game. May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”

—Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter (HCOPL), 18 October 1967, Issue IV.

“This P/L does not cancel any policy on the treatment or handling of an SP.”

—HCOPL, 21 October 1968, the “Cancellation of Fair Game,” which really just abolishes use of the name “fair game.”) (Atack, p.188; Miller, p. 270)

“Dead agenting.”
The process of responding to criticism of Scientology by discrediting the critic with counter-accusations. “The technique of proving utterances false is called ‘DEAD AGENTING’. It’s in the first book of Chinese espionage. When the enemy agent gives false data, those who believed him but now find it false kill him—or at least cease to believe him. So the PR slang for it is ‘Dead Agenting’.” —Hubbard Board Policy Letter, 30 May 1974.

Ex-Scientologists have claimed that material from their auditing sessions has been used to discredit them in this manner. The technique is somewhat less than effective when used by Scientology in making charges of abuse against its own former senior executives, who were in positions of authority for decades, and who now report on those very abuses.

The process of requiring Scientologists to discontinue communications with family and friends who are seen to be in opposition to Scientology or who are “suppressive.” It is similar to practices of other religious groups such as “disfellowshipping” among Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was established by Hubbard policy in 1965, cancelled in 1968, and restored in 1982 (Atack, pp. 35–36).
“Baby watch.”
Scientology policy is to put individuals exhibiting psychotic behavior on the “Introspection Rundown,” also known as “isolation watch” or “baby watch,” which is intended to find the cause of a psychotic break. Lisa McPherson was undergoing this treatment in the days leading up to her death (Reitman, pp. 208–211, pp. 214–217).
Homosexuality as “low-toned.”

“The sexual pervert ([seen in] homosexuality, lesbianism, sexual sadism, etc.…) is actually quite ill physically…. But with an effective science [i.e., Dianetics] to handle the problem, a society would continue to endure perversion and all its sad and sordid effects doesn’t deserve to survive.”

Dianetics, pp. 122–123; in 1978 edition,
edited out of later editions.

Sexual perversion, including homosexuality, is at 1.1 on the “tone scale”: “the level of the pervert, the hypocrite, the turncoat, … the subversive.” —L. Ron Hubbard, Science of Survival, 1951, pp. 88–90; in 1975 edition, deleted from later editions.

Pressure for abortion
Scientology opposes sex outside of marriage as “out-2D” (in opposition to the “second dynamic,” which involves sex, family, and children), and Sea Org members have been discouraged from marrying, a 1996 policy bans their having children, and female members have been pressured to have abortions when pregnant (Reitman, pp. 323–324). Early allegations of pressure to have abortions were made in the Declaration of Mary Taboyoyon in the case of Church of Scientology International v. Steven Fishman and Uwe Geertz in 1994.
The Rehabilitation Project Force is a program by which Scientologists who have been unproductive or violated policy can earn redemption through physical labor, potentially for months or even years. Those in the RPF who engage in violations may be sent to the RPF’s RPF, which is even more extreme (Reitman, pp. 330–331; Miller, pp. 321–325; Atack, p. 206; Headley, Many, and Scobee all describe their own time in the RPF; Duignan and Hawkins describe their observations of the RPF).
“Touch assists.”
Scientology’s practice of spiritual healing through touch, controversially offered by its volunteer ministers at 9/11 Ground Zero, in Japan after its recent earthquakes, and to crew on the set of War Of the Worlds (Andrew Morton, Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography, 2009, pp. 257–258).
“Purification rundown.”
Also known as the “Purif” and offered in a putative secular form through Scientology’s Narconon front group, this drug treatment program involves niacin injections, saunas, and running (Reitman, pp. 208–223).
From OT III, the evil galactic warlord who is responsible for murdering space aliens and dropping their bodies into a volcano and blowing them up with H-bombs, causing “body thetans” to be additional causes of “engrams” which must be removed through Scientology auditing (Reitman, pp. 99–100).
“Doctrine of exchange.”
An alleged religious doctrine that requires Scientologists to provide something in return for anything given to them, used as a justification in tax court for why Scientology charges fees for its services and that they should be tax-deductible (Hernandez case, see p. 23 of this article).

Books also consulted in this review essay: John Duignan with Nicola Tallant, The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology (2008, Merlin Publishing); Jefferson Hawkins, Counterfeit Dreams: One Man’s Journey Into and Out of the World of Scientology (2010, Hawkeye Publishing Co.); Marc Headley, Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology (2010, BFG Books); Nancy Many, My Billion Year Contract: Memoir of a Former Scientologist (2009, CNM Publishing); Amy Scobee, Scientology: Abuse at the Top (2010, Scobee Publishing); Jon Atack, A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics, and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed (1990, Carol Publishing Group); Paulette Cooper, The Scandal of Scientology (1971, Tower Publications); Russell Miller, Bare-Faced Messiah: The Story of L. Ron Hubbard (1987, Henry Holt); Roy Wallis, The Road to Total Freedom (1976, Columbia University Press).

  1. Mutual knowledge, knowing something and knowing that others also know it, is a condition that can arise from such events as assembling in public protest against a political regime, and can lead to its rapid collapse, as seen in some of the “Arab Spring” countries. See also the RSA animated video on Steven Pinker’s talk on The Stuff of Thought, from 7:44 on, as well as John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality, 1995, The Free Press, pp. 90–93, 117–119, about how ceasing to accept certain institutional facts leads to their falsification, and vice versa.
  2. Recent high-level departures who each spent decades on staff inside the Church include the former #2 person in Scientology (Inspector General of the Religious Technology Center (RTC)), Mark “Marty” Rathbun; former head of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA), Mike Rinder; former heads of the Scientology Celebrity Centre Nancy Many and Amy Scobee; Scientology A/V expert and the preclear who was audited by Tom Cruise, Marc Headley; the marketer who devised the campaigns that put Dianetics back on the bestseller lists in the 1980s, Jefferson Hawkins; and an Irish Sea Org member who was Commanding Officer of Scientology Missions International in the UK, John Duignan. Rathbun and Rinder are now independent Scientologists on the receiving end of harassment from the Church; Rathbun writes a blog called “Moving On Up a Little Higher” where Rinder frequently comments. Many, Scobee, Headley, Hawkins, and Duignan have each written books about their experiences, of which those by Hawkins and Duignan (both of whom worked in marketing roles for Scientology) are the best written and most engaging. Most of these individuals have been criticized (or “dead agented,” in Scientology terminology) for alleged ethical failings and incompetence, without addressing the question of why they were permitted to hold positions of significant authority and responsibility in the church if those charges were true.
  3. Many past books on Scientology are available online, see a list that includes Atack’s A Piece of Blue Sky, Cooper’s The Scandal of Scientology, Miller’s Bare-Faced Messiah, and Wallis’s The Road to Total Freedom. Atack’s book was probably the best comprehensive overview prior to Reitman’s. Miller’s book is still the most detailed biography of Hubbard, and can be found online along with full transcripts of some of his interviews and copies of relevant source documents, which can be used to compare his account to Scientology’s hagiography. Also see the FBI Archives on Hubbard. Wikileaks provides 2,826 pages of Hubbard and Scientology FBI files.
  4. See pp. 285–286, pp. 365–366 in Reitman, vs. pp. 178–200 in Urban). The events of Scientology vs. the Internet merit a book of their own, yet to be written. The details through the mid-90s may be found in Jim Lippard and Jeff Jacobsen, “Scientology v. the Internet: Free Speech & Copyright Infringement on the Information Super-Highway,” Skeptic vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 35–41; “Scientology Loses Judgment in Internet Case,” Skeptic vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 18–19; Jim Lippard, “Scientology v. the Internet: An Update and Response to Leisa Goodman,” 1996; Robert Sheaffer, “Scientology vs. the Internet,” Skeptical Inquirer vol. 19, no. 5 (September/ October 1995), pp. 12–13; Wendy Grossman, “alt.scientology.war,” Wired 3.12 (December 1995); and in chapter 6, “Copyright Terrorists,” of Wendy Grossman, net.wars, 1997, NYU Press. More recent events are covered in Jeff Jacob sen, “We Are Legion: Anonymous and the War on Scientology,” 2008; and especially in the reporting of Village Voice editor Tony Ortega, at his newspaper’s “Runnin’ Scared” blog, online and in several earlier publications for the Phoenix and Los Angeles editions of the New Times weekly newspaper.
  5. An extensive list can be found in Miller’s book, Bare-Faced Messiah, and on numerous sites online, including the Wikipedia entry for Hubbard. Reitman writes in a footnote on the first page of her first chapter (p. 3) that Hubbard became the youngest Eagle Scout in the U.S. at the age of 12, “according to the Church of Scientology.” This is actually an uncorrected error from Scientology; Hubbard did become an Eagle Scout at the age of 13, which he reported in his diary on March 28, 1924; his actual certificate was dated April 1, 1924, and the Boy Scouts kept no record of the youngest (see Miller, p. 34). One of the few fabrications addressed by Urban is Hubbard’s claim to have been a nuclear physicist; on p. 32 he notes that Hubbard received an F in the molecular and atomic physics course, which was his only ground for such a claim. Hubbard, a civil engineering major at George Washington University, was put on academic probation after getting a D average in his first year, and dropped out after his second year.

    The Church of Scientology’s response to Reitman’s book claims that her book is “filled with inaccuracies” but specifically identifies only one, that she reports the year of his death as 1985 (p. 3), when in fact he died on January 24, 1986. They don’t mention the Eagle Scout error for obvious reasons.

  6. As Miller (p. 43) notes, Hubbard’s diary of his visit to China in 1928 recorded that “They smell of all the baths they didn’t take. The trouble with China is, there are too many chinks here.” Hubbard repeated similar racist remarks in the 1950s in recorded lectures available on YouTube, e.g., a 1952 lecture referring to “chinks” and making a racist joke. Hubbard identified homosexuality as a perversion and mental illness in both Dianetics (pp. 122–123) and Science of Survival (pp. 88–90, a passage removed from recent editions), placing it at rank 1.1 (“covert hostility”) on the Scientology “tone scale.” This issue, belatedly discovered by Oscar-winning film director Paul Haggis after 35 years in Scientology when Scientology’s San Diego church publicly supported California’s Proposition 8 against same-sex marriage, led him to leave in 2009 (reported in detail by Lawrence Wright, “The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology,” The New Yorker, February 14, 2011).
  7. See also Margery Wakefield’s 1991 “What Christians Need to Know About Scientology”. On Hubbard’s thoughts on atheism, see Miller, p. 33.
  8. Many, p. 189, p. 74; see also Urban p. 163. In September 1998 the Mesa, Arizona Org obtained an injunction against Scientology critic Bruce Pettycrew requiring him to not make any noise that might disrupt nonexistent Sunday services, then had a private investigator use that injunction as a basis to contact the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction to complain about Pettycrew and his wife, then a teacher, for their alleged “antireligious activities”.

    The U.S. takes an extreme hands-off approach to religion, putting the truth or falsity of religious claims outside the scope of the courts (U.S. v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78, 1944). In this case, Edna and her son Donald Ballard were accused of collecting donations on the basis of religious claims they did not themselves believe. The District Court instructed the jury to find the defendants guilty of fraud if their religious claims were not sincerely held beliefs; the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned on the grounds that this restriction was unnecessary and the jury could rule on the truth or falsity of the beliefs. The Supreme Court majority opinion, authored by William O. Douglas, overturned the Appeals court’s position on truth or falsity and remanded the case to the appeals court, but didn’t address the question of whether sincerity of belief could be examined. Justice Harlan Stone, joined by Owen Roberts and Felix Frankfurter, dissented, writing that “I cannot say that freedom of thought and worship includes freedom to procure money by making knowingly false statements about one’s religious experiences.” Justice Robert Jackson took the opposite view in his dissent, arguing that neither “religious sincerity” nor “religious verity” are legitimate topics of legal inquiry. The appeals court affirmed the District Court’s original fraud conviction, but it was subsequently overturned on another appeal to the Supreme Court (329 U.S. 187, 1946), on the grounds that there were no women on the grand jury or trial jury. In a later case before the 9th Circuit referencing Ballard, (Cohen v. U.S., 297 F.2d 760, 1962) the court agreed that questions of truth or falsity are inappropriate, but that this does not mean “that a court or jury cannot decide that the profession of a belief is fraudulent.”

    The IRS, however, despite the lack of any basis in the Constitution or statute, has established a set of 14 criteria for what it means to be a “church” for the purposes of obtaining tax-exempt status:

    • Distinct legal existence
    • Recognized creed and form of worship
    • Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
    • Formal code of doctrine and discipline
    • Distinct religious history
    • Membership not associated with any other church or denomination
    • Organization of ordained ministers
    • Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
    • Literature of its own
    • Established places of worship
    • Regular congregations
    • Regular religious services
    • Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
    • Schools for the preparation of its members
  9. Reitman gives an abbreviated account of “Operation Snow White” and “Operation Freakout” against Paulette Cooper on pp. 111–112; more detailed accounts are in Urban (pp. 167–168), in Miller (pp. 336, 341–342, 351–352), and especially Atack (pp. 226–241). The plot against CSICOP, described in a six-page “Guardian Programme Order” dated March 24, 1977 and titled “Programme Humanist Humiliation,” was reported by Kendrick Frazier, “A Scientology ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against CSICOP,” Skeptical Inquirer vol. 4, no. 3, Spring 1980, pp. 8–10. Some of the FBI-seized documents can be found online.
  10. See the Wikipedia entry for “Trementina Base.”
  11. Details of Scientology’s formerly secret 1993 closing agreement with the IRS may be found online.
  12. Many of these abuses are also vividly depicted in the sources in note 2. Perhaps the most moving case in Reitman’s book, which stretches throughout the book, are of the married Sea Org couples Stefan and Tanja Castle and Marc and Claire Headley. Both couples were split up by the church and the husbands escaped the church, uncertain they would see their wives again, but they both successfully managed to help their wives escape.
  13. The decision in the Sklar case states: “under both the tax code and Supreme Court precedent, the Sklars are not entitled to the charitable deduction they claimed. The Church of Scientology’s closing agreement is irrelevant, not because the Sklars are not ‘similarly situated’ to Scientologists, but because the closing agreement does not enter into the equation by which the deductibility of the Sklars’ payments is determined. An IRS closing agreement cannot overrule Congress and the Supreme Court.”
  14. The three major lawsuits were RTC v. Netcom, 907 F.Supp. 1361, N.D. Cal. 1995; RTC v. Lerma, 908 F.Supp. 1362, E.D. Va. 1995; and RTC v. FACTnet, 901 F.Supp. 1519, D. Colo. 1995. Details may be found in the sources in note 4 including in my SKEPTIC article with Jeff Jacobsen and its web update; the Wikipedia pages on these three lawsuits are also comprehensive.
  15. Document published on Marty Rathbun’s blog (October 23, 2011) and verified by Tony Ortega at the Village Voice’s “Runnin’ Scared” blog (see note 2) on subsequent days.
  16. The Anonymous press release; many more details may be found at the Wikipedia pages for Project Chanology, Anonymous, and 4chan, as well as in Jeff Jacobsen’s article, “We Are Legion: Anonymous and the War on Scientology” (see note 4).

This article was published on October 4, 2012.


23 responses to “The Decline and (Probable) Fall
of the Scientology Empire!”

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  5. BRICK says:

    Great article. My best resource for $cientology is Lawrence Wright’s new book

  6. Catherine Boss says:

    Great article. My best resource for $cientology is Lawrence Wright’s new book, “Going Clear.” How he managed to research it without being harassed or taunted is amazing.

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  11. Mike Bryan says:

    Well done, very thorough, informative, and intriguing. Possibly the start of a best-selling book??

  12. adam smith says:

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  13. Carlos Caliente says:

    Why is Shermer afraid of exposing the truth about James Randi and his lies. Is it because he knows Randi is a liar and the expose of the liar would mean Randi is no better than Hubbard and their respective followers are basically of the same mentality?

  14. Carlos Caliente says:

    Now when do you do an expose on the lies of James Randi ?

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  16. fdsfd says:

    ery good article. Thanks to all critics for their tireless work exposing the abuses of this so-called church.

  17. google says:

    Very good article. Thanks to all critics for their tireless work exposing the abuses of this so-called church.

  18. Jim V says:

    Nice job Jim. Sorry I missed the Meet Up in Phoenix.

  19. Ian says:

    Regarding the “decline” part, sure you did you research? Ref: and So, perhaps declining in members, don’t know, but not in physical, media and broadcast expansion! Damn! They’ve got Vatican-like money, son! It appears their building and opening more new churches than any religion I know of!

  20. TrevAnon says:

    Glanced through the article, but didn’t find a mention of what may be Anonymous’ most important on-line project: the list of ex-members of the Church who are speaking out against it. See for yourself at:

  21. anne says:

    Very good article. Thanks to all critics for their tireless work exposing the abuses of this so-called church. Yes, even the internet ‘bad boys.’

  22. Joe says:

    Thanks for the article. Very informative!

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