True Story Of A False Prophet
Date: March 30, 1997
Mail On Sunday, March 30, 1997
by Russell Miller
Hollywood celebrities have some pretty weird beliefs. So why should we care if Tom Cruise and company come out from time to time in support of Scientology, the stars' cult of choice? Here's why: a 'religion' once banned and branded evil may soon be granted charitable status in Britain; a religion built upon the lies and fantasies of its guru, L Ron Hubbard.
At Saint Hill, the headquarters of the Church of Scientology, a handsome manor house near East Grinstead, Sussex, there is a shrine to its revered founder, the former science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard. The office he occupied is kept just as it was when he was alive.
No one should underestimate the reverence with which Scientologists view the man they still call 'LRH'. Indeed, true believers do not even accept that he is dead. They will tell you that he simply 'discarded his body' in 1986, after it ceased to be of any further use to him, and that he continues his vital work outside the confines of this universe.
If this is the case, he can hardly be displeased with Scientology's remarkable progress on earth, despite the fervent opposition of those who insist it is more a sinister cult than a religion. The Church of Scientology claims to have eight million members worldwide and 100,000 in Britain.
Notable among its supporters are a number of Hollywood stars, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta. When, earlier this year, the government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl tried to curb the expansion of Scientology in Germany, 34 high-profile Hollywood names signed an open letter of protest.
In Britain, Scientology has fared particularly well over recent months. In December, the Home Office announced, in a surprise decision, that henceforth Scientology could be considered a 'bona fide religion' for immigration purposes and that its 'ministers' would be allowed into Britain to 'preach' without a work permit. Thirty years earlier, the Home Office declared Scientology to be 'socially harmful' and banned its members from entering the country. A few days after the Home Office decision, the church was given permission to advertise on British television for the first time.
Now Scientologists hope to be able to cross the last barrier to total respectability and be recognised as a charity. The Charity Commission, which has previously refused to accept Scientology as a religion, confirms it is currently considering an application from the Church to be given full charitable status.
Before they come to a decision, perhaps the good commissioners should take the opportunity to study the extraordinary life and times of Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. For more than 40 years the Church of Scientology has promoted the image of its founder as a romantic adventurer and philosopher whose early life fortuitously prepared him, in the manner of Jesus Christ, for his declared mission to found Scientology and save the world. But Scientology's dirty little secret, assiduously covered up over the years, is that its founder was a charlatan, an inveterate liar and a confidence trickster who shamelessly re-wrote his own life in order to bolster his credibility after he had decided that the best way to make money was to start a religion.
Official biographies of Hubbard claim that he was descended from a distinguished naval family, that he grew up on his wealthy grandfather's cattle ranch, said to cover a quarter of the state of Montana, where he learned to 'break broncos' and 'hunt coyote'. It is also claimed he became a blood brother of the Blackfoot Indians at the age of six and that his interest in religion and philosophy was stirred by reading 'a goodly number of the world's great classics' before he was 12 years old. None of this is true.
Hubbard was born in 1911, in Tilden, Nebraska, the son of a struggling white- collar clerk who drifted from job to job and eventually joined the US Navy. Young Ron showed an early propensity to glamorise his achievements, telling friends he was the youngest Eagle Scout in the country, presumably unaware that the Boy Scouts of America kept only an alphabetical record of Eagle scouts, with no reference to their ages.
At the age of 14, Ron was said to be wandering the Orient alone, investigating primitive cultures and learning the secrets of life at the feet of wise men and Lama priests. In actual fact, he was enrolled at a high school in Bremerton, Washington, where his father was disbursing officer at the local naval shipyard. His only visit to the Orient was when, in 1927, his father was posted to the island of Guam in the Pacific.
A Church of Scientology publication asserts that Ron positively dazzled at university in Washington DC. Not only was he 'enrolled in one of the first nuclear physics courses ever taught in an American university' but he 'established himself as an essayist in the literary world' and found time to be the director of the 'Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition of 1931' that provided invaluable data for the Hydrographic Office and the University of Michigan. 'Then, in 1932, the true mark of an exceptional explorer was demonstrated. In that year, L Ron Hubbard, aged 21 made the first complete mineralogical survey of Puerto Rico.'
In reality, Hubbard studied civil engineering at George Washington University and, apart from a few contributions to the university newspaper, he had only one article published in a magazine. The 'Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition' was a summer cruise in a four-masted schooner that went disastrously wrong and ended with the captain declaring the trip to be the worst he had ever made. Neither the Hydrographic Office nor the University of Michigan received any data, invaluable or not. There is no record of anyone carrying out a mineralogical survey in Puerto Rico in 1932.
Between 1933 and 1941 it is maintained that Hubbard led numerous expeditions to exotic foreign parts to study 'barbaric cultures'. Not true. Hubbard never left North America during that period. The only barbaric cultures he might have encountered were in New York and Los Angeles where, by then married with a young baby, he was scratching a living writing lurid stories for blood-and-thunder pulp magazines with titles such as Secret Agent X, Thrilling Adventures and Black Mask.
In 1935, he went to Hollywood, where, predictably, he was a triumph and was apparently instantly hired to work on John Ford's classic, Stagecoach, and The Plainsman starring Gary Cooper. Curiously, his name was omitted from the credits on both movies, but his biography insists that 'his work in Hollywood is still remembered'. If it is remembered it is certainly unacknowledged: the Screenwriters Guild can only find one credit for L Ron Hubbard, as the writer of The Secret of Treasure Island, a 15-part serial made for showing at Saturday morning matinees.
He then turned his hand to science- fiction and moved to New York. His first effort was a diverting little tale about a university professor who works out a philosophical equation enabling him to transport himself to any part of the universe by thought alone. This was followed by a novelette called Doughface Jack, about a tramp who, after an operation in which a silver plate is inserted into his head, discovers he has the power to heal, or to kill, with a single glance.
It was during the Second World War, according to the Church of Scientology, that L Ron Hubbard emerged as a true American hero. He first served in the South Pacific with such distinction that the Secretary of the Navy made his private plane available to fly him home when he was wounded - the first US casualty to return from the Far East. In the autumn of 1942, he was back in the thick of the action, fighting German submarines as the captain of a corvette in the North Atlantic. The following year he was made 'Commodore of Corvette Squadrons' and, in 1944, he was with the amphibious forces, working deep behind enemy lines. After serving in all five theatres, winning 21 medals and palms, he was seriously wounded, which left him blind and crippled.
None of this derring-do is confirmed by documents held at the Defense Department in Washington. Unfortunately for Hubbard, his complete war record is available under the Freedom of Information Act, and it tells a very different story indeed. On joining the US Naval Reserve, Lieutenant LR Hubbard was shunted from one desk job to another. Two weeks after Pearl Harbor, he was posted to the Philippines, but got no further than Brisbane, Australia, where, while waiting for a ship to Manila, he so antagonised his senior officers that he was sent home. 'This officer is not satisfactory for independent duty assignment,' the US Naval Attache in Melbourne reported.
'He is garrulous and tries to give impressions of his importance. He also seems to think he has unusual ability in most lines.'
Back at HQ Twelfth Naval District in San Francisco, Hubbard was temporarily assigned to cable censorship. Then, in June 1942, he got his big chance and was given command of a gunboat being converted at a shipyard in Massachusetts, but even before he could put to sea he was again in trouble with his superiors. He was summarily relieved of his command, with a note on his record that he was 'not temperamentally fitted for independent command'.
This notwithstanding, Hubbard was next sent to the Submarine Chaser Training Center in Miami. He arrived wearing dark glasses, explaining to his fellow officers that he had received a severe flash burn while serving as a gunnery officer on a destroyer in the Dutch East Indies.
At the end of the course, he was given command of a sub-chaser, the USS PC-815. Only five hours out on her shakedown cruise, Hubbard sent a signal back to base in Seattle with the sensational news that he had encountered at least one, perhaps two, enemy submarines off the coast of Oregon! While PC-815 began making attack runs and dropping depth charges, reinforcements were hastily sent to the scene. Over the next 24 hours, five other ships and two observation blimps arrived in the area, but none of them could find any sign of a submarine. Hubbard, on the bridge of PC-815, insisted that he had seen periscopes and continued charging madly back and forth until all his depth charges were exhausted.
At an official inquiry a few days later, it was concluded that there were no submarines in the area and that the commanding officer of PC-815 had probably mistaken a 'known magnetic deposit' in the area for contact with a submarine.
Hubbard luckily escaped any censure for fighting a ferocious battle with a magnetic deposit, but a month later he nearly caused a diplomatic incident.
On patrol out of San Diego, PC-815 got lost and strayed into Mexican territorial waters. Undaunted, Hubbard anchored for the night and then decided it would be a good idea to do a little gunnery practice, ordering the crew to fire on a group of islands just off the coast used by Mexican fishermen to dry their nets. The incident was deemed sufficiently serious for Hubbard to be hauled before a Board of Investigation, where he was admonished and recommended for transfer to a larger ship where he could be properly supervised.
The fitness report covering his brief and inglorious career as a commanding officer rated him 'below average' and concluded: 'Consider this officer lacking in the essential qualities of judgement, leadership and co-operation.' Posted on temporary duty to HQ Eleventh Naval District, Lieutenant Hubbard reported sick with a variety of ailments ranging from malaria to a duodenal ulcer to pains in his back. He was hospitalised for three months and wrote home to inform his family that he had been injured when he picked up an unexploded shell from the deck of his ship and it had exploded in mid-air as he threw it over the side. In January 1944, Hubbard was assigned to the USS Algol, an amphibious attack cargo ship. Despite the Mexican debacle, he was made navigating officer. His desire to see action seemed to have waned somewhat: when it was rumoured that the USS Algol was to be sent to the Pacific, he applied for transfer to a shore-based training school.
Hubbard was hospitalised for three months after the war, although the doctors were undecided as to precisely what was wrong with him. He was certainly neither blind nor crippled, but seemed to be suffering from endless minor aches and pains, all documented by the Veterans' Administration in his strenuous attempts to claim a disability pension. In February 1946, the VA allocated him a pension of $ 11.50 a month for a 10 per cent disability caused by an ulcer, but Hubbard did not consider this to be nearly enough and lodged an appeal.
The frequent medical examinations documented in his bulging VA file indicated the doctors were baffled. Despite his miserable litany of complaints, they could find nothing wrong with him. But his determination paid off and, in February 1948, his disability rating was re-assessed at 40 per cent and his pension was increased to $ 55 a month.
What Hubbard did not reveal to the VA was that his desperately poor health did not prevent him enthusiastically participating in black magic rituals with a bizarre group in California, led by a man called Jack Parsons - a respected scientist by day and a dedicated occultist by night - who believed passionately in the power of black magic and the existence of Satan. Hubbard moved into Parsons' house in Pasadena and repaid his hospitality by promptly running off with his young girlfriend, Sara Northrup. Hubbard and Sara subsequently married; Hubbard, typically, did not bother to inform his bride that he had neglected to obtain a divorce from his first wife.
Throughout the time Hubbard was trying to hoodwink the Veterans' Administration, dabbling with black magic and committing bigamy, it is the serious contention of the Church of Scientology that he was completing his research into the 'common denominator of life' and engaged in an 'intensive testing programme' of new therapeutic techniques. What cannot be disputed is that in the spring of 1950, Hubbard's treatise, Dianetics: An Introduction to a New Science, was first published. The fact that it made its debut in a magazine called Astounding Science Fiction, which featured an ape-like alien with yellow eyes glowering menacingly from the cover, did little to establish its plausibility with the scientific community, but it certainly captured the imagination of science-fiction fans.
Hubbard's theory was that the human brain was like a computer with an infinite memory bank divided into two components, the 'analytical mind' and the 'reactive mind'. Stress and pain was stored in the 'reactive mind' as 'engrams'. Dianetics was a simple technique to gain access to these engrams and re-file them in the analytical mind where their influence could be eradicated. In this way, Dianetics was able to cure all psychological and psychosomatic illnesses.
He expanded his ideas in a book, Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health, in which he modestly declared that his new science was 'a milestone for Man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his invention of the wheel'. Not everyone agreed. A critic in Scientific American asserted that the book contained less evidence per page than any publication since the invention of printing, but to a nation increasingly inclined to unload its problems on to an expensive psychiatrist's couch, the prospect of a simple, do-it-yourself therapy was deeply enticing. Dianetics was soon topping bestseller lists and Hubbard was an overnight celebrity, in demand for speaking engagements across the nation.
Within a few years Dianetics gave way to Scientology, described by Hubbard as the science of certainty. By 1954, the first Church of Scientology was established, in keeping, a Scientology publication soberly explains, with 'the religious nature of the tenets from the earliest days of research'.
Nowhere in the Scientology literature is there mention of one of Hubbard's favourite aphorisms: 'If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be to start a religion.'
As Hubbard's fame grew, his behaviour became more erratic, his claims more extravagant and his personal life more chaotic. There were furious legal battles for control of the growing organisation and a messy divorce from Sara involving charges that he had kidnapped their child; both the FBI and the CIA opened files on him.
In 1959, he moved to Britain with his third wife, Mary Sue, and established the headquarters of Scientology at Saint Hill, the former home of the Maharajah of Jaipur, which he claimed to have won in a poker game. Happily ensconced as lord of the manor, Hubbard began issuing increasingly bizarre proclamations, including an offer to help President Kennedy narrow the gap in the space race by training astronauts. In 1963, Hubbard revealed that he had twice visited heaven, 43 trillion and 42 trillion years earlier.
As Scientology inexorably spread its tentacles around the world, it was not always welcomed. In 1965, in Australia, a Board of Inquiry into Scientology issued a damning report: ' Scientology is evil; its techniques evil; its practice a serious threat to the community, medically, morally and socially; and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill.' Hubbard's sanity, it concluded, was to be gravely doubted'.
Hubbard fought back, claiming the Australian inquiry was nothing more than a 'kangaroo court', but he was clearly shaken and began looking for a country which would provide a 'safe environment' for Scientologists. He chose Rhodesia, first, because he thought he could help to solve the unilateral declaration of independence crisis and, second, because he believed he had been Cecil Rhodes in a previous life.
Sadly, the Rhodesian government turned down his offer to re-write their constitution. In 1967, aged 56, Hubbard embarked on the one true adventure of his life. Despairing of government hostility on shore, he took his whole organisation to sea, donned a dashing uniform of his own design and set off on an extraordinary odyssey. He led a fleet of ships across the oceans for nearly 10 years, variously pursued by the CIA, the FBI, the international media and a miscellany of suspicious government and maritime organisations.
As 'Commodore' of the 'Sea Org', Hubbard allowed his paranoia and eccentricities full rein. In port, anyone who committed an offence, no matter how trivial, was promptly thrown over the side; at sea, troublemakers were assigned to the Rehabilitation Project Force, forced to wear black overalls, sleep on filthy mattresses in an unventilated hold and eat leftovers. As the years went by, Hubbard became more and more isolated, refusing to speak to anyone except his messengers - teenage girls kitted out in hotpants and halter tops who were trained like robots to relay his orders in exactly his tone of voice.
In 1973, Hubbard dreamed up a wily plan to secure his place in posterity.
The Freedom of Information Act had revealed to the Church of Scientology that government agencies in the United States held a daunting amount of information about both Scientology and its founder, much of it less than flattering. Hubbard, who had never been fettered by convention or strict observance of the law, devised a simple, but startling, ambitious plan to improve his own image and that of his church for the benefit of future generations of Scientologists. He decided that Scientologists should infiltrate the agencies concerned in order to launder or destroy any damaging information. The operation was given the code name 'Snow White'.
By the time Hubbard decided to return to America, in great secrecy, in 1975, Operation Snow White was well advanced and Scientologists had infiltrated the offices of the Inland Revenue Service, the US Coast Guard and the Drug Enforcement Agency. But in June 1976, it suddenly all went wrong: two Scientologists were discovered hiding in the US Courthouse Library, where they were intending to steal files. Then the FBI raided the offices of the Church of Scientology in Washington and Los Angeles and carted away thousands of documents which would reveal the astonishing scope of Operation Snow White.
Hubbard immediately went into hiding and left his wife, Mary Sue, to take the rap. In Washington in August 1978, a federal grand jury indicted nine Scientologists, including Mary Sue, on 28 counts of conspiring to steal government documents, burglarising government offices and conspiring to obstruct justice. All were found guilty, fined and sent to prison. Mary Sue Hubbard received the maximum - five years.
When Mary Sue began her prison sentence at the Federal Correctional Institute in Kentucky, her husband disappeared for good, never to be seen in public again. Accompanied by a few loyal aides, he holed up in a remote farmhouse in Creston, not far from San Luis Obispo, California. He maintained control of Scientology via a single messenger, who shuttled backwards and forwards between the farmhouse and the Scientology headquarters in Los Angeles.
In May 1984, the Church attempted to sue a disaffected member who had defected with a mass of documents proving that Hubbard had lied about his achievements all his life. A procession of witnesses trooped into the courtroom to tell their dismal stories about life in Scientology, at the end of which the judge refused to order the return of the documents and delivered a scathing assessment of the Church's founder: 'The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements. The writings and documents in evidence additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power and vindictiveness'
Hubbard died at his Creston hideaway on January 24, 1986. The news was broken to 1,800 followers hastily gathered in the Hollywood Palladium the following afternoon like this: 'L Ron Hubbard discarded the body he had used in this lifetime for 74 years, 10 months and 11 days. The body he used to facilitate his existence in this universe had ceased to be useful and in fact had become an impediment to the work he must now do outside its confines. The being we knew as L Ron Hubbard still exists He has simply moved on to his next step. LRH in fact used this lifetime and the body we knew to accomplish what no man has ever accomplished - he unlocked the mysteries of life and gave us tools so we could free ourselves and our fellow men.'
Ever since Hubbard's death, journalists who have tried to separate fact from fiction about his life have been relentlessly harassed by members of the Church of Scientology, as I know to my cost. When I was researching a book about Hubbard I discovered a team of private detectives was making inquiries about me, trying to dig up some dirt; I was warned I was under continual surveillance and that my telephone was tapped; the police were constantly at my door having received information that I was implicated in any number of crimes ranging from
murder to arson; somebody regularly combed through the rubbish left outside my publisher's office in the hope of finding a copy of the manuscript; and wherever the book was published, the Church of Scientology filed a suit to try to prevent publication.
Every journalist who has crossed swords with the church has a similar story to tell. One woman writer in New York nearly had a nervous breakdown after writing a book about Scientology. She found her telephone number written on telephone boxes throughout the city with the message that she could offer callers a good time. Neighbours in her apartment block were told she had a particularly virulent, infectious disease and anyone travelling in the lift with her risked being infected. Her fingerprints were found on a bomb threat posted to an Arab embassy, resulting in the FBI surrounding her building and interrogating her.
When the Charity Commissioners convene to decide whether or not the Church of Scientology deserves charitable status, they might perhaps ponder why an organisation wanting to be recognised as a charity should be so extraordinarily sensitive about its image in the media. Or, indeed, why it has so regularly fallen foul of the law. In a famous judgement in the High Court, Mr Justice Lacey once branded Scientology as 'immoral, socially obnoxious, corrupt, sinister and dangerous'.
What Is Scientology?
Scientologists believe that we are not merely minds and bodies but spiritual beings, temporary vessels for immortal souls called Thetans and can become 'Operating Thetans' by examining painful memories and exorcising them. This is done through intensive counselling or 'auditing' and mental pain is measured by an electropsychometer, a machine L Ron Hubbard invented for the purpose.
The aim is to become 'clear'.