The Reclusive Founder of Scientology
Date: March 4, 1974
by James E. Adams and Elaine Viets of the Post-Dispatch Staff
Second Of A Series
"Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be to start his own religion."
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard tossed off this remark at a lecture in Newark N.J., in 1949. At the time Hubbard was 38 years old, a prolific science fiction writer advising science fiction buffs on the tricks of his trade. The audience laughed.
One year later Hubbard published "Dianetics, the Modern Science of Mental Health." The book enjoyed best-seller status and a fad-following in the early 'SOs. Though Scientologists deny it, the book appears to be the basis for much of Scientology's theory and practice. Six years after the joke at the lecture in New Jersey, Hubbard started his successful - and solvent - organization, opening the Founding Church in Washington.
Hubbard turned Scientology into a religion just in time. The Food and Drug Administration was making inquiries about Hubbard's E-Meter, a primitive polygraph used for counseling students in Scientology. The FDA seized 100 E-Meters and charged that certain claims about them were "false and misleading."
United States District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell of the District Of Columbia, in an opinion in July 1971, agreed that benefits claimed for auditing through the E-Meter were "false - in short, a fraud." But Judge Gesell said the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom compelled him to deny the government request to destroy the devices.
Hubbard's organization thus technically was recognized as a religion protected by the First Amendment, and the EMeter was a "confessional aid."
The church grew rapidly. In 1959 Hubbard and his third wife, the former Mary Sue Whipp, moved to England. They bought a maharaja's mansion, St. Hill Manor, and made it the church's international headquarters and College of Scientology. Scientologists from all over the world went to St. Hill for advanced courses.
But the church had difficulties in England. In 1968 the Ministry of Health deprived the College of Scientology and all other British Scientology establishments of their status as educational institutions. Foreign nationals were barred from entering England to study or teach Scientology.
Controversy did not stem Scientology's growth. It still promises "total spiritual freedom," and claims more than 300 organizations in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Mexico and other countries. The St. Louis organization at 4225 Lindell Boulevard now has a staff of 150 persons and reportedly grosses $20,000 a week.
Hubbard and church leaders contend that he has resigned from the church's directorship, but that resignation seems to have made little difference. In a "policy letter" dated Sept. 1, 1966, the matter was ambiguously worded. Hubbard said that he was "resigning the title of executive director" and was being given the title of "Founder" instead. In his statement, Hubbard said that his services had been voluntary for some time but that church organizations had owed him "considerable outstanding sums" and should pay up.
Hubbard's authority in the church is unchallenged. He keeps in constant communication, sending a steady stream of directives, orders and policy letters to the organizations, and the units report to him weekly. And Scientology messages made available to the Past-Dispatch show that he receives money from the church - lots of it.
For example, a message to Hubbard from the Toronto organization, dated Oct. 4, 1972, six years after Hubbard's resignation, says that the Toronto unit will be "paying back LRH (L. Ron Hubbard) personally for what he has done for as. We owe Ron for author's royalties, the tech (technology) of Dianetics and Scientology, Ron's research and development and even his pocket expenses ... We owe a total of $79,358.32 (day org) and $85,027.13 (Fdn) . . . . over the last five years." (Fdn. means foundation.)
After the 1968 difficulties in England, Hubbard made himself commodore over a fleet of four ships and headed toward the warm Mediterranean. He declines to give any interviews and has been secluded for more than six years from the press, critics and followers.
The fleet's whereabouts are secret. As far as it is known, Hubbard and his top lieutenants are cruising in a triangle of friendly Portuguese and Moroccan ports on a converted cattle ferry called the Apollo. The 3278-ton ship is the flagship of Scientology's Sea Organization. The Sea Organization is a semi-secret corps of Scientologists who enter into a contract to serve for "the next billion years."
L. Ron Hubbard Jr., Hubbard's rebellious son who left the Scientology fold and then came back, described the Sea Organization as "the militant personal guard of L. Ron Hubbard. They also crew his ships and enforce policy with the other Scientology organizations."
Details of the Sea Organization operations and rumors of Hubbard's opulent life aboard the ship have been difficult to document because of tight security maintained by Scientology. In recent months, however, a former member of the Sea Organization, John McLean of Toronto, Canada, has provided the first inside account of Scientology's shipboard life. McLean, 21 years old, was third mate on the Apollo when he quit in disillusionment.
"After I became third mate and began getting confidential data, I realized the Church of Scientology is power- and money-hungry," he told the Post-Dispatch in a lengthy interview.
"Third mate is in charge of personnel placement, internal communication and ethics, or discipline, of everyone on board. I was in direct communication with Hubbard," he said.
McLean says that there are 300 crew members and "they are compelled to do things by fear. I was scared of getting kicked off my job, or transferred to a lousy post, or made to do amends (punishment) projects. Fear is very, very strong. Hubbard wrote a book about it. He's almost a master of fear."
McLean describes Hubbard as about 65 years old, short and fat, weighing about 250 pounds. He has no teeth and is often sick. He is given to wild mood swings. "Hubbard has the best of everything possible aboard a ship," McLean said. "He has cars, three motorcycles, a stereo system, the best food and clothing, a cook, a valet and a private suite of rooms." His wife Mary Sue and some of his children, Diana and her husband, John Horwich; Quentin, 19; Suzette, 17, and Arthur, 13, live on the Apollo.
McLean had been in Scientology only a few months when he was recruited for the Sea Organization - an honor for a Scientologist. It is the family equivalent to a Catholic son joining the priesthood. McLean's mother was a staff member and an ordained minister at the Toronto Church of Scientology. She recruited another son, Bruce, and his wife, Dawn, for the Toronto staff. Her husband, Eric, a former Royal Canadian Air Force officer, began taking Scientology courses. The family has since left Scientology.
John McLean was an honor student in grade 13 at Sutton West, Ontario, near Toronto. He dropped out of high school to join the Sea Organization. McLean boarded the flagship Apollo at Tangier, Morocco, on Feb. 19, 1971. He rose quickly to third mate in May 1972, and left the ship Nov. 9, 1972.
The Sea Organization, McLean said, has a fleet of four ships: The Apollo. the Athena, which sails near Copenhagen, and the Bolivar and Excalibur, both sailing near the west coast of the United States.
During the time McLean was on board, the Apollo sailed in a triangular circuit starting at Tangier, then to Casablanca, Safi and Agadir, all in Morocco, to the island of Madeira and on to Lisbon and Faro, Portugal.
The Apollo doesn't practice Scientology openly, McLean said. It has a cover organization, Operation and Transport Corporation, Ltd., a company registered in Panama. OTC Ltd. is supposed to train people from affiliated organizations in business management.
"It's really everyone from the individual Scientology organizations that comes to the ship to train in Scientology technology," McLean said. "No one but Scientologists are to live aboard. But officials in the Moroccan and Portuguese governments believe the ship is a management training company.
"One of my jobs was keeping tight security. When some official came aboard there was a clean ship drill. Anything on the walls to do with Scientology was taken down, books and papers were hidden and various packs written for the occasion were brought out. These packs deal with business management. A new person on board was not allowed to go ashore until he passed a test about the cover story, so he couldn't give away the fact we were Scientologists. Crew members were not supposed to talk or have anything to do with Scientology while ashore."
Life on board the ship had a surrealistic quality, McLean said. There was talk of vast sums of money, casual remarks about taking over countries and acquiring property. In a daily communications to the crew, Hubbard gleefully accounts the week's totals, McLean said, mentioning hundreds of thousands of dollars coming in.
A report on some of Hubbard's new property ends with this statement, "We own quite a bit of property over the world, and we'll be acquiring more, as weIl as some countries."
A mistake, a typing error, a bit of bravado? Possibly, but McLean doesn't think so. "Do not underestimate Hubbard," he said.
"Hubbard is in total control of the church," McLean said. "and he's still getting money from the local organizations. The church is rich. I estimate the annual income was between $60,000,000 and $80,000.000 a year when I left. I personally handled about $500,000 when I was on board."
McLean has documents to support his estimates. One, for instance, shows a message from a Los Angeles organization. "So this week our presentation for you, sir, Mary Sue and Flag is about $400,000. Sorry it wasn't a bouquet with a million blossoms ... "
Hubbard also is said to wield power over the lives of those who leave the church. "It's made known that people who go against Scientology don't live happy, unaffected lives," McLean said. "I know. I instilled that fear in people when they left the ship.
'To get off when I was a third mate a person had to sign a document saying he would not talk about Scientology, the Sea Organization, the ship's whereabouts or Hubbard himself. The person had to sign a promissory note for all the money the Sea Organization said he owed, and he had to promise not to sue Scientology for the money he felt he was owed. Lastly, he had to sign a statement. 'I signed my Sea Organization contract with no intention of fulfilling it.'"
McLean said he managed to leave without signing any forms. "I feel I can talk about Scientology because of that," he said. "I believe I am the only Sea Organization member who does talk. The others signed the papers and they fear harassment and recrimination.
"For nine months after I left the ship, I didn't work. Emotionally, I was not stable enough to do anything but try to stop Scientology from attacking my family. I was under a doctor's care and on tranquilizers.
"Now," he said, "I'm better. I'm off the tranquilizers. But my life is still not back to normal. I'm still being harassed. My family is being sued for $1,000,000 for a television program we did about Scientology. I expect more trouble."
For months McLean's family has been a target of Scientologists. The family's home was picketed twice by the Toronto Church of Scientology. The church held a funeral for the "lost souls" of the Eric McLean family. Scientology pallbearers carried a black coffin through the streets of Sutton.
Tomorrow: The church's technology.