And as his story unfolds, it becomes impossible to regard Scientology — or, to be specific, the people who run Scientology — with anything like dispassion. “Judge not that ye not be judged,” Jesus said, but the case Wright builds calls for a jury, too. Hubbard was a voluble, charismatic, imaginative man, a writer who liked to spin fantastical stories. He was also a liar, according to Wright. The author builds a case that Hubbard lied about his health, his age and his military service — including about the medals he had earned — and in one extraordinary instance, while commanding a ship in the Pacific during World War II, Hubbard spent 68 hours attacking “at least one, possibly two” Japanese submarines that, according to subsequent official reports, did not exist.
He was married thrice and had innumerable extramarital liaisons; his second wife, Sara Northrup, accused him in divorce papers of “systematic torture” including “sleep deprivation, beatings, strangulations, and ‘scientific torture experiments.’ ” Even after the divorce became official, Wright recounts, Hubbard tried to renege as he was driving her and their daughter to the airport.
“I got out of the car,” Northrup remembered. She grabbed the child and her purse, leaving all their belongings in the vehicle. “I just ran across the airfield, across the runways, to the airport and got on the plane.” It was the happiest day of her life.
Hubbard’s famously paranoid worldview is extensively documented here as well. When a negative reputation began to taint Scientology worldwide, he launched what was perhaps his most grandiose and outrageous scheme. He called it the Snow White Program. Starting in 1973, Wright asserts, Hubbard placed as many as 5,000 Scientologists as spies in government agencies all over the world, charging them with unearthing official files on the church, “generating lawsuits to intimidate opponents, and waging an unremitting campaign against mental health professionals.”
In the United States, Wright says, the spies penetrated the IRS; the Justice, Treasury and Labor Departments; the Federal Trade Commission; and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Rich from the sales of his best-selling 1950 book “Dianetics” — and from the fees charged to church members for course work and counseling that allowed them to ascend to ever-higher levels of enlightenment — Hubbard was able to actualize what in a poorer man might have remained a half-cocked delusion. “Nothing in American history can compare with the scale of the domestic espionage of Operation Snow White,” Wright says.