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Scientology Fiction

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How do I know this? Because I have read the scriptures of Scientology, as written by church founder L. Ron Hubbard. And because, according to those scriptures, a journalist like myself is an enemy -- specifically, a "suppressive person" and "chaos merchant," to use the colorful language of Hubbard, a gifted science fiction writer who died in 1986, convinced his church would lead all mankind to "total freedom."

Hubbard's grand dream remains unrealized, but Scientology seems to be gaining some of the mainstream acceptance its leaders covet. In Washington, it is moving its headquarters to the more visible Fraser mansion near Dupont Circle. Earlier this month, the Church of Scientology International's top leadership invited reporters to celebrate the religion's 40th anniversary by covering an exhibit and luncheon at the National Press Club.

I was barred from attending. "You seem to make a living by writing falsehoods," said Kurt Weiland, the head of the church's Office of Special Affairs. A big-bellied man with an Austrian accent, Weiland blocked me from the First Amendment Lounge, where Church President Heber Jentzsch was chatting up other journalists.

The public has been hearing a lot about Scientology's virtues lately from celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Isaac Hayes and Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), who credit Hubbard's "processing" regimens and "study technology" for bringing happiness and fulfillment to their lives. I have heard praise for the transforming spiritual power of Hubbard's Dianetics counseling (the foundation of Scientology) since the day I began investigating the organization in 1979. I was a young reporter in the small beach town of Clearwater, Fla., where Hubbard's Sea Organization established its "Flag Land Base."

From the beginning, I have also heard persuasive stories of abuse and deception from ex-members. Among the defectors are those who say they paid substantial sums to attain the secrets of the upper-level Scientology courses, which are based on Hubbard's vision of an intergalactic Holocaust 75 million years ago, when an evil ruler named Xenu implanted "thetans" (or spirits) in volcanoes on Teegeeack, which we now call Earth.

But I am not writing to dispute the religious nature of Scientology -- which the Internal Revenue Service affirmed when it granted tax-exempt status to 150 churches last year. This is America: Believe in whatever cosmology you want to, and toss whatever size chunk of change you see fit into the collection basket.

Neither do I seek to prove or disprove the grievances by former members, whether brought in court -- or on the Internet. Church spokesmen point out that it has "millions" of satisfied members while the apostates number a "couple dozen." The total of defectors is actually unknown, but Lerma says hundreds of America Online users have downloaded documents critical of the church. Some who quit Scientology say they dare not go on record for fear of reprisals.

Many journalists have learned that lesson, too. As early as 1959, Hubbard issued orders to stem negative press and ensure that journalists would "shudder into silence" rather than closely examine his newly invented religion. ("Hire a private detective," Hubbard advised his staff, "to investigate the writer, not the magazine, and get any criminal or Communist background the man has.")

But the anonymity of cyberspace encourages fearless debate. The Internet newsgroups titled "alt.religion.scientology" and "alt.clearing.technology" are among the most frequently accessed on the network, with an estimated 40,000 readers. These include current Scientology practitioners, bitter dropouts and ex-staffers like Arnaldo Lerma, who favors establishing a spin-off religion that retains the problem-solving "tech." "We don't want to destroy Scientology," he says. "We just want a change of management."

This is a fantasy worthy of Hubbard's best pulp fiction. From all the evidence I've seen, management strategy toward dissent hasn't changed -- and never will.

In 1979-80, I covered the criminal proceedings against 11 Scientology officials. On the basis of internal church documents seized by the FBI, these officials were convicted of participating in various plots to plant spies in federal agencies, break into government offices and bug at least one IRS meeting.

The "Scientology 11" worked for the Guardian's Office, established by Hubbard's order in 1966. The Guardians were assigned to ensure Scientology's "survival." The church maintains that everyone connected to any criminal operations was purged in the early '80s. The latest Scientology "reference guide" for the media refers to former Guardians as "dupes" who "abandoned any pretense of following the principles described in Mr. Hubbard's writings." No mention is made of a prominent dupe -- Hubbard's wife, Mary Sue, who headed the Guardian's Office and served a year in prison.


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