Scientology from inside out
Robert Vaughn Young
"This is one of the most important articles ever written on the subject of the cult. Nowhere else are these points explained." - Jon Atack
Published in Quill, The Magazine of The Society for Professional Journalists; November-December 1993. [pages 38-41, consisting of a major story, a smaller story and four sidebars] Copyright 1993 by Quill. Webbed with RVY's permission.
Scientology from inside out
A former insider reveals strategies for managing the news media
They say the first step in any recovery program is the admission,
so here it is: I handled public relations (PR) and the media for L. Ron
Hubbard and his Scientology empire for 20 years.
It is no accident that I avoid saying "Church of Scientology" --
the trademarked corporate name. The Scientology world is much larger than
merely the "Church" of Scientology (see sidebar "Secular", p. 40). It
is a labyrinth of corporate shells that, like a hall of mirrors, was
designed to baffle all but the initiated. Add to that an arcane language
and dedicated "PRs" trained to divert and control inquiries, and it
becomes obvious why few outsiders have been able to comprehend the
Scientology hydra, let alone write about it. I hope this will make it easier.
From 1969 to 1989, I worked at every echelon of the organization,
from a small, new "mission" up to national and then international level,
including handling media in other countries and working at Hubbard's
personal literary agency. During my tenure, I handled reporters from high
school papers and from The New York Times. I have appeared as a
Scientology spokesman on radio talk shows and national TV news, as well
as in magazines, books, and even a documentary film. I was a member of
the Guardian's Office, the pseudo-naval Sea Organization, and the glitzy
Author Services Inc., Hubbard's literary agency in downtown Hollywood.
When the FBI raided Church of Scientology Guardian offices in Los
Angeles and D.C. in 1977, I was the national spokesman, fielding
questions on that day and in the months to come.
When Hubbard's secret international headquarters at Gilman Hot
Springs near Hemet, California, was exposed in 1980, I went in to convert
the image of the facility overnight. I gave the Los Angeles ABC-TV
affiliate a tour of "Golden Era Productions," the image it still has to
this day (see sidebar "How to fool the press", p. 41).
When Hubbard died in 1986, I was called to his secret California
ranch, arriving well before the authorities were called, to help design
and implement the strategy to control the media, as well as to calm his
For my training, I studied and had secret directives from Hubbard
and others on how to handle reporters, how to deal with police and
government agencies, how to create front groups, and how to discredit or
destroy a person or a group with Hubbard's "fair game" doctrine.
I also trained other Scientology PRs on how to handle the media,
using material from Hubbard. This included how to respond to a question
without answering, how to divert the issue, how to tell "an acceptable
truth," how to stall for time, how to assume various emotional states to
control another, how to "attack the attacker," how to take control of a
conversation, how to introvert a person and how to "get the message
across" (especially in an age of sound bites), how to help Scientology
attorneys write inflammatory legal papers so the PR could then safely use
the abusive phrases, and how to appear to be a religion.
This, in brief, is what a journalist faces when encountering a
trained and dedicated Scientology PR. The journalist wants a story. The
PR wants to kill the story, or at least control it. While this is not
particularly unusual, Scientology goes further than most. Scientology
stands ready and able to unleash an assault on the journalist that can
include private detectives and lawsuits, making it little wonder that
publications have grown reluctant to write about the Hubbard empire. (See
"Shudder into silence," Quill, Nov./Dec., 1991.)
Since Scientologists know how the Fourth Estate operates, it's
time the journalist had a chance to learn some of the attitudes, rules,
tactics, and tricks known only to Scientology.
1. Your local fanatic.
Before taking with any Scientology PR or
executive, a journalist must know that he or she will be talking to a
fanatic -- a person seeking to save the world. This is exactly what
Scientologists believe they are doing.
Moreover, unless you stand ready to print a Scientology story
exactly as presented, you will be viewed as an enemy, an agent of the
American Medical Association (AMA), a mouthpiece of psychiatry, or
someone ready "to sell out the human race if his editor told him to" --
in the words of a Hubbard policy letter of August 14, 1963. (This is a
key Scientology document. Ask a PR to give you a copy. If he declines, it
can be found in the green policy volumes available in any Scientology
2. You keeping notes?
Know that after your meeting (and after
each encounter, including phone calls) the PR will write a debrief This
report will usually be E-mailed to the PR's superior and up the command
channel -- and probably also into an intelligence area for filing.
Therefore, start your own notes of everything that transpires.
3. Image is everything.
Realize that when you are dealing with a
PR or official of the Church of Scientology, religious image is not only
a vital PR defense (the ecclesiastical equivalent of wrapping oneself in
the flag) but is also crucial for tax-exemption purposes and for court
cases. Thus the PR must be sure to demonstrate that Scientology is "an
applied religious philosophy." The PR will have many documents to "prove
the religious bona fides" of Scientology (but lack anything to the
contrary -- such as decisions or rulings -- of which he may honestly not
4. The shell game.
When proving the bona fides, PRs make no
distinction among the many Scientology corporations. A Los Angeles
organization will parade the acceptance of Scientology in London or St.
Louis. But when needed, a complex labyrinth of corporations -- a
veritable hall of mirrors -- comes into play. Suddenly no two Scientology
organizations touch. Officials of one will act as if they barely know the
officials in another. The reason is, of course, the IRS and the courts.
So try to find out which corporation you're talking to and how it
relates to the material you are being given. See if the PR or official is
willing to go on-record permeating the corporate shells.
Trying to sort out the relations between the Church of Spiritual
Technology, World Institute of Scientology Enterprises, and the Religious
Technology Center is like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube. Simply take the
shortcut: find the unincorporated Sea Organization (SO). Touted as a
"fraternal" organization, the SO is the highest inner circle of
Scientology; it was the actual alter ego of Hubbard, the hidden nexus
that permeates all corporations. Surprisingly, it has escaped scrutiny.
But asking the SO about the SO is like asking the CIA about the
CIA. The difference is the CIA must respond to Freedom of Information Act
5. Say what?
Politicians are notorious for responding to a
question without answering it; Scientology PRs practice the skill for
hours on end. The PR will drill how to answer simple questions about
Scientology, how to "no-answer" a question, how to stall for time, and
how to attack. (According to the original material, this included
shouting, banging the desk, pointing at the reporter, and swearing.)
Thus a seemingly innocuous question such as "What is
Scientology?" has already been practiced extensively, and there is a
ready answer. More probing questions will produce "no answer." Therefore
a reporter can measure sensitivity by avoidance, and you will find that
once you understand this, it is quite easy to spot.
To deal with this, first realize that it is part of the PR's
training. Listen carefully to his or her answers. (Better yet, tape the
interview.) When the PR tries to avoid the question with a non sequitur,
repeat your question. Continue to repeat your question until you actually
get an answer. Ask the PR what drills he or she did before your
interview, and ask to see current organization policies on handling the
media. (Many are publicly available in Scientology bookstores.)
6. A dead what?
Depending on your story angle, you can easily
find yourself buried by packs of documentation. Some are called "DA [dead
agent] packs." Hubbard took the phrase from Sun-tzu's "The Art of War,"
in which different types of agents are described. The "dead agent" is the
one who is caught in a lie. The "DA pack" is supposed to counter a lie
(thereby rendering the liar "dead" as a credible source) and usually
addresses a particular document, from a newspaper article to a book. It
is also used to discredit a person or a group that may be a source of
criticism of Scientology.
A DA pack can include anything from Hubbard's writings to a piece
of press to an affidavit obtained by a private investigator. The purpose
is to refute the targeted piece, person or group at virtually any cost.
If the article presents no clear-cut falsehoods or errors but paints
Scientology in an unfavorable light, the DA becomes a general reply
(usually an attack on the source) that may be issued as a pamphlet, an
ad, or an article.
Where possible, verify the claims or documentation. Contact the
targeted person, group, or author of the article. Also take note of what
is not refuted or challenged. In Scientology, omission can be as good as
You can ask to talk to the people who produced the DA pack, but
chances are you will not be allowed to, because they are not trained to
deal with the media. In Scientology, only trained PRs are supposed to talk
to the press. If an exception is made, it will be only those that are
proofed up or drilled or have a proven track record of talking to the
media about Scientology, and then it is often with a PR present. (A
recent example will be found in the September issue of Premiere. The
reporter was denied access to Hollywood celebrities in Scientology.) If
you can do it, find some staff members who will talk to you. Find some
field Scientologists to interview. You'll learn more from them.
7. Go for the gold.
In Scientology, there is an exact chain of
command. Each organization has one. The public version is supposed to be
posted on a large wall of the organization. It should show the local
position of your PR What will not be shown is his or her chain of command.
The media are handled by the Office of Special Affairs, or OSA,
in the Church of Scientology. The OSA PR will have a senior on the PR
chain of command. If the PR is a local OSA staff member (meaning the PR
for a city or area), his or her senior will be at the continental level
(such as OSA United States, located in Los Angeles) and then at the "int"
or international level (OSA Int is also in L.A.). After that, the chain
of command jumps to the Religious Technology Center (RTC). In highly
unusual circumstances, an RTC official will intervene to handle a
journalist, particularly if it is a crucial story for one reason or
another, because RTC monitors all OSA activity and is ultimately
responsible for any media on Scientology, whether good or bad.
RTC's chairman of the board is David Miscavige, who is now the
admitted head of the Church of Scientology. His latest intervention will
be found in the October issue of Premiere magazine. For any story on
Scientology, Miscavige is the one to be interviewed. He lives on the
Golden Era Productions property at Gilman Hot Springs. The PR assigned to
you will know how to get a message to him. If all else fails, call Golden
Era Productions. The personnel there know how to reach him.
Scientology is in a state of siege with psychiatry,
the media, and anything else perceived as attacking Hubbard or the
organization. It has been that way since Hubbard named them as enemies
decades ago. Talk to a Scientology PR long enough, and you may begin to
sense something vaguely familiar about the attitude. walk through a
Scientology office, and the proliferation of photographs and busts of
Hubbard may strike a familiar chord.
Just substitute "Sea Organization" for "Party" in the following
passage, and the chilling parallel may be evident:
"Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent,
industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also
necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose
prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In
other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate
to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually
happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter
whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a
state of war should exist. The splitting of the intelligence which the
Party requires of its members, and which is more easily achieved in an
atmosphere of war, is now almost universal, but the higher up the ranks
one goes, the more marked it becomes. It is precisely in the Inner Party
that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest. In his capacity
as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner
Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he
may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not
happening or is being waged for purpose quite other than the declared
ones; but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of
double-think meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his
mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end
victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world."
--George Orwell, "1984"
Robert Vaughn Young is a free-lance writer in Newport Beach, California.
There will be no lack of material from Scientology about the
movement. But there are a number of works that the Scientologists will
not cite. Among them are:
- Los Angeles Times, June 2429, 1990. This is a six-part series
by Robert W. Welkos and Joel Sappell. It is the most comprehensive series
undertaken by a newspaper.
- Time Magazine, May 6, 1991, "The Thriving Cult of Greed and
Power," by Richard Behar.
- Jon Atack, "A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics, and L.
Ron Hubbard Exposed" (Carol Publishing Group" 1990). This is the most
definitive book available.
- Russell Miller, "The Bare Faced Messiah: The Story of L. Ron
Hubbard" (paperback, Sphere Books Ltd." 1987)
- Roy Wallis, "The Road To Total Freedom" (Columbia University
Press, 1976). Perhaps because this is a sociological study of
Scientology, this is a cold, calm, academic dissection of the subject and
I also trained other Scientology PRs how to handle the media,
using material from Hubbard. This included
- How to respond to a question without answering.
- How to divert the issue, how to tell "an acceptable truth."
- How to stall for time.
- How to easily assume various emotional states to control another.
- How to "attack the attacker."
- How to take control of a conversation, how to introvert a
person and how to "get the message across."
- How to help Scientology attorneys write inflammatory legal
papers so the PR could then safely use the abusive phrases.
- How to appear to be a religion."
The Secular Side
Scientology actually has two sides: the religious and the
secular. Some may prefer to pursue just the secular side. For example:
This is but the beginning. There are many more for-profit groups
that claim to use Hubbard technology. They are usually members of the
World Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE) which is licensed by
RTC to use Hubbard's name and materials. WISE issues a directory of
members, and other publications (such as the "Who, What, Where" directory
in Los Angeles) also promote businesses that are
Scientologically-oriented and staffed or run by Scientologists.
- The Way to Happiness Foundation -- This was formed to manage
distribution of the Hubbard booklet by the same name that he claimed is a
"non religious moral code." Others say it is a covert way of establishing
- Author Services Inc. (ASI) -- This was established in the early
1980s as a for profit "full service literary agency" with offices on
Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard. The only catch was that Hubbard was the
only author. And every staff member was in the Sea Organization.
- Bridge Publications, Inc. (BPI) -- BPI publishes Hubbard's books
and materials and distributes them to Churches of Scientology as well as
to commercial outlets. It is located at the Scientology complex in
- Citizens Commission On Human Rights (CCHR) -- Coordinated out of
the Office of Special Affairs, CCHR is perhaps Scientology's oldest
effort in the field of social reform. It does not overtly promulgate
Scientology but its connection is not denied. Its purpose is to expose
the "crimes" of psychiatry.
- Sterling Management -- A large for profit management consulting
firm in Glendale, Calif., Sterling Management holds "seminars" regularly
in cities across the United States. Its primary audience appears to be
dentists. It says that it is merely using the "administrative technology"
of L. Ron Hubbard to help businesses grow. Others say that it is a covert
way of bringing money and new people into Scientology. The issue of the
connection between the two is currently under litigation in a Los Angeles
Superior Court. It is still in the pre-trial stage.
How To Fool The Press: A study in misinformation
In nearly 20 years of handling the media for Scientology and
Hubbard, I dealt with a lot of journalists. One of the most challenging
occurred in 1980, when the Riverside Press-Enterprise broke a story by
Dick Lyneis that Hubbard was secretly ensconced at a nearby deserted
resort called Gilman Hot Springs.
Since the FBI raid on Scientology offices in 1977, Hubbard had
been the target of an increasing number of process servers and government
investigators. His location had become one of Scientology's best-kept
secrets. When necessary, Hubbard could move and he did.
But the headquarters of Scientology International in Gilman Hot
Springs could not move so easily. Although Hubbard claimed not to be
running the Church of Scientology, in fact he did. Here was the seat of
the Hubbard Holy Empire, 90 minutes east of Los Angeles. Hubbard was not
eager for attorneys, the media, or the Internal Revenue Service to know
I was sent in to handle the situation.
As in Clearwater, Florida, Scientology had covertly bought the
Gilman Hot Springs property and secretly moved in. The phone book listed
it as the "Scottish Highland Quietude Club." Few driving by were
interested in the few people who occasionally walked between the
By the time I arrived, Hubbard had disappeared. Most of the staff
he had deserted were terrified because the security he had demanded had
been blown. They knew his temper and they feared his wrath.
I toured the property and found a small film-making area and an
audio tape production unit, called Golden Era, which was supposed to
supply materials to the Church of Scientology. Both had been shut down by
Hubbard, but I saw my solution. It was, as he called it, "an acceptable
truth." I obtained L.A.'s approval for my plan.
Through that night and into the morning, the facility was
converted. I had the paper covering all the windows taken off. Everything
was cleaned. Equipment and desks were rearranged to hide certain tasks
and to create others. Tapes, films, scripts, and costumes were dragged
out and made obvious. Many international management staff were sent off
the base to reduce the number of personnel.
The next day, the "Scottish Highland Quietude Club" had become
Golden Era Studios. A media tour went without a hitch. The
tape-production area wasn't cranking yet, but I did get people busy
making costumes and booklets or doing artwork. We found a makeshift
studio that "just happened" to be working when the tour came through.
Asked about "international management," I said yes, they did manage
distribution of films and tapes, which did go to churches worldwide. No
one noticed I had avoided the question and diverted attention to the film
and tape production.
The news that night was perfect. The Riverside Press-Enterprise
story had been countered. Gilman was no longer considered the
headquarters of Scientology. It was just a bustling film and tape
facility that supplied the Church of Scientology.
When the flap died down, international management quietly moved
back in. Since then Golden ERA Productions has expanded considerably.
There are even guided public tours and PR glitz, including an occasional
VIP or Scientology celebrity tour of the tape and film facilities. No one
asks about the other function we were able to quietly reinstall after the
flap was handled., or the other management organizations that were
But they're there, just up the hill from the sound stage, not too
far from the spa where the hot springs no longer flow.
Some journalists who have been involved with stories about the
world of Scientology were willing to offer their advice on how to
approach the subject:
Robert Welkos, Los Angeles Times: "It helps to know their PRs, so
the reporter is not intimidated. On the organization, its a hydra-headed
monster. I tried to not let it baffle me. I decided not to be concerned
with how each piece fit into the big strategy. You'll go nuts if you try
to prove this or that is the most important arm of Scientology. And be
prepared [for] lot of contact and pressure."
John Richardson, Premiere Magazine: "Really do your legwork
first. Research the history. And act from the start as if you are already
in a lawsuit by being straight, honest and keeping good notes and
records. When you get into the interview stage, there will be attempts to
trip you up and challenge what you do and say as well as attempts to lay
groundwork for a case against you. So watch what you say."
Curtis Krueger, St. Petersburg Times: "Know the history. It's
good to read "Dianetics" to now the terminology and theory.... [I]t's a
good idea to read books, biographies of Hubbard to know the controversy.
It's important background. [On working with Scientology]: Expect a lot of
runaround, a lot of delaying to get information. It requires a lot of
patience. But if you persist, you'll get it."
Bill Horn, American Lawyer: "The best tactic is to stick with
basic journalistic principles. Go back for fair comment. Take heavy
notes. I'd suggest tape.... If you have to interview, keep in mind their
tactic of suing so be prepared. And always research before. I did a lot
of calls before contact with the church."
Bill Press, Los Angeles radio and TV commentator: "Be prepared to
be harassed. They are very protective and aggressive towards anyone who
is writing any story on them. I was at their property on a public
sidewalk doing a stand-up, never even talked to anyone in Scientology,
returned to the TV station, 15 minutes later and before I got there they
were on the phone to the news director demanding to know the context and
wanting equal time. They're very clever, very skilled at media
harassment. I was not prepared for that kind of harassment. I never ever
received anything like that from any other source. They're an untold
story. They've scared a lot of news off. They're getting away with
murder. I say put on your asbestos suit and charge."