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10 Bizarre Snapshots From The World Of Scientology

by Debra Kelly
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Scientology is one of those weird things that’s pretty impossible to explain. It’s got all the signs of a cult, but it’s absolutely massive, inspiring unwavering loyalty in some, a baffled sort of disbelief from others, and horror from those that have managed to defect from the Church. Even with the recent HBO documentary, there are just as many questions left as there are answers. For those of us on the outside looking in, there are some pretty unsettling things in there.

10 Shelly Miscavige

There are a lot of things that sort of happen around Scientology and then get brushed under the carpet, like the fate of Church leader David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly. While he was “Chairman of the Board,” Shelly was officially his assistant. She disappeared in 2006, was seen once, briefly, at her father’s funeral in 2007 and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

The Church is notorious for the unwavering devotion that it demands from its members, so it’s not surprising that her disappearance wasn’t officially reported until 2013, after Leah Remini defected and filed the report. Several years earlier, she was told not to ask about it when the topic came up in conversation at the wedding of one of the Church’s most notorious couples: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

Defectors from the Church are slowly helping to put together a pretty graphic picture of what’s been going on in the time leading up to her disappearance. David Miscavige has been described as nothing less than an absolute tyrant—irrational, demanding, impossible to please, and not above barbaric punishments for any slight, real or imagined. He and Shelly were at the head of the elite inner circle, called the Sea Organization, and as such, they were responsible for pretty much everything. According to one woman who worked closely with Shelly, she finally crossed him when he was out of town, and she took it upon herself to cross several things off his to-do list (like creating a job chart), without his knowledge or approval. She disappeared shortly after, reportedly having become a non-person, also known as a “Suppressive Person” (SP).

Piece by piece, more and more information began to come out, mostly from members that have successfully escaped the Church. According to Steve Hall, formerly responsible for writing most of their marketing materials, Shelly is most likely in a remote, unsettling forest retreat called the Church of Spiritual Technology (CST). Whether or not she’s there voluntarily is pure speculation. Hall suggests that her life sentence at the CST might not be entirely involuntary, and she may simply be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome—something which he’s had personal experience with. Later in 2013, the Los Angeles Police Department canceled Shelly’s missing persons case after apparently meeting with her.

9 Sea Organization

Sea Org Headquarters

Photo credit: Sinar Parman

David and Shelly Miscavige were at the head of the Sea Organization, or Sea Org. According to the official description, the Sea Organization is made up of the most dedicated Church members, who live communally and dedicate their lives to the Church’s advanced ministry services, including a drug education program and human rights education. Their logo is two fronds surrounding a star, based on what was supposedly once the Galactic Confederacy logo.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Well . . . not entirely, according to those that used to be in it.

Tracy Ekstrand is one of the many people that are coming forward with their stories about the inner circle of Sea Org, which requires signing a billion-year contract to get in; it’s a commitment you’re not just making for your current life but for all of your upcoming lives. Ekstrand joined the Church in 1967, when she, then a high school dropout, found the support that she didn’t have anywhere else.

Sea Org is likened to the US Marines when it comes to lifestyle and discipline. All the basic necessities of life are provided to you, but in return, you’d better be prepared to survive on rice and beans, give up on the “distraction” of family, and do absolutely everything you’re told.

Paul Haggis, director and screenwriter (for films like Million Dollar Baby), was one of the earliest recruits of Scientology. However, he fell out after his discovery of countless human rights violations, including their very public support of California’s notorious Proposition 8. He was also a Sea Org member from the beginning. Haggis recounts being on a ship with Hubbard when Hubbard was looking for not only an escape from distractions, but for treasure that he’d buried in the Mediterranean in a past life. The organization morphed into a hive of physical and emotional abuse, all designed to keep people there. Many of the recruits are children, who give up their right to formal education when they sign their billion-year contract—which leaves them with few options when they’re adults.

Those that try to escape are often taken to reeducation camps, for “failing to fulfill their ecclesiastical responsibilities.” Camps have names like “Happy Valley,” but they’re anything but, if the guards are any hint. There are plenty of other claims, too, all of which are refuted by the Church. Former members say they were forced to have abortions, conforming with the policy of limiting children. Then there’s the question of money, with the upper echelons owning fleets of cars, boats, and motorcycles, while hundreds of other members make pennies a day.

When Ekstrand was asked how she could have believed such insanity, she likened it to believing it’s something like the Peace Corps, and that what you’re doing does matter and will, in the end, make the world a better place.

8 The Hole

The Hole

Photo credit: Sinar Parman

When the elite of Scientology and Sea Org get in trouble, they go to The Hole.

John Brousseau, one-time driver for L. Ron Hubbard, handler for the Tom Cruise household, and Scientology defector, gave an insider’s look at the devolving state of the Church’s elite prison. According to Brousseau, The Hole started out as a building where, at first, 50 Sea Org members were confined as punishment, sent there by David Miscavige for an unspecified offense. His testimony isn’t alone, either, as there are plenty of others that support what he says about it. They should know; they’ve spent time there.

Debbie Cook was dragged off to The Hole by guards, even as she talked to Miscavige on the phone. When he heard what was happening, he simply said “Goodbye.” Inmates slept on the floor of a bug-infested building, ate mystery slop from a vat delivered by golf cart, were subjected to bizarre punishments like being forced to stand in a garbage can and being doused with water, scrubbed toilets with toothbrushes, and even paid the organization’s bills. Her confinement was seven weeks, but it’s been reported that some people have been there for years.

A 2009 expose changed conditions in The Hole, but not much. Those confined there were forced into a regular schedule of half-hour meals, working, sleeping, and confinement to locked rooms with barred windows and doors.

7 The Church of Spiritual Technology

Bladed Fence

Photo credit: Angry Gay Pope

The CST is one of a couple of Scientology’s top secret buildings, thought to be where Shelly Miscavige is being, for lack of a better term, held. The stronghold is just outside of San Bernadino, California, and even from the outside, it’s pretty unsettling. The grounds are covered with security cameras and a number of satellite dishes—including a weirdly huge one and only one of the type used for satellite television. There are guard houses and huge tanks holding propane and diesel fuel, and the whole thing is surrounded by a massive fence.

In itself, the fence might not be a strange thing, but the deadly looking spikes are on the inside. (In other parts of the compound and at other Church-owned buildings, the spikes are on both sides as pictured above.)

Like a lot of the information we have about the inner workings of Scientology, what we know about CST comes from a former executive. Dylan Gill, former member of Sea Org, was once involved with the building of CST after being in Scientology from the time he was 11 years old. By the time he was 19, he was overseeing the construction of the complex’s vaults.

The vaults of CST have a few different purposes. They’re supposed to be able to withstand a nuclear attack, so their contents, titanium plates etched with Hubbard’s works, will survive World War III and could be used to help rebuild society. It was also designed to be able to support a staff, including things like dry cleaners and heated pathways, and the vaults also held everything that a new society would need to be able to read the library of stored electronic documents.

It sounds ambitious, but logical enough. But then there’s also the huge CST logo carved into the ground near the vault, and there’s a logical reason for that, too. That’s to show Hubbard’s spirit where to go to be reborn, so he can be raised again into the Scientology fold. That logo is at a number of other sites, too, which were designed to be manned by a single caretaker, who would keep an eye out in case Hubbard’s wandering spirit turns up.

6 The Tone Scale

According to the official Scientology doctrine, part of being successful in life is knowing how to read and react to other people. Because apparently most people can’t tell how to react when someone is grieving, the tone scale was developed as a handy way to learn what emotion is connected with the outward appearance of a person. It also tells you what you should do when faced with said emotion.

The Tone Scale runs from 40 to -40, with 1.1 being perhaps the most notorious designation. Being 1.1 was associated with “Covert Hostility,” smiling on the outside and plotting on the inside. 1.1s are out to get you and should absolutely not be trusted. Anyone who disbelieves the teaching of Scientology is a 1.1—and so is anyone who’s gay.

The so-called process of “auditing” is the process by which someone moves up the Tone Scale; the higher you are on it, the better off you are. That goes for sexual orientation, too, as someone who’s gay can only move up in the Tone Scale if they deal with and get rid of those feelings that are keeping them there. The goal is a 40, also defined as “Serenity of Beingness.”

5 Scientology’s Soundtrack

Just in case there’s anyone out there that doubts Scientology is a real religion because it seems to be a bit lacking in the psalms and hymns department, they have you covered there, too.

In 1986, L. Ron was having some minor difficulties with the law, disappearing to the point where his own family was saying that he was most likely dead. But, rather than telling his followers and fans that he was hiding from a few law enforcement agencies, he said he was secluding himself away for the creation of a few more masterpieces—including Battlefield Earth and its soundtrack, Space Jazz.

Anyone who thought Battlefield Earth was a little bizarre will find the album version of it even stranger, but the real soundtrack to Scientology is a long-overlooked album called The Road to Freedom, written and performed by “L. Ron Hubbard & Friends.” Those friends include John Travolta and Frank Stallone. Hubbard himself even sings a tune or two, and it’s even weirder than it sounds.

The album originally came with a glossary that defined Scientology-specific terminology, but even without the glossary, it’s definitely got a brainwashy type of vibe coupled with a 1980s pop-rock feel. There are lines like, “Take the route of auditing and once again be free,” while Hubbard himself sings, “I do not sing what I believe, / I only give them fact, / If they believe quite otherwise, / It will still have impact.”

4 Super Power Rundown

Super Powers
Part of the Scientology doctrine is that we don’t just have five senses, we have 57 of them, and opening ourselves to all of those senses is the ideal. That involves going through the Super Power Rundown, and it’s a pretty expensive process.

It’s estimated that the cost of going through the process, including the checks, pre-checks, and prep work that has to be undertaken before the actual final stage ends up costing tens of thousands of dollars, and it can take months.

According to Dan Koon, former member of Sea Org and one of the men who had access to an original Hubbard document written in the 1970s, it was all based on concerning yourself with your present life. Since all humans are made up of the spirits of all the others we’ve been before us, when our minds wander, they’re actually being distracted by something that happened to one of our other selves. Grounding ourselves in the present self opens up our superpowers.

The process begins with a “sec check,” where the person is asked to admit any ethical wrongdoing that might be damaging their moral being—it can be anything as minor as yelling when it’s not warranted. This pre-check process can take months, but once the person passes, they’re sat down with an E-meter. While holding the “sensors” of the meter, they’re asked, over and over and over again, “Where would you be safe?” The person answers, over and over and over again, until they give an answer that the E-meter interprets as being applicable to the “present self.”

And that’s it. Apparently, it’s supposed to ground the person in their present life and rid them of the distractions of the past life, but according to Koon, what it really rids them of is thousands and thousands of dollars.

3 The Super Power Building

Super Power Building

Photo credit: Michael

In 2013, about 5,000 people (half of the expected turnout) headed to Clearwater, Florida for the grand opening of Flag Mecca. The $145 million, 35,000-square-meter (377,000 ft2) center has been 15 years in the making and promises to provide loyal Scientologists with everything that they need to be everything that they can be. The grand opening, which was attended by all the big names you’d expect to see and not the newspapers and media outlets that were denied tours, was led by the notorious David Miscavige. While onlookers and non-Scientology people were blocked from getting close, planning documents spoke volumes about what was inside.

There’s a series of entry-level auditing rooms, along with an indoor track where people run until they reach enlightenment. There’s a sauna for the after-run “purif” (purification rundown), and there’s a series of rooms that promise to help you sharpen all those 57 senses unlocked in the Super Power Rundown. There’s a smell wall, a taste wall, and a gyroscope where people can test their directional and gravitational abilities.

The building will be the only place that people will be able to go for their Super Power Rundown, and even the most basic services offered there will be running people an average of $1,000 each hour. It’s not surprising that multiple lawsuits have been filed against the Church, saying that the building isn’t so much a place of spiritual worship, enlightenment, and sensory perception enhancer as it is a financial enhancer for the Church.

One of the strangest rooms: the Office of the Commodore, or L. Ron Hubbard’s office. Presumably, that’s been included so it’ll be waiting for him once his spirit finds its way to one of the giant aerial logos guiding him back to the CST.

2 Narconon

Founder L. Ron Hubbard was, pretty ironically, touted as a humanitarian dedicated to exploring the options for those suffering from the scourge of moral and emotional health: drugs. According to his own website, his program of therapeutic exercises and nutritional supplements have had a 100-percent success rate in keeping habitual drug users from going back to dealing drugs or committing other crimes to fund their lifestyle.

That program was Narconon, which uses a sauna detox as one of its fundamental forms of treatment. It’s based on an idea that drug users keep toxins in their bodies on a cellular level, and until those toxins are gone, they’re going to keep impacting the way the person thinks and acts, pushing them back into the life of drug use. Saunas, vitamins, and daily exercise help the person sweat out the toxins and set them on the path to recovery.

As if that it’s strange enough, Narconon has been involved with a back-and-forth battle with the California public schools. Until 2005, representatives from Narconon were often seen making presentations in schools and spreading their message of not doing drugs. Then the Department of Education got involved and actually did some research on who they were letting in to preach to their kids. When they found out that Narconon couldn’t actually back up their claims with any sort of scientific evidence, they were banned on the basis of spreading misinformation. For many teachers, it was that simple: It wasn’t true, so they weren’t going to support it being taught in schools. Other teachers came forward with the pretty frightening defense that they did think that it was all true, until red flags went up, and they did a little more reading.

California’s ban on the presentations hasn’t been successful, though, and Narconon has continued to make appearances in schools well after the ruling. In addition to Scientology beliefs about how drugs work, the Narconon curriculum also includes other Church doctrine, like the Tone Scale. According to the program, when someone who has used drugs takes a turn in a Narconon sauna, they won’t just be feeling all the toxins leaving their system, but they’ll be feeling their IQ go up, too, leaving some wondering just how much recruitment they’re doing.

1 The Squirrel Busters

According to the Church, the Squirrel Busters were simply an independent group of filmmakers who were interested in what former Scientologist Marty Rathbun had to say about the religion. Rathbun and his wife tell a very, very different story, though, and it’s about a Scientology-sponsored group whose job is to harass those that leave.

For 27 years, Rathbun was a major figure in the world of Scientology, eventually leaving because he could no longer agree with the financial burden that followers were saddled with and because of personal conflicts with David Miscavige. After leaving, he reached out to other defectors and set up a sort of informal support group for those who were getting away from the Church’s teachings. His blogs and his website put him back on the Church’s radar, and that’s when people started showing up at his door.

They rented a house down the street, they staked out his front porch, and they harassed his wife with incredibly sexual questions and inquiries. A “squirrel” is Church jargon for a heretic, making the spirit behind the harassment pretty clear. Rathbun might be incredibly heretical; he still subscribes to a number of the beliefs in Scientology, but practices independent of the Church, and that makes him a target.

After 199 days of constant stalking from the strange group of men with Rathbun-faced squirrels on their T-shirts and cameras strapped to their heads, the Rathbuns took them to court. More shady details started to come out. The Rathbuns found security cameras focused on their house, private investigators had been contacting their acquaintances, and Rathbun’s wife even had an anonymously-mailed sex toy show up at her workplace. The Church maintained that everything they did was to protect its secrets and its sanctity, and they were fully within their rights to do so. That’s pretty terrifying. The case has not been decided as of the time of this writing.

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Debra Kelly

After having a number of odd jobs from shed-painter to grave-digger, Debra loves writing about the things no history class will teach. She spends much of her time distracted by her two cattle dogs.

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