Inside The Scientologists
Investigation into the secretive cult that promises to change your life forever but leaves some people distressed and suicidal
The Argus (Brighton), Friday 12 May 2000; News Special
[Photo captions: SECRET CULT: Clockwise from far left: David Edwards is introduced to cult member Andy; the cultís East Grinstead HQ; staff member Catriona; one of the HQ rooms where recruits are inducted]
THE Church of Scientology, once described as corrupt, sinister and dangerous, is 50 years old this week. DAVID EDWARDS investigates how the cult is still prospering in Sussex, the home of its UK headquarters
EVERY day of every week they can be seen, armed with clip- boards as they approach unwary shoppers outside Churchill Square in central Brighton. The questions are always the same: "If you could be anything,what would you most like to be?"
"If you could change or improve anything about yourself,what would you most like to change or improve?"
"If you could have any- thing, what would you most like to have?"
They promise solutions to all your problems - no more unhappy relationships, no more job worries. They even promise an end to an assortment of medical conditions,including cancer.
But some of those who have spent years inside the secretive cult and parted with tens of thousands of pounds tell a very different story: how the Church of Scientology persuaded them to part with their life savings to pay for endless courses; how they worked long hours for a pittance and were bullied and harassed after trying to expose its sinister practices to the world.
It was on March 28 that I was stopped by cult member Andy outside the shopping centre and answered his questions. I was then invited into the Hubbard Dianetics Centre, a suite of rooms at top of a building in nearby North Street.
What I did not tell or the other cult members during the next six was that I was a reporter posing as fictional executive David Miller, man in his late twenties, who had just moved to town and was saddled personal problems.
Sitting on a sofa in their office, I was given a personality quiz to complete entitled The Standard Oxford Capacity Analysis Test which involved answering 200 questions.
They included: Q3 Do you browse through railway timetables, directories or dictionaries just for pleasure? Q122 Do you ever get disturbed by the noise of the wind or a house settling down? Q129 Are you in favour of colour bar and class distinction?
On one wall hung a photograph of Scientologyís founder, L. Ron Hubbard, while on others were numerous clip-frames where people who had tried the cult's services wrote their gains under the word "SUCCESS".
My answer sheet was taken away by a young woman dressed in a grey jacket and black leather trousers who returned minutes later to show me the results and introduce herself as Catriona Clark.
Taking me into a small side room, she produced a line graph based on the findings which claimed I was depressed, unstable and nervous.
Catriona was all smiles when she asked what was worrying me. As I explained my family problems and gloomy outlook on life, her demeanour changed and she started talking about the troubles she had faced before she joined the cult, predominantly her Catholic upbringing.
Looking me straight in the eye, she launched into how taking a course in Dianetics, the practical application of Scientology, could unlock my potential and free me from my neuroses.
By taking an introductory seminar, which would last around 30 hours and cost £27.36, I could embark on a "wonderful adventure". And yes, they did take credit cards.
I paid the money and was taken into a room called the Academy where I met Tim, who I was later to discover was Catriona's husband of the past three years.
Dressed in a scruffy shirt and tie, Tim told me he was one of the course supervisors. His pleasure at having found a new recruit was quite visible.
Again, with the unnerving ability to look me straight in the eye, his grin only faltered to ask me my name and when I would be able to come in for my first session.
I left the first meeting with a copy of Dianetics: The Power Of The Mind Over The Body, a 658-page book which was first published on May 9, 1950, and which gave birth to the Church of Scientology.
It is the work of Hubbard, an American pulp science fiction writer, who was once reported to have said the quickest way of making a million dollars was to found a religion. When he died in 1986 he had achieved this goal hundreds of times over.
My induction into the cult's world began two days later when I began the Hubbard Dianetics Seminar.
I arrived back at the centre at 7pm for my first one-hour session. After buzzing to be let in I was met by Catriona, who took me through to the Academy where Tim hovered over two seated girls who were reading. I was offered a seat at one of the desks and given my course book, which was to be the basis for my studies for the next four weeks.
As I opened it and wrote my name in the front, Tim came over and impressed upon me how if I came across a word I didnít understand, I should immediately ask. During the session he was to repeat this three times, pointing to a bookcase full of dictionaries behind him to emphasise the point.
It was in the first few pages of the book that the fundamental principles of the cult were spelt out. The human mind, it explained in large print, consisted of two parts, the analytical and reactive. The former is so-called because it analyses experiences in everyday life. The reactive mind, the book explained, stores up images of unpleasant memories, or "engrams".
Between the book's sections were exercises to be carried out, each to be signed as they were completed - but not before the rules were spelt out. It was forbidden to take any medication during the course, including pain relievers and anti-depressants. One exercise asked me to try to imagine the taste, smell, touch and sound of an object. Another involved writing about what I had for breakfast.
The book also explained how "auditing" sessions were required, which involved a form of counselling another person about past traumas in their lives.
But what the book didn't explain was how long - or how much money - this would take. When the hour was up, Tim asked me when I could come in next. I suggested the same time next week because of work pressures but that wasn't good enough. They wanted me back at the weekend, to which I reluctantly agreed.
The real reason I wanted longer to prepare for my next session was because I had arranged a meeting with ex-Scientologist Bonnie Woods.
Mrs Woods knows only too well the price paid by those who become involved with the cult. She first joined in 1973 while living in America and lived in a Scientology community there for a year.
She left their ranks in 1982 and three years later moved to England. She now lives in Sycamore Drive, East Grinstead.
In the early Nineties Mrs Woods began to provide information to people whose loved ones had become embroiled in the cult.
But over the years, critics of the cult have learned to expect reprisals.
In 1993 she discovered the cult's members had produced a leaflet featuring her photograph and the words Hate Campaigner Comes to Town which was being posted through neighbours' letterboxes.
She promptly took the cult to court and last year, with help from the civil rights group Liberty, won libel damages of £55,000.
Her victory meant she could disseminate a leaflet, entitled, What Scientologists Don't Tell You, without fear of litigation.
The leaflet says: "Scientologists undertake hundreds of hours of counselling, paying as much as £500 per hour.
"While being promised that through Scientology individuals will regain their self-determinism, Scientology actually leads to unquestioning acceptance of Hubbard's belief system and the erosion of independent thought.
"To complete the elaborate and lengthy steps of Hubbard's Bridge to Total Freedom takes years and costs in the region of £200,000.
"Some Scientologists have lost their homes and businesses to pay for increasingly expensive courses."
As I became a recognised face within the cult, I began spending longer and longer studying with its members, gaining their trust and seeing for myself their unorthodox practices. During my second visit I was shown a man and woman who were undertaking the Success Through Communication course. Despite its name, the pair spent little of their time communicating and instead sat facing one another in total silence.
Then the woman, who was from Israel, began counting from one to ten and being chastised at the end for not doing it correctly and being made to start over again. During the session she complained: "You wouldn't believe how many hours I've been doing this. Seven hours." It wasn't long before I myself was able to experiment with "auditing", one of the cult's most controversial processes.
It involves being put into a trance-like state and regressing to traumas in earlier life. To prepare me for the experience, I was given a teddy bear to experiment with. Using a prompt card, I told the stuffed bear to close its eyes and find an incident in its life of which it had an exact record.
To help me through the bizarre encounter was a 19-year-old student called Aaron who, like me, had just started a course with the cult. He sat next to me acting as a voice for "Henry" the bear.
The aim of auditing is to keep recalling the incident in as much detail as possible until you are able to feel cheerful about it.
I spent one session auditing and receiving auditing from Vladimir, who was from Albania and was doing the course "just for fun". I had a stock of well- rehearsed incidents at hand including how I was bitten by a relative's dog or fell off my bicycle as a child. After the session Tim told me I was a "natural".
I was to meet Aaron on several occasions during the course. He was in his first year at Sussex University, where he was studying broadcast engineering.
In common with all the other people I met at the centre, he was of above average intelligence and individualistic.
Also in common with other members, he had an obscure interpretation of Hubbardís life, believing the US Navy, in which he had served in the Second World War, had tried to sabotage the movement because they were worried about the "positive" effects of Dianetics.
In reality, Hubbard's military career was less than glamorous and he was relieved from duty on three occasions. He served during the Second World War and is best remembered for launching a depth-charge attack on what he thought were enemy submarines ten miles off the northern Oregon coast.
It later transpired there were large magnetic deposits in the area and a floating target which was shelled during the same incident turned out to be a log.
It was on day three that I met Jason Leslie, who alternated with Tim as a course supervisor. In his late twenties, Jason was eager not to talk about just Scientology, but also about the recent stabbing of two Leeds football fans in Turkey and his job.
Although he was a member of the centre's staff, he said he did some "moonlighting" one day a week at a Brighton supermarket.
While some time was spent going over what I had learned so far, there was no shortage of people who were happy to speak of how using Dianetics had helped change their lives.
One woman had been divorced twice but since enrolling had been happily married for ten years.
But Dianetics claims it is not just an excellent marriage counsellor, it can also succeed where medicine has failed. A man explained how he had lost feeling in his knees but regained it after starting the course.
During one session, Mike Stryck, who had been involved in Dianetics for six years, explained how he had taken a Purification Rundown course.
Costing around £1,000, it involves taking massive doses of vitamins and sweating out toxins from the body in a sauna. The aim is to cleanse the body of all drugs and impurities, even radiation.
About a month after starting the Hubbard Dianetics Seminar and to round it off, I was given a second copy of The Oxford Standard Capacity Test to take home and complete.
Arriving back at the centre on May 1, I was introduced to Michelle, the head of the branch's technical division. It was in a side room that I was given a test on an E-meter, an ovular device connected to two metal cans which I was told to hold while she asked me questions. The device, yours for £3,800, is used to help a [page break]
[Heading on new page:] The Scientology mantra is 'make others produce to make even more money'
person to become Clear, where the reactive mind has been overcome, and help in auditing sessions.
Nothing could have prepared me for what was to follow. Before asking me how the course had benefited me, she wanted to know if I was a Government spy, an FBI agent or if myself or my family were connected to the media or police.
Whatever the technical merits of the E-meter, I seemed to pass with flying colours and went to meet Catriona to go over my results from the second Oxford test.
Unknown to the cult members, I had seen a set of the correct answers and, so as not to arouse too much suspicion, answered 175 of the 200 questions correctly.
Catriona was astonished by the results and told me that, despite my particularly high score, I should sign up for another course, this one costing £82.
She also said my IQ, rated at 147, was more than enough to be considered to join the centre's handful of staff.
It wasn't an attractive proposition. She had earlier told me how she and seven other "volunteers" worked from 9am until 10pm, six days a week. The cult's own literature explains some volunteers are paid $50 a week "and occasional small bonuses".
I also picked up a copy of an application form for joining. Not only does it require personal information, including applicants' social security details, driver's licence and passport numbers, it also asks for details of a more unorthodox nature.
Applicants are asked if they have ever seen a psychiatrist or counsellor, if they or their families are connected to intelligence agencies, the Government or "prior service in a high-security section of the Government or armed forces".
More disturbingly, it also requires details of "prostitution, homosexuality, illegal sex or any sexual perversion".
My last meeting with the Scientologists came on Sunday, May 7, when I was met at the centre by Campbell, a South African who had reached the much-vaunted state of Clear.
It was during this meeting that I was told that to reach the state of Clear would probably cost me more than £10,000.
Upon reaching Clear, however, there were plenty more courses to keep me within the cult's clutches.
The Church of Scientology has today lost its battle for charitable status but one day hopes to be recognised as bona fide religion in Britain.
But the cult is perhaps unlikely to see either of these goals realised.
In 1984, Mr Justice Latey in the High Court said: "Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious... It is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and has as its real objective money and power for Mr Hubbard... It is sinister because it indulges in infamous practices both to its adherents who do not toe the line unquestioningly and to those who criticise it or oppose it."
The Argus has seen documents which outline exactly how the cult deals with those who dare to criticise or oppose it.
In a 1968 article by Hubbard, later reprinted in 1997, he wrote: "Now get this as a technical fact, not a hopeful idea. Every time we have investigated the background of a critic of Scientology we have found crimes for which that person or group could be imprisoned under existing law. We do not find critics of Scientology who do not have criminal pasts. Over and over we prove this.
"Politician A stands up on his hind legs in a parliament and brays for a condemnation of Scientology.
"When we look him over we find crimes - embezzled funds, moral lapses, a thirst for young boys - sordid stuff.
"Wife B howls at her husband for attending a Scientology group.
"We look her up and find she had a baby he didn't know about.
"Two things operate here. Criminals hate anything that helps anyone instinctively.
"And just as instinctively a criminal fights anything that may disclose his past.
"We are slowly and carefully teaching the unholy a lesson. It is as follows: 'We are not a law enforcement agency. BUT we will become interested in the crimes of people who seek to stop us. If you oppose Scientology we promptly look and will find and expose your crimes. If you leave us alone we will leave you alone'."
In 1960 he also wrote: "If attacked on some vulnerable point by anyone or anything or any organisation, always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace."
During my final meet- ing with Campbell he gave me a written quote outlining how much it would cost to take two more courses " £1,302.03
But then, perhaps people should not be surprised at the cost of joining a cult whose founder once said: "Make money, make money ... make others produce so as to make even more money."
My 20-year battle to leave the cult
[photo caption: PEACE AT LAST: Bonnie and Richard Woods at home in East Grinstead, left, and in 1982 as members of the Church of Scientology ]
SCIENTOLOGIST Bonnie Toftness was recovering from a major operation in a Californian hospital when five words suddenly came to her: "I've got to get out."
Until that moment in 1982, the young Ohio-born woman had believed she was a happy and fulfilled member of the Church of Scientology.
The special needs teacher had joined with a boyfriend in 1973 in St Louis, Missouri, and had quickly spent her entire life savings on courses.
By the Nineties she had become the mortal enemy of the sinister cult, which was meting out its unique brand of justice to silence her.
She said: "I joined in 1973 and in a few months I was recommended for staff and they asked how much money I had - $5,000 in savings. They gave me courses which used up all the money and I bought some training for my boyfriend. I ended up quitting my job and working on staff for about eight years.
"I was convinced to join because I was told those children were considered degraded beings and my time would be better spent helping the able become more able.
"I was probably a pretty nice person before I joined, but for my sins I bought what they said."
Becoming a member of staff for the Scientologists involved Bonnie working from 9am until as late as midnight for six days a week, earning an average of $15 a week.
Bonnie fell in love with a fellow Scientologist, Bob Toftness, and they married in 1976 and had a child together, Desiree.
In 1981 the marriage foundered and the following year Bonnie was rushed into hospital suffering from endometriosis.
She said: "It was while I was in hospital recovering from the operation that I realised that I didnít any longer want to be involved as a staff member, although I still considered myself a Scientologist.
"At that time my ex-husband was a staff member and I was told if I left the staff I would be expelled from Scientology. Because of that, Scientologists would not be allowed any contact with me and since my daughter was in their nursery I was worried."
It was in 1982 that Bonnie met Richard Woods, who had also become embroiled with the Scientologists, and the pair married in 1985. They moved to Richard's home town of Worthing the same year and later settled in East Grinstead, just a few miles from the cultís UK headquarters at Saint Hill Manor.
By 1992, both had renounced the cult and set up a group, Escape, to help families whose relatives had become involved.
Richard, 49, said: "We came to East Grinstead on the invitation of various church pastors who felt it would be helpful to have Christians who could have some understanding of the organisation to help families who had loved ones who had joined."
As practising Christians they have now helped hundreds of worried families. They have also shadowed Scientologists recruiting in central Brighton, giving out a leaflet entitled What the Scientologists Don't Tell You.
The cult responded by distributing a libellous leaflet about Bonnie and a lengthy court battle followed. It ended last June with an apology from the cult in open court and damages of £55,000.
Today, almost a year later, both are struggling to come to terms with the trauma of the seven-year litigation. Bonnie, 51, said: "The court battle was extremely distressing, but the incident that was the most distressing was a demonstration they launched outside my home. About six or seven of them were there with placards and we were away in London. Some members of our church had called the police. They were in tears."
Bonnieís court victory means she is able to distribute a leaflet about the group without fear of being sued. It reads: "Scientologists have been involved in various criminal activities. Eleven, including Hubbardís wife Mary Sue, were imprisoned in the US for infiltrating Government agencies and stealing files."
The leaflet also explains the cultís bizarre beliefs: "A belief in reincarnation is required in Scientology. In the third secret upper level, Hubbard asserted that 75 million years ago, the galactic ruler, Xenu, rounded up the populations of 76 planets and had them brought to earth.
"Here their bodies were dumped near volcanoes which were blown up with hydrogen bombs.
"These spirits were then gathered into 'clusters', and everyone currently alive is supposedly a mass of such clustered spirits."
"On this evidence, it is not surprising that a number of Scientologists have either committed suicide or ended up in psychiatric hospitals."
For further information about Escape's work, call Mr or Mrs Woods in confidence on 01342 316129.