Evolution of Scientology Opposition, 1968-2018

Source: t52.org

Today marks the tenth anniversary of Anonymous’ epic protests at Scientology locations worldwide.  While headcount is hard to estimate precisely, the number of people who turned out, many in Guy Fawkes masks, was at the very least a significant fraction of cult membership globally, and may have actually exceeded the total membership of the cult, which we now estimate at around 22,000 globally. Numerous sources have covered the reasons for and the history of Anonymous’ protests far better than we could.

More importantly, the scale of Anonymous’ protests put the cult into a defensive posture from which it has never recovered. The idea that a large group could show up on Scientology’s doorstep without the cult’s OSA goon squad anticipating it and preventing it undoubtedly shook leader David Miscavige to the core. And the cult’s playbook for dealing with protestors was forever shattered.

In this post, we look at why Anonymous was such a landmark in the evolution of opposition to the cult, and we put it in the context of the evolution of cult opposition over the last 50 years. We connect the dots and take a stab at predicting the nature of cult opposition that may come next, particularly if existing opponents change strategic focus to make these next generations of opposition happen.

Continue reading “Evolution of Scientology Opposition, 1968-2018”

Hana Whitfield Interview: Was Hubbard Really Sincere About Helping People?

Scientology devotes an immense fraction of its staff to fixing substandard delivery of its services. It has more people devoted to detecting and deterring “thoughtcrime” from members whose loyalty may be wavering … and even more toiling away in a complex organization designed to ferret out and punish staff incompetence and disloyalty.

To a never-in, this smacks of a poorly designed product from an incompetent organization.  But more importantly, it suggests that Scientology “tech” may actually be deliberately and cynically designed to be impossible to succeed at, with the punishment of failure used as a retention mechanism to keep people in the cult.

Hana Whitfield, a prominent ex-Scientologist who worked personally for founder L. Ron Hubbard for many years, has contributed her perspective on whether Scientology is intentionally (and cynically) designed to fail, whether it was designed to help people but failed at that noble goal or whether Hubbard had a very different approach.  The answer will surprise you.

Continue reading “Hana Whitfield Interview: Was Hubbard Really Sincere About Helping People?”

New Series: Adapting Military Strategy to Guide Scientology Activism

Unorthodox military theories can often provide alternative methods in opposing Scientology. Starting this Sunday, in a series of posts on johnpcapitalist.com, I’ll explain how just one of these theories can exponentially ratchet-up the heat on the church. This theory can also provide a lens in which to view the past actions of the church against the critic movement, as well as gauging the successes of groups such as Anonymous.  Continue reading “New Series: Adapting Military Strategy to Guide Scientology Activism”

Scientology’s Continuing Abuse of Religious Visas, Human Trafficking and the Farce of Guardianship

We take another look at how Scientology misuses R-1 religious worker visas as it attempts to fill slots in its operations.  It’s no longer able to bring on enough new domestic recruits or even US citizen children of current members to staff up Flag, Pac Base and its other major operations.  We look at the line between accidental stretching of the bounds of the program and outright fraud.  Several reports suggest that Scientology misuses the “guardianship” provisions of the law to mistreat younger R-1 visa holders, crossing the line into human trafficking. Continue reading “Scientology’s Continuing Abuse of Religious Visas, Human Trafficking and the Farce of Guardianship”

Does Scientology Disconnection Cross the Line Into Criminal Behavior?

Scientology’s practice of disconnection pushes members to sever contact with anyone leaving the cult, including rending the relationship between parents and children.   This practice, which hangs over the head of anyone starting to doubt their commitment to the group, has been the backbone of much of the recent bad publicity that has turned Scientology’s reputation from “odd but harmless” into “dangerous and should be forbidden.”

I believe that the way Scientology practices disconnection goes far beyond merely unethical and immoral, and its systematic nature may actually cross the line into criminal behavior.

Continue reading “Does Scientology Disconnection Cross the Line Into Criminal Behavior?”

My Predictions for Scientology in 2018

I take a stab at my predictions for what will happen in the world of Scientology in 2018. I think we’re in for more of what happened in 2016-2017: no particularly shattering news, lots of stories of abuse, and a continuing erosion in the membership base as the cult slowly drifts into irrelevance, on a long journey to oblivion.

Here’s what I think we can look forward to from Scientology in 2018.

Happy new year, from all of us at Global Capitalism HQ, including the multitude of supermodels, jet pilots, summer interns from Harvard Business School, the yacht crews and the waterfront estate technicians.

I’m not officially reviving this blog with a commitment to publish regularly, but if I do post anything, I’ll notify interested parties via Twitter and via comments on Tony Ortega’s site.  

Continue reading “My Predictions for Scientology in 2018”

Work in Progress: Predictions for Scientology in 2014

This is a photo of a capitalist using rigorous analytical techniques to develop a highly likely future scenario for some investment-related event.
This is a photo of a capitalist using rigorous analytical techniques to develop a highly likely future scenario for an important investment-related event.

It’s getting close to the end of the year, a time that unleashes a flurry of “year in review” posts. But given our focus on research, which ultimately is about trying to predict some part of the future, it’s time to think about what might happen in the wacky world of Scientology in 2014.

In this post, I’m setting out a couple of key predictions for what I believe will happen to Scientology next year, and I’m asking for your help in coming up with a combined list of about ten things that we, collectively, believe will happen.  If we do this right, then I can publish an “official” predictions document that summarizes our thought process.  It’ll be fun to circle back a year hence to see how we did.

The Goal

Ultimately, we should be able to come up with about ten predictions for what will happen in the world of Scientology over the next year. Each prediction should be concrete enough that it’s easy to see if it came true a year from now. No fair couching a prediction in the vague generalities of an astrologer. As the Scientologists say when ridding themselves of body thetans hooked up to the e-meter on solo NOTs, “exact time, place, form and event.”

Predictions shouldn’t be too safe (i.e., predicting that David Miscavige will not be deposed by a cabal of disloyal underlings in 2014 is only fractionally more risky than predicting sunrise in the east every morning).  Predicting that the cult will gain no incremental new members via the Golden Age of Tech 2 release is approximately as safe.

At the same time, predictions shouldn’t be so over-the-top that they’re unlikely to happen.  Thus, I’m not predicting that a red-headed chain-smoking 26-year-old is going to walk into a Scientology facility and will be accepted as the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard.  

The ultimate "Deus ex machina" gimmick in Monty Python's Life of Brian.  Brian plummets from the tower, and seconds from certain death, he is rescued by an alien spaceship that just happens to be flying by.
The ultimate theatrical “Deus ex machina” gimmick takes place in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Brian plummets from the tower, and seconds from certain death, he is rescued by an alien spaceship that just happens to be flying by.

Finally, predictions should be reasonable extrapolations from credibly anticipated events. There’s no need to try to guess what will happen from an unpredictable event.  In other words, we don’t need to worry about any deus ex machina scenarios.  Anything that depends on David Miscavige having a heart attack at his desk is not useful.

Importantly, predictions should be all about what we think will happen. Part of the challenge of the exercise is being able to distinguish what is likely to happen from what we wish would happen. So while I think 2014 will show an even greater rate of decline for the cult versus the increasingly evident decline seen in 2013, it is important to note that the cult will almost certainly be in business in something recognizably close to its current form, even though that’s not the outcome I desire.

The completed set of predictions should touch on each of the major operational aspects of the cult, which should include: finances, management, Ideal Org strategy, member retention, staff retention, celebrities, etc.  

If we look back in 365 days and we got all ten predictions exactly right, we were probably being too safe in what we expected. Similarly, if we only got two right, we were probably living a little too much in hope and desire and not enough in logic and reason.

My Current Best Guess

1.  The event business collapse will be complete in 2014.

Sometimes, the key to making a useful prediction is a certain degree of self-reflection.  Not a strong suit of Scientology management, however.
Sometimes, the key to making a useful prediction is a certain degree of self-reflection. Not a strong suit of Scientology management, however.

As you may recall, there were several big annual events cancelled in 2013. In the spring, the “Maiden Voyage” event, a briefing for big donors and higher-level OT’s aboard the Freewinds, was initially rescheduled for LA, but then dropped entirely. Though it wasn’t widely commented on at the time, this was clearly a harbinger of things to come, with the October event announced and then cancelled when the tent imported from the UK became a particularly rich vein of humor material to mine.  And of course, the ineptitude around the cult’s handling of the big November events in Clearwater (GAT2 unveiling and the IAS event) made it abundantly clear that there’s big trouble in the events business, an important and generally well-run part of the business previously.

In particular, I believe we’ll see the following all of the key details:

  • All big events, if not cancelled, will be below 1,000 people total (excluding seat-fillers from the Sea Org or even extras from outside, as may have happened at the Super Power dedication).
  • It is possible that by the end of 2014, the only event actually held will be the IAS gala.  Gone will be the Birthday Event, the New Year’s Eve event, Maiden Voyage and all the rest.
  • Due to the actions of all those loathsome SP’s spying on these ultra-ecclesiastical events, particularly Mike Rinder & Mike Bennitt with their “Apostate Air Force,” David Miscavige will never again hold another open-air event, including either major events or Ideal Org dedications.
  • The cult will not be able to make up revenue shortfalls from lower donations at these events and we will begin to see signs of financial pressure manifesting throughout the organization.  I don’t yet have a clear picture of exactly how these financial pressures will show up, and I don’t believe the cult will start digging into reserves, but the total revenue for 2014 will be the lowest in at least 20 years.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this is the most significant development of 2013 and 2014. I think the events business is responsible for about 30% of cult revenue, or somewhere between $50 million and $75 million per year, and it’s the most profitable business around, generating about 80% gross margin.  If this business implodes suddenly, it’s going to push the cult close to operating losses for the first time in ages, and that, if it happens, is likely to unleash all sorts of craziness.

2.  The Ideal Org strategy will come to a grinding halt

Scientology's Ideal Org building in Gateshead, UK (in the Northeast, near the Scottish border).  The reality looks a little different from the photo they use for fundraising.  Thanks to Izhar at Idleorgs.com.
Scientology’s Ideal Org building in Gateshead, UK (in the Northeast, near the Scottish border). The reality looks a little different from the photo they use for fundraising. Thanks to Izhar at Idleorgs.com.

Clearly, the Ideal Org strategy visibly struggled in 2013 after working for a long time.  Working, of course, means that it was achieving its real goals of fleecing large chunks of money from large donors; it doesn’t appear to be about actually getting more people in the door, so I don’t count it a failure on that front because it was never really intended to succeed there.  I believe 2014 will reveal that the Ideal Org program is completely stalled.

And if the cult sells existing properties that it is unable to renovate, it will reveal a reality that is even worse: selling properties is a clear indication that the cult has started to operate in the red and is worried about starting to deplete reserves.

The original idea was fairly clever: get donors to contribute to buildings, with each campaign raising far more than the cost of the actual building. Miscavige pockets the difference and takes title to the building so the local donors have no real equity in what they just donated for (unlike churches in most Protestant denominations, for instance, where ownership of the building is retained locally).  The second phase of the scam is to exploit the local public’s “sunk cost bias,” getting them to dig even deeper into their pockets to fund renovations for the building that now sits empty and decaying.

  • Details will emerge of significant problems in keeping some of the key existing Ideal Org buildings open for business, making it harder than ever for Miscavige to try to show “straight up and vertical expansion.”
  • At most two Ideal Orgs will open in 2014, though the cult has published a target list of several dozen future locations that it claimed would open in 2012 and 2013, and it is woefully behind in the schedule.  The “under the radar” crowd will probably begin to notice the disparity between the promise and the results, while the Kool-Aid drinkers probably won’t.
  • The Valley Org (in the San Fernando Valley of LA) will be no closer to going Ideal than it is now, a major embarrassment given the richest concentration of Scientologists in the world living in its coverage area. We will begin to see evidence that this is a factor in the departure of several long-time LA Scientologists, and thus will conclude that it is going to help many “under the radar” LA public to decide to leave.
  • The cult will sell at least three buildings purchased for Ideal Orgs where it was unable to raise money for restorations.  Locations will probably be drawn from a list that includes New Haven, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia (DM’s hometown), Battle Creek, and a couple of UK locations.  If no new building campaigns for these locations are immediately announced, then we will be able to surmise for the first time that the cult is feeling pinched for cash and may actually be seeing losses from operations for the first time in decades, if ever. 
  • Several additional sites where renovations have not yet begun will be condemned or otherwise targeted by local governments seeking to rid their cities of the eyesores of decaying buildings.

3.  The retreat from the larger world will accelerate

I expect Scientology to move from shyness to a full-blown case of organizational agoraphobia in 2014.
I expect Scientology to move from shyness to a full-blown case of organizational agoraphobia in 2014.

We saw the beginning of what some might call “institutional agoraphobia” from the cult in 2013, as Miscavige moved the IAS event from Saint Hill to Clearwater.  There are two likely contributing factors driving this.

First, the European Scientology business is probably declining in the wake of institutional pressure such as that exerted by the German government and the effects of ridicule from the tabloid press, as the cult frequently endures in the UK.  There aren’t any particularly good numbers to show growth trends in Europe overall, so it’s hard to determine what’s actually happening here.  In this circumstance, poor business in Europe is driving the retreat from the continent.

Second, Miscavige’s obsession with security and with avoiding ridicule may have taken a body blow in 2012, when a tabloid reporter was easily able to gain access to the annual IAS event despite heavy security, and wrote a long feature story.  If European business was good, or even if it was merely flat, then moving the IAS event to increase security will probably cause the European business to decline at a faster rate, as European whales are probably less likely to want to journey to Flag for all their events.  In other words, in this scenario, Miscavige is preventably accelerating the decline of the European business to cater to his own fears.

Whatever the cause, the cult seems to implicitly acknowledge that the retreat from Europe is permanent, else they probably would not have paid to move the large semi-rigid tent used for IAS events at Saint Hill to Clearwater.  If the large event business in the UK were still intact, they would most likely have just gone ahead and purchased a second tent.  Otherwise, in a couple years, the cost of moving the tent back and forth across the Atlantic would quickly outweigh the cost of a second structure.

As if a major decline in the cult’s second biggest market wasn’t enough, smaller and more remote geographies appear to be breaking away from the cult. The defection en masse of the former mission in Haifa, Israel may be only the beginning.  In October, Miscavige declared 18 long-established Scientologists from South Africa, including some with decades of time in the cult and some who have donated millions of dollars for buildings and other campaigns.  This North Korea-style purge appears to have been about bringing management of the Johannesburg org under tighter control. However, it appears likely to backfire, given that the South Africans have been used to operating on a relatively long leash, and the increasingly important BackInComm blog suggests that a significant portion of the membership is rallying around those who have been declared, refusing to cooperate with the management team sent in from Flag.  The lesson here is that disconnection in small, remote locations is unlikely to have much sway since the relatively small numbers of public in smaller countries all know each other and can easily choose to stay together and defy the Mother Church.

In a thought-provoking article posted on ESMB about five years ago, J. Swift came up with an interesting scenario where Miscavige proactively fires the cult members with low donation potential and keeps only the high-end donors, moving to a “monastery Scientology,” where services are available only at Flag and one or two other global locations.  It’s an interesting scenario, but I don’t think the retreat from non-US locations is part of a proactive strategy; I think Miscavige is wholly reactive in how he deals with crises.

The cannibalization of business from orgs to Flag will only increase, affecting not only missions (which are on life support) but also Class V orgs (local Ideal Orgs) as well as advanced orgs (AOSH, AOLA, ASHO, etc). One side effect of the move to centralize higher-level services at Flag is the fact that many non-US public will find it very difficult or undesirable to travel to the US for services.  In particular, this is likely to affect areas that have previously been bright spots in the number of “bodies in shop,” like Eastern Europe, Russia, Taiwan and South America.  As a result, we can only conclude that centralization of services at Flag implicitly acknowledges that the cult is “done” outside North America.

  • The South African organization will “go indie.”  This doesn’t seem like a particularly bold prediction, given the visibility into the thought process of many of the prominent members of that community shown on their increasingly important “Back in Comm” blog.
  • We will get credible data showing that the staff at Saint Hill in the UK is down to only about 300 people, significantly below the level of even three or four years ago, and suggesting a near collapse of the higher level services business in Europe.  This collapse of the ability to serve high-end customers within Europe will further alienate public from the richer western European countries, reducing membership still further.
  • Russian Scientology will come under even greater pressure from an increasingly anti-Western Russian government.  During 2014, there will be increasing attention in the Russian press paid to this organization that, to the average Russian, has ties to the US intelligence community (an instance where Hubbard’s lies about his background in WWII military intelligence will actively hurt the cult).  This will likely lead to a damming of the flow of Russian Sea Org recruits, even though a high percentage of Russians want to emigrate to the West.
  • We will see Scientology abandon at least two countries due to lack of interest, including one in South America.  Ideal Org campaigns outside the US will get even less traction than domestic Ideal Org campaigns.

4.  “Under the radar” members are revealed to be the majority of US public

I believe we'll find out that most of the US membership is flying "under the radar," pretending to go along with the cult's directives while merely attempting to avoid disconnection's impact on their families, friends and businesses.
I believe we’ll find out that most of the US membership is flying “under the radar,” pretending to go along with the cult’s directives while merely attempting to avoid disconnection’s impact on their families, friends and businesses.

In the US, the percentage of “under the radar” members will be revealed to be significantly more than we had previously estimated.  Out of the perhaps 11,000 active “public” in the US, we will realize by the end of 2014 that substantially less than half are “true believers.” Most are just pretending to go along with the show to avoid disconnection.

I have spoken with a number of “under the radar” members who, as time goes on, are far less careful to hide their status from the cult.  Scientology seems to be more accepting of “under the radar” members than ever before, because it has basically no alternative other than to let them go and declare them. This acceptance of “under the radar” members may reflect optimism among top management that the recent Golden Age of Tech 2 release may be enough to cause people to come flooding back in the doors, but most under the radar public we’ve talked to are fairly skeptical of the changes in GAT2, and seem unlikely to get more involved.

5.  Disconnection loses its effectiveness

DisconnectionSpeaking of disconnection, I believe that 2014 will be the year where the membership shrinks enough that the threat of disconnection is much less important than before.

  • Defections of lower-ranks celebrities or rich whales will show that the power of disconnection to keep people in the cult is diminishing in its influence.  In other words, the ability of Leah Remini to boost her entire family out of the cult en masse will not be an isolated event.  Once there’s a track record of multiple people able to do this, disconnection will be done.
  • There are already informal “underground railroad” networks helping people to leave the cult and to get new jobs and to rebuild their lives. I predict that in 2014, these networks will become more formalized and better known to people still in the cult, making it much easier for staff at local orgs and at Pac Base and Flag to exit the cult.
  • Staff shortages will make it more difficult for the OSA to patrol the Internet, identifying disloyalty in Facebook posts and otherwise harassing those who speak up.  Similarly, social media will make it easy for the newly declared to get back in touch with those who had previously left, enabling them to get their new lives back on track much faster.

I believe this scenario to be true, but as a “never-in,” I don’t have the experience with the process of leaving the cult to be able to detail exactly how disconnection will diminish in its power.

6.  The legal losing streak will continue intact

The string of legal losses in 2012 and 2013 will continue, and I expect more suits with potentially serious economic consequences opening new battle fronts to be filed.
The string of legal losses in 2012 and 2013 will continue, and I expect more suits with potentially serious economic consequences opening new battle fronts to be filed.

Scientology will continue to lose every legal case it’s involved in.  And it seems likely that litigation will continue to build.  I expect that 2014 will bring more suits from rank-and-file public, perhaps to the exclusion of “flagship” suits like the Debbie Cook case or the Monique Rathbun case. While less fascinating to watch than the

  • Despite the possibility it may win individual battles (e.g., the “diversity jurisdiction” issue in the Garcia case), the cult will lose almost every case…
  • … but only after inflicting on itself the maximum possible damage. Given Miscavige’s penchant for micro-managing his attorneys, and given his inability to take the long view in working on his cases, DM will continue to be the cult’s biggest impediment to winning in the courtroom.  In particular, Miscavige seems to be unable to resist procedural maneuvers like moving for disqualification of opposing counsel that are normally only used in extraordinary circumstances; over time, as the cult’s reputation for this sort of theatrics becomes known, these tricks will work against them.
  • Look for a greater number of individual cases, particularly relating to refunds of monies on deposit, to be filed and to make significant progress through the courts.  I expect to see in late 2014 or early 2015, a wave of fraud suits similar to the Garcia case, where the cult is alleged to have made specific misrepresentation about the use of funds raised.
  • Particularly if the Garcias are able to establish that Scientology’s arbitration procedure is unconscionable, I expect to see a wave of refund lawsuits, many filed by networks of cooperating lawyers, much as coal industry black lung lawsuits were filed by an industry of lawyers working together.  I would expect to see a class action lawsuit filed in early 2015 for refunds of money on account.  If this is filed, I think it will be a watershed for the cult, because it puts a sizable chunk of reserves in play. Once the class action trial bar realizes just how much money has been paid on deposit, they’ll go nuts vying for a shot at suing the cult.

Where I need help

I can’t do a first-class list of predictions on my own.  I need your help to make this work.  I would appreciate your help on:

  • Looking for errors or omissions in the list above.  If I have forgotten to consider some factor in my analysis, please let me know.
  • If you think I have over-estimated or underestimated the importance of something that drives any of my scenarios, I would be grateful for a detailed discussion.
  • I need you to help fill this list out with scenarios or areas that I haven’t even considered.

Here are some particular areas where I am currently struggling, and I don’t have a clear answer.  Start here and add anything else you think is important.

What happens to Narconon?

On the one hand, there are record numbers of lawsuits outstanding against the bogus drug addiction treatment organization, and the cult will probably lose many of those.  Insurance fraud could well pop up at more Narconon operations than just at Narconon Georgia, as happened so spectacularly in 2013.  Another encouraging sign of the decline of Narconon is the increasing prominence of critical material at the top of Google searches.

However, it seems likely that the cult’s response to the increase in critical information will be to change the names of facilities and otherwise try to morph into something else, as we’ve already seen with Per Wickstrom’s operations in Michigan.  They may simply lie about the details of their programs so that they can’t be linked easily to Scientology by using the word “students” for patients, etc.  As a result, they’ll become a bit more difficult to attack, since there won’t be one single

What happens in Russia?

Russia is perhaps the biggest question mark in the attempt to measure overall Scientology membership.  The cult claims that there are over 20 missions and orgs throughout the country, but it’s entirely possible that these claims are bogus.  If true, it’s possible that there could be as many as 1,500 or 2,000 public in Russia, which makes the country able to supply many Sea Org recruits to work at Flag and other US locations.  Certainly to a bright kid trapped in a second-tier Russian city with poor job prospects, a ticket to the West, even for a job paying Sea Org wages could easily seem attractive.  And even though the per capita economic potential of each individual Russian cultie isn’t that high, a larger-than-expected number of cult members in Russia could affect the total number of members worldwide that we’re attempting to develop.

If there are any Russian speakers out there (DodoTheLaser, are you listening?) who could help monitor the Russian-language press for Scientology news, that would be very helpful.

Will staffing levels become an issue?

The cult seems to have survived for quite a while without any real ability to attract new members.  Obviously, that’s because of the cult’s well-established ability to keep hitting up existing members for donations.  So nearly twenty years after the massive “stat crash” in the early 1990s, when the stream of “fresh meat” dried up, the cult still limps along. (I believe revenue is down from the peak reached in that area, but there’s still enough money coming in for the cult to remain dangerous.)

It’s clear that a cult collapse scenario based mainly around the lack of new members probably won’t happen.  But relatively few comments in the two and a half years I’ve been following Scientology have attempted to grapple with the potential for the lack of staff to bring the cult down.

It’s long been known that many missions are struggling, open only a handful of hours per week at odd hours.  They’re struggling in part because of neglect from the top of the organization, but also from the competition from nearby Ideal Orgs cannibalizing members wherever possible.  It’s also quite apparent that some orgs are woefully understaffed.  A 40,000 foot office building would normally hold 150-250 employees depending on configuration.  But there are reports of visits to Ideal Orgs where only about a dozen staff are visible at any one time.

This leads me to believe that staff are dwindling, particularly in the outer orgs, though I believe the cult is also having trouble getting Sea Org staff as well, even with non-US recruitment efforts.

At what point does the staff shortage become a key defining issue in the decline of the cult?  If current members come into their local org during published business hours and there aren’t enough people to open the doors, that will certainly shake their reality on the “straight up and vertical” expansion theme.

Will the cult be able to explain the org stuff away by simply demanding that people come to Flag or AOLA or some other higher-level org for even the most basic services?


An Offer You Just Can’t Refuse

An enterprising tipster passed on this e-mail invitation, which broke records in all sorts of ways for the lamest e-mail from the cult in a while. It even surpasses the single-question e-mail I highlighted a while ago that promised oodles of miracles in two short sentences.

Columbus, OhioAn enterprising tipster passed on this e-mail invitation, which broke records in all sorts of ways for the lamest e-mail from the cult in a while. It even surpasses the single-question e-mail I highlighted a while ago that promised oodles of miracles in two short sentences, but this one does fall woefully short in the area of grandiose promises.

As short as the e-mail is, the analytical conclusion at the end suggests that something so brief can actually be quite revealing about how things are going inside the cult at the moment.

The Smoking Gun

Here is the e-mail received by my tipster, in its entirety.

From: "Stan Booth" <sbooth@asho.org>
Date: Dec 7, 2013 11:43 AM
Subject: Hi from Stan ASHO
To: <An enterprising tipster>

HI <Enterprising Tipster>,

Do you come by the Columbus org much? I am setting up a
Christmas banquet that you are invited to.

L, Stan ASHO
Citizens search desperately for parking so they can take courses at the Columbus org. Obviously, they are not fully in touch with their OT powers yet since they haven't "postulated" a parking space right in front.
Citizens search desperately for parking so they can take courses at the Columbus org. Obviously, they are not fully in touch with their OT powers yet since they haven’t “postulated” a parking space right in front.

It turns out that there are no non-stop flights from the city where my tipster lives to Columbus.  Of course, there aren’t a lot of direct flights from anywhere to Columbus other than a couple of major airline hub cities like Atlanta and Dallas.  Hell, there are only a couple of nonstops from New York City to Columbus on any given day.  It appears that the only reason for anyone to go to Columbus is because they have to go there, not because they want to. So for my tipster to answer quite truthfully that no, he doesn’t come by the Columbus org much, is kind of obvious.

Given the airline situation with no non-stop flights, my tipster figures that he would have to spend the better part of an entire day traveling to get to this mind-blowing gala holiday event and then most of another day getting back. Never mind about the regging that’s sure to be a big part of this festive event; spending top dollar to get last-minute airfare to spend two days attending an event where he’ll be served mediocre catered food and regged for everything he’s got just somehow doesn’t seem like a great idea at any time of year, much less so close to the holidays that the airways will be jammed with snot-nosed kids flying to see the grandparents, kicking the seat back constantly, whining about whether we’re there yet, and all the other stuff that makes me glad that we in Global Capitalism HQ don’t have to fly commercial any more.

Sea Org vessel "Thetan One" docks on the Ohio River prior to unloading its cargo of Sea Org missionaires sent in by David Miscavige to get the stats "straight up and vertical" before the advertised Christmas banquet.
Sea Org vessel “Thetan One” docks on the Scioto River prior to unloading its cargo of Sea Org missionaires sent in by David Miscavige to get the stats “straight up and vertical” before the advertised Christmas banquet.

The other really interesting thing about this is that the e-mail comes from a fairly senior official at ASHO (American Saint Hill Organization), an “elite” org that is supposed to be all about higher-level training.  But having an upper level org sending out fund-raisers to get people to come to cities far outside their usual orbit for a Christmas banquet, rather than having the local org staff themselves send out the invitations, just smacks of desperation.

I talked to a source who’s familiar with life in the Columbus org, and he pointed out that Columbus is struggling even more than the average Scientology org these days. The population of the Columbus combined metro statistical area is 2.35 million.  Assuming 15,000 Scientologists in a total US population of 310 million, you’d expect to see a grand total of 113 Scientologists in the greater Columbus area.  And if you assume 25 of those are staff, you get a grand total of 85 card-carrying public. According to my local expert, the only reason that Cincinnati (just 100 miles down the road) is doing better, with its own recently opened Ideal Org, is that the husband-and-wife team running the Cincinnati org had much better fundraising success due to their personal efforts. With a weaker management bench, the slightly larger Columbus area just isn’t moving the needle.

Analytical Conclusion

There is a point to all this that goes well beyond the quest for a couple mildly funny chuckles to be had at the cult’s expense.

The fact that higher-level orgs are working to produce events for local orgs and to get people from ludicrously inappropriate locations to come to them is a further leg down in the decay of the Class V org system.  As various commenters have noted before, it appears that, once again, Miscavige is sacrificing the periphery of the empire to protect what have previously been the more profitable parts of the business, most particularly, the courses and auditing offered at Flag, the “Mecca of technical perfection.”

But if Miscavige is willing to sacrifice the “outer” orgs to protect the “senior” orgs, why is he having senior staff at the “senior” orgs put on events (note that the e-mail said that author Stan Booth is “setting up” a banquet, not just inviting people to a banquet). In other words, it sounds like Stan at ASHO is in charge of the event, not just using his mailing list to get people to come.  Somebody who ordered him to do this must think producing an undistinguished local event in a second-tier market is the most profitable use of Stan’s time.  So that means that ASHO is hurting for business as well, probably because their business has been cannibalized by Flag.

The other relevant point is that if there’s no one in the Columbus org who can be trusted with responsibility to plan and execute a fairly simple event, then it is possible that the cult is hemorrhaging trained staff at a sufficiently rapid rate that they simply don’t have anyone locally who can put on an event.

And that, in turn, is a hint that at least some parts of the cult are coming close to the brink.  In my (as yet unpublished) “cult collapse scenario,” I note that the cult can (and it certainly has) continue operating for quite a long time without new recruits, and they can continue to operate for a long time with a diminishing pool of existing members. But one thing they cannot operate without is enough staff to keep the doors open.

One of the way the cult has been trying to keep the doors open after massive native staff defections is to hire people from outside the US and bring them in on a “religious worker” visa.  That works well enough for jobs at Flag, say, where they don’t need to have great English skills to wash dishes in the restaurant, etc.  But when you’re in a local org, at least some percentage of the staff needs to have enough English language skills to negotiate with vendors, to handle such things as setting up catering services, which could involve fairly complex menu choices.  That’s not the sort of thing you can expect someone fresh off the boat to master all that quickly.  So if the Columbus org is running out of native English speakers on staff, that suggests that the usefulness of the foreign staff project may be reaching its end.

But keep in mind: this is a single data point, and the analytical conclusions based on a single data point could very well be wrong.  So I’m treating this discussion as a hypothesis of what might be happening, rather than as definite assertion that this is happening.  It would be really helpful if we all keep our eyes out for data points that either confirm or reject any of the potential conclusions here.

Scientology Daily Digest: Thursday, December 12, 2013

Here’s the promised “science fiction double feature” since I couldn’t get a post out last night.

Most surprising news is that Devon Newman, former head of PR for Las Vegas Celebrity Centre, picked up in a bizarre plot with her roommate to kidnap and murder police, was allowed to cop a plea and walk out of court with a year probation.  See below for further details. This was entirely unexpected given the bail amounts involved and the statements of the police and the DA.  I still think her co-conspirator, a convicted pedophile with a long record, is not going to be so lucky.

Check out the rest of the “General Press” section as there are a number of interesting cult-related articles including an interview with PR powerhouse Pat Kingsley, who Tom Cruise fired in favor of his sister.

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Today, Tony reported that Judge Whittemore will allow the Garcia’s to conduct discovery to look for bogus behavior in the diversity jurisdiction issue before the court in the Garcia case, given that the cult hid the fact that the two trusts involved were California based until it started losing. Apparently, the scope of discovery is fairly limited.  When I read it, the tone of the order makes it sound like Whittemore is not all that optimistic that the Garcia’s will succeed, but he’s just crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s properly.

The post also talks a bit about the UK high court ruling permitting Scientology to conduct marriage ceremonies, which is attracting plenty of press.  There’s a particularly lame BBC interview, where a tame reporter says nothing, though Marc Headley gets in some pretty good comments.

Selected comments: 

Mike Rinder’s Blog

Today, Mike found a couple of amusing bits of FAIL on the main Scientology web site. Minor details like the page where they promise to open a bunch of Idle Morgues by the end of 2013 — three weeks hence — after only opening four this year (versus 11 last year).  They’re gamely struggling to believe that they have a chance of getting Ideal Orgs done in Battle Creek, MI and New Haven, CT.

I can’t imagine why Battle Creek would be home for an org, given its metro area population of less than 140,000.  Incidentally, if we believe that there are 15,000 Scientologists out of a total US population of 310 million, then that implies that there ought to be a total of 6.6 Scientologists in the Battle Creek metro area.  That’s an opportunity to go straight up and vertical, baby!  Perhaps the Battle Creek org is a stealth strategy to penetrate the burgeoning metropolis of Kalamazoo, just 25 miles west on I-94.  With a population approximately double that of Battle Creek, Kalamazoo might be home to approximately 13 more Scientologists.

Mike also points out just how inept the cult’s Volunteer Minister response to the recent Philippines typhoon has been.  Apparently, the site for what Miscavige claims is the most effective disaster relief force in the world still has the same picture of four people at a photo opp, not the thousands of volunteers they try to suggest they have.

Yesterday’s post contains an utterly illiterate marketing piece by Sharron Webber, who, last I heard, was the #2 on the Freewinds.  Unlike so many of the young recruits, Webber is a native English speaker.  Perhaps the nicotine in six packs of unfiltered Kools a day are causing excessive cerebral vasoconstriction?  The thought that someone with such a low level of literacy is in charge of a complex piece of aging machinery which can, if ineptly operated, kill hundreds of people, is rather sobering.

Forum Sites

General News

  • The Raw Story, another site in the burgeoning Tony Ortega media empire, ran a breaking news story that Devon Newman, the former head of PR at the Las Vegas Celebrity Centre, pled guilty in the bizarre Sovereign Citizen police kidnapping/conspiracy that hit headlines in August.  She gets a year probation in return, though her sociopath roommate will probably get a bit different outcome at trial in March.  It will be interesting to see what the cult makes of this for internal PR — talking about how Tone 40 intention beats “wog” justice every time, or something.
  • suicide by defenestration at an office tower holding a number of Scientology-related businesses remains a bit of a mystery as the Clearwater PD has not released the identity of the victim.  The building is or was home to various cult front groups and WISE businesses, including a Narconon office.  It’s unclear whether the Narconon office is still in the building.  Some of the businesses are connected to the Feshbachs and at least one is apparently connected to cult PI Dave Lubow, who’s a figure in the Monique Rathbun suit.  ESMB and OCMB threads will presumably keep up with status updates.
  • Missionary Kid scored a nice find with an academic journal article on the Haifa (Israel) mission going independent.  I don’t know the researcher or the prestige level of the journal, but it’s interesting to note that this unique (in recent history, at least) secession from the corporate church is attracting attention in academic circles.
  • Pat Kingsley, the legendary PR maven who Tom Cruise famously fired in favor of his unskilled sister right before the Oprah couch-jumping incident started to crumble his reputation, checks in from retirement.  Towards the end of the article, she talks about her relationship with Cruise; while mostly diplomatic, she talks about how he started to get crazy about the cult before they parted ways.  After reading the whole profile, I’m impressed by Pat.
  • RadarOnline ran a story about forced labor in cult facilities, harvesting juicy bits from the declarations filed earlier this week in the Monique Rathbun case and putting them together, with yet another epic cult denial at the end.
  • The lead story in the latest issue of “Freedom” magazine begins “The excitement rolled across more than 10,000 Scientologists gathered in multiple large venues at the religion’s Flag Land Base in Clearwater on November 15, 2013…” This is one of the documents presented by the defendant’s attorneys as argument for not deposing Miscavige. It’s a cult-operated site so you should know that they’ll harvest your IP address.

Scientology Daily Digest: Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Perhaps the biggest news today is the Tampa Bay times story that some Clearwater businesses have seen sales plummet in the wake of the Super Power opening, as staff apparently don’t wander between buildings as much, and as the cafeteria in the basement is capturing money that used to go to them.  Way to relate to the community, Scientology! 

Also, Tony’s blog had more insights on how people react to the OT III level, Marty Rathbun posts a particularly provocative long quote from Hubbard on conducting intelligence operations against enemies, Mike Rinder mocks Mark VIII e-meter marketing, and the general press unloads on the cult.

Today’s post is worth a close read as there are some pretty funny discoveries of videos and news stories from around the world.

Thanks to a large number of tipsters and commenters who brought stories to my attention today!

Tony Ortega’s Blog

Tony’s regular Tuesday feature delves a little deeper into the “mysteries” of the OT III level as seen through the eyes of former staff Claire Headley and Bruce Hines; it also features a fun video from Karen de la Carriere and J. Swift on the Ideal Org scam.

My take: What’s really interesting is that both Bruce Hines and Claire Headley said that their first reaction was “what a load of crap!” but their training instantly took over and their devotion to Scientology didn’t waver much.  They both figured it was something they didn’t understand, and vowed to come back later and try and overcome their shortcomings that made them unable to comprehend the brilliance.  Here are two fairly intelligent people who were so indoctrinated by the cult that they were unable to pull free when the alarm bells were ringing loudly.  That’s a pretty powerful warning to others who think they’re somehow immune.

Also horrifying is Claire’s recollection of an accident on the base that left her with a badly broken foot and a broken shoulder, which nearly killed her. The cult wasn’t allowed to call 911 when Miscavige was actually on the base, perhaps because of his paranoia about his personal security.  Just appalling.

From a purely literary standpoint, Hubbard’s description of “Incident One” is probably the lamest bit of handwritten nonsense I’ve seen him pen.  When you read about the Big Bang, even dry physics texts make it sound pretty damned awe-inspiring. But here, Hubbard manages to take any element of wonder and mystery, the key elements of any origin story, out of it and make it sound like a back-of-the-napkin reminder of how to write something so pathetic by comparison that it would get laughed out of town.

Selected comments:

Mike Rinder’s Blog

Mike posts about the craziness of the sales campaigns to get the new Mark VIII super-duper new e-meter in people’s hands immediately.

Apparently, one new and unique feature of the high-pressure marketing campaign is awards for the staff.  The org that sells the most meters will apparently get a gift-wrapped swag basket of some indeterminate contents at some point in the future.  For reference, Harry and David, the long-time gourmet gift basket retailer, offers a $200 gift basket as its most expensive.  Split 30 ways (assuming 30 staff per org) would mean about $6 per employee, or a bonus of the better part of a week’s pay.  This stands as a monument to cult cheapness, a paltry reward to whoever brings in hundreds of thousands in profits.  Of course, such cheapness goes back to “Source,” as Hubbard offered a small plaque as a way of thanking anyone who brought in any of the biggest celebrities then alive in the cult’s first celebrity recruitment campaign.

Mike does the math and thinks this means that the cult really expects to have 7,500 members doing courses actively, assuming a production run of 20,000 units (they were made when he was “in” and have been sitting in a warehouse since then, so he may have a reasonably good idea of exactly how many there are), less 5,000 for orgs and field auditors, divided by two because of the requirement that everyone have two in case one fails.

Marty Rathbun’s Blog

Marty has posted a particularly telling Hubbard quote about intelligence operations and sliming enemies.  It’s a lot deeper than the oft-quoted one-liner justifying “Fair Game.”  To get the full effect of Hubbard’s paranoid viciousness in action, this is worth a read.  Secondarily, this might also serve as a quiet reminder to some of his readers that there is plenty of evidence to counter the view that “Hubbard always good, Miscavige always bad” that some Independent Scientologists espouse.  Incidentally, the full “Manual of Justice” that this quote is taken from appears at http://www.xenu.net/archive/go/man_just.htm.

In fact, the comments are worth reading on this one as they show a fairly diverse range of opinions on Hubbard’s pronouncements here.  The comments are definitely different from what I’d expect on this site or on Tony’s but there is not the lockstep agreement that some might expect.

Forum Sites (ESMB, OCMB, WWP)

Thanks yet again for Aeger Primo for her work monitoring the forum sites.

General News

  • The Tampa Bay Times reported this afternoon that some downtown Clearwater businesses are struggling now that staff are moving into the new Super Power building, and apparently have less time to get out to buy coffee or otherwise spend their meager salaries.  On the other hand, some hope that having all those culties out of the way will clean up downtown Clearwater’s image quicker and ultimately help business get back on track.  Apparently, some of the tourists find the Sea Org uniforms a bit intimidating.
  • The Tampa Bay Times also notes that the mayor of Clearwater sent a note congratulating Miscavige on the Super Power opening, though the article also mentions Mark Bunker’s excellent video about exactly why this is a bad thing for the city to do.
  • Sheriff Lee Baca may not have much time for gladhanding Scientologists, given the arrests of 18 officers and managers in the LA County jail system for a particularly heinous series of crimes.
  • “Enty,” the entertainment lawyer who posts at gossip site “Crazy Days and Nights,” thinks the Bauer Media attorneys could very well question Katie Holmes about whether Tom is Suri’s biological father, and if such questioning comes up, he speculates that Cruise could settle the Bauer suit quickly.  It looks like the Bauer folks have the momentum in the trial since Bert Fields’ clumsy attempt to tie Bauer’s German parent to some sort of Nazi behavior not only fell flat but earned him sanctions.
  • Apparently, “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Christmas Pageant” is coming to a community theater in the San Diego area.  Since there are apparently almost zero Scientologists in the San Diego area (out of 3.2 million population), the cult will have to bus people down from LA to protest, sadly.