This is my account of my several years immediately following breaking with a cult group, focusing especially on events about the time of and subsequent to my publishing a book about my experiences in the group.
Definitions of "cult" abound. The word began to undergo some change in usage several decades ago. At one time it suggested a rather innocuous interest in or adherence to some subject or belief (though even then there was, typically, a charismatic leader on the scene). Nowadays, "cult" implies something onerous, sinister and threatening. Anti-cult factions sometimes use the epithet "destructive" with "cult," just to make sure that it isn't the old relatively easy-going groups under consideration.
The anti- (counter-) cult associations of the past few years have identified many signs and symptoms of "cultishness." Organization such as C.A.N., the Cult Awareness Network, often refer to the revealing list of cultish qualities drawn up by Professor Robert J. Lifton, in his Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, a Study of Brainwashing in China, such as a propensity to distort language and to limit probative thinking.
For me, the word "predatory" says a lot about destructive cults; the organization, or guru in charge, exacts money, administrative services and sometimes sex from its members.
An all-influencing leader (guru) is practically a requisite of these groups. As good a short definition as any is framed in The Guru Papers by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad (Frog, Ltd., Berkeley, California, 1995): "(cults are) authoritarian groups with a leader who has few constraints ... is unchallengeable and considered infallible."
Around the early summer of 1968 I flew to England to take the so-called Scientology secret processes. I had just turned age 35, what may seem like an advanced age for such a dubious adventure, and my course from being totally ignorant of Scientology to pursuing it's founder and leader L. Ron Hubbard's "stratosphere" was wayward. I had first heard of Scientology from friends in the mid-'60s, and later befriended and came under the influence of "franchise owners," who ran their own auditing establishment, though still affiliated with the central organization, who guided me through Hubbard's elementary courses while seeking to avoid the excesses of what they freely acknowledged was a fanatic group. Somewhere along the way I got "hooked."
The Lower Grades, the Scientology pathway I traversed in '67-'68 in New York, are rather innocuous, dealing with earthly fodder, such as problems, guilt and communication. It was only after I'd passed through all five Grades, and was taught to draw other people to the Franchise and audit them myself (act as a Scientology practitioner), that the cultist's bug bit me, and I was persuaded by my "in" friends that I should seek the Golden Fleece, specifically the "Clearing Process," then available only at a training school not far from London.
My experience with the Scientologists, both in England and later in Edinburgh, Scotland, was a disaster. (I've described it in detail in my book Inside Scientology/Dianetics, also available on The Internet.) The powerful suggestions I was given via Hubbard's tapes and bulletins advising me that Scientology was my only hope for happiness were at odds with the frightening things I observed around me. After just two weeks in England, a violent struggle ensued within me that I kept submerged out of my awareness, causing me sleepless nights, bad nerves, and a touch of paranoia (which runs strongly in Scientology and I suspect other cults as well). When my better senses, or guardian angel, warned me I was wasting away, I managed to break from the group and return to New York ("escape" would not be inappropriate, since my return flight ticket was being held as "security" and I had to pass through a gauntlet to get away).
I did not recover once away from the group; my symptoms persisted unabated. My New York Scientology friends tried to help me, but their efforts, consisting largely of more auditing, only had the effect of keeping me stuck to Scientology concepts -- like using a poison as an antidote to itself. After a few weeks back in New York, I became so scared, depressed and suicidal that I presented at a psychiatric ward, where I stayed for five more weeks.
Out of the ward, I took up with the same nonsense once again, letting my friends audit me on the latest techniques they'd picked up while I was institutionalized. Just when I was about ready for more incarceration, I visited an M.D., a regular internist, who I hoped would give me a sleeping potion. Unbeknownst to me, he happened to be a "Doctor Feelgood," who solved all of his patients' problems with injections of methamphetamine (liquid speed) and vitamins, a highly addictive and dangerous concoction. The doctor stayed open seven days a week, and had a nurse on duty most of the time to administer the shots. He would never inform me what precisely he was giving me. When I did find out about a year later, from a magazine article about "fashionable doctors," it took me no great leap of reasoning to conclude that my doctor was about as wicked as L. Ron Hubbard himself. However, my drug addiction did pull me away from Scientology. With the relief from the injections, I lost interest in auditing, and my mind was free to scrutinize it.
My big jump towards a measure of freedom occurred when two friends, not in any group, convinced me to write up my Scientology story from beginning to end. I embarked on this task with fervor, since it seemed a way to exorcise the demons that were lurking just below my drug-induced feeling of security. As my friends put it, "There's a lot there hiding beneath the surface and you've got to get it out of your system." At first I didn't think I had enough material for more than an article; once I'd made an outline, however, I knew I had the makings of a book. I was soon carried away with the compulsion to speak my mind, for I felt that my right to free speech and thought had been denied me for the three months I had spent at Scientology headquarters in Britain.
I barely started the text, using a kind of speedwriting system, when it was announced that the ballet company I played piano for was going on their summer tour. Terrified, I pleaded with the doctor to give me a syringe and injection ingredients to take with me on my travels. He steadfastly lied, insisting there was nothing wrong with the injections, and that I didn't need them.
I'd discovered that if I went without a shot for one day I had withdrawal symptoms that probably made heroin seem like cottage-cheese. As the ballet company flight descended to the Vienna airport, demons sprang in my mind and body. I spent the next ten days in that lovely town with nothing on my mind so much as getting a flight back to the States and visiting the doctor's. What kept me going was my job and writing my book. I'd awaken each morning unable to go back to sleep, so I'd take my manuscript to a coffeehouse and work on it. Several times I fell asleep during the day; our orchestra conductor told me later he'd been quite worried about me, though somehow I was able to get through the performances. At night the withdrawal generally lessened, allowing me fond memories of the Viennese cuisine and the amazing roller-coaster at the amusement park.
The last day of that stay, I started feeling human again, both because the drug was wearing off and, conflictingly, because I knew I'd soon be back in New York for more shots!
In retrospect I believe that my tribulations were no more due to the dosage I was receiving than to the unresolved Scientology-induced conflicts that the drug masked.
I went to the doctor's four times before the troupe was to leave for their major stint out West. The handwriting was on the wall then, because we would be out of New York for ten weeks. I went through another withdrawal, this time mostly at a summer rehearsal facility near Tacoma, Washington. Performances began for fair in Seattle. I will never forget waking up in my hotel room with the symptoms -- fear, depression, and a great gaping urge throughout my whole body for the injections -- gone.
Throughout these drug ramifications I kept plugging away at Inside Scientology. I must have decided at the start to tell my story as a straightforward narrative, that the strength of the story lay in an unadorned account with very little interpretive elaboration. I also realized that I was paranoid about the manuscript itself. (Of course, Scientology taught us to be paranoid about their "confidential materials" and in Great Britain ordered members to carry them around in locked briefcases.) It seemed inevitable, integral to my project, that I divulge these "secrets" for the first time. Whenever I would leave a hotel room on tour, to eat or perform or whatever, I hid my notebook behind the drapery or a chair. I had no reason to believe that the Scientology organization knew anything about my book; nor did I have any inkling of what they might do to critical authors. (Had I known about the latter, I would never have applied the pejorative "paranoid" to myself, since the risks were real, not imaginary.) Paranoia was engendered by the organization; fear was a significant element of the atmosphere. At that time it was still too early for me to stop holding the cult in awe. It wouldn't have occurred to me that Scientology wasn't capable of achieving its goal of world conquest. The group was to loom for a further period of my life like a ubiquitous voodoo threat.
I typed up a manuscript from my speedwriting notes, and hired professional typists to clean up the job (you can imagine the terror of carrying that stuff around on the subway). It was now fall of '69. The whole writing project had taken only a few months.
Now I needed a publisher, since I felt that revealing what I knew about Scientology was vital to the world at large. A friend of mine brought me into contact with a big person in publishing, who told me he liked the book and thought it important, but couldn't get his sales department to accept it. However, his wife, a literary agent, agreed to take the book under her wing.
While she was trying to sell my manuscript, I went directly into rewriting. My instincts told me that the first time around I'd packed the book with unnecessary detail, including an over-abundance of Scientology terminology, and I should cut it down and, in particular, dejargonize, since much of the Hubbard gobbledygook was not directly germane to the story.
Each time I returned to the book my memory sharpened. Allowing what I "knew" inside to come out on paper was cumulatively a revelation. Seeing my auditing sessions before my very eyes gave me ever-increasing acquaintance with how I'd gone along with things, accepted flagrantly erroneous suggestions and got myself pulled in.
My agent failed to sell the book, and after a year and a half returned it to me. I quickly found another agent. During this rather long period with the agents several authors beat me to the punch publishing books about Scientology. All of them were negative about the group. None of them contained much about the "secret materials," so I didn't feel their books and mine were competitive. In fact, the appearance of these other books was good for me, and I was happy to see their publication. That more than one person was willing to take on a powerful organization (powerful, if not omnipotent, to a recent defector such as myself) had a very supporting effect, and took some of the pressure, real or imagined, off myself.
The first book I saw was George Malko's Scientology: The Now Religion (Delacorte, New York, 1970), an outsider's journalistic account of Scientology. Next came Cyril Vosper's The Mind-Benders (published in England around 1970). Vosper had been a member for many years. His account includes friction within his own family caused by Scientology.
I corresponded with Vosper, and he told me that something was "out to get him," and since he knew of no alternative, apparently Scientology was making reprisal against him for publishing his book. The incident I recall -- by all odds the most memorable one -- occurred when Vosper was vacationing in Spain. Person or persons sent the local police a trick photograph purportedly made by Vosper showing Generalissimo Franco sitting on the toilet. Vosper had some trouble staying out of a Spanish jail.
This was perhaps the first time I heard of the real possibility of Scientology's committing vengeful acts against critics. This, and the similar stories I was to hear later, proved to be a favor from the organization to me: physical acts in the real world whittled down the voodoo threat and fear of paranoia, and put the matter on a simple physical level. If the organization had to resort to dirty tricks "in the real world," its members surely possessed no special, or occult powers.
Around that time, '71, I met Paulette Cooper, a New York writer, who was also the victim of dirty tricks, including nuisance lawsuits, because of a magazine article she'd published unfavorable to Scientology. She was working on a book, Scandal of Scientology, and we gave each other our manuscripts to look at. Hers was more direct and hard-hitting in its criticism than the previously published books, and she also got my permission to insert one of the most chilling incidents from my own book. So caustic was Cooper's book to the organization that for years she suffered more of their enmity than just about anyone else.
When my second agent told me she'd done her best, I decided to sell the manuscript myself. Within a few months I found a publisher, Olympia Press. This firm had a long and thorny history in the business. Its head was Maurice Girodias, a man of Greek, Jewish and French background. Olympia had its beginnings in France, where it was first known as Basilisk Press. Those readers who go back to the age of censorship may remember books with olive-green covers, by literary forces such as Henry Miller, Vladimir Nabakov, Samuel Beckett, W.S. Burroughs and the dual authors of Candy, Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg, being smuggled into the U.S., where one couldn't publish a dirty word at that time. Maurice Girodias/Olympia Press was reputed to have been sued by most of these great figures, presumably for non-payment of advances and royalties.
Girodias was a neat, not very large man of great Continental charm and persuasion. It didn't take a stretch of my imagination to view him as a person who could get people into deals they regretted later. Girodias had had to leave France, perhaps for the controversial-at-the-time works he published, and by the time we met maintained Olympia offices in London as well as New York. He was then publishing high-toned erotic literature -- I read some of the stuff, and what I saw was written by talented people, and too good to be called "smut" or "pornography." Girodias confided in me that he was making a comeback from erotica by publishing two new books, mine, and the memoirs of a speed-freak. I always enjoyed visiting his offices, because he peopled it with engagingly bohemian-type characters just at the time when bohemianism was becoming scarcely a faded memory.
I was living in one of the large residence hotels that used to flourish on the West Side of Manhattan -- several corridors, or "units," to a floor, with eight or ten roomers on each sharing kitchens and bathrooms. One afternoon the hall phone rang, and I found myself talking to a James Meisler, who called himself a "Reverend in the Church of Scientology." The organization had apparently spotted an announcement of my forthcoming book in a trade paper such as Publishers' Weekly. Meisler demanded a copy of my manuscript so that "corrections" could be sent to my publisher by his "Church." When I replied that I refused to hand over my manuscript, he said, "It's your neck," and, "We've got you covered on all fronts."
This was my first encounter of that sort; afterwards, I felt shocked and lame, and wished I'd just told him to go fuck himself.
One evening around that time, I was nursing a pina at a Broadway taco place when I was approached by a short, chunky blue-eyed fellow with a mustache who introduced himself as Larry Tepper, and told me he somehow knew who I was and that he, Tepper, was going through a rough period trying to decide whether to stay in Scientology or not, a phenomenon known in Scientology as "Condition of Doubt." I learned eventually to suspect anyone who approached me of being a Scientology agent, or spy, but at the time was so freshly out of the group, and also single-minded about getting my book out, as well as preparing to give a piano recital at Carnegie Recital Hall (now called Weill Hall) that dangers facing me, such as agents, weren't on my mind, and I was shamefully defenseless against them. As another demonstration of this, I played my recital for Tepper, naively supposing the performance might impress on him that a dissident who could create something artistic was not "evil," and thereby ingratiate him into leaving the group once and for all.
Tepper said he needed to know something about Scientology from an "outsider's" point of view, and if I had written anything on the subject it would help him a lot. I was unwilling to give him my entire manuscript, but I did lend him a copy of the first hundred pages or so, which related the beginnings of my involvement in Scientology, stopping short of any "secrets."
I had dinner with Tepper one night at a Spanish restaurant, a meal that I wound up paying for, in keeping with my obfuscated state of mind. As we were eating, a salamander-like individual dressed in clerical garb confronted me at the table and ranted for several minutes. It was the "Reverend" James Meisler. Typically, it was only later that I wished I had called the police on him for harassment.
A photocopy of the section I'd given Tepper arrived at Olympia Press a few days later from Scientology's Los Angeles headquarters, making proposed "corrections" to my text. Again, I never got around to telling off Tepper, or worse; I was still too much in a fog.
Shortly afterward, Maurice Girodias called me excitedly to tell me that proofs of the sections I had withheld from Tepper had been stolen from Girodias' printer in Connecticut. A man had come to the plant late at night, told the watchman that he was an Olympia editor from New York, and got away with the juicy part of the book. These pages also came back shortly with "corrections."
During the warm spring of '72, as my piano recital drew near I began to consider the possibility that Scientology might try to abort it. For no logical reason, I focused mainly on the possibility that an agent would do something to the hall's sound system, creating enough temporary disturbance to ruin the concert. I asked several friends to keep their eye out for this type of dirty trick.
The night of the concert, I walked down Broadway to Little Carnegie, stopping on the way to enjoy an expresso. The scene when I arrived at the hall was mad. Dozens of people milled about on the sidewalk in front of the hall, many of them frantically rushing over to me when I appeared. My father was among them, weeping because he thought I'd been kidnapped when the hall doors were found to be locked, with no one at the ticket window.
I got the night manager of the large Carnegie Hall next door to open the doors, and I gave the recital. The next day I got the story from Little Carnegie staff. The afternoon before the recital, a man had telephoned the hall, identified himself as "Robert Kaufman," and canceled the concert because he "had to leave town to attend a relative's funeral." When my audience found the hall locked, many left. The New York Times review of the recital had it right, noting objectively that the performer had played the first half of his program somewhat aggressively.
(Several years later the FBI raided Scientology centers on both coasts and confiscated thousands of documents allegedly stolen by agents of the Guardian's Office -- Scientology's "enforcing arm" -- from government and law enforcement offices around the country. Two of my anti-cult friends spent several hours in a Washington, DC office xeroxing documents under the Freedom of Information Act. In one of the cartons was an empty folder labeled "Carnegie Hall Incident." I'll have more to say later about some of the other documents.)
It was reasonable to me and my publisher that the organization would seek to enjoin my book in court. Girodias' aide-de-camp for this contingency was a Brooklyn attorney named Lawrence Cohen. One may think of Brooklyn's "Court Street lawyers" in connection with slip-and-fall, or negligence, litigations -- not your super-smooth corporate Wall Street lawyer type; but Lawrence Cohen was competent and knowledgeable about literary matters, and I felt confident having our cause in his hands. Cohen asked me intelligent questions, for example how to deal with the Scientology allegation that I had stolen their confidential materials. After a little thought, I wrote him a few paragraphs about these materials: "Secrets" that I had paid the organization for were essentially contained in Hubbard's early Scientology writings, such as History of Man, and later renamed, repackaged and sold at astronomical prices as "OT Levels."
I visited Cohen's office on Joralemon Street, near the Brooklyn courthouses, to give the lawyer what additional help I could. Cohen flipped through the proofs and said, "Some of this is pretty far out. What exactly are these `GUPPEMS'?"
"For crissake, Larry, it's not `GUPPEMS,' it's `GPMs.'"
"Well, what's that?
"`GPMs' stands for `Goals-Problems-Mass,' which is part of Ron Hubbard's old line-plots for the construction of the `reactive mind,' which he claimed is the ruination of anyone who hasn't attained Scientology `clear.' But really, now that you brought it up, I don't have the goddamnedest idea what it means!"
Scientology did in fact attempt to enjoin my book, in New York, Boston and London. All these attempts were dismissed, Cohen handling the U.S. part of the motions, and we were ready to publish.
Girodias and I were also alert to stories of Scientology stealing critical books and articles from stores and libraries; but we didn't think we could do much about that.
Once the book was published I set about trying to collect money Girodias owed me for my advance. He had a financial manager or accountant at the time, an Englishman named Henry Baker-Carr, who had a habit of looking up at me from his desk and saying dryly, "Well, we don't quite have the funds to pay you just yet."
Once I entered the Olympia lobby and was flummoxed to see a smashing-looking young lady wearing purplish mod clothes at the receptionist's. I bustled in to Maurice exclaiming, "That new receptionist: A friend of mine and I saw her on Broadway the other night, and he said she was a Scientologist but now claimed not to be. This is no coincidence. She's got to be one of their spies."
Girodias said, "Don't you know, Kowfman, that any self-respecting place of business has to have at least one Scientology spy?" The man had a way about him.
Some weeks later, the young lady disappeared, and along with her, Girodias' file on my book and several hundred book jackets.
Girodias didn't owe me a lot of money -- after all, advances were not terribly large to begin with -- but as a matter of principle, or curiosity, I continued to ask for it. Once I got Girodias on the line and thought it would be novel to hypnotize him into cutting the check: "You're arm is heavy, Maurice. Your hand is drifting over to your checkbook. You are going to take pen in hand, and I believe the amount is still $300."
I don't know if it was my powers that did it, but within a week I did receive the money.
I still worked away at rewrites, because Girodias had told me he wanted to put out a softcover edition, and I thought I could make further improvements. I actually got paid for the softcover version (this may've been the time I tried hypnosis), and was sorry that it never came out, but also proud that I had accomplished something the literary giants had not, by collecting what Olympia owed me and then some. I felt no remorse about the "and then some," since Girodias, as I had expected, never gave me any sales reports and perpetually maintained that Inside Scientology was not selling and making us any money.
To this day, I don't know if that was the truth. I don't think the book sold a lot of copies, that there was adequate written fanfare or distribution. Looking ahead a year or so, the book was quickly to become defunct (as Olympia itself would). I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of people who have read or heard about Inside Scientology. People have told me, "Why, I spotted your book in the Achefalecha Library." Reviews were favorable, and lengthy articles were written about it. It's well-known among counter-cultists and probably attained the status of a hot underground item in certain circles. I am delighted to put it on The Internet, where I believe it will be widely read. I have always wanted to republish the book. It is a blunt fact in the publishing industry that rarely will a cult expose make it to the shelves, especially if the cult is Scientology. There's no margin in it; a certain amount of money must be apportioned for legal defense against the inevitable Scientology litigation. Nonetheless, I persisted through perhaps nine rewrites, on the assumption that someday Scientology would achieve such newsworthiness that publication of my book would come about regardless all obstacles.
As always, rewriting brought about fresh insights on the cult experience. Oddly, again, although memory often tends to distort, my memory got sharper each time I took up the subject. The transactions between a cult group and its enthusiast are, after all, not so very complicated, but I wanted to get my story as accurate as possible, both for my own internal housecleaning and as an aid to ex- or potential members needing information. We all have our own leanings and capacities -- not everyone, for instance, is the "writing type"; but I recommend to people who've undergone traumatic phases, notably ex-cultists, that they clean out cobwebs by getting it all down on paper, or computer -- preferably more than once. I know of several ex's who have done just that -- most notably, accounts available on The Internet by Margery Wakefield and Monica Pignotti -- and believe the project always of benefit to its author, even one who is already sufficiently definite about their condemnation of cult methods or policies.
Girodias was sued for publishing Inside Scientology, and I was named co-defendant. This enabled me to countersue for damages I sustained in Great Britain. I was not so avid to win a lawsuit (more and more ex-members have become so over the years, however); I was more interested in keeping the organization at bay. This the countersuit accomplished. I know of no other consequences of my countersuit, and after a given time it may have been removed from the court calender.
But Girodias was having more serious troubles. A monstrous sneak attack against Olympia was waged in England. Hundreds of Olympia letter-head stationery were stolen from the London office, and phoney letters went out to Olympia dealers and distributors throughout the British Isles that the publishing house had gone bankrupt and to send all Olympia books back to the warehouse. Then, hundreds of letters, likewise phoney, from "enraged citizens" complaining about Olympia's "pornography" were sent to Scotland Yard and the Home Office. The Olympia goods -- which I've heard comprised 200,000 volumes -- were thereupon seized by the authorities and sequestered at another warehouse. Olympia took court action to get back their books, and won their plea. However, in Britain in such a case the winner has to pay a desequestration fee to have whatever was seized returned. Olympia London couldn't afford the fee, so it lost the books and was totally wiped out. (I believe Girodias chronicled these happenings in a magazine article to the effect of "Someone or Something is Out to Get Olympia.")
Even more bizarre developments were in store for Girodias. Maurice had moved his New York office, and I dropped by. First he looked up at me with his wry little smile and said, "You know, Kowfman, with all due respect and no wish to offend, I must tell you in all sincerity that since the day I met you I've been roo-eened." The man had style. He then told me the story in detail.
An exotically gorgeous woman, very tall, about six one in heels, paid him a call at his office. They got chummy, and she said they could have dinner, but first he should accompany her on an errand to her uncle's boat at the "Newark Boatyard." (Maurice claimed he checked for such a place later and found it didn't exist.) He found himself in a scruffy field with her, somewhere in the Jersey meadows. Suddenly she grabbed him in a violent embrace. His suspicions aroused, he tried to break it, but she was too strong for him. At that moment a man with a walkie-talkie in some type of uniform stepped up out of nowhere, frisked Girodias and found an ounce or two of marijuana that had been planted in his overcoat pocket.
Girodias managed to avoid jail, but first, he told me ruefully, as a requisite in local drug cases, he had to spend three days sitting in Family Court, for him below any level of Hell described by Dante.
Though Girodias harbored no doubt that the British attack on Olympia was engineered by Scientology, he couldn't be that certain about the female agent and dope frameup.
I liked Girodias (deceased for several years) enormously; he was a lot of fun and, in his own way, impeccable. With all his faults (he had creditors up to here), he did a lot for Literature; he was an excellent judge of writing (I sometimes felt, self-disparagingly, that he had chosen my book not for any great literary merit but for its potential as a money-making expose); when I used to visit him in his office he would sit at his desk almost unconsciously proofing a manuscript. But he was constantly under some siege or other. Of course, usually over money. But he told me that one reason he felt that not all of the strange things that were happening to him -- notably the "Newark Boatyard" incident -- were the work of Scientology was that he must have made some enemies emblazoning the cover of one of his books with a trick photo of Henry Kissinger in jockey shorts in a cheesecake pose.
Interspersed with these Girodias foibles, I received a letter from Sterling, Scotland from a Roy Wallis, a Professor of Sociology at the local university. Wallis (deceased late '80s) said he had published an article about Scientology (no doubt a scholarly sociologic study) that had brought down the Church's wrath. Strange things had been happening to him, and he wished to compare notes with me, whom he knew to be an author on Scientology.
By now I was wary of people popping in on me, but Wallis soon convinced me he was not a Scientology spy. He sent me a copy of a letter left somewhere conspicuous on his campus. The typescript was a replica of the sharply individualistic one Wallis used. The letter purported to be from Wallis to a male lover, containing intimate homosexual sentiments and reference to a drug cache on the campus. The letter was forged with an excellent likeness of Wallis' signature.
I became good friends with Wallis over the years. Scientology was only one of his interests; he was an expert on several groups, which he called "new religions," and I read many pages of Wallis' splendid material. In 1977, Wallis published a book exclusively about Scientology, The Road to Total Freedom, (Columbia University Press, New York), which remains one of the deepest-probing and best-balanced books on the subject.
In 1973, Dr. Christopher Evans, an English scientist and fine anthologist, now deceased, published an entertaining account of Scientology in his Cults of Unreason (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1973). Counter-cultists have not placed Evans' account in their "Hall of Fame" of Scientology exposes, because Evans found some mitigating factors about the group. But I consider his account a good, temperate, and in places quite funny word on the subject.
More recent books on Scientology are Bent Corydon and L. Ron Hubbard, Jr.'s L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman (Lyle Stuart, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1987); Russell Miller's Bare-Faced Messiah (Key Porter Books, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1987); and Jon Atack's A Piece of Blue Sky (Carol Publishing Group, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1990) -- all informative and worth reading, of these books the Atack carrying the more recent data on Scientology enormities.
Getting back to the early 1970s, as with Roy Wallis, some chickens were coming home to roost for Paulette Cooper, author of Scandal of Scientology. I'm afraid I may've had something to do with this. Girodias had received a long letter from L. Ron Hubbard's eldest son, L. Ron Hubbard, Jr., called "Nibs," castigating his father and the organization, and offering to help Olympia promote my book. Nibs showed up in New York, and we had dinner together. He was a homey, affable man, red-headed and beefy but other wise not resembling his father physically.
In time, I introduced Nibs to Paulette Cooper, and over a period of several weeks he visited her apartment several times and made use of her typewriter. Cooper and I found out later that over the years Nibs had ping-ponged back and forth between loyalty and disloyalty to his father, always needed money, and could not be trusted. But it was too late. Things exploded. One morning, FBI investigators came to my rented room and interrogated me. Reverend James Meisler had received three anonymous bomb threat letters. Each was written to suggest the work of one of the group's top New York enemies: Paulette Cooper, myself, and a dissident franchise holder named Bernard Green. I was summoned before a grand jury, where I averred that Meisler had written the letters to himself to frame the Church's enemies. The questioning was predominantly about Paulette Cooper. Her fingerprints had been traced on the particular anonymous letter phrased to most resemble her style. Cooper could ascertain only one way the organization could have got her fingerprints on that piece of paper: Nibs Hubbard, acting as a double agent, had snitched it from her apartment.
Cooper had to spend vast sums on lawyers and take lie-detector tests to avoid imprisonment. Altogether, she went through years of torment from "strange happenings." Word was spread around her building that she had venereal disease; she got threatening phone calls; a threatening stranger posing as a messenger showed up at her apartment door. Later, again through the Freedom of Information Act, Scientology documents were found that referred to a plot called "PC (Paulette Cooper) Freakout," the plot's object to get Cooper incarcerated in either a jail or a mental institution.
Scientology is known to abuse the court system, instigating meritless lawsuits to harass enemies. Cooper was hit with many, something around twenty lawsuits, it seemed from every localized Scientology church in America. She countersued, and eventually received a cash settlement from the organization.
Maurice Girodias hired a woman named Betty Marks to help promote my book (I cannot provide an accurate chronology for these events). She did her job well, and got me on the radio, mostly noontime talk shows, about a dozen times and on TV once. When it came to presenting my side on the media I was extremely inept.
The TV presentation was a debate between myself and, of all people, the Reverend James Meisler, who was the org's public relations person at the time. Meisler used Hubbard's prescribed technique for media encounters; each time I opened my mouth he cut in with a diatribe about "those who oppose freedom of religion." The technique is called "jamming." While Meisler was keeping me muzzled, a cadre of Scientologists in the studio audience chortled every time I did get in a word. (Years afterward, a defector told me that during the program the Scinos in the audience visualized me with my mouth full of stones; they believed this kept me from speaking!)
Confronted by Meisler, after my initial shock, I decided that it would be best for my cause to just let him bulldoze on and dig his own grave. Apparently this strategy worked; after the show several people told me that I had impressed them as a well-mannered sincere guy while my opponent was an obstreperous bully.
Life is strange, but it can get even stranger. I was telling the world about Scientology on a mid-day talk show; the MC said it was time for call-ins. One of the callers said, "I was a male nurse at the mental institution where Mr. Kaufman spent some time. I happened to see his diagnosis, and it was `paranoid schizophrenic with homosexual tendencies.'" To be honest, I had to conclude that, since the organization had known about my institutionalization from the book Inside Scientology, and correctly named the hospital over the radio, the caller or a confederate had traveled Upstate to the hospital, strolled, or snuck, into the hospital records room, got my actual diagnosis and aired it on the talk-show -- a diagnosis that either paints me as a severe mental case, or the mental-medical profession as total nincompoops in assessing a patient.
As Paulette Cooper was showing strong signs of proving her innocence in sending anonymous bomb threat scares, the heat must have been growing for the Reverend James Meisler, whom Cooper and myself felt had masterminded the frameup. We heard that Meisler was being shipped to a Scientology org in Australia, to get him away from the scene. I immediately wrote him a letter, care of the New York Org, congratulating him on his forthcoming trip to Down Under, where he would be the proud auditor of the World's First Kangaroo Clear. I also sketched in a music staff, with the words "I'm going to sit right down and write myself a letter."
Such is Scientology's high dropout rate that I haven't been able to find out whether or not James Meisler is still in the group. I spent my brief time in Scientology in 1968; I have heard of only a couple members from that period -- practically nil -- who stayed on. Perhaps someday I will learn of Meisler's defection. Whether we have a beer and a chuckle over "the old days" is another matter.
A Ghanian fellow rented a room down the corridor from mine. He frequently had countrymen over for gatherings, and one afternoon, when there was a bunch in the hallway, I was introduced to a young American Black named Jerry. Jerry was neat, good-looking, pleasant, and played jazz drums, very well, as I was to find out. He visited the Africans periodically, and stopped by my place several times to chat. He needed a cheap room, and three weeks or so after we met I introduced Jerry to the landlord, who rented a room to him.
From that time forward, Jerry and I often breakfasted together; he would knock on my door around nine a.m. and we usually went to a Cuban place where they served fresh orange or grapefruit juice and cafe con leche. We went to jazz joints two or three times. I was still steamed up over Scientology, and read Jerry articles I wrote about it. He listened impassively. For some inexplicable reason, I never let my guard down with Jerry enough to mention Paulette Cooper and her legal battles with the Church.
One week I rented a small biofeedback device that worked on finger temperature, not so dissimilar to the Scientology E-meter, which works on the principle of galvanic skin response. I let Jerry try it. He was marvelously adept at getting the device to read favorably, and I had to adjust the "start again at a new level" button repeatedly. This could have made me somewhat suspicious of Jerry, for the somewhat vacuous mental state which may bring about alpha readings or other favorable signs in conventional biofeedback training is just what the Scientologist learns to achieve at will, over the course of time, to "pass" the various processes and "gain" the various abilities touted by the organization.
I took Jerry to my swimming pool on a guest pass. He started coming to the health club with me regularly, though after our initial visit he had to pay a fee each time. I suspected this was a hardship for him, for he told me he was pulling in barely enough money driving a cab to make do. He told me he had a girl friend across town, and for her or other reasons, he occasionally left our building for several days. Then he would appear again, and we'd have breakfast and go swimming together.
After several pool visits with me, Jerry showed me two combination locks which he said he'd got for us because he didn't trust the locks supplied at the pool. I found mine a bit cumbersome, but, in deference to my friend's thoughtfulness, memorized the combination and began using it. On one of our swims, Jerry mentioned a girl he knew he used to see, but now they were platonic. He felt that she and I might have something in common, and that I should take her along to the pool.
Rosalyn was a superbly built, very attractive light-skinned Black or Latino young lady. We all swam, and had dinner near the club. Jerry told me a few days later that he thought Rosalyn was interested in me and would go out on a date if I asked her.
She picked me up in her car one night, and I went with her on the strangest date of my life. We sat watching a movie; I took her hand, and there was neither resistance nor positive response. We didn't talk much before and after the film, but talking to her was like holding her hand: nothing wrong and nothing very right, a lack of communication of any sort. Rosalyn wanted to visit some friends who worked in a disco, and I hung around the joint, which was located on Times Square, for the better part of an hour while she talked to people running the records and the lighting. It was still fairly early in the evening when she drove up Riverside Drive and let me off near my building.
Not long after the date with Rosalyn, Jerry said he had to go out of town for a week or two, was letting a different young lady stay in his room while he was gone, and he'd be grateful if I'd go up and introduce myself to her and help her in any way I could. I didn't visit Jerry's room; I was probably miffed at any further of his suggestions about his lady friends because of my weird experience with Rosalyn. In the course of a couple of weeks, the young lady left two notes on my door, asking me if we could meet. I paid no attention.
A few more days passed, I got bored and curious, had a change of heart and went up to the eighth floor to make her acquaintance. To visit someone in those old residential hotels, one usually went to their unit, or corridor, and rang the front bell a number of times corresponding to their room number inside. No one answered my rings. I persisted, and one of the other lodgers in the unit opened the unit door and let me take a look at Jerry's room and leave a note if I wished.
Jerry's door was open a few inches. I entered, starting to get an eerie feeling. The room looked like someone had left it in a hurry. A window was open, and the weather, which had turned significantly colder within the last two days, sent a chilly breeze into the room. The record player was on; the turntable drifted slowly around, but no sound issued from the speakers. I saw no man's or woman's clothing lying about, and the place appeared to have been cleared out. I don't remember whether Jerry's drum set was still there, but it looked like whoever had been tenanting the room had left it on the run.
I shut off the record player, closed the window and turned to leave. Something took a hold of me and drew me to the corner closet, my flesh creeping. It, too, had been cleaned out, except for a couple sports jackets, but there was an object in a corner at the back of the closet. It was a brown valise. I reached inside; there was only a small notebook in it, which I pulled out and opened randomly. The first thing I saw was the combination of the lock Jerry had given me for the safety of my possessions at the swimming pool. I flipped the pages and read, "Twigs still doesn't know I'm a Scientologist." Simple enough. Paulette Cooper, Scientology's arch enemy, was ultra petite, hence "Twiggy." I was also an enemy of Scientology and a friend of hers, hence "Twigs." I left the room, clutching the spy log-book, and back in my own lodgings read with chilling fascination how I'd been followed and tracked for the past few weeks, and how difficult it was for Jerry to conduct this "mission" (as an espionage or sabotage assignment is called in Scientology's Guardian's Office) while he was driving a hack around New York trying to pay for his room rent and visits to the health club with me.
Weeks passed. One morning there was a knock on my door. Jerry had shown up again. As we sat at the counter having a Spanish breakfast, I said, "Man, I know all about you; I know you're a Scientology spy."
Jerry's air of innocence was superb. I learned later that Guardian's Office people are given special training to lie while keeping a straight face. Jerry wanted to know what made me think he was a Scientologist. Of course, he'd found his spy log-book gone, had had to relate that fact to his superiors, possibly during a "security check," and was under pressure over giving himself away with me. He had probably suffered Ethics Penalty, such as three days' work around the org with no sleep.
I steadfastly refrained from mentioning the log-book; and I must have increased Jerry's discomfort by telling him that I knew a spy was coming to my building long before he'd ever arrived there in the first place.
The patience, planning and elaborateness of the Guardian Office's snooping freaked me out. Agents had had to scrutinize my unit -- I've never found out how they accomplished that -- and contrive a way to get Jerry and me together through the friendly Africans. Another agent would then have had to join my health club (no mean amount to pay for dues!), and used my combination to get into my locker and make impressions of the keys in my pants pocket. This would enable Guardian's Office personnel to enter my room and examine my address book and writings-in-progress. That must have been the reason for Rosalyn; my three or four hour date with her would be a sure time when I'd be away from my room long enough for the break-in and search.
Again, my education came later: I was shown Hubbard documents claiming that anyone who attacks Scientology will be found to have a criminal record -- and if a search, which could include scanning of any existing "confidential" auditing rerorts, fails to turn up a criminal record, the Guardian's Office will create one for the enemy! Looking back on the Jerry episode, I can't conceive why so much trouble was taken with me. I was by then far down on the "Enemies list," not much had happened with my book, and I was no great threat to the Scientology organization. I can only view these events as hinting at the extent of Hubbard's paranoia.
I was to discover in books on Scientology years later that at the time of this espionage, Hubbard himself was in hiding in a modest apartment in the New York City borough of Queens, disguising himself in a wig and killing time by fiddling with his cameras and presumably plotting "missions" for his Guardian staff.
I never saw Jerry after our confrontation in the restaurant. He took off again, this time not to return.
Some of the documents my friends brought back from Washington, DC, courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act, had bearing on the "Twigs" plot. Included was a file on Twigs. My haunts and habits were described in burdensome detail, down to the way I twirled my pipe-cleaning tool. There were lists of friends of mine going back two decades. Obviously Hubbard's stooges would go to bizarre lengths to gather and store information about those who criticized Scientology or its leader. Hubbard predicated that getting into someone's personal papers, keeping a tail on them, and scrupulously examining their private auditing reports (if the person happened to have been a member), for example, would provide the desired knowledge of the enemy's weaknesses and foibles, good material for blackmail, extortion or besmirching of reputation. I have heard that this obsessiveness about offenders also involves their "whole track," the totality of an individual's history including "past lives." And again, I must wonder what all this is in aid of, what it accomplishes.
As time went by, I recognized that I was getting over my own obsessions about Scientology. A kind of breakthrough for an ex-cultist, not necessarily a pleasant one, occurs when he/she is sorely vexed by something other than their former group. Perhaps trouble on the job; a medical bill; a dunning notice from the IRS; unruly neighbors; something in their personal life -- whatever it happens to be, the "ex" might think, "Well, I haven't felt this for a while, but such-and-such is about as much a pain as Scientology." The "ex" is then putting the cult in a bit more perspective, part of the entire world and not so unique and separate from everything else. I believe this type of insight is not uncommon among ex-members, but a natural development in their weaning away from the group.
There was still the odd incident. This one I'll never figure out. I was playing piano for ballet performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and didn't have much to cover in the orchestra score, so on my frequent days/nights off I'd take train or bus back to New York City. Once, entering my rented room, my eye caught something rustling in the breeze on the windowsill. It was the stub of a Metroliner ticket to Washington -- and I had never taken the Metroliner so it couldn't have been my stub!
Every so often during the '70s I got a letter from a total stranger expressing their concern about a family member who had joined Scientology, and asking me what to do about it. Or sometimes the letter-writer had left the movement and was undergoing problems. Paulette Cooper's disasters with spies and my own encounter with Jerry made me increasingly wary of messages dropping in on me from out of nowhere. There were also pleasant instances, where the correspondent checked out and I could help another soul in their defection from the group.
I've also contacted several people I met in Scientology for whom I felt special warmth (I've never felt anything but that the majority of Scientologists are as decent and law-abiding as most non-members, and often exceptionally nice.) This has had mixed results. There have been some non-replies -- which could simply mean poor mail delivery. Some people had quit the movement; one individual had stayed in but had nothing against me for my negative opinions and writings, and we enjoyed discussions about Hubbard's theories. Three of those I contacted slammed the door. Two -- one of them an old friend -- wrote "disconnect letters;" the third gave me hell over the telephone (this happened to be the very person who had first introduced me to Scientology!) For the most part their message to me was that I'd attacked something that had saved their lives -- mankind's only hope for survival -- and I was a naughty, or evil, person.
Several years after publication of Inside Scientology, two members of the New York org invited me to meet them at a Bagel Nosh to talk about selling the Church the rights to my book. They waved a check for five thousand dollars in front of me. I told them it would take a lot more than that, if I'd even agree to it with any kind of inducement.
A while later I was sent a letter from Scientology lawyers in California claiming that the organization had obtained the rights to my book. I knew this to be a lie. However, sometime later the matter of who had the rights became academic, because of newer-vintage exposes of Scientology appearing in the media.
Inside Scientology has been out of the bookstores now for many years. However, I, and many others, believe that the book has qualities above and beyond an expose, and will live on.
Negative comment on Scientology has been wide-ranged and intense. But perhaps the best way to know what's wrong with Scientology is to read Hubbard himself (a good fount of information about Hubbard is (aforementioned) Russell Miller's Bare-Faced Messiah -- a neat play on "Liar" -- if you can obtain the book.)
Hubbard was a prodigy; I am always amazed by him. Some years after his death I became aware that, with all his con-man-ship, perhaps his greatest hoax is the use of the "E-meter" in Scientology auditing. The point about the E-meter is so obvious that it's befuddling why more people (including myself) didn't seem to "get it" during their first auditing session, or certainly soon after leaving the group.
Simply stated, the E-meter is a biofeedback device; that is, it furnishes moment-to-moment information about a physiologic process, in this case response/resistance of the subject's skin to an electric circuit. Hubbard's program was that skin reaction indicates "charge from the reactive mind." The fact is that responses, and consequent reads on the electric device, occur because one hooked up to biofeedback apparatus quickly forms a relationship with the equipment, an inner "biofeedback sense," based on motivation, or system of rewards (such as the wish to succeed in auditing and justify the advance payment), the general environment and one's emotional state, including rapport or lack of it with the "trainer" (auditor).
To suggest to a Scientologist that working with an E-meter actually constitutes biofeedback training would be heresy; yet the "preclear," once on the machine, soon learns subliminally how to get reads in his or her favor to achieve their objective, Hubbard-driven incentives. We may talk about punishments, extortion of monies and services, the Sea Org, the Guardian's Office (now called thw Office of Special Affairs). But for me the essence of hoax and folly begins right with Day One of auditing, when the "preclear" is "put on the cans."
I wish to emphasize to defectors that they may not be able to turn feelings about Scientology, or whatever cult, on and off at will after leaving the group. It would not be unnatural for them to remain "in the experience," perhaps for what seems an inordinate length of time, referred to as the "twilight zone," an element of which is to hold the entity that attained such control over them in considerable awe. One's reasons for joining the group in the first place may require working out. Then, too, indoctrination may be sly and insidious, or mercilessly brutal and intimidating, or both. It doesn't necessarily follow that upon leaving a group one's image of it as something inexorably vast and powerful immediately loses its grip. The defector may feel, "Anyone or anything who did this to me is a force to be reckoned with and a threat to the world."
It took me quite a while to restore my sense of balance and bring Scientology down to size: as a fairly well-peopled and very well-monied organization that would like to take over the world but doesn't have the slightest chance.
I've written in the preface to Inside Scientology/Dianetics that I "deprogrammed" myself writing the book. This isn't entirely accurate, though the effort of going over and over the events through several rewrites, doubtlessly benefited me, and again, I would recommend this to ex-members of any group.
It's struck me forcibly over the years how many people leave Scientology because of Hubbard's fierce policies and the organization's application of them, but still retain faith in Hubbard's so-called "technology." (Many of these individuals, still believing Hubbard a genius, and continue to practice some form of auditing. The organization calls them "squirrels.") These worthies insist that they actually use the "tech" in their daily living. I have yet to elicit from any of them just how, precisely, they are able to!
The investment in Scientology is so great, in funds, time and emotion, that it may well happen that an ex-member will not give up his or her vested interest, but continue to entertain a nebulous concept of having gained something valuable from their experience -- and I'm referring mostly to the training. Again, the exact nature of such would be difficult, if not impossible, to elicit.
One may, of course, gain some backbone getting over the experience.
"Dis-" or "reindoctrination," "deprogramming," if you will (or call it acquiring good sense), is not such a fixed commodity that we can refer to an individual as "deprogrammed once and for all." The person may reject Guru X and his teachings, but reindoctrination can never be said to reach a final conclusion, but to continue always. This is both because there is never any end to what one may learn about one's experiences, and also because indoctrination reigns in our world, everywhere, in countless and varied ways, whether or not one would ever join a group, in the form of authoritarianism, bureaucracy, muzzy thinking, superstition. (Read The Guru Papers, by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, Frog, Ltd., Berkeley, California, 1993). It might be fair to say that to be human is to be immersed in dogma of one sort or another.
Re cults specifically, if we help an ex-member to say, "I hate Guru X, his teachings are clap-trap and I was brainwashed," we are still, in a sense, fomenting dogma, just different-sounding dogma. The "ex" is returning to the rest of the world's, our world's, dogma, the dogma outside the cult. Exit counselors (the current term for "deprogrammers") like to think they truly help people. I don't disagree with them; yet it's also true that they are reasonably likely to ease passage for a borderline member from one set of dogma to another. (Gregory Bateson wrote in Steps to an Ecology of the Mind, (Ballantine Books, New York, 1972, page 269): "We social scientists would do well to hold back our eagerness to control that world which we so imperfectly understand.") Ironically, the "joiner" originally chose to abandon "our world" for the cult, the other side of switching from one set of dogma to another. Perhaps we need new words for this phenomenon, such as "trans-" or "cross-indoctrination."
To complicate matters, as it's also well-known, a "deprogrammed" individual may choose to return to the group -- obviously to the great consternation of the exit counselor(s); but, then, we are simply viewing the interactions between those two sets of dogma, the cult's and our world's. And are we so convinced as to the superiority of our realities to those of the cult that returning an individual to the latter is by its very nature an act of grace?
Although I use the terms "deprogramming" and "indoctrination," and will continue to use them, the game of cultists vs. counter-cultists of necessity embodies "We Against Them." Counter-cultism may display as much intolerance as cultism, for example by imputing cultism -- viz., in this setting, evil -- to an innocuous group because of differing beliefs. It might be closer to the truth that the cult is simply a part of our world, that cult and non-cult are not opposites, uniquely separate and distinct, but related elements in the same machine (as Kurt Vonnegut wrote to a Calypso beat in his Cat's Cradle:
Nice, nice, velly nice,
So many different creatures in de same device.
SHALL we try to understand each other?
Robert Kaufman (1995)