Understanding Scientology, by Margery Wakefield - Next - Previous

Chapter 9

The Sea Org -- "For the Next Billion Years..."

All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and singlehearted allegiance.
-- The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer

I, ___________________ DO HEREBY AGREE to enter into employment with the SEA ORGANIZATION and, being of sound mind, do fully realize and agree to abide by its purpose which is to get ETHICS IN on this PLANET AND UNIVERSE and, fully and without reservation, subscribe to the discipline, mores and conditions of this group and pledge to abide by them.


-- Contract of employment of the Sea Organization

On the Scientology "upper level" called OT III, the Scientologist learns the great secret of "this sector of the universe," which is that 75,000,000 years ago an evil dictator named Xenu, in an effort to solve the overpopulation problem in the galaxy, shot and froze thousands of thetans, shipped them to earth, and glued them together in massive nuclear explosions on volcanos in Hawaii and Las Palmas. Remember?

Actually there was more to the story. Xenu's brigade of soldiers were called the Loyal Officers. After Xenu had finished implanting all the frozen souls blown up on the two volcanos,

...the Loyal Officers revolted and captured Xenu. He was imprisoned in a mountain top on planet Earth (on the island of Madiera) and placed inside a wire cage with an eternal battery (where he remains today). In the battle between the Loyal Officers and Xenu's renegades, most of these planets were turned into billiard balls. Earth was a radioactive cinder, and became known as "The Evil Place."

That's why nobody ever comes here except renegades and criminals who are dumped here....

The entire concept of the Sea Org was said by Hubbard to be "a regathering of the Loyal Officers." This time he and his most trusted officers would not fail. They would "decontaminate" Earth, and later this entire sector of the Galaxy, from the devastation inflicted by Xenu and his renegades. (1)

The motto of the Sea Org (organization) is "We Come Back." Every Sea Org member believes in his heart that he or she is a member of an ancient organization which once before tried to save the earth, but failed.

They believe, as Hubbard has told them, that this is their last chance. If they fail now to rescue this planet from certain impending nuclear devastation, then it will be too late. The souls on this planet will be doomed for trillions of years into the future.

Sea Org members believe themselves to be "the cream of the cream of Scientology." In a bulletin called "The Sea Organization," Hubbard writes:

If almost any person in the Sea Organization were to appear in a Scientology group or Org he would be lionized, red-carpeted and Very-Important-Personed beyond belief.

For the Sea Organization is composed of the "aristocracy" of Scientology.

These people, alone and on their own are all stars in the sky of their areas.

It is like one of the old regiments of gentlemen where any private would be, in another but common regiment, a colonel...

The Sea Organization is composed of people who alone would excite great admiration but who together, well organized, can actually get the job done.

And although our lowest deck hand could be a "duke" only all of us together could get on with the job.

And that's how and why ... the Sea Organization came into being and why we are here....

Life in the Sea Org has never been easy. Members work hours that would seem impossible to an ordinary mortal. Pay is low, rewards are few, but there is the satisfaction of knowing that one is working for the salvation of souls and rescue of the planet.

"Stiff ethics" has always been the norm in the Sea Org. The practices of overboarding, security checks, confinement in chain lockers or bilge tanks served on the ships as ethics remedies to bring the recalcitrant or dissatisfied into line. There is no reason to believe that things are much different now.

Overboarding was begun by Hubbard after one of the Sea Org members on the Apollo mistakenly untied the wrong hawser, setting the huge ship adrift in a foreign harbor. That unfortunate person was immediately tossed over the side of the ship on Hubbard's order. From that time on, overboarding became a regular practice on the ship.

One witness describes this practice:

Students and crew were lined up on deck in the early hours every morning. They waited to hear whether they were on the day's list of miscreants. Those who knew they were would remove their shoes, jackets and wristwatches in anticipation. The drop was between fifteen and forty feet, depending upon which deck was used. Sometimes people were blindfolded first, and either their feet or hands loosely tied. Non-swimmers were tied to a rope. Being hurled such a distance, blindfolded and restrained, into cold sea water, must have been terrifying. Worst of all was the fear that you would hit the side of the ship as you fell, your flesh ripped open by the barnacles. Overboarding was a very traumatic experience. (2)

The chain locker was a small compartment at the bow of the ship where the excess chain attached to the anchor was wound up and stored. It was a cold, dark wet area frequently inhabited by rats. It was into this compartment that people would be lowered as a form of "ethics," or punishment. It was a dangerous form of punishment, since at any moment the chain could be released, and the person in the chain locker, if not careful, could be caught in the outgoing chain.

In several cases, children were put into the chain locker as punishment for misdeeds. In one case Hubbard ordered a five year old deaf mute girl into the chain locker "to cure her deafness." In another case a four year old boy was kept in the chain locker for two weeks because he ate some telex tape. His mother was told that he was actually a very old thetan in a young body, and should not be given sympathy because of his young body. (3) This is a common conception of children in Scientology.

Another form of "ethics" on the ship had the person:

... put into old rusty tanks, way below the ship, with filthy bilge water, no air, and hardly sitting height, for anything from twenty-four hours to a week, and getting their oxygen via tubes. They were kept awake, often for days on end. They ate from the communal food bucket with their blistered and filthy hands. They chipped away at rust unceasingly. The Ethics Officers were constantly checking outside to hear if the hammering continued. There were no bathroom facilities in the bilge tanks.... (4)

One report of life in the Sea Org on the ship comes from a teenager who joined Scientology with her parents in the 1970s. Her name is Tonja Burden and she was separated from her parents and placed in the Cadet Organization in Los Angeles:

(The Cadet Organization) consisted of two three-story buildings that housed approximately 400 children. The Cadet Organization was designed to teach children about Scientology. My duties were to care for, clean and feed the children. Myself and another girl my age were the two oldest children at the Cadet Organization.

The living conditions were squalid. Glass from broken windows lay strewn over the floors. Live electrical wires were exposed in areas where young children played. We received little food. On several occasions spoiled milk with maggots was served to children. The maggots were removed by hand before the milk was served. In addition to caring for the children, I cleaned the toilets daily.

Children were not allowed to live with their parents. Scientology permitted one visit every other week, and only for forty-five minutes during mealtime....

I saw the Apollo for the first time and was greatly disappointed by its dilapidated condition. Once aboard, I was given a berth in the women's dorm and placed in the Estates Project Force (EPF).

In the EPF, my day began at 6:00am. I scrubbed clothes from 6:00am until 12:00 noon without breakfast or any breaks. The clothes were scrubbed by hand in a bucket, and I was directed to rinse each article in 13 separate buckets. Then I hung the clothes on the deck to dry.

After a one-half hour lunch I was assigned to clean six cabins. Cabins had to meet white glove inspection. If the cabins were not cleaned to white-glove perfection, I had to run a lap around the boat before recleaning the room. My day would end at about 12:00 midnight.

On rainy days I ironed the clothes dry. This required ironing during the evening hours and into the morning hours. On many occasions I ironed through the night, finishing at 6:00am. I then started washing the next morning's clothing. On occasion I worked three or four days without sleeping. I fell asleep at the ironing board with a hot iron in my hand. My senior caught me sleeping and yanked my head off the board. She ordered me to run laps and assigned me a condition of "Doubt." A condition of Doubt required fifteen hours of amends work. This additional work had to be performed during my sleep or meal time.

While in the EPF I never heard from my parents, no phone calls or letters. Aboard the ship, I received a telex informing me that my father had been declared an SP (Suppressive Person). They said he was a spy within Scientology. I began crying and asked to leave, telling them I could convince my father to return to Scientology... but they would not permit me to leave. I was told to disconnect from my parents because they were SPs. Disconnection meant no more communication with my parents. They told me my parents would not make it in the world, but that I would make it in the world.... (5)

Tonja finally escaped from Scientology by stealing keys from a sleeping guard and crawling through an air duct to freedom.

One of the most infamous aspects of the Sea Org is the dreaded RPF, or "Rehabilitation Project Force," the prison or concentration camp of Scientology. Being sent to the RPF is the dread of every Sea Org member.

It was conceived by Hubbard during one of his low points at a time when he was recovering from a motorcycle accident and in a generally black mood.

It was not until early 1974 that blatant breaking of another person's will -- "break 'em down, build 'em back up" -- became full blown and implemented as official dogma: the Rehabilitation Project Force.

The RPF was essentially a slave labor prison project, where inmates ate scraps from the table after other crew had finished, and where they were not allowed to speak to any non-RPFers unless spoken to. Even then they were only to briefly answer, while addressing their betters always as "sir." RPFers were dressed in blue overalls and had to run wherever they went. (I shouldn't be describing this in the past tense. The RPF continues to this day, very much a part of the Church of Scientology.) (6)

Gerry Armstrong was a graduate of the RPF, and he writes:

There is no way to really describe the RPF experience, the hopelessness, the humiliation, the horror. It seemed to go on forever, the days all identical, no time to oneself, the same blue boiler suits like prison garb, day after day, the same questions in the same endless security checks.

Hubbard's purpose in creating the RPF, and running it as a prison with assignees considered criminals, was the breaking of people's wills, the total subjugation of anyone he considered exhibited "counter-intention" to his goals.

He achieved his purpose with me so well that I thanked him for the opportunity of doing the RPF, much like prisoners of war, who are broken emotionally and spiritually, through deprivation and mind control techniques, and thank their captors. (7)

Some of the rules in the RPF as given by one person who was in it are:

  1. No walking. You had to run all the time.

  2. You were not allowed to speak to anyone outside the RPF.

  3. You were not allowed to originate any communication to anyone outside the RPF unless there was an emergency.

  4. You were not allowed to go anywhere by yourself, unless authorized to do so. Even when going to the bathroom, someone had to go with you.

  5. You had to call all RPF seniors "Sir." If there was some reason you had to talk to someone outside the RPF, you had to call them "Sir."

  6. All letters you wrote had to be put in a stamped, unsealed envelope, then dropped in a box in the RPF room. The RPF Ethics Officer read all outgoing mail.

  7. You are only allowed in RPF designated areas. You were not allowed to go anywhere else except during morning cleaning stations when you cleaned the rest of the (org).

  8. You had to wear dark-blue boiler suits or dark blue shirts and pants.

  9. You were not allowed "luxuries" such as music, watching TV, playing cards, perfume, radios, etc.

This same member talks about his/her state of mind while being audited in the RPF:

My Rock Slam handling (a type of auditing) I think was the point where my brain wasn't just falling apart, but it started to get fried. I was running out all of these evil purposes connected to the Rock Slams (a certain needle read on the E-meter), and I started spouting out and running out the weirdest things like, "to be somebody else," "to blow up a planet," "commit suicide," "to never grow up," "to kill myself," "to destroy bodies." The list was endless.

My brain was just getting fried on all of this. I mean I had to have been the most evil and craziest person that ever existed. I don't know how to describe what happened other than my brain was frying right up. I felt like I was in a daze half the time. I'd do things, sort of like watching myself doing them but not realizing I was doing it, as if it was somebody else, except that I know it was me.

I'd scream at my auditor, I'd throw down the cans to the E-meter that I was holding, I'd refuse to get auditing. I just created a real scene. So of course, I ended up in ethics, and had a "body guard" put on me.

This whole thing was a period of weeks, I think. But actually, in the state I was in, it could have been two days or it could have been two months.... (8)

Fortunately, this member was also able to escape and is no longer in Scientology.

Another ex-member describes the process of mind control in the RPF in which the will is gradually eroded and finally snaps:

Blind obedience violated everything I had ever valued. I had thought that Scientology was about independence and self-determinism, not blind obedience to authority, or so Hubbard had told us on his many tapes I had listened to when I was a student.

The RPF went against everything I had imagined Scientology to be and I couldn't even begin to reconcile the contradiction. Here I was, a prisoner and what had I been guilty of? I felt that there must be something very wrong with me to have gotten into such a mess.

I went through one hopeless day after another, cleaning the toilets, drenched in sweat and chlorine and at night trying to get something accomplished in my auditing program, always to no avail. One day, a Sea Org officer remarked to me that I was not even worth the $5 (RPFers only got half pay) and I agreed.

I started to feel like my sanity was slipping away, what little there was left of it. I can remember one day walking down the stairs to Lower Hold Number One and getting a sensation like I was going to totally disappear -- like I was going to experience a complete spiritual death. It's very difficult to describe. I felt like I was going to be completely annihilated.

One day I completely broke down. I went down into the lower hold where the RPF classroom was and sobbed uncontrollably. I cried like I had never cried before. It felt like I was never going to stop.

Later, when I finally managed to stop, I went above decks and just sat, looking out at the water. I thought about how much of my identity had been tied up in being a good auditor. I felt like I was nothing if I couldn't produce as a Scientologist. I just sat there and gazed out at the sea.

The next day my grief came back. I went through several days where I couldn't stop crying. I can remember one day scrubbing the floor of one of the bathrooms as hard as I could but no amount of scrubbing could cleanse me. I felt as if I were being raped. I was in a deep state of mourning for a loss I couldn't define.

Sometimes a person's emotions are way ahead of what can be thought or verbalized. This was the case with me at the time; my feelings were giving me signals, but I was unable to listen to them. In retrospect, I came to realize that on an emotional level I knew that Scientology was a sham. I had no words to describe my loss at the time and there was no one to help me see what was happening. All I knew was that I felt worse than I had ever felt in my life.

What I really needed was someone to jump start my mind so I could start thinking again and get in touch with what my feelings were trying to tell me, which was, "Scientology is a sham. Get out of there, now! You have been lied to and are now in a trap. This is what you gave up your education, your family and your friends for. The illusion is shattered. Now there is nothing left for you here in Scientology."

It was the biggest loss I had ever experienced in my life -- a loss of my innocence, a loss of trust and a loss of a dream that I thought had become a reality.

So I continued on the RPF, doing my labor and in tears most of the time.

I made one final attempt to assert myself. One day I was standing watch as Quartermaster, logging people on and off the ship. This was a duty that RPFers were often assigned to do. One day I had been on watch all morning and someone was supposed to relieve me so I could have lunch, but no one showed up. Finally, I went below decks to the aft lounge to see what happened to my relief person. A Sea Org officer was having lunch with some other RPFers and he refused to help me. I just exploded. My anger had very little to do with what was actually going on -- I just felt I had to make one last attempt to assert myself.

I said, "To hell with all of you, I'm going to have my lunch!" at which point the Sea Org officer said, "That's it! You're assigned to the RPF's RPF."

And so it came to pass that I was assigned to the RPF's RPF. I spent very long days down in the engine room, cleaning foul smelling muck out of the bilges and then painting them. I was assigned a Condition of Enemy and to get out of it I had to write up the formula, which was "Find out who you really are."

I wrote up the formula and submitted it to the Ethics Officer, but he wouldn't accept what I had written. I didn't know what he wanted me to write.

For days, I struggled to find the answer, as I was cleaning the bilges. At that point, I really didn't know. If I had known who I really was, I would have let them throw me out and gotten as far away from the ship and everyone aboard as I could.

Years later when I read Lifton's studies of the Communist Chinese, I realized that my struggle to write up the Condition of Enemy formula was very much like the struggle the prisoners must have gone through to write up confessions that were "sincere" enough to satisfy their captors. In both cases, it wasn't enough just to physically imprison the person; the person had to agree to and participate in their mental imprisonment as well, and if the statements written up weren't deemed as sincere, the person had to rewrite the statement until it satisfied the people in charge.

The Ethics Officer kept rejecting my formula. This went on for five days, which I spent down in the engine room. I wasn't allowed to communicate with anyone except for the Ethics Officer. Even if someone spoke to me, I wasn't allowed to respond.

One day, another Sea Org member broke the rules and spoke to me. I dutifully told him that he was not allowed to speak to me, nor I to him, but he told me not to worry about it. I'll never forget what he did for me that day, just by breaking the rules and talking to me. I don't exactly recall what he said, but he encouraged me to hang in there and helped me feel I could make it through this horrendous experience. He showed me compassion when I needed it the most.

I determined that I would hang onto what little sanity I had left. The way I did this was to shut off all my emotions. It was a matter of survival.

The next day, I finally wrote up my formula to the Ethics Officer's satisfaction and got out of the RPF's RPF. I had been broken after a long, hard struggle.

I was no longer angry; I was no longer sad; I was no longer happy; I felt nothing. I simply did as I was told.

At long last, I had learned the lesson of the RPF. (9)

It is fact that whenever someone becomes psychotic in Scientology, and this does happen with a not surprising regularity, the person is assigned to the RPF for "rehabilitation." The inhumane treatment of the mentally ill in Scientology is a matter that has never been addressed by any agency outside Scientology. This inhumanity is graphically described by a "survivor of Scientology" who writes about her last days in the organization:

My last week in the Sea Org was like a dream. One night I was told to go to the basement and stuff letters. I did this in a little room with no ventilation and moisture dripping down the walls.

There was never anyone around. I was left alone most of the time at night now. That was their mistake. It gave me time to think.

This night I started stuffing my 2,000 letters. The old innocent days of the Sea Org seemed very far away. The idealistic little girl who had come here in '74 with dreams of new-found powers and increased understanding had died...

Far above me the org hummed with activity. Every day someone else like me, gullible and hungry for answers, was being drawn into Scientology. Every day someone joined the Sea Org looking for security within the group, not knowing the total control of their personality they were handing over. Every day someone was sent to the RPF. These were my thoughts as I stood there.

Suddenly I flung the letters down. I needed to walk. Underneath the nine buildings were long tunnels that connected each building. Great steam pipes ran along the sides of the tunnels. It was like being in the engine room of a ship. The public didn't even know these tunnels existed.

I walked for miles, thinking.

I knew now that I was going to die. My body was completely emaciated, my mind had developed frightening blank periods when I could remember nothing at all. I had very few emotions I could feel any more. Things were breaking down.

I walked through tunnels I had never been in. Then I heard it. Inhuman screaming and ranting. It was coming from my right.

There were four doors and someone was pounding on one of them. I ran over and tried to open the door. It was locked. I yelled, "Are you all right?" I got more screams. Suddenly someone touched my shoulder.

I turned and looked at a man in clean overalls. "Hello," he said. "I'm the Ethics Officer for the RPF."

"What are you doing to her," I said.

"Oh, she's just blowing off some charge. When someone flips out on the RPF, we lock them up for a couple of hours. They calm down after awhile." He smiled.

I was stunned. "You lock them up in here?"

"Sure, you know the tech. The tech always works."

I looked at him. Totally triumphant, with Scientology tech on his side. I felt sick to my stomach; the corridor started spinning around me. So this was it. The final answer. Cold, calculated, step-by-step -- a progression to stamp out anyone who questioned, rebelled, criticized, disliked Scientology. Break them, all of us. You don't agree, you make a mistake, you are a staff member and you flip out. No mercy -- just Scientology tech. Pure Ron Hubbard, turned insane.

He was still looking at me.

"Sure," I said, "maybe she'll drop her body and pick up a new one. She'll get regged again and come back for another try. Death doesn't exist, does it? Suffering doesn't exist either. Only the tech sent from another galaxy."

"Wow," he said. "What OT level are you?"

"None you'd want to know about," I said. I turned and left him standing by the locked door. (10)

The purpose of the Sea Organization, according to the Dianetics and Scientology Technical Dictionary, is to "get ethics in on the planet and eventually the universe."

The possibility is truly frightening.


  1. Corydon, p. 365-367
  2. Atack, p. 187
  3. Corydon, p. 25
  4. Atack, p. 180
  5. Tonja Burden affidavit
  6. Corydon, p. 95
  7. Ibid, p. 98
  8. Affidavit of an unnamed (by choice) ex member of Scientology
  9. Excerpt from My Nine Lives in Scientology by Monica Pignotti
  10. Corydon, p. 130

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