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What A Scientologist faces who wants to leave The Scientology Matrix
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Son of Scientology - An interview with Ron Dewolfe
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From a conference held in Los Angeles California, and observed jointly by the Department of Continuing Education and Health Sciences of the UCLA extension; by the NeuroPsychiatric Institute which is this facility and by the Southern California Psychiatric Society.
There are two very different public images of the contemporary organizations sometimes called cults. Especially of those to which the adjective, religious is usually attached. One these images might be called Utopian, which suggests emergence of a healthy, new spiritual sectarianism. This image portrays congregations of Pilgrims, who after a search for a meaning in life, or truth or self-fulfillment have found a band of kindred spirits, under the benign guidance of a divinely inspired prophet, guru, master, or [unintelligible]. They are busy living happily. Their bliss is only occasionally troubled by memories of the doomed society they left behind. Or the unwarranted intrusions of ignorant, misguided family members, and their monstrous agents, called deprogrammers.
This invokes the spirits of Dante Alighieri and his 14th century Vision of Hell. We see the cult, the place where men, women and children are bound to a satanic master. They trusted him in a happier time, believing his promises, sinking by imperceptible stages deeper and deeper into his power. Surrendering their possessions, their children, their very souls for his mysterious purpose. With Dante we follow them to this distant place. Where size, lamentations and loud wailings resound through the starless air. So then at first, it makes us weep. We hear in the immortal words of Dante, words of pain, tones of anger, voices loud and hoarse. And with these, the sounds of hands making a tumult which is whirling through that air forever, as sand eddies in a whirlwind. Above the whispers of the damned we might hear a single child's voice calling out, 'I'd die for you, dad.' A quotation from the Jonestown tapes.
My perspective on the cult is neither Utopian nor [unintelligible]. It is I hope, objective and scientific. All of the training and the experience accumulated during 33 years in the practice of medicine, a completely detached observer would have to be from another planet. My own study of cults began in a serious stage I'd say, as an outgrown of earlier research on hallucinogenic drugs. This interest led me to study of the people who were using them first, for presumably therapeutic reasons, and then for recreation. This in turn led me to the hippies, the Haight Ashbury, the counter culture, the rebellions of the 1960's. And following those subjects, since took me from the Haight Ashbury to the communes of Mendocino County and, to a great many organizations which took many individuals who were addicted, or otherwise damaged by drugs of abuse in the 1960's, and attempted to provide them with a healthier environment. Caretaking groups, including some that became cults by my definition, for example Synanon.
It has been estimated that there are now 2,500 cults in America, the majority of which could be termed religious. I don't know how many there are. But however many there are, clearly they are not all the same. Elsewhere, I have differentiated them from communes of which there are also many. The ones I call cults are characterized first, by a strong or charismatic leader who directs a power structure of some kind. Second by a manifesto, book, doctrine or code which as interpreted by the leadership, governs the behavior of the members through various rules. And third, a relatively firm boundary that clearly defines who is in the organization, who is out, and who, and under what circumstances may pass in either direction. The communes are quite different in all three of these respects.
The term, sect I use in the dictionary sense, as a branch or an outgrowth of an existing religion, although not necessarily so, but with emphasis on beliefs rather than on organization and power structure. To this relatively recent study of cults, I brought a longstanding interest in hypnosis, altered states of consciousness, coercive persuasion, often nicknamed brainwashing, and certain organizations engaged in non professional, or idiosyncratic psychotherapies.
Thus I have observed and followed the growth and evolution of Dianetics since 1950. Dianetics you will recall, became the Church of Scientology and thrived. In contrast, recently the Center for Feeling Therapy here in Los Angeles, which remained secular, collapsed. This corresponds with a history of Utopian Societies in California as studied during the century, from 1850-1950. Some fifty of these organizations were studied and in the actuarial sense, the lifespan of the religious ones was approximately double that of the secular ones. The average being twenty years.
At the outset, let me specify certain things that I think must be kept in mind. Not all cults are religious. Not all religious sects, even new or strange ones are cults. Not all cults do harm to their members, or their members families. And even those that do harm to some, may benefit others. In fact, their practices may result in both benefit and harm to the same person. And talking to fifty members of a subject a group not long ago, I asked them how many felt that they had been harmed by their experiences, and at least 90 percent said they had. Then I asked how them how many thought they had also been helped, and about the same percentage said they had.
Certainly there are a number of cults or similar organizations that at some time pose significant threats to the well-being of some of their members. And because of this, our approach and the nature of today's conference has been to inspect these threats to well-being. This conference is not intended as a comprehensive forum on the nature of new religions, nor as a debate. It is oriented to look at one aspect of this problem. The harms or abuses that may come, and how they can be corrected, and how those who have been harmed may be cared for. I say this because we've received a good deal of mail [unintelligible - alledging? ] that our program is not balanced and that we should have had representatives of the cult organizations that is, currently enrolled representatives, so to speak.
The decision to do it this way was mine. If I were going to be sponsoring a course, lets say on sports injuries, or what to do about them and how to protect people against them, I might have orthopedic surgeons and those who are responsible for designing better equipment and so on. I wouldn't feel obliged to include people who wanted to talk about the benefits of the physical conditioning, or the joys of competition. Perhaps another model might be a public health model. If we were having a conference on food poisonings. Even if only one percent of all canned stringed beans contained botulism, we would be concentrating on the various means of detecting, inspecting and treating the people who got the disease and not about the benefits of nutrition from stringed beans.
Therefore, we want to concentrate on the growing evidence of misdeeds or damaging practices, by some of these contemporary organizations, whether they are perpetrated in the name of religion or psychology or healing or transportation to other planets, or whatever. These threats are to a considerable degree covered up, minimized and obscured by the organizations in which they transpire. Not unlike the activities of some manufacturers who don't want to change their practices lets say, with regard to effluent into the waters or into air.
The implications of the rising power of cults go beyond the question of harm to individuals and their families. There are also important, other civil issues. For example, in the election several days ago, the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh essentially took over the small town in Antelope, Oregon. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out on that day, the prospect of a so-called new age religion becoming a city raises perplexing questions about the Constitutional rights of religious communities and the meaning of self government.
For example, the proliferation of new cult-like cities in remote places. Would such a city precipitate a church-state conflict because cities received state money from taxes on liquor, tobacco or gasoline, as well as qualify for subsidies and grants? Could the religious groups leader become an autocratic ruler, whose bidding would be accomplished by a city council composed of his loyal subjects? And the city then be transformed back into the 16th Century. And would the city's police chief have access to FBI files and crime labs and so on, so forth?
But most of our concern about cults has been with regard to individuals who have been recruited, who have been members, and who are still members or who have departed. Information has been accumulated from various scandals that have reached the media. From refugees, from families, relatives, friends and from a few direct investigations. It's difficult to obtain hard data. Some cults systematically deceive the public, conceal information, harass critics, and intimidate or dominate their own members to prevent a free flow of information. Even so, existing data now sufficed to convince any reasonable person that this is an important social issue, one that should be investigated and one that has issue mental health implications.
Today, a good many people are dead, dying, ill, malfunctioning, crippled or developing improperly as a result of their involvement with cults in this country. Some of them are being exploited, end up their lives and energies are being used for the benefit of a cult leader or his organization rather than themselves. Evidence is available to show that, in the name of religion. Persons connected with various cults recently have, and there are extensive documentation for all of this: Harassed and intimidated members who try to leave the group. Created ill-feelings by members towards their families; Murdered a government informant; Harassed ex-members and investigators who attempted to investigate cult abuses; Attempted extortion from relatives; Amassed stores of weapons; Misrepresented the true purpose of their group; Received illegal employment insurance payments; Plotted to infiltrate government agencies and did so infiltrate and stole government documents; Forced prostitution on members and encouraged sexual play between adults and children; Sentenced a nine-year old child to isolation in the desert for several months; Beaten, hosed down, sexually assaulted, murdered, starved to death, and tortured members, even children; Denied medical help for members under various conditions including childbirth; Induced illness and even death in members through improper dietary restrictions and stress; Required members to obtain abortions, to engage in unhealthy behaviors, to marry strangers and even, to commit suicide.
In spite of such evidence however, we find the strange lack of public interest and attention to the phenomenon. Although of course the people in the cult organizations feel the other way about it. And one group that's very interesting to me, are those that I would call apologists. These individuals whose motivations are various or mixed, undoubtedly contribute to the veneer of respectability but behind which, strange and ugly things are happening. Some of the apologists appear to be romantics, projecting into the cults some of their own hopes for religious reform, spiritual rebirth, rejection of materialism, or even escape from the dangers of the thermonuclear age.
Other apologists take a more seemingly pragmatic stand, shrugging off whatever abuses the cults may perpetrate, or denying that they're anything more than media exaggerations; while pointing out that any countermeasures would violate freedom of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Still other apologists appear to have been successfully gulled by cult leaders or their representatives. Some declared that they have visited cults and been impressed by what they found. Others know someone, whose is in trouble before joining a cult and now seems to be much better off.
Many of the apologists are armchair philosophers really, who have never seen the destructive effects of these organizations. Others have some contact with carefully selected cult members, but have never seen the raw operations or the devastating, long range consequences for some victims and their families. Still others are themselves direct or indirect beneficiaries of the cults money, power or influence, and thus hardly objective in their apologia. Although they may pretend to be so and they conceal their connection with these organizations. They are, in a sense, lobbyists without full disclosure.
The prophesies used by cults to recruit idealistic or lonely youngsters, to control them, to exploit them, have been described in detail elsewhere, and I'm not going to go into that myself today.
The economic political and legal techniques currently employed by the cults to preserve and expand their wealth, power, size and especially their respectability are apparent in many ways. These ways include the enormous pressures recently put on the University of California to cancel this conference, or to change the program dramatically. Such pressures have included vicious, personal attacks upon the participants, in which considerable deception and misinformation was used. Obviously, the cults and their agents don't extend their extremely broad definition of religious freedom to any great concern for freedom of inquiry or freedom of speech.
The sustained and growing power of cults in America depends in no small part, upon the influence of these apologists who are not apparently members, or have no known connection with the cults. From the viewpoint of social science it may be appropriate to look at these apologists more closely. Most of them are drawn from the following groups, although it should certainly be kept in mind that the vast majority of these groups are not involved at all. By when I say not involved, I mean one way or the other.
First, mental health professionals and behavioral scientists. Many of these individuals have little direct knowledge about cult phenomenon Their inclination is to assume that those who entered cults have drifted into them, perhaps as an escape from bad family situation, or in a search for relief from symptoms of psychopathology, or even to find an oasis of peace in the violent wastelands and social stresses of the modern era.
Some colleagues sincerely believe that even the strangest of cults may be serving a therapeutic purpose, functioning as sheltered workshops for neurotic [unintelligible] or youngsters. As Dr. Singer from whom we'll hear later has previously shown, certain published studies of cults have probably invalidated by the bias inherent in this orientation. A bias that effects the examination of the data. Such studies by inspecting the victims, or their families tend to overlook the powerful techniques that cults apply to insure a good supply of grist for the mills of their power. There are even those who question whether such techniques exist, shrugging off the voluminous data, both clinical and experimental on course of persuasion, group dynamics, the power of the situational demand characteristic. And the impact of stress and successfully inducing compliance. Meanwhile, attempts by other colleagues to express views critical of cults have met with individual threats of harassment as I mentioned, and even I might say, of this building.
Second there's the media. Coverage can be described as spotty as best. There are a few exceptions. For example the Point Reyes Light expose of Synanon which won the Pulitzer Prize; segments of 60 Minutes on Scientology and on the Worldwide Church of God; and a few others. However, except when faced with a major scandal or tragedy, newspapers have ventured very little into this arena. The reasons are clear. The media are likely commercial ventures. Their business is easily threatened by loss of advertising, boycotts or lawsuits. Even more important, editors tend to keep hands off certain topics, like religion, unless there's something that's really news.
Slaughter 913 people, that's news. Put a rattlesnake into somebody's mailbox, smaller news. The torture-murder of a seventeen-year old informant against the cult was given little coverage. And many stories by individuals that one might consider very interesting and newsworthy, can't penetrate the media. By calling their systematic exploitation of people religious, certain organizations have protected themselves in a sense, from the power of the press, because the religion page is not oriented to investigative journalism. It's purpose in most paper is to religion, and to satisfy the religionists and their version of the activities that will give coverage. Religion editors aren't supposed to offend anyone, and as a rule they don't. As for television and radio, there is no religious news coverage to speak of, unless someone shoots the Pope. Individuals who seek out the media to tell about their personal experiences I'd say, get short shrift.
In fact, a major TV effort to expose Jonestown, one month before Congressman Ryan's trip to Guyana might have saved more than 900 lives, had it not been squelched by NBC executives, following harassment, letters, telephone calls and threats of libel suits. Even books are not immune. One writers expose of Scientology was withdrawn by the publishers, and the authors life nearly smashed as a result of Scientology's well-executed attack on her, which they called Operation Freakout.
Then there's the law and the political establishments. Now the law is not a unitary or static thing it's an enormous body of writ, documentation, history and prose, with billions of words on printed pages. But the law is also a living thing, a dynamic thing. Existing law is constantly being interpreted by judges to give it functional meaning. And new law is constantly being produced by those who are responsible for it's creation - lawmakers, or legislators. New laws also change old laws. And it is the duty of the courts again, to make interpretations, to make those laws live, and have influence upon the affairs of man. If we look at legislatures and courts, it appears that they have made little progress in relation to the cults.
Criminal justice people try to investigate cults, but are often frustrated by legal barriers. Given the growing body of evidence about the [unintelligible] of cults, and in the aftermath of Jonestown, where are the new laws? I'll mention one in a minute, that went the wrong way. Where are the fact finding commissions, the hearings about whether such laws are needed, and should be passed? Where are the public debates? This is as close to such a thing as we can provide, and it is not a debate.
In 1974, a thorough investigation of the Children of God was conducted by the honorable Louis J. Lefkowitz, at that time the Attorney General of New York. Abundant proof was discovered, of course in mind control techniques used by the group to intimidate and virtually enslave its members. However the report concluded: despite the fact as outlined and I quote, 'no direct action by the Attorney General can be taken at this time against the Children of God because of the Constitutional protection of the First Amendment.' Endquote. Where are the judges who view the Constitution as such, as to explore whether the First Amendment was really intended to provide immunity for con artists, brutal power mongers or homicidal maniacs? As 10A points out, the Justice Department's interpretation [unintelligible] valid means, quote, 'if one is psychotic enough to have delusions, but clever enough to choose religious themes, then one is immune from societal intervention.' Endquote. Perhaps the partial explanation of the laws role of passive bedfellows of the cults can be found in the organized efforts, of cults who intimidate and discredit lawmakers who try to take action. For example, one recalls the church of Scientology's Operation Snapper, directed at California's Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Tapper. Or their efforts to quash a Florida bill designed to regulate psychological practices, as well as their efforts against the Mayor of Clearwater, Florida, Gabriel Cazares who was a critic. DelGado's monograph in the Southern California Law Review gave a clear discussion of the First Amendment as a protective for people rather than as a protective for organizations that maybe abusing it. But apart from some discussion by scholars, much of it negative, little has happened since, and DelGado's suggestions have been virtually ignored. The recent finding for the Daily Mail in the Unifications churches libel action against that newspaper offers hope that America's jurisprudence eventually may follow suit.
Next, there's the American Civil Liberties establishment. The ACLU achieved a sizable membership, prestige and considerable war chest through the years, by protecting individuals from the tyranny of groups. Such groups usually were [unintelligible] given God given liberties that we all declare to be so important. Today with regard to cults, there is debate about freedom. One side holds that the person who was in the cult should be free to stay, or that the cult should be free to protect him in his putative desire to stay. The other side holds that the person in the cult should be free to leave. Or if there is suspicion by interested parties about whether or not he is truly free to leave, then those with personal attachments to the subject should be able to create situations in which the issue of his freedom to stay, or leave can be objectively determined.
It is known that the church of Scientology has been striving to infiltrate the ACLU. We don't know how far they may have gone. But some of us old time admirers and members of the ACLU have become very troubled over that organizations seeming bias in favor of the cults side of this debate. When the ACLU was founded, one of its most important qualities was that it was a legally oriented entity but separate from our formal legal system. And separate from the organizations of which it was presumably concerned. But now it appears that at least one prominent ACLU attorney who frequently testifies on behalf of the ACLU, is also frequently legal counsel on a private basis for various cults, including the Hare Krishna group.
If the ACLU were anything other than what it is, this would be called conflict of interest. Certainly the ACLU has not undertaken any courageous or pioneering investigation of the growing body of allegations and complaints that the cults are depriving large numbers of people of their most fundamental liberties. They seem to be expending all of their energy on sending a 14-year old boy back to the Soviet Union.
And last, (since I 'm getting myself in deeper and deeper trouble this morning,) are the established religions. Perhaps these are the strangest bedfellows of all. It is interesting to note that the first major effort by the churches of California with regard to legislation relevant to cults. In the months following the massacre in Guyana, was not anything to do with preventing another such disaster, but rather to decrease the authority of law enforcement to investigate if Jim Jones was a fugere.
Many respectable religious organizations took great pains to press the Petris bill through to the final passage by the legislature, even bringing a legal expert from Harvard and an executive of the National Council of Churches to testify for it. What was the result of the passage of that bill? Well, here's one example. When machine guns were found in the possession of Hare Krishna members, the Petris Bill made it impossible for investigators to check the Krishna records to see if the guns were purchased with money collected at the airport. In fact there is some who say that if the Petris Bill had been law, before the Peoples Temple had moved to South America, Jonestown might have happened in Mendocino County.
Senator Robert Goldfeld hearings on cults in Washington three years ago, following the Jonestown massacre. Representatives from the National Council of Churches, the Baptist community, the Episcopal church, the United Church of Christ, the ACLU, and the Unification church all spoke for the freedom of cults that seemed to those of us who followed the hearings. The freedom of cults will do almost anything in the name of religious activity. And there were few descending voices. I think one, lonesome rabbi. I don't know he got in there. Three hundred experts in church state relations, men in Washington to call for less government in religion, oriented along the same line. It was ironic that this occurred at the same time that the moral majority was trying to put more religion in government. Last year the Church of Christian Liberty, an academy which is based in Illinois placed a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times, asserting that the IRS attempt to get information about that churches finances, quote, "means the end of religious freedom in this country." End quote. And I'm afraid that that's a very important part of this united front which includes so many bedfellows. Money.
A few religious groups have acknowledged the nefarious nature of cults. The New York Council of Churches denied the Unification church admission to its group. Certain Jewish agencies have tried to promote public education about cults. But on the whole, the respectable established religions have made common cause of cults in relation to the major issues of public concern.
To the outside observer it appears that on the whole, churches have been singularly pusillanimous in relationship with this whole issue, and have been more likely to put their head in the sand than to tackle these issues head on. Issues that other people have described as a perversion of the meaning of religion. To me, one distinction between a genuine religion and a cult, is that religions generally functions for the good of the members in society. The cults generally function for the good of their leaders, and their power, elite.
In closing, I'd just like to say that it seems to me that in the struggle that's going on between the cult and the critics. The cults and their apologists have managed to generate a picture of the conflict, something along the line of David and Goliath. The cults are portrayed as idealistic, new religions, striving in a creative and timely way to explore the road to nirvana, or good health, providing truth or personal salvation, or even just righteous living. Their critics are pictured as belonging to an enormous, shadowy conspiracy of the government, including the FBI and the CIA. The professional establishment, including the AMA and the American Psychiatric Association,and a powerful anti-religious network suggested by some to have communist backing. A network that employs goons, called deprogrammers to tear the new religionists away from their path of righteousness and through brutal brainwashing, to force them to return to something called the mainstream.
My own impression developed over a long period of time is quite the opposite. The cult and cult-like ventures are wealthy and powerful, quick to take the offensive against any critic. Shrewd in the use of public relations and political lobbying techniques. And generally enjoying the support of many aspects of the establishment such as the courts, law enforcement agencies, conventional church groups, civil rights organizations, and others that are not mentioned. This is quite astonishing considering some of the improprieties or illegalities that have been exposed these past few years. But the critics and opponents of the cult on the other hand, as far as I've been able to see, appear to be rather weak, poorly organized and generally at least so far, generally at least so far, quite ineffectual. The families of those lost to cults have not yet developed a very effective system of mutual help.
The government has been of virtually no help at all. The Citizens Freedom Foundation is tiny and impecunious compared with even the smallest and poorest of cults. Financial politician most concerned about cults Congressman Leo Ryan, was murdered for his pain. The Dole hearings were a reasonable beginning but never lead anywhere. Other politicians have tried to oppose the cult usually at the municipal level, have been viciously attacked. It is far easier to identify a number of important political figures who have been helpful to the cult, than those helpful to the family.
Who else is there in opposition? What is this enormous monolithic opposition? A handful of freelance deprogrammers, employed as a last result by desperate families, as a last resort, by desperate families, and many of them not too savory. A few reentry counselors to help refugees from cults. These are mostly former cult members themselves, operating on a shoestring, badly damaged by the overpowering counterattacks by the cult. And a few, very few social and behavioral scientists and other academics whose voices have hardly been heard above the chorus of protests from all sides against their views. So far, looking at the cults versus their critics, it has been, no contest.
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