What to Get L. Ron Hubbard for his Birthday

How “Anonymous” has changed the game of exposing Ron’s ruthless global scam

L. Ron Hubbard, the pulp fiction writer who gave the world Battlefield Earth, as well as a nuisance known as Scientology, would have turned 97 years old this Thursday, March 13.

Ron’s been worm food for more than a score of years now, so it probably won’t matter to him that the best birthday party being held in his name will take place a couple of days late. On Saturday, March 15, the surprisingly upstart, leaderless movement known as “Anonymous” will be holding its second worldwide anti-Scientology protests at Hubbard sites in more than a dozen countries.

The grassroots, Internet-based group seemed to materialize out of thin air just a few weeks ago, and it’s difficult to tell whether the surprising success of its February 10 rallies—which were held from Oslo to Sydney—will spark even more rallies beyond this weekend. The February protests featured a lot of twentysomethings, for the most part, carrying anti-Scientology signs, and wearing masks to protect their anonymity (Guy Fawkes masks were popular) in places like New York, Boston, London, and Toronto. This time, they say, they’re bringing cake and candles.

Anonymous has actually been around for a while, wreaking havoc like a bunch of drunken teenagers on numerous Internet locations since 2006. And at first, it approached Scientology the same way, like reckless hackers and pinheads. But thanks in part to the calm words of someone I used to write about when I covered Scientology in Los Angeles, Mark Bunker (now known as ‘Wise Beard Man’ to the protesters), Anonymous quickly grew up and started taking a more Gandhi-inspired approach to opposing Hubbard’s weird cult.

This recent targeting of Scientology sprung up after several years of the worst press Hubbard’s followers had ever endured. From the time Tom Cruise appeared to lose his mind leaping all over Oprah Winfrey’s couch in 2005, to his knockout nine-minute video not meant for public consumption that appeared in January, Cruise and Scientology have been reeling from one PR disaster to the next.

And now it seems as if everybody and his brother is writing about Scientology, ridiculing Hubbard, making fun of "Xenu" and "e-meters" and "going clear," and laughing at John Travolta and Kirstie Alley and Leah Rimini and Cruise.

A decade ago, I hardly would have believed it. Not that I’m complaining. I much prefer it this way. Back then, I was one of a small number of journalists who tried to communicate to the larger public what was alarming and nonsensical and simply inane about Scientology and its status as a “church.” Other, braver, journalists had been doing the same for decades. There was Paulette Cooper, for example, who occasionally sent me encouraging e-mails when my stories came out, and who had suffered like no other (you can look it up). I’m not claiming that my colleagues and I did the kind of pioneering research that Paulette and others did in the 1970s and 1980s. But still, just ten years ago, it was a very different environment.

Even then, you didn’t look into the secrets of the church without having at least some second thoughts about what it might mean to take on Hubbard’s dim minions. But it felt worthwhile. When you got past the typical American reluctance to criticize or even discuss the particulars of another’s religion, listeners at cocktail parties would be mesmerized to hear that only 10 percent of Scientology’s adherents, for example, have been let in on the church’s origin story. As I put it in a story back in the day:

Imagine the Roman Catholic church withholding the contents of the Book of Genesis from 90 percent of its 900 million worldwide adherents. That's 810 million Catholics kept in the dark about "Let there be light," Adam and Eve, and the rest of the Christian origin saga. And imagine that the Catholic church called Genesis a "trade secret" that could only be revealed to Catholics who had spent years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, obtaining the correct level of experience to be allowed to read their own religion's version of how the universe started and where people came from.

That’s what, for me, separated Scientology from the rest, what put the lie to claims (sometimes from mushy-headed religion professors) that Hubbard’s was a legitimate “church.” What other “religion” wanted $100,000 and several years of dedication before a member learned its most basic beliefs? And Scientology can’t afford to be more forthcoming: Who would join if they knew they were going to spend that kind of money (and shun other family members and completely build their lives around Scientology) in order to rid their bodies of invisible space-alien parasites? No wonder such details aren’t mentioned during the most basic Scientology come-on, the free “personality test” you get in the subway.

So yes, I’m looking forward to this Saturday’s shindig for the commodore. Hubbard was an attention whore, so he might not really disapprove. And while I’m counting heads at the local rally, I’ll probably feel some nostalgia for an earlier time, when there were much fewer of us trying to get at the truth.

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