Scientology's Crushing Defeat

A previously unpublished saga of an $8 million check

He found himself making good money, however, and he gave nearly all of it to Scientology, which attracted the attention of a recruiter for the Sea Organization, an elite order of followers that originated on a ship with Hubbard in the 1960s. Wollersheim was convinced to join the Sea Org, and he signed its standard billion-year contract, agreeing to come back, lifetime after lifetime, to serve Hubbard and Scientology. He was told to sell his candle business and come to Los Angeles where he would be more useful.

Wollersheim continued to excel, and was eventually made a supervisor at the “Celebrity Centre” on 6th Street. (Today the Centre inhabits a historic building on Franklin Street.) Put in charge of 15 employees, Wollersheim found himself responsible for attracting new celebrities to the religion.

“They have a belief that if they control Hollywood, they will be able to create a mass recruiting phenomena,” he says. Finding new celebrity recruits was a serious endeavor, and required lots of planning and research, sometimes with the use of private investigators. “We’d develop a battle plan and rehearse drills of how we were going to surprise the celebrity,” he says, often making use of actors they had already attracted to the religion.

Scientology leader David Miscavige, in full Sea Org regalia. Miscavige's
status as "captain" of the Sea Org was central to a court case that resulted
in the largest court penalty in Scientology history.
Scientology leader David Miscavige, in full Sea Org regalia. Miscavige's status as "captain" of the Sea Org was central to a court case that resulted in the largest court penalty in Scientology history.

“If we needed them for bait for another celebrity, we’d go with them to an event. Karen Black, for example, would bring over someone to us, and we’d already have rehearsed a pitch for that person.” Actors on the declining side of their careers made easier targets, Wollersheim says. “We’d invite them to a very controlled event without the public present. Movie premieres were our best bets.”

Still, with all of their preparations, they failed nearly all of the time. “Even at that time, the mid 1970s, the word was out that Scientology was weird.”

Wollersheim remembers his staff targeting Richard Kiel, the tall actor who played “Jaws” in the James Bond movies. “They worked on that guy 50 different ways. I worked on him myself, trying to get him in. Kiel suffered chronic pain, and he was promised that Scientology could make it go away. We worked on him and worked on him, but he gave it up. We had him in the communication course...but we never got the big win.”

As a Sea Org member working at the Celebrity Center, Wollersheim was paid $18 for a six day work week, and was supplied food and meager lodgings, and all the while paid for his own auditing, which was becoming more and more expensive. But if the organization’s “stats” were down—if the numbers of new recruits or money taken in for auditing or other criteria that were measured weekly had dipped—then a Sea Org member’s food and pay was cut, Wollersheim says. “You found a way to get them their cash. You didn’t give a damn, after a while, what you told other people—or the bank—to get your money to the org. It was a continual crisis. And it was a calculated thing. It was Orwellian. You had to have a constant crisis to keep people in fear. If it wasn’t that the money was down, then it was that the inspectors were coming. It was like living in a gulag in a free country, and the bars existed in your own head.”

Wollersheim says the threat of retaliation kept him from bailing out. It was known among Scientologists that defectors were hit with large bills for services they had received at discounted prices—called “freeloader debt”—and could also find themselves the target of aggressive private investigations and legal action, a policy Hubbard had called “fair game.”

Wollersheim feared leaving the religion more than he did staying in.

“As you’re going through it, you’re told this is the secret of the universe. You hear legends about results that other people are getting. Many people are telling you about their euphorias. After hundreds and hundreds of hours of training, you have no questioning, critical mind left at that point. There’s no concept in your mind that it couldn’t be true. You are so far gone by that point.”

And that’s when Wollersheim learned the secrets of OT III.

Hubbard claimed that he had nearly paid with his life learning the revelations of OT III, the third level of materials that Scientologists must master after going clear and becoming an “operating thetan,” or OT. The information in OT III was so explosive, Hubbard said, he believed its secrets must have been designed to kill anyone who discovered it. The danger those secrets posed to the uninitiated was one of the ways Scientologists justified not telling newer members about them. (Today they are available on the Internet for perusal, if you know where to look. This reporter suffered no ill effects from reading them.) Former members say that today the typical Scientologist must spend several years and about $100,000 in auditing before they find out on OT III that they are filled with alien souls that must be removed by further, even more expensive auditing.

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