Scientology's Crushing Defeat

A previously unpublished saga of an $8 million check

“OT III totally shatters the core sense of identity. The central concept of mind control is attacking the core personality, the threat that you are not who you think you are. At OT III, you find out that you’re really thousands of individual beings struggling for control of your body. Aliens left over from space wars that are giving you cancer or making you crazy or making you impotent. The reason for every bad thing in your life is these alien beings,” Wollersheim says. “I went psychotic on OT III. I lost a sense of who I was.”

Years can be spent removing these aliens—called “body thetans” or “BT’s”—by talking to and about these supposed hitchhiking entities while holding onto a device called an “e-meter.” “You’re talking to thousands of beings. They have histories. And anger. They’re complex personalities. I started drinking heavily to drown out the voices. I was non-functional, irrational, filthy. I wandered the streets of L.A. for three days. Finally I came enough to my senses to get in touch with Scientologists I knew.” He was cleaned up and calmed down, but Wollersheim was told that the solution to his troubles was just more auditing.

He now sold art to businesses, and employed 132 people in seven different cities. Nearly all of his employees were Scientologists, and so were nearly all of his clients.

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.

Wollersheim says he paid $28,000 for classes in Clearwater, Florida that were supposed to help him locate alien beings that had been a part of him during past lives. “It induced another psychotic episode. I went so raving nuts, I tore down a fence at the center. I thought I was an alien warlord who couldn’t be stopped. After about a day and a half, they came and got me.”

Eventually, however, Wollersheim graduated to a level where he believed he had finally eradicated all of the thetans from his body. “You think you’ve made it. You’re free of all these beings. But then Hubbard releases the second big secret [on a level called “New Era Dianetics for Operation Thetans,” also called “NED for OTs” or “NOTs.”] He tells you there are far more of these beings than anyone ever dreamed of. Inside those original thetans are clusters of other beings. Beings that are eight feet from you, floating near you all the time. Beings miles away from you that are still connected with you. Beings in the television, and you’re told that watching television will wake them up, so you’re told not to watch TV. If OT III made some people nuts, NOTs really drove them over the edge,” he says.

While auditing NOTs, Wollersheim had his third psychotic break. Back in Los Angeles, he remembers lying in a dark room with a .45 revolver, thinking about killing himself. A friend discovered him and took him to a Scientology center for more auditing. Once again, he went back to Clearwater. But when his friend saw that it wasn’t helping him, she told him to get away.

“Those were the magic words,” he says. He decided to leave. Word traveled quickly, however, that Wollersheim was going to leave Scientology after 11 years.

At a restaurant in Clearwater, he says, he was approached by a member of the Guardian’s Office, Scientology’s intelligence bureau. “He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you ever tell a doctor, lawyer or priest anything that ever happened to you in Scientology.’”

The organization then declared Wollersheim a “suppressive person” (or “SP”)—in other words, an enemy of Scientology—and commanded other Scientologists to “disconnect” from him, he says. His customers stopped paying bills, and 80 percent of his employees quit their jobs within three days. Weeks later, his business had collapsed, leaving him with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts and no way to pay them.

For several months, Wollersheim went into hiding, worried that harm would come to him. “You’re told in Scientology that if you reveal their secrets, bad things will happen to you,” he says. His parents, however, were thrilled that he was out, and they gave him some money to live on.

“At some point in that six months I realized that something bad had happened to me, and I needed someone else’s perspective.” He returned to Los Angeles, looking for others who had left Scientology. On a hunch, he went to the downtown superior court and asked to see the names of people who were suing Scientology. “I was shocked to find a whole list of people,” he says. Some he recognized. He decided to call the attorney handling their cases.

“The church’s conduct was manifestly outrageous,” the California court of appeals wrote a decade later, in 1989, after Wollersheim’s trial had resulted in a $30 million award. (Despite its affirmation of the lower court’s ruling, however, the appeals court lowered the award to $2.5 million, citing Scientology’s supposed meager financial state.)

Scientology claimed that its practices were protected by freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment, but the court rejected that argument by pointing out that Wollersheim had been coerced to remain a Scientologist through the threat of freeloader debt, the use of “fair game,” and the use of confidential information in his files.

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