Scientology Gets a Smooch from the L.A. Times
In 1990, just before he and his colleague Joel Sappell were about to publish a landmark series exposing Scientology's secrets in the Los Angeles Times, Robert Welkos found that someone had placed in a manila envelope against his home's front door a brochure from a mortuary, encouraging him to plan his own funeral.
He checked with the funeral home, but it said it would never solicit in that way. Then another brochure showed up two days later, left by a man spotted scurrying away by Welkos's wife.
I would never know if the deliveries were just a mix-up or a sinister prank. Just as I have never known who made the dozens of hang-up telephone calls to my house; what caused my partner's dog to go into seizures on the day the Times published the secret teachings of Scientology; why a bogus assault complaint was filed with the Los Angeles Police Department against Sappell by a man whose address and name proved to be phony, or why car dealers we had never dealt with were making inquiries into our personal credit reports...
Whenever journalists ask critical questions about Scientology they can expect to endure intense personal scrutiny. Over the years, various reporters have been sued, harassed, spied on, and even been subjected to dirty tricks.
The 1990 series by Sappell and Welkos proved to be one of the most significant journalistic projects ever done on Scientology, and was especially brave for the proximity of the newspaper to Scientology's Los Angeles administrative headquarters.
Which makes it all the more disappointing that yesterday, the sloppiest wet kiss I've seen Scientology receive from the mainstream press in a very long time showed up on the website of the Los Angeles Times, which long ago lost the services of Welkos and Sappell.
The article was titled "What is Scientology? A Scientologist offers her point of view," and it showed up in the "Nation Now" section of the Times website.
Its author, Rene Lynch, begins with the obligatory nod to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes for sparking widespread interest in the subject before asking, just what is Scientology?
Hey, no problem with that. We've asked it ourselves, knowing that readers appreciate a primer to such a complex body of knowledge.
Lynch proposes to ask a Scientologist this question, which is, again, a good notion. We've often spoken to current church members, although usually not for the record. This is in part why Debbie Cook's infamous New Year's Eve e-mail was so stunning -- a former church executive, she insisted that she was still a member in good standing when she gave the world a glimpse into the crisis that is convincing more and more longtime members to break away.
The Times, however, chose to interview a woman who calls herself Laurie Hamilton, and who, for about a decade, has listed herself as an authority on Scientology at AllExperts.com. (This last detail was not mentioned in the Times piece.) Lynch's description of the woman sounds like Hamilton's AllExperts.com page: "a second-generation Scientologist and ordained Scientology minister who does consulting work."
There is no contact information for Hamilton at her AllExperts.com site. You can send her questions, and she may choose to answer them. There's no indication of who she really is or where she lives. In extensive online databases of Scientology "completions" -- successes listed in official church publications -- there is no record of any Laurie Hamilton. And over the years, Scientology experts have found that she gives extremely unusual answers for someone who claims to be a second-generation church member born in 1968 to parents who had fallen in with L. Ron Hubbard from the very beginning, the 1950 publication of his book, Dianetics.
In 2006, the researchers at Operation Clambake noticed that Hamilton, for example, spoke freely about something that is assumed to be taboo among actual church members: the condition of L. Ron Hubbard in the days before his death. As can be seen in this video, a few days after Hubbard's death in January, 1986, it was announced to church members at the Hollywood Palladium that Hubbard had been as healthy as an ox, and had simply chosen to leave behind his body as he moved on to another plane of existence to pursue further spiritual research.
Hamilton, however, wrote at her AllExperts.com page what offiicial records actually indicate, that Hubbard was debilitated by a series of strokes (calling into question the validity of his final will, which he signed the day before his death), and that his physician, Gene Denk, had been injecting him with Vistaril, a psychiatric drug.
Hamilton makes other statements about Hubbard and his foibles being less important than the works he left behind, and also that some of the more outlandish space opera stories in Scientology's upper-level teachings (which cost members hundreds of thousands of dollars to discover) are simply metaphors which Scientologists can pick and choose from.
Hamilton, in other words, sounds like just about no Scientologist you will encounter in the official church (in some ways, she sounds like an "independent Scientologist," who are heretics as far as David Miscavige's church is concerned). She has long been suspected to be working on behalf of Scientology's Office of Special Affairs, which would normally vet any communication to the public of the church's official policies. Various experts have pointed out that her answers appear to be intentionally more pragmatic than the dogmatic answers church members give each other, and are written for a skeptical public. (Mike Rinder, OSA's former executive director who left in 2007, told me that he's never heard of her. But he said he is certain that such public statements would be gone over by church officials carefully before publication.)
Laurie Hamilton, in other words, is a problematic figure, especially for a journalist who wants a straight answer about Scientology.
But the Times compounded problems in a couple of ways. First, it agreed to all of Hamilton's ground rules, which were extensive...
She declined to reveal specifics about where she lives or works for fear that some clients might hold her beliefs against her.
What follows is an edited transcript of an interview conducted via e-mail at Hamilton's request because she wanted black-and-white clarity to her answers.
This seems rather surprising. After 50 years of ex-members and journalists and government officials who dared to investigate or speak out about Scientology being -- how was it Welkos put it? -- "sued, harassed, spied on, and even subjected to dirty tricks," it's Hamilton who needs protection for expressing her views.
The format allows Hamilton to prepare skillful answers to Lynch's questions that, like her utterances at AllExperts.com, are more pragmatic than what we hear from other church members.
But even granting Hamilton this much power in the conversation, Lynch still could have salvaged things if she'd just asked the woman (or committee, or whatever) a few decent questions.
After looking at what she asked, however, I have to wonder, have the editors down at the Times completely forgotten Welkos and Sappell? (And I want to stress editors. While Lynch's name is on the piece, she appears to have been somewhat unfamiliar with the subject of Scientology. I sent her an e-mail asking if this was her first Scientology piece, and also if she had asked harder questions that "Hamilton" refused to answer. Still waiting for a response.)
Here's a sample of what the Times asked:
-- Does Scientology consider itself a religion? -- You take issue with the portrayal of Scientologists as blind followers or believers. -- What is ARC? -- Do you think Scientology is secretive?
Hamilton is also lobbed softballs about Scientology and drugs, about what its members believe, and about what they pay.
Lynch does get around to Scientology's more unusual beliefs: "Critics of Scientology bring up unusual topics such as Xenu and thetans and aliens."
Note that it's critics that "bring up" these topics, when actually, it was court documents, in protracted litigation started by the church, that revealed to the world what Scientologists today pay about $300,000 to learn -- but are kept from knowing until they have turned over that money.
At the end of Lynch's story, there's an impression that Scientologists are spiritually sophisticated people who are unjustly considered "weird" by people who just can't appreciate their advanced ways of thinking.
The thing is, I've talked to hundreds of ex-Scientologists, and while many of them do praise the spiritual aspects of L. Ron Hubbard's creation, they have many real concerns that Lynch didn't bring up in the least (or, that Hamilton didn't answer and so they were left out of the conversation).
Shouldn't a conversation in the Los Angeles Times at least bring up some of the disturbing abuses in Scientology that its own legendary investigative reporters helped expose to the world?
Where is the question about the single most damaging policy in the church, "disconnection," which rips families apart? How do you not ask about the Sea Org, the elite hardcore of Scientology that asks its members to sign billion-year contracts and to work insane hours for a few dollars a week and with almost no chance for school or kids or family? And where is there a question about the RPF, the Sea Org's prison detail, which now takes years for members to complete?
How does the Los Angeles Times not ask a question about "fair game" -- Scientology's legendary retaliation campaigns against perceived enemies -- after what Welkos and Sappell went through?
And after Debbie Cook's e-mail and subsequent lawsuit, how can a three-page chat with a so-called expert not raise Cook's accusations about "extreme fundraising" which is causing so many longtime members to leave?
As I pointed out in a story last summer, the L.A. Times long ago ceded any claim it had to Scientology journalism primacy to the Tampa Bay Times. On occasion, the L.A. Times can still uncork a beauty -- like a great 2005 investigation of the Int Base, Scientology's secretive headquarters east of Los Angeles. But we can only hope that it will work a little harder to overcome yesterday's unfortunate misstep.
(P.S.: I just noticed that Robert Welkos has a book out. Give it a look.)
See also: What Katie is saving Suri from: Scientology interrogation of kids Scientology's new defections: Hubbard's granddaughter and Miscavige's dad Scientology's disgrace: our open letter to Tom Cruise Scientology crumbling: An entire mission defects as a group Scientology leader David Miscavige's vanished wife: Where's Shelly?
In November the Voice obtained hundreds of copies of L. Ron Hubbard's previously unpublished "Orders of the Day," which he gave to crew members as he sailed the Atlantic and the Mediterranean on the yacht Apollo. Our documents cover the period from late 1968 through 1971, and this time we're looking at what was happening the week of July 8 - 14 during those years.
This week, the Commodore discovers a fun way to justify overboards...
WE JUST WON THE NEW ZEALAND INQUIRY!
SIDNEY HALTING FURTHER ACTION BECAUSE OF THIS.
ORG IN AUCKLAND NORMAL OP IN STATS WITH OUR DIAN COURSE GOING FULL BLAST.
It's all cooled off in this port. The English Govt had sent some entheta to this govt which sent it to their Commandantes "Strange Ship..." and we caught it and are icing it. The port is okay, wide open to use. We weren't observing some of the correct actions in ports. See the Debrief. The port was muddy but our Missionaires, Steinberg and Wrigley, did a highly commendable job.
Our Courier returned and International lines on fast inspection are reported all cool.
So we sail with a cheery smile.
Our destination is a spot on the ocean marked with an X which we trust hasn't floated away.
July 11: Psychs are history.
Our Richard Gorman has done the most effectively gruesome anti psychiatry poster I've ever seen. I photographed it in colour and it's off to pubs for colour photolitho and the world.
US news has barely mentioned Rockefellers many later visits! Only European carried it hard. Couldn't be US Press is censored? Or maybe owned?
We were told not to sail by pilot due to storm. We'll be going when it abates.
We're all cleared out of port. Hence no liberty possible, sorry.
July 11: Annie keeps LRH working...
ATTENTION ALL CREW: The following is to be done to ensure that the Commodore does not get disturbed while he is auditing. When he is auditing, a red light goes on, on the "A" deck foyer, port and starb. 'tween decks, one just outside the boiler flat and one near the engineer's quarters. During the period this red light is on, NO ONE is to make any noises that would disturb the Commodore. No one is to go on the port from deck for any reason. Anyone walking through the "A" Deck foyer is to be quiet. Also anyone sleeping on "B" Deck port side is reminded not to slam doors or bang around in their cabins.
Please keep the above in so that the Commodore can audit in a safe, quiet environment.
Also anyone wanting to work, not including admin MUST come and see the Comm. Mess. on watch.
Ann Tidman D/Commodore's Messenger I/C
July 8: Heave ho!
I have been reading a book in which water and bathing is covered as a cure for everything from hangnails to leprosy.
It began in 1829.
In 1850 Dr. John Bell of Philadelphia brought his treatment to a fine art. His book was called DIETICAL AND MEDICAL HYDROLOGY; A TREATISE ON BATHS; including COLD, SEA, WARM, HOT, VAPOUR, GAS AND MUD BATHS also ON THE WATER REGIMEN HYDROPATHY and PULMONARY INHALATIONS with A DESCRIPTION OF BATHING IN ANCIENT AND MODERN TIMES.
All this has nothing to do with soap or getting clean. It's how the MDs treated various diseases in the 19th Century -- soaking, boiling, chilling patients. (The psychiatrist is still stuck in that period and still uses wet packs and shocks, namely an "Electric Bath".)
Its all very funny.
So you see, throwing people overboard is NOT disciplinary at all. It's the practice of Hydropathy (water treatment) guaranteed to cure them of anything they have.
As the medicos did it for nearly a century and psychiatry still does it, then of course, it is the thing to do.
Thus we should immediately get in a Hydropathic Registrar and Invoice line for all flubbing students or recruits and sign them up for "A Hydropathological Treatment" and throw them overboard.
Who are we to go against a century and a half of solemn medical tradition?
More 1970s Awesomeness!
After L. Ron Hubbard had moved HQ from the yacht Apollo to the Florida coast, Advance! magazine was thrilling Scientologists with tales of "OT Phenomena." Those church members who had reached the higher levels of spiritual training shared their stories of superhuman powers with fellow dupes -- er, enthusiasts. This excerpt is from Issue 41, July/August 1976. (And another cover featuring a photo by the Commodore!)
I have a lot of 'OT' things happen to me. I get parking spaces when I want them. I catch planes when it is 'impossible' to do so time-wise. I get people to call me by intending them to. I help disembodied thetans. I know what people are thinking. Like a normal OT, I guess. I take that all for granted.
Now what I think is really an OT phenomena success story is my path in life since getting into Scientology in 1968. I became an auditor and learned to help people. I had a tremendous desire to go Clear and I went Clear within seven months of getting into Scientology. I did the things it says you can do, on the Grade Chart.
As an artist I learned to get products out and published books and had photography shows. I did the Briefing Course and became more and more able to apply Ron's tech out in the world. I began my OT levels and reached OT III Expanded. I blew through barriers to achieve happiness and causativeness on the second and third dynamics. And I'm just beginning.
One can't fail to be more and more OT if one just gets on the bridge and continues on it. It's an incredible bridge, this bridge Ron has given us. -- Cam Smith Solari, U.S.A.
There was this guy called Klaus who used to come into our office once a month to pay rent. He was a tall, surly German with a blackness under his complexion. He never smiled, and could only be described as 'grisly.' My boss hated him.
Well, this one day he walked into the office and as I stood in front of him, writing out his receipt, I suddenly got the thought, "What is it with this guy?" and I just gave him a total confront and suddenly there before my eyes stood a hairy, grisly, sad and rather pathetic looking werewolf with teeth just like you see in the movies. He was in fact a good deal bigger than Klaus, and towered over me. Well, Wolfy and I stared at each other for a long, hard second, and then he disappeared. I was left with Klaus gazing at me in bewilderment and in his eyes I read, "What happened?"
I gave him his receipt and the body walked out of the office but the thetan stayed behind for a good five minutes. In fact, the presence was so strong that my boss popped his head out of his office to see if there was anybody there because he could feel it too. I said, "Don't worry, it's only Klaus. I've just used a bit of Scientology on him."
Next month, Klaus came in to pay his rent. His complexion was clear and pink and he gave us a big hello and a broad smile. He had a few words with my boss and after he had gone my boss came to me and said, "Well, I don't know what you did to him, but he's quit a nice guy after all." -- Noelle Levin, South Africa
Um, werewolves. Really not sure what to add to that. I'm sure Laurie Hamilton could come up with a clever response.
Hey, please check our Facebook author page for updates and schedules. There's lots more coming.
********** Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.