Scientology Never Forgets: A Telemarketing Holiday Miracle
Fellow Scientology watchers, for this holiday Sunday I have a little nugget I thought you might find interesting. I'll be curious to see, in the comments, how significant you find this item -- just a fun diversion, or maybe a bit more portentious?
Anyway, I'll stop messing around and get to the point: On Friday, I received an e-mail from a man who has asked that I not name him. I can tell you that he's 62 years old and an attorney.
When he was much younger, he spent a couple of years in Scientology -- as he says, "I grew up in the 1960s and a lot of people were trying weird things back then." After his brief time in the organization, he hasn't had anything to do with it for almost 40 years.
In that time, he's gone to college and then law school, and has moved at least ten times, including across the country.
So he was surprised when, a few days ago, Scientology called him up on his cell phone to tell him how they'd like to get him back into the fold by selling him some books.
Stunned that the church would track him down after so long, the man thought I'd like to know about it. And he gave me the number the church had called him from.
So Friday afternoon, I gave that number a call...
But first, a little more about my tipster. It was in Berkeley that he fell into Scientology in 1970, and then just a couple of years later got out -- but not before banking money towards future courses that he never started. After he left in 1972, he asked for a refund, and never got it.
All this time, he figured asking for that refund might have been why Scientology left him alone as he went on with his life.
"I figured I was an SP or something," he says, referring to the way Scientology declares some former members or other people it considers enemies "suppressive persons."
"Basically, they left me alone. Now, 40 years later -- I'm 62 now -- I get a call on my cell phone!"
He says it was a woman, and she identified herself as being with Scientology. "She was very nice and she said words to the effect that something really important had happened in the church in 2007. She verified that I was the guy they were looking for. I said I was. She explained that in 2007 they discovered that the tech authored by L. Ron Hubbard had been changed, and people were reading works that weren't actually from the source. 'We've corrected the problem,' she said. And she asked to send me a DVD."
She described it as a video which portrays someone who has been out of Scientology for 20 years deciding to come back in the fold. He let her know about his request for a refund, that he'd paid for 3 courses he hadn't started and had asked for his money back.
"I told her that and she was still interested in sending me the stuff," he says. He expects the DVD in the mail any day now, and he's promised to forward it to me for my perusal.
Now, a couple of additional things to consider: first, Scientology is notorious for hounding people about new products, courses, and about spending money. And we often hear about people who complain that they can never get themselves removed from a Scientology mailing list, even if they've had almost no involvement with the organization. But 40 years? This seemed like a remarkable case.
My tipster still had the 323 number (a Los Angeles area code) that he'd been called from. So on Friday afternoon, I rang it.
"Scientology information center," answered a woman with a British accent.
I said hello, and explained the situation -- that a friend of mine had been out of Scientology for four decades, but the church had tracked him down to tell him about a new set of books. I told her this must be a pretty special set of volumes.
"It is indeed," she responded. "And we are doing a whole evolution of digging through our old correspondence files and finding anyone who has ever had any contact with the church."
That must be a lot of work, I said.
"It sure is. Who is this?"
I told her my name, and that I was with the Voice. And I asked her what her name was. Sylvia, she told me.
"Let me put you on hold and get you to someone who can do a whole briefing for you," she said.
Um, OK. At this point, I figured that I'd be switched to a media desk or something -- which was fine with me. I've been trying to get Karin Pouw or someone over at Scientology's PR department to call me for months, but they never return my calls.
Soon enough, a young-sounding man with an American accent picked up. He asked me who I was. So I told him.
"What's The Village Voice?" he asked. I told him it was a newspaper.
"I'm a little bit out of the loop on that," he said.
I didn't take it personally. Sylvia had apparently just transferred me to another working drone in the book-pushing department, and I reminded myself what so many ex-Scientologists have told me: church members live in a bubble, working insane hours and keeping themselves cut off from media and other influences of the outside world. This guy was just doing his job, clearing the planet, and it's no wonder that he hadn't heard of my publication.
I asked the guy his name, and he told me it was Nick Christensen. He was even nice enough to spell it for me.
Nick helpfully asked me to go to the church's main website, Scientology.org, and under "Landmark Events" I'd find information about "The Golden Age of Knowledge for Eternity" -- and that would tell me about this super special new set of books they are pushing.
Isn't it a lot of work, I asked him, to track down people who haven't been in Scientology for 40 years, to tell them about these books?
"It is a lot of work," Nick answered. "But some people were driven away from the church because of errors in the material. We want to make sure they know those errors have been corrected."
I thanked him for his time, and ended the phone call.
I then called Chuck Beatty, a former member of Scientology's Sea Org and an expert on Hubbard policies. He laughed when I told him why I was calling, and immediately quoted from the "green volumes" that compile Hubbard's many rules and regulations.
"You never take a person out of central files," Beatty said. And Beatty being Beatty, he then ran down various exceptions to that rule. He went on to explain that at the American Saint Hill Organization -- also known as "Big Blue," the large Scientology building that was once the Cedars of Lebanon hospital in Los Angeles -- the church keeps a giant database of people who have ever had interaction with Scientology. "They have the most massive U.S. and North American central files," Beatty said. "They must have fired a mission to dig up current phone numbers."
I told Beatty what Christensen had told me, about errors found in Hubbard's writings being responsible for driving away people, and that fixing those errors would bring people back.
"That's an internally acceptable explanation to the staff," Beatty said.
He went on to explain how, under leader David Miscavige, there had been two major shake-ups involving Hubbard's "technology." In 1996, auditors were told that their training had been in error, and they would be spending tens of thousands of dollars to relearn things -- new materials Miscavige dubbed "The Golden Age of Tech." (This was in part what began Tory Christman's disillusionment with Scientology, as I wrote in 2001.)
Then, in 2007, Miscavige made another major announcement. Hubbard's books had also contained errors, and a new set of corrected works would be released, requiring all Scientologists to buy a whole new set of materials.
"That's when Miscavige said, 'Fuck Ron, this is what I'm doing," says Marty Rathbun, the former high-level executive who left Scientology in 2004 and has been leading a major effort to criticize Miscavige's leadership.
"People who are leaving and still consider themselves Scientologists are pointing to one of those two events," Rathbun said, referring to the 1996 and 2007 revisions by Miscavige.
A steady stream of longtime church members has been declaring themselves "independent Scientologists" at Rathbun's blog, and they repeatedly cite Miscavige's tinkering with Hubbard's works -- followed by demands for do-overs on expensive levels -- as the reason they finally decided to get out.
"It's over. The church is so dead it isn't even funny. Those guys, to be putting so much effort into something that has been so discredited, five years after that stupid release, it's pathetic" Rathbun says. "Those people should be trying to get new people into Scientology. I mean, they're trying to get people who were in while Hubbard was still around and they remember what it was like then, and they're telling them 'We changed things'? -- that makes them squirrels, you know what I mean?"
Rathbun calling Miscavige a squirrel -- for our longtime readers, that should produce a chuckle. For our newer readers, allow me to explain.
One of the bedrock principles of Scientology is that L. Ron Hubbard -- also referred to as "Source" by his adherents -- laid down such a powerful set of ideas, his words are sacrosanct, and his instructions must be followed to the letter. This is not a casual notion. Scientology has paid big money to store copies of Hubbard's words in underground vaults on stainless steel tablets encased in titanium capsules, to ensure that his ideas survive a nuclear holocaust. Even though Hubbard died in 1986, his lectures and policies and books cannot be altered, and anyone who tries to use his ideas or processes outside official Scientology is, in the words of the church, a "squirrel." There is hardly a worse thing a Scientologist can be called.
When Rathbun went public with his independence movement, official Scientology went after him with a goon squad that calls itself "Squirrel Busters" -- complete with T-shirts that feature a picture of Rathbun's head on the body of a squirrel.
But as Rathbun points out, it was Miscavige, in 1996 and 2007, who boldly announced that there were errors in Hubbard's materials, altered them, and then demanded that church members redo levels and buy new books -- at amazing prices.
I know Rathbun is a controversial figure and many critics and ex-Scientologists are angry that a man who was once Miscavige's main enforcer and chief fixer is now saying that he's saving L. Ron Hubbard from the church Hubbard once founded. But he has a point about the 1996 and 2007 revisions -- they do appear to be a major reason behind Scientology's struggle to hold on to longtime members today.
But the church does try. I mean, if they're hunting down people like my tipster, nearly 40 years after he told Scientology to take a flying leap, that suggests a certain level of desperation, doesn't it?
Now, go to the beach or something.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology #13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists) #14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists) #15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics) #16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church's HQ #17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano #18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive #19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons) #20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures) #21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church #22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members) #23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church) #24: David Touretzky (and other academics) #25: Xenu, galactic overlord
See all of our recent Scientology coverage at the Voice
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard's organization:
The Larry Wollersheim Saga -- Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story -- How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself The Jason Beghe Defection -- A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue The Robert Cipriano Case -- A Hellacious Example of Fair Game The Paul Haggis Ultimatum -- The 'Crash' Director Tells Scientology to Shove It The Marc Headley Escape -- 'Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle' The Aaron Saxton Accusation -- Australia turns up the heat on Scientology The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation -- Scientology's former PR genius comes clean The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross -- Scientology lures a young defector into a trap A Church Myth Debunked -- Scientology and Proposition 8 Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back -- Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits When Scientologists Attack -- The Marty Rathbun Intimidation A Scientologist Excommunicated -- The Michael Fairman SP Declaration The Richard Leiby Operation -- Investigating a reporter's divorce to shut him up The Hugh Urban Investigation -- An academic takes a harsh look at Scientology's past Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh -- A precedent for a Scientology-Branch Davidian link Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology -- A masterful telling of Scientology's history The Western Spy Network Revealed? -- Marty Rathbun ups the ante on David Miscavige Scientology's Enemies List -- Are You On It? Inside Inside Scientology -- An interview with author Janet Reitman Scientology and the Nation of Islam -- Holy Doctrinal Mashup, Batman! Scientologists -- How Many of Them Are There, Anyway? Roger Weller's Wild Ride -- Scientology When it was Hip The Marc Headley Infiltration -- A Scientology Spying Operation Revealed Placido Domingo Jr: Scientology's Retaliation is "Scary and Pathetic" An Interview with Nancy Many, Former Scientology Spy The Paulien Lombard Confession -- A Scientology Spy Comes Clean The Deputy Benjamin Ring Hard Sell -- Scientology wants your 401K The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology -- the whole series! The Squirrel Busters Busted -- Unmasking the Scientology PI in Charge Tommy Davis, Scientology spokesman, secretly recorded discussing 'disconnection' Scientology internal document says its Office of Special Affairs will 'handle' the Village Voice
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.