Adding to Scientology’s woes, some of the people who have been making defections in recent years are turning around and writing damning tell-alls.
Regular publishers won’t touch these books — even though some of them are actually very well written — so the authors have had to go the self-published route.
Last year’s killer I-escaped-from-Scientology narrative was put out by Marc Headley. His Blown for Good made for a gripping read, about a low-level grunt who spent years at Scientology’s secret HQ in the California desert until he finally made a mad dash for freedom.
This year, we can report that Headley’s book has been equaled. In Counterfeit Dreams, ex-Scientologist Jefferson Hawkins not only provides his own dramatic tale of getting sucked into and ultimately escaping from Scientology, but Hawkins was no low-level scrub.
He, maybe more than any other single person, may be the reason Scientology ever became as popular as it did, with L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics setting sales records in the 1980s.
It was Hawkins and his ideas for television ads (the “volcano” TV spot, for example) that propelled Dianetics to meteoric heights, leading many to wonder if Scientologists themselves weren’t just buying up the books by the truckload to make sure it topped the New York Times Bestsellers List.
But that wasn’t the case, Hawkins tells the Voice:
“Yes, the ‘boom’ in the late 1980s was driven by the book sales, and those were real sales, caused by TV advertising, good book distribution and an aggressive PR machine. They tried to get me to organize Scientologists to go out and buy books to artificially jack up the sales (as they did when Battlefield Earth was released) but I refused to play that game. After we had been running an aggressive advertising and PR campaign for about 4 years, we had built it up to between 10,000 and 30,000 books being sold weekly through US bookstores – something that would have been impossible by ‘getting Scientologists to buy copies.'”
Hawkins’ impressive book takes a reader through his introduction to Scientology in 1967 to his defection in 2003. Along the way, he became the marketing genius that helped Scientology grow to unprecedented heights — only to watch it go into serious decline under David Miscavige, the Scientology leader who took over after Hubbard’s death in 1986.
Like others who have come forward, Hawkins details the physical abuse he witnessed at the hands of Miscavige, the orders that were impossible to fulfill, the constant threats of punishment, and the hopelessness that Scientologists feel when they are forcibly separated from family but feel that they can’t under any circumstance, leave the organization.
But what struck us was Hawkins’ claim that it only took a slick PR campaign to drive huge sales of Dianetics and make big gains in membership to Hubbard’s weird cabal (which doesn’t say much for the intelligence of the American public). Scientology today seems to be in a major rut, attacked on all sides and ridiculed even by mainstream news organizations that once carefully steered clear of the subject. Despite that present condition, would it only take another slick PR campaign to make Scientology resurgent again?
“Sure, that action could be duplicated at any time. While it’s true that Scientology is very unpopular and even ridiculed today, the same was true in the 1980s and it was overcome to some degree with advertising and PR,” Hawkins says.
“David Miscavige, however, is not interested in making Scientology broadly popular. For one thing, a campaign like that is a huge financial investment, and you don’t see the result right away – maybe not for years. It builds gradually. Miscavige is too much into the instant buck to invest the kind of budget, personnel and effort to make a big campaign work. He always complained about what a ‘waste of money’ such campaigns were. He prefers pressuring a few wealthy members to give more and more money for his ‘Ideal Org’ real estate schemes.
“Scientology is supported, in fact, by a few thousand wealthy members. Some of these, like Tom Cruise, Nancy Cartwright, Craig Jensen (Diskeeper), Sky Dayton (Earthlink) and a few others are very wealthy and contribute millions.
“My own opinion is that organized Scientology is dead. I do not see them recovering from Miscavige’s abusive rule – he has destroyed the entire management structure of the Church and has ‘revised’ the ‘tech’ of Scientology to the point where it is largely useless.”
Like Headley, Hawkins says Scientology has shrunk to only small numbers of active members. Headley had put the number at about 10 to 15,000, but Hawkins says it’s more — closer to 50,000. But that’s minuscule for an organization that claims to have millions of members worldwide.
Perhaps better than any other defection narrative that has come out, Counterfeit Dreams carefully and clearly spells out so much of the bewildering Hubbard jargon that characterizes Scientology. And Hawkins himself may be one of the best people to write a history of the organization — his career mirrors so much of Scientology’s arc, from its hippie era early growth to its 1980s apotheosis, to its decline and increasing paranoia under Miscavige.
We’ll give Hawkins the last word: “Here is my own view as to the value of Scientology. I think that there are good things about the subject, particularly at the lowest entry levels – things like improving communication, improving the ability to solve problems, getting relief from upsets, etc. I would say that 90 percent of my gains from Scientology were at these lowest levels, and occurred within the first ten years of my involvement. There is some good in the subject – if there was not, no one would get involved. It is the cheese in the mousetrap. I think the ‘upper level’ OT stuff is bogus. It is just Hubbard letting his imagination run away and inventing a lot of highly improbable ‘confidential materials.’ He was under constant pressure to come up with ‘something new’ and may have really believed, in his delusion, that he was discovering secrets of the universe. I have never, frankly, seen any evidence that Scientologists become ‘superior beings.’ Factually, they become more and more controlled.
“I think that is individual practitioners want to do the lower level stuff on their own and without any formal organization – more power to them – IF they do not defraud or abuse anyone.”
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 Paul Haggis Ultimatum — The ‘Crash’ Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape — ‘Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle’
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 3, 2010