On Sunday, we published a disturbing new document which was produced by Scientology recruiters in Australia. It purports to be the testimony of an 18-year-old named Denny Chang, who extols the virtues of Scientology’s most hardcore contingent, the Sea Org, and urges other young church members to join.
After talking with experienced former Sea Org members, it’s now clear that young Chang, judging by his own words, probably started his career in the elite troop at only 14 or 15 years of age. And now at 18, when his former schoolmates might be heading off to college, Chang is convinced that Scientology provides an answer for everything: “I started to realize that Scientology is really the only way out,” he writes.
The mailer Chang appears on was not one of Scientology’s advertisements to the general public. It was an e-mail flier sent out to church members — the Voice regularly obtains such mailers from various Scientology organizations around the US and Australia, and we publish three of them each Sunday morning.
This one was a recruiting notice for the Sea Org, Scientology’s elite corps, whose members are required to sign billion-year contracts and serve the church, lifetime after lifetime.
In his testimonial, Chang relates that as he becomes an adult, he’s already an experienced Sea Org officer…
I’m 18 years old; I’m already an experienced Professional Course Supervisor and a permanent Class IV auditor. And I’m a Commodore’s Messenger Organization staff member.
As we’ve been reporting lately, recruiting to the Sea Org for very young church members – some as young as ten years old – can be very intense.
Melissa Paris joined the Sea Org at only 15 years of age, and a year later was forced into a marriage she didn’t want, she told us in a lengthy interview recently. And if Scientology itself often justifies the way it treats Sea Org members by comparing it to the Jesuits or some other ascetic religious order, the experience of Melissa, her sister Valeska, and many other former Sea Org members we’ve talked to makes it sound much more like a cheap force of manual labor than anything spiritual. Valeska joined the Sea Org at only 14, and she became suddenly famous last month when her incredible story — that she was held against her will on Scientology’s private cruise ship, the Freewinds, from 1996 to 2007 — became public. She urged us also to talk to her younger sister Melissa, who labored for the Sea Org in the UK as a teenager.
Melissa told us that she had worked for four years doing manual labor at L. Ron Hubbard’s estate in England — more than half of it while still a child, under 18 — for a total of about $40.
I asked Melissa to read Denny Chang’s testimony and estimate for me how much time it would take for him to reach his current level of experience.
“Years,” she responded. “Pro supervisor is 6 months to a year. Class IV auditor is easily a year and that’s studying every day — he said that he did it on his own time. Probably longer. I’d say he’s been in since 14-15 years old if not younger.”
I also reached out to another woman who joined the Sea Org very young, Ramana Dienes-Browning, and who knew Valeska Paris on the Freewinds. In her own lengthy interview, Ramana told us that she first visited the ship with her mother, and while her mother was taking classes nearby, Ramana was subject to intense recruiting by older Sea Org members. She relented, and joined the Sea Org at only 15 years of age.
”The pressure was so intense. And you have to also remember, I’d been raised to be in awe of Sea Org members, to almost fear them. These were L. Ron Hubbard’s messengers,” she told us in that interview.
I asked Ramana to give me an estimate of how long Denny Chang has been laboring for the Sea Org.
I would say at least two to three years, possibly closer to four. I cannot see him getting from Pro Metering to having completed his Class IV Internship in under this time, specially since he says he was studying outside of post time. This means two and a half hours per day of study. There are loads of variables but this would be my best estimation. This would mean he joined when he was 15 or 16 and possibly younger.
She added that Denny’s enthusiastic testimony was actually “so sad.”
I would like to hear from our Australian readers, particularly ex-church members. Does anyone know Denny’s family? For Ramana and the Paris sisters, it was extremely difficult to resist Sea Org recruiting when they had grown up in the church, and had known nothing else as Scientology kids. Is that the case in the Chang family?
As we wind down this year — and next week should be very fun with awards we have to give out — it is still important to recognize that the stories we’ve been hearing lately from Valeska and Melissa Paris, from Ramana Dienes-Browning, and from so many others who say they were forced into marriages, forced into abortions, and worked like slave labor while still in their teens, are not stories from the distant past. Scientology still very much wants your impressionable child to do its work at pennies on the hour and with utter dedication to an illusory goal — the “clearing” of the planet.
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin’ Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing “disconnection”]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]
[Scientology hates clean ice: The “Fair Game” operation that should turn your stomach]
[Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon]
[Paulette Cooper, Scientology’s original and worst nightmare: a Thanksgiving tribute]
THE TOP 25 PEOPLE CRIPPLING SCIENTOLOGY
1. L. Ron Hubbard | 2. David Miscavige | 3. Marty Rathbun | 4. Tom Cruise | 5. Joe Childs and Tom Tobin | 6. Anonymous | 7. Mark Bunker | 8. Mike Rinder | 9. Jason Beghe | 10. Lisa McPherson | 11. Nick Xenophon | 12. Tommy Davis | 13. Janet Reitman | 14. Tory Christman | 15. Andreas Heldal-Lund | 16. Marc and Claire Headley | 17. Jefferson Hawkins | 18. Amy Scobee | 19. The Squirrel Busters | 20. Trey Parker and Matt Stone | 21. Kendrick Moxon | 22. Jamie DeWolf | 23. Ken Dandar | 24. Dave Touretzky | 25. Xenu
HELD ABOARD THE FREEWINDS: TALES OF THE SEA ORG
[Valeska Paris, held against her will from 1996 to 2007 on Scientology’s cruise ship]
[Ramana Dienes-Browning, marriage at 16, sexual interrogation, life in the engine room]
[Melissa Paris, Valeska’s sister: forced to marry at 16]
SCIENTOLOGY VS. SOUTH PARK: INVESTIGATION AS RETALIATION
[Scientology targeted South Park‘s Parker and Stone in an investigation]
[More documents in the South Park probe: instructions to send in a young mole]
[Scientology responds in typical fashion] | [Lloyd Kaufman confirms the probe]
[Mark Ebner also investigated after South Park involvement]
[Mark Chauppetta, private eye, explains what Scientology operatives look for]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun’s open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun’s cause] | [Squirrel Buster’s claim to be making a “documentary”] | [VIDEO: “On a Boat”] | [“Anna” sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology’s highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND “FAIR GAME”
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology’s West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology’s enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard’s remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to “handle” the Voice]
[Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: “No one’s going to take my eternity away”]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
[Hey, Scientology Celebrity, Here’s Your Media Training Checksheet!]
[Tom Cruise and X Factor‘s Stacy Francis singing together on the Freewinds]
[X Factor’s Stacy Francis: Her first husband, Michael Sandlofer, answers abuse claims]
[Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay]
[“Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | [“Tom Cruise not a kook!”] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his “suppressive person” declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology’s retaliation is “scary and pathetic”]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo’s “Turnaround King”: [Doing Scientology’s dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone’s smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]
[Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips “the business that is Scientology”]
JANET REITMAN’S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman’s first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn’t like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman’s print reviews, and why isn’t she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN’S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
[“The Money Machine”: another blockbuster St. Pete Times investigation]
[Marc Headley: “Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman’s Story] | [Jeff Hawkins’ Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology in Israel: Arson, attempted murder, paranoia — and a visit by the Voice!]
[Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested]
[All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots]
[Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige “toxic” and “violent”]
[Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails]
[Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]
ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS
[Scientology chillin’ with hip hop!] | [The curious career of Scientology rapper Chill EB]
[Chill EB and me: the Voice interviews Scientology’s in-house rapper]
[Scientology singalong, “We Stand Tall”] | [Captain Bill Robertson and “Galactic Patrol”]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The “Ideal” dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York “org”]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist’s letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth]
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]
[Desperate Scientology fundraising caught on video]