Wherein the Author attempts to describe the indescribable, express the inexpressible, and yes, even eff the ineffable, but not before taking a brief digression to defend her much-maligned employer and friend
Now, I’ve been a Scilon-watcher for a long time, but, because I live in Vermont, up in the northwest corner of New England, I had never actually met anyone who had been in Scientology in person, nor had I ever stepped into an Org, or even had any more contact with the cult other than seeing those “volcano” ads in the late 80’s and thinking that if they really had the answers to life and cared so much about the fate of humankind, then why would I have to buy the book in order to share in that wisdom? And although I’ve been proselytized to by folks of many faiths, none of them had ever demanded cash from me for the pleasure of learning their opinion; sometimes I’ve even been tempted to pay them to shut up about Jesuschristourlordn’savior, or The Secret, or the Watchtower, or even the Book of freakin’ Mormon.
And yet, for all my actual inexperience with the cult, I possess quite a bit of background knowledge on it. I am known as being rather quick on the uptake, and good at retaining facts once absorbed, and Scientology is one of my favorite areas of study. I have read most of the books (Marc Headley’s Blown For Good was the first and is still my favorite), am familiar with the websites, message boards, and forums, follow the Bunker, keep up with quite a few of the of the YouTube channels (I’m a fan of Allison Hope-Weiner and her “Media Mayhem” talks on Scientology) and listened to dozens, if not hundreds, of podcasts (Jeff Augustine’s are terrific). My good friend Pete Griffiths had already been kind enough to recognize my expertise on the subject during the podcast we did together, and so I must admit that I thought I knew a good deal about El Ron Liverlips and his following.
I was about to learn that I didn’t know proverbial jack bo diddely about anything.
After years of merely observing from the sidelines, I was meeting people who had grown up in the cult, folks who had experienced the hell of the Rehabilitation Project Force firsthand, who had run the mind-bending Training Routines, and listened to the insane lectures. These are the folks who had read the books you have to pay thousands of dollars for. From Nora Crest, who drank bleach to escape the RPF, to John McLean, who sailed with the red-headed devil himself aboard the flagship Apollo, I heard hundreds of first-hand accounts of abuses and indignities, torture and criminal behavior that should on no account be allowed in a country supposedly under the rule of law. And, instead of hearing about these atrocities in the pages of a book or reading them on my computer screen, I was meeting the people involved, in the flesh – people who had been made to clean dumpsters with toothbrushes, people who had actually been overboarded, people who heard the children crying in the chain lockers below decks.
Most of them have friends and families they will never be able to speak to again. All of them know someone who didn’t make it out alive.
It wasn’t just the people at the conference, either, who participated and contributed.
Through the magic of the internet, from the Bunker to SPs R Us, folks all over the world were following along, talking about what was happening. Tony Ortega’s live-blog of the first day was only the beginning, as friends from everywhere shared in the assembly of truth. Everyone had a piece of the puzzle and we were finally putting it together to create the most complete picture anyone had ever seen.
There’s a phrase in the anti-cult movement: “Scientology: it’s worse than you think.” How very true indeed! I found myself alternately shocked, outraged, and amazed at these brave, wonderful people and the horrors they had lived through. I was hearing things I had never heard before, learning things I hadn’t known.
Not all of it had to do with Scientology: for instance, I had not before realized that it was possible to pay four dollars for a smallish bottle of cranberry juice. Or that an otherwise rational individual would actually like the stuff enough to pay that much for it more than once (and no, Mister Boss-Man, it’s not the same as my spending four dollars for coffee; caffeine is essential to my survival, end of argument). But cranberry juice? Honestly?
Well, I’d already known that all authors are slightly insane, so that was no real surprise.
The most surprising thing I learned, however, was that I wasn’t alone in my astonishment: it seems that the veil of carefully compartmentalized secrecy that Hubbard created within his twisted world of insanity was deeper – and thicker – than anyone has suspected.
Yes, fellow Scientology-watchers, I’m here to tell you: the rabbit hole goes much deeper, and gets curiouser and curiouser, than you think.
“I didn’t know about that!” quickly became the catchphrase of the week. I heard it from Tory, as we chatted in the evening while preparing for bed. I heard it from Pete “Griff” Griffiths, while we lay on the grass outside the hotel, soaking in the sun and watching the airplanes overhead. I heard it from Chris Shelton, who has made it his weekly task to answer questions about the cult. Everyone was saying how they’d heard something they hadn’t known about before.
The biggest shock came when Jon actually said it. The man who literally Wrote The Book – yep, the cranberry juice-swilling dictator himself – admitted that he was hearing things he hadn’t known about.
And, coming to what Jon Atack knows, in defense of the guy here, let me say this: yes, I’m well aware that there are some folks who like to scoff at him and his work, calling him “just another ex,” intimating that since he was never on staff, let alone in the Sea Org, he can’t actually know the true inner workings of Scientology.
And for those who say (and I’ve heard them, believe me) “I’ll never read A Piece of Blue Sky and I never will,” I say, fine, that’s your choice. I’ve never read the Hobbit. But before you say that the man knows nothing about the backhanded dealings of Scientology or its excessively dirty and dramatic history, at least pick up a copy of the book, and take thirty seconds to look at the bibliography and the end notes to each chapter. Take a look at the hundreds of interviews this man has conducted with survivors, escapees, family members, and the people who were there. Take a look at the piles of documents cited, indicating years of careful and thorough research, hundreds of thousands of miles traveled, millions of pages scanned, searched, indexed, and digested. And then consider the painstaking time spent carefully reconstructing the accurate chain of events, from the birth of the cult’s founder up to a couple years before the book’s publication date in 1990, and then compiling all of it into a cohesive, understandable whole. This man didn’t just write about the cult; he lived in its archives, collected its oral histories, waded through its court documents and scoured its texts. Jon Atack has explored the Scientology rabbit hole to its depths, and, more amazingly, come out with his sanity (mostly) intact.
And take note of that publication date, please – this is all pre-internet research, folks.
The fact that he ever took a single Scientology course himself can almost be dismissed as incidental (in fact, he went to O.T. V before deciding he’d had enough). It’s not because Jon is an ex that Blue Sky is considered the seminal history of the cult, but because the man himself just happens to be a skilled historian, tireless researcher, and an excellent writer. To be honest, I prefer his fiction to his non-fiction work, and he already knows my four-letter views on his bad punctuation habits, but no one, once they see the body of work involved in creating the essential history of L. Ron Hubbard’s money-making religion substitute, can deny the solidity, accuracy, and, most importantly, absolute reliability of the book. When Russell Miller wrote his acclaimed biography of El Ron, Bare-Faced Messiah, he used Jon’s work for the lion’s share of his source material, as did Janet Reitman when she wrote her expose Inside Scientology, as have dozens of authors, journalists and academics. Indeed, the source of all things Scientology, Tony Ortega of the Underground Bunker, defers to Jon’s accuracy when it comes to the history of the cult.
Simply put, the man has done the time and walked the walk.
And as far as what the cult does to its enemies, Jon does know about that firsthand, and all too well. He has been “fair-gamed” for the act of speaking out about the abuses of the organization: he has been tricked, lied to, lied about, sued to bankruptcy, deprived of property, had his reputation injured and his life almost destroyed, as Hubbard would put it, utterly.
So when Jon freakin’ Atack says “I didn’t know that” about something, you may safely assume that either he’s talking about the correct way to use a semicolon, or that you are at S.P. Woodstock.
I honestly don’t know who first called it ‘Woodstock’; I do remember someone using the term by at least the third day, if not earlier, and by then I knew exactly what they meant.
But first, before I explain what it meant to us during that week, I should issue the following disclaimer: I know practically next to nothing about Woodstock, being that I was all of a year and a half old at the time. And just by way of example, Griff and Jon were both only 14 years old at the time of the festival, not to mention on the other side of the Atlantic, so any historical knowledge they might have acquired about the event cannot compare to what must have been the actual essence of that time and place, so inimitable to someone who had been there. And yet, even though I know far less about the event than the aforementioned Brits (to hear them ‘reminisce’ about the music of the sixties, one would assume they had been in living in Haight-Ashbury, attending Woodstock, and renting an apartment in Abbey Road, all at the same time), there is a certain amount of cultural connotation to the word. When someone says: “it was like Woodstock,” there is a sense of festival, of celebration: a time of love, of peace, of acceptance and unity, of trust and bonding – and a place where magic can happen.
The “Getting Clear” conference in Toronto was all that, and more.
Whether we had recovered from Scientology, the Moonies, or the Twelve Tribes, or even a tiny, unknown Crowley-based “micro-cult,” we were all survivors. This party was in honor of everyone, present and absent; no one was there because they craved attention or applause, and no one there felt anything but humbled, grateful, and blessed to be there – we came to speak out, to share, to listen, and to love. We came to be present for each other. Those who had been wounded were healed, those who had been silenced spoke out, and those who had died were memorialized. Truths that had been hidden were revealed, struggle was vindicated, souls were mended and love – the pure agape of community spirit – flowed freely.
The most beautiful and amazing thing is that there was no sense of “audience” and “stars.” Well, in fact, there was, but only on Sunday night, as some shy Bunkerites lurked in the bar, watching the “stars” talk, before realizing that they, too, were stars, and joined us at the “big kids’ table” for the rest of the week, where they were greeted with love, and simply became part of the family. For the rest of the time, there was no division, just a meeting of
minds and a celebration of love and knowledge, with as much brilliance offstage as on. Perhaps we called it Woodstock, because those who went on stage came straight from the audience, where they were just been crying and laughing and listening – and validating – along with everyone else. Perhaps it was the intimacy of the emotionally raw subject matter we discussed, the horrors remembered, the unbelievable extremity of the deprivation and suffering, and the unbreakable core of courage which brought us through it all. It could have been the stories we shared, onstage and off – our personal experiences of betrayal and suffering, of toil and fatigue, of sorrow and loss. It could have been the truths we taught each other, about escape and healing, faith, survival, and redemption.
It might have even been something in the extremely expensive coffee.
We might have been lacking in beach blankets, body paint, and purple blotter, but it was a festival of love, nonetheless. We hugged and cried and validated each other, compared notes and remembered details, and congratulated each other – and ourselves – that we had survived. Then, we paused to honor those who had not; the seven hundred plus souls ushered out of this world due to the cult were duly acknowledged, loved, and saluted. And yet, for all the tears and the horror of the tales, the overwhelming mood of the week was one of joy, the type of joy one feels when falling in love, or having that peak experience which defines one’s life for years to come. Onstage and off, in the conference room and at the bar, it was, indeed Woodstock.
And I would even say that, although Jesse Prince didn’t play the American National Anthem on stage (he left his guitar at home – this year), his performance – and his story of how he once held David Miscavige at gunpoint – was every bit as memorable, as rousing, and even, dare I say, as iconic as Hendrix’s salute, at least for those of us who were there.
But, predictably, I’m getting ahead of things again, and it seems that I should probably begin at the beginning, yes?
Oh, indeed I shall. However, I’m still putting together my various notes and sources, and so, I shall continue with the Magical Monday of S.P. Woodstock in my next entry, to be posted soon.
Sooner than Basset Hound Bus Lines got me to Montreal.
And for those who would like to donate to the Getting Clear Conference Fund, the link is still here: here’s where to give.