Harassing for Hubbard: The Relentless Spammery of Scientology Recruiters

It was just an ordinary day. A good power walk (mask on), a minute or two at the mini-mart for bananas, then a quick stop at the mailbox where I found a Costco mailer, a client check for my husband, some car dealership spam for my son, and, like clockwork, another gold-embossed letter from the Chaplain’s Office at American Saint Hill Organization (ASHO) at Scientology’s big blue monstrosity in Hollywood.

I didn’t bother to open it — though I occasionally do just to see the current spin on my hoped-for re-recruitment — and it went right into the recycling bin. Again. The sheer volume of trees that have died for Scientology would likely put the Amazon to shame.

Today’s outreach was just another in a clusterfuck of calls, letters, entreaties, packages, movies, books, etc., that have been sent to me over decades by a sect clearly desperate for my prodigal allegiance. Their relentlessness would be admirable if they were chasing money for, say, gun control, immigration reform, women’s healthcare, or LGBTQ rights, but this bloated pretense at a religion, with their purported value (largely real estate) of almost $2 billion, wants my singularly unremarkable self (I’m not even one of their coveted celebrities) for… what? What reason? Why do I matter?

I don’t. Not a bit. They don’t care about me personally — if they did, they’d honor my repeated requests to remove me from their call/mailing lists. No, this rabid recruitment is not about me specifically. It’s about them organizationally. They have a fixation on “getting stats up.” The show of numbers. The adding of adherents. The detailing of devotees, defining of disciples; the show & tell of their purported popularity. I’m just a bean for the Scientological bean counters whose assignment is to “harass for Hubbard.”

Which, apparently, after some sort of “let’s think outside the box” recruiting brainstorm by marketing geniuses at the cult, evolved into the launch of “Let’s Get the Defectors Back!” This theory of mine has been proven out by the fact that many of my closest friends, also long-ago defectors, have been graced by the same graceless bombardment of mail, phone calls, visits, etc., over years and without abatement despite, as in one friend’s case, frequent and Julia-Sugarbaker-level derogations on the folly of the campaign.

I’m with Julia.

Because, folks, if you have to dig that far back to ratchet recruitment rolls, you’ve lost the script. It’s new blood any healthy organization needs, new people who’ll come in all blank-slate and starry-eyed, ready to do good until they figure out just how bad the dogma is. Given Scientology’s indefatigable efforts chasing after me — someone so long-gone and with seriously baked-in antipathy for the group — my guess is they’re struggling to find new blood. Which means, despite promises made by seemingly sincere Sea Org underlings, they’ll persist.

Though I escaped the “defector horrors” so often detailed on Leah Remini’s terrifying show, I learned they have an investigative arm that can suss out addresses on a par with the FBI: No matter where I’ve moved over the decades, they’ve found me. Prior to my current location there were actual home visits; one involved proselytizing to my, at-the-time, young son, which inspired a cease-and-desist letter from my attorney husband (so far so good on that one). Beyond that, packages of Scientology movies, books, and other detritus have been left on my outdoor mailbox. Countless letters — not only from the “chaplain” but other recruiting departments — have rolled in like Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons. And always, always, the endless voice mails (I don’t answer random numbers) from fiercely-indoctrinated stick-to-the-party line Sea Org members chirping about a “big event” at Celebrity Centre, “checking in” on my current state of being; hoping I’ll “join them for a Golden Era Productions movie premiere,” even floating flattery with obsequious lines like, “We see from your folder you were a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin! Love to talk to you about that!”

All this and I’ve been out of Scientology for 35 years. Unbelievable.

We all make youthful calculations that turn out to be misguided. Scientology was one of mine. I joined as a teenager, seduced (literally) by a cute boy who kept showing up at my school and, after a few flirts and coffees, got me to the local “mission,” a small white house in Illinois filled with what seemed to be great kids my own age. Later, I discovered his attraction was less personal and more “flirty fishing,” apparently standard recruitment technique, and while it broke my naïve little heart, I stuck around. I took the first few easy, affordable courses (Communications Course, Student Hat, etc.), I liked the camaraderie of the kids there, and I really did want to subscribe to something spiritually meaningful… which I thought this might be.

When I moved to Los Angeles four years later, I anticipated immersing myself in the purported artistic mecca of Celebrity Center, eager to become part of the movement to “save the planet” (which sounds suspiciously like Trump’s equally imperious, “Make America Great Again”). I got a job at a restaurant owned by Scientologists, started an acting class taught by a Scientologist, lived with Scientologists, and created a friend circle exclusively of the group. It was a heady time of hope and inspiration, and I was dedicated to not only creating a successful career for myself as a performer, but giving something back by spreading the gospel of L. Ron Hubbard. Yep, a true believer.

What I wasn’t, however, was rich. Which meant, once beyond those benign introductory courses, I couldn’t afford the staggeringly expensive “auditing” one needed to go “up the bridge,” as they put it, a trajectory that would deliver me to the state of enlightenment required for planet saving. First, it was a conundrum, then it became a point of contention, particularly when a recruitment officer called me in to discuss my finances and suggested I sell my car, gets some credit cards, and sign a billion-year contract to join the Sea Org after which a whole bunch of stuff would be “free or reduced!”

I always say my ambition saved me, because, given my artistic dreams, none of that mess sounded good to me. I deferred on all counts, and as time went on and I wasn’t advancing, suspicions about my true dedication were piqued and questions were asked… many by me. I began looking around more, listening harder, paying more attention to attitudes, philosophies, rules and requirements; treatment of fellow adherents. I watched punishments meted out, then found myself the focus of this cult’s version of shunning (called “disconnection”… something they deny and something that most certainly exists). When a group of higher-level members of my circle decided I was a “suppressive person” — apparently because my BTs (body thetans) were (unbeknownst to me because, as mentioned, I hadn’t “advanced”), behaving badly in ways “we can’t tell you because you’re not OT3” — I was gobsmacked. Imagine a 22-year-old girl being told no one in her entire network of friends, classmates, and co-workers could talk to her now because she was, quite literally, declared dangerous. Luckily a few of the community’s outliers — who later also defected and remain my closest friends today — defied orders and kept me from certain insanity.

 Realize, this was back before the Internet, before Leah Remini, even before the media became courageous enough to flout Scientology’s mob-like thuggery to write about them. Which meant for a while we were on our own figuring out what was true and what wasn’t. And as I began defending my good self, and met new people who not only took umbrage with the disconnection policy but convinced me I was just fine, that it was all bullshit, a light began to illuminate the Fog of Cultism. Eventually, and at some contemplative moment ten years after my somewhat mercurial involvement, I quietly slipped away.

Lucky for me I was unimportant enough that my defection went largely unnoticed, allowing me to avoid the kinds of punitive harassment so many defecting members suffered. And as I continued to investigate and dig deeper into the devilish dogma I’d previously embraced, I not only realized how contradictory it was to my own worldview, but found solace in sorting my life out via one-on-one therapy, something they denounce as literally Satanic. I felt vindicated, and gloriously, happily, and fully embraced my future as a free-thinker who’d never again be seduced by any philosophy, religion, “think,” cult, or church, getting on with my life as a compassionate agnostic.

Then the bombardment began. Damn… just years away from a clean getaway.

There are laws against this type of spammery but odds are the dubious assignation of Scientology as a “church” exempts it from whatever those laws might be. Likely the same applies to their calls, despite “do not call” registration lists. Frankly, I don’t know, but I refuse to give one more iota of time to this offensive and ineffective recruiting tactic. Nor will I engage further with actual human beings over there, because attempting to reason with a Scientologist determined to “reg” you is akin to debating Trump supporters on the virtues of masks, or trying to “reason” your crazy ex out of stalking you.

Unless they ratchet up the onslaught — and with an apology to trees — I’ll just keep recycling their letters, ignoring their phone calls, and blocking and deleting their messages, all while feeling pity and compassion for the true believers working for serf-wages, on billion-year-contracts, convinced they’re making the world a better place by harassing long-ago defectors in a desperate attempt to keep Scientology relevant in a world that has now exposed its chicanery and abuse.

That’s one tough gig. You gotta feel for ‘em.

Photo by Tom Harpel 


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Politics of Political Harassment: Might It Need a Law Too?

He walked into the lunchroom like he was walking onto a campaign bus; poster of “his” presidential candidate in hand, he marched to the community bulletin board, tacked it up, and announced loudly, “This is the next president of the United States. Anyone who doesn’t think so probably shouldn’t be eating at my tables.” Yep. He was the boss. He quickly laughed and said “Relax, I’m just kidding!” before making his exit but the point had been made. Everyone looked silently at each other before getting back to their soup and turkey wraps.

A new young employee finds herself in benign conversation with a supervisor about the Vice Presidential debate, all very generic and anecdotal, when the supervisor leans in with a paternal arm around her shoulder and says, “Can’t be undecided now, right? Who are you voting for, by the way?” Before new young employee can answer, he quickly responds, “Because everyone here is pretty much for _____________.” He squeezes her shoulder, gives her a wink, and walks off. She gulps and shuffles back to her cubicle.

A group of department heads with varying degrees of seniority are gathered for a human resources seminar. Before long, and before the official meeting starts, the conversation steers to politics and, without subtlety or discretion, five out of the seven begin discussing what “an idiot” the President is; laughing about his name, his “lack of religion,” and his “dubious” birth certificate. The other three? Two are relatively new to the company and the third is departing shortly on maternity leave. Speak up? What do you think?

And lastly, this past Monday the CEO of Westgate Resorts, David Siegel, sent out a company-wide email detailing why he was voting for Mitt Romney and what would happen to his employees if they didn’t. According to CNBC’s Robert Frank:

“Siegel stressed that he wasn’t out to intimidate his workers into voting for Romney. ‘I can’t tell anyone to vote,’ he said. But he wants to make sure his workers made an informed choice. ‘I want my employees to be educated on what could happen to their future if the wrong person is elected.’”

The story and Siegel’s full email can be found here: CEO to Workers: I May Fire You If Obama Wins. Important to read, I think.

In case the thought struck you too, here’s the legal definition of another kind of harassment:

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. The legal definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.”

Now let’s add in the paragraph about how this harassment affects working conditions:

Affects Working Conditions or Creates a Hostile Work Environment: If you are fired, refused a promotion, demoted, given a poor performance evaluation, or reassigned to a less desirable position because you reject a sexual advance, that almost certainly is sexual harassment. Even if the conduct does not result in economic injury or change of status to your job, it may be sexual harassment if the conduct unreasonably interferes with your work performance or creates an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” For example, it may be illegal sexual harassment if repeated sexual comments make you so uncomfortable at work that your performance suffers or if you decline professional opportunities because it will put you in contact with the harasser.

Seems pretty clear. Now, just as an exercise, let’s replace all the “sex” words in both paragraphs with words related to “politics”:

Political harassment is a form of civic discrimination. The legal definition of political harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a political nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.”

Affects Working Conditions or Creates a Hostile Work Environment: If you are fired, refused a promotion, demoted, given a poor performance evaluation, or reassigned to a less desirable position because you reject a political suggestion, inference, or demand, that almost certainly is political harassment. Even if the conduct does not result in economic injury or change of status to your job, it may be political harassment if the conduct unreasonably interferes with your work performance or creates an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” For example, it may be illegal political harassment if repeated political comments make you so uncomfortable at work that your performance suffers or if you decline professional opportunities because it will put you in contact with the harasser.

See how easily all the same verbiage applies to the scenarios detailed above? The intimidation, the presumption of agreement, the implication of negative consequences, etc.? How is political harassment in the workplace any less oppressive, offensive, or objectionable than sexual harassment? For the person being harassed, it likely isn’t.

I was listening to a debate about this exact topic on NPR the other day, an AirTalk segment titled: Talking politics: is it taboo in the workplace? Host Larry Mantle was discussing the parameters in which employees and employers are within – or without – their First Amendment rights in discussing political beliefs in the workplace. It was very illuminating to hear the feedback of his guest, Steve Kaplan, a Labor Employment Lawyer in practice in Los Angeles and former chair of LA County Bar’s labor and employment section.  Click the title link above to hear the interview; it’s only 16 minutes long and it’s worth a listen.

family-gathering

As everyone who reads anything I write knows, I love talking politics and I’m happy to do so with any willing, relatively intelligent person with a cogent viewpoint. I figure if I write something that is published in a public forum like Facebook, Huffington Post, Twitter, here at Rock+Paper+Music, wherever, and someone actively chooses to engage me based on that public contribution, great; let’s talk turkey. No one has to read what I write, no one has to ponder my points, and no one has to respond (and given the nature of online media, unless you voluntarily join in, I won’t have a clue what you think!). But beyond those mutually chosen online exchanges is the world outside the internet: family gatherings, friend get-togethers, intimate dinner parties, large occasions, etc. And there, in those settings?

Unless I’m invited into a conversation of a political nature that I choose to join, don’t expect to hear me chattering away about who I think should be doing what in what office of the land. As good manners dictates on any topic of substance and potential controversy, I don’t believe I – or anyone – should spout off about personal political beliefs without first ascertaining the listening party’s level of agreement or interest. Cuz lots of the time, THERE ISN’T ANY. They just want to eat dinner, talk about a movie, catch up on the family, or get some work done. Once you launch into politics there’s nowhere to hide. Unless you’re in a group that’s politically in alignment with each other and with you, and everyone agrees, “Hey, let’s talk politics,” the verbal blathering and subsequent imposition of one’s political beliefs is just plain rude, even offensive, depending on the situation. And nothing has the potential to ruin a good gathering more; once it’s starts, it’s all about pushback, lecturing, arguing, debating, pontificating, yelling, and who knows what else, and only after the evening’s been blown all to hell do you realize all anyone wanted to do was eat pizza and discuss Homeland!

And at work? Are you kidding me? Can you think of any environment more fraught with potential peril when it comes to the discussion of politics? You mention liking the First Lady’s latest J. Crew ensemble and your cubicle partner suddenly won’t turn their chair around, their Romney sticker prominently slapped to their computer cover. Or your immediate supervisor, a rabid Liberal, sees your Facebook pics from a Romney rally and before you know it you’re no longer needed on that new project. And, of course, if you work for David Siegel, your participation in a “get out the vote” effort for the DNC will likely result in “your department being downsized.”

It ain’t a slippery slope, it’s a goddamn landslide.

There are right places to discuss politics and wrong ones. Work is a “wrong one.” A job should never be place where you worry about being outed for your political beliefs, nor is it a place where you should be forced to listen to anyone else’s; certainly it’s not a place where you should be browbeaten into political submission in order to maintain your employment. There are enough reasons to sweat your job these days; politics shouldn’t be one of them.

Harassment is harassment is harassment. Like porn, we know it when we see it. And as sexual harassment is illegal, so should political harassment be. Let’s get on that before 2016, could we?

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.