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 Very Masterful Master

When you’ve been in a cult and then left, you are in the unique position of viewing it with both an insider’s knowledge and the distance of objectivity. Once you’ve stepped away long enough to reclaim your thinking, reject the jargon, and consider things without the fuzzy filter of “true believer,” you realize, amongst many other things, that you now have the inside skinny on how one ends up in a cult. At least your skinny; sometimes that of others with whom you shared the tent for a while, and that’s good to know, how and why you were enraptured, enticed, ensnared in some cases. Hindsight is always instructive.

Because it’s a mystery to most everyone else, how a seemingly smart, thoughtful, independent person – even a young one – can buy into the hype of what looks to be crazy; what with the horror stories, tabloid press, negative media, couch-jumping characters; quirks, foibles, and idiosyncrasies, right down to the by-the-book crazy/scary but charismatic leader who inexplicably elicits adoration and loyalty from those heretofore logical people. Yep, a mystery.

I got into Scientology when I was nineteen. I was a good believer. Not a zealot one, just a good one (couldn’t afford to be a zealot one!). By my mid-twenties I’d evolved into a confused and deeply questioning one, and by my late-twenties, when I realized it was all much darker and less spiritual than I’d originally believed, slipped away with little notice and no sirens or barking dogs in chase. Not so with some of my friends who were accosted and harassed, sometimes for years, but I escaped with little more than a recurring stream of phone calls, reams of unwanted mail, at least one uninvited visit, and still more phone calls as recently as last year. I wish I had agents as persistent!

The skinny on how I ended up there? A guy I was dating worked for Scientology and, like that girl who takes up surfing because her boyfriend surfs, gets a tattoo because he likes ink, or starts wearing thongs because he says “they’re sexy,” I got into Scientology because my boyfriend was a recruiter and said it would offer me eternal life. I was all about eternal life and he was damn cute…boom, I was in.

In all fairness to myself, I was between religions at the time, having shaken off the stern Catholicism I grew up with and found so counter to my evolving worldview and, despite my youth and somewhat shallow criteria, I held a depth of spiritual longing that was honest and real. I was in the market for a belief system that made sense, one that offered a more compassionate and less fearful philosophy of life, eternal or otherwise. So the enthusiastic and open arms of my boyfriend’s “mission” in Illinois seemed to make sense: lots of shiny happy people welcoming me into the fold, a learning system and “technology” that seemed fresh and intriguing, and, of course, the nobility of “clearing the planet.” At that point, there was little bad media stacked up; no Internet, no Tom Cruise or David Miscavige; no weird stories of glassy-eyed pontificants spouting about intergalactic wars, evil gods, exploding volcanoes, or billion year contracts. That came later. By then I was sidling on out.

I mention this background because I spent an enlightening morning last week with three long-time friends, all former Scientologists, watching Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie, The Master, at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. It was opening day and the place was packed; a palpable buzz could be felt, lots of anxious jostling in seats as if everyone was waiting for something huge and explosive. I have no doubt many there, like us, were former Scientologists wildly anticipatory of this big artistic take on L. Ron Hubbard and the beginnings of Scientology. Because, despite protestations to the contrary, that is the underlying inspiration for this movie.

I’ve seen most of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s films and have not liked them all equally. Magnolia was mad and maddening, Punch Drunk Love a warm, touching departure; There Will Be Blood just a big, ponderous mess to my way of thinking and it won Oscars, so what do I know?

The Master, while also ponderous, complex, intriguing and likely to win Oscars, stands out, however; a profound, artistic saga brought to seething life by performances so startling they stayed with me for days afterwards. Joaquin Phoenix creates a singularly stunning portrait of a mentally ill, violence and sex fixated World War 2 vet who stumbles upon the cult while escaping his inescapably troubled life, and that performance propels everything else forward with a fierceness and intensity that’s almost hard to watch at times. Meeting him on the playing field with an equally powerful performance is Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose depiction of the cult leader is not only chilling and many-layered, it’s a dead-on take of Mr. Hubbard, right down to the wide-collared shirts, Kool cigarettes, grinning arrogance, suggestions of seediness, and inviting yet manipulative certainty of his purpose and philosophy. These two actors, as well as the others involved, most notably Amy Adams and Laura Dern, create an insular, claustrophobic world of spiritual earnestness mixed with steely-eyed control, clear elitism, and certainly delusional thinking…just the sort of fucked up craziness known to anyone who’s ever been under that kind of tent at one point or another.

Is this the story of Scientology and L.Ron Hubbard? Not in name or detail, no. But in broad strokes, intention, in laying out the nascent, seedling efforts that grew into the billion dollar, billion year mega-theocracy it is today, yes. We recognized it. We recognized the jargon, the theories, the science fiction of it all. We remembered the drills and exercises, the “TRs” and “locationals.” We’d heard the speeches, some participated in the highly anticipated and often disappointing book launches. And while most of us never met L.Ron Hubbard in person, we all watched endless tapes of his smiling, jovial visage as he pontificated on his theories, philosophies, and dictates. Seymour Hoffman’s got him down, to an eerie similarity that was undeniable to those in the know. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Beyond its artistry – which is estimable – and its storytelling – which, though masterful, will likely be found by some to be long, puzzling, even boring at times – well dissects the anatomy of cults and how they succeed. Every cult taps into something being sought. Something longed for, wanted, desired; something that’s not being addressed or provided elsewhere. For some it’s desire for a spiritual path they have not yet found. For others, it’s to be saved, either physically, mentally, or spiritually. Many are looking for community and family, a sense of belonging. For most it’s about philosophy, the greater good, saving the world. Some are just seduced by someone else – the leader they saw on film, the speaker at a seminar, the friend who seems better than they were before, a recruiter who says all the right things; a boyfriend who’s racking up “stats.” Many are simply swept up in something they deem new and exciting, unaware of the nuances and underbelly that, later, they’ll find troubling. This was all well illustrated in the film; that sly identifying of those who will be vulnerable, receptive, and willing, followed by the slow, almost imperceptible capturing of their minds, hearts, and thoughts. By the time the crazy stuff comes around, they’re already in, deep enough to keep them there. Until they slip away barely noticed, leave with a big bang in a publicized letter, or ride off on a motorcycle into the sunset, as Joaquin’s character does.

I’ll see this film again; I want to view it unencumbered from the gasp-factor of every recognized element of Scientology and L.Ron Hubbard that crossed the screen. I do wonder how it hits people without some experience with Scientology. Will they find it so perplexing as to be incomprehensible, too arcane to make any sense? The reviews are a mixed bag and likely there is some of that confusion going on. But it is truly worthy of viewing, with a focused, open mind and a willingness to view something great in terms of its art and craft. And, beyond anything else, it is a master class from two of the finest actors in America today. They’ll be on the list of every award show coming up so you may as well bone up and get yourself educated before the opening number starts and the Oscar ballots are passed around!

LDW w glasses

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