The Man Who Would Be Hubbard
Who was Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard? Not the gift to mankind Scientology says he was, says Jon Atack: not in any of the 22 different official versions he has come across - none of which match.
Quite apart from the internal discrepancies however, there is an even more fundamental gulf between these versions and the official record. The “Getting Clear” conference opened with an examination of the tall tales that Hubbard told about himself by the writers of two key books on the subject.
Conference co-organiser Jon Atack wrote A Piece of Blue Sky (1990) an expanded edition of which he recently reissued as Let’s Sell These People a Piece of Blue Sky. British journalist Russell Miller wrote Bare-Faced Messiah (1987), a biography of Hubbard that has also recently been reissued.
Jon Atack led the charge, pointing out that Hubbard’s own accounts of his life often contradicted each other. Those inconsistencies persisted even after his death he added. He had counted 22 official biographies, he said. “No two of them match.” More importantly, they did not correspond to the official record.
The simplest claims made about Hubbard in the numerous official hagiographies were false, said Atack: Hubbard could not have been a blood brother of the Blackfoot Indians for the simple reason that they did not have blood brothers. In any case, in a piece he wrote about his book Buckskin Brigades, Hubbard declared that he had learned out about the Blackfoot Pikuni from somebody who had actually met them.
Scientology’s tales of Hubbard’s journey to the east, of him walking through the “Western Hills of China… watching monks meditate” are equally fanciful, said Atack. His father took the family on a couple of holidays in the East: Hubbard’s journal entries from that period are a better indication of his views of the Chinese, said Atack.
Hubbard also claimed to have been a nuclear physicist; that his colleagues had gone on to be build the atomic bomb. His college report tells a different story. His grades in atomic physics show that he failed the course. Hubbard eventually dropped out of college.
Atack talked about how, after the war Hubbard got involved with Jack Parsons, a leading rocket scientist who was also a disciple of the English occult leader Aleister Crowley. They practiced a version of Crowley’s sex magic (or magick, as he used to call it) before Hubbard ran off with Parson’s girlfriend and several thousand dollars of his money. Later, Atack returned to this subject, underlining the heavy influence of Crowley’s writings in what eventually became Scientology.
Atack also shared the author profile on the back cover of one of the works of pulp fiction that Hubbard churned out in the post-war years: “His leisure hours are devoted to the study and practice of hypnotism…” reads the bio, published in 1947. Atack has long maintained that Hubbard incorporated hypnotic techniques into both Dianetics and its successor Scientology.
In a video recorded specially for the conference, Russell Miller spoke about his experience researching Bare-Faced Messiah. The project had originally started as a bid to track down Hubbard for Miller’s paper, The Sunday Times. Then, when he died, he decided to turn the material he had gathered into a book. (He worked closely with Jon Atack, who had already established himself as a leading researcher into the movement.)
“The fascinating thing is that almost everything the Church said about L Ron Hubbard was a lie,” said Miller. “Every time I tried to check a fact about L Ron Hubbard’s life it turned out to be a lie.”
His claim to have grown up on a ranch; to have been breaking broncos when he was a child; to have been a blood brother of the Blackfoot Indians – all turned out to be false. As for his claim to have been the youngest Eagle Scout in the US, that was unverifiable because the Boy Scouts of America don’t keep such records.
“Again and again and again, it was one lie, after another lie, after another lie,” Miller recalled. He even appeared to have been trying out his lies in his diary. “I’ll tell you a secret, I was born on Friday the 13th,” the young Hubbard once wrote. But he wasn’t, said Miller: he was born on a Monday.
The Church had said he was a war hero who had served in all five theatres of war. Miller got hold of his entire record via the US Freedom of Information Act. That made it clear that far from being a war hero “he was a malingering coward who did his best to avoid action.”
Scientology has since said that his naval record had been “sheep-dipped” to cover his true record as an undercover hero. (They got a former U.S. intelligence officer Fletcher Prouty to make a declaration to that effect.) But if that had been done, Miller argued, they would have replaced the true record with something completely anodyne. “Instead, the record is full of the problems he created and officers saying he is not fit for duty…” not to mention the letters from tailors claiming for unpaid bills.
Once in a live television debate with Scientologists, Miller challenged them to produce the true record, but they never did. And he never doubted for one minute he had the real McCoy, he said, adding: “His true record is a disgrace.”
(More recently, Scientology sent Pulitzer-prizewinner Lawrence Wright their version of Hubbard’s military record when he was researching an article on the movement for New Yorker magazine. Wright showed the document supplied by Davis to a veteran researcher at the National Archives, who concluded it was a forgery. Wright went on to write Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, a critically acclaimed book which formed the basis for Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney’s recent documentary of the same name.)
Miller, like Atack, also talked about the harassment he had suffered while working on his book. Both men were denounced by persons unknown for crimes they had nothing to do with; and both discovered that a private detective was going around asking friends and neighbours questions about them. Miller recalled how PIs tracked down practically everyone he knew in the US to ask questions about him – and he knew a lot of people there, he said.
Both men had to fight long legal battles to get their books out. Miller said they won in every country except in the United States, where the publisher eventually said the action was costing too much. And even those copies that did get to libraries started disappearing, until the librarians put them on special issue only. Leaflets kept appear in the book denouncing it.
“I was amazed at the extent to which they fought,” said Miller. (I’ve written about Atack’s legal battle here.)
“I stand by the book. It was the most deeply researched book I have ever done,” said Miller. He did his homework because he knew what was coming. And when they did sue him, it was never to challenge the truth of what he had written but on copyright or other technical issues, he added.
The reissued edition of the book has been selling in the United States without problems, he said.
Update for full disclosure: Since I was presenting a paper at the conference and would not have been able to make it over otherwise, the organizers agreed to cover some of my hotel expenses.
Illustrations courtesy of Jon Atack, from his presentation.
Next up: What are your Crimes?