BBC reporter John Sweeney apologises for losing his temper on tonight’s Panorama programme on Scientology. He talks about the 6 months of intensive research behind the film and what it was exactly that drove him to lose it:
This was a disaster.
I feel ashamed and, although I’ve been kicked around the Panorama office by the BBC, no one is more embarrassed about me losing it than me.
I let my team down and I apologised when it happened and I apologise again now.
However, to understand how I felt, you’ve got to spend six months investigating the Church of Scientology, then a whole week of continued contact with both its followers and its ex-followers, then spend 90 minutes inside an exhibition on mind control and then try to behave normally.
I felt as though I was losing my mind to them.
I wanted to make a documentary about the Church of Scientology because what they call their religion is expanding – it opened a £20million centre in London last year and it claims to have broken from what some feel is a sinister past.
So my mission was to find out whether or not Scientology had cleaned up its act.
As soon as we flew to America, strange things began to happen. Our team was spied on by ten different strangers.
We once returned to our hotel room at midnight to find Tommy Davis, a top scientologist and friend of Tom Cruise, waiting for me – even though we hadn’t told them where we were staying – to berate me for talking to two people who’d left the church.
On another occasion, Davis invaded an interview I was conducting with a critic of Scientology, who they say is a sex pervert. Davis even read out his criminal record.
In total, we spent seven intense days filming scientologists and ex-Scientologists, during which time I felt they had been repeatedly pushing at my mental boundaries.
At the culmination of the week, we went to a gruesome scientology exhibition in Los Angeles called “Psychiatry: Industry of Death“.
It was the most disturbing exhibition I have ever been to.
For example, senior scientologist Jan Eastgate told me: “Psychiatry is the so-called science behind the Holocaust and euthanasia.
“The psychiatrists set up the whole euthanasia campaign in the concentration camps.
“They went into the concentration camps and they set it up, and they decided who was going to be killed.”
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted atWhat judges have to say about Scientology
Among the sickening exhibits were images of people having needles put through their eyeballs, having their brains operated on and undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, a controversial treatment for depression that involves inducing a seizure in the patient by passing a current through electrodes on their temples.
The place felt like a mock-up of a torture chamber.
Although I’ve often been on the side of those who say medicine can get things wrong, the idea that the whole discipline of psychiatry is meant to be a Nazi pseudo-science seems totally wrong – yet that’s what they wanted me to believe.
It was immensely disturbing and, yes, it made me feel angry and confused.
By the end of 90 minutes, I felt bombarded and unable to bear another single second of the pressure. It was so intense.
As a reporter, I’ve been in plenty of tough situations. I’ve worked in Chechnya twice and managed not to lose it.
This, however, was different. It was weird and intense and terrifying. It felt like an invasion of my mind. And I snapped.
The trigger was that we were talking about brainwashing. Tommy Davis had accused me, unfairly I felt, since he hadn’t heard the whole interview, of giving a critic of Scientology an easy time.
But the truth is that it was everything else that had gone before that had brought me to the stage where I made an animal outburst so unlike me that my wife and children say they didn’t recognise me when they saw it.
As soon as it happened, I caught the producer’s eye and she gave me a look that made me realise I’d behaved dreadfully.
Only that, but I’d walked straight into the giant elephant-trap they’d set up for me – and, in doing so, handed scientology a coup.
It didn’t stop there though. The strange events continued.
Three further incidents, after I returned to Britain, made me particularly uneasy.
First, a stranger knocked on our neighbour’s door and asked where I lived.
Then the day before my wedding, another person turned up at my mother-in-law’s home in Devon. A relative found her going through the post in the hallway of the block of flats.
When challenged, she claimed to be a friend of ours from Dawlish and said she wanted to send us a wedding present.
Neither my wife nor I have ever been to Dawlish, and we don’t know anyone who lives there either.
Then, in the middle of our wedding, which took place in a remote part of Cornwall, we realised there was a man hiding in the bushes who appeared to be taking pictures of us.
A wedding guest, who also happened to be the assistant producer on the Panorama programme, went to challenge him – but he jumped in a car and drove off.
Of course, he could have been a birdwatcher.
I can’t prove that scientology had anything to do with these things but it certainly seems odd.
Once again, I apologise for losing it but, in some ways, I think I got off lightly.
I ended up losing my voice – but not my mind.
The Church of Scientology has a documented, ongoing history of hate and harassment activities — unethical behavior that was condoned and encouraged by its founder, L. Ron Hubbard (a documented liar).
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