Scientology Nation: L. Ron Hubbard’s otherworldly salvation plan erupts on Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation
Scientologists claim that they do not worship L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of their ‘religion’.
Nevertheless, the organization goes to great lengths to highlight his alleged achievements — many of which have been debunked by Scientology watchers, cult experts and other researchers.
Each major Scientology mission has an office set aside for Hubbard, awaiting his return. His portrait or bust can be found in most Scientology offices. Press releases and official Scientology websites speak in glowing terms of the man and his ideas.
Others are less impressed:
Hubbard, the man who created Scientology in 1952, has an unusual CV for a religious and spiritual leader. As well as being a writer, he was a congenital liar: quite simply a “charlatan”.
That was the view of a High Court judge in 1984, who said Hubbard’s theories were “corrupt, sinister and dangerous”.
For instance, when it became known that Will Smith’s private school will be using Scientology’s so-called ‘study tech’ — teaching methods developed by Hubbard — denied any connection to Scientology.
But critics contend that the school is not being honest about its links to Scientology. David S. Touretzky, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, created a website that dissects study technology and asserts that it is Scientology religion disguised as education.
Touretzky said many phrases and concepts on the school’s website are specific to Scientology. For example, the school lists a “Director of Qualifications” and another teacher who is an assistant in the “Qual” department. The “Qual,” said Touretzky, is where people who have completed a Scientology counseling, or “auditing,” session or a course in the Church of Scientology are tested by a qualifications teacher.
“There is no reputable educator anywhere who endorses [study technology],” said Touretzky, a critic of Scientology. “What happens is that children are inculcated with Scientology jargon and are led to regard L.R. Hubbard as an authority figure. They are laying the groundwork for later bringing people into Scientology.”
Comes now a story from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, USA.
Running Crane says she has been sober for 21 years. She’s tried to improve her community, she says, by talking to people about Christianity and 12-step programs, the things that helped her get away from drugs and alcohol.
She’s seen little impact. But on one recent night, Running Crane was excited about a new possibility for helping her people: Scientology, and the books, ideas and alcohol- and drug-treatment programs developed by the religion’s controversial founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
“I think our reservation lost a lot of its morals and values, and I think this would be a way to bring happiness back to the reservation,” she says.
Running Crane isn’t the only one forming a connection to Scientology. Emissaries connected to the religion and to Narconon, a nonprofit drug treatment and education program affiliated with Scientology, have been making inroads on the reservation throughout the past year. Scientologists have offered free seminars and all-expenses-paid retreats at a luxurious Scientology center near Los Angeles. They’ve also sent boxes of Hubbard’s books to several tribal members working at Crystal Creek Lodge, the only drug-treatment center on the reservation. The center uses 12-step programs common to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon. (Narconon, despite its similar name, is not connected with any 12-step program.)
In February, the Scientology emissaries were at the center of an even more surprising exchange in Browning. They secured for Hubbard one of the tribe’s highest honors: a Blackfeet war bonnet, typically awarded to war heroes. Now, the L. Ron Hubbard Museum in Hollywood, Calif., has a Blackfeet war bonnet, too.
The story of Hubbard and the Blackfeet is one that’s been told for years. According to official Scientology biographies, Hubbard, born in 1911, spent a short time on his grandparents’ Kalispell ranch when he was a boy. During that time, he claimed to have befriended a Blackfeet medicine man named “Old Tom” who taught him tribal lore and made him a “blood brother” in a special ceremony.
Parts of Hubbard’s biography don’t hold up under scrutiny, according to historians and researchers. Tribal enrollment records from that era contain no “Old Tom,” historians say. Christian names were not used among the Blackfeet of that time period, and the Blackfeet never had a blood-brother ceremony.
Other parts of Hubbard’s life story invite similar skepticism. Navy records belie Hubbard’s claims to having been a World War II hero; school records belie his claim to being a nuclear physicist. Hubbard’s chief verifiable accomplishments appear to be the dozens of Westerns, science-fiction and other novels he wrote.
Narconon teaches that drug residue accumulates in body fat and remains there indefinitely, tempting the former addict to use again.
According to Narconon, addicts can remove drugs from their fat through saunas and a vitamin regimen that’s similar to a Scientology practice known as “the purification rundown.”
Narconon has claimed this treatment method has a 70 to 80 percent success rate; the average drug treatment program success rate, by comparison, is much less.
Medical experts have repeatedly argued against Narconon’s basic physiology. No significant amount of drug residue is stored in fat for any length of time and whatever minute amounts do exist in fat cannot be sweated out, they say.
A series of 2004 articles in the San Francisco Chronicle about the use of Narconon in public school drug-education efforts led California to study the program in 2005. Ultimately, a panel of scientists advised the schools to kick Narconon out, stating that the program’s methodology “does not reflect accurate, widely accepted medical and scientific evidence.” Narconon’s allegedly high success rates, critics say, have not been verified in peer-reviewed, independent studies.
Running Crane and other tribal members embracing Scientology are not deterred. Despite the headlines Scientology and Narconon have generated over the years, they say they were only dimly aware of any of controversies until recently.
Larry Ground says he didn’t know much about Narconon or Scientology until this February, when his old friend, Patricia Devereaux, Running Crane’s niece, showed up at his Browning home with American Indian actor Saginaw Grant. They wanted Ground’s assistance in honoring Hubbard—who died in 1986—with a posthumous Blackfeet war bonnet.
The war bonnet is one of the most sacred honors the tribe gives. “You have to do something very outstanding to receive one of those war bonnets,” Wagner says. They can only be bestowed by certain tribal elders, and the elders must get permission from the tribe’s chief.
Ground says he was able to find elders through the Crazy Dog Society who, he says, could legitimately do the ceremony. “It’s an honor that is bestowed upon people that made great efforts, that save lives, that take care of people.”
Ultimately, Ground says, members of the Crazy Dog Society decided to award a war bonnet to Hubbard because of Narconon’s positive influence on Devereaux’s life and because of Hubbard’s alleged relationship (as Scientology presents it) with the Blackfeet.
In February, a bonnet was presented to Devereaux, on Hubbard’s behalf. The event in Browning was glowingly described in a press release distributed by Galaxy Press, a business branch of Scientology that publishes Hubbard’s novels.
“Amidst the steady beat of tribal drums and ceremonial chants of Montana’s Blackfeet Indians,” the press release states, “leaders of that proud nation recently honored their blood brother and champion, L. Ron Hubbard, with the Blackfeet Indian war bonnet, the highest honor that can be received for any person.”
When first interviewed for this story, Blackfeet Tribal Chief Earl Old Person seemed doubtful the war-bonnet ceremony had even taken place.
“I haven’t heard of that,” he said.
But, by April 10, he had heard about it, and he wasn’t happy.
“They’re not given that right to transfer a war bonnet,” he said. “Those people don’t have the right to do it. You’ve got to be given authority to do it.”
A document from the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejects the notion that L. Ron Hubbard was “adopted” by the Blackfeet Nation, noting that the agency has “no record of such an action.”
Besides, there’s no such thing as a posthumous war-bonnet ceremony, he added. “The person’s got to be present,” he said.
There are only a few elders who can transfer war bonnets, Old Person said, including himself. He said he’d asked Devereaux to come talk to him about correcting the situation. Scientology and Narconon, he said, “really need to come to us. Talk to the people that have some authority.”
Steven Kent, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta who also studies cults, believes polishing Hubbard’s image may be one aim, and winning recruits might be another. “The ideal achievement is to get a person to graduate from a Narconon program and continue with Scientology programs,” Kent says.
John Goodwin of Galaxy Press, which publishes Hubbard’s books, says he, for one, wrote the press release about the ceremony to help promote Galaxy’s summer 2008 re-release of many of Hubbard’s Western novels, including Buckskin Brigades, a 1937 novel about the Blackfeet.
But Devereaux wants to make it clear the ceremony was not a public-relations stunt to sell more books. She says the idea to try to secure a war bonnet for Hubbard was hers alone.
“The reason I did it is because I know that L. Ron Hubbard’s tech saved my life, and I know that this man is a great leader, that he saved the lives of not only me, but many other people,” she says. “And not only that, he is Blackfeet, because he was brought in by a medicine man by the name of Old Tom.”
It might be easy to think the Blackfeet caught up in Scientology have been swayed by the glamour of Hollywood or by expert persuasion, and free books and promises. But, considering the problems on the reservation—and the fact that Ground, Running Crane and the others don’t see any other organization rushing in to help them—it’s perhaps not surprising that they would at least give the religion a try.
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