I knew Scientology was in trouble when the media moved on from the usual silly gossip about its celebrity members to much darker, disturbing issues at the heart of the movement — issues, as I have come personally to understand, that actually matter.The niece of current Scientology leader David Miscavige talks about Scientology’s disconnection policy. See also: Niece of Top Scientology leader backs Cruise biography
After a Paris court last month convicted several Scientologists and two organisations associated with the movement in France of organised fraud, and amid other investigations in France looking at a suicide and an alleged abduction, Oscar-winning film-maker Paul Haggis, a long-time member, quit Scientology.
Haggis, who wrote and directed Crash, denounced the practice of “disconnection“, which sees members forced to cut off contact with anyone — even their loved ones — if they are deemed an enemy of Scientology.
In Edinburgh in the early 1990s, I found out just what the practice of disconnection could do to ordinary people when a close friend became involved in Scientology. It was an experience which marked me so profoundly that I have been tracking the movement ever since.
At first, I found it difficult to believe how anyone could fall for such nonsense, but when I started talking to former Scientology members in Scotland and beyond, I learned about the control mechanisms used inside the movement.
Newcomers underwent courses that included a powerful series of trance-inducing exercises that reduced one’s critical capacities, said ex-Scientologist Bonnie Woods.
“The degree of involvement doesn’t have to be long for there to be a pretty intensive desire to continue because of the nature of the techniques,” she warned.
I also learned how recruits were trained at a very early stage to reject negative information about the group, as it would only slow their path along “The Bridge To Total Freedom”.
Hannah’s story had a happy ending. When she eventually went home to visit her parents, they introduced her to a former associate of Hubbard who persuaded her to leave the movement. It took her a while to recover from the experience, but today she has a family and a successful career.
Over the years, however, I have talked to people who were not so lucky: to families who have had no word of their sons, daughters, brothers or sisters for years.
Some simply lost their loved ones to Sea Org, where holidays are promised but rarely delivered — and where members are often posted far from their homes and families.
Others received formal disconnection letters from family members caught up in the movement, officially informing them that they were no longer a part of the life of their son or daughter.
Former members have told me how they were ordered to disconnect from loved ones, or were themselves disconnected when they quit Scientology: some have lived both sides of the experience.
Paris-based journalist Jonny Jacobsen also runs the Infinite Complacency website covering allegations of violence and abuse in Scientology.
Need help escaping Scientology? See: Escape Scientology