If, as is claimed to prospective members, Scientology is the “only major religion to have emerged in the 20th century,” then it is currently experiencing a growing pain common to all religions entering adolescence: The schism. David Miscavige, the slick little salesman who took over the Church of Scientology after the death of noted junkie and fugitive L. Ron Hubbard, has lately been accused of abusing his underlings and lying to his flock to obfuscate his own failures as a spiritual leader. Scientologists around the world are breaking off from the official Church, claiming that it has “strayed from the original philosophy and purpose of the group which Hubbard first researched and developed."
But some ex-Scientologists have less regard for the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard. One of them is Aaron Saxton, a New Zealander who spent eight years — from his mid-teens through his early 20s — as part of Scientology’s elite paramilitary corps, Sea Org. Read on to learn his thoughts on Independent Scientologists, Sea Org, violence, coerced abortion, rape, false imprisonment, and the many other delights allegedly awaiting those who take seriously L. Ron Hubbard’s declaration that “your search is over, but the adventure has just begun.”
Aaron Saxton was born into The Church of Scientology in 1974 and left it in 2006. In the intervening years, he says, he tried coercing female Sea Org members into undergoing abortions, falsely imprisoned his fellows in the Church, both witnessed and engaged in the psychological abuse of children, and was denied even routine medical treatment. (He has alleged that he was once forced to remove his own teeth without anesthesia.)
Since Saxton went public in 2009, the Church of Scientology has apparently initiated a smear campaign against his character, and generally set about making his life miserable. But that hasn’t kept him from being heard. His accusations have brought him considerable renown in both his native country and in Australia, where he has found a sympathetic audience in Senator Nick Xenophon, who paired Saxton’s claims with those of other ex-Scientologists and read them into that country’s parliamentary record.
The world is full of ex-Scientologists, but few claim to have been so highly ranked in the Church, and few have been able to offer glimpses into the weird world of the Sea Org. Perhaps it is telling that lower-ranking Scientologists tend to remember their former church more fondly than Saxton does. It was a New York Times story profiling such mild apostates that inspired Saxton to give us the final go-ahead to publish this interview, after many weeks during which Saxton weighed the pros and cons of risking further exposure, publicity, and Scientological wrath by releasing his story to the JREF. The NYT story doesn’t go far enough, says Saxton. It lends credence to the notion that the problems now facing Scientology are organizational rather than doctrinal, and that Scientology can be a vibrant, positive religion if released from the control of David Miscavige and his minions. Saxton maintains that this is not the case: Scientology is rotten from its roots. The schism, though understandable, is doomed.
Scientology might be the most jargon-y religion in the world. Its members are conversant with dozens of strange words and acronyms that would be meaningless to those outside the Church, and Aaron Saxton still uses many of them. In transcribing this interview we translated as much of the jargon as possible, and decoded most of the obscure acronyms. (For example: Saxton never said “Religious Technology Center”; he said “RTC.”) Even with the decoding, parts of the interview can be hard-going. Stick with it, and try to pick up the meanings from context. We hope the interview proves illuminating.
– BKT, PB
Swift: How do you feel the Times story is biased toward the Scientologists?
Aaron Saxton: A new Scientology [as discussed in the story] is not really possible, as it was flawed from the beginning and cannot ever withstand the rigorous testing of science. This is why L. Ron Hubbard created a religion after Dianetics — which was called a “modern science of mental health.” He was asked for proof and could provide no solid evidence to back his claims. Thus, he started a religion, which under the protections of faith could not be questioned. The Scientologists that are currently dissatisfied with the Church are tending to shift the blame towards the current management, when in fact all activities of management are as per L. Ron Hubbard policy. The real issue is that the true nature of Hubbard’s policies is coming to light and it is creating a PR scandal. Therefore, the only scapegoat available, if not Hubbard himself, is the current management.
Briefly, what is the Sea Org?
The Sea Organization is the super-cult of this century. Totally different from being an ordinary Scientologist, this is a paramilitary unit created on the sea by L. Ron Hubbard. Dedicated staff believe that this sector of the universe suffered a terrible tragedy 75 million years ago and believe that Earth must be “cleared” — meaning all persons on the planet must undergo Scientology processing. After which it is their intention to travel to other planets to free other beings. It is their belief that Earth is part of a galactic confederacy that consists of 26 stars with 76 inhabited planets. It is believed that Earth has been zoned as a prison planet where the worst criminals and non-conformists are sent. So the Sea Org now runs Scientology under the founder’s directions. As a paramilitary unit, it evokes a theme of heavy discipline and an array of policies that do not fit in with the Church’s stated goals of serving mankind and allowing human rights to be given to all people. In fact, many policies of the Sea Org strip away these rights. The billion-year contract the Sea Org crew sign is not a religious example of faith, but, as per L. Ron Hubbard, it is estimated the planets in all will take a billion years to run through Scientology processing. While such claims are easily shown to be false, one should heed what a group of people with such beliefs are capable of if they see their beliefs as facts and anyone who opposes them as enemies.
What was your role in the Sea Org? How long were you a part of it, and what year did you leave?
I was involved in the Sea Org from 1989 through to 1996. From 1996 to late 1997 I secretly worked for the Sea Org while appearing to be a member of the public. My role in there was primarily as an enforcer over what is known as The Commodore’s Messengers — the police management which runs Scientology. I policed the police.
How widespread is the Sea Org across the globe?
It is difficult to tell. Membership has been as high as 8,000. With the policy in place of having some Sea Org crew not identify themselves as such, the figure is hard to estimate. But I would put it at about 5,000 currently. It does not sound like a lot, but when you consider each of these people put in over 100 working hours per week, the amount of manpower they can throw at projects really boggles the mind.
What kinds of projects would they undertake?
Typically, important projects that involve tackling PR-related issues only occur at Office of Special Affairs International, the L Ron Hubbard Personal Relations Office or at Commodore’s Message Organization International, and Religious Technology Center located at International Management level. The type of projects undertaken would be to identify persons and groups behind attacks on Scientology, ascertain their whereabouts, launch private investigations against them or their companies and design press releases or local actions to discredit them. In addition to this, other large projects such as the acquisition of land or property overseas or handling investments and returns from monies kept offshore — [these projects] typically take place on board the Freewinds, and all such projects involve top management.
Can you list the crimes or immoral acts you've been involved in, or witnessed, as a Sea Org member?
Some of the crimes involved other Sea Org members. The most notable crimes were the releasing of private information to the public on people we wanted blacklisted. Rapes of underage Sea Org Children were covered up. There were instances where Scientologists, as part of checking their qualifications, revealed true crimes against other civilians, such as theft, child molestation and even murder. At a price, such crimes were never divulged to the police unless the person went against Scientology. I think my most reprehensible act was requesting abortions and punishing young Sea Org members between the ages of 13 and 17 for petty crimes, making them feel very guilty and issuing severe punishments that should not be given to a human being.
You’ve said you helped brainwash children. What was the procedure for doing so?
Young children are taken into the SO — they are usually the children of SO members. Indoctrination starts at the age of four. Education is concentrated on very little and L. Ron Hubbard’s works are forced as the major reading. By the time the child is eight, they are pretty well convinced the SO is the only real thing that can save man; they believe in past lives and reject psychology and other practices as being false and evil. They see little of their families and do not learn family values. By the time they are 13 they are well prepared to commit to their duty to serve mankind for life. They have no sports, no other tendencies. The only thing they really know is Scientology.
You said you would make young Sea Org members feel guilty and issue them punishments. What methods would you use to make the kids feel so guilty? Was there a codified system of psychological torture and intimidation, and if so, what did it entail? Or were officers free to make up their own techniques? If so, what techniques did you employ?
Techniques were at the discretion of the executive, but typically they followed a common theme. Hard labor is often used, and can vary from general cleaning to intensive labor — such as handling sewage without protection. To make a person feel guilty all one needs to do is show a person how they could have prevented an infraction from taking place. This is easily done with L. Ron Hubbard’s materials, as at every corner it is made clear you are responsible for anything that happens around you, regardless of whether you are or not.
Other punishments would include being segregated from other SO members, not being allowed to talk to them or contact your family outside of the SO. Yelling is often used to introvert the person, and to show a child how his actions are commonplace in evil societies — and that, in effect, the child is as bad as [the people in those societies]. By introverting such a person, you make them willing do anything to gain acceptance and approval, even if such a punishment were to be to disconnected from their family forever.
Another form of brainwashing and training is to give the children authority to tell adults what to do. Once they feel they can control adults, they feel that they are safe and will often hold onto that state of mind. Such a state of mind can be seen in David Miscavige, who never really stopped being a dictator from an early age.
Techniques also included assignment of “lower conditions,” where the person was told they were enemies or traitors to themselves and to Scientology. The threat of losing those who you considered friends was ever-present. Children, once broken with such treatment, clearly see themselves as the source of any trouble and try to avoid receiving any punishment by being compliant to orders, regardless of the recklessness of those orders. Children are reminded that they are as responsible as adults and their failures are the results of failing to recognize that they are adults and spirits that have been around for as long as anyone else.
Also, I know several examples of child molestation and sexual assault with Scientology children where the incidents were covered up. In all cases, the child feels they allowed [the molestation] to happen, and their Scientology or Sea Org parents often agree with them. They see themselves as instigators, not victims. Once installed with this as punishment, they will never tell the police or others, as they feel they are revealing their own crimes.
Can you detail an instance of rape being covered up?
In 1992 or 1993 in Florida a young recruit was in Commodore’s Messenger Org, Clear Water. She was 14 at the time — possibly just turning 14, actually. Two other trainees from Mexico, ages 16 and 18, took her and sexually assaulted her at the same time. Upon discovery the staff were let go, but to cover up the incident and to make sure she did not feel like she could go to the police, we subjected her to eight weeks hard labor and made it clear she had been responsible for it occurring. I deeply regret ordering such a thing to be done. At the time, however, I was of the belief that the image of the Sea Org and Scientology was more important.
Can you detail an instance of false arrest?
In 1995, on St. Valentine’s Day, 15 staff from the organization that dealt with the Computer Network of Scientology were held captive in Los Angeles against their will. They were not permitted to leave. Doors were bolted. Guards were posted with express orders to refuse anyone wishing to leave. The people involved for a period of between 30-60 days were confined to working quarters with no windows, no outside communication, and no phone calls. Communication amongst themselves was permitted. They were taken by guards for two-minute showers once a day. All food was taken to them within their confined quarters, and some never saw daylight for many weeks at a time. This was thoroughly condoned at multiple levels of the SO, and no one raised alarms. Many of the staff involved suffered mental breakdowns, which was the goal. Most staff were replaced and then sent out of the SO with no money, or placed into the penal colony we had for degraded SO members.
Why were these personnel locked up in the first place?
In January, 1995, a security breach was detected whereby information relating to Scientology’s future purchases and financial records were removed and sent out via modem. As a result, the entire staff was locked down. We knew already who the perpetrator was, however we pretended not to know in order to source out any others that may have the same idea to sabotage Scientology, and also to allow our computer tracking programs to locate other external sources of potential hacks. Scientologists working at Executive Software International and other freelance computer masterminds worked in association with the Religious Technology Center and the management to coordinate a “honey pot” capture technique and also infect any hackers with viruses, so that not only could we obtain the people attempting to hack, but also the email addresses of everyone they knew. The staff at INCOMM were all treated as criminals. Even when proven innocent, they were informed that the reason for the betrayer not being spotted by them was because they were out ethics and they deserved punishments.
Can you explain an instance of forced abortion?
There are numerous incidents over the history of the SO. Of all the people I asked to abort, none factually did. One of my seniors, though, was asked by her senior to abort and did so in 1995.
What's the role of violence in Scientology?
Violence does not play a part in Scientology and few Scientologists commit acts of violence. In the Sea Org, however, mental torture is the rule of the game. Occasionally physical violence is used. I have been physically attacked by another senior SO member and I have witnessed staff being thrown around on several occasions. It is always by seniors and they are always protected.
Were there cases of violent abuse?
I am not aware of violent abuses wherein severe physical harm ever came to an SO member. One has to keep in mind that mental torture can leave more scars than a physical attack. As an example, I have suffered physical injuries, but I have nightmares about the time I was locked up for weeks and interrogated for 12 hours a day. That left and created more damage than anything physical I have experienced.
The Sea Org is notorious for its penal colonies. Where are they located? Can you list one or two specific locations?
The Pacific Base in Los Angeles, often referred to as Big Blue, is one of the largest. There is another one located in Sydney, and in the UK as well. These penal colonies are just that. I was in one of them myself and can only describe it as cruel and unusual punishment.
Who is put in them?
SO members that start to have free minds are typically placed in them. Anyone who is rebellious to management. The hope is to bring them back into line before they go fully free in their minds and try to leave the SO. Some people can be in there for up to 5 years. You are only allowed out when you are fully compliant and do whatever it is you are told to do.
You've referred to the camps as slave colonies. What are conditions like in the camps? To what degree can freedom be restricted for prisoners?
The conditions are terrible. Beyond imagination. Labor is carried out every conscious moment, beyond several hours of study every day. You must run, not walk. You cannot initiate a conversation until spoken to first. Punishments are handed out for anything, almost. You cannot see your family but a few hours each week, and you are subjected to cramped living conditions, wearing only black uniforms. Your status is depicted with armbands. It is a most uncomfortable state of living that no one in their right mind would subscribe to unless they felt they had no choice.
You said you were locked up for weeks and interrogated for 12 hours per day. Why?
When I returned from a secret mission to the Ship where my identity as a Sea Org member was hidden, I came into sensitive knowledge. Upon my return I attempted to take a break to allow my body to repair itself from the stress it was undergoing. It was thought I perhaps had gone to see the government, or other groups working against Scientology. To teach me a lesson for [purportedly] trying to leave I was locked up for a week, sleep-deprived, and interrogated by up to four different people a day. I would sleep with people outside my door to prevent me from leaving again. I also went through a process designed to numb a person into submission and destroy their desires to fight back against things they saw as wrong. It worked for some time, and I was certainly deflated as a human.