Scientology's Recruitment Film: The Version They Don't Want You to See
On Sunday, we wrote about our trip to Scientology's New York "org." We were invited inside to see a short movie about the origin of L. Ron Hubbard's 1950 book, Dianetics.
An alert reader noticed that a film fitting our description could be found on YouTube and brought it to our attention. Yes! This is the opening of the movie we saw, with one very important difference -- this is an older version starring Michael Fairman, who defected from Scientology last year. In the movie we saw, Fairman had been edited out and replaced with another actor, but everything else looked the same. By magic, Fairman had been made an un-person, just like in those old Soviet newspapers!
We've written about Fairman several times before. He's one of our favorite ex-Scientologists, a well known character actor who's a lot of fun to talk to, and who made a very dramatic exit from the church he had belonged to for decades.
Fairman in Firefly
(Fairman is often cited as a long-running member of the soap opera The Young and the Restless. But for me, he'll always be the consummate villain Adelai Niska from the Firefly series. As he pointed out to me earlier, he's also constantly reminded that he was the "Penske File" guy from a memorable episode of Seinfeld.)
I told Michael that I'd seen the movie "The Story of Book One" at the New York org, and that he appeared to have been replaced in it.
"They've replaced me in all the films," he says, and he listed a few that he'd done over the years.
"I did that one about the origin of Dianetics. It used to play on a loop at the big LRH exhibit here in Hollywood," he says.
In the movie, Fairman introduces himself as the narrator of the story.
I'd like to tell you a magnificent story. One in which I played a small part. About a book that became a phenomenon. The book is Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health, by L. Ron Hubbard.
But the part I played began in the dockyards of Greenpoint, in Brooklyn, New York many years ago.
[Picking up an object.] This hook is a longshoreman's hook.
The movie then flashes back to a dock scene from the late 1940s. A man is injured in a work accident, his leg nearly severed on a hook. But then, simply by talking to a red-haired man whose face we never see, he comes to realize that the only thing keeping his leg from healing is his own mind.
After the movie started showing at Scientology orgs a few years ago, Fairman says Scientologists would come up to him, marveling that he was the man whose leg had been saved by Hubbard in the late 1940s.
"Yeah, I'm the guy. I'm 90 years old," he says with a laugh.
(The actor they replaced Fairman with in the version of the movie I saw looks like he can't be 60, making the effect even stranger.)
I have to admit, when I was ushered into the org last week and found myself watching this goofy film, I was tempted to pull out my camera and record it. But I thought it was a good idea to be on my best behavior in case the org workers raised a stink.
Judging by the quality of this YouTube clip, someone else had the same idea, and recorded this on a smartphone. The quality isn't great, but it's good enough to preserve the movie's best effect: Geoffrey Lewis chewing up scenery as one of Ron's pals.
In the best scene, Ron's three buds are marveling over the mail pouring in over Hubbard's yet-to-be-published Dianetics theories (with LRH sitting there, saying nothing, which of course the real Hubbard could never do). We're told that these friends include an "editor, a doctor, and a research engineer."
Make sure you savor the acting chops on the "doctor" as he says the following:
Ron, in all my years of medical practice, I never once realized just how important the mind was for resolving injuries and illnesses. Now it all seems so obvious. Oh, Dianetics, it...it's fantastic.
And then Geoffrey Lewis chimes in. I guess he's supposed to be the "research engineer"...
Well, I've seen a lot of theories in my business, and I'll tell you, Ron, nothing comes close to this, and it's because your procedures actually work.
Gosh, with friends like that, how could Ron not publish his masterpiece?
Eric Gorski Exposes Applied Scholastics in Colorado
In June, a few days before the celebrity divorce tsunami hit, the Denver Post's Eric Gorski showed how Scientology had played Denver's police chief Robert White like a violin.
Scientology leader David Miscavige flew into town to open an "Ideal Org" there, and the usual routine calls for some local politicians to show up, gladhand the crowd, and say some flattering things about Scientology -- which they clearly know little or nothing about.
Using public records requests, Gorski showed that White allowed Scientology to write his prepared words, including gushing praise.
Now, Gorski has another eye-opening piece about the way Scientology has played the state of Colorado, as well.
Since 2008, three Colorado public school districts have given more than $150,000 in federal money to Applied Scholastics to provide tutoring to nearly 120 students, a Denver Post review found.
Applied Scholastics is a Scientology front group that pushes its "Study Tech" on unsuspecting school districts (and in this case, an entire state's Education Department), pretending that it has no ties to the church.
In fact, as Carnegie Mellon University president Dave Touretzky explains to Gorski, Study Tech is designed to condition young kids in the ways that Scientologists think:
David Touretzky, a Carnegie Mellon University research professor who has written critically of Scientology, describes study technology as covert religious instruction.
He said terms in the tutoring also are found in Scientology, including "misunderstood words." Hubbard taught that failing to grasp the meaning of one word in a passage can completely upend learning, causing students to feel "blank" or "washed out."
"They are setting the stage for kids to be good little compliant Scientologists," Touretzky said. "The whole point is to get to where they can say, 'Look, the state of Colorado is paying us to use Scientology tech.' It's all about legitimizing Hubbard and the church."
Gorski shows that relatively few students were actually tutored under the program, and Applied Scholastics is already on a sort of probation because an audit found that the kids who used it didn't show improvements in their learning.
Ineffective. Dishonest about its connections to Scientology. A stealth campaign to legitimize Hubbard. Why is it so hard for school districts and education departments to enter the words "Applied Scholastics" in the Google and figure this stuff out before falling for this time and again?
Jonny Jacobsen Takes Apart the Headley Appeal
Last month, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Scientology had not violated human trafficking laws in regards to two former church members, Marc and Claire Headley.
We noted the decision at the time, and asked for the opinions of several observers.
But now, one of our favorite Scientology researchers, Jonny Jacobsen, has put together a meticulous and fascinating evaluation of the Headleys' lawsuit and the appellate court's decision.
Jacobsen interviewed the Headleys' original attorney on the case, Barry Van Sickle, and his explanation of its background really helps explain how the case fared as it did.
Van Sickle raises very interesting questions about the appellate court's decision and sympathizes with former Sea Org members who found it to be a "sanitized" version of what the hardcore Scientology corps is really like.
On the other hand, he points out that as sanitized as it is, the description of Sea Org life in the court's opinion isn't going to be something the church can put on billboards.
More and more Scientologists are quitting the movement, many of them are speaking out, and the ugly truth about Scientology is spreading further into the mainstream media.
"Even as bad as it is for plaintiffs, the Headley opinion is hardly a recruiting tool for Scientology," said Van Sickle.
Scientology's president and the death of his son: our complete coverage
What Katie is saving Suri from: Scientology interrogation of kids
Scientology's new defections: Hubbard's granddaughter and Miscavige's dad
Scientology's disgrace: our open letter to Tom Cruise
Scientology crumbling: An entire mission defects as a group
Scientology leader David Miscavige's vanished wife: Where's Shelly?
Neil Gaiman, 7, Interviewed About Scientology by the BBC in 1968
The Master Screenplay: Scientology History from Several Different Eras
And a post that pulls together the best of our Scientology reporting
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Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.