Brainwashing in Scientology's Rehabilitation Force (RPF) - Part 3
by Dr. Stephen A. Kent
E. Sleeping Conditions
Beyond these real and immediate issues related to hygiene and medical care, many people spoke about issues related to sleep. They complained (in retrospect) about their sleeping conditions--the conditions of the mattresses; ventilation in the rooms; crowded conditions; and inappropriate sleeping areas. From different times and different locations, people spoke about the deplorable condition of the mattresses on which they had to sleep. Remembering the circumstances for sleeping on the Apollo, Dale recounted that "we were given mattresses but the mattresses we were given were old, filthy mattresses that... had to be cleaned up.... A lot of them smelled..." (Kent Interview with Dale, 1997: 6). Reflecting on her period of grueling work shifts, Pat recalled that "when our thirty hours were up we'd get to sleep. We would go to the roof of one of the buildings where it was cold and there were these damp, disgusting mattresses that we would just fall onto and sleep" (Kent Interview with Pat, 1997a: 26).
Mattresses frequently rested either on the ground or the floor. When, for example, Robert Vaughn Young was in isolation in a converted chicken coop on the Gilman Hot Springs property, he indicated that "there were some old mattresses that g[o]t thrown down on the floor. You know, you talk about a crash pad..." (Kent Interview with Young, 1994: 20; see A. Tabayoyon, 1994: 9 [para. # 35]). Adelle Hartwell was at one of the Indio facilities at the same time that her daughter was there in the RPF. Someone in charge of the RPF (presumably) put the mattresses of the RPF people outside, and around the same time the daughter fell ill. "During the heat of the day I would see her moving her mattress from one shady spot to another to try and keep out of the blazing sun and 115 degree heat. I have never seen illness treated this way" (Hartwell, n.d.: 3). Like the sick daughter, Vicki Aznaran may have meant that her mattress was not on a frame when she stated that she and others were made to "sleep on the ground" (Aznaran and Aznaran, 1988: 11). Certainly accounts from the Fort Harrison RPF indicated that people slept on mattresses strewn on the floor, usually in cramped, poorly ventilated rooms (Armstrong, 1982: 3; Nefertiti, 1997: 12; Rosenblum, n. d.: 3; Whitfield, 1989: 5). Ventilation was so bad the first time that Monica Pignotti was on the Apollo's RPF that "we slept out on the decks on towels because it was so stuffy down there [in the RPF] and it was really horrendous conditions..." (Kent Interview with Pignotti, 1997: 18).
Even when RPF members had beds or bunks, significant problems remained. While in an RPF program on a ship, "Wollersheim and others were forced to sleep in the ship's hold. A total of thirty people were stacked nine high in the hold without proper ventilation" (California Court of Appeal, 1989: 9274). At the Fort Harrison, Dennis Erlich and other RPF inmates slept in bunks on the third floor of the outdoor parking structure that adjoins the hotel, so they inhaled exhaust fumes from cars (Kent Interview with Erlich, 1997: 3). Apparently the women's sleeping facilities were nearby, because Anne Rosenblum wrote that:
[i]n December, 1978, we were moved to a storage area in the garage. It was a partly wooden, partly cement, enclosure built against one of the garage walls. It was built to be a storage area, but as the RPF grew so large, it was made the RPF's girl's sleeping area. Wooden bunks were built, that were about 1/2 to 1/3 the size of a regular twin bed. The bunks were built 3 and 4 stacks high, and were put in there side-by-side. Our 'mattresses' were pieces of foam cut to fit the bunks. It was like crawling into a hole to get into bed. You couldn't even sit up because of the bunk above you, and it was difficult to try to turn over because they weren't wide enough. The worst problem was that being in the garage, we inhaled all the car fumes when cars would go through, in addition to the noise of cars that [people taking courses] and staff would make driving in and out (Rosenblum, n. d.: 3).
It seems remarkable that health, zoning, or safety inspectors never discovered these inappropriate sleeping quarters at the Fort Harrison, but Hana Whitfield explained that "all RPFers were practiced and skilled in transforming their normal RPF sleeping areas into what looked like a regular furniture storage space, and doing so in a very short period of time " (Whitfield, 1989: 6).
3. Social Maltreatment
A. Boiler Suits; Formal Address to "Superiors;" Armbands
The line between physical maltreatment and social maltreatment was not always clear, yet certain activities involving such occurrences as degradations, restrictions in verbal and written communication, and very low pay seem distinctive enough to warrant mention. RPF degradations were many. They included having to wear jumpsuits or boiler suits (Kent Interview with Pat, 1997: 22; Kent Interview with Young, 1994: 18; Superior Court of the State of California, 1984: 1432; Whitfield, 1989: 5), and having to refer to everyone as "sir," (Rosenblum, n. d.: 2; Whitfield, 1989: 5), and RPFers were prohibited from walking -- running only (Rosenblum, n. d.: 1). By the late 1980s, different coloured arm bands -- including white and gold -- visually identified people's progress through the RPF program (Schernekau/Elleby, 1990a). According to former RPFer Jess Prince, people in the RPF's RPF in the late 1970s wore black strips of cloth on their arms (Kent Interview with Prince, 1998: 18). By (presumably) the late 1980s and the early 1990s, people on the RPF's RPF reportedly wore orange arm bands; new RPFers wore black arm bands; RPFers who had a few "privileges" (such as having dinner with family members) wore white bands; and persons who could sleep with their spouses one night a week displayed gold arm bands (SB, 1998b: 1).
B. Restrictions on Speaking and Writing
Many people indicated that their ability to communicate with others was severely curtailed, although they expressed the restrictions with slightly different emphases. Dale seemed to capture the basic restriction when he informed me that "[y[ou could not talk to anybody [who] was not on the RPF unless you were spoken to..." (Kent Interview with Dale, 1997: 5; see Kent Interview with Pat, 1997a: 23). Englishman Peter Ford stated that someone on the RPF was "allowed to speak with only 1 person at all (the MAA [or Master-at-Arms]," who directly oversaw the program (Ford, n. d.: 3; see Pignotti, 1989: 24). Julie Mayo insisted that she "was not allowed to talk to the rest of the staff or even make a phone call" (J. Mayo, 1996: 8).
These restrictions on communicating included one's mail and telephone calls. Gerry Armstrong's accounts of RPF surveillance and communication censureship were amplified by Robert Vaughn Young, who wrote on the internet that he underwent interrogations over the contents of letters exchanged with his wife while he was incarcerated in the RPF program (Armstrong in Young, 1997: 1-2; see S. Young, 1994: 29). In an affidavit, David Mayo swore that "I was not permitted to make or receive phone calls and all letters I wrote were read by Scientology security guards" (Mayo 1994: 3). Dramatically, Nefertiti recounted meeting a woman on the RPF's RPF who was there because "she had sent a letter to her husband--[a] member of the cult[--] revealing some details about the RPF. One is not supposed to talk about the gulag. She had violated the gulag's law of silence" (Nefertiti, 1997: 4).
C. Media and Book Restrictions
Communication restrictions extended to include the media. While on the RPF, people were not allowed to listen to the radio, watch television, or read magazines and newspapers (Kent Interview with Pat, 1997: 23; Rosenblum, n. d.: 2). These restrictions probably were based upon the written policy that people "[m]ay not have with them in the RPF ANY drugs or alcoholic beverages, radios, TV, taped music, musical instruments, chess games or any such entertainment or luxury, or consume such when on authorized visits to spouse or child" (Boards of Directors of the Churches of Scientology, 1977: 11). Consequently, when the RPF Master-at-Arms (MAA) found two novels in Susanne Schernekau/Elleby's handbag, she found herself assigned to Scientology's "ethics conditions" doing "amends" for having committed a supposedly serious infraction of rules. The harsh reaction that she experienced from possessing two novels, and her own acceptance that her possession of them constituted a serious violation against RPF policies, provides an important window into the totalism of the RPF program. The program demanded the right to oversee totalistic control over RPF inmates, and the inmates felt extreme pressure to accept such restrictive control as a valid part of their "rehabilitative" program.
Apparently, the RPF MAA went through Schernekau/Elleby's belongings, since Schernekau/Elleby wrote a letter (probably on or around October 1, 1990) to him about what he found:
Dear Sir, it is true that there were 2 books in my handbag.
The only reason they were there is the following: when I arrived to [sic] the RPF I had my songbook in my jeans jacket pocket as I always ha[d] it with me and these two novels are the best ones I have and they were always with me -- either in the white bag and when that broke I moved them to the black handbag.
As I told [the RPF Bosun] last night -- it can sound like a justification to avoid any trouble but it is the truth.
That I am doing [ethics] conditions [i.e., reparation for policy violations] is just because I knew it is out-FO [i.e., against Flag Orders to [sic: in] the RPF and I want for my self to ensure it is cleared up fully (Schernekau/Elleby, n.d.).
Clearly Schernekau/Elleby did not question the prohibition against possessing novels while on the RPF, since she accepted that her discovery caused an ethics situation that had to be "cleaned up." As she began working through the "ethics conditions," she accepted blame for having the material. In her October 1, 1990 "Condition write-up of Treason" (with 'treason' as the lowest level of ethics conditions), Schernekau/Elleby reported:
Tonight the MAA found 2 books in my bag[,] which is out FO [against Flag Orders and against LRH's [Hubbard's] intention with retraining S.O. [Sea Org] members.
Addressing the standard command that all people on the level of treason had to answer, "Find out that you are," Schernekau wrote:
I got the RF [routing form] from the [S]ection i/c [i.e., the lowest level RPF supervisor] that the MAA had found 2 books in my bag and that there also were [sic] the songbook in my jacket. I went ahead justifying the cycle [i.e., the concluded books-discovery event] but looking at it I see that it was contrary to RPF FO's [Flag Orders] and is not speeding up redemption and graduation. (I have not been reading them. I just had them there as they are my favorites and I didn't want to loose them[.])
I am a[n] RPF member who really wants to speed up and get thru the program -- in ethics and in FO with only that intention (Schernekau/Elleby, 1990d).
Already contrite, Schernekau/Elleby admitted that she had two novels but attempted to minimize the 'seriousness' of her infraction by insisting that she never read them.
In her "Condition of Doubt" write-up that she did the next day (October 2), Schernekau/Elleby stated about the books incident that she took "an honest look to [sic: at] the situation and I saw that the intention and the objectives were to keep self determin[ed?] protection on [sic; of] my mest [i.e., her material possessions]." She determined that this attempt to protect her material possessions "is endangering the group over all" (Schernekau/Elleby, 1990f: 1). She revealed the absolute rigidity with which people had to follow the RPF rules by adding, "I join the RPFers who really study the RPF FO's w[ith] no MU's [i.e., misunderstood words] and who keeps them in as they are and who does not add to them personal ideas and feelings" (Schernekau/Elleby, 1990f: 2). In plain language, Schernekau/Elleby wanted to be counted among the RPF inmates who completely understood the RPF policies and who followed them precisely -- without feelings and without expressing her personal feelings about them. Clearly she understood the absolute obedience that the program demanded of her, and she responded accordingly.
By the time that Schernekau/Elleby wrote the next report on her upgraded ethic status of "liability" for having been caught with two novels (and a song book), she confessed, "I have committed a severe out FO [i.e., violation of a Flag Order and I want to ensure that it's fully handled." As part of her efforts to fully handle it, she studied six Flag Orders about the RPF, and by doing so realized what core mistake she had made that (allegedly) led to the infraction (Schernekau/Elleby, 1990g: 1). She then "went with the FO [Flag Order] to my room and I took out anything which could be questionable w[h]ether or not out FO's [i.e., that might have violated an RPF restriction stated in an Flag Order], and I get them carried up to the attic." To further demonstrate how sincere she was in her efforts to conform, she mentioned what appears to be a self-inflicted punishment: "I did 8 laps" (Schernekau/Elleby, 1990g: 2). When she discovered something going on inside the RPF that was against a Flag Order policy, she reported it to her superiors, Finally, in an act that confirmed the extent to which she now placed the RPF above herself, she indicated, "I wrote a KR [knowledge report] on myself re: the things which could be questionable which I located in my room" (Schernekau/Elleby, 1990g: 2). One interpretation about this entire incident is that RPF staff used a small expression of Schernekau/Elleby's individuality as an opportunity to attempt to rebuild her into a compliant, de-individualized person who reflected the organization's ideological totalism.
For all of the deprivations that RPF members suffered, they still received almost no salary. During his 1977 period in the RPF, for example, Armstrong indicated that he received about $4.30 a week for a hundred or more hours work (Superior Court of the State of California, 1984: 1463). Likewise, "[i]n the RPF," Robert Vaughn Young revealed, "I got paid five dollars a week for fourteen months" (Kent Interview with Young, 1994: 24), which was the same amount the Pignotti collected (Kent Interview with Pignotti, 1997: 17). Anne Rosenblum only got $4.00 a week (Rosenblum, n. d.: 3). While in the Cedars Sinai RPF in 1977 and 1978 for eighteen months, Jesse Prince never received more (he said) than about $7.00 (and sometimes nothing) for working perhaps a hundred hours a week. After he returned, however, to Sea Org duties, he received back pay totalling nearly $3,000.00 (Kent Interview with Prince, 1998: 32, 36).
4. Intensive Study of Ideology
When neither punishments nor pressing work assignments interfered with study time, RPF inmates spent up to five hours a day studying Scientology doctrines and participating in numerous auditing and security checking sessions. Each person worked with a co-auditor, and one had to complete the RPF's auditing course as well as successfully audit one's partner through it (Rosenblum, n. d.: 2). It seems likely that the purpose of this intense study was to infuse the person with Hubbard's teaching at the same time that an other aspect of the RPF was operating-- forced confessions. That is to say, as one was studying what Scientology considers to be the uncompromising truth, he or she also was receiving continuous messages (through the forced confessions) that the individual was weak, guilty, and completely dependent upon the leader's doctrines for salvation (see Kent, 1994).
The required study items and auditing actions became highly structured, with a 1980 checklist of "RPF Graduation Requirements" listing seven pages of courses, readings, educational demonstrations, essays, auditing, and confessions that inmates had to complete successfully in order to "graduate" from the program (Boards of Directors of the Churches of Scientology, 1980: 1-7). The checklist for just one course, for example, required that RPF inmates read ninety-two Hubbard bulletins, orders, and miscellaneous writings; perform ten demonstrations of concepts; listen to six tapes; perform twenty- six drills; write two essays; participate in ten hours of auditing; plus complete three additional auditing assignments (Board of Directors of the Churches of Scientology, 1974).
5. Forced Confessions
An intimate aspect of the ideological re-exposure, therefore, involved RPF inmates repeatedly confessing to alleged sins, crimes, and evil intentions (see Kent Interview with Dale, 1977: 9). According to Monica Pignotti, these forced confessions took two forms. First, while "on" the e-meter:
[t]hey had prepared lists that they called security checks where they would ask you all kinds of questions on every possible thing a person could have done wrong--any possible thing you could think of in your life or... against the organization. 'Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever had any unkind thoughts about L. Ron Hubbard? About Mary Sue Hubbard? About Scientology?.... Have you ever committed murder?' Just a whole list where anything [might] read on the e-meter. And the auditor would say, 'What are you thinking of right now?' and you would have to answer the question until... the meter didn't read anymore...
[T]he other one that they did a lot of was repetitive commands: 'What have you done? what have you withheld? What have you done? What have you...' it was said over and over and over (Kent Interview with Pignotti, 1997: 15; see Supreme Court of the State of California, 1984: 1487-1490, see 2545-2546).
People confessed to all manner of crimes, including ones allegedly from past lives (Nefertiti, 1997: 12). In essence, Scientology's supposedly "religious" tool--the e-meter--became the functional equivalent of a secular lie detector (see Kent Interview with Erlich, 1997: 11):
An important practical distinction between auditing and sec-checking is that Scientology does not consider information revealed in sec-checks to be confidential material (as auditing information is supposed to be). Consequently, RPF inmates likely realized that this information could be used against them at some future time.11 At least two people, however, who had been though the RPF stated that people on or associated with the RPF were in fact culling people's auditing (or 'pc' or 'pre-clear') files for crimes that people had to address (Kent Interview with Pat, 1997: 29; Supreme Court of the State of California, 1984: 2714; Whitfield, 1998: 1).).
Sec-checking could, and often did, become very intense and unnerving. Before high-ranking Scientology leaders sent Stacy Young to the RPF, they subjected her to what is called a "gang-bang sec check" involving two or more people angrily and quickly firing questions at someone in an attempt to break down the person emotionally:
Two very large, strong men..., locked me in a room and interrogated me for hours, During the interrogation, they screamed and swore at me. They accused me of all sorts of crimes against Scientology. They demanded that I confess to being an enemy agent (S. Young, 1994: 28).
Julie Mayo appears to have experienced gang-bang sec checks, but after she already was in the RPF program. RPF staff pulled in Julie and fifteen other people late one night, and sat her:
opposite from the three who faced me. I was told that unless I confessed to working for the IRS, the FBI, or other government agency, I was going to: A) be sent to jail; B) lose my eternity; C) be banned from [Scientology] tech[nology] lines forever. When I said [that] I didn't work for a government agency, I was told that they might go lighter on me if I confessed to supplying [a person] with a mailing list. I said [that] I hadn't done that either, so [I] was told to go think about it and write my confession (J. Mayo, 1996: 7).
Presumably her husband, David, also went through similar grillings, since he indicated that "I was often awakened during the night and interrogated..." (D. Mayo, 1994: 3). These intense situations around forced confessions appear to differ greatly from the experience (and interpretation) of Scientologist and former RPFer "SB," who indicated, "[t]he idea of 'forced' [confessions] bring to mind 'involuntary' and 'pressured'. Some people may have felt that way, but it really wasn't the case normally" (SB, 1998g: 1).
6. Success Stories
For inmates attempting to complete the program, among the final, obligatory activities that they must do is write success stories about how the RPF transformed their lives. For years prior to the RPF program, Hubbard had in place an organizational requirement that Scientologists were required to provide glowing accounts of Scientology's benefits, so the requirement that inmates had to produce them about the RPF merely was following policy. With public relations in mind, Hubbard wrote in 1968:
[f]or purposes of distribution of Scientology and getting it into the hands of the millions, standard tech producing results and being broadcast by word of mouth by pcs [pre-clears -- people below a certain level of courses] and students is one of the best programmes. People who have not had the results or wins are not likely to assist distribution and indeed are a liability (Hubbard, 1968: 140 [emphasis in original]).
Hubbard also realized that "win" stories provided invaluable information about how people felt concerning their Scientology experiences, so he wrote that "Success is the final police point of an org. All [s]tudents and pcs must go to Success before leaving an org even on a "leave of absence" (Hubbard, 1968: 140 [emphasis in original]). Success stories about RPF "wins," therefore, simply followed policy, and they also may have provided some protection in the future if former RPFers became critical of their incarceration in the program.
Far less extensive in content or design than the final confessions that Chinese and Western victims of thought reform programs had to write for their "re-educators" in the late 1940s and early 1950s (see Lifton, 1961: 266-273, 473-484), the RPF success stories nevertheless appeared to follow an outline or formula. In them, "graduating" RPFers had to acknowledge their alleged previous deficiencies that justified their RPF assignments, praise the quality of Scientology instruction and training that they have received in the RPF, identify how this instruction and training combined with other aspects of the RPF to positively transform their lives, and thank Hubbard and the organization for their RPF experiences.
A published RPF "success" story from March, 1977, illustrates the formula. A person identified only as "B.G. proclaimed that:
[t]he RPF is the most fantastic process LRH [L.Ron Hubbard] has yet devised. It's pure, no holds barred Scientology. And it's for real. When I walked in the door here several months ago the only thing I knew for certain was that there was no hope. I had totally and utterly betrayed LRH and all SO [Sea Org] [m]embers and Scientologists everywhere. And in so doing [I] had sold my future down the drain.
..... I found that, as an RPFer I had only two possible courses of action--Win, or die in the attempt, and I had 50 or so tough, dedicated, confront anything fellows making sure I didn't die. While I've been here I've received the best auditing and training I've ever had....
I'm about to graduate now. The greatest single win I've ever had in my existence I got right here. I know [that] Scientology works. I have total certainty on my ability to handle myself and others and on other's ability to handle me and others using LRH's Tech. And I know that the RPF is where it all comes together. It's where the RPF makes it and that's something. Thanks to LRH I have a future--and a damn bright one too! (Sea Organization, 1977: ).
Having followed the formula--(acknowledging pre-RPF crisis, praising RPF training and techniques, glorifying Hubbard, and claiming a successful completion of the program), this person probably was released from the RPF within a matter of days.
Children and Teens on the RPF
Numerous indicators point to the probability that teenagers and pre-teens are subject to the RPF program. These indicators include: accounts from several former adult members; an internal Scientology document that refers to a children's RPF program; a reporter's account in a newspaper article; and television footage that apparently shows teenagers on the RPF program in Los Angeles unloading from a bus.
1. Accounts About Children and Teens from Former Adult Members
Two adults who had been in the RPF on the Apollo reported that they knew of a pre-teen who was in the program. Monica Pignotti stated that a twelve year old girl was in the RPF during the same time that she was (Kent Interview with Pignotti, 1997: 30). Likewise, Dale related that he saw an eleven-year old girl (whom he knew) on the Apollo's RPF after he himself had been in it (Kent Interview with Dale, 1997: 4). An additional account of a child on the RPF came from Pat, who insisted that she knew a six-year-old (whom she named) who went into the program in Los Angeles because he was "out 2-D" -- Scientology's term for either sexual problems or family difficulties (Kent Interview with Pat, 1997a: 32). Finally, a former Sea-Org member who uses the pseudonym "Steve Jebson" posted on the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup that he had "personal knowledge" about a twelve or thirteen year old boy being assigned to the RPF's RPF in Los Angeles (Jebson, 1997).
2. References to Children on the RPF in a Scientology Document
This testimonial evidence identifies that children and teenagers were in various RPF programs with adults. An internal Scientology document, however, indicates that Hubbard had established a special RPF for children and subsequent Scientologists in leadership positions reinitiated the program (presumably after it had lapsed for some reason). The available document is a poor-quality photocopy written by Nedra Cohee in 1989, who was working with the program for Sea Org children called the Cadet Org. Cohee's stated purpose for producing the letter was that s/he felt the "need to re-institute the Children's RPF..." (Cohee, 1989). As background to the request for renewing the program, the author discussed its history:
In 1976 when the Commodore [i.e., Hubbard] re-established the Cadet Org, he also included the childrens [sic] RPF as apart [sic] of this .... In 1986-87 when myself and [another person] put back in the advices concerning the Cadet org, the re-instituting of the Childrens [sic] RPF was very instrumental as one of the successful actions done which 10X'd [knocked out?] the Cadet Org at that time .... The Childrens [sic] RPF was run per the FO's [sic: Flag Orders, which are similar to Sea Org policy letters] on the Childrens [sic] RPF (3434 series) ... (Cohee, 1989).
If this passage is accurate, then Hubbard himself established the Children's RPF in 1976, and policies exist about its operation in the Flag Order 3434 Series dedicated to the RPF in general.
The one page letter or memo also provides insight into the lives of children in and associated with the Cadet Organization. Cohee wrote that there were "several Cadets and blown Cadets [i.e., runaways] who need to go to the children's RPF." While most of the Cadets were improving and "producing," "a very small percentage are enturbulative [i.e., disruptive] sources and are sabotaging efforts to set the scene right." One boy (named in the text) was a special problem, and:
he needs to be moved off everyone's lines [i.e., taken out of the organization's daily operations] and put into the Children's [sic] RPF. [He] recently took a razor blade and cut X's in his skin up and down both arms. He is psychotic in PT [present time] and needs close supervision (Cohee, 1989).
In summary, some of the children in the Cadet Org were disruptive to the point of running away, and one obviously troubled youth was self-mutilating. Cohee's response, however, was to advise that the boy should receive close supervision in the Children's RPF program, but never recommended professional counseling or other professional assistance for him.
3. Television and Newspaper Accounts of Teenagers on the RPF
Additional evidence that a Children's RPF operated in or near Los Angeles appeared in an unlikely source -- an August, 1989 news broadcast from television station KOCO in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The news broadcast (of which I have a video copy) was the first in a series on Scientology's Narconon program -- a reputed drug rehabilitation program that had begun to operate on an Indian reservation near Newkirk, Oklahoma. (Apparently the series ran in August 1989, but the television station was unable to provide me with an exact date. The announcer refers to events, however, that led me to conclude that it ran on August 21.) In one segment, reporter Larry Blunt was on the sidewalk presumably near the main Scientology complex in Los Angeles, having just completed an interview with Scientology Linda [sic: Leisa] Goodman. The camera moved around to a scene unfolding across the street and some distance away, and Blunt offered the following commentary about what was captured on film:
Shortly after that exchange [with Goodman], a Scientology bus loaded with young people dressed in black pulled up. They jogged into the Scientology complex. A recent defector of [sic: from] Scientology told me they were from the Church's Rehabilitation Project Force. They were found to be a problem, and need an attitude adjustment (KOTO, 1989).
This film segment is over in a matter of seconds, but viewers are able to count at least thirteen teens (two or more who appear to be females), all wearing dark suits (with short sleeves and short pants). Of course, the dark uniforms and the jogging requirement are standard for people assigned to the RPF. While the Scientology organization may insist that adults in the RPF program are there willingly, it is difficult to imagine this justification (or excuse) applying to teens whose presumed ages would suggest that they should be under the care of parents or guardians.
A final indicator that teens are RPF inmates comes form a 1984 newspaper article published in the Clearwater Sun:
The young man -- by all appearances a teen-ager -- crouched on the dark, narrow stairway as he scrubbed the sixth-floor landing in the former Fort Harrison Hotel, the 'flag Land Base' headquarters of the Church of Scientology.
'Are you in RPF?' queried a reporter.
'Sir?' he asked quietly, peering up from his work.
'Are you in RPF?'
'Yes sir I am.'
RPF is the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), which, depending on who is speaking, is either a businessman's approach to improving an employee's lagging job performance or a form of punishment for Scientologists who are banished to serve penance for their misdeeds and 'bat thoughts.'
Two others -- adult men who, like the youth, were dressed in blue shorts and faded blue shirts -- worked two floors below, also cleaning the stairs. They spoke not a word. Former Scientologists say that those in RPF 'are not to speak unless spoken to.'
Those who have spent time in the RPF at the Fort Harrison tell a harrowing tale of long hours at work -- as much as 100 hours a week -- and of months of humiliation and mental abuse at the hands of other Scientologists.
But their vivid recollections of hard work and abuse contradict current Church of Scientology statements that the RPF is 'an entirely voluntary' program (Shelor, 1984: 1B).
Of course we cannot be certain of the young inmate's age, but it appears that youth is no barrier to serving time in Scientology's forced labour and re-indoctrination program
The Impact on Some Scientologists Who Saw the RPF in Operation
Three very revealing accounts exist by people who were Scientologists and had brief but disturbing encounters with RPF inmates. Their accounts provide some indications of the cumulative impact the brainwashing and confinement efforts had on the people who experienced them. One account was from former member Joe Cisar, who:
stumbled into the RPF's RPF one time in the tunnels below the Cedars complex in L.A. There w[ere] about a dozen people who apparently had been sleeping in these tiny rooms. (There were a couple of blankets on the floor.) Both men and women [were down there]. A man was cutting a woman's pant leg with a knife while she was wearing the pants, and he had sliced her foot. Blood was running down her ankle onto her foot and was puddling on the floor. She looked up at me and gave me... what I would consider to be an insane smile and said, 'I caused my foot to be in the way of his knife.' Two or three of the people who were crouching and laying about on the floor looked up at me as if it were some kind of wonderful joke. I backed out the way I came in. One of Scientology's big promotion schemes is to tell people that they need to be 'at cause.' These people weren't at cause over anything[. T]hey had degenerated back to the Middle Ages.
That's what I knew about the RPF when the Scientology ethics officer told me to report down there for indefinite duty. I told her [that] they could get me down there, but I'd put several of them in the hospital first, and reminded her that I was a Viet Nam veteran. I was one of the few Sea Org members who had managed to hang onto [his or her] car, and I left that night (Cisar, 1997: 3).
One wonders what would have happened to Cisar had he not seen the conditions of these inmates prior to his own RPF assignment.
A second glimpse into L.A.'s RPF comes in the story of former member Moira Hutchinson, who did kitchen duty in order to finance her studies at the Cedars complex. Consequently, she saw the RPF inmates come in for meals, about which she wrote:
They would come in to eat after everyone else had left. I found this deeply disturbing. Everyone was dressed in dark blue overalls[. T]hey did not walk[;] they shuffled with their heads always bowed low, and no one would utter a word.
I became pretty close with an officer in the ASHO [American Saint Hill Organization] whose husband was on the RPF. I remember her telling me, very excitedly, that she was to be allowed to share her half-hour meal breaks with her husband. When she told me this, she had not seen him for a year (Hutchinson, 1997: 6).
Although brief, this account is in keeping with what others have said about the RPF program. She even claims that, under false circumstances, she was sent to the East Grinstead facility in England and "was kept there for a whole week so that I could complete a program very similar to the RPF where I had to write down all of my transgressions committed against the church and carry out menial physical duties" (Hutchinson, 1997: 2, see 5).
The third dramatic glimpse into RPF life came from Ann Bailey, who was involved in moving Scientology into its newly acquired former hospital (called the Cedars of Lebanon complex) in the summer of 1978. After a move that taxed the levels of her physical endurance, she found herself assigned to guard the secret, upper level theological (Operating Thetan or OT) documents that were in a room without a door. They were in the former hospital's old morgue, and she sat there for hours amidst the lingering "smell of death and chemicals and dissection" (Bailey, n. d.: 60). Then:
[s]uddenly during the third hour I was aware of shadows in the corridor beyond me. [T]hey were people. Slowly I realized that an entire group of people lived and worked down there. I was so tired [that] it took me a long time to realize who they were. Then it hit me. [They were t]he Cedars RPF. They lived and worked down in this stinkhole. This was their Org. Then I really found out what had happened to them. Filthy, tired, skeletons appeared before me and started begging to see the OT folders. I thought I looked bad, but I looked beautiful compared to them. They crowded around me pushing and shoving, then the mood turned ugly. They started hitting each other to get into the room behind me. I realized what had happened. They had been totally broken. They were animals, not humans. I saw four of my friends, one a Class Nine OT, fighting to get by me. They were punching each other in the face, pulling hair, kicking. And way down in this cellar no one could hear them, no one cared.
Someone suddenly hit me hard. I realized [that] they were turning their anger on me[. T]hey would beat me up to get the folders. I guess in periods of deep stress we all go a little insane--[s]urvival of the fittest. From somewhere in my tired brain, strength came. I stood up with all my TR's [i.e., Scientology communication drills] as in as they had ever been, [and] all my training on control of groups came back. 'Friends,' I said. 'Believe me, I am your friend. By some strange fate I am not with you on the RPF. But believe me if you don't get out of here right now, I know [that] you will be punished. Go now before it's too late.' And they ran away into the dark. When I sat down I was trembling all over. Because the real intent of my message had been for them to get out of the hospital. Leave Cedars. But I don't think any of them got the message (Bailey, n. d.: 61-62).
She was out of Sea Org in a week.
Conclusion: Brainwashing as a Practice in Scientology and a Concept in Sociology
Taken together, the effect of these actions and pressures on people who experience them can be profound. In environments where the Scientology organization and its leadership attain totalistic control over RPF inmates, researchers should expect to see a high degree of conformity among recent RPF graduates. Certainly Monica Pignotti was correct when she concluded that "[t]he lesson we were to learn on the RPF was to obey orders without question, regardless of how we felt about it or who was giving the orders" (Pignotti, 1989: 23). Pat's conclusion was even crisper when she answered that the RPF's purpose was "just re-indoctrination--just to break you down" (Kent Interview with Pat, 1997b: 5). I go one step further and add that the final intent of the RPF was (and is) to mold people into the closed ideology of Scientology, where members identify their goals and their strategies with those of the organization. Working in conjunction with forced confinement and various forms of physical and social maltreatment, the intensive study of ideology combines with obligatory confessions to severely weaken people's own moral structures and the values that represent them. When successful, therefore, Scientology's brainwashing leads people to accept the moral code and ideational model of founder L. Ron Hubbard. As Gerry Armstrong realized, people on the RPF necessarily "bec[a]me so compliant that they thanked their punishers for the punishment, and wrote... success stor[ies] (to be used against them in the future if they ever realize [that] they had been abused and sought redress for that abuse)" (Armstrong in Young, 1997: 5). Indeed, writing such a story was a prerequisite for completing the RPF program.
The implications of this study are modest but significant for sociology (especially the sociology of religion) but much greater for contemporary political and legal discussions. Social scientists need not alter their definition of brainwashing, but should simply acknowledge that at least one contemporary ideological organization utilizes brainwashing in an attempt to retain its members. While this study cannot answer crucial questions about the long term implications for people who have been through this particular brainwashing program (compare Schein, 1961: 284), no doubt exists that Scientology's founder gave considerable thought to brainwashing techniques and imposed them on those of his followers whom he believed were harbouring thoughts or performing actions against him or the organization. The "brainwashing" term, therefore, has validity within some social science discourse.
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STEPHEN A. KENT is a Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, specializing in the study of alternative religions. He has published in a wide range of sociology and religious journals, and has spoken before a German parliamentary commission about Scientology's Rehabilitation Project Force program.