By Pierre Collignon more
14 January 2001
Inside RPF Denmark: Franz the
Inside RPF Denmark(II): Susanne's
Inside RPF Denmark (III): Cult
accused of brainwashing
Inside RPF Denmark (IV): An Offer from Scientology
[unofficial translation by
Jens Tingleff, original
Scientology members who step outside the movement's internal
laws are offered "rehabilitation." The offer implies several
years of isolation, hard work, strict control and a loss of the
most basic rights to freedom.
Previously you could see them running in groups through the
streets of Copenhagen wearing black boiler suits and heavy
American military boots. This was cancelled, as it caused too
much attention. Now they merely "walk quickly" and are wearing
marine blue uniforms.
Scientology is normally not very happy to discuss these busy
people. They are members of Scientology who have gone astray and
who need to be brought on an even keel again. They come to
Copenhagen from all of Europe to be "rehabilitated" by going
through a cleanup programme devised by the founder of
Scientology, L Ron Hubbard, in the early 1970s. The programme is
called "The Rehabilitation Project Force" — normally called the
"RPF" — but if you look in the books of Scientology, you can't
find a description of it. The leadership of Scientology doesn't
find that regular members need to know about the RPF, maybe
because they would easily be frightened if they heard about the
many prohibitions and restrictions that are integral to it.
According to critics of Scientology the programme is plain and
The ministry of the interior in the German regional
government of Hamburg even warn German citizens against letting
themselves be tempted to go to the Danish capital where
Scientology has its European headquarters. In Copenhagen you
risk punishment and indoctrination under inhuman conditions,
according to the Germans.
"Scientology dare not start the RPF on German soil, because
the authorities are keeping an eye on them, but it is happening
in Denmark with no restrictions," says Ursula Caberta, leader of
the regional government's so-called "Scientology task force."
Ursula Caberta has recently published an enquiry which
describes the Scientology RPF programme as "brainwashing." The
enquiry is done by the Canadian professor of Sociology, Stephen
Kent, based on statements by 20 former members of Scientology
who have passed through the RPF in Copenhagen or in the
movement's centres in the USA or England.
The ex-members all relate how they were held against their
wills while in the RPF. A few, who were in the Scientology camp
in the Nevada [sic: California] desert, even talk of armed
guards and barbed wires. The defectors relate being starved and
forced to carry out hard physical labour. In addition to that,
they were required to study Scientology scriptures and go
through hour-long interrogations where they should confess their
sins against the movement. The RPF thereby worked as brutal
disciplinary treatment. When the members were exhausted and
mentally worn out, they abandoned any resistance against the
leadership of Scientology.
This is how professor Stephen Kent describes the treatment,
but his investigation has been harshly criticized by colleagues
in the USA and in Europe. The greatest weakness is that Stephen
Kent doesn't include the experiences of current members of
Scientology. He considers that their testimony is worthless
because they dare not make critical statements about the RPF — for fear of being punished with yet another turn in the
controversial programme. But statements from former members
should also be taken with a grain of salt, underlines another
professor of Sociology from Canada, Lorne Dawson. "These people
are under strong pressure to justify why they have been members
of a cult. They want to divert blame from themselves, and
therefore the theory of brainwashing is perfect. It gives them a
'valid' excuse for having been in," Lorne Dawson writes in a
Critics call Scientology a cult or simply a money-machine,
but the movement is currently applying for official recognition
as a community of faith in Denmark and in several other
countries. According to Scientology, you can only understand the
RPF in a religious context. Then, you can compare the
restrictions of liberty in the RPF with the conditions that
monks in other religions take on.
"If you take holy orders, you renounce everything worldly.
Some monks may not even talk to each other. They shut themselves
off from the world around them to dedicate themselves to
worship. That's actually tougher than the RPF ... the RPF is not
a concentration camp where you're shot if you try to escape. The
RPF is a way of achieving a higher spiritual level," says Anette
Refstrup, head of PR for Scientology in Denmark.
Ordinary members of Scientology, who use their spare time
(and spare money) to take Scientology courses, never get
anywhere near the RPF. The programme is reserved for members of
the "Sea Organisation" where people give their lives to serve
Scientology. There are officially approximately 6000 members of
the Sea Organisation. They can be recognised by their dark blue
maritime uniforms. They live in Scientology missions, work for a
symbolic payment and must obey a vast number of rules in their
daily lives. If they repeatedly break the rules, they can go to
the RPF. A typical reason can be that a member has been
unfaithful to his wife, that he has misused some of the
Scientology scriptures or simply that he hasn't produced enough
in his position.
Scientology emphasises that the RPF is an offer. "If you
repeatedly mess up, you get the chance to try the RPF ... The
first thing you have to do is to sign that that you're doing it
voluntarily and that you can leave at any time. You couldn't
possibly make it through the RPF if you didn't want to," says
Gaetane Asselin, spokesperson for Scientology in Europe.
Some of the sinners, however, consider the offer of the RPF
as a "Sicilian Offer," that is, an offer they can't refuse. The
alternative is to be thrown out of the Sea Organisation, and
that's frightening if you've spent years in the isolated and
closed world of the organisation.
The RPF programme takes an average of one to two years to go
through, but some times it drags on. Jyllands-Posten knows of a
Swedish Scientologist who recently was thrown out of the Sea
Organisation after five years on the RPF in Copenhagen. He
didn't make it.
Cleaner than babies
Scientology informs that the demands are to carry out eight
hours of physical hard labour every day — most frequently
renovation and maintenance of the movement's buildings.
Additionally, five hours should be spent every day studying
Scientology scripture and receiving spiritual guidance and
therapy. Throughout the entire programme, it is essential that
the individual confesses his sins, so that he can cleanse
"It's a wonderful programme. People are cleaner than babies
when they leave the RPF," says the movement's spokesperson
People must live accordingly to tight restrictions while
they're on the RPF. Scientology has given Jyllands-Posten access
to the most recent set of rules, which are normally shrouded in
great secrecy, and it's tough reading.
The rules mean that RPFers are kept in isolation from both
the world around them and from the rest of Scientology. People
on the RPF may not even approach other people. They are not
allowed to move outside Scientology buildings without
supervision, they cannot watch television, and they must sleep,
eat and wash in separate RPF divisions.
According to critics, the set of rules leads to a
psychological breakdown which makes it possible to excerpt a
massive influence — "brainwashing." Scientology, on the other
hand, counters that the strict rules are there to help the
individual to concentrate. The rules have recently been
tightened with a clause forbidding any connection with family.
Previously, Scientologists on the RPF could be allowed to meet
their spouse or children once a week.
"It was more disturbing for people to be allowed to meet a
couple of hours per week, because they would miss each other
even more. It's better to do without and finish the RPF faster,"
says Gaetane Asselin.
The physical control is also seen as a benefit.
"When people from the RPF can't walk the street, there's no
straying from the path. You don't just pop in and have a cup of
coffee. You go directly where you're supposed to go, and so you
don't have a guilty conscience afterwards. It gives peace of
mind that the framework is very narrow," says Anette Refstrup,
PR chief in Denmark.
Some of the restrictions seem curious. For example, there is
a requirement that people on the RPF must run rather than walk.
"That is to show the right spirit — the pride that you have
set out to do the RPF as quickly as possible," says Anette
Extreme social control
Danish experts in religion agree with Scientology that it's
normal for certain religious organisations to build up extreme
social controls. "There are no religious movements who look
mildly on members who break the rules, but we have an easier
time accepting it if it happens in India or in some other
foreign culture. When, for example, a Buddhist monk isolates
himself and spends all day in an exhausting meditation position,
we think that he's a noble monk. If the same thing happens in
our own culture, we speak of breach of human rights," says
researcher into religions Dorthe Refslund Christensen, who has
written several books about Scientology.
The religious researcher Mikael Rothstein is convinced that
Scientology is a religion — but that should not determine how we
look at the RPF, he emphasises.
"Even if you consider Scientology a corporation, you have to
realise that it has a corporate culture which you either like or
dislike. There are people who suspend themselves from meathooks
as part of their self-realisation. Others want to be whipped as
part of their sex-lives. That which is oppressive and
humiliating to one, brings bliss to another. There are different
cultures and environments, which we must accept," he says.
Mikael Rothstein also states that we must be critical. "It's
important to carry out a dialogue with an organisation like
Scientology to ensure that people aren't mistreated. You have to
talk to people who are going through the RPF to find out why
they do it. It could be a expression of a deep religious
involvement, but it could also be because of pressure. If some
of them feel affronted it could be because there have been
violations — and then society must step in," says Mikael
Rothstein from the University of Copenhagen.
It is, however, extremely difficult to prove that you have
been forcibly mistreated.
In the early 1980s, several hundred Scientologists passed
through the "rehabilitation-mill" in Copenhagen, and some of
them went to the police to complain about the treatment.
This was the case of Birgitta Harrington who, in 1984,
explained that Scientology had starved her, had mentally
tortured her and forced her to do absurd but exhausting physical
tasks. Once, she was made to clean a long corridor with a
toothbrush. On another occasion, she had to "wash paper," i.e.
stand outdoors during the winter and throw old pieces of paper
in vats of ice-cold water. When the pieces of paper were soaked
through, she took them out, pressed them and rolled them into
little balls so that they were smaller.
That was what Birgitta Harrington explained in questioning to
the Copenhagen police, but the police had to stop the
investigation. The Swedish woman couldn't prove that she had
been forced to do any of it, since she hadn't been physically
"It's true that I didn't have a shackle around my ankles, but
I was locked up mentally. At the time, I still believed in
Scientology and I feared that the worst was to be thrown out of
the movement," says Birgitta Harrington.
The American federal police, the FBI, has also investigated
accusations of "slavery" and "illegal forced labour" in
Scientology. The investigations were cancelled in 1983 because
of a lack of evidence.