Guys, this interview is a doozy. I completed it two years ago, but Jeff’s answers were so off the wall, well, I didn’t quite believe them. Then ‘Going Clear‘ came out and I realized that what he’d experienced was actually incredibly common.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Jeff Hawkins. I am 67 years old, and I am a graphic designer living in Portland, Oregon. I was a staff member of the Church of Scientology from 1968 to 2005. I left nine years ago and have since become a very vocal critic of the Church. These days I enjoy hiking and enjoying Portland’s restaurants and clubs with my friends.
For those of us who don’t know, what are the basic tenets Scientology?
Scientology is mainly self-help therapy with an overlay of mysticism, cobbled together by L. Ron Hubbard from a variety of sources from Freud to Alestair Crowley. Scientology believes that the individual is an immortal spirit, which they call a “thetan,” who has lived for billions of years.
They believe that the spirit has become encumbered by past trauma, and that by releasing this trauma through their counseling techniques (called “auditing”) the individual regains their full power and ability. A person advances through the Scientology levels (called “The Bridge”) up to the state of “Clear” and then to the state of “OT” (Operating Thetan, where one is supposed to be able to demonstrate superior spiritual powers (although no one ever has).
What are some of the most common misconceptions about Scientology?
Scientology has tried to establish itself as a religion. Hubbard decided in 1954 that Scientology should be a religion, mainly for tax purposes, and Scientology’s PR people have worked vary hard to establish Scientology as a religion.
In reality, it’s more of a money-making self-help scheme that uses various mind-control mechanisms to control their membership and keep them loyal. Over the years it has become increasingly abusive, fraudulent, and cult-like.
What lead you to join the church of Scientology? What attracted you to it?
As many people were in the late 1960s, I was looking for spiritual answers. I was looking for a solution to violence and war in society, and I felt that I had found that in Scientology. They claimed to have a way to make people more intelligent, sane and rational, and that appealed to me. The first “auditing” I had was beneficial so I was willing to believe that they had workable answers.
Tell us about the process you had to go through to join the church.
There is no process really, you just show up at a Scientology organization and enroll in a course or sign up for some auditing. They check to make sure that you are not a reporter or currently on drugs, and that you are not connected to the government or to psychiatry (which they hate).
How did the people in your life react to your decision to become a Scientologist?
My family was very supportive, in fact both my brother and sister became Scientologists as well. My friends found it interesting and a few of them joined as well.
Did the church affect your day-to-day life?
About six months after I became a Scientologist, I decided to become more involved and traveled to England with my brother and two friends to join staff at their international headquarters (which was in England at the time). We ended up working for their in-house publishing company. I worked long hours, seven days a week with occasional days off. That was pretty much my life until I left in 2005.
In 1971, I went to the Scientology ship, the Apollo, which was in North Africa at the time, and joined the inner circle of Scientology, the Sea Organization. Hubbard was there and I met him. I subsequently worked in Copenhagen, the Caribbean, Florida, Los Angeles and eventually the Scientology International Headquarters in Hemet, California, where I worked for about 15 years.
Can you tell us about an average Scientology church service?
There is no church service. They will occasionally put on a show “church service” on a Sunday to keep up appearances, but they have a hard time getting Scientologists to come as the services don’t form a major part of Scientology. Mostly what people do in Scientology is get individual training and auditing. There are no real group services or activities of a religious nature.
When did you begin to question the church?
When I joined Scientology, I did so because I was somewhat idealistic and wanted to make a difference in the world. For the most part, I found Scientologists to be intelligent, friendly, good people, who were there to genuinely make a difference. When I witnessed the occasional bad behavior, I assumed that it was the exception and that these people would either be educated or weeded out, and the “good” Scientologists would prevail.
As time passed, I found that these people exhibiting bad behavior were increasingly the ones in charge and that the Scientology system tended to support and promote those who were “willing to do anything for the cause,” which included fraud, abuse, human rights violations, threats, and oppression.
Finally, in 2005, I decided to leave Scientology as I could no longer support what it had become. One key turning point was when I was physically attacked by the head of Scientology, David Miscavige. I gradually became aware that this man, who was the head of Scientology, was a sociopath, running Scientology through threat, intimidation, and abuse. I left and so have a lot of others.
How did you leave the church?
I went through their procedure for “routing out” which included three months of “Security Checks” where they try to uncover all of your “crimes.” They are basically trying to find blackmail material they can use against you if you speak out about what you witnessed. You’re also required to sign legal “gag orders” that forbid you from speaking about your experiences (they are legally unenforceable). After I went through this procedure, I was allowed to leave.
How did the members of your congregation react to your decision to leave?
Members of Scientology are forbidden to talk to or contact anyone who has left Scientology or spoken out about it. It is called “Disconnection.” If anyone leaves Scientology or speaks out against Scientology, they are labeled a “Suppressive Person” by Scientology and any Scientologist in good standing is required by Scientology to disconnect from them. It doesn’t matter if it is your spouse, your child, your parent – you have to disconnect and can never speak to them again.
How is your life different now that you’re no longer a Scientologist?
When I left, I felt truly free for the first time in many years, and am enjoying life to the fullest. I am very glad that I left Scientology when I did. Every new day is a blessing.
What’s one thing you learned from this that any of us could apply to our lives?
I think there are a lot of groups that prey on good people and try to use them. Since leaving Scientology, I have educated myself on the subject of mental control and manipulation, and I see it all around us in the society – religions, political organizations, cults. Even individuals can get caught in abusive and controlling relationships.
In my experience, it is the people who say “I would never be fooled by something like that” who are the most vulnerable. Because regardless of our intelligence and education, we are all susceptible to mental manipulation, so it pays to know how it works so you can spot it and avoid it.
Thanks so much for sharing your fascinating story, Jeff. Do you guys have any questions for him?
P.S. What happened when I walked into a Scientology center in Minneapolis for a personality test.