Going Clear
Author:Lawrence Wright

And so on, all leading up to:

BIRTH. Instrument. 29 hours labor.

Hubbard’s view of women as revealed in this and many other examples is not just contemptuous; it betrays a kind of horror. He goes on to make this amazing statement: “It is a scientific fact that abortion attempts are the most important factor in aberration. The child on whom the abortion is attempted is condemned to live with murderers whom he reactively knows to be murderers through all his weak and helpless youth!” In his opinion, it is very difficult to abort a child, which is why the process so often fails. “Twenty or thirty abortion attempts are not uncommon in the aberree and in every attempt the child could have been pierced through the body or brain,” Hubbard writes. “However many billions America spends yearly on institutions for the insane and jails for the criminals are spent primarily because of attempted abortions done by some sex-blocked mother to whom children are a curse, not a blessing of God.”

One of the charges that would be lobbed against Hubbard by his disaffected eldest son was that his father had attempted two abortions on his mother. “One I observed when I was around six or seven,” L. Ron Hubbard, Jr., later testified. He recalled seeing his father standing over his mother with a coat hanger in his hand. The other attempted abortion was upon himself. “I was born at six and a half months and weighed two pounds, two ounces. I mean, I wasn’t born: this is what came out as a result of their attempt to abort me.” Hubbard himself writes in his secret memoir that Polly was terrified of childbirth, “but conceived despite all precautions seven times in five years resulting in five abortions and two children.” While he was writing Dianetics, and Sara was pregnant with Alexis, she says, Hubbard kicked her in the stomach several times to attempt to cause a miscarriage. Later, Hubbard told one of his lovers that he himself had been born of an attempted abortion.

While Hubbard was still writing Dianetics, he contacted both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, representing himself as a colleague who had made fundamental advances in the science. Patients placed in a trance state, he explained, could be guided to remember their own births. In sixteen of what he says were the twenty cases that he examined, psychosomatic illnesses had been caused by pre-birth or birth traumas. “Migraine headache, ulcers, asthma, sinusitis and arthritis were amongst those illnesses relieved,” he asserted. In a similar letter to the American Gerontological Society, he also claimed that sixteen of the twenty cases had been made measurably younger. His preliminary title for the work was “Certain Discoveries and Researches Leading to the Removal of Early Traumatic Experiences Including Attempted Abortion, Birth Shock and Infant Accidents and Illnesses with an Examination of Their Effects on the Adult Mind and an Account of Techniques Evolved and Employed.” When scientists tested some of Hubbard’s claims and found that his techniques produced no measurable improvement, he blamed them for failing to understand his system.

Hubbard’s rejection by the mental health establishment, even before Dianetics was published, was itself a kind of pre-birth trauma. After that, whenever Dianetics or Scientology was attacked in the press or by governments, Hubbard saw the hand of psychiatrists. “The psychiatrist and his front groups operate straight out of the terrorist textbooks,” he wrote bitterly years later. “The Mafia looks like a convention of Sunday school teachers compared to these terrorist groups.” Toward the end of his life he concluded that if psychiatrists “had the power to torture and kill everyone, they would do so.… Recognize them for what they are: psychotic criminals—and handle them accordingly.” Psychiatry was “the sole cause of decline in this universe.”

HUBBARD SET UP schools to train auditors in major cities, which, along with the book sales and his lecture fees, generated a cascade of revenue. “The money was just pouring in,” Sara marveled. Hubbard began carrying huge wads of cash around in his pocket. “I remember going past a Lincoln dealer and admiring one of those big Lincolns they had then,” Sara recalled. “He walked right in there and bought it for me, cash!”

The people who were drawn to Dianetics were young to middle-aged white-collar Protestants who had a pronounced interest in science fiction. Some were motivated by the prospect of employment in this booming new field. Others were truth seekers, often veterans of other movements and cults that were responding to the dislocations of the era. And then there were those who had heard the legend of the heroic Navy officer who had been blinded and crippled by the war, who had healed himself through Dianetic techniques. Like Hubbard, they sought a cure. Society and science had let them down. Through Dianetics, they hoped to be lifted up, enlightened, restored, and made whole.

One of the contradictory features of Dianetics is the fact that Hubbard continually referred to the powers of Clears, but as yet he had not actually produced a single one for inspection. Among other powers, a Clear “has complete recall of everything which has ever happened to him or anything he has ever studied. He does mental computations such as those of chess, for example, which a normal would do in half an hour, in ten or fifteen seconds.” Such claims presumed that there was already a sizable population of Dianetic graduates with exceptional abilities, and Hubbard’s readers naturally wondered where they were.

In August 1950, Hubbard presented the “World’s First Clear” at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Sonia Bianca, a very nervous physics student from Boston, was brought to the stage. Hubbard claimed that through Dianetics, Bianca had attained “full and perfect recall of every moment of her life.” The audience began peppering her with questions, such as what she had had for breakfast eight years before, or what was on this page of Hubbard’s book, or even elemental formulas in physics, her area of specialty. She was incapable of responding when someone asked the color of Hubbard’s necktie, when he briefly had his back turned to her. It was a very public fiasco. Hubbard would not announce another Clear for sixteen years. One of his disillusioned acolytes later concluded that the concept of clearing was just a gimmick to dramatize the theory of Dianetics. “The fact is that there were never any clears, as he had described them,” Helen O’Brien, Hubbard’s top executive in the United States, wrote. “There were randomly occurring remissions of psychosomatics.”

Meanwhile, his bigamous marriage to Sara was careening toward a spectacular conclusion. A month after the Sonia Bianca debacle, Ron and Sara were living at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. He was beating her regularly. “With or without an argument, there’d be an upsurge of violence,” Sara recalled. “The veins in his forehead would engorge” and he would strike her, “out of the blue.” One time he broke her eardrum. And yet, she stayed with him, a hostage to his needs. “I felt so guilty about the fact that he was so psychologically damaged,” Sara said. “I felt as though he had given so much to our country and I couldn’t even bring him peace of mind. I believed thoroughly that he was a man of great honor, had sacrificed his well being to the country.… It just never occurred to me he was a liar.” Ron finally explained his dilemma: he didn’t want to be married—“I do not want to be an American husband for I can buy my friends whenever I want them”—but divorce would hurt his reputation. The solution: if Sara really loved him, she should kill herself.

Sara took little “Alexi,” as she called their daughter, and moved into the Los Angeles Dianetics Research Foundation, in a former governor’s mansion near the University of Southern California campus. Soon after that, Sara began an affair with another man, Miles Hollister.

Hubbard furiously told his own lover, Barbara Klowden, that Sara and Miles were plotting to have him committed to a mental institution. Indeed, Sara had consulted a psychiatrist about Hubbard’s condition. She told him that Ron had said he would rather kill her than let her leave him. The psychiatrist said that Hubbard probably needed to be institutionalized, and he warned Sara that her life was in danger.

Nonetheless, Sara went directly to Ron and told him what the doctor had said. If he got treatment, she said, she would stay with him; otherwise, she was going to leave. Ron responded by threatening to kill their child. “He didn’t want her to be brought up by me because I was in league with the doctors,” Sara recalled, in her deathbed tape. “He thought I had thrown in with the psychiatrists, with the devils.”

On the night of February 24, 1951, Sara went to the movies and left her baby in the care of a young man named John Sanborne, who was studying at the foundation. Alexis had become a kind of celebrity, or at least a curiosity. Hubbard had been touting her as the world’s first “dianetic baby”—shielded since birth against any engram-forming disruptions or parental conflict. As a result, Hubbard boasted, Alexis talked at three months, crawled at four, and had no phobias. At about ten o’clock, eleven-month-old Alexis began crying in her crib, so Sanborne picked her up to comfort her. Suddenly, the infant said in a hoarse whisper, “Don’t sleep.” Sanborne was startled. He didn’t think a baby could talk like that. “It went through me in a funny way,” he later said. “The hair raising on the back of the neck type of feeling.”

At eleven p.m. there was a knock on the door. One of Hubbard’s aides appeared, wearing a topcoat, with his hand in his pocket. Sanborne believed he was carrying a gun. The man said that Hubbard was here to take his daughter. Hubbard himself then came through the door, also wearing a topcoat, with his hand in his right pocket. They took the child and disappeared.

Later that night Hubbard returned with two other men to abduct Sara. “We have Alexis and you’ll never see her alive unless you come with us,” Hubbard said. They tied her hands and dragged her out of bed into a waiting Lincoln. She says that Hubbard had her in a chokehold to keep her from screaming. Hubbard’s assistant, Richard de Mille (son of the famous movie director and producer Cecil B. DeMille), drove aimlessly, while Hubbard and Sara, who was wearing only a nightgown, sat in back. She warned him that kidnapping was a capital offense.

In San Bernardino, Hubbard ordered de Mille to stop at the county hospital so he could have Sara committed, but it was the middle of the night and no doctor would talk to him. Eventually, Hubbard and Sara negotiated a truce. Hubbard told her where Alexis was hidden—he had hired a nurse in West Los Angeles to watch her—and Sara signed a note saying that she had gone with Hubbard of her own free will. Hubbard and de Mille went to the Yuma, Arizona, airport and flew to Phoenix, while Sara drove the Lincoln back to Los Angeles in her nightgown to pick up Alexis. When she arrived at the nursing center, however, she was told that a young couple had just left with the baby.

Hubbard and de Mille flew on to Chicago, where Hubbard voluntarily presented himself for a psychological examination in order to counter the accusation that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. The psychologist administered some diagnostic tests, including Rorschach inkblots, and later provided a report that said that Hubbard was a creative individual who was upset by family problems and depressed about his work. Hubbard was extremely pleased; he would often mention that he had been given a clean bill of health by the psychological profession. Sara remembered that he then called her and told her that he had killed Alexis. “He said that he had cut her into little pieces and dropped the pieces in a river and that he had seen little arms and legs floating down the river and it was my fault, I’d done it because I’d left him,” Sara remembered.

Hubbard and de Mille then traveled to Elizabeth, New Jersey, where the Dianetics Foundation had its headquarters. Meantime, the young couple that Hubbard had hired to abduct Alexis from the nursing center drove the infant all the way across the country to deliver her to Hubbard. It was the middle of March and snowing in New Jersey, so Hubbard decided to move on to Florida, where he intended to write his next book. De Mille came along with the baby. After a few days in Tampa, Hubbard still felt edgy and announced that the three of them were flying to Cuba. “He believed that as long as he had the child he could control the situation,” de Mille told one of Hubbard’s biographers.

For six weeks, Sara had searched for Alexis in Southern California, enlisting local police, sheriffs, and the FBI, but the authorities regarded the abduction as a domestic dispute. Finally, she filed a writ of habeas corpus demanding Alexis’s return, setting off a press uproar. On April 23, 1951, Sara added to the sensation by finally filing for divorce in Los Angeles County, revealing that Hubbard was already married when they wed. She accused Hubbard of subjecting her to “systematic torture,” including sleep deprivation, beatings, strangulations, and “scientific torture experiments.” She said that she had consulted medical professionals, who concluded that Hubbard was “hopelessly insane, and crazy.”

Soon afterward, Sara received a surprising letter of support from Polly:

If I can help in any way, I’d like to—You must get Alexis in your custody—Ron is not normal. I had hoped that you could straighten him out. Your charges probably sound fantastic to the average person—but I’ve been through it—the beatings, threats on my life, all the sadistic traits you charge—twelve years of it.… Please do believe I do so want to help you get Alexis.