Going Clear
Author:Lawrence Wright

Mary Sue and Ron with Diana, Quentin, Arthur, and Suzette

Ron and Mary Sue, with their burgeoning family, began a restless search for a new home—for themselves and for the international headquarters of the church. In 1955, they moved to Washington, DC, but they stayed only a few months before moving to London. Less than two years later, they were back in Washington, living in a dignified brownstone near Dupont Circle, across the street from the Academy of Scientology. Hubbard was prospering once again, with mounting commissions from the sale of E-Meters and training processes, and royalties from sixty books in print. In 1956, his salary from the church was only five hundred dollars a month; but the following year, the church began paying him a percentage of its gross profits, and his income took a gigantic leap.

In Washington, Hubbard set up visiting hours from four to six every afternoon, and made a point of warning the pilgrims who trod the path to his door not to mistake him for a god or a guru, “so knock off the idolizing.” And yet he couldn’t resist exaggerating his status. Identifying himself as a nuclear physicist, Hubbard published a book in 1957, All About Radiation, in which he promoted a formula he called Dianazene, a mixture of nicotinic acid and vitamins, that was supposed to cure cancer as well as sunburns. “It should be taken daily,” he recommended, “with milk and chocolate.”

Ron and Mary Sue had four children in six years. Diana, born in 1952, was the eldest and clearly the dominant one. She had her father’s red hair and a generous splattering of freckles. Quentin, born two years later, was the only one who was not a radiant redhead; he was small with ash-blond hair, like Mary Sue, and would always be his mother’s favorite. Suzette was a year younger; she was a cheerful child, but somewhat overshadowed by her big sister. The baby, Arthur, was born in 1958. Seen together, the Hubbard family made a vivid impression, with their ruddy complexions and their striking hair color.

Although the children had a nanny, they spent much of their time unsupervised. School was an afterthought; it wasn’t until Diana demanded to learn how to write her name that the children began their education. Mary Sue was a chilly presence as a mother; she rarely cuddled or even touched her children, but in the early years she would read to them—Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, and Kipling’s stories—in her slight Texas twang. As she took on additional responsibility in Scientology, she became even more removed; but Ron would hug the kids and toss them in the air. The house echoed with his booming laugh. He taught the children how to play “Chopsticks” on the piano and showed them card tricks with his quick hands and perfectly manicured fingernails. He would play records and dance with the children to Beethoven or Ravel or Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite—bold, soaring music. He liked to sing, and he would burst into “Farewell and Adieu to You Fair Spanish Ladies,” and “Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends,” a children’s song that is sung to the tune of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” He was fanatical about taking vitamins, and he made sure the children took theirs, as well. Afterward, they would all roar to see who was the strongest.

Hubbard was restless in Washington, and in 1959 he moved his family back to England, to a luxurious estate in Sussex called Saint Hill Manor, which he purchased from the Maharajah of Jaipur. Hubbard employed an extensive household staff, including two butlers, a housekeeper, a nanny, a tutor for the children, a chauffeur, and maintenance workers for the estate. “Dr.” Hubbard presented himself to the curious British press as an experimental horticultural scientist; to prove it, he allowed a photograph to be published of himself staring intently at a tomato that was attached to an E-Meter. The headline in Garden News was “Plants Do Worry and Feel Pain.”

Hubbard using the E-Meter on a tomato in 1968 to test whether it experiences pain

The grand mansion was a terrific playground for the children. It was actually a U-shaped castle with crenelated rooflines, ivy-covered walls, and rumors of ghosts. There were fifty-two rolling acres to play in, with rose gardens, goldfish ponds, and a lake. The house itself had sweeping staircases, elevators, and even secret rooms where the children could hide from the nanny. The children also prowled through their mother’s closet. Left to herself, Mary Sue was an indifferent dresser, but Ron brought tailors from London carrying gorgeous bolts of cloth, and racks of clothing brought in from the top department stores, all in Mary Sue’s size. Her closet was full of sparkling gowns and shimmering dresses. Trim and regal by nature, Mary Sue was a wonderful model, but she really only dressed for him.

Hubbard’s third-floor research room was the enticing inner sanctum; it was painted royal blue, with a bear rug in front of the fireplace, and a private bathroom that was redolent of the Spanish sandalwood soap he favored. Hubbard would disappear into his office every day for hours and hours, alone with his E-Meter, “mapping out the bank and looking for the next undercut,” as he explained, meaning that he was trying to inventory the reactive mind and discover a path through its many snares.

School was, as usual, a secondary consideration. The children would take a taxi to class, when they actually went. Their father didn’t really believe in public education, so he didn’t pressure them. Sometimes, they had a tutor, but it was Diana who taught Suzette how to read. She didn’t want Suzette to suffer the same embarrassment she had when she started school so far behind her peers. By the age of nine, Suzette was reading adult literature. She decided she wanted to be a writer, like her father. Quentin developed an obsession with airplanes, and he would often persuade the nanny or the chauffeur to take him to Gatwick Airport instead of to class, so he could watch the various aircraft taking off and landing. He loved to stand near the runway with the heavy planes lumbering just overhead. He was soon able to close his eyes and identify the make of the plane strictly by its sound.

Hubbard at Saint Hill Manor in 1959 showing an E-Meter to his children, Quentin, Diana, Suzette, and Arthur

In school, other children would ask the older Hubbard kids about their father and what was going on in the castle. They realized that they didn’t actually know. One day, Diana, Quentin, and Suzette marched into Hubbard’s office and demanded, “What is this ‘Scientology’?” Hubbard put them all on a starter Dianetics course.

Scientology was in its formative stage, still unfurling from Hubbard’s imaginative mind. This was a volatile moment in Hubbard’s life and the development of his movement. The fervent response of so many to his revelations must have added reality and substance to what otherwise might have seemed mere fantasies. Not only was he inventing a new religion, he was also reinventing himself as a religious leader. He was creating the legend of who he was in the minds of those who believed in him. And inevitably, he became imprisoned by their expectations.

His followers lived in a state of constant anticipation, trading legends among themselves about the marvels they had experienced or heard about, and speculating upon what was to come. Moments of magic and transcendence kept reason at bay. Ken Urquhart, who served as Hubbard’s butler and later as his secretary—or “Communicator”—recalls coaching a “little old English lady” on a Scientology training exercise. As he observed her, “I noticed her nice skin, her eyes, eyebrows. I noted that behind the skin on her forehead was the bone of her forehead, and I knew that behind that lay her brain. As I thought that thought, her forehead absolutely disappeared. I was looking directly at her brain. I was first astounded and then quickly horrified. Here I was exposing her brain to germs and the cold. At once her forehead was back in place.”

If Scientology really did bestow enhanced powers upon its adherents, Hubbard himself—of all people—should be able to exercise them. Hubbard’s frailties were obvious to everyone; among other things, his hands shook from palsy and he was hard of hearing, constantly exclaiming, “What? What?” He sensed the presumptions that surrounded him. “Your friends,” he said one day to Urquhart as his bath was being prepared, “might be curious as to why I employ somebody to open the shutters in my room when I can do it myself.” He meant that he should be able, by sheer mental power, to project his intention and the shutters would open themselves. “Well, a lot of people would like me to appear in the sky over New York so as to impress the world. But if I were to do that I’d overwhelm a lot of people. I’m not here to overwhelm.” Urquhart thought of saying that he was perfectly willing to be overwhelmed in order to see such a demonstration, but he wasn’t altogether sure that Hubbard could actually do it. The failure of Hubbard’s followers to challenge him made them complicit in the creation of the mythical figure that he became. They conspired to protect the image of L. Ron Hubbard, the prophet, the revelator, and the friend of mankind.

On the other hand, there were moments when Hubbard seemed to be toying with the limits of possibility. It was rumored that he could move the clouds around in the sky or stir up dust devils in his wake. Urquhart remembers a time when Hubbard was talking to him while sitting in a chair more than an arm’s length away. “My attention wandered,” he recalled. Suddenly, he felt a finger poking him in the ribs. “I came back. He was talking away, grinning and eyes twinkling. He had not moved his arms or gotten up from the chair.” Such ineffable experiences seemed to add up to something, although it was not clear what that might be.

Hubbard’s neighbors soon learned more about the new lord of the manor. Scientology’s expansion, coupled with the increasingly bold claims that Hubbard made about the health benefits that could be expected, brought the organization under scrutiny by various governments. The first blow was a 1963 raid by US Marshals, acting on a warrant issued by the Food and Drug Administration to seize more than a hundred E-Meters stored in the Washington church. The FDA charged that the labeling for the E-Meter suggested that it was effective in diagnosing and treating “all mental and nervous disorders and illnesses,” as well as “psychosomatic ailments of mankind such as arthritis, cancer, stomach ulcers, and radiation burns from atomic bombs, poliomyelitis, the common cold, etc.”2

The IRS began an audit that would strip the church of its religious tax exemption in 1967. At the same time, an Australian government board of inquiry produced a sweeping report that was passionate in its condemnation. “There are some features of Scientology which are so ludicrous that there may be a tendency to regard Scientology as silly and its practitioners as harmless cranks. To do so would be gravely to misunderstand the tenor of the Board’s conclusions,” the report began, then emphatically added: “Scientology is evil, its techniques evil, its practice a serious threat to the community, medically, morally and socially; and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill.” The report admitted that there were “transient gains” realized by some of the religion’s adherents, but said that the organization plays on those gains in order to produce “a subservience amounting almost to mental enslavement.” As for Hubbard himself, the board described him as “a man of restless energy” who is “constantly experimenting and speculating, and equally constantly he confuses the two.” “Some of his claims are that … he has been up in the Van Allen Belt, that he has been on the planet Venus where he inspected an implant station, and that he has been to Heaven. He even recommends a protein formula for feeding non-breast fed babies—a mixture of boiled barley and corn syrup—stating that he ‘picked it up in Roman days.’ ” Although Hubbard has “an insensate hostility” to psychiatrists and people in the field of mental health, the report noted, he is himself “mentally abnormal,” evincing a “persecution complex” and “an imposing aggregation of symptoms which, in psychiatric circles, are strongly indicative of a condition of paranoid schizophrenia with delusions of grandeur—symptoms common to dictators.” The report led to a ban of Scientology in two Australian states,3 and prompted similar inquiries in New Zealand, Britain, and South Africa. Hubbard believed that the US Food and Drug Administration, along with the FBI and CIA, were feeding slanderous information about the church to various governments.

In the midst of all this upheaval, in February 1966 Hubbard finally declared another “first Clear.” This time it was John McMaster, a dapper, blond South African, in his mid-thirties, who was the director of the Hubbard Guidance Center at the church’s Saint Hill headquarters. Charming, ascetic, and well-spoken, McMaster had dropped out of medical school to become an auditor. He immediately proved to be a far more urbane representative of Scientology than Hubbard. His wry manner made him a welcome guest on talk shows and on the lecture circuit, where he portrayed Scientology as a cool and nonthreatening route to self-realization. Suddenly the idea of going Clear began to catch on. McMaster adopted a clerical outfit that befitted his designation as the church’s unofficial ambassador to the United Nations. At one point, Hubbard designated him Scientology’s first “pope.” It was a matter of puzzlement to Hubbard’s closest associates, given Hubbard’s disparagement of homosexuals in his books, that he would enlist a person to serve as the church’s representative who was obviously gay. “He was very pronounced in his affect,” one of Hubbard’s medical officers remembered. But Hubbard’s relationship to homosexuality was apparently more complicated in life than in theory.

CONVINCED THAT the British, American, and Soviet governments were interested in gaining control of Scientology’s secrets in order to use them for evil intentions, Hubbard began looking for a safe harbor—ideally, a country that he could rule over. England had taken steps to “curb the growth” of Scientology, and Hubbard took the hint. He also suffered from the damp weather. “I had been ill with pneumonia for the third time in England and on the suggestion of my doctor was seeking a warmer climate for a short while in order to recover,” he said, in an unprompted explanation to the CIA. He resigned as Executive Director of the Church of Scientology and sold his interests in the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International, although he maintained actual control of the organization through his innumerable telexes. He journeyed to Rhodesia, the South African republic that had recently declared its independence from the United Kingdom (it later became Zimbabwe). Isolated, diplomatically spurned, and subject to international sanctions, the Rhodesian government served a clique of white colonists who ruled over an insurgent black majority. To Hubbard, Rhodesia seemed ripe for a takeover. He felt a kinship with the republic’s dashing and flamboyant founder, Cecil John Rhodes, who also had red hair and a taste for swashbuckling adventure. Hubbard believed he might have been Rhodes in a previous life, although it’s unclear whether he knew that Rhodes was homosexual.

Hubbard had a fantasy that he would be welcomed in Rhodesia, that the black population would embrace him like a brother, and that eventually he would become its leader, issuing passports and his own currency. However, the current prime minister, Ian Smith, was desperately trying to negotiate a settlement with the black nationalist movement that would preserve white-minority rule. Hubbard thoughtfully wrote up a constitution for the government that he claimed would accomplish just that, but he couldn’t get anyone to take it seriously.

While Hubbard talked about his big plans for developing the country, the government became increasingly suspicious of his motives and his resources. Ultimately, Hubbard’s visa was not renewed. “He told me Ian Smith was going to be shot because he was a ‘Suppressive,’ ” John McMaster said. “The real reason that Hubbard was kicked out of Rhodesia was that his cheques bounced.”

Hubbard returned to England with a new scheme. If the world’s governments were lining up against him, he would put himself beyond reach. Scientologists were whispering about a clandestine “sea project” that their leader was planning. He quietly began acquiring a small fleet of oceangoing vessels. Then he disappeared again.

This time, he went to Tangier, the Moroccan city on the Strait of Gibraltar, which was a famous hangout for hipsters and artists. There he began his research on Operating Thetan Level Three (OT III), his “Wall of Fire.” Mary Sue and the children remained in England, but Hubbard wrote to her daily, complaining of a barking dog that was interrupting his work, and various ailments—a bad back, and a lung problem that emerged from a lingering cold. He admitted that he was “drinking lots of rum” and taking drugs—“pinks and grays”—while he was doing his research. He would sign off on the letters, “Your Sugie.” Hubbard stayed only a month in Tangier before moving to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, where one of his followers found him deeply depressed and surrounded by pills of all kinds. “I want to die,” he said. Alarmed, Mary Sue flew down to take care of him.

In September 1967, Hubbard made a recording for his followers to explain his absence and inform them of important discoveries in his OT III research. “All this recent career has been relatively hard on this poor body,” he relates. “I’ve broken its back, broken its knee, and now I have a broken arm, because of the strenuousness of these particular adventures. One wonders then, well, if he is in such good shape what is he doing breaking up his body? Well, that is the trouble. I have great difficulty getting down to the small power level of a body.”

He also notes that he had directed Mary Sue to find out who was behind the attacks on Scientology that were turning the governments against the organization. Mary Sue had hired “several professional intelligence agents,” who uncovered a conspiracy. “Our enemies on this planet are less than twelve men,” Hubbard discloses. “They own and control newspaper chains and they are oddly enough directors in all the mental health groups in the world.” Their plan was to “use mental health, which is to say psychiatric electric shock and prefrontal lobotomy, to remove from their path any political dissenters.” For the first time, he openly talks about the Sea Organization, or Sea Org, an elite group who would form the committed inner core of the religion, Hubbard’s disciples, a Scientology clergy.

HANA STRACHAN (now Hana Eltringham Whitfield) was one of the first young recruits admitted into the Sea Org. Her deranged and manipulative mother was a follower of Helena Blavatsky, the nineteenth-century spiritualist who was the founder of the Theosophical Society. When Hana was about fifteen, she learned that Blavatsky had prophesied a new race that would arise in the Americas in the 1950s; Hana was under the impression that it would be led by a man with red hair.

Hana escaped her traumatic family situation to become a nurse in Johannesburg, South Africa. A medical student there gave her a copy of Dianetics. It made immediate sense to her. She went to the local organization and said she wanted to learn more. “There’s a course starting tonight,” she was told. In the hallway of the office Hana noticed a photograph of Hubbard standing outside the Saint Hill headquarters. She was transfixed by his red hair. This must be the man Blavatsky was talking about, she decided. “That sealed it for me,” she said. She moved to Saint Hill and became Clear #60. For three weeks she was in a state of euphoria, feeling slightly detached from her environment and her body. “This is who we were in eons past,” she thought. She was convinced that Hubbard was a returned savior who would bring all humanity to an enlightened state.

Slender and stately, Hana was one of the first thirty-five Sea Org recruits. The mission of the Sea Org, according to the contract she signed, is “to get ETHICS IN on this PLANET AND THE UNIVERSE.” She agreed to “subscribe to the discipline, mores and conditions of this group.… THEREFORE, I CONTRACT MYSELF TO THE SEA ORGANIZATION FOR THE NEXT BILLION YEARS.”4

Hana married another Sea Org member, an American named Guy Eltringham, but they were separated when Hubbard ordered her to Las Palmas, where he was refitting an exhausted fishing trawler called the Avon River. The decks and the hold were coated with decades of fish oil that had to be scraped away. During the two months the Avon River was in dry dock, Hubbard would often linger for dinner with his Sea Org crew, and afterward he would sit on the deck and regale them with stories. Hubbard’s depression had lifted and he seemed completely in control—relaxed and confident, even jovial. The crew were mainly drinking Spanish wines, but Hubbard favored rum and Coke—an eighth of a glass of Coke and seven-eighths rum—one after another through the evening. The heavens seemed very close in the dark harbor. Hubbard would point to the sky and say, “That is where the Fifth Invaders came from. They’re the bad guys, they’re the ones who put us here.” He said he could actually spot their spaceships crossing in front of the stars, and he would salute them as they passed overhead, just to let them know that they had been seen.

During a session with her auditor, Hana revealed the story of Madame Blavatsky’s prophecy of the red-haired man. Soon afterward, Hubbard came up on deck and gave her an intense look. From that point on, she became his favorite. He appointed her the first female Sea Org lieutenant. That day, she had a photograph made of herself in her Sea Org uniform—white shirt, dark tie and jacket, with a lanyard over one shoulder. She is young and elegant, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. After that, she rose through the Sea Org ranks with astonishing speed, often wondering if the revelation about the red-haired man was responsible for her rapid promotions.

Hubbard would drive over from his villa in Las Palmas to inspect the work on the Avon River. The lower holds of the ship were converted into offices and berthing spaces; new equipment—including radar and a gyrocompass—were installed, the screw replaced, and the hydraulic system completely overhauled. The inexperienced Sea Org members did most of the work, although Spanish laborers did the welding and sandblasting. Whenever Hubbard spotted something wrong, he would be instantly transformed from the jovial and avuncular figure the crew adored into a raging, implacable tyrant. Hana, who was serving as master-at-arms, would dread seeing the “Commodore”—as Hubbard titled himself—arrive, since she felt responsible if anything went wrong. One day, when the Spanish workmen were painting a rust coat on the hull of the ship, she spotted Hubbard walking across the beach with his chief officer and his first mate, smoking and chatting happily. Then he suddenly stopped. His eyes went into slits and he began bellowing, “The rollers! The rollers!” Puzzled, Hana leaned over the side of the ship, then saw what had caught Hubbard’s attention: tiny threads poking through the paint, which had been left by the cheap rollers that the workmen were using. “As those threads decomposed, they would leave little apertures for seawater to leak behind the rust coating,” she realized. “It destroyed the integrity of the entire rust coating, and that’s what Hubbard was screaming about as he lumbered toward the ship. And what amazed me was that he saw it at forty to sixty feet away from the ship. Later on, I walked that distance from the ship to see if I could see those little hairs coming out of the rust coat. There was no way I could see them. That added to my feeling of wonder and mystique about Hubbard.”