Drawing on Jon Atack’s meticulous research and book A Piece of Blue Sky, Russell Miller wrote the authoritative biography of L Ron Hubbard: Bare-Faced Messiah. Hubbard was founder and head of the Church of Scientology. Scientology is perhaps the greatest example of a high control cult there is.
An overwhelmingly strong personality
It is enthralling to follow through the whole life of such a warped but charismatic and talented man, how he eventually gets going and then sustains his weirdly great achievements. All the way through he can depend on the blind adulation of enough spouses, children and other followers who just do not see the most blatant flaws imaginable in their foul-tempered, fiction-as-truth, conman who leads their family and ‘church’!
It’s the complete loyalty of the followers that is more astonishing than LRH’s unfollowable antics. But don’t think the followers are weirdos, not like us. Any of us can be recruited by those that know how to do it. And, in everyday family law, faced with complex disputed cases, it’s the same blind followership and sanctioning by the outsiders to such similar histrionic antics that shocks us. We assume that the law is repository of intelligent perceptivity, with a capacity to see through to what’s going on, and then assert just outcomes. Though they often let us down, it’s fair enough to expect family lawyers and judges to be less gullible than are the devotees of Scientology.
However, in the last chapter of the book (Chap 22), we find in the mid 1980s two judges who get the picture. OK, it’s a high profile public case with mountains of evidence by then. Usually we only read about this kind of case about cults and disturbed individuals in the abstract, in textbooks on personality disorder.
Judge Paul G Breckenridge, USA
“The organization [the Church of Scientology] clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder [Hubbard]. The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements. The writings and documents in evidence additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile. At the same time it appears that he is charismatic and highly capable of motivating, organizing, controlling, manipulating and inspiring his adherents. He has been referred to during the trial as a “genius”, a “revered person”, a man who was “viewed by his followers in awe”. Obviously he is and has been a very complex person and that complexity is further reflected in his alter ego, the Church if Scientology.’
The second judge quoted, in the same chapter, is a London family court judge dealing with a custody dispute in a family split by being inside and outside Scientology. Here we see, long ago, a clear case of harmful coercive ‘undue influence‘ being identified confidently by the court, with a perhaps rather over-egged but appropriate outcome too.
Ian McEwan’s novel Children Act and the film of it is a tale of ruling in a case of the best interests of a young adult influenced by the Jehovah’s Witness’s concrete beliefs about medical treatment. But when it comes to the welfare and harm caused by pure coercive relationships, we usually think there isn’t a cat’s chance in hell of a cult family predicament getting a fair hearing in a family court. Especially if the cult is religious, the view is that it is no different to ordinary family group culture, or adult choice about any religion or belief group or community.
But with Scientology we have a famous case from decades ago where coercive harm has been spotted and acted on, and children placed with the safer parent. Families now who are split and alienated across the extreme boundaries of cults might use this case to give them resolve to take their case to family court.
Mr Justice Latey, England
Mr Justice Latey was “hearing a case involving a custody dispute over the children of a practising Scientologist and his wife who had broken away from the cult. Awarding custody to the mother, the judge gave Scientology short shrift. He said it was: ‘immoral, socially obnoxious, corrupt, sinister, and dangerous’ with Hubbard and his aides as: ‘grimly reminiscent of the ranting and bullying of Hitler and his henchmen’. … ‘It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and had as its real objective, money and power for Mr Hubbard and his wife and those close to him at the top. It is sinister because it indulges in infamous practices both to its adherents who do not toe the line unquestioningly and to those outside who criticise or oppose it. It is dangerous because it is out to capture people, especially children and impressionable young people, and indoctrinate and brainwash them so that they become the unquestioning captives and tools of the cult, withdrawn from ordinary thought, living and relationship with others. … Mr Hubbard is a charlatan and worse, as are his wife and the clique at the top, privy to the cult’s’ activities.’
Family courts now
So, if you follow this blog’s view that harmful coercive undue influence is the same across the board in family and other groups, don’t these accounts confirm and describe and build a case for all kinds of undue influence that families can be caught in. That may be from being born-in, recruited to, or separated by, mind-control cultic organisations. Or it could be more natural family groups – along with their sometimes very involved extended families and friends who operate rather like a cult does. Those families may be suffering any kind of harmful coercive undue influence: domestic abuse, child abuse or parental alienation. Remember that Amy Baker compared PA with cults. The Coercive Control Collective have also matched the coercive control model of domestic abuse in order to expand its usefulness.
Why can’t we continue to expect to get the same recognition and intervention that Scientology got in the courts of these two judges in the 1980s? In the UK we even have specific laws about coercive relationships in families. Surely that should mean that judges and everyone should be more open to spotting this – in cults or just in families – than so long ago. And, I argue, that the coercion is more severe and harmful in cults and parental alienation because those victims typically need to suppress their authentic identity, thinking and feeling, more completely in order to ‘sincerely’ adopt a false one.
Let’s tell it to the judge!
So here we have two blunt descriptions of an infamous version of the coercive controlling personality and the terrible harm he caused through the cult of Scientology. But across a very wide range of undue influence you will find some kind of strong personality ruling the roost in big or small groups and family groups: Deceitful, powerful, righteous, aggressive. But also charismatic, inspiring, manipulating and organising servile followers. The relationships and organisations are corrupt and dangerous because they use those already in them, or recruit unquestioning captives, just to be tools of the leader and group. The harm is completed by cutting individuals off from healthy thinking, living and relationship with others.
The features described in the Bare-Faced Messiah are found across the board. Relationships that take you in and cut you off. It’s not hard to spot them. It’s clearly possible to deal with them. These old cases show that we can expect that even family court judges can spot this and deal with it! So let’s tell it to the judges!