December 04, 2000

When he is not a polemicist, Massimo Introvigne can be a good scholar. He is not, however, a good travel reporter. Every time I travel to Germany on business, Massimo seems to get upset. On my recent trip, for example, to England and Germany (October 22-26, 2000), Massimo mistakenly believed that I was on vacation, wining and dining my way through the country and liking every minute of it because the Germans take me seriously. Well, if that trip was Massimo’s idea of a holiday, then I’ll never let him arrange a visit to Italy for me!

Here’s how I saw (and felt) those few days. I attached the German leg of the trip onto a speaking engagement that I already had in London. The British ‘cult-information’ organization, F.A.I.R., had invited me to give its annual lecture. It was entitled, “Alternative Religions and Child Sexual Abuse,” and I spoke on the topic for about forty minutes before taking questions from the floor. F.A.I.R. covered hotel costs for two nights, took me to dinner after the lecture, and paid for my transportation costs to and from the airport. I did the lecture for free­I did not receive any honorarium of any kind. The lecture seemed to go well, despite the fact that I was exhausted from the time change and the frightening number of hours that I had devoted to pulling the information together into a lecture format.

When Ursula Caberta (of the Hamburg Interior Ministry’s Working Group on Scientology) learned that I was going to London, she decided that the trip provided an excellent opportunity to launch and distribute my revised and expanded study of Scientology’s Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) to the German public. I had written an early version of the study in 1997, and presented it at an academic conference. Some of the major figures in the field were at that presentation, including Eileen Barker, Gordon Melton, James R. Richardson, and Thomas Robbins. These academics heard me speak about the RPF as a forced labour and re-indoctrination program that Scientology imposes onto its most devoted
members when leadership determines that they are deviating from policy, not performing up to expectations, or challenging their authority. I also showed the audience a copy of the 1955 booklet that L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology’s founder) almost certainly wrote and that his organization used to distribute entitled, Brain-washing: A Synthesis of the Russian Textbook on Psychopolitics.

In that talk (and in subsequent publications) I acknowledged that most scholars did not use the ‘brainwashing’ term any longer when they discussed the process by which people converted to ‘new religions.’ (I now know, however, of some groups that appeared to use brainwashing in their recruitment efforts, and I mention them in an essay coming out in an edited volume entitled, Misunderstanding Cults). I used the term, however, in that 1997 presentation to describe how one organization­Scientology­imposes brainwashing techniques in attempts to retain members whom its leaders believe are at risk of disaffecting (as indicated by their alleged deviance). Indeed, I took a widely accepted definition of brainwashing from social scientific literature, made it even more restrictive, then showed how the RPF met all of these strict, social scientific conditions. A Ph.D. student (Deana Hall) and I
repeated this process when analyzing a similar program to the RPF that The Family (formerly the Children of God) ran against their teens in the late 1980s and early 1990s. (This article is about to appear in Cultic Studies Journal).

Apparently Massimo feels threatened by my RPF analysis, since he keeps insisting that it is based primarily on apostates and therefore is seriously flawed. Well, I certainly use accounts by former members, which first appeared twenty years ago and paint a consistent picture of RPF abuses. But what Massimo never acknowledges is that I also utilized primary Scientology documents and video footage that I have of RPF inmates (including, it seems, teens). I even cited an account from a person who was still in Scientology and for a brief period posted his RPF experiences on the Internet. Multiple sources of information told very similar RPF stories. I discuss all of this information in the RPF study that the Hamburg government is distributing, but Massimo conveniently fails to mention these sources.

Anyway, some months after my RPF presentation at the 1997 conference, a German free-lance reporter contacted me with the promise that he could translate and publish a revised version of my RPF study. He said that he could do the publication through either his own publishing house or publishers associated with the major German newspapers or magazines for whom he had filed stories. Especially because the paper was far too long for academic journals, I was excited about it being published in its entirety. Quickly I set to work at revisions, and expanded the test from about 75 manuscript pages to around a hundred pages. I sent if off to the reporter, and there it sat for perhaps ten months. The translation, alas, was a more formidable job that the reporter imagined, so it never took place. Finally, I retrieved the text from him and contacted Ursula Caberta with a query about any interest that her office might have had to publish the study.

Ursula liked the idea, especially since she had heard RPF stories during her own investigations into Scientology. Moreover, she shared my concern that Scientology was committing significant human rights violations in its RPF program. She proposed to translate the long study into German and publish 2,500 copies, as well as print and distribute 500 copies in English. I believe that she offered to pay me $2,500.00 (U.S.), but we never put anything in writing and I have not received any money. If I do, then I will be delighted–preparing and writing the study was enormously time-consuming and expensive, and I don’t mind getting paid for my work (especially since I and other professors spend so much of our own resources on research).

oh yes, Massimo is correct–the Germans do take me seriously, or should I say they take my work seriously (as well they should). During the twentieth century, Germany experienced two totalitarian regimes, and the current government only recently made reparations for victims who provided forced labour to some German businesses during WWII. Consequently, when I discuss the ‘forced labour’ aspect of the RPF, the Germans pay attention. (Massimo pays attention too, which I know because he keeps putting me on CESNUR’s web site!)

Let me return to the trip and its travel itinerary. The day after the talk (October 23, 2000), Hamburg’s Working Group on Scientology paid for my round-trip flight between London and Germany. (It also covered my hotel and food expenses while I was there, but did not pay me an honorarium of any kind.)The next morning Ursula, Stacy Brooks and I gave a press conference to journalists about the RPF, and these reporters seemed particularly taken with Stacy’s account of life inside it as well as with a short American television segment that I presented of teens on the RPF in Los Angeles. After lunch, I spent time doing some Scientology research, and the next morning I and others traveled to Berlin. I still was exhausted, and the first day in Berlin pushed me to the limit.

Tuesday morning, Ursula, Stacy, and I had another press conference about the RPF. Immediately afterward, we had a (long) meeting with officials and members of the Lutheran Evangelical Church­one of the two largest church organizations in the country and the one that funds the office that Pastor Thomas Gandow runs. (Stacy, by the way, was powerful in this meeting.) That evening, I pleaded for an early ride back to my hotel, because I was at my physical limit for lack of sleep. The next morning I slept in.

Wednesday was perhaps the busiest day of the trip. At noon I met with a reporter (although the reporter’s primary attention was on someone else in our group); then attended a meeting with an attorney; and then prepared for my 6:30 public lecture at the Free University of Berlin. There I repeated the lecture that I gave in London, and for it received the University’s standard speakers’ payment­400 marks. The evening concluded with a pleasant dinner with faculty and students. I got back to the hotel fairly late, packed, slept, then
spent the entire next day flying back to Canada. (The time in the air from London alone is, I believe, over eight hours.) I got home, then worked into the night in preparation for an important Sociology Department meeting the next day (involving student scholarship recommendations).

So, Massimo is not a good travel reporter. He confuses work time with holiday time; lectures, press conferences, and meetings with (I guess) play. He must think that I like day-long flights; peculiar food (I like most Germans but I am not wild about some of their cuisine!), hot, uncomfortable hotel beds, and the joys of constantly re-packing and ‘schleeping’ around luggage. Maybe one day I will return to Italy (I was there once, briefly), where I can help Massimo refine his travel reporting skills as I wine and dine through his lovely country. Until then, however, my strong advice to him about his travel reporting skills is, “Massimo, keep your day job!”