The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Steve Cannane
On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Steve Cannane
Youtube clips from the show are available here.
might have heard of Scientology's connections with
celebrities like Tom Cruise and John
But what you probably haven't heard is the extensive links the so-called religion has Down Under.
ABC journalist Steve Cannane has just released a book, “Fair Game,” about Scientology in Australia.
I spoke to him earlier and began by asking what makes Scientology different from well-known religions.
Steve Cannane: Well, it’s different in the sense that you can walk into a Catholic church and ask the priest what he believes in, but you can’t do that in the Church of Scientology, because you actually have to pay to get to the secret beliefs up to a certain level. You can’t go in and ask about what’s in Operating Thetan Level III. You have to pay tens of thousands of dollars. So, yes, there are beliefs that many people would find wacky in the Catholic Church and find wacky in Scientology. The big difference is in Scientology those beliefs are copyrighted, so that means if someone was publishing them, the Church of Scientology could potentially sue them. Also, it means they protect it so they can make money out of it down the track.
Lisa Owen: So just to clear up one fundamental question — given everything that you’ve found out writing this book, is Scientology, in your view, a religion, a cult or a fully fledged money-making machine?
I think you could describe it as all three. The High Court of Australia described as a religion. I consider it to be a cult because they have cult-like tendencies. They have a charismatic leader. They use controlling behaviour over their followers, for example, they have a policy called disconnection which breaks up families. If somebody leaves Scientology, often they never see their family members again. That is classic cult-like behaviour. It also has money-making tendencies. L Ron Hubbard used to say, ‘Make money. Make more money. Make even more money.’ He admitted to certain people that he started Scientology to make money. So I believe it can be classified as all three. I think that if somebody describes something as being their religion, if they’re a Rastafarian or a Jedi knight or a Scientologist or a Catholic, I respect that. If they want to call that their religion, that’s fine by me. I think there’s big question marks over whether L Ron Hubbard believed it was a religion. I uncovered documents where he used terms like ‘the church mock-up’, where he talked about at once stage when he was setting up Scientology about pursuing the religion angle. So I think there’s huge question marks over whether L Ron Hubbard actually believed that Scientology was a religion.
And you’re very clear in I think it’s the foreword to your book that you believe that people can believe whatever they like; your issue with this is the abuses that have been going on within this organisation. So let’s talk about some of what you uncovered. There was a punishment centre in Australia, wasn’t there, in Sydney where followers were sent if they fell out of favour? Can you describe to me what happened there?
Yeah. It’s in Western Sydney, in suburban Sydney, in a place called Dundas. It’s the Rehabilitation Project Force, and it’s like a punishment camp for members of Scientology’s elite unit, the Sea Organisation. And they can be sent there for the most bizarre indiscretions. I heard of people being sent there, for example, a Venezuelan man, Jose Navarro, was sent there because he fell in love with a woman he was forbidden for falling in love with. He was sent from the Scientology cruise ship, The Freewinds, which cruises around the Caribbean delivering Scientology services to wealthy Scientologists. He was sent from The Freewinds to Australia to this punishment camp for two and a half years because he fell in love with the wrong person. I spoke to another person who was sent to that punishment camp for 12 years. And on this camp, they have to wear all black, they have to run between jobs, they do hard labour. I was told about moving rocks, that they had to clean out maggot-ridden dumpster bins, that they had to do hard labour. And so it really is a punishment camp, so it’s an awful place to be sent to, and it’s a difficult place to get out of.
So just to be clear here, are you saying that people were trafficked there against their will and forced into what was essentially hard labour?
Well, Jose Navarro, who was sent to this punishment camp in Australia, and I describe it as treating Australia like a penal colony, because David Miscavige, the leader of Scientology, used to refer to sending people as far away as possible, sending them to this dumping ground in Western Sydney. They were sent there for these kinds of indiscretions, and, yes, it was certainly a punishment camp, and Jose Navarro was trapped there for two and a half years until he ended up escaping from this place. Yes, he was granted in the end when he escaped a visa in Australia on the grounds that he was a victim of human trafficking. He went through the human trafficking unit of the federal police, so they considered that he was a victim of human trafficking, because they granted him a visa on that basis.
So does this centre still exist?
As far as we know, it does, but we think it’s been downsized to a large degree due to media pressure.
I suppose this raises some pretty serious questions. This is going on in your country under your government’s watch, and if you have a person there who’s been granted residency because it was found that he was trafficked, how do they get away with it? Because these people enter the country on religious visas, but if they’re being mistreated and detained, shouldn’t the government do more?
You would think so. This is an organisation that the Australian government considers a charity. They don’t have to pay tax in Australia, yet they also consider that one of their members was trafficked into Australia and they granted him a visa on that basis. So, yes, I think there’s some serious questions about how they continue to get tax-free status and are considered a charity in Australia. I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that it’s considered a religion in Australia, that politicians think if you go after one religion, then they might come after theirs. Because there’s freedom of belief, freedom of religion, people consider it a no-go area in many ways. But this is not about belief, this is about behaviour, and that’s what my book is about. It’s about scrutinising the behaviour of the Church of Scientology and abuse that goes right up to the top and its leader, David Miscavige.
You mention there the tax-free status as a charity in Australia. Same situation here in New Zealand. Given everything that you have researched, should they have that status? Or should countries like New Zealand and Australia take that away from Scientology?
Well, where I am at the moment in the UK, they don’t have that tax-free status, and the way the Church of Scientology gets around that is the British Church of Scientology is centred in Adelaide. So what reason would they be doing that but to not pay tax? I find it very hard to justify an organisation that trafficks people, that forces women to have abortions, that sends people off to punishment camps where they have to do hard labour, and also that make so much money out of its followers. I mean, you don’t have the pressure that followers of the Catholic Church or the Anglican Church or your local temple are under that you are in the Church of Scientology to donate money and to buy more products. There’s no doubt that it is a money-making operation. I think that tax-free status should seriously be scrutinised in countries like New Zealand and Australia.
People who escape Scientology — and according to your book, it is an escape; you don’t just leave — you then become the subject of what they call fair game, which is actually the title of your book. What is this concept of fair game?
Well, fair game was a policy that L Ron Hubbard wrote, and if he wrote the policy, his followers follow his words. He is considered the source of Scientology. And he basically said that people who are critics or people who have criticised or attacked Scientology are fair game, that you can do anything to destroy them. You can sue them. You can do whatever to destroy their lives. Now, the Church of Scientology claims that this policy was overturned. Well, that’s not true. If you look at the memo Hubbard released after fair game, he said that you’re not allowed to mention it in public because it’s bad for public relations. He still said that you treat suppressive people — in their terms, evil people, people who are critics of Scientology — in the same way that he meant in the original memo, and this is you destroy them by any means possible. You sue them, get private investigators on them.
And that includes illegal means, according to your book?
Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, for years the Church of Scientology’s intimidated journalists, publishers, all kinds of different people about getting the truth out about the Church of Scientology. Virtually every story I’ve ever done on Scientology they threatened to sue me. They threatened to sue me before this book came out. Since the book’s come out, they’ve tried to discredit me. They’ve described the book as— they’ve likened it to a hate crime. They claim that I’m a bigot when my book has got nothing to do with belief; it’s about behaviour. So they do this. At one point they tried to frame a journalist in New York in the 1970s for a bomb threat. She was facing years in jail, and it was only when the FBI raided the Church of Scientology on another matter they uncovered all these documents that showed that they were trying to frame this journalist, Paulette Cooper.
This is absolutely fascinating stuff. It’s a great read, a real page-turner. Steve Cannane, thanks so much for joining us this morning. Be looking over your shoulder when you leave this interview, will you?
Always, Lisa. Thank you very much.
Thanks for your time.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz