- The Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF)
An excerpt from the revised and corrected version of a shorter presentation given at the 27th Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag, June 20, 1997, Leipzig, Germany
When Scientology's elite "Sea Org" members commit what the organization considers to be serious deviations (such as dramatic e-meter readings, unsatisfactory job performance, or job disruption [including challenges to senior officials]), then they likely wind up in the RPF. Even discussing the policies and techniques that Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard wrote by using ideas other than his own was called "verbal tech" and apparently was a punishable act (see Hubbard, 1976: 546). Begun in early 1974 while Hubbard and his crew still were at sea, it now operates in several locations around the world. Currently RPFs are running at the Cedars of Lebanon building in Los Angeles; on the Scientology property near Hemet, California; in the facilities in Clearwater, Florida; in the British headquarters at East Grinstead, Sussex; and Copenhagen (Denmark). I cannot confirm the existence of RPFs on the west coast of Denmark, Johannesburg (South Africa), Sydney (Australia), and several other American locations.
In a phrase, the RPF program places Scientology's most committed members in forced labour and re-education camps. The operation of these camps raises serious human rights questions, and their continuation reflects badly on nations that allow them to operate unchecked. Particular blame must be placed on American state and federal authorities, since at least three RPF programs have operated for years on American soil. Moreover, the American Internal Revenue Service granted Scientology tax exemption despite what almost certainly are illegal conditions under which RPF inmates must work, study and live. Extensive material about RPFs in the United States has existed for years in various court cases, and now most of this information is readily available on the World Wide Web.
A series of policies about the RPF began appearing in January, 1974, when Hubbard was aboard ship, and a few revised versions of them have leaked out of the organization. One of these early documents revealed the totalistic nature of the program when it said that "[a] member of the RPF is a member of the RPF and of nothing outside of it, till released" (Walker and Webb, 1977: 3). Part of the program consisted of hard physical labour - building structures, cleaning, renovating, garbage disposal, and moving furniture. Typically work projects of this nature took about ten hours a day, since people were supposed to get "around 7 hours sleep, 5 hours study or auditing, 30 minutes for each meal, and 30 minutes personal hygiene, per day" (Walker and Webb, 1977: 4). They wore dark worksuits and were prohibited from speaking (unless necessary) with persons outside the RPF, and they ate and slept separate from other Sea Org members (Walker and Webb, 1977: 10). They had to run everywhere they went, and often they had to run extra distances for punishment. On a ship, running punishments usually meant laps around the deck (Kent Interview with Pignotti, 1997: 18-19). an land, running punishments sometimes meant running around a pole for hours at a time, often in hot sun (see Kent Interview with Pignotti, 1997: 22; S. Young, 1994: 66). Severe restrictions were placed upon visitation rights with spouses or children (Walker and Webb, 1977: 10). Accounts from former inmates indicate that RPF life can be extremely harsh, degrading, and abusive. Certainly experiences varied somewhat according to year and location, but Hanna Whitfield's description of RPF at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida in 1978 captures many common elements from other accounts that I have heard and read:
Some of us slept on thin mattresses on the bare cement floor: Some had crude bunk beds. There was no place for clothes, so we lived out of suitcases and bags which were kept on bare floors. Some privacy was maintained by hanging sheets up between bunk beds and between floor mattresses. The women and men had separate bathrooms and toilets but they were small. We were not allowed to shower longer than 30 seconds. We had only to run through the shower and out the other end. There was no spare time for talk or relaxation. We awoke at 6:30 A.M. or earlier at times, did hard labor and heavy construction work and cleaning until late afternoon. After [a] quick shower and change of clothing, we had to audit each other and 'rehabilitate' ourselves until 10: 30 P.M or later each evening. There were no days off, four weeks a month. We ate our meals in the garage or at times in the dining rooms AFTER normal meals had ended. Our food consisted of leftovers from staff. On occasions which seemed like Christmas, we were able to prepare ourselves fresh meals if leftovers were insufficient (Whitfield, 1989: 7-8).
A similar, but more passionate, description exists of the Fort Harrison RPF in the account written by a woman using the pseudonym Nefertiti (1997), who in turn reproduces excerpts from ten other former Scientologists who related RPF experiences aboard two Scientology ships, FLAG at Clearwater, Florida, Pacific Area Command in Los Angeles, and Happy Valley near Hemet, California.
Certainly the amount of work that RPF members performed varied according to era and circumstances, but in some instances conditions became unbelievably bad. For example, in a California RPF, former inmate Pat reported that her RPF crew "worked shifts of thirty hours at a time" (Kent Interview with Pat, 1997: 25). Her RPF team would "start working in the morning and we would work all night into the next morning and then we worked through the next day until we got our thirty hours and then we'd go to sleep" (Kent Interview with Pat, 1997: 25).
The most extensive description of the RPF at Scientology's facility near Hemet, California, appears in a sworn declaration by former Sea Org member Andre Tabayoyon (1994). Tabayoyon stated that he spent approximately six years in the RPF during his 21 years in the organization (A. Tabayoyon, 1994: 7, 8). In the RPF program that he was on beneath Scientology's Cedars Sinai Hospital building in Los Angeles, he allegedly slept on "a slab inside the vault of the morgue." In the RPF in the property near Hemet, he stayed in "the chicken coop dormitory... which still smelled of chicken coup droppings [sic]" (A. Tabayoyon, 1994: 18; see Kent Interview with Young, 1994: 20).
While nearly all RPF accounts speak of guards who were posted to prevent people from escaping the program, Tabayoyon reported that the guards at the Gilman Hot Springs facility (where Sea Org staff 1ived and an RPF operated) were armed (A. Tabayoyon, 1994: 25). Indeed, he helped to construct the facility's security system, which included "the perimeter fence, the ultra razor barriers, the lighting of the perimeter fence, the electronic monitors, the concealed microphones, the ground sensors, the motion sensors and hidden cameras " He also said that he trained guards in the use of force, including the use of weapons, many of which had been purchased with "Church" money and not registered (A. Tabayoyon, 1994: 15, 16).
This facility (which sometimes is called "Gold" and other times "Hemet" in various documents) is less than a two hour drive from Los Angeles and Hollywood, and on its property apparently are a number of facilities that Scientology's celebrities use. Part of the labour used to build an apartment for Scientologist and actor Tom Cruise allegedly was from the RPF (A. Tabayoyon, 1994: 53). As Tabayoyon himself stated, "[u]sing RPFers to renovate and reconstruct Tom Cruise's personal and exclusive apartment at the Scientology Gold base is equivalent to the use of slave labor for Tom Cruise's benefit" (A. Tabayoyon, 1994: 53). In one instance, when Cruise's apartment allegedly was damaged by a mud slide, "prison [i.e., RPF] slave labor" were "worked almost around the clock" to repair it (A. Tabayoyon, 1994:53).
More extreme than the RPF is the RPF's RPF, an institution even described in one of Scientology's own dictionaries. According to the dictionary definition, the first inmate sent to the RPF's RPF was because the person "considered their [sic] RPF assignment amusing" (Hubbard, 1976: 451). Various accounts, however, also suggest that people who did not perform according to acceptable RPF standards ended up in this extreme program.
Hubbard succinctly outlined the ten restrictions under which inmates on the RPF's RPF operated. Six of the ten were:
(1) segregated from other RPF members with regard to work, messing, berthing, musters and any other common activity.
(2) no pay.
(3) no training.
(4) no auditing.
(5) may only work on mud boxes in the E/R [engine room]. May not work with RPF members. [Elsewhere Hubbard identified mud boxes as "those areas in the bilge which collect the mud out of the bilge water" (Hubbard, 1976: 341)].
(6) six hours sleep maximum (Hubbard, 1976: 451).
Andre Tabayoyon, who spent 19 days on the RPF's RPF, summed up the program by saying that it "is designed to totally destroy any individual determinism to not want to do the RPF" (A. Tabayoyon, 1994: 9).
Accounts both about people who were on the program, and from inmates of the program itself, are chilling, and they reinforce Tabayoyon 's summation. Monica Pignotti, for example, spoke to me about her five days in the RPF's RPF in 1975. She related that:
[A]t that point I was in a horrible depression and I was crying almost all the time all day long and I'm sure I was in a state where I probably would have been hospitalized if... any mental health professional had seen me then 'cuz I was severely depressed. But they sent me to the RPFs RPF and I was made to go down and clean muck from the bilges. That was my job all day long was to do that, getting up at four in the morning and - it was all day long. And then I was allowed a short meal break to eat by myself and then I had to go right back down there and I had to clean all this sludge out and then paint, paint it [The person in charge of the RPFs RPFJ would make the prisoners write these essays until they got it right, until they were saying what the group wanted them to say. So that was where I really snapped - where I went into this state of complete - where I didn't feel anything any more after that. I was completely numbed out and I'd do whatever they said and I didn't rebel any more after my experience on the RPF. I stopped rebelling for a while (Kent Interview with Pignotti, 1997: 26; see Pignotti, 1989: 28-29).
Nefertiti reported speaking with a woman in her thirties on the RPF's RPF whose ankles were chained together while she was performing a "nasty" job in the basement of the Fort Harrison Hotel in Florida (Nefertiti, 1997: 3). Finally, Dennis Erlich reported that, for the first day or two of his time on the program in the basement at the Fort Harrison, he was locked in a wire cage and had a guard outside the room (Kent Interview with Erlich, 1997: 8).
A final word must be said about the RPF, the RPF's RPF, and children. Some evidence exists that children may be subject to these programs. Monica Pignotti, for example, reported to me that she was an RPF inmate along with a twelve year old girl (Kent Interview with Pignotti, 1997: 30), and a posting in the news group by Martin Hunt stated that "l have seen children on both the RPF and the RPF's RPF" (Hunt. 1997: 1). Finally, a poorly reproduced document from Scientology's Pacific Area Command ( circa 1989) spoke about the "need to re-institute the Children's RPF" (Cohee, n.d.).
One hardly has to point out that the RPF and the RPF's RPF are brainwashing programs. Scientology operates them to break the wills of, and correct deviations of, its most committed members, and then to reformulate them into persons whose personalities directly mimic the organizational mould. That mould is itself a reflection of Hubbard's troubled personality. I am fully aware that many of my social scientific colleagues insist that researchers should restrict using the controversial brainwashing term only to situations where there is incarceration and physical maltreatment (Anthony. 1990: 304). The RPF and the RPF's RPF meet these criteria. These two programs also used forced confessions, physical fatigue, intense indoctrination through extended study of the leader's policies and teachings, humiliation, and fear. Persons familiar, however, with the early history of Scientology are not surprised to see that Hubbard sanctioned a brainwashing program for his followers. since he almost certainly is the author of a brainwashing manual that Scientology printed and distributed for years beginning in 1955 (Hubbard?, 1955).
Anthony, Dick. 1990. "Religious Movements and Brainwashing Litigation: Evaluating Key Testimony." in In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious Pluralism in America. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books: 295-344.
Cohee, Nedra. n.d. [circa 1989]. "Kids Scene in PAC." Memo: 1p.
[Hubbard, L. Ron?]. 1955. Brain-Washing[.] A Synthesis of the Russian Textbook on Psychopolitics. Los Angeles: The American Saint Hill Organization.
Hubbard, L. Ron. 1976. Modern Management Technology Defined. Copenhagen: New Era Publications.
Hunt, Martin. 1997. "Child Cruelty in Scientology." : (April 14); downloaded form Deja News.
Kent, Stephen A. (Interviewer). 1994. "Interview with Robert Vaughn Young." (August 13): 71 pp.
Kent, Stephen A. 1997. "Interview with Dennis Erlich." (March 30): 18 pp.
Kent, Stephen A. 1997. "Interview with Pat [Pseudonym, on Scientology]." (March 12): 35 pp.
Kent, Stephen A. 1997. "Interview with Monica Pignotti." (April 6): 31 pp.
Nefertiti [Pseudonym]. 1997. "The Church of Scientology or the Guru's Gulags. Story of An Escape."
Pignotti, Monica. 1989. "My Nine Lives in Scientology." Downloaded from the World Wide Web: 36 pp.
Tabayoyon, Andre. 1994. "Declaration of Andre
Tabayoyon," in Church of Scientology International vs. Steven Fishman and Uwe Geertz. United States District Court, Central District of California, Case No. C V 91 6426 HLH (Tx), (April 4): 64 pp. (Plus Attachments ).
Walker, Ens. Susan; and Lt. Art Webb, 2nd. 1977. "The Rehabilitation Project Force." Sea Organization Flag Order 3434RB. Re-Revised by Commodore's Messenger; Approved by L. Ron Hubbard, Commodore. (January 7, 1974; Revised August 21, 1976; Re-Revised May 30, 1977): 14 pp.
Whitfield, Hana. 1989. "Affidavit." (August 8): 11 pp, downloaded from "ALT.RELIGION.SCIENTOLOGY".Young, Stacy Brooks. 1994. "Declaration of Stacy Brooks Young." in Church of Scientology International vs. Steven Fishman and Uwe Geertz. United States District Court, Central District of California, Case No. C V 91 6426 HLH (Tx), (April 4): 82 pp. (Plus Attachments).