Scientology and Human Rights: The RPF

Posted on October 9, 2010 by

By John Brown

In a fine flight of irony, L. Ron Hubbard once said that his aim was to create ‘a civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights.’ It is wise, when our Ron waxes eloquent, to believe more or less the opposite, whether he is talking about child-care, mental health, or business management. He was profoundly uninterested in the problems incurred by those who believed in him.

Those who are familiar with Scientology’s publicity will have noticed that Human Rights is a perennial theme or diversionary technique. Back in February and March 2008 the Berlin Org used a demonstration in support of human rights to distract attention from the first Anonymous protests. The confrontation tended rather to focus attention on the new demonstrators, a lesson in tactics that CoS has been very slow to learn.

They are of course ready to claim infringements of their own rights, particularly in European countries that have no tradition of accommodating cults.  If we look at what they do rather than what they say we get a different picture. Their most notorious denial of basic human rights to freedom of movement, choice of work, adequate food and shelter, and a basic level of care is the RPF or ‘Rehabilitation Project Force’. From 1974 the RPF is Scientology’s prison system, an essential element in their coercive treatment of members. The RPF replaced the Rehabilitation Unit and in the 1960s Ron used disagreeable or disgusting work as a punishment on board his various ships.

There may be RPF prison camps at Clearwater, Florida (inside the Fort Harrison Hotel), at East Grinstead, West Sussex, England (inside Saint Hill Manor), at the European HQ of Scientology in Copenhagen, Denmark, on MV. Freewinds (which is virtually run by slave labour), and at Gilman Hot Springs (also known as Hemet or Gold Base), in California. Happy Valley, a ranch 11 miles from Gold, a former prison camp, was sold in 2002 to the Soboba Indians who turned it into a casino. There may also have been an RPF at La Quinta, a ranch used as HQ by L.Ron Hubbard in his latter days; its current status is not known. And there may be others. There was a rumor of a new prison in Russia, but with the recent effective opposition by the Russian government this may now be on hold.

Scientology, inventive as ever, added the requirement to study Hubbard’s writings to the rest of the punishments and is thus able to define the RPF as ‘a work/study/counseling program that Scientologists participate in to rehabilitate themselves from whatever situation they feel they are in, by a combination of study, auditing and physical work’. They make it sound like Scout camp. Marlene Getanes explained that the RPF is for members of the Sea Org (the elite paramilitary staff) who have done something to harm Scientology (which may include wanting to leave, or having children). They are sent to the RPF to be helped, to recognise their faults and how to avoid them in future. She presented the RPF as a kindly alternative to being thrown out of Scientology. She did not mention that entering and leaving an RPF is not optional. It is a notorious punishment which involves severe deprivation of sleep and food, and which threatens sanity and health. To the cult the RPF may be a chance to improve one’s spiritual abilities.  To Gerry Armstrong, who spent more than two years in the RPF, it was a ‘psychological gulag’ whose purpose was to break the human will. [1]  To ordinary people with an awareness of human rights, it is a slave labor camp.

The day in a typical RPF starts as early as 5.30am – sleep deprivation is part of the treatment. As many as 20 individuals sleep stacked up in a small room. They have a few minutes to shower, dress and eat before undertaking a punishing physical routine, and then starting work. They may work until 10 pm, with half an hour for lunch. In an emergency, which is frequent, they may continue for as many as three days without sleep. Their diet is typically rice and beans and is short of many essential elements. Those sent to the RPF are also required to study Scientology and may work in pairs who supervise and report on each other. Some have their minds completely destroyed and become incapable of living anywhere else. The former Scientologist Andre Tabayoyon admits to using brain-washing techniques on prisoners to induce psychotic breakdown or suicide. [2] Escape is often attempted but after a lifetime serving Scientology a Sea Org member generally has no money and no commercial skills, and has for years had no contact of any kind with relatives and friends in the outside world.

The RPFs are of course useful. They provide the cult with free labor for its building and landscaping projects, free crew for the Freewinds, and free staff for all its celebrity centres, hotels and other facilities.  The luxury accommodation at the disposal of Tom Cruise when he is at Gold – swimming pool, gym, and other facilities –  were built by members of the RPF, living out of sight of such ‘celebrities’. [3]

Several individuals who once belonged to the inner circle of Scientology but who fell foul of David Miscavige, including his wife Shelly, have disappeared from public view in recent years. Senior Scientologists Mark ‘Marty’ Rathbun and Mike Rinder of OSA disappeared into the RPF but turned up again on the other side of the razor wire. The documentary ‘Missing in Happy Valley’ was inspired by the case of Wiebke H., once in charge of the Hamburg Org, who generated millions of dollars for Scientology, and also disappeared into Gold Base.[4]

When Jesse Prince escaped from the RPF at Gold he was helped by Indians of the Soboba Band, whose reservation lies next to the Scientology compound. In December 2002 Jesse reported that the Indian community knew that people had died in the RPF and where their bodies were hidden. Jesse did not find this reassuring: ‘I knew there were many Scientology management people being taken to Happy Valley and I never knew what happened to them all’.[5]

It is astonishing that such abuses can take place within a cult, which claims to respect human rights and which is surely subject to the same laws as any other organisation, religious or not.

[1] Interview with Russian newspaper ANN, 2 March 2007.
[2] Andre Tabayoyon affidavit (34) Deliberate misuse of the Hubbard Tech (Black Dianetics).
[3] Andre Tabayoyon affidavit (22) Construction projects at Hemet Base.
[4] Documentary: Missing in Happy Valley: Investigation into Scientology’s RPF Camps’ by Peter Reichel and Ina Brockmann.
[5] Jesse Prince, ‘Escapes from Scientology’s Gold Base through Soboba Indian Reservation’, 2002, in