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Scientologists in Haitian Disaster Relief - Some Questions
"Aid Projects, People Systems, Society"
- by Craig Mackintosh
The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia
February 1, 2010

Does Scientology and permaculture’s People Care ethic conflict? And, if so, should this matter to permaculturists?

This post won’t be an easy one to formulate so as to avoid controversy. Indeed, avoiding controversy on this topic is likely impossible. But, sometimes when you try to adhere to principle you’re given tasks that are not easy, pleasant or welcome. I’ll state right now that I write this article reluctantly. Making the decision to do so took some deliberation, and was also encouraged by the prompting of others who have emailed me privately with the same shared concern. In this post I will attempt to be objective and respectful – and I hope anyone who comments will endeavour to do this as well.

The tragedy of the Haiti earthquake is immense, and perhaps the worst aspect is that the healing process for people and land will take so much longer than it could have since Haiti was already drowning in problems before the earth shook and as such have little built in resiliency beyond some individual determination to survive. I’ve already visited the topic of how Haiti’s situation has been made a thousand-fold worse because of the economic colonialism of the world’s great powers, so won’t address this again here. The focus of this post, instead, is on aspects of the relief effort that some involved may wish to consider. Actually, I write this not only in relation to the relief effort for Haiti alone, but also for the benefit of the victims, relief workers and donors the world over who will participate in the future disasters that will surely strike in ensuing years.

I speak, in particular, about the involvement of Scientologists in relief efforts. Scientologists state that Scientology is currently the world’s fastest growing religion. Others dispute this, but either way, their involvement in disaster relief is growing. Scientologists claim that "Through the last 20 years, Scientology Volunteer Ministers have provided emergency service at 126 worst-case disaster sites. Today, they are among the most recognized independent relief organizations in the free world." ( If the statement is even remotely true, it means the discussion that follows is appropriate since permaculture is increasingly seen as offering some of the best solutions for disaster relief and long term sustainable development – so putting the work of Scientologists in some kind of understandable context will be pertinent for permaculturists who wish to support or be involved in permaculture aid work.

I say I write the post reluctantly for a couple of reasons:

  1. First is because I am all for freedom of religion. I believe most permaculturists would agree that the future we would like to build would necessarily incorporate many of the principles featured in the U.S. constitution – like the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of belief, etc. As such, it is not my purpose or desire to stigmatise or publicly attack any group or individuals. So, I won’t. I am flat out not attempting to do this. (I will therefore not moderate through unreasonable rants and vengeful outpourings in comments on this post towards Scientologists. Keep it civil and intelligent and your comment should get through however. I may moderate through unreasonable rants and vengeful outpourings aimed at me though.)
  2. Secondly, I am reluctant to write this because Haitians desperately need aid, and I do not wish anything I write to diminish their chances of getting that aid in double-quick fashion.

So, why am I making this post at all? Well, because permaculture is based on three central tenets – Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. The purpose of this post is solely to open for discussion the possibility that Scientology may be incompatible with the second principle – People Care. I will state right now that I don’t know enough about the group to be decisive on this, so am here merely bringing this potential incompatibility to the greater permaculture community so they can consider this possibility and then make their own decisions on:

  1. whether there is such an incompatibility, and
  2. whether that incompatibility is important to us or not.

If permaculturists decide there is no conflict, they would then be able to move on from this issue with peace of mind.

The reason I think this topic should be opened for reasoned and objective debate is that the involvement of Scientologists in permaculture relief efforts (or the involvement of permaculturists in Scientologist’s relief efforts, as the case may be) sets a precedent. There will be more disasters, and we may well find Scientologists and permaculturists working side by side in relief efforts again in the future. Thus, discussing this now is appropriate and timely, even if difficult. Discussing it now, I would state, is in accordance with a very basic permaculture principle – to carefully observe before drawing out a design plan, so as to save time, energy and trouble further down the track. If we’re designing permaculture relief strategies, then careful observation now may help ensure we’re best prepared to be the most effective in subsequent tragedies.

Many of you will have read the Permaculture Relief Corps Forming For Haiti Earthquake Response? post we recently put up. If you haven’t, I’d suggest you do so now and come back here to continue. Please also read the comments through – well, at least those from my comment of January 21, 2010 onwards. (Scroll down to the comment that begins with ‘Note from site editor’ in bold lettering.) From reading those comments you’ll understand more how this situation arose, and you’ll also see from the comments that followed mine the need to stimulate discussion on this. You’ll see from those comments that some people have opted out of getting involved in the relief effort because of the connection with Scientology. (Some who didn’t comment on the site have emailed me to state their decision to opt out as well.) This shows that the issue is of concern to some permaculturists so has the potential to, at the very least, complicate future permaculture aid efforts as it has already for Haiti.

Possible Implications

I think it can be said that if the current precedent is the beginning of further such relief scenarios, then Scientologists may be providing resources (like flights, etc., as they seem to be now) to permaculturists again in the future. Some of the potential/possible implications for this are:

  1. The valuable, practical aid capabilities of permaculturists (sanitation/food/water/housing/energy systems, etc.) could become an effective vehicle for Scientologists to gain greater access to vulnerable communities and contribute to the legitimisation of their organisation.
  2. Given the controversial nature of Scientology, the reputation of the permaculture community could be tarnished if people perceive that the above point is a reality.
  3. If permaculturists do a great work on the ground, and it was financed or otherwise aided by Scientologists, then Scientologists may lay claim to the work itself, thus diminishing the ability of the permaculture movement to develop in its own right and stand on its own legs (donations could potentially also go through The Church of Scientology or its members rather than through permaculture relief groups).
  4. If the Scientology belief system itself results in behaviours and activities amongst its own members that conflict with the permaculture People Care principle, then this gives permaculturists a moral dilemma – as by participating in their relief efforts, and effectively helping them to grow as a viable, more acceptable religion, permaculturists may find they’re assisting the growth of an organisation that is in direct conflict with their own principles.
  5. If permaculturists are found to be assisting the growth of Scientology through legitimising it via working partnerships, and if the accusations of Scientology critics are at all valid (again, I don’t know, and it seems that for me to find out I’d have to, according to Scientology’s leading spokesperson, join their group to find out for myself, which I have no inclination to do) then permaculturists could be assisting the formation of a power structure whose world view and ultimate goals are in stark contrast to those of permaculturists.

Touch assists and other treatments and accusations of vindictive behaviour

Critics of Scientology, including ex-Scientologists, make startling accusations about the group’s treatment of both Scientology members and ex-members, as well as accusations about other aspects of non-ethical behaviour, like dishonesty.

An example of the latter issue (dishonesty) can be found here, where Scientologists who were at ‘ground zero’ of the 9/11 twin towers disaster are accused of dishonesty in their dealings with news media and in their dealings with police who manned the barricades around the disaster zone. Scientologists are also accused, in this same situation, of trying to stop traumatised people from accessing counseling. (Scientologists are very open about their opposition to traditional psychiatric counseling techniques). The following quote is said to be part of a leaked email from a Scientologist regarding their work on the ground at 9/11:

Additionally we are trying to move in and knock the psychs out of counseling to the grieving families and that could take another 100 plus people right now. Due to some brilliant maneuvering by some simply genius Sea Org Members we tied up the majority of the psychs who were attempting to get to families yesterday in Q&A, bullbait and wrangling. They have a hard time completing cycles of action and are pretty easy to disperse. -

These are all points that permaculturists might wish to consider. In Haiti for example, there is and will be for a very long time, a major problem with mental health/trauma due to the shocking nature of the tragedy that has befallen them – see here, here and here for more on this – and on-going depression as many people fail to come to terms with life without legs, arms, homes, family members, means of sustenance and much more. Scientologists are usingtouch assists‘ and possibly other assists in Haiti right now and are also training surviving Haitians to do so as well. Scientologists believe these methods to be very effective. (I’ve never experienced such ‘assists’, so can’t comment.) Permaculturists may thus wish to consider the relative merits of these methods compared with those that could be getting applied more widely in Haiti if other agencies were there instead of Scientologists. And, as surviving Haitians are being taught these methods, permaculturists should consider the relative merits of people being given such training as opposed to other types of training they could be receiving instead.

There is a lot of controversy over Scientologists’ views on treatment. The case of Lisa McPherson, who apparently died in very strange circumstances while in their care, is a case in point. (See also.)

Disasters to aid spread of Scientology?

Permaculturists may also want to consider the purpose and potential long-term outcomes of such treatments in view of L. Ron Hubbard’s strategy for the growth of their organisation:

"Every day in the daily papers one discovers people who have been victimised… [The Scientologist] should enter the presence of the person and give a nominal assist, leave his card which says where church services are held with the statement that a much fuller recovery is possible by coming to free services… Handling the press he should simply say that it is a mission of the church to assist those in need." February, 1956

"Casualty contact is very old, is almost never tried and is almost always roaringly successful… This is a pretty routine drill really. You get permission to visit. You go in and give patients a cheery smile. You want to know if you can do anything for them, you give them a card and tell them to come around to your group… Your statement, ‘the modern scientific church can cure things like that. Come around and see’ will work. It’s straight recruiting!" September, 1959

- written by L. Ron Hubbard, published in the Independent

Is there a conflict with the permaculture People Care principle?

In regards to a potential, direct conflict with the People Care principle, specifically, accusations of critics of Scientology are numerous (see here and here to get you started on an internet full of such accusations) and, if true, would make the considerations of this post highly pertinent. The Church’s ‘fair game‘ policy against people and organisations they perceive as being their enemies should form the centrepiece of discussion here, I believe.

The punishments apparently meted out on members and non-members, in different degrees of severity, are quoted below, from, and lists a great many more practical examples as well:

                           HUBBARD COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE
                     Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, Sussex
                       HCO Policy Letter of 18 October 1967,
                                     Issue IV
                          PENALTIES FOR LOWER CONDITIONS
                          (Applies both Orgs and Sea Org)
LIABILITY  Suspension of pay and a dirty grey rag on left arm and day
           and night confinement to org premises.
TREASON    Suspension of pay and deprivation of all uniforms and insignia,
           a black mark on left cheek and confinement on org premises or
           dismissal from post and debarment from premises.
DOUBT      Debarment from premises. Not to be employed. Payment of fine
           amounting to any sum may have cost org. Not to be trained or
           processed. Not to be communicated or argue with.
ENEMY      SP Order. Fair game. May be deprived of property or injured by
           any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the
           Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed. 
LRH:jp                                                   L. RON HUBBARD
Copyright (c) 1967                                       Founder
by L. Ron Hubbard

Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and its present leader, David Misgavige

An enormous amount of controversy also surrounds the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer who went on to create the Scientology belief system. A quick Google search will result in reams of accusations about lies and motives, personal drug abuse and other scandals. An ex-Scientologist, Gerry Armstrong, claims that before he left the organisation he attempted to write a biography on Hubbard so as to address the concerns of critics of Scientology, but that in doing so he discovered that much of Hubbard’s claims about himself (his credentials and history, etc.) were lies. Mr. Armstrong says that when he tried to correct Church records to reflect what he discovered, the church turned on him with litigation:

Mr Armstrong says that when he sought to have the record corrected the church turned on him, eventually suing him for theft of the documents that Hubbard had turned over to him.

The church lost the first round, the judge in part finding: ”In addition to violating and abusing its own members’ civil rights, the organisation over the years with its ‘fair game’ doctrine has harassed and abused those persons not in the church whom it perceives as enemies.

”The organisation clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder. 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." – Sydney Morning Herald

Controversy surrounds the current leader of the organisation, David Misgavige, particularly in regards to accusations by former Scientologists of physical violence inflicted on subordinates by him.

Possible Scientology beliefs that should not be discussed

Controversy also surrounds Scientologists in regards to intergalactic entities that are said to be affecting us all today. These theological beliefs are said to be in ’scriptures’ only accessible to higher level Scientologists. From watching Martin Basher of ABC News trying to get clarification on some of those beliefs I see I might offend Scientologists by discussing these here, so I will refrain from doing so. People in my mind must travel their own path in life and so are welcome to their own beliefs. I would suggest to anyone intending to comment here that they should respect their desire not to discuss this aspect, particularly as I think it may have little or nothing to do with the behaviour of the organisation, which is far more relevant to the discussion at hand.

Is it critical for Scientologists to be involved in disaster relief at all?

Discussing the ideal source of aid in tragic circumstances is obviously more of an argument for us on the outside of the situation. For Haitians of course, they will be happy for assistance from whatever source – in the short term at least. The Volunteer Ministers of Scientology have somehow managed to get in, and fast, where others haven’t:

The lines are worked out to get personnel in these planes through the security lines, etc and on site where it will count… They have the lines greased to get through to Haiti – all you need is a passport and malaria pills, and personal items. This is the best way to go in you will be with a strong, experienced disaster team who knows how to use the lines to get equipment and get things done in a chaotic situation, and are very careful of their safety, etc…. and the church has planes and lines strung to get them in fast…. I can get funding for plane tickets and even get you clearance from Homeland Security…. I’m serious, I’ll do that for you. - Cory Brennan, Scientologist and permaculture aid worker, commenting on our recent post.

This ability to get into Haiti is certainly impressive. I am really unsure how this was acheived.

Some could of course argue that Scientologists bringing in aid is less of a ‘better-them-than-nothing’ situation, but more of a ‘if-not-them-then-someone-else-could-be-there-instead’ scenario. For example, some aid agencies appear to be annoyed that Scientologists are taking airport time and space that they could be utilising instead:

There is a backlog of at least 800 aircraft awaiting permission to land at the overloaded airport, which can handle just 130 flights daily, prompting recriminations from some aid agencies. – Mail & Guardian

Closing thoughts

In addition to the People Care principle, there may also be conflicts between Scientology and the first and third principles of permaculture as well (Earth Care, and Fair Share). There are many accusations of members being tricked out of money, for example, which, if true, would conflict with the economic aspects of the Fair Share principle. I don’t know if Scientology beliefs include earth preservation aspects or not, as many other religions do, but, if not, this could have the potential to impact the Earth Care principle as well? But, with this post already being long enough for one sitting, I won’t take more time on these aspects now.

I will again stress that I’m pleased Haitians are receiving aid, and I am, again, in no way making an attack on Scientologists either as individuals or as a group. As a mortal being I am in no position to judge motives and do want to presume the best of people and trust they are well-intentioned. I am merely seeking to provide a platform for discussion so that the greater permaculture community can take a moment of pause to consider whether the precedent that has begun here is something to applaud or to be concerned about, and so that we can move forward more productively after discussing these things.

In closing, please feel free to comment (with intelligence and civility, or you won’t get through) if you have thoughts/facts that might either: 1) put permaculturists at ease in regards to a relationship between permaculture relief efforts and Scientologists, or that 2) might help permaculturists worldwide determine whether they should have any connection with the organisation at all, and if so, what the nature of that ‘connection’ should be?

I would again suggest that these discussions centre on whether Scientology is compatible with the permaculture People Care principle, as that principle is integral to the permaculture movement and looking at this potential conflict simplifies any argument over whether permaculturists should be involved with Scientologists. If it is not compatible, then the next question is does our connecting with Scientologists legitimise their existence? If we find it does, does that mean that through involvement we’re helping to grow an organisation that is in direct opposition to our world view? And, would that be intelligent permaculture design?

From my attempts to learn more about the group, there does seem to be a clear conflict at a foundational, behavioural level.

Further Watching:

Please see the full report.



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