Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (March 13, 1911- January 24, 1986), better known as L.
Ron Hubbard, was a prolific American author and founder of the controversial Church of Scientology. In addition to Scientological and self-help books, he wrote fiction in several genres, business management texts, essays, and poetry.
The Church of Scientology has produced numerous biographical publications that make extraordinary claims about Hubbard's life and career. In the end, however, numerous investigations from journalists and critics have found most of these claims to be fabrications. Regardless, there is still a general agreement about the basic facts of Hubbard's life.
L. Ron Hubbard was born in 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska, to Harry Ross Hubbard (1886-1975) and Ledora May Waterbury, whom Harry had married in 1909. Hubbard was an Eagle Scout.
Harry was born "Henry August Wilson" in Fayette, Iowa but was orphaned as an infant and adopted by the Hubbards, a farming family of Fredericksburg, Iowa. Harry joined the United States Navy in 1904, leaving the service in 1908, then reenlisting in 1917 when the US declared war on Germany. He served in the Navy until 1946, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander in 1934.
May was a feminist who had trained to become a high school teacher. Her father, Lafayette O. Waterbury (born 1864), was a veterinarian turned coal merchant. Her mother, Ida Corinne DeWolfe, was the daughter of affluent banker John DeWolfe. May's paternal grandfather Abram Waterbury was from the Catskill Mountains of New York and later headed West, employed as a veterinarian.
Education, pulp fiction, and military service
During the 1920s, L. Ron Hubbard traveled twice to the Far East to visit his parents during his father's posting to the United States Navy base on Guam.
Although he claimed to have graduated in civil engineering from George Washington University as a nuclear physicist, university records show that he attended for only two years, was on academic probation, failed in physics, and dropped out in 1931. It is also claimed that he obtained his Ph.D from Sequoia University in California, which was later exposed as a mail-order diploma mill.
Hubbard next pursued writing, publishing many stories and novellas in pulp magazines during the 1930s. He became a well-known author in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and also published westerns and adventure stories. Critics often cite Final Blackout, set in a war-ravaged future Europe, and Fear, a psychological horror story, as the best examples of Hubbard's pulp fiction. His 1938 manuscript "Excalibur" contained many concepts and ideas that later turned up in Scientology.
Hubbard married Margaret "Polly" Grubb in 1933, with whom he fathered two Children, L. Ron, Jr. (1934-1991) and Katherine May (born 1936). They lived in Bremerton, Washington during the late 1930s.
In June 1941, with war looming, Hubbard joined the United States Navy as a lieutenant junior grade. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he was posted to Australia but was returned home, possibly after quarrelling with the US Naval Attache, who rated him "unsatisfactory for any assignment". Subsequently, he was given command of the harbor protection vessel USS YP-422, based in Boston, Massachusetts. Again, he fell out with his superior officer, who rated him "not temperamentally fitted for independent command." These statements are in stark contrast with official Scientologist literature, which often portrays Hubbard as a brave and heroic figure during the war.
Hubbard was relieved of command and transferred to a naval school in Florida where he was trained in anti-submarine warfare. On graduating, he was given command of the newly built subchaser USS PC-815 (based in Astoria, Oregon). Shortly after taking the PC-815 on her maiden voyage from Astoria to San Diego, California, his crew detected what he believed to be two Japanese submarines near the mouth of the Columbia River. They spent the next three days bombarding the area with depth charges, after which Hubbard claimed at least one Japanese submarine had been sunk. A subsequent investigation by the US Navy concluded Hubbard's vessel had in fact been attacking a "known magnetic deposit" on the seabed, and postwar casualty assessments found no Japanese submarines had been anywhere near the Columbia River at the time.
Shortly after reaching San Diego, Hubbard ordered his crew to practice their gunnery by shelling one of the Coronado Islands, a small Mexican archipelago off the northwest coast of Baja California, in the belief it was uninhabited and belonged to the United States. Neither assumption was correct. The Mexican government complained and following a brief investigation, Hubbard was relieved of command with a sharp letter of admonition.
Most of Hubbard's wartime service was spent ashore in the continental United States. He was mustered out of the active service list in late 1945, and continued to draw disability pay for arthritis, bursitis, and conjunctivitis for years afterwards, long after he claimed to have discovered the secret of how to cure these ailments. In June 1947 the Navy attempted to promote him to Lieutenant Commander, but Hubbard appears not to have learned of this and so never accepted it; consequently he remained a Lieutenant. He resigned his commission in 1950.
In later years, Hubbard made a number of claims about his military record that are difficult to reconcile with the govenment's documentation of his service years. For example, Hubbard claimed he had sustained wounds "in combat on the island of Java", but his service record offers no indication he came anywhere near Java. He also claimed to have received 21 medals and awards, including two Purple Hearts and a "Unit Citation". The Church of Scientology has circulated a US Navy notice of separation (a form numbered DD214, completed on leaving active duty) as evidence of Hubbard's wartime service. However, the US Navy's copy of Hubbard's DD214 is very different, listing a much more modest record. The Scientology version, signed by a nonexistent Lt. Cmdr. Howard D. Thompson, shows Hubbard being awarded medals that do not exist, boasts academic qualifications Hubbard did not earn, and places Hubbard in command of vessels not in the service of the US Navy. The Navy has noted "several inconsistencies exist between Mr. Hubbard's [purported] DD214 and the available facts."
The debut of Dianetics
In May 1950, Hubbard published a book describing the self-improvement technique of Dianetics, titled "The Modern Science of Mental Health." With Dianetics, Hubbard introduced the concept of "auditing," a two-person question-and-answer therapy that focused on painful memories. According to Hubbard, dianetic auditing could eliminate emotional problems, cure physical illnesses, and increase intelligence. In his introduction to Dianetics, Hubbard declared that "the creation of dianetics is a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and arch."
Unable to elicit interest from mainstream publishers or medical professionals, Hubbard turned to the legendary science fiction editor John W. Campbell, who had for years published Hubbard's science fiction stories. Beginning in late 1949, Campbell publicized Dianetics in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction. The science fiction community was divided about the merits of Hubbard's claims. Campbell's star author Isaac Asimov criticised Dianetics' unscientific aspects, and veteran author Jack Williamson described Dianetics as "a lunatic revision of Freudian psychology" that "had the look of a wonderfully rewarding scam." But Campbell and novelist A. E. van Vogt enthusiastically embraced Dianetics: Campbell became Hubbard's treasurer, and van Vogt-convinced his wife's health had been transformed for the better by auditing-interrupted his writing career to run the first Los Angeles Dianetics center.
Dianetics was a hit, selling 150,000 copies within a year of publication. With success, Dianetics became an object of critical scrutiny by the press and the medical establishment. In September 1950, The New York Times published a cautionary statement on the topic by the American Psychological Association that read in part, "the association calls attention to the fact that these claims are not supported by empirical evidence," and went on to recommend against use of "the techniques peculiar to Dianetics" until such time it had been validated by scientific testing. Consumer Reports, in an August 1951 assessment of Dianetics, dryly noted "one looks in vain in Dianetics for the modesty usually associated with announcement of a medical or scientific discovery," and stated that the book had become "the basis for a new cult." The article observed "in a study of L. Ron Hubbard's text, one is impressed from the very beginning by a tendency to generalization and authoritative declarations unsupported by evidence or facts." Consumer Reports warned its readers against the "possibility of serious harm resulting from the abuse of intimacies and confidences associated with the relationship between auditor and patient," an especially serious risk, they concluded, "in a cult without professional traditions."
On the heels of the book's first wave of popularity, the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation was incorporated in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Branch offices were opened in five other US cities before the end of 1950 (though most folded within a year). Hubbard soon abandoned the Foundation, denouncing a number of his former associates as communists.
Hubbard's private behavior became the subject of unflattering headlines when his second wife, Sara Northrup, filed for divorce in late 1950, citing that Hubbard was, unknown to her, still married to his first wife at the time he married Sara. Her divorce papers also accused Hubbard of kidnapping their baby daughter Alexis, and of conducting "systematic torture, beatings, strangulations and scientific torture experiments."
Main article: Scientology
In mid-1952, Hubbard expanded Dianetics into a secular philosophy which he called Scientology. Hubbard also married his third wife that year, Mary Sue Whipp, to whom he remained married for the rest of his life. With Mary Sue, Hubbard fathered four more children- Diana, Quentin Hubbard, Suzette and Arthur- over the next six years.
In December 1953, Hubbard declared Scientology a religion and the first Church of Scientology was founded in Camden, New Jersey. He moved to England at about the same time, and during the remainder of the 1950s he supervised the growing organization from an office in London. In 1959, he bought Saint Hill Manor near the Sussex town of East Grinstead, a Georgian manor house owned by the Maharajah of Jaipur. This became the world headquarters of Scientology.
Hubbard claimed to have conducted years of intensive research into the nature of human existence; to describe his findings, he developed an elaborate vocabulary with many newly coined terms. He codified a set of axioms and an "applied religious philosophy" that promised to improve the condition of the human spirit, which he called the "Thetan." The bulk of Scientology focuses on the "rehabilitation" of the thetan.
Hubbard's followers believed his "technology" gave them access to their past lives, the traumas of which led to failures in the present unless they were audited. By this time, Hubbard had introduced a biofeedback device to the auditing process, which he called a "Hubbard Electropsychometer" or "E-meter." It was invented in the 1940s by a chiropractor and Dianetics enthusiast named Volney Mathison. This machine, related to the electronic lie detectors of the time, is used by Scientologists in auditing to evaluate "mental masses" surrounding the thetan. These "masses" are claimed to impede the thetan from realizing its full potential.
Hubbard claimed a good deal of physical disease was psychosomatic, and one who, like himself, had attained the enlightened state of "clear" and become an "Operating Thetan" would be relatively disease free. According to biographers, Hubbard went to great lengths to suppress his recourse to modern medicine, attributing symptoms to attacks by malicious forces, both spiritual and earthly. Hubbard insisted humanity was imperiled by such forces, which were the result of negative memories (or "engrams") stored in the unconscious or "reactive" mind, some carried by the immortal thetans for billions of years. Thus, Hubbard claimed, the only possibility for spiritual salvation was a concerted effort to "clear the planet," that is, to bring the benefits of Scientology to all people everywhere, and attack all forces, social and spiritual, hostile to the interests of the movement.
Church members were expected to pay fixed donation rates for courses, auditing, books and E-meters, all of which proved very lucrative for the church, which purportedly paid emoluments directly to Hubbard and his family. However, Mr. Hubbard denied such emoluments many times in writing, proclaiming he never received any money from the church.
Legal difficulties and life on the high seas
Scientology became a focus of controversy across the English-speaking world during the mid-1960s, with Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, the Australian state of Victoria and the Canadian province of Ontario all holding public inquiries into Scientology's activities.
Hubbard left this unwanted attention behind in 1966, when he moved to Rhodesia, following Ian Smith's Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Attempting to ingratiate himself with the white minority government, he offered to invest large sums in Rhodesia's economy, then hit by UN sanctions, but was asked to leave the country.
In 1967, L. Ron Hubbard further distanced himself from the controversy attached to Scientology by resigning as executive director of the church and appointing himself "Commodore" of a small fleet of Scientologist-crewed ships that spent the next eight years cruising the Mediterranean Sea. Here, Hubbard formed the religious order known as the "Sea Organization," or "Sea Org," with titles and uniforms. The Sea Org subsequently became the management group within Hubbard's Scientology empire. He returned to the United States in the mid-1970s and lived for a while in Florida.
In 1977, Scientology offices on both coasts of the United States were raided by FBI agents seeking evidence of Operation Snow White, a church-run espionage network. Hubbard's wife Mary Sue and a dozen other senior Scientology officials were convicted in 1979 of conspiracy against the United States federal government, while Hubbard himself was named by federal prosecutors as an "unindicted co-conspirator." Facing intense media interest and many subpoenas, he secretly retired to a ranch in tiny Creston, California, north of San Luis Obispo.
In 1978, Hubbard was convicted of felony fraud and sentenced to 4 years in jail and a 35,000F fine by a French court. Hubbard refused to serve his jail time and neglected paying his fine and Hubbard went into hiding.
During the 1980s, Hubbard returned to science fiction, publishing Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth, the latter being an enormous book, published as a ten volume series. He also wrote an unpublished screenplay called Revolt in the Stars which dramatizes Scientology's "Advanced Level" teachings. Hubbard's later science fiction sold well and received mixed reviews and press reports describing how sales of Hubbard's books were artificially inflated by Scientologists purchasing large numbers of copies in order to manipulate the bestseller charts. While claiming to be entirely divorced from the Scientology management, Hubbard continued to draw income from the Scientology enterprises; Forbes magazine estimated his 1982 Scientology-related income exceeded US $40 million.
Hubbard died at his ranch on January 24, 1986, reportedly due to a stroke. He had not been seen in public for the previous five years. Scientology attorneys arrived to claim his body, which they sought to have cremated immediately. They were blocked by the San Luis Obispo County medical examiner, who, according to critics, conducted an autopsy revealing high levels of a psychotropic drug called Vistaril. The Church of Scientology announced Hubbard had deliberately "discarded the body" to do "higher level spiritual research," unencumbered by mortal confines.
In May 1987, David Miscavige, one of L. Ron Hubbard's former personal assistants, assumed the positon of Chairman of the Religious Technology Center (RTC), a corporation that owns the trademarked names and symbols of Dianetics and Scientology. Although Religious Technology Center is a separate corporation from the Church of Scientology International, Miscavige is the effective leader of the religion.
L. Ron Hubbard's life is embroiled in controversy, as is the history of Scientology (see Scientology controversy). His son, L. Ron Hubbard, Jr. claimed in 1983 "99% of what my father ever wrote or said about himself is totally untrue."
Some documents written by Hubbard himself suggest he regarded Scientology as a business, not a religion. In one letter dated April 10, 1953, he says calling Scientology a religion solves "a problem of practical business", and status as a religion achieves something "more equitable...with what we've got to sell". In a 1962 official policy letter, he said "Scientology 1970 is being planned on a religious organization basis throughout the world. This will not upset in any way the usual activities of any organization. It is entirely a matter for accountants and solicitors. A Reader's Digest article of May 1980 quoted Hubbard as saying in the 1940s "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion."
One controversial aspect of Hubbard's early life revolves around his association with Jack Parsons, an aeronautics professor at Caltech and an associate of the British occultist Aleister Crowley. Hubbard and Parsons were allegedly engaged in the practice of ritual magick in 1946, including an extended set of sex magick rituals called the Babalon Working, intended to summon a goddess or "moonchild." (Among occultists today, it is widely accepted Hubbard derived a large part of 'Dianetics' from Golden Dawn occult ideas such as the Holy Guardian Angel.) The Church insists Hubbard was a US government intelligence agent on a mission to end Parsons' magickal activities and to "rescue" a girl Parsons was "using" for magical purposes. Critics dismiss these claims as after-the-fact rationalizations. Crowley recorded in his notes that he considered Hubbard a "stupid lout" who made off with Parsons' money and girlfriend in an "ordinary confidence trick." Discussions of these events can be found in the critical biographies Bare-Faced Messiah, A Piece of Blue Sky and in The Marburg Journal of Religion.
Hubbard later married the girl he claimed to have rescued, Sara Northrup. This marriage was an act of bigamy, as Hubbard had abandoned, but not divorced, his first wife and children as soon as he left the Navy (he divorced his first wife more than a year after he had remarried). Both women allege Hubbard physically abused them. He is also alleged to have once kidnapped Sara's infant, Alexis, taking her to Cuba. Later, he disowned Alexis, claiming she was actually Jack Parsons' child.
Hubbard had another son in 1954, Quentin Hubbard, who was groomed to one day replace him as the head of the Scientology. However, Quentin was deeply depressed, possibly due to his father's homophobia, and wanted to leave Scientology and become a pilot. As Scientology rejects homosexuality as a sexual perversion and views mental health professionals and the drugs they can prescribe as fraudulent and oppressive, Quentin had no avenues available to deal with his depression. Quentin attempted suicide in 1974 and then died in 1976 under mysterious circumstances that might have been a suicide or a murder.
Hubbard has been interpreted as both a savior (Scientologists refer to him as "The Friend of Mankind") and a con-artist. These sharply contrasting views have been a source of hostility between Hubbard supporters and critics. A California court judgement in 1984 involving Gerald Armstrong, who had been assigned the task of writing Hubbard's biography, highlights the extreme opposition of the two sides. The judgement quotes a 1970's police agency of the French Government and says it part:
"In addition to violating and abusing its own members' civil rights, the organization [Scientology] over the years with its "Fair Game" doctrine has harassed and abused those persons not in the Church whom it perceives as enemies. The organization clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and the bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder LRH [L. Ron Hubbard]. 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. At the same time it appears that he is charismatic and highly capable of motivating, organizing, controlling, manipulating, and inspiring his adherents." - Superior Court Judge Paul Breckinridge, Church of Scientology of California vs. Gerald Armstrong, June 20 1984.
"Fair Game" was introduced by Hubbard, and incites Scientologists to use criminal behavior, deception and exploitation of the legal system to resist "Suppressive Persons", i.e. people or groups that "actively seeks to suppress or damage Scientology or a Scientologist by Suppressive Acts". He defined it "Fair Game" as:
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.
The Church of Scientology today claims that it has removed those policies from its doctrine and it is no longer in existence, but this claim is just as vigorously contested by its critics. (See Fair Game (Scientology) for a more detailed examination.)
Conflicting interpretations of Hubbard's life are presented in Russell Miller's biography of Hubbard, Bare Faced Messiah; this largely critical version includes links to Scientology's official accounts of Hubbard's past, embedded within Miller's description of the same history.
Several issues surrounding Hubbard's death and disposition of his estate are also subjects of controversy -a swift cremation with no autopsy; the destruction of coroner's photographs; coroner's evidence of the drug Vistaril present in Hubbard's blood; questions about the whereabouts of Dr. Eugene Denk (Hubbard's physician) during Hubbard's death, and the changing of wills and trust documents the day before his death, resulting in the bulk of Hubbard's estate being transferred not to his family, but to Scientology.