The Declaration of Robert Levine

Laura Decrescenzo is in the process of suing the Scientology organisation in Los Angeles, and among her allegations is the claim that the organisation coerced her into having an abortion. We linked to Tony Ortega’s excellent write up on a rather stunning set of exhibits that were entered into evidence here. As Tony put it: “Details from 18,000 pages of evidence show how Scientology manipulated a child to keep her working under slave-like conditions.”

Here we publish the declaration of Robert Levine, who analysed Laura’s evidence and describes the controlling aspects and psychological pressures she experienced during her time in Scientology.

Levine is a professor of psychology at California State University in Fresno. The Scientology organisation had filed 54 pages of objections to Levine’s declaration, and in a previous declaration by Levine had been dismissed in another case involving Claire and Mark Headley. Less than an hour ago Judge Sohigian had gone through and dismissed every single objection in the 54 pages, which is why we are publishing this fascinating document now.

Laura’s declaration (upon which Levine’s is based) can be downloaded in full here (9Mb PDF). What follows is Levine’s declaration.


6. My comments are based upon a review of the “Declaration of Laura Ann Dieckman (Decrescenzo) in Support of Plaintiffs Opposition to Defendants’ Joint Motion for Summary Judgment on the Ground that the Statutes of Limitations Bar the Action” and the accompanying exhibits.


7. In this declaration, I will address the physical, social and psychological pressures experienced by Laura DeCrescenzo both during her residence in the Church of Scientology and during the period subsequent to her leaving the Sea Org . I will try to describe and assess the degree to which these pressures affected her ability to think clearly and to exercise her own free will in making decisions of significance during these periods of time.

8. The question I will address in this declaration is whether a normal person-which I define in this case as an average person without clear psychological pathologies-should be held personally responsible for her decisions given the physical, social and psychological environment created by Scientology. Should we expect DeCrescenzo to make reasonable, independent decisions under these conditions?

9. First, let me briefly address the over-used and misleading term “brainwashing.” Totalistic commitments, such as the case of DeCrescenzo, are often described as the result of brainwashing. The term was originally coined by a journalist, David Hunter, to describe the apparently robot-like conversions of American servicemen captured in the Korean War. Hunter detailed a program of systematic torture that produced these effects. (Levine, R. The Power of Persuasion: How We’re Bought and Sold (2003). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.) The term brainwashing has taken on a vivid, frightening meaning over the years, as evidenced in films like “The Manchurian Candidate.” It is assumed to be the result of physical torture, forced brain surgery, or other coercive terrors.

10. Mind control needn’t be based on torture, however. As DeCrescenzo describes in her declaration, the more significant pressures she experienced were less overtly ominous than those we associate with brainwashing. The control exerted by Scientology was more psychologically sophisticated and, because of this, less obvious to targets like her. Scientology exerted a persistent and potent program of psychological and social manipulation that effectively controlled DeCrescenzo’s thinking, behavior, emotions, and decisions. These pressures, though more subtle than what we think of as brainwashing, effectively controlled DeCrescenzo’s sense of reality. As a result, DeCrescenzo became incapable of objectively evaluating anything she was told or threatened with.

11. In this document, I offer my analysis of the physical, social and psychological forces experienced by DeCrescenzo under Scientology that I believe significantly affected her ability to make clear, independent decisions concerning her participation, resistance to leaving, to critically evaluate what she was being told; and, further, how Scientology continued to exert these controls over DeCrescenzo even after she did leave. An overview of what is to follow:

The context: Being raised under Scientology.
A. The establishment of unquestioned norms of reality.
B. The totality of behavior, information and thought control that encompassed DeCrescenzo during her time in Scientology.
C. Learned helplessness.
D. Threats and punishments.
E. The cumulative effect.
F. Scientology’s continued control over DeCrescenzo for more than four years after her exit.
G. The tipping point.
H. Concluding comments.

The Context: the Impact of Growing up in Scientology

12. To begin with, DeCrescenzo knew virtually no other way of thinking other than that presented by Scientology. She was raised in Scientology. She began volunteering at a Church of Scientology organization in Orange County at age six or seven. She began working essentially half-time at a Church of Scientology organization in Albuquerque at age nine. At eleven years old, she was sent, with her parents’ consent, to receive training from Scientology’s Technical Training Corps in Los Angeles where she describes having worked fourteen hour days. At age twelve, again with her parents’ consent, she joined the Sea Org as a full-time employee where she continued working for the next thirteen years. DeCrescenzo reports in her Declaration: “At that time, I had a seventh grade education, and I signed a billion year contract (meaning that I agreed to work for the Sea Org for a billion years).” She went to Scientology schools for most of her childhood. She says in her declaration: “I took my high school proficiency exam at age fifteen or sixteen, and received no further “schooling” in non-Scientology subjects (e.g., literature, history, etc.) after passing this exam.” Her upbringing was inseparable from Scientology. Even when aspects of her experience may have appeared to her-and to outsiders-to have links to the outside world, virtually all of her interactions, information and education was, in fact, being shaped by Scientology. In the cases of most organizations, the most difficult step in recruitment is to elicit an initial commitment, no matter how small. It might be a willingness to attend a lecture, or a free dinner, or to accept a free book or a free flower, or even to just stop and listen to what the recruiter has to say. (Levine, R. (2003a). Cults. In E. Hickey (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime. Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage, 106-111.) This initial step is known in sales lingo as getting a “foot-in-the-door.” In many cases, especially in so-called “cold calls” (when the recruiter contacts a stranger who has not requested to be contacted) this first step is considered the most difficult in the persuasion process. It is also often considered the most important step. (Cialdini, R. B. (2001). The science of persuasion. Scientific American Mind, 284, 76-81.) It is often the watershed in the process whereby the target’s resistance to each succeeding step is lowered as the target’s trust in the salesperson increases. As a result, each subsequent request becomes less difficult to achieve than the one before, even if those subsequent steps entail more serious commitments than the earlier ones. In the case of DeCrescenzo, she was born into Scientology meaning the encapsulation process began with the initial step already totally achieved.

13. Being raised in Scientology also meant that subsequent training and socialization into the norms and beliefs-the entire mindset–of Scientology came at her from many directions. When typically being recruited by an organization, the persuasion efforts come from executives and other leaders in the organization. The recruit understands that the organization has a vested interest in what they are hearing and, as a result, is able to critically evaluate what they are hearing with this in mind. In the case of DeCrescenzo, however, her socialization was, particularly at the beginning, coming from her family and friends within Scientology.

14. Much of her socialization was likely not even directly taught. Rather, like most of what a child comes to internalize as normal and correct behavior, it comes through observation of models who she trusted and respected. This mode of learning does not require explicit teaching; it is something a child is simply programmed to do.

15. Once the mindset becomes established, it feeds on itself. The child’s dominant motive is to gain the approval of powerful others around them, most notably his or her parents and this involves learning to trust the people her parents trust. In DeCrescenzo’s case, this trust was transferred to her superiors in Los Angeles when her parents sent her there with their blessings. From this, the “pyramid of trust” could be easily extrapolated by the Scientologists who had almost total control over her life.

17. A child’s vision of right, wrong and normalcy can only come from what that child is exposed to. One is not capable of imagining contrary alternatives without being presented with these alternatives. (Levine, 2003, ibid.) This is not to say a child will choose to remain in that mindset as they grow older. As people mature, they typically choose to associate with many types of people who and may open them to new values and beliefs. In DeCrescenzo’s case, however, she became increasingly enmeshed with the thinking of Scientology as time went on. It appears from the documents, in fact, that she learned to assume that any action even remotely critical of Scientology was morally wrong and would lead to severe disciplinary action (see below).

18. The entire mindset of Scientology-its beliefs, values, habits, rules, and even its loaded language–was virtually the only reality DeCrescenzo was exposed to and, certainly, the only mindset Scientology allowed her to accept for the first 25 years of her life. DeCrescenzo had almost no choice but to believe that Scientology was normalcy.

19. This “normalcy” creates a powerful foundation for the organization to exercise control over its members, especially young members like DeCrescenzo. Social norms refer to a group’s rules for accepted and expected behavior. They describe what most other “normal” people one identifies with tend to do, i.e. what is normal. Norms affect us on two levels: They exert social pressure and they offer information about what the majority believes to be appropriate and correct. The social pressures are powered by peoples’ fear of rejection. Even when a person disagrees with what everyone else seems to be doing, they may be reluctant to express disagreement for fear of (a) standing out from the crowd; and (b) being disapproved of by the crowd. We understand implicitly what constitutes appropriate social behavior and that when we misbehave there are social consequences. There is ostracism or humiliation from other people that in turn leads to shame, rejection and isolation. (Levine, 2003, ibid.). Informational pressures derive their power from what psychologists call the principle of “Social Proof’: If everyone else sees it this way, I must be wrong. (Cialdini, ibid.). DeCrescenzo, having been raised and isolated within Scientology, was enormously prone to this effect. Scientology saw to it that she was rarely exposed to any other ways of thinking and, when she was, that she understood that this was wrongful thinking that none of her peers supported. In her experience, it seemed that virtually everyone believed in Scientology and, thus, this must be right.

20. Social norms are extremely powerful. We often think of legal authorities-the police, the courts, prisons–as the most formidable enforcers of our society’s rules. Rules and laws, however, simply threaten with formal penalties. They work through fear of external threats. Once the enforcers are gone, the individual can escape. With social norms, however, the punishment persists inside the transgressor. Shame and guilt are, in a sense, like having control agents living in your mind; as a result, they are always present.

21. Social norms, rather than formal rules, guide most of our behavior. (E.g., Kahan, D. M. (2000). Gentle nudges vs. hard shoves: Solving the sticky norms problem. University of Chicago Law Review, 67, 607-645.) In the case of DeCrescenzo, these codes of behavior often conflicted with those of the surrounding world. Because of her experience in Scientology, however, it would have been extremely unlikely for DeCrescenzo to understand this. The beliefs that may have been considered normal, correct behavior in an outside context were understood to be deviant from the norm within the culture of Scientology. To not succumb to the norm was not only understood to create problems for oneself, and her parents, but was understood to be both wrongful thinking and a socially disapproved act.

22. It would be highly unlike for a person who underwent the conditions experienced by DeCrescenzo to be capable of rising above these normative pressures. Acceptance of the normalcy of Scientology’s dictates was virtually predetermined.

Totalistic Control of Behaviors, Information and Thoughts

24. This mindset left DeCrescenzo extremely vulnerable to manipulation by Scientology and Scientology used this power to establish virtually totalistic control over her.

25. The documents offer extensive evidence that Scientology systematically manipulated DeCrescenzo on three dimensions: behavior control, information control and thought control. These three types of control, taken together with their emotional components, encompass what is popularly referred to as totalistic mind control. (Hassan, Steven (2000). Releasing the Bonds. Somerville, MA: Freedom of Mind Press.)

A. Behaviors and activities were tightly regimented and controlled. The experiences reported by DeCrescenzo describe a high degree of control of her daily behavior, including regulation of the type of activities she engaged in and, in turn, how she spent her time. Feeding this control was the fact that she essentially grew up in the Church. When not working in the Church per se, she was spending her time with family members (before leaving to work at the Sea Org) and/or friends who mirrored the same reality. As a result, she had little with which to compare her experiences, resulting in the assumption that the level of control exerted on her behavior was normal. (Cialdini, ibid.). Examples of behavior control included:

–Scientology controlled where DeCrescenzo lived and with whom she associated with. Relationships with others were monitored and strictly controlled. This was especially the case with her relationships with family members, as can be seen throughout the attached exhibits.

–Behaviors were often micromangaged. She writes: “The Master at Arms for the HCO (MAA) was responsible for removing any type of “distractions” from the Sea Org. The MAA acted as the ‘Scientology police officer,’ meaning that he or she would periodically inspect the Sea Org facilities throughout the day to make sure staff in the Sea Org had not left without authorization and would listen in on phone conversations to make that the content of these phone calls was acceptable to the Church of Scientology.”

–Long and tightly regimented work hours. Her hours became increasingly long as time went on, leaving her little time outside work.

–Keeping members constantly busy, and exhausted, is a common strategy used by cults to keep members from thinking too much about alternatives, or  thinking at all. It leaves neither time nor energy for critical thinking. (Levine, 2003, ibid.) This appears to be have been very much the case for DeCrescenzo. She provides an example of this: “When I was twelve years old and for about my first year in the Sea Org, I worked from 8:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday. These were my set hours because I was a “minor,” but there were numerous times that I worked beyond 10:30 p.m. On Sunday mornings, I was required to clean my living quarters. My only time not working was on Sunday mornings, but I was not allowed to leave Scientology facilities unaccompanied during this time period. After my first year, and until approximately 2001, I worked from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Monday through Sunday. I would return to my quarters each night on a bus between 12:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. My only time not working was on Sunday mornings, but I was not allowed to leave Scientology facilities unaccompanied during this time period.”

–Her behavior was even more tightly controlled when she was being disciplined. For example, DeCrescenzo recounts: “In 2001, I was sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) which is punishment/rehab program for Sea Org members. During this time, I worked from about 6 or 7 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. seven days a week with 15 minute meal breaks. Most of my work during this time consisted of heavy labor, such as working in the mill, cleaning hallways, and building walls. “Lights out” usually was at 10:30 p.m., and there was a quartermaster who came down the hallway to make sure each person was in their room. The quartermaster would turn out the lights in each room, and then would sit in the hallway all night long to make sure that no one left.

–Work demands had the added effect of controlling her sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation is another common technique of control in cults. It weakens a person’s mental energy during the waking day and, as a result, serves to dissipate resistance. In her declaration, DeCrescenzo recalls “regularly being deprived of sleep during my time in the Sea Org in order to work longer hours than my already demanding schedule. For instance, when I was fourteen years old, I recall being required to work for 3 days straight without even being alloWed to go home or take a shower and change my clothes. When I was provided a short shower break after 3 days, I was told to immediately return and I continued working for two more days without any sleep.”

In summary, there were rigid rules and regulations about what DeCrescenzo was and was not allowed to do, with both implicit and clear threats about what would happen to her if she did not obey. This extended to extremes that altered the course of her life. Most profoundly, Scientology decided the matter of her future motherhood–as DeCrescenzo painfully learned when she was forced to have an abortion.

B. Second, information was tightly controlled. DeCrescenzo received virtually all of her information through the filter of Scientology. This information was both selective and distorted. Any information contrary to the wishes of Scientology was either modified or withheld. “Upon joining the Sea Org, the Church of Scientology controlled my communications with my parents and family members. This control . . . continued for the duration of my time in the Sea Org.” she reports in her declaration. Examples of this include:

–All incoming and outgoing mail was approved by the church. For almost her entire time at the Sea Org., incoming mail was received already opened and she was required to leave all outgoing mail open.

–Outside phone calls were generally made in the presence of someone from Sea Org. and/or monitored by a member. She describes the limitations this created when communicating with her parents, who were her only significant outside source of information.

–Education, to what extent it was offered, was under the control of Scientology. As already indicated, DeCrescenzo took her high school proficiency exam “at age fifteen or sixteen and received no further schooling” in non-Scientology subjects (e.g., literature, history, etc.) after passing this exam.” She “never received any formal schooling in traditional subjects such as math, science, or history during my time in the Sea Org.”

–Communication with outsiders was severely limited. In DeCrescenzo’s case, the restrictions on communicating with her parents were especially significant. In the section on “Thought Control” (below) I describe some of the psychological manipulations that were used to pressure her against making these visits.

–Even when DeCrescenzo was exposed to the outside world, she was tightly supervised and understood the consequences of communication with sources critical of Scientology. We see multiple examples of this in the attached exhibits. She describes, for example, how after visits to her parents and grandparents visits, she was required to report everything that occurred with particular reference to anything that Scientology did not approve. Two examples: In Exhibit K she writes: “I recall being asked if I had any “doubts” about being in the Sea Org over the course of that year [1994]. I also was asked if had handled all problems with my mom raising concerns about me being able to leave and visit her, whether my mom ever tried to pull me out of the Sea Org, what my mom thought of the Sea Org, whether my mom had any Black PR on the Sea Org (meaning whether she had any bad views of the Sea Org or bad “public relations” related to the Sea Org), and whether my mom was actively involved in the Church of Scientology. I was asked the same series of questions with respect to my dad, grandparents, and other family members.” In Exhibit L she writes: “I felt compelled to report my mom to my seniors if she asked me questions about whether or not I wanted to be in the Sea Org or raised concerns that I was not allowed to leave when I requested time off.” Needless to say, Scientology was able to control what information was and what was • not shared during these visits through these interventions.

–She reports how these interactions were sometimes more directly monitored. For example, “I also recall from my review of Exhibit “M” that I was directed to call my grandfather in the presence of the MAA (see below) so that they could observe my conversation and how I handled my grandfather.”

–Insiders were prohibited from contact with former members. This was especially significant for two reasons. First, it cut members off from the people who were especially likely to provide them with information and ideas that were challenged Scientology. Second, it was understood that a person who disobeyed the edicts of Scientology would be declared a suppressive person themselves. This meant that you, too, would never again be able to have contact with anyone inside Scientology.

–It was well understood that, even if one had information challenging Scientology, that there were severe consequences for verbalizing this information. It would risk discipline for both oneself and the person one spoke to-who, in turn, understood that they were obligated to report your behavior to the authorities. As a result, even if a member possessed information that was not sanctioned by Scientology, it was unlikely to be communicated to anyone else.

In summary, as a result of these and other controls, DeCrescenzo received almost all her input from Scientology. She had virtually no access to outside information that would have enabled her to critical evaluate what Scientology presented to be true and normal.

C. Thought control. The most important consequence of behavior and information control is how they provide a platform for controlling an individual’s thoughts. Scientology then used a number of techniques to control DeCrescenzo’s thoughts that are typical of manipulative groups. They showed considerable sophistication in their applications of these techniques. A few examples:

–DeCrescenzo was encouraged to think in simplistic black and white terms. Scientology was good; all else was evil. The tenets of Scientology were “right” and any challenges were “wrong.” This simplistic thinking is a common lure in cults, which often attract recruits by offering people simple answers to complex problems. (Levine, 2003, 2003a, ibid.). Whether or not Scientology did offer solutions is beyond the scope of my report. On the psychological level, however, it seems clear that this way of thinking successfully created dependency on the group. Members were actively encouraged to label anything outside of Scientology as bad. There were no grey zones when it came to matters of right and wrong. If one left Scientology it would mean permanent separation from not only everything that one was familiar with but with the group that stood for goodness. (Levine, 2003, 2003a, ibid.).

–As in many cults, members learned simplified, insider labels to evaluate people’s thoughts about anything related to the organization. For example, DeCrescenzo describes feeling compelled to report anything even remotely negative that her mother or family members might ever say about Scientology. She was asked to report, for example, whether her mother had “asked me questions about whether or not I wanted to be in the Sea Org or raised concerns that I was not allowed to leave when I requested time off.” As might be expected of any concerned parent whose child is living away from home, her mother often did ask questions like these. But when pressed to report on her mother, DeCrescenzo was expected to use black and white terms. For example, she quotes one such report she wrote to her seniors in which she says her mother has “black PR on the SO” [meaning bad views of the Sea Org]. As another example, she was to report anything a family member had said that was “out-ethics” (meaning anything that is against the beliefs of Scientology). This type of “loaded language” served the additional purpose of making one feel like an insider.

–This approach divided people into “us” vs. “them.” Psychologists refer to this as the “ingroup-outgroup bias” which, it has been well-demonstrated, leads to both antagonism toward the out-group and cohesion within the in-group. In cults, this cohesion often takes the form of further dependence on the ingroup and a fear, sometimes described by former cult members as a phobia, of separation from the group. (Myers, David (2009). Social Psychology (10th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.)

— Scientology told DeCrescenzo what to think. She was required to obtain permission from the Church for any major decisions. If she resisted, she faced punishments.

The pressures of thought control served to manipulate DeCrescenzo’s sense of reality and, consequently, to obstruct her ability to make independent decisions. Almost by definition, a person who is under mind control finds it difficult or impossible to understand that they are under mind control unless they have access to feedback from the outside. DeCrescenzo was both a victim of control and was deprived of being able to recognize the extent to which she was being controlled.

26. In summary, there was virtually totalistic control over DeCrescenzo’s behavior, information and thoughts. Scientology encountered little resistance in administering this control as a result of her being raised, and thus totally socialized, in the organization. In an organization that wants to exert totalistic control over their membership, typically one of the watershed steps in achieving total commitment from a member is to get them to move on to the group’s “campus.” They might be asked to move to The Farm or The Church, perhaps explaining to the recruit that it would save the organization money and increase efficiency. Problems often escalate for the member when, coupled with this move, they are required to cut off ties with outsiders. This is a difficult demand for most organizations to achieve with a member. When successful, however, the organization gains a new level of control over the member. In the case of DeCrescenzo, she was not only born into Scientology but was sent to reside in the Sea Org, at the age of 12, with her parents’ blessing. Everything about her life-family, social, economic, education, information-unfolded in a physically and socially isolated environment under the control of Scientology.

Learned Helplessness and Hopelessness

27. The concept of learned helplessness refers to the feeling of resignation and hopelessness that results when a person repeatedly fails at attempts to alter the course of bad events. The dynamic is well established in research studies, most notably through the work of Professor Martin Seligman and his colleagues. These studies find that, when confronted by a painful event, humans and animals will initially take active steps to stop the pain or remove herself from the pain but, after repeated failures, most people will give up. The victim is then left with a chronic feeling of hopelessness which is often accompanied by depression. They lose their initiative at this point and will no longer try to help themselves, even if at some point they actually gain the power to do so; hence, the term, “learned helplessness.” (E.g., Seligman, M. (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development and Death. San Francisco: Freeman.) When reviewing DeCrescenzo’s declaration, one may ask why it took her so long to leave a situation that made her so unhappy. Why would she not revolt? I have already reviewed some of the forces that caused her to adopt Scientology’s way of thinking so totally that she was unable to critically evaluate her conditions and her options. Learned helplessness helps one understand the emotional feelings that her conditions created. The research on learned helplessness has demonstrated that, when a person is convinced that they lack control over their suffering, it is “normal” to fall into a cycle of hopeless passivity, leading to depression, which leads to lack of motivation, which leads to further hopelessness, etc. Research conducted on dogs has found that an animal caught in this cycle may eventually become so passive that they cease eating and eventually die.

28. A suicide attempt is, by any psychiatric definition, a pathological behavior. In this case, however, it was predictable. It is an example of perhaps the strongest finding in social psychology, which has been shown over and again in empirical studies: The power of an oppressive situation to cause otherwise psychologically healthy people to behave in unhealthy ways: Pathological conditions, like those created by Scientology, create pathological behavior. (e.g. Zimbardo, Philip (2007). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York: Random House.) The fact that DeCrescenzo’s most aggressive action to leave Scientology was to attempt suicide is a telling reflection of how hopeless she had come to perceive her available options. The fact that she judged, apparently correctly, that Scientology offered this as one of the few options for escaping the organization is even more telling about the organization. A healthy organization promotes self-betterment; the successful employee is encouraged to move forward with their lives. Scientology took the opposite approach. It was only when DeCrescenzo appeared to be so broken that she was a liability to the organization that she was discarded.

Threats and Punishments

29. DeCrescenzo lived almost entirely within the mindset of Scientology from the beginning of her life until the middle of 2008, more than four years after defecting from the Sea Org (see below for further discussion). During that time, virtually everything she did and thought was dictated by the rules, expectations and other demands of her Scientology superiors. The unifying theme of these demands appears to have been total and unquestioned commitment to the organization. The rulemakers within Scientology appear, however, to have feared that followers like DeCrescenzo needed to be further controlled if their aims were to succeed. They needed to use sticks as well as carrots. These sticks were administered in a web of threats and punishments. A few examples:

–DeCrescenzo was required to divulge information, sign documents and make other commitments that led her to believe she was legally bound to Scientology. She understood that these statements and signed documents would be kept on file and that they would be used against her should she ever publicly challenge Scientology or try to leave.

–She was repeatedly required to report on herself. A notable example was the extensive, detailed and often very personal “Life History” questionnaire she describes (see Exhibit AA), which she completed about five times a year. It was understood that any “wrong” answers would mean either further training or discipline. Most of the questions were ordinary. Some, however, would certainly require some degree of lying in order to meet her examiner’s expectations. For example:
“Have you ever had doubts about being in Scientology and/or the Sea Org?”
“Have any of your family or close friends expressed skepticism or been critical of Scientology?”

If she answered yes to any of the questions, she was required to provide full details of her transgressions.

31. Scientology must have certainly known that no person with even a mild level of critical ability could honestly answer these questions with a definitive “No.” Questions such as these were all part of a larger pattern inquisition that encouraged, and often required, that DeCrescenzo essentially, agree to her own punishment should she ever stray from Scientology. This was part of a larger pattern requiring her to reveal unflattering information about herself that could be used against them at any time. DeCrescenzo was sometimes required to make untrue confessions of a more serious nature. These confessions had multiple consequences. DeCrescenzo understood they could be used to threaten her with future retributions. Scientology also used these threats to continue to control her after she left.

— Members were manipulated to actively participate in this system of threats. As a notable example, spying was encouraged. This enforced the strict control of what information would be available to members. Members were encouraged to turn in anyone who deviated from proscribed rules. As we see in her declaration, DeCrescenzo understood it was dangerous to speak to others in any way critical of Scientology and it put the person you spoke to, who would be punished if the authorities found out they did not report you, in a difficult position. It was even worse to speak about extreme behaviors such as wanting to defect. This strategy of requiring members to inform on one another is a powerful means of breaking down individual trust. (Levine, 2003, ibid.) It deters members from coming together to fight perceived injustices. To borrow from the military term, it represents an application of the truism to “divide and conquer.” It also discourages anyone from sharing any information that might have heard that is challenging to the group.

–These pressures were sometimes convoluted in ways that put DeCrescenzo in impossible binds. On one occasion, for example, she reports that: “I was scared to say certain things to my mom and afraid that I would upset her.” Then, on another occasion, she writes: “I disclosed to my auditor that my mom expressed upset about me not being able to visit my family and I that I claimed all responsibility for her upset, even though I was equally confused and upset about not being able to see my family when I requested to do so.” On another occasion: “I explained [to an examiner] my concerns that she would “cause a problem” if I could not take time off or could not take time off when originally planned. I explained to her all of the reasons that I may not be able to leave and that she should not expect me to be able to leave at any particular time. I also noted in this document that I missed my mom. From reviewing this document, I recall that I did not want to upset my mom and that I was scared about what would happen to me in the Sea Org if my mom did not stop.”

–Another example of these complicated psychological pressures: In Exhibit Q, DeCrescenzo describes a memo she wrote in which she reported “a number phone calls and pages that I received on a beeper from my mom and the concerns that my mom expressed to me that I caused my sister to be sick because I made statements to my sister about her decision not to join the Sea Org. I previously had been ordered by Aaron Tweedell, the HCO Chief, to convince my sister to join the Sea Org despite her decision not to do so. I believed ‘that if I did not try to convince my sister to join, I would be considered to have “doubts” or bad feelings about the Sea Org and would be assigned lower conditions and manual labor. Mr. Tweedell required me to talk to my sister and suggested that I would be questioned about my feelings about the Sea Org if I did not try to convince her to join.”

–Even thinking bad thoughts about Scientology was a punishable offense. Perhaps the most overtly Orwellian of Scientology’s thought control manipulations was the auditing process. In most cases auditing was presented to the member as an essential step in reaching their highest religious potential, i.e. going “Clear.” In some cases-what are described as situations where the auditor would announce “I’m not auditing you”–wayward members would be told it was to correct misdeeds or help improve their contributions to the organization. In both cases, however, these supposed lie detectors were assumed by those being tested to be capable of revealing their true inner thoughts. I will not address the well-researched limitations of lie detectors, even when administered by trained experts. (Adelson, R. (2004). Detecting deception: The polygraph in doubt. APA Monitor, 35, p. 71.) What is important is that the members believed these machines could reveal their innermost thoughts. In Orwellian terms, these were the “thought police.” Given the ubiquity of these tests and the importance placed upon them, the auditing process became capable of pressuring members not only to overtly agree with everything promoted by Scientology but to try to stop thinking about anything negative.

–It would have been difficult, given her background and training for DeCrescenzo not to believe threats would be acted upon. And, it appears, they usually were. DeCrescenzo knew this from first-hand experience as the recipient of punishment (e.g., when she was sent to the Rehabilitation Project in 2001, as described earlier). She also had first-hand experience in the process of punishing others. For example, she reports: “for approximately 6 years during my time in the Sea Org, I worked as the Investigations and Evaluations Director for the Commodore’s Messenger Organization International Extension Unit (CMO IXU). The CMO IXU was responsible for keeping an eye on various management organizations, including the Sea Org. In this position, I specifically reviewed other Sea Org members’ files and their Life History Questionnaires to determine what information we had available regarding these individuals. If they threatened to leave or acted out against Scientology, we would then use information from their files to convince them to stay or to get them to stop acting out.” As a result, DeCrescenzo understood that any negative comments she herself made on the Life History Questionnaires or elsewhere would be used against her.

–Finally, early on she learned first-hand what she would face if she ever brought a lawsuit against Scientology. She recalls: “At age seven, I first picketed a lawsuit filed against the Church of Scientology outside a courthouse in Los Angeles. Seeing the Church of Scientology pull together such a big group of people to picket this lawsuit and create such a commotion made clear to me that the Church of Scientology was a formidable force and that it would go to every length to bring down people who filed lawsuits against it.

The Cumulative Effects

32. DeCrescenzo was exposed to many and frequent threats of punishment for questioning or even remotely defying anything about Scientology. Some of these requirements seemed so unbelievable-for example, agreeing to work for the Sea Org for one billion years or promising to repay a $120,000 “freeloader bill” (described below) if she ever left – that it is tempting to question why anyone would take Scientology’s threats seriously. In fact, one should question why DeCrescenzo, given her background in Scientology-being raised a Scientologist, educated and socialized within the organization, been subject to virtually totalistic mind control, having been de-motivated by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness– would not believe anything the organization told her. She knew no other reality.

33. A related question is why didn’t she leave sooner. I believe DeCrescenzo sums up the answer with impressive insight:
“There were a few times when I was able to get away from the Sea Org without approval and without an escort. However, on each of these occasions, I returned to the Sea Org because I had no money, no experience, no car or driver’s license, no understanding of the non-Scientology world, and because Church of Scientology officials told me that if I did not return, I would be subject to a Freeloader bill (meaning a financial bill for all of the services that I received during my time in the Sea Org). I also was told by HCO Chiefs, Security Personnel, and the Supercargo that by leaving, I was hiding crimes or bad acts that I had committed and that I would lose all contact with my family and friends. I also observed during my time in the Commodore’s Messenger Organization International Extension Unit (CMO IXU) that the Church of Scientology tracked down and followed anyone who left without permission; this was referred to as a “blow drill.” This included tracking activity on the person’s bank accounts, going to airports to search for the person, calling family members, and other similar conduct. I was personally involved in “blow drills” during my time the CMO IXU and recall providing Sea Org members’ social security numbers to a Private Investigator who would then track the person down. I also personally reviewed the files of Sea Org members who left, and instructed others on how to use information from their files to track them down and get them to return. As a result, I believed that even if I tried to leave permanently, I would be tracked down and returned to the Sea Org.”

Scientology’s Continued Control over Decrescenzo’s for More than Four Years after Her Exit

34. There is strong evidence that Scientology continued to exert its control over DeCrescenzo for more than four years after she left the Sea Org. One would expect Scientology’s control to sustain itself for some time even if they had no further contact with DeCrescenzo. The magnitude of their control while she was in Scientology, and the fact that this was the only way of thinking she ever knew, would be difficult for DeCrescenzo to undo under any circumstances. Former cult members who spent considerably less time in their organizations and experienced less totalistic control report the struggles they have in “deprogramming” themselves after leaving.

35. Perhaps DeCrescenzo’s deprogramming could have been accelerated if she had received professional help. Post-Scientology counseling might have enabled her to systematically shift out of her Scientology mindset sooner than she did. This, however, did not occur.

36. Rather, there is evidence that Scientology took steps to insure they remained in control of DeCrescenzo. Some examples:

–They reinforced their previous threats by requiring her to sign an affidavit and a release document before she was allowed to leave. As a further threat, they videotaped her signing the document. The affidavit contained a listing of her “supposed transgressions, including that I engaged in stealing in the past, that I stole from the Church, that I failed to uphold my job duties, that I attempted suicide, and that I did not hold the Church of Scientology responsible for anything that happened to me during my time in the Sea Org.”

–She says she did not believe many of the statements she confessed to on the affidavit but she “was so unstable that I would have signed anything in order to be able to leave.” This is easy to understand. She was confronted with the documents within one day after swallowing the bleach in her suicide threat.

–She was required to certify a list of “undeniable benefits” that she had received in Scientology-“as a staff member in the Sea Org, and as a participate of the RPF.” This was the used as the basis for the $120,000 “Freeloader” bill, for services and training she received while in Scientology, that she was later ordered to pay.

–She received a number of phone calls from Scientology members about this bill. She eventually paid approximately $10,000 of these charges despite having very little money at the time.

–It is my opinion that this fact alone-that DeCrescenzo paid $10,000 for charges that any outsider would have recognized to be so unreasonable, as well as legally unenforceable-testifies to Scientology’s sustained control over DeCrescenzo’s sense of reality even after she quit.

–We see further evidence of this mindset in DeCrescenzo’s statement: “The fact that members of the Church of Scientology issued this bill and continued to call me to collect on it made me believe that the Church of Scientology was continuing to keep tabs on me and to make sure that I did not take any actions that were antagonistic of the Church.”

–And, further, that “if I took any action against the Church of Scientology (whether filing a lawsuit or even speaking negatively about the Church of Scientology), it would use the statements in this affidavit against me, and that I would be subjected to severe retribution, including significant financial penalties and loss of my family.”

–DeCrescenzo was also reminded of Scientology’s presence in less threatening ways. For example, Scientology personnel phoned her on numerous occasions asking her to buy Scientology materials. She was certain that “these phone calls were another way for the Church of Scientology to keep tabs on me and to make sure that I was continuing to act in accordance with its wishes. A number of these phone calls were so upsetting to me that I cried.”

–In addition, Scientology continued to exploit her fears by manipulating her to be part of the process. She recalls how “at least one Scientology representative stood watch at my house while I called other members to collect money from them in order to be able’to purchase Scientology materials that I could not afford myself.” She “believed that I was regularly being tested by the Church of Scientology.” This was undoubtedly true. In addition, I would add, these manipulations were a way of coercing DeCrescenzo to acknowledge her subservience to Scientology. They reinforced her belief in her powerlessness.

–DeCrescenzo remained an “active” Scientologist until July, 2008. Here again, an outsider may find this decision difficult to comprehend. DeCrescenzo again provides impressive insight into her behavior: “Looking back, I believe that I stayed involved in the Church of Scientology out of fear that the Church of Scientology would destroy me or my family as I observed members of the Church of Scientology do this to other members who acted out against Scientology. I also believe that I acted remained an active Scientologist because I believed that I would be cut off from my family if I did not remain an active and [a] “good standing” Scientologist. I observed others leave the Church and be cut off from their family.”

The Tipping Point

37. Self-deprogramming came gradually. She reports: “It took months for me to fully process what had happened to me and to begin to feel comfortable with the prospect of challenging the Church of Scientology. While I began posting online about my experiences in Scientology and the Sea Org in July 2008, I only made these posts anonymously and kept my feelings about what happened during my time in the Sea Org very internalized. I was fearful if I posted under my true identity, that the Church of Scientology would send someone to “handle” me, meaning that the Church of Scientology would send someone to stop me from speaking out.”

–In Mid-June/July, 2008 DeCrescenzo discovered an “Ex-Scientologist” web page on her mother’s computer and confronted her about it. A few days later her parents confessed to having doubts about Scientology, said they were no longer Scientologists and for the very first time encouraged her to explore material not approved by Scientology. It was not until then–more than four years after leaving Scientology–that DeCrescenzo appears to have reached a tipping point in her ability to reflect clearly and independently about Scientology.

–She also experienced an emotional shift: “This was the first time that I felt safe in openly evaluating and questioning what had happened to me during my time in the Sea Org. At all times prior to this, I believed that I would lose my family if I openly questioned or challenged what had happened to me because we were forbidden by the Church of Scientology from doing anything negative or antagonistic to the Church. Additionally, at all times prior to this, I believed and feared the retribution that the Church of Scientology had threatened me with (including financial penalties) because I had been forbidden from reviewing or even considering anything contrary to the Church of Scientology or its representations.”

38. In summary, DeCrescenzo was raised in Scientology, socialized in Scientology and her life was totalistically controlled by Scientology. Her energy and hope for achieving a better alternative was undermined by a multiplicity of physical, social and psychological threats from Scientology. She was made to believe that leaving or criticizing Scientology would have been extremely costly even if she’d been prepared with the skills and knowledge to lead an alternative life, which the entirety of her experience in Scientology had convinced her she was not.

39. In this document, I have presented my analysis of how DeCrescenzo was manipulated and socialized by Scientology to a point where she lost her ability to make clear, independent decisions about the reality she was confronted with. This is not to say that independent thinking was impossible. Psychologists understand that, even under the most intense pressures, individuals react on a normal curve, meaning there are always outliers who defy the pressures. Given the duration and totality of the coercion in this case, however, I conclude with confidence that a “normal” person – defined inthis case as an average person – would, compared to DeCrescenzo: (1) Have had no less difficulty walking away from Scientology, and, (2) Have had no less difficulty escaping the mental grip of Scientology after existing the Sea Org. I am convinced, from the documents I have reviwed, that very few individuals experiencing the duration and totality of control that DeCrescenzo experienced would have been anymore capable of weighing the issues or critically evaluating the costs and benefits in a manner that would enable them to make rational decisions.

40. All of the opinions I have expressed in this declaration are stated to a reasonable degree of scientific probability.

Levine’s full declaration can be downloaded in PDF format here.

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