This past week the Tampa Bay Times produced another expose about an FBI investigation into the Church of Scientology. It comes in the same week that Lawrence Wright's new book on the church, Going Clear, has been published.
In 2009, former Scientology member Nancy Many published her own memoir, called My Billion Year Contract: Memoir of a Former Scientologist. She's now featured in the first episode of a new series, Dangerous Persuasions, that kicks off Wednesday night on the Investigation Discovery channel (Channel 135 on Bright House, Channel 123 on Verizon Fios) at 10 p.m.
Here's a clip, in which segments of Many speaking to the camera are interspersed with dramatizations of her story that play like B-movie Hitchcock, complete with trenchcoats, thunderstorms and dark alleys.
CL spoke to Nancy Many Tuesday morning. Here are some extended excerpts. We began by asking her about working with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, which she did in the 1970s (she joined the church in 1971). What were her impressions of the man who created the movement?
Nancy Many: First off, I was very happy he wasn’t my father. I was close to several of his children personally, as well as an outsider just watching those dynamics. …to put that in context, I don’t know of any man who really, really made, did something that made a mark, whether for good or for bad, who had time to be a good father. So it was his time, and his own choice of priorities.
CL: Did you come across him much at that time when you were in Boston?
NM: When I was in Boston I worked [for the church], and there were a couple of projects that we worked on in Boston that Hubbard was directly on top of.
CL: You didn’t really encounter Hubbard too often when you were in Boston?
NM: No, no. But all the people I worked with were personally connected with him, including my first husband.
CL: You were up there seemingly in the hierarchy. Is that a fair assessment?
NM: And as I reflect on it, ages ago, my involvement was more because I was married at that time to someone who was very close to Hubbard, and very high up in the echelon. On my own, I don’t think that ever would have happened.
CL: Did other females get the opportunity to get in high positions at that time?
NM: Are you talking about espionage, or being aides to Hubbard? That was one thing that Hubbard did do...there was no sex discrimination, both women and men were abused equally.
CL: Do you recall at all Hubbard’s attitudes towards homosexuality?
NM: His son was a homosexual, the son who killed himself, and I don’t know how public that is, and I don’t know how comfortable I am about saying that on this show. In terms of Hubbard’s direct writings? He felt all homosexual people were evil and what he calls Suppressive People.
Cl: Or SP’s.
NM: Yes, SP’s.
CL: Did you get a chance to see the film The Master?
CL: And your thoughts?
NM: From my first-hand knowledge, that movie was more correct than people realize.
CL: What I have heard is that because of the power of Scientology in Hollywood, years ago that movie could not have been made.
NM: Absolutely true. Not because of the celebrities in Hollywood, but because of the money and the litigation of Scientology.
I know of one case in particular, and this was not that many years ago, maybe five years ago, there was a television show coming out that was going to include Scientology in a very negative light. Scientology Celebrity Center found out about this show, I’m assuming through up-and-coming actors who were going out for parts and they were given ‘sides,’ which is part of the script, but Scientology did not have the script. And they found a Scientology opinion leader, who was a Scientologist, who knew one of the other writers on the show, and that Scientologist celebrity himself and the president of Scientology took that non-Scientologist writer on that show to lunch and they asked him to get a copy of the script. And he refused. He’s a writer (laughing). It’s America. He absolutely refused, but somehow they did get it, and the script was changed.
CL: That fear of litigation for a while I understand stopped a lot of hard-hitting journalism from reporting on the church. The Master is a fictional movie, we know, by Paul-Thomas Anderson, but there’s less fear now in Hollywood?
NM: First of all, as far as the Hollywood celebrities, right? People talk about, ‘Oh, Scientology’s got all of these Hollywood celebrities.’ Or these opinion leaders. Well, who are you talking about? The same old, same old? Tom Cruise? John Travolta? Kirstie Alley? You talk about others like Giovanni Ribisi ..these celebrities were raised in Scientology, so these were not outside normal-people celebrities that they gathered into their group. Do you understand the difference?
NM: They didn’t get any new celebrities. In other words, the only new celebrity they’ve gotten in the last eight years is Louis Farrakhan.
CL: My knowledge is that Hubbard faded out of the spotlight in the late 1970s. Is that correct?
NM: About 1980. He didn’t fade out of the spotlight, there were still orders coming down from him, but he went into hiding, but he had only a few people with him and all his communications began to come from David Miscavige. If anyone wanted to send a note to Hubbard, it went through DM, and he would make the decision on whether it had to be changed, or whether it would go to Hubbard at all. That’s how he began his takeover. So Hubbard was still alive and communicating, but through that filter of DM, so he wasn’t really in the know. Does that make sense?
CL: You were involved with the church during the Lisa McPherson saga?
NM: I testified in one of the court hearings...
CL: That seemed to be the incident that made international news and shed an inside light on some of the practices at the church. That had a lot of reverberations. Would you say that in light of recent revelations — many published in the Tampa Bay Times, was that — how would you describe all of that? How significant that all was?
NM: Lisa McPherson was extremely significant...we now know that Scientology paid more than $30 million to orchestrate and manipulate judges, lawyers, law enforcement and other opinion leaders in the Clearwater and Florida area to make that case go away… [Editor’s note: Many is repeating allegations made in a Florida court proceeding.]
CL: You left the church in 1997. What was the final straw for you?
NM: For me personally it was that there was no part of that organization that I could… support. I had slowly been divesting myself of aspects of it that I couldn’t support. First was the billionaire contract situation that was basically slave labor… that was the first to go, that went in 1982. If not earlier, and then, I tried different roles as what’s called a “Public Scientologist.”
CL: What does that mean?
NM: That means that I’m not under their control 24-7. I come and go as I please to some extent. If I want a course, or counseling, I pay for it, and I get it. They can’t tell me when to go to bed, they can’t tell me when to show up. They can’t tell me how much money I have to make in a week. And there are different roles for public Scientologists under the Scientology umbrella, so to speak. And I tried several of those different roles and they all ended in dead ends… [Then] I went on the Internet and was finally able to read, what despite 20 years of involvement I had never been able to read.
CL: Like Xenu?
NM: I already knew about Xenu, I always thought that was just science fiction, and I never knew that anybody believed it, literally, until I was out and we could talk about it, because you’re not allowed to talk about it.
CL: Over the past few years there’s been a lot of exposés from members of the church, and I think, because there’s been so much of it, that some people question why it takes so long for those who are disillusioned to leave the church.
NM: That leads me to many sociological studies that have been done over the years to do with the power of an authority figure and/or group peer pressure on an individual, which is unbelievably powerful.
The best book that I recommend is by Phil Zimbardo, he was the sociologist who did the Stanford prison experiment that had to be shut down after three days. And he’s written a book, The Lucifer Effect, how good people turn evil.
It articulates about how Scientology did it but also how others did it. He was a consultant on one of the Abu Ghraib people, and if you remember those Abu Ghraib guards, people who knew them personally could not believe it, because these people were not like that, so how could they have done these horrid, horrific things, and his testimony was, they did them because it was systemic. The Army is a high control group; they break people down so that they are able to kill another human being. If that’s not messing with a person ‘s mind, I don’t know what is.
CL reached out to the Church of Scientology for a comment on Nancy Many. Spokesperson Karen Pouw responded:
You contacted us today concerning Nancy Many's upcoming fictional film. My apologies for not getting back to you earlier.
Nancy Many is attempting to promote her self-published book in which she gives a fictional account of her time in the Church. Ms. Many was removed from her staff position in the Church in 1979. In 1995, after having been off Church staff for 13 years, she suffered a mental breakdown. She admitted that she wrote her book as part of her psychiatric treatment. As far as we know she is still getting this psychiatric treatment.
She has been acting as a source of misinformation ever since. Ms. Many has no current information on the Scientology religion, its parishioners and humanitarian programs.
Anyone wanting to know about the Scientology religion should visit scientology.org.