The founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, was exposed as a fraud 30 years ago by British diplomats who were investigating his qualifications.
The science-fiction writer, who invented a religion now followed by celebrities such as Tom Cruise, awarded himself a PhD from a sham “diploma mill” college that he had acquired, the diplomats found.
Such was the climate of fear and paranoia surrounding Scientology that the US believed the sect had sent bogus doctors to declare a high-ranking legal investigator mad and then taken his papers relating to the case.
Scientologists threatened to sue the British Government for libel after it acted in 1968 to ban followers from entering the country to visit the sect’s world headquarters in East Grinstead, West Sussex.
To defend itself, Britain needed to establish whether Lafayette Ron Hubbard was a charlatan.
Department of Health files, some closed until 2019, have been released early to The Times by the National Archives after a successful request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The papers include a signed statement by a former senior Scientologist who said that he had been informed of the doctorate scam by one of Hubbard’s collaborators.
“I understand it is asserted that L. Ron Hubbard was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Sequoia University on February 10, 1953, in recognition of his outstanding work in the fields of Dianetics and Scientology and that the said degree was recorded with the Department of Education of the State of California,” John McMaster stated.
“The position is L. Ron Hubbard [and others] acquired premises somewhere in Los Angeles which they had registered as a university called Sequoia and immediately awarded each other doctorates.” Dianetics is the so-called “science” founded by Hubbard to provide spiritual healing.
Whitehall officials, keen to learn if Hubbard was truly a man of letters, asked the British Consulate in Los Angeles to investigate him. They sent an urgent confidential request asking whether he had founded the university, if the degree was self-awarded and what was the standing of the institution. “Grateful if you will make discreet and confidential inquiries and telegraph early reply,” said the author of a telegram from London.
The answer came from Los Angeles on April 26, 1977: “After exhaustive enquiries we have now tracked down organisation named which was closed down by state authorities in 1971 and all documents impounded. The facts are that it neither has nor ever had approval and its status is not recognised in California . . . It is a ‘will of the wisp’ organisation which has no premises and does not really exist. It has not and never had any authority whatso-ever to issue diplomas or degrees and the dean is sought by the authorities ‘for questioning’.” The diplomat said that Californian authorities had voluminous files on the college.
Papers released by the National Archives include a Sequoia University brochure offering an osteopathic medicine qualification that was supposedly internationally accredited. A memo from the California education department dated 1974 states that this shows that the “diploma mill” is “still in business as usual, in a new field this time”.
A letter from the bureau of school approvals states: “This institution has never been approved or recognised by this office. Repeated attempts have been made to obtain compliance with the legal requirements. None of these attempts have proved successful.”
The remarkable allegation that Scientologists were suspected of posing as doctors to rid themselves of an inquisitor and evidence against them emerges in a further British telegram.
On May 18, 1977, Louis Sherbourne, of the British Consulate-General in Los Angeles, wrote a confidential message showing how nervous US officials had become of Scientology. “We have now come up against the usual brick wall of missing files and silence, each and every person and organisation treading very warily for fear of a libel or slander action.”
Mr Sherbourne wrote that Sequoia had been founded by “Rev Fr Damian Hough alias Dr Joseph William Hough” in 1939 as a “diploma mill”.
“Apart from the suspicion that Hubbard bought the university from Hough to serve the needs of the Scientology organisation, we can establish no other positive connection,” he said.
“United States Internal Revenue Services tried hard to obtain firmer evidence but appear to have failed. A recent attempt to resurrect the enquiry resulted in all the papers from 1939 to 1963 being sent to Sacramento to the office of the State Attorney General.
“By ‘an amazing coincidence’ the Deputy Attorney General dealing with them was taken ill and after seeing some ‘doctors’ was retired ‘due to his mental health’. My very incensed informant in the California Department of Education is convinced that the ‘doctors’ were scientologists who hypnotised him into mental ill-health and he feels very bitter but can do nothing about it.”
A spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology said the suggestion that Scientologists had hypnotised a deputy attorney general was “simply reflective of how astronomically paranoid they were”.
Branching out from Berlin
Germany The Church of Scientology has opened an office in Berlin to act as its main lobbying centre in Europe. The Agency for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), which monitors terrorist groups, keeps it under close observation. The German Government blocked filming of Valkyrie in certain locations, partly due to the involvement of its star, Tom Cruise, right, in Scientology.
France Regards Scientology as a cult. In May a former member sued the Church, saying that she had been pressurised into handing over large sums of money.
Britain The protest group Anonymous has demanded that the Church’s tax status be revoked (it is exempt from VAT).
Czech Republic The establishment of a “non-religious” primary school in Brno was approved in May. It will teach children according to L. Ron Hubbard’s methods.
Source: Times archives