The Invasion Begins

Scientology's Plan To Conquer Cleveland

The Cleveland Free Times/August 1, 2007

The optometrist wants to hear about my most painful memories.

This is an auditing session, an important component of a religion called Scientology. The optometrist is the auditor. His name is Steve Sasala. He is skinny. And tall. His face is long and narrow. I can make out the shape of his skull. We sit across from each other, on opposite sides of a tiny desk inside a claustrophobic room at the back of some historic building in Parma Heights. The mayor used to live here.

On the table is a clock, a wicker basket full of glass charms (hearts, leaves, spheres), and several sheets of blank white paper.

"Are you ready?" he asks. His voice is soothing.


He smiles and begins. "Close your eyes.

"You will remain aware of everything that happens in this room. You will be able to remember everything that happens here. You can pull yourself out of anything you get into if you don't like it. Just so you know that there is no hypnosis going on, I will say, "Cancel' when we are done, and by saying "Cancel', that will cancel out all hypnotic suggestions that could have occurred before. Do you understand?"


"Good. Then let's begin. Locate an incident of pain that you feel comfortable facing. This can be physical or emotional pain. Go to the beginning of that incident and describe in detail everything you feel."

I pick the first thing that comes to mind.

"It's January 1989. I'm 10 years old. It's my first Boy Scout campout. We've just finished lunch and I can smell the smoke coming off the fire the adults made in the center of the campsite. I don't know it yet, but I'm about to go to the hospital ... "

"Dianetics is an adventure. It is an exploration into terra incognita, the human mind, that vast and hitherto unknown realm half an inch back of our foreheads."
- from the introduction of Dianetics,

by L. Ron Hubbard

It was only a matter of time before Scientology came to Greater Cleveland. There have been practicing Scientologists living here for decades, but it's never been this organized. Never this professional. Now, anyone who wants to discover the secrets of this new religion can visit a Scientology mission located on Pearl Road, in Parma Heights. It opened earlier this year.

But the volunteers running the mission are having a rough go at it. The building remains mostly empty throughout the day. In Northeast Ohio, it's just not catching on. The guy who runs the place has discovered, to his dismay, that many people he meets are misinformed about Scientology. Most want to know about the aliens they saw on the infamous South Park episode. They want to know about Supreme Ruler Xenu and his Galactic Empire.

There is evidence, including hand-written notes by Scientology's founder, suggesting that high-level Scientologists were once taught that a being named Xenu, dictator of the "Galactic Confederacy," kidnapped his enemies and placed them around volcanoes on Earth. Xenu then dropped hydrogen bombs into the volcanoes, turning his detractors into spirits that haunt the souls of present-day man.

But don't even mention Xenu if you meet a Scientologist. They hate that.

Scientology was founded by a science-fiction writer of modest talent (did anyone make it through Battlefield Earth?) but extraordinary drive (his last novel, Mission Earth, was 1.2 million words long and had to be published as 10 separate books). According to the official bio, author Lafayette Ronald (L. Ron) Hubbard was nearly messianic in his quest to seek the truth and to enlighten society. "Ron set out to find the basic principals of existence - a principle which would lead to the unification of knowledge and that would explain the meaning of existence itself."

As a young man, Hubbard traveled to Asia to study philosophy. He visited Haiti and learned about voodoo. He studied mathematics and engineering at George Washington University, and was a student in one of the first nuclear physics classes there. He enlisted in the Navy during World War II. After the war, he worked in a Savannah, Georgia mental hospital, helping deeply disturbed patients, and restoring sanity "to a score of previously hopeless cases ... "

The "unofficial" bio reads a little differently.

Not only did Hubbard study Far Eastern philosophies, but he may also have dabbled in the occult, his son said in a 1983 Penthouse interview. Ron Jr. claimed that when his father was a teenager, he discovered a book about witchcraft by mystic leader Aleister Crowley and seemed very interested in the sections concerning an immaculate conception spawned by Satan. Ron Jr. had reason to betray his father: Hubbard was still married to Ron Jr.'s mother when he wed his second wife in 1946.

College transcripts reveal that Hubbard did indeed attend George Washington University, but dropped out after two years. He failed physics. In the Navy he commanded a submarine chaser, and once spent two days "attacking" Japanese submarines that most likely never existed, according to the biography Bare-Faced Messiah, by Russell Miller.

Hubbard was already an established science-fiction writer before the war, but around 1949, he began shopping a self-help manual of sorts called Dianetics to various publishers. It is, essentially, the Old Testament of Scientology, the foundation for the religion, and the beginning text for new Scientologists.

Dianetics argues that the mind is divided into two parts. The Analytical Mind reasons, drawing from past experiences to help us make informed decisions in life. The Reactive Mind collects traumatic memories - called "engrams" - and if it is not purged, these memories can cause our body to become sick. Hubbard invented a method of therapy called Auditing to "clear" a mind by reliving these traumatic events of our past so that they are transferred from the Reactive Mind where they do damage, to the Analytical Mind, where they can help us. Since its publication in 1950, 20 million copies of Dianetics have been sold, in 50 different languages.

Hubbard founded Scientology in 1953, applying the principals in Dianetics to every aspect of a person's life, from philosophy to finance. Scientologists are given knowledge piecemeal, in books and lectures called "tools," which are sold in sequence as they progress to higher levels of the religion. With each level comes new secrets and abilities. Think Amway meets Dungeons & Dragons.

Over the course of many years, Scientologists move up through levels on a chart called the Bridge to Total Freedom. The goal is to become an "Operating Thetan," to become a "free" spiritual being, unhindered by traumatic events in this life or the past lives the soul has experienced before. This can be done using tools, or by paying for extensive auditing sessions which sometimes last for days.

Since its inception, Scientology has warred with psychiatry over how best to treat aberrations of the human mind. Scientologists avoid mood-altering drugs of any kind, believing most mental disorders stem from bad memories stored in the Reactive Mind, not by some chemical imbalance. They believe surgery, especially procedures involving radiation, leave toxins in the body that must be sweated out in an ordeal known as a Purif, where one endures daily sessions inside a sauna while ingesting frequent doses of Niacin, a vitamin B supplement. Psychiatry, they claim, has never really cured anybody. It's a ruse, a way to control society and to make loads of cash for psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies. They believe psychiatry is responsible for everything from the Holocaust (see, eugenics) to the Columbine Massacre (Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold supposedly took anger-management classes where they were told by psychiatrists to imagine their own deaths). One of the most outspoken anti-psychiatry groups, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, was created by the Church of Scientology in 1969, though it downplays the connection today. The CCHR runs a Web site ( where people can report sex crimes perpetrated by psychiatrists.

The CCHR and the Church of Scientology have, at times, discredited psychiatrists who have criticized their religion. One local psychiatrist organization would not speak to Free Times about Scientology out of fear that the church would hire private investigators to dig up dirt on its doctors.

President-elect of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Nada Stotland, says she believes Scientologists have already tried to discredit her on the Internet. And since Scientology has gained a reputation for suing at the slightest provocation, she's a little reluctant to speak too candidly.

"We are very proud to have alleviated a great deal of society's mental anguish. These disorders are real and we're finding better tools with which to treat them all the time," she says. When asked if psychiatry can rid the mind of traumatic memories, like auditing claims to accomplish, she's a little more playful. "There is not a specific exorcism that is a part of psychiatric treatment."

Scientologists also despise reporters, referring to them as "suppressive persons." A Hubbard directive known as "Fair Game" gave Scientologists permission to lie, trick, sue or "destroy" reporters in 1965.

And thanks to the success of Dianetics, various subsidiaries of the tax-exempt church and the recruiting of celebrities (most notably John Travolta and Tom Cruise), Scientology has near-limitless resources. One example that illustrates Scientology's tenacity is its battle with the Cult Awareness Network, an organization that often helped families reclaim brainwashed kin. After CAN insinuated that Scientology might be a cult, the church inundated CAN with lawsuits, eventually driving the group into bankruptcy. The church then purchased the name CAN in bankruptcy court in 1996. By the time 60 Minutes reported on the organization in 1997, phone calls to CAN were being answered by Scientologists.

"Man, as a life form, can be demonstrated to obey in all his actions and purposes the one command: Survive!"
- The Dynamic Principal of Existence, according to L. Ron Hubbard.

Northeast Ohio's Scientology center is run by a man who owns a start-up advertising agency. Strangely, they could use a little promotion. In order to find the mission, as they call it, I had to contact Scientology's Columbus center. They forwarded my personal e-mail to Liz Baginski in Parma Heights, who manages the mission with her husband, Ron. They're doing their best to recruit new Scientologists on a meager budget. They recently distributed more than 1,000 flyers at Heritage Day Fest and plan to move their office to a prime location in Tremont by the end of the year. Liz invited me to learn more about her religion.

The mission is located inside an old brick colonial with tall white columns. Liz greets me at the door and welcomes me inside. She has grayish, shoulder-length hair, twisted in casual curls, and large open eyes closed to any emotion that I could sense. And though she's married to Ron, I notice that she wears no rings.

Parma -- Where engrams go to die. There is a distinct smell to the main lobby. Sterile, sweet, like licorice scrubbed with bleach. There are a couple of tables with computers. Along the back wall are displays of Scientology tools - hundreds of hours of L. Ron Hubbard lectures - and free brochures that offer hints at the secrets the lectures will reveal. Against the front wall, the focal point of the room, is a high-tech flat screen/touch-activated DVD player that resembles the viewing screen aboard the Starship Enterprise.

I follow Liz into a dining room adjacent to the lobby. We sit at a long table. There is a wicker basket full of little multi-colored charms sitting on the table in front of her. It's called a "demo kit."

Liz explains that the simple act of touching things, of feeling your environment, brings a soul "into the now, the present." She uses the charms to describe the effects of auditing.

"This is you," she says, touching a small green leaf charm. She picks up a couple blue spheres and places them on top of the green leaf. "These are upsets, engrams. They could be injuries; maybe a dog bit you when you were a child. Or they could be emotion, like a divorce. You're anxious and you don't know why. Or you could be sick and you don't know why. Well, it could be from these upsets contained in your Reactive Mind. Auditing works to get rid of these upsets. We don't cover them up like psychiatry. We get rid of them."

"How?" I ask.

"By reliving them."

Later I get to meet Ron, who speaks in soft staccato bursts full of excitement. He clearly wants me to love Scientology. He's been a Scientologist, he says, for nearly 20 years, and he's still pumped about it.

Ron has me fill out a 200-question personality test, which takes the better part of an hour. Some questions are routine: "Do your past failures still worry you?" Others are just plain bizarre: "Do you browse through railway timetables, directories, or dictionaries just for pleasure?" "Would you make the necessary actions to kill an animal in order to put it out of pain?" (Yes, Yes).

The test also asks for an address, phone number and occupation. I write "videographer" - I work freelance videography gigs, so it's not a lie.

While I complete the form, a man stops by to speak with Ron in the other room. I listen intently as this unseen man begins to describe a particularly terrifying engram.

"I've been having these memories of past lives," he says. "I was raped by my father as a young boy inside a covered wagon. This was during the Civil War and he was part of the Confederate Army." Ron recommends an auditing session.

"How much will it cost to complete my training, if I just bought auditing sessions?" the man asks.

"Fifty to sixty thousand dollars," says Ron.

The man promises to return.

I hand Ron my finished questionnaire. While he punches the information into a computer, I watch previews of L. Ron Hubbard lectures on the flat-screen TV.

LRH himself appears in a slick '50s suit, his thinning hair greased back from his advancing forehead. He's standing on a stage, in front of what sounds like a million people, all hanging on his every word and laughing at the appropriate moments. He takes a few jabs at psychiatry and promises to explain the purpose of life.

"He reminds me of someone," I tell Ron, who has finished inputting my test answers. "Some actor." Later, I realize I was thinking of Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars movies.

The results of the personality test are not good. "You are irresponsible in your life and work," he tells me. "You are cold- blooded and heartless."

He recommends auditing. The first session is free, the rest will be $250 each. Auditing, he explains, can be the quickest way to becoming Clear. We look at the chart again, the Bridge to Total Freedom. Ron touches the chart. "As you progress, you will find that you have developed certain abilities."

"What, like levitation?" I ask, sarcastically.

"Reading minds," he says. "Seeing into the future a little."

Sign me up.

"For thousands of years Man has searched, pondered and speculated about this true "meaning of life.' But, in Scientology, that search has culminated - for the secret has now been discovered."
- from the sales brochure for

L. Ron Hubbard's Professional Course Lectures, recorded in London, 1956.

"Locate an incident of pain that you feel comfortable facing," Steve Sasala, the optometrist, says in his soothing voice. The auditing has begun. "Go to the beginning of that incident and describe in detail everything you feel."

I recall an incident that occurred on my first Boy Scout campout, when I was 10 years old. "We've just finished lunch and I can smell the smoke coming off the fire the adults made in the center of the campsite," I begin.

The troop divides into two groups for a game of capture the flag. Moments later, making a dash for the opposing team's flag, I am tackled. My wrist snaps in the fall like a dry twig. It is the most intense pain I have felt up to this point in my life. I spend the rest of the evening in a hospital, being fitting for a cast.

"Let's go back to the beginning," the auditor says. "Go over it again, picking up any new details, new senses that you might remember."

This time I try harder to remember what it felt like that day (cold) and what it sounded like (I remember hearing leaves crunching on the ground).

"Good," he says when I'm through. "Now go over it again."

This continues several more times.

Then he asks an unexpected question. "How does your wrist feel?"

Suddenly I am aware that I have been rubbing my wrist. "It feels stiff."

"Good," he says. "Now go over it again."

And so I do. Five, six, seven more times. The stiffness in the wrist begins to fade. I wonder, Was it ever stiff in the first place or did I just want it to be? I realize I don't know.

I recall something else as I retell the story for the 12th time. One of the scouts I remember being there could not have been present because he did not join the troop until years later. To an extent, this is false memory.

"Cancel," I hear him say, distantly, and I open my eyes. "Are you back in the present?" the auditor asks. "Is it now?"

L. RON - Prophet or profiteer? The first thing I notice is that the auditor has filled eight pages, front and back, with handwritten notes on my experiences. The second thing I notice is the time. It felt like I had spent a half hour, forty-five minutes inside this room. In reality, over two hours had passed.

"How do you feel?" he asks.

"Good," I say, honestly. (I felt great for several days, in fact.) "So what's next?" I ask.

He recommends the Purif treatment. Total cost: $1,700.

I want to believe. But not that much.

"Ron details the dramatic history of this sector of the galaxy, what happened to it and its planetary populations ..."
- description of L. Ron Hubbard's "Class VIII Course Lectures" given aboard the Flagship Apollo

L. Ron Hubbard -- or "LRH," as Scientologists usually call him - spent his latter years touring the Mediterranean in Scientology-owned cruise ships maintained by a super-strict group within the church known as the Sea Org, whose members signed billion-year loyalty contracts. By the early 1980s Hubbard had returned to the mainland, living in seclusion in California. When he died in 1986, the circumstances surrounding his death were as mysterious as the life he claimed to have lived. Free Times obtained a copy of the coroner's report from the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Department in California (view it online at

The date of Hubbard's death is listed as January 24, 1986. The investigatory report written by the chief deputy coroner states that Hubbard's will was altered the day before his death. "My immediate reaction to this information was whether [Hubbard] was in sound mind at the time he signed the will," writes the deputy coroner. The report also notes that when Hubbard arrived at the funeral home, his hair was unkempt and his fingernails were long and dirty.

Even though it appeared Hubbard had died of natural causes, the deputy coroner ordered an autopsy in light of the will being changed so soon before death. But the change in the will expressly asked that an autopsy not be performed. Eventually, the deputy coroner reached an agreement with Hubbard's lawyers. He could test Hubbard's body for toxins to rule out poisoning. But the only toxin in Hubbard's body was Vistaril, as prescribed by his physician. Vistaril is the brand name of Hydroxyzine, an anti-anxiety medication.

I almost hate telling Ron Baginski that, in the end, even Hubbard needed some psych meds. I watch for emotion when I tell Ron Baginski that he has been teaching Scientology to a reporter. He is surprised, but not angry, or if he is, he's not showing it.

He steps into the back room and returns with a new chart. This one is something called the Tone Scale. At the top of the Tone Scale is a cartoony sun, smiling contentedly. It represents the highest level of emotion a thetan can experience, "Serenity of Beingness," which rates a "40.0" on the Tone Scale. "The media is typically found down here," says Ron, touching the scale near a sad, sickly blue blob, next to the word Fear and just above Despair, which rates somewhere between 1 and 1.02. "Our society is in trouble. Look at the depressing news stories on TV. Look at the terrible reports we find in the paper. That makes people feel bad. A society below a 2.0 average is on its way out."

We talk until it grows uncomfortable.

"Why does Scientology charge for its services?" I ask.

Ron explains that other churches collect tithes during services and that's not really so different. "These are just direct tithes for what you're getting out of it," he says, adding that the first 18 books of Scientology are available for free at local libraries.

"There is a rumor on the Internet that says that each Scientology center keeps an office supplied and ready for L. Ron Hubbard's return to Earth. Is there an office set up here for Hubbard?"

Yes, there is. "Nobody expects that to happen, though" he says. "It's just a show of respect."

"Does Xenu exist?"

"That is such nonsense," he says. "I personally doubt it. I don't know where that story came from."

I tell him about the false memory I experienced during auditing.

"What's true is what's true to you," he says.

I can tell he believes this article will further eff up the Tone Scale for Northeast Ohio. As a leader in Scientology, it's sort of his job to lift society to a higher level, one thetan at a time. I hate to make the man's job more difficult.

"I see the world going downhill," he says. "If it doesn't get reversed, it's going to be over. That's what I'm here for. Something can be done about it and we have the tools to help."

For a small price.

How to talk like a Scientologist

Analytical Mind: Our conscious mind. The part we use to reason, drawing from past experiences. The part of the mind that can calculate how to find the money to pay for more Scientology books.

Auditing: A Scientology process designed to clear a person of painful memories. Sometimes scarier than being audited by the IRS.

Auditing Process R2-45: A method of auditing where the auditor fires a Colt .45 at a subject in order to free the spirit inside. In a 1954 handbook, Hubbard referred to Auditing Process R2-45 as "an enormously effective process for exteriorization but its use is frowned upon by this society at this time."

Bridge to Total Freedom: A chart that shows a step-by-step process for reaching enlightenment. Auditing will get you to the top quicker, but it'll cost ya.

Dianetics: Greek for "through the soul," Dianetics can "alleviate such things as unwanted sensations and emotions, accidents, injuries and psychosomatic illnesses."

E-meter: A primitive type of lie-detector used during certain auditing sessions. Looks like two tin cans tied to a large electric device. You're supposed to hold the cans.

Engram: A traumatic, painful event that our mind didn't know what to do with. Says Hubbard: "The engram is the single source of aberrations and psychosomatic ills."

MEST: Matter, Energy, Space and Time, the physical universe, which can be manipulated by higher-level Scientologists. They have a game in which they try to make an ashtray "sit up."

Purif: Short for "Purification." You pay lots of money to sit in a room and sweat to rid your body of toxins. Kind of like a bathhouse without sex.

Reactive Mind: The base, animalistic part of our mind which stores engrams and bad thoughts, which can cause distress and even illnesses.

Thetan: The immortal being that is trapped inside your body. Kind of like a soul, but a trillion years older.

Xenu: According to some ex-Scientologists, Hubbard taught that Xenu was once the ruler of the Galactic Confederacy. 75 trillion years ago, Xenu brought billions of his enemies to Earth - known then as Teegeeack - in spaceships that resembled commercial airliners. The enemies were placed around volcanoes, into which Xenu then dropped hydrogen bombs, turning these people into detached spirits which cling to humans, causing much strife and anxiety. This is known as "Incident II." Don't even ask about "Incident I". Xenu may currently be imprisoned under the Pyrenees mountains.

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