The Hole: Scientology's secret interrogation centre
Over the years, the Church of Scientology has certainly provoked plenty of controversy and it continues to divide opinion - not least because it’s such a young religion. Founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard way back in 1950, when he published Dianetics, a form of self-help therapy designed to unearth traumatic memories including, Hubbard claimed, memories of past lives. The Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation was foreclosed in 1952. Unfazed, Hubbard decided to found a religious movement called Scientology, instead of a scientific institution.
The central teachings of the movement are that human beings are actually a race of immortal alien spirits called “Thetans”, who have been brought down to a material existence and assumed non-contingent forms. Scientology members believe that their spiritual practices can return people to this transcendental state.
However, Scientology has been rebuked for its hostility towards critics, for the surveillance and dominance that leadership exercises over followers. Others claim that the whole movement is nothing more than a scam: an elaborate money-making scheme cooked up by a hack writer, a perception due in part to Scientology’s exploitation of tax breaks, as well as the large amounts of money that followers are expected to donate in order to progress.
Not only that, but it seems that Scientology has been responsible for some pretty shady stuff. Scientology’s most ardent critics have accused the Sea Org, the inner circle of Scientology’s most devoted and powerful ministers, of torture, harassment, human rights abuses and other such crimes. None of these accusations have ever been proven, in part because the church has always been a profoundly secretive organisation. Nevertheless, disturbing reports and statements have come, courtesy of former members who have since left Scientology. Furthermore, there’s one particular site which is always spoken of in a tone of dread: a place referred to as “The Hole.”
“The Hole” is only a nickname. This clandestine compound is actually called "Int Base". Int Base is located within a 520 acre gated enclosure near the town of Hemet in Riverside County, California, and is said to be staffed by thousands of people. From what few images we have of it, it looks outwardly nondescript: a squat, one-storey building with a flat roof and few windows.
Yet until the early 2000s, this secret base was known as “Scottish Highland Quietude Club,” and it wasn’t until 2005 that the outside world learned that it was, allegedly, a detention and interrogation centre. It was reported to be a place where Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige, ruled with absolute authority, and subjected other members of the Sea Org to degrading and inhumane torment. There have never been any pictures taken of the interior of Int Base and it remains mysterious, and under heavy guard.
The accounts from those who have survived time in The Hole and gone on to talk about it are chilling. Senior Scientologists live under an almost Orwellian state of scrutiny by their peers, complete with Newspeakesque terms for those who go against their codes of ethics. If a fellow Scientologist is suspicious of the conduct of one of their peers (a potential “Suppressive person”) then they are doctrinally required to report them and submit "Knowledge Reports". The offending person is then punished for their perceived disobedience, and this is where things get really messed up.
At one point between 2002 and 2004, approximately 400 people were indefinitely confined in the hole, living daily lives of suffering and degradation. It was like someone had turned a corporate office into a makeshift prison. People interred there slept on the floor, in sleeping bags or on makeshift mattresses, squeezed into every available floor space. Former scientologist Mike Rinder stated: “Everyone sleeping with only about six inches on either side. Above you. Below you. Getting up in the middle of the night, you'd disturb everyone.”
Food was invariably some form of slop or stew, often only barely cooked, and pushed around the room on a golf cart. An infestation of ants gave many people serious bites, and when the air conditioning units routinely failed, the temperature in the building was said to reach 100 °F. Those kept in The Hole were only allowed outside if they were escorted, and would even shower while under supervision. Architectural methods were reportedly employed to keep people trapped; including a mesh fence topped with six inch long blades, and at one point bars were installed on all the windows. The bars were apparently removed when one Sea Org member pointed out how suspicious it would look to outsiders.
But worst of all were the “confessions” - the accounts of which sound like something from Stalinist Russia. It wasn’t enough for defectors and malcontents to be simply punished for their transgressions. They were forced to admit guilt and show remorse, by whatever means were necessary. Those Scientology members who have managed to leave Scientology and now work against it, such as Marty Rathburn (former number two to David Miscavige) claim that the church uses bullying, intimidation, confinement and borderline psychological torture in order to brainwash people and keep them in line.
Whistleblower Mike Rinder alleges that the offending Scientologists were forced to recant imagined crimes against Scientology, or accuse other Scientologists, for hours at a time. Blackmail with embarrassing truths and forced confessions of sexual deviance were both said to have happened in The Hole. Staff members at the base were reportedly checked by electronic devices called “E-Meters” - machines which Scientologists allege can read electrical charges on the surface of the skin.
Eventually, some of the methods of control and domination became downright surreal, bordering on the juvenile. Scientologists were forced to stand in trash cans, up to their knees in garbage, wearing signs with disparaging and profane comments written on them. They were forced to play a violent game of musical chairs, in which people would often wrestle and attack each other in order to secure a chair.
Some were forced to continuously crawl around a conference table with their trousers rolled up, while other executives kicked and flogged them from behind, until their knees were skinned and bloodied. Mike described how one person was made to sit under a cold air vent while freezing cold water was poured over his head. After an hour or so, he was "shaking so uncontrollably and his lips were so completely blue that he was incapable of talking."
All reports state that Miscavige himself was personally responsible for this physical and emotional abuse. Miscavige for his part has vehemently denied any abuse, and continues to criticise his accusers. It’s impossible to tell whether he is guilty, or whether the Church of Scientology conducts such practices.
We do not spare Christian and Islamic fundamentalists from secular criticism, particularly when they abuse and hurt the very people that they are responsible for. In my opinion, if Scientology wants to be a legitimate religion, then it too should be subject to criticism.