This week, I published my monthly blog post in Psychology Today, discussing the case of Leslie Van Houten. She has been recommended for parole and hopefully will be released if the governor of California doesn’t veto her parole again. Van Houten was 19 when as a member of the Charles Manson cult, she was involved in the murders of innocent people. I mentioned that Manson had, while in prison himself, received Scientology “processing” and speculated that he might have learned a few control tactics from the larger cult to use in his own group.
Within twenty-four hours of the post being published, my editor at Psychology Today received a letter from Scientology lawyer Karin Pouw, claiming that Manson had never received Scientology processing. To prove her case, she cited a Guardian article detailing how Scientology had previously won a settlement against someone who had also made this observation about Manson’s involvement in Scientology.
This evidence, however, can be easily rebutted; my friend Jon Atack explains that although the original author had to retract his statement about Manson, a few years later, a report to Mary Sue Hubbard surfaced proving that, indeed Manson had received 150 hours of Scientology processing while in prison.
However, Ms. Pouw did not stop at presenting evidence: in her letter, she engaged in a distasteful and egregious ad hominem attack upon me, claiming that I have a “criminal history” (I do not), and expressed her disappointment that Psychology Today would give a byline to someone like me (ironically, Scientology’s views about psychologists and psychiatrists is that they are all criminal and working against humanity in an ages-old conspiracy, so to her viewpoint, any journal of psychology or psychiatry would be considered “criminal” – a point she chose not to address in her letter.)
It is, unfortunately, not surprising that a representative of Scientology would stoop to such tactics: indeed, Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, recommended using ad hominem attacks as a standard method of silencing critics of the organization. In a policy letter dated August 15th, 1960, he stated: “If attacked on some vulnerable point by anyone or anything or any organization, always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace. …. Don’t ever defend. Always attack.” In Scientology, Hubbard’s directives are treated as scripture; they cannot be altered and must be followed. Ms. Pouw was, in her ad hominem attack upon me, being a bad lawyer (as they are supposed to stick to facts), but a good Scientologist.
The tragedy of this situation is that Scientology has made a name for itself as a hyper-litigious organization; they have sued so many journalists and news organizations over the years that all they have to do to get their way is to threaten legal action – a threat they no longer follow through with as regularly as they used to. These days, the threat itself is usually the end of the action; in this case, Ms. Pouw’s letter produced the desired result, and Psychology Today removed the “offending” paragraph:
Charles Manson called himself Jesus and had received 150 hours of Scientology indoctrination. L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Scientology cult, was a hypnotist, and the training routines incorporate hypnotic processes. It is reasonable to assume Manson used what he learned from Scientology on his devotees.
This was despite the letter kindly sent by Jon Atack:
I was appointed an expert witness on the subject of Scientology by the High Court in London in 1987 during Scientology’s failed attempt to bar the publication of Russell Miller’s biography of its creator Ron Hubbard, Bare-Faced Messiah. Miller’s book was based on my own history of Hubbard and Scientology, A Piece of Blue Sky. That book, published in 1990 after Scientology failed to enjoin publication in the US, contains the statement, ‘Internal Scientology documents show that Manson had actually received 150 hours of auditing while in prison’. This statement has never been contested by Scientology, nor have proceedings ever been issued about this statement, which has therefore remained in the public record for 33 years.
The Guardian newspaper article referenced was published before the FBI raid on Scientology in July 1977. Documents seized during that raid revealed that Charles Manson had received 150 hours of Scientology ‘processing’ during a fifteen-month period starting in 1962 at McNeil Island correctional institution in Washington State. Manson confirms his involvement in his autobiography (Without Conscience, 1987, Collins, London) where he says: ‘I got pretty heavily into dianetics and Scientology (p.70).
Mary Sue Hubbard, the ‘deputy commodore’ (second in command) of Scientology and wife of Ron Hubbard, was imprisoned along with ten other Scientology operatives after signing a 200-page confession where she admitted kidnapping, false imprisonment, burglary, bugging, breaking and entering, forgery of government credentials and theft of a mass of government documents. Attached is an internal report to Mary Sue Hubbard about Manson’s 150 hours of Scientology ‘processing’. This was a part of Scientology’s cover-up.
You are welcome to publish this letter,
yours sincerely, Jon Atack
I am saddened by Psychology Today’s decision to fold under pressure, but I also understand that the editors there have better uses for their time than to sift through the lies perpetrated by Scientology to find the truth hidden underneath. Authoritarian groups like Scientology rely on this reality for their tactics to work, but they cannot keep me from setting the record straight on my own website.
Jon Atack’s paper, Never Believe a Hypnotist.
Breakdown of Scientology “Processing” as a hypnotic method, with Steven Hassan, Jon Atack, Christian Szurko and Chris Shelton, at the “Getting Clear” conference, Toronto, June 2015
Let’s Sell These People a Piece of Blue Sky, by Jon Atack
Mossburg, C. (2021, November 9). Manson family member Leslie Van Houten recommended for parole for the fifth time. CNN.
Mossburg, C. (2022, March 30). Manson family member Leslie Van Houten parole reversed for the fifth time. CNN.
Heller, Z. (2021, July 5). What Makes a Cult a Cult? New Yorker Magazine.
Hassan, S., PhD (2020). The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control: Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law (Publication No. 28263630) [Doctoral Dissertation, Fielding Graduate University].