Exposing Scientology: An interview with Jamie DeWolf
By David G. McAfee
Jamie DeWolf is a slam poet, stand-up comedian, and filmmaker from Oakland, California — but he’s also the great grandson of someone he calls “one of the greatest con men of the last century.”
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard — better known as L. Ron Hubbard — was the founder of Scientology and DeWolf’s great grandfather on his mother’s side. In 1953, Hubbard incorporated the Church of Scientology after failing to pass off his teachings as a legitimate self-help system. Famous for its prescriptions against modern psychiatry, fierce litigation efforts, and science fiction-based belief system, Scientology has continued to thrive for years without Hubbard at the helm.
DeWolf said that, although Scientology teaches some very farfetched ideas, it’s not far from what so-called legitimate religions teach. Scientologists believe that Xenu, the dictator of the “Galactic Confederacy,” brought billions of his people to earth in a DC-8-like spacecraft 75 million years ago.
“Everyone has to give Christianity its respectful distance, but when it comes to Scientology, people are more than happy to mock it out loud and laugh in its face – claiming their beliefs are ridiculous,” DeWolf said. “Christians believe in a magic apple and a talking snake and a boat with every organism on the planet floated around for 40 days… who is more ridiculous?”
In a performance filmed for NPR’s Snap Judgment last year, DeWolf told the previously unheard story of L. Ron Hubbard, from the point of view of someone who was written out of his biography. After seeing the powerful video, I asked him to tell me more about his great grandfather and the Church of Scientology. The video is available here.
DeWolf, who sports a Scientology symbol tattoo on his right arm, sat down with me to discuss his own religious upbringing, his encounters with the Church of Scientology’s secret police force, and his feature film called Smoked. Here’s an edited transcript of our discussion:
David G. McAfee: Although L. Ron Hubbard was your great grandfather, you weren’t raised a Scientologist. Instead, you were brought up to be a Baptist Christian. Do you feel like religion was forced on you as a child?
Jamie DeWolf: Absolutely. I think that religion is forced on most people. If you’re a child and you’re not given a choice in the matter — and you’re basically just told this is how the world works, it isn’t voluntary. It was definitely forced upon me… I grew up with the anti-Christ as my boogeyman and I thought Armageddon would end the world. Christianity is an apocalyptic cult — it literally ends with death and destruction. The same death and destruction that David Koresh believed in, the same death and destruction that what they would deem a “crazy psychotic cult” would believe in. There is no real happy ending to the bible — in Armageddon, the whole world becomes the devil’s fuck-toy and, after that, God comes down with a flaming sword out of his mouth and slays all his foes. Particularly as a young kid, this stuff absolutely terrified me — I thought it was going to happen at any moment and they constantly remind you that it can happen at any moment. I went to a bible study camp where they told us that the Rapture was going to happen on Saturday. I had to go the whole week calculating and wrestling with the idea that I was going to be dead — that my entire life was basically over.
David G. McAfee: You’ve been openly critical of many religions. How would you define your own religious beliefs?
Jamie DeWolf: My great grandfather was a cult leader and I grew up Baptist Christian… let’s just say that I have a healthy dose of skepticism toward any kind of theology that someone’s going to hand me on a plate. These days, I think I’m going to start believing in the Greek gods again — Zeus and Hades and all those old school gods. Somebody has to be making those waves, there must be a man living in the ocean! Why not, you know? They have a better back story. Plus, in Christianity they’ve removed all female power whatsoever. Even just the fact that you have a holy trinity that is a father, a son, and a ghost — that’s not a ménage à trois, that’s a NAMBLA pamphlet. People don’t think about the idea that they’ve removed any female presence. I find that to be fundamentally insulting and it’s used as a tool to instinctively encourage a misogynistic and patriarchal culture. They actually teach that Eve actually precipitated the fall of man — I think that’s reprehensible.
David G. McAfee: The San Francisco Chronicle reported that in 2001 that your mother and girlfriend were visited by Scientology agents who asked about your comments on Scientology in your poetry. What did the agents want? Have you had any further interactions with them?
Jamie DeWolf: Yes, I did a performance about him in the year 2000. It was at a very early incarnation of Tourettes Without Regrets and I did a long piece about the beliefs of Scientology. It was recorded and someone put it up on www.mp3.com and it went to the top of the spoken word chart as a download. Within two or three days, Scientologists were at my house. My brother actually answered the door first and they gave him a cover story, saying that they were working with me on a performance. But my brother was confused because he was a part of a lot of my shows. My mother came to the door and she identified them right away — she said she could sense there was something off about the whole situation. She asked them what show it was and the name of the venue — they didn’t have any answers. They finally asked whether or not she knew that I was claiming to be the great grandson of L. Ron Hubbard. She said, “Of course, he is. And you’re talking to his granddaughter right now.” I’ve had no direct contact with them since then, but I’m sure they’ve kept tabs on me — I know how they operate.
David G. McAfee: I recently visited an L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition Museum in Hollywood. The exhibit portrays Hubbard as a military hero, a world traveler, and a scholar. How accurate are those representations? Why aren’t your family members mentioned?
Jamie DeWolf: I’ve actually been there three times and I’ve always gone in secret, sometimes in minor disguise. I’ve been taken on the tour and it’s absolutely amazing that they believe it — it’s the most ridiculous and absurd narrative possible. It shows him as a little red-haired boy being a blood brother to Indians and then walking with a staff over the Himalayan mountains and studying at the feet of wise men and being a dogfighter pilot and a submarine commander and a nuclear physicist and on and on and on. Of course, if this were true, this would be — as they claim — the greatest human being that has ever walked the planet. Ever since he was at a young age, he was always bloating his sense of self-importance. He loved to tell stories — obviously that’s how he made his living in the early day, he was a prolific writer with a huge imagination. I think he wrote himself into being this heroic archetype and was able to convince this entire army that he created that he was the man that he always wanted to be — that he was an amazing war hero instead of being relieved of command, that he was machine-gunned twice in the back, and so on. He was a Science Fiction writer that ended up writing what he claimed to be a science, it’s like Stephen King attempting to convince you that werewolves are real and that he was in a fight with a vampire last weekend. He certainly was audacious and he certainly traveled a lot, but I’d say that 99 percent of that is at least outright exaggeration. It’s ridiculous the staggering amount of lies that he’s been able to pack into that narrative.
David G. McAfee: I’ve never been to Clearwater, Florida, the headquarters of the Church of Scientology Corporation. What is it like there?
Jamie DeWolf: It is cult Disneyland — it’s absolutely, jaw-droppingly, frightening. It’s a sleepy little town that they completely devoured in the seventies. It was basically the first town where L. Ron landed when he was tired of being on a ship and running from different governments. When they landed, they consumed the town… moved right in. When you go there now, they’ve completely made the city succumb to their will. They own the majority of the real estate in the downtown area, they have their own bus line, they have little cult clones walking around in pseudo-military uniforms, they have more than 300 security cameras, and if you’re a critic and you walk into a liquor store, they won’t sell you anything. They bought their way into Mecca.
David G. McAfee: One of the attributes that makes Scientology so dangerous is that it portrays itself as a science. Why do you think people are sucked into a religion that fundamentally clashes with scientific findings?
Jamie DeWolf: I think it’s actually more dangerous that it calls itself a religion, because if it’s a science you can ask for case studies and evidence, which is what the psychiatric community when Dianetics first came out. That’s why the loathing for psychiatry is so built in to the DNA of Scientology that it’s even carried forth by Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley a lot of the outspoken celebrity members. The psychiatric community was about to bankrupt L. Ron Hubbard because he was making fraudulent claims. That was how he turned it into a new religion — almost overnight, so that it protected them, and it has protected them ever since.
David G. McAfee: You once said, “Even amongst cults, they’re a singular breed,” referring to Scientology. What do you think separates Scientology from similar cults or religions?
Jamie DeWolf: I don’t know of any other cult that has its own secret police force. I don’t know of any cult that has such a history of brutal litigation, stalking, surveillance, and break ins. There is no other cult that has infiltrated the IRS, CIA, FBI, and State Department. I can’t think of another cult that completely takes every last cent that you have, that will give you loans and figure out the mortgage and deed on your house — they literally look at you like meat with assets. There’s never been a cult like this.
David G. McAfee: What projects are you working on now?
Jamie DeWolf: I finished a feature film called Smoked, which is at http://www.Smokedthemovie.com — it’s premiering this month at the Oakland Underground Film Festival. I’m working on a new feature film that I’ll be shooting over this Christmas break and on a lot of short films. I’m also interested in doing a larger project on L. Ron Hubbard and the Scientology cult connection, so I’m looking at different options that interest me artistically. I also have a new CD called Vaude Villain that’s also available on my site. Other than that, I have more movies, more shows, more performances, and Tourettes Without Regrets is every month.
About the author: David G. McAfee is a journalist, a religious studies scholar, and author of Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings and the upcoming Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-Believer. He is a columnist for Canadian Freethinker Magazine and a contributor to American Atheist Magazine. McAfee attended University of California, Santa Barbara, and graduated with dual degrees — one in English and one in Religious Studies. You can “like” his Facebook Page or follow him on Twitter.