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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sociopath alert: L. Ron Hubbard

I've always been vaguely aware of Scientology as a religion, though I've never paid it close attention. I knew of its cult-like reputation. I knew that it had attracted a couple of prominent Hollywood stars who were supposed to be closeted gays, and I'd heard something to the effect that the church had claimed it could "cure" homosexuality. I'd heard that the church had gotten into bitter disputes with former members.

And I also knew --- vaguely -- that it was somehow based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer. But for all I knew, some people had decided to base a religion on his writings, perhaps the same way, say, a group of people might decide to base a new religion on the Dune series by Frank Herbert.

When a commenter ("Remnant") recently asked if I was aware of how L. Ron Hubbard was a sociopath, I looked into it. The fairly extensive Wikipedia article about Hubbard makes it apparent that he was.

Scientology, of course, presents an idealized version of Hubbard's life, some of it exaggeration, some outright lies. For instance, according to Wikipedia:

Biographical accounts published by the Church of Scientology [say that Hubbard] was brought up on his grandfather's "large cattle ranch in Montana" where he spent his days "riding, breaking broncos, hunting coyote and taking his first steps as an explorer". His grandfather is described as a "wealthy Western cattleman" from whom Hubbard "inherited his fortune and family interests in America, Southern Africa, etc." Scientology claims that Hubbard became a 'blood brother" of the Native American Blackfeet tribe at the age of six through his friendship with a Blackfeet medicine man.

However, contemporary records show that his grandfather, Lafayette Waterbury, was a veterinarian, not a rancher, and was not wealthy. Hubbard was actually raised in a townhouse in the center of Helena. According to his aunt, his family did not own a ranch but did own one cow and four or five horses on a few acres of land outside the city. Hubbard lived over a hundred miles from the Blackfeet reservation. The tribe did not practice blood brotherhood and no evidence has been found that he had ever been a Blackfeet blood brother.

All this is hardly evidence of sociopathy: the lies and half-truths may well have come from Scientologists who later tried to romanticize his life, and not from Hubbard himself. (If some group later decides to start a religion based on this blog, and worships me as its god, then claims that I got "millions of readers daily," that lie could hardly be attributed to me.)

Nonetheless, Hubbard told plenty of lies about himself on his own, and if you look at his life through the prism of sociopathy, there is a pattern of dishonesty, disloyalty, and fraud that is unmistakeable.

Hubbard claimed to be a "graduate engineer." In fact, he dropped out of George Washington University after less than two years there. He also claimed to have studied nuclear physics; records indicate that he took one course in the field, for which he received an "F."

Hubbard, who was born in 1911, married his first wife Margaret "Polly" Grubb in 1933, and started to write science fiction to support himself shortly thereafter.

In 1941, Hubbard was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. He claimed to have seen combat repeatedly. Official Naval records show that he never saw combat and that his performance was judged as substandard. According to Wiki:

After Hubbard reported that the PC-815 had attacked and crippled or sunk two Japanese submarines off Oregon in May 1943, his claim was rejected by the commander of the Northwest Sea Frontier. Hubbard and Thomas Moulton, his second in command on the PC-815, later said the Navy wanted to avoid panic on the mainland. A month later Hubbard unwittingly sailed the PC-815 into Mexican territorial waters and conducted gunnery practice off the Coronado Islands, in the belief that they were uninhabited and belonged to the United States. The Mexican government complained and Hubbard was relieved of command. A fitness report written after the incident rated Hubbard as unsuitable for independent duties and "lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership and cooperation."

(Sociopaths tend to lack judgment and cooperation, though they can be skillful at a twisted form of leadership.)

In 1945 Hubbard moved into the house of Jack Parsons, a fellow occultist, and befriended him. Shortly after, he stole Parsons' girlfriend, Sara "Betty" Northrup. Shortly after that Hubbard convinced Parsons to invest his life savings in a company whose ostensible purpose was to buy yachts in Miami and sail them to the West Coast where they could be sold for a profit. In the meantime, Hubbard tried to leave the country with one of the yacht, intending to take a world cruise with girlfriend Northrup. Parsons was ruined financially by this venture and subsequently had to sell his house to make ends meet.

According to Wikipedia:

Hubbard's fellow writers were well aware of what had happened between him and Parsons. L. Sprague de Camp wrote to Isaac Asimov on August 27, 1946, to tell him:

"The more complete story of Hubbard is that he is now in Fla. living on his yacht with a man-eating tigress named Betty-alias-Sarah, another of the same kind ... He will probably soon thereafter arrive in these parts with Betty-Sarah, broke, working the poor-wounded-veteran racket for all its worth, and looking for another easy mark. Don't say you haven't been warned. Bob [Robert Heinlein] thinks Ron went to pieces morally as a result of the war. I think that's fertilizer, that he always was that way, but when he wanted to conciliate or get something from somebody he could put on a good charm act. What the war did was to wear him down to where he no longer bothers with the act."

In August of 1946 Hubbard married Northrup, despite still being married to Polly.

In 1951, according to Wikipedia:

Hubbard and two Foundation staff seized Sara and his year-old daughter Alexis and forcibly took them to San Bernardino, California, where he attempted unsuccessfully to find a doctor to examine Sara and declare her insane. He let Sara go but took Alexis to Havana, Cuba. Sara filed a divorce suit on April 23, 1951, that accused him of marrying her bigamously and subjecting her to sleep deprivation, beatings, strangulation, kidnapping and exhortations to commit suicide.

In 1952 Hubbard, then 41, married 18-year-old Mary Sue Whipp, and moved to Phoenix to set up Scientology.

During Hubbard's lifetime, Scientology had more than its share of controversies. In 1958 the FDA seized thousands of pills that Hubbard had been marketing as "radiation cures."

In the early 1960's, Scientology was banned in parts of Australia. In 1972, France charged Scientology and Hubbard with fraud and customs violations. Scientology's fleet of boats, known as Sea Org, were banned from various ports around the world.

Hubbard "invented" a device called the "E-meter," which he climbed could read a person's innermost thoughts. (Sociopaths are good at reading people; this is an ability that helps fortunetellers and other con artists. The idea that there was a device that could do this is, of course, ridiculous.)

Scientology is well known for its extremely aggressive approach towards anyone who criticizes the religion. According to Wikipedia:

[Hubbard] told Scientologists: "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." 

(Vindictveness -- and being on both sides of a lot of lawsuits -- is another hallmark of sociopaths.)

Here's a character testimonial from Hubbard's own son, L. Ron Hubbard Jr, from an interview with Penthouse Magazine in 1983:

Hubbard: Well, he didn't really want people killed, because how could you really destroy them if you just killed them? What he wanted to do was to destroy their lives, their families, their reputations, their jobs, their money, everything. My father was the type of person who, when it came to destruction, wanted to keep you alive for as long as possible, to torture you, punish you. If he chose to destroy you, he would love to see you lying in the gutter, strung out on booze and drugs, rolling in your own vomit, with your wife and children gone forever: no job, no money. He'd enjoy walking by and kicking you and saying to other people, "Look what I did to this man!" He's the kind of man who would pull the wings off flies and watch them stumble around. You see, this fits in with his Scientology beliefs, also. He felt that if you just died, your spirit would go out and get another body to live in. By destroying an enemy that way, you'd be doing him a favor. You were letting him out from under the thumb of L. Ron. Hubbard, you see?

Wikipedia also cited a telling opinion about Hubbard, this one from Judge Paul G. Breckenridge, who in 1984 ruled in favor of a former Scientology member, Gerry Armstrong, who was disillusioned when he found out that much of what he had been told about Hubbard was lies:

The evidence portrays a man [Hubbard] who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements. The writings and documents in evidence additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power, and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile. At the same time it appears that he is charismatic and highly capable of motivating, organizing, controlling, manipulating and inspiring his adherents. He has been referred to during the trial as a "genius," a "revered person," a man who was "viewed by his followers in awe." Obviously, he is and has been a very complex person and that complexity is further reflected in his alter ego, the Church of Scientology.

Judge Breckenridge has given us a textbook description of a sociopath.

I came across this clip of Tom Cruise talking about Scientology on Youtube. He has some interesting things to say. Two quotes:

"A Scientologist has the ability to create new and better realities." (Is this not what sociopaths do with their lies?)

"We are the authorities on getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind….We can rehabilitate criminals…We can bring peace and unite cultures…" (Sociopaths tend to believe in their own omnipotence.)

I'm not saying Tom Cruise is a sociopath. He comes off more as a True Believer: dim and/or crazy. (It occurred to me while watching that clip that he may have Asperger Syndrome as well. People with Asperger's are far more likely to join an organization which will do their thinking for them.) But the religion itself, and its tenets, is obviously the outgrowth of a sociopathic mind.

Adherents must cut off all contact with family and friends who are judged to be unsympathetic to Scientology. (Sociopaths tend to be very controlling personalities.)

Hubbard first organized Scientology into franchises, with all of the local franchises expected to pass along ten percent of their income to headquarters. (This is not entirely unlike an old-fashioned chain letter, or what is now known as multi-level marketing, or pyramid selling. The people who start such schemes tend to be con men.)

Hubbard himself was called a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur. He was also called, a con man and a pathological liar, back in an era where people weren't as familiar with the concept of sociopathy. An extremely narcissistic personality would, rather than take any sort of "blame" himself, simply reject such labels. Hence, Scientology abjures all conventional psychology.

During Hubbard's time, low level adherents to Scientology aboard his fleet of ships were treated abusively, and that tradition has reportedly continued more recently. (This is consistent with how a sociopath treats others.)

The vindictiveness of Scientology towards its former members is also reflective of Hubbard's personality.

Hubbard himself was unquestionably a sociopath, and his fingerprints are all over Scientology.

(Now, I can only hope they don't notice this obscure little blog.)


LSP said...

L Ron -- I've always enjoyed the link to Crowley...


John Craig said...

Lone Star Parson --
Right, Aleister Crowley (just looked him up). Both men charlatans, but only one of them truly original.

LSP said...


Pavonine99 said...

It seems like just about every religous fraud, from Hubbard to Crowley to Rasputin, fits the sociopathic profile.

John Craig said...

Pavonine --
That's true. The two things that spell sociopathy the most clearly are "serial killer" and "pathological liar." But now that you mention it, "cult leader" is probably right up there too.

Anonymous said...

Great article! Very insightful. I had a colleague (they cater to doctors and other professionals) and this guy admitted to me that he had spent over 500K (around 20 years ago) to become "clear" which is what every Scientologist aspires. Then, once you're clear, they want to make you even clearer at "higher" levels, and more money. It's a crazy cult, but then again, so is basically every other organized religion in one way or another. Brian

John Craig said...

Thank you Brian. Yes, it's far more of a cult than a religion, though you're right, many religions have cult-like aspects.

Anonymous said...

Hey if you have'nt read this article about Parsons, I think you will enjoy.

bluffcreek1967 said...

John, it was nice knowing you. Uh, just don't mention my name when the Scientology thugs come knocking.

Seriously, that was a great post and really pin-pointed the sociopathic character of Hubbard. By the way, if you haven't already noticed, whenever high-ranking Scientology representatives give interviews, they look kind of pissed as they talk. They get immediately defensive if the wrong sort of question is asked, especially anything that hints at them being a cult.

John Craig said...

Ambrose --
Ha! Thank you. Who knows, they could be coming for me.

I've never seen Miscavige in an interview. The only one I've seen is Cruise, in the video I linked, and he seems more nutty than angry, though I suppose it's the kind of nuttiness which could easily turn into anger if provoked.

John Craig said...

Previous Anon --
I don't have time to read the entire thing, but the parts that I read were well written and entertaining.

Anonymous said...

John -

Since you have "freedom of speech," hopefully, the scientologists will leave you alone, recognizing that all of us have this constitutional right. On another note, I went to school with one of Werner Erhard's (the founder of est) children. After researching his personal history (via the internet), he clearly seems to be a sociopath. He too was a bigamist, abandoning his first wife and his four children (leaving them in dire straights), fleeing off "into the sunset" with his "second" wife (whom he married while married to wife #1). In time, he established est, influencing a great many people with his mode of thinking.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
Just read the Wiki writeup on Erhard, and yes, he does smell like a sociopath. Deserting the wife and kids and leaving them on welfare, changing his name (self re-invention is a common theme among sociopaths), starting the cult, starting The Hunger Project (after having left his own kids hungry). His daughters allegedly made allegations of sexual abuse against him, too, though they later retracted them. (If he did abuse them, that's all you need to know about thin, and if he didn't, the fact that they would hate him so much that they would make those allegations is also telling.) Anyway, yes, it all fits a pattern.

Anonymous said...


A few years ago, I read a biography about Tom Cruise. What I learned via this book was that Tom's dad possibly had a personality disorder (he's deceased). I think it's interesting that this actor is aligned with a cult that was started by a sociopath and currently led by one (at least I suspect that the present leader is one).


John Craig said...

Birdie --
I wonder what Cruise's father's diagnosis was. Don't know if you took a look at the video I linked, but there was something definitely off about Cruise. My guess, Aspergers.

Anonymous said...


Tom Cruise's father was an abusive type of person, sounding like he was mean-spirited, a bully. When Tom was a teenager (if I'm remembering the details correctly), his mother left her husband (leaving him in Canada where they were living) and returned to the States, raising her children apart from Tom's dad (for good reason).


John Craig said...

Birdie --
Aha, okay, thank you.

Quartermain said...

Would Anton LeVey of the Church of Satan infamy make the sociopath cut?

John Craig said...

Allan --
I'd never heard of Lavey until you mentioned him. Just took a brief look at his bio on Wikipedia, he certainly seems like a likely candidate, given that he founded a religion (Satanism, no less) and that he may well have lied about his supposed affair with Marilyn Monroe and his work for the SFPD. Don't know enough to say for sure, though.