In the mid-1980s, more than ever before, television advertising was about big budgets and excess. Bucking that trend was Scientologist and marketing whiz Jeff Hawkins, whose understated, minimalist TV ads for L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics helped launch the book onto the best-seller list—and arguably sparked a worldwide interest in the religion.
Hawkins' ads featured simple questions like, "Why are you unhappy?" in white print against a black background, backed by edgy music supplied by Hawkins' friends, and finally, a shot of the Dianetics book splashed against a volcano. The ads cost around $2,000 to make, yet within months of their first nationwide appearance, Dianetics made the New York Times Best Seller List for the first time since its initial publication in 1950—and a special commemorative edition of the book was printed to mark the occasion.
Hawkins estimates he made more than $200 million for the church in his 35 years of marketing Dianetics. Nevertheless, he ultimately paid for his success by being thrown out of the church in 2005. Now living in Portland, Hawkins is writing a book about his experiences in Scientology.
And boy, is he pissed....
Hawkins joined the church of Scientology in Los Angeles in 1967.
"People ask me, 'Was [Scientology founder] L. Ron Hubbard a genius or a con man?'" says Hawkins. "And I say, 'Yes, he was.'"
"I got into Scientology because it was kinda weird," he says. "I was a hippie at the time in the late '60s, and I'd done the whole drug thing, the whole LSD thing, and so 'weird' was not an issue with me—you know what I'm saying?"
As he worked his way around the world, doing stints at the church's Edinburgh and Copenhagen branches, Hawkins was exposed to more and more weirdness. In 1971 he was invited aboard L. Ron Hubbard's ship, Apollo, where he met the Scientology leader and was given the mission of marketing and disseminating the church to the masses, Hawkins says.
At the time, Hubbard had established his own "photography organization" to promote the church—which Hawkins claims consisted of Hubbard dressing up in a khaki suit, pith helmet, and ascot scarf, and staging bizarre photo shoots on beaches around the world whenever Apollo would dock. Hawkins also alleges that Hubbard was always accompanied by what he called his "messengers": stunning, provocatively dressed young women.
"He'd establish these sets, somebody would write a script, and L. Ron Hubbard would take these photographs," says Hawkins. "The whole thing would look terrible. But of course you could never say anything negative about Hubbard's work."
As a live-in member of Scientology's Sea Organization—which was decamped to dry land in the late '70s but maintained its naval theme—Hawkins says he was able to reach Operating Thetan Level Four: the fourth of eight levels of psychological "clearance" in Scientology. Hawkins was allegedly able to do so without paying the customary $250,000 he would've had to pay had he been a "public" Scientologist (someone from the outside world).
Hawkins says Hubbard told him that Earth is a prison planet, and we're all trapped here. What's more, the citizens of the galaxy have also been put here and hypnotized by an intergalactic dictator named "Xenu," and that we are all simply dramatizing the incidents we perceive to be reality. "When you're in, when you believe in it, you think 'Oh, he's this amazing genius who's unlocked these secrets,' and it makes a kind of odd sense," Hawkins admits. "But the minute you break that kind of conditioning, and you really look at it, you go, 'That's absolutely batshit crazy.'"
By 1982, Hawkins says he had already shot his fair share of attention-grabbing ads for the religion—whether they involved complex fly-by shots filmed from airplanes or interviewing celebrity Scientologists like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie.
Hubbard's philosophy, says Hawkins, was to use ads to "splash the volcano" at the general public. This was linked to Scientology's belief that the image of a volcano has been embedded in people's minds from an experience in a former lifetime. Hubbard is reported to have said that 75 million years ago, Earth's population was massacred by Xenu, the dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, who stacked us all around a volcano and killed us using nuclear bombs—Hubbard's 1968 lecture on the "Xenu theory" is now publicly available on the Wikileaks website.
"Splashing the volcano at them was supposed to hypnotize people back, or what they call 'key them in' to the whole Xenu incident," says Hawkins. "And then they would be somehow hypnotized to go and buy the book."
Hubbard had also taught Hawkins that it wasn't a good idea to overtly inform the public about Scientology—the best way to market the religion was to find out what was ruining somebody's life, and then tell them, "Scientology can help with that."
For his ads, Hawkins attempted to pique a would-be reader's curiosity using a minimalist campaign that told the viewer a little bit about the religion, thereby encouraging them to find out more.
"I sketched it out on paper first, I had this book in the middle, and I had all these questions around it: 'What makes people angry?' 'Why do people fight?' 'Why do people lose their self-respect?' And I'd look it up in the book and I'd write, 'go to page 42,' 'go to page 43,' and so on," says Hawkins.
When the book hit the New York Times Best Seller List, Hawkins was overjoyed.
"I felt great about it at the time because I believed in the subject, I thought it was wonderful, and didn't think it was invasive to just tell a person about a book and have them buy a copy," he says.
"But now I feel bad about it, because I think a lot of people got into Scientology because of my campaigns," Hawkins adds. "And I feel a certain responsibility to correct that. To make the truth about Scientology known."
Savaged by Miscavige
Hawkins is currently 62, soft spoken, and has no retirement savings, having worked 100-hour weeks for the past 35 years for what he estimates was a salary averaging $2,000 a year. He moved to Portland with his brother Kimball—also a former Scientologist—and started a design firm.
Hawkins is a member of a Yahoo group called Ex-Sea-Organization, where he is in touch with around 120 friends/former members of the church's management group. Other ex-Sea Organization members vouch for Hawkins' importance to the church.
"He was a giant as far as Hubbard's marketing branch went," says Chuck Beatty, who was a training supervisor in the Sea Organization during his 27 years in what he calls "the cult" from 1975 to 2003.
"He was a long-term trooper of the movement with a huge production record. If you can compare the Sea Organization to Vatican staff, Hawkins was in the marketing and promotion branch of the Vatican for the last 30 years."
"Jeff was very, very high up over marketing," adds Larry Brennan, who was a member of Scientology's Watchdog committee between 1982 and 1984, supposedly comprised of the top 10 members of the church at the time.
"Jeff, probably more than anybody, was responsible for getting Dianetics back on the best-seller lists, and he was very closely involved with Miscavige."
Hawkins' own journey out of Scientology began in 1987, a year after Hubbard's death, when Scientology's current leader, David Miscavige, took control of the church. Miscavige placed his brother, Ronnie, in charge of Hawkins' publications organization, and according to Hawkins, began a systematic campaign to discredit his work for the church.
"I think it was because I had been so successful," Hawkins says. "Almost untouchable. Nobody was going to speak out against me, and I think that frustrated Miscavige."
Hawkins thinks Miscavige may have resented "sharing the stage," and the new leader attacked and threw roadblocks in his path. At the end of 2000, Hawkins was allegedly subjected to an "evaluation," where he was accused by Miscavige of wasting $75 million of church money with bogus marketing.
Hawkins says he survived the evaluation by providing evidence of bringing in over $200 million to the church, as well as a personal commendation for his efforts from Hubbard. Nevertheless, Hawkins says he was assigned to menial labor, but slowly worked his way back into marketing. Then, after writing an infomercial on Dianetics, Hawkins claims he was called into a conference room where Miscavige allegedly hit him in front of 40 people.
"He wasn't even talking to me but he was saying, 'This thing that Hawkins has written is just a piece of trash,'" says Hawkins. "And he'd look at me and say, 'This guy's evil. See how he's looking at me?' And everyone was saying, 'Stop looking at him like that'—and I'm like, 'What the hell?'"
Miscavige allegedly asked Hawkins to confess to his "crimes"—from his current, and past lives.
"And then all of a sudden he just jumped up, launched himself across the conference room table in front of 40 people, and beat my face," says Hawkins. "I had scratches, and bruising, and my shirt was all ripped. Then he knocked me on the floor, and walked out."
Hawkins is not the only former Scientologist to allege experiencing or seeing violence at the hands of Miscavige. Brennan and Marc Headley—both former Sea Organization members—have made similar accusations.
"Dave would punch or slap people in the face repeatedly when they delivered bad news, or when people talked back with anything other than what he wanted to hear," says Headley. "I would say over a period of five years between 2000 and 2005 I saw him do this maybe 30 to 40 times. I saw him hit Jeff on at least one or two occasions."
Hawkins says Miscavige also punched him in the gut and hit him on the side of the head repeatedly on other occasions.
"There was also a lot of verbal abuse, threats, profanity, and on and on. He was just a bully, basically."
Hawkins was "offloaded" from the base and brought back into marketing three times. "Offloading" meant Hawkins was no longer welcome at the Sea Organization, and that he was in danger of being declared "suppressive," or a threat to the religion. Once someone is declared "suppressive," they are forbidden from having contact with other Scientologists.
Eventually, Hawkins decided he'd had enough and wanted to quit. After announcing his intentions, Hawkins claims he was kept for months in a detention center surrounded by barbed wire fences and security cameras, called the Old Gilman House, on the northwest side of the Sea Organization's base, where he was forbidden departure until he'd gone through "security checks."
"They get every single 'crime' that you've ever supposedly committed—and I think, really, they're collecting potential blackmail material," Hawkins says. "I eventually confessed to whatever they suggested, just to get offloaded. And following all that you have to sign these gag orders promising never to speak about Scientology, which I did."
Hawkins says he signed the agreements under duress, and that he is not afraid to speak out, now. He also says that Scientology's reputation for aggressively pursuing its critics no longer concerns him, because so many people are leaving at once—the base, he says, gradually got more and more restrictive through the 1990s as Scientologists started leaving in greater numbers. Now, he says, the whole thing is surrounded by barbed wire, and Sea Organization members are prevented from leaving. Another former Sea Organization worker, Shelly Corrias, confirms this level of security on the base.
Hawkins also supplied the Mercury with an alleged map of the base, that he cobbled together using images from Google Earth.
Scientology in Portland
"I actually thought that by May, they'd lose interest," says Gwen Barnard, as we sit in the Scientology Church on SW Salmon and Broadway on Saturday afternoon, July 12. Outside, a group of mask-wearing protesters affiliated with the international anti-Scientology protest group Anonymous are waving signs saying things like "Travolta Was Brainwashed" and "Scientology Kills."
Regarding the "kills" allegation: Scientologist Lisa McPherson was an allegedly mentally ill woman who died in Clearwater, Florida, in 1995, under the care of fellow Scientologists who had removed her from a local hospital, telling doctors she "did not believe in psychiatry." The church reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with McPherson's family over the death in 2004.
Barnard has been a Scientologist in Portland for 33 years, and has worked at its downtown church for 22 years. When I tell her I'm writing about the national marketing of Scientology she is kind enough to give me a phone number in California to call. I also promise to read Dianetics before finishing my feature. (I did.)
"Most of these kids are young, impressionable people that believe anything they read on the internet," she says. "I mean, if you wanted to know about golf, you'd go and try it for yourself—not picket the golf club."
But outside the church, the protesters are fervent.
"The church has this militant PR policy of 'attack, attack, never defend,'" says Jacob Mercy, one of the young protesters, who describes himself as a freelance writer "taking time off to finish a novel."
"But a lot of their best PR people, their best marketing people are leaving. Hawkins did a great job for them, and now he's left...."
"This whole protest catalyzed in January," says another protester, Peter Lee, "when the church demanded that Google remove that video of Tom Cruise."
The video in question, which is still widely available, features Cruise enthusiastically raving about "LRH" (L. Ron Hubbard), as well as other acronyms, and saying things like, "Being a scientologist, when you drive past an accident, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you're the only one that can really help."
Lee, who describes himself as a "white-collar professional," feels the church preys on people with mental illness and behavioral disorders, and that its marketing is "unethical."
Later, Barnard gives me a DVD about Scientology and tells me there was a cement block thrown through the Portland church's window back in January.
Hawkins says he is not criticizing public Scientologists like Barnard, or attacking their right to believe in the religion. There are, after all, some pretty wacky beliefs in Christianity and Mormonism, and Hawkins isn't speaking out against those.
"Your average Scientologist in Portland doesn't know anything about what went on in the Sea Organization," he says. "The last thing I want to do is impugn the average Scientologist, because they're good, dedicated people."
Hawkins says, instead, that he is happy to meet with any Scientologist to talk to them about his experiences, any time. He simply feels public Scientologists have a responsibility to find out what's going on at higher levels of the church.
His Word Against Theirs
It is, of course, almost impossible to verify all of Hawkins' claims about Scientology, apart from talking with other church members who have since departed. Hawkins predicts that when I call the church's office of special affairs, they will accuse him of being an unethical criminal, and deny all of his claims.
The church's international spokesperson Karin Pouw responded to the Mercury's request for comment on Hawkins' allegations in a 14-page letter on July 25.
"Mr. Hawkins' claims against the Scientology religion are evidence of classic apostate behavior, common in disaffected members of all religions," Pouw wrote. "He grossly mischaracterizes the church, its purposes, and activities in an effort to harm its reputation.
"I take personal offense from the allegations being made about Mr. David Miscavige," Pouw continued. "I know him personally, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms that the disgusting claims made by Mr. Hawkins could not be further from the truth. Mr. Miscavige is known by all those who have had the honor of meeting him or working with him as someone dedicated to the well being of staff and parishioners of the Church of Scientology and devoted to his fellow man and the improvement of society."
Pouw wrote that Hawkins' dismissal from Scientology was for reasons which, if disclosed, "would likely impugn his integrity and cause personal embarrassment." She wrote, "Mr. Hawkins' claims that he was the cause of Dianetics' success are laughable, if only for the reason that the book was a run-away success long before he had anything to do with it."
Pouw also wrote that Hawkins' complaints about having only been paid $2,000 a year and working 100-hour weeks in the Sea Organization "[are] tantamount to a de-frocked priest, after years of service to the religious order, publicly complaining that he lived an ascetic life, wore a robe at all times, could not marry, and studied the Bible every day."
Hawkins, Pouw wrote, "knew when he joined [the Sea Organization] that his membership required total commitment to the religion, without any expectation of monetary compensation."
In reference to the alleged advertising technique of "splashing the volcano," Pouw wrote that "no religion should be taken to task about its beliefs nor asked to defend or 'clarify' its beliefs in response to bigoted assaults."
Lastly, Pouw wrote that Hawkins' support of "the religious hate group Anonymous" was evidence of his bias—Hawkins has appeared at some of the group's protests with a sign about Miscavige.
"In forwarding Mr. Hawkins' bigoted agenda, you are also forwarding a plan of hate and crime," she wrote, referring to the Mercury.
After getting Pouw's letter, the Mercury also received a phone call from Tommy Davis, Pouw's boss at the church. Davis denied that Hawkins was prevented from leaving the base during his offloading process and further denied all of his other allegations.
"I know Hawkins, and I have known Mr. Miscavige for 17 years," Davis told us. "Jeff Hawkins was a copywriter and these weren't his ads. He didn't work with or even report to Mr. Miscavige. There wasn't a connection there. He and Marc Headley and Larry Brennan are flat out, flat out liars. They're opportunists, they're media hounds, and they're liars. They cannot substantiate the things that they're claiming and they cannot even begin to do so. They were dismissed from the church.
"I have no idea why he would choose to turn on and so violently attack his former faith," Davis continued. "To focus on things like this is a shame because there is a much bigger story going on with Scientology right now that is far more interesting."
Davis also forwarded an email from Mitch Brisker, whom he alleged was "the real creator" of the Dianetics ads.
"Jeff Hawkins was a soft-spoken and mild-mannered guy who found himself in way over his head in the world of advertising and marketing on a global scale," wrote Brisker.
In regard to Pouw's statement about how it would cause "personal embarrassment" to Hawkins if the reasons for his dismissal were ever disclosed, Hawkins says it "means they've gone back through my private confessional files and culled out anything they think would cause me embarrassment."
"It's blackmail," he says. "It's also character assassination by innuendo. I say, if they actually have something, then produce it, and face a defamation suit. If they have nothing, then they have no right to infer they do."
Hawkins says Dianetics may have been successful in 1950, but that was "35 years before I picked it up and remarketed it.
"Pouw says I joined the Sea Organization and therefore have no right to complain," he continues. "Well, I never signed up to be physically and emotionally abused, deprived of sleep, privacy, or basic human rights."
Hawkins also says he is not a member of the Anonymous group, since "I don't wear a mask or hide my identity."
As to Mitch Brisker: "Brisker was a director I hired in the 1980s to film some TV ads I wrote. He never wrote anything. For Brisker to pass judgment on my personality based on a casual business relationship 20 years ago is arrogant to say the least," Hawkins says.
"This is, sadly, a standard response by the Church of Scientology to anyone who lifts the curtain of secrecy and provides a look at the very real abuses that go on behind the scenes," Hawkins says. "First, they categorically deny everything. Second, they 'attack the attacker,' attempting to defame and impugn the character of any critic or whistleblower. It would be refreshing if they devoted at least some of that energy to putting their own house in order."