As the novel coronavirus continues to spread around the planet—with the global toll on Tuesday surpassing 400,000 cases and 18,000 deaths—the Church of Scientology is officially scoffing at the pandemic and encouraging followers to continue normal religious activities while treating traditional science and governmental authority with skepticism.
In a March 13 eyes-only memo to his estimated 25,000 to 55,000 members in the United States, Scientology leader David Miscavige called the international public-health crisis “the current hysteria, whether you believe in it or not (and the only thing you can be certain of is that it is hysteria)…”
Miscavige—who has led the church since Jan. 24, 1986, when founder L. Ron Hubbard “dropped his body to continue his research on another planet,” as Scientologists describe his death—continued: “Have no doubt, there is no slowing down for us…So once this current situation passes—and it will pass—you are going to need a seatbelt for when the rocket boosters fire for liftoff.”
Noted Scientology critic Tony Ortega, who posted Miscavige’s memo on his Underground Bunker website Tuesday morning, told The Daily Beast: “For the last 11 days, all Scientologists have been getting calls to come down and read it in person. They didn’t want to email it because they didn’t want anybody else to see it. It’s supposed to be secret, but I managed to get a copy.”
Ortega said Miscavige’s memo—titled “Inspector General Network Bulletin No. 88”—is especially significant because it was issued on L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday, a day that would have featured a massive celebration, Scientology’s most important observance.
Noting that Scientology “protocol mandates against a mass gathering in times of illness and disease,” Miscavige lamented in his memo that “our event hall in Clearwater has cancelled all public events until at least April,” including “our annual Weekend of all Weekends.”
“They shut it down and he was very angry about it, so he put out that briefing that day,” Ortega said. “They’re trying to get people to come in. They’re saying you gotta stay with the courses and auditing, and they’re worrying about the money drying up. Scientology was not set up to be done over the internet. It really requires person-to-person contact.”
Church of Scientology spokespersons in Los Angeles didn’t respond to a voicemail message requesting comment.
Miscavige claimed in his memo that Scientology workers are “preventing and/or killing whatever this virus is,” if indeed it’s real, by sanitizing the church’s various properties with “massive infusions of airborne ozone, as well as nebulized peroxide and Decon7.”
He added parenthetically: “(If you haven’t seen these applications, that’s because the operation occurs in unoccupied spaces before you arrive.)”
Ortega commented that such measures will likely do nothing to protect some 3,000 employees and members of Scientology’s Sea Org army who live “cheek by jowl” in densely crowded church installations in Los Angeles, California, Clearwater, Florida, and other locales.
“You don’t catch it from the building. You catch it from another person,” Ortega said. “Miscavige is endangering the people who work for him.”
On his website, Ortega posted recent photographs—taken in the past two days, he said—of parked cars beside a Scientology building in Columbus, Ohio, indicating people doing work and other group activities inside.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has “ordered Ohioans to stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary to go to work,” his press secretary Daniel Tierney told The Daily Beast, adding that the order requires employers to provide hand sanitizer and other safety measures, and employees to practice social distancing if they are providing essential services.
“There is an exception for religious gatherings,” Tierney added, although he noted that the Ohio Conference of Catholic Bishops, for one, has suspended the obligation to attend mass as Easter approaches.
As for any possible enforcement actions against the Columbus Scientology center, “it’s going to be complaint-based,” Tierney said. “If someone doesn’t feel safe as an employee, or they don’t feel safe as a customer entering the establishment, they’re going to call their local health department or local law enforcement.”
In his memo, Miscavige put the word “pandemic” in dubious scare quotes and derided the health-care professionals and scientists fighting the spread as practitioners of “‘almost’ medicine and science that you can’t yet prevent whatever this latest ‘outbreak’ happens to be. BUT there is nothing ‘almost’ about Dianetics and Scientology.”
Miscavige reassured his followers that “this latest planetary bullbait is but a blip in an epic Whole Track drama.”
Ortega explained: “‘Bullbait’ is one of the most basic activities when you first start in Scientology. One person sits across from you in a chair and shouts insults and abuse at you, and you’re not supposed to flinch. You’re supposed to have a thousand-yard stare. If you flinch, you have to start all over again.”
The “Whole Track drama,” meanwhile, refers to Scientologists’ belief that human beings are actually a physical manifestation of “thetans” who have lived countless lives over billions and billions of years. “Your current life is only a short blip,” Ortega said.
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