The Church of Scientology is an authoritarian cult whose parallels with authoritarian regimes around the world are well-documented. Most members are kept under control through misinformation and brainwashing. However, like any totalitarian institution, the Church of Scientology has its way of dealing with problematic members. Welcome to the Rehabilitation Project Force.

In the 1960s, unable to find a country willing to host him and his cult, L Ron Hubbard took the Church of Scientology onto the high seas. Inspired by his stint in the Navy, Hubbard took a fleet of ships and named himself the Commodore, sailing into international waters to avoid the attention of the world’s government and law enforcement. He named this the Sea Project (later the Sea Org) and used it to directly control the rest of his Scientology empire. The Sea Org continues today, although it is mostly land-based.

While on board ship, Hubbard devised a punishment division which would eventually develop into the Orwellian-sounding Rehabilitation Project Force, or RPF. Gerry Armstrong, who spent two years in the RPF on ship, described it as follows:

“It was essentially a prison to which crew who were considered nonproducers, security risks, or just wanted to leave the Sea Org, were assigned. Hubbard’s RPF policies established the conditions.
“RPF members were segregated and not allowed to communicate to anyone else. They had their own spaces and were not allowed in normal crew areas of the ship. They ate after normal crew had eaten, and only whatever was left over from the crew meal. Their berthing was the worst on board, in a roach-infested, filthy and unventilated cargo hold. They wore black boilersuits, even in the hottest weather. They were required to run everywhere. Discipline was harsh and bizarre, with running laps of the ship assigned for the slightest infraction like failing to address a senior with “Sir.” Work was hard and the schedule rigid with seven hours sleep time from lights out to lights on, short meal breaks, no liberties and no free time…”

Conditions in RPFs based on land are little better. One film-maker described being forced to run miles in the middle of the night at Scientology’s Golden Era Productions studios and sleep under sprinklers for months at a time, purely for not making a scene perfect enough for David Miscavige, current leader of the cult. Similarly, a 2003 article in the Marburg Journal of Religion stated:

“The German Scientologist whom Collignon interviewed had not seen his wife during the entire eighteen months in which he was in the RPF, and for thirteen of those months he was in Los Angeles (along with approximately 150 people) doing gardening work, reading, and auditing . All of his reading had to have been Scientology materials, since people in the RPF were prohibited from bringing in novels “or any other forms of entertainment . . .” . For his labour during this period, he received only one-quarter of his usual pay, and all the while he was forbidden to “initiate written or verbal communication to people outside the RPF”.

Children are not exempt from the RPF’s clutches. Hubbard personally established the Children’s RPF, a regime to keep children in line who were being troublesome. These children see even the meagre contact they have with their Sea Org parents cut off until they had worked through the RPF and been “rehabilitated.”

The RPF serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it acts as a re-education camp, in which rogue Scientologists will have their will broken down until they cease causing problems for the cult. Secondly, it gives the Church a source of free labour. Many of the luxurious buildings at the Gold Base in California were constructed with the help of the RPF. With labour costs at virtually nothing, the cult has been able to live well outside its means, creating impressive homes for its leadership and elite members off the backs of those who dared to question why.

Further reading:
RPF on Wikipedia
Marburg Journal of Religion, “Scientology and the European Human Rights debate”
Security and the Children’s RPF (YouTube)
Another day in the life at the Scientology Int Base
The Guru’s Gulags: a story of an escape
Collected articles
Excerpt from Rolling Stone article on Scientology

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