Sinking the Master Mariner – An Insightful Article From 1984

times-master-mariner1984 | Sinking the Master Mariner | Sunday Times Magazine (UK) | Report by John Barnes Photographs by Nik Wheeler

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This article was published in 1984. When it was written, Hubbard had been ‘in seclusion’ in the US for five years – and nobody knew where he was. Many observers suspected that he was dead, and the Sea Org had concealed this fact so that they could retain day-to-day control over the Church of Scientology.

It is still well worth reading today because it  describes, in fascinating detail,  the genesis of the Sea Org – Scientology’s uniformed  ‘inner party’ and executive branch –  and also provides insights into other pivotal events – such as “The Mission Holders Massacre”.

In 1967 (as described in my previous post) L Ron Hubbard took to sea with his most devoted followers. He conferred the rank of ‘Commodore’ upon himself, and pseudo naval titles upon his crew of true believers. Barnes describes how Hubbard, ever paranoid, elevated the children of  Sea Org ‘officers’ to power by making them members of  the “Commodore Messenger org”.

Barnes observes that the children,

[…] weren’t much use to the ship particularly, so Hubbard used them as his eyes and ears, spies really, running around, asking questions, observing things. They were considered to be Hubbard himself and any discourtesy to them was regarded as a personal discourtesy to Hubbard. By the time they all got off the boat in 1975, some of the girls had been replaced by teenage boys. The worst part was when these kids started turning in their parents, getting them ‘declared’ [purged] as ‘suppressives’ – that’s evil people, to translate Church language

In  1980 (after Hubbard had retuned to the US) a young ‘Commodore’s Messenger’ called David Miscavige, who had worked closely with Hubbard,  established himself as the leader’s  ‘gatekeeper’.  All communications with Hubbard now had to pass through Miscavige. This gave Miscavige the ability to manipulate Hubbard – and de facto control over Scientology. His first action was to freeze out the ‘old guard’ and prepare to seize power. He did upon Hubbard’s death in 1986, and remains the undisputed leader of the Church of Scientology to this day.The article also discusses the events of the “Mission Holders Massacre”.

At this time, the smaller Scientology organisations had been organised on a franchise basis. “Mission Holders” led the group, took a percentage of the earnings from auditing and other Scientology services, and passed the rest of the income to the ‘mother church’. This was a lucrative arrangement – small, isolated, groups of Scientologists ran their own organisation and paid for the privilege.


To this day, Miscavige displays the ‘rank’ of ‘Captain’ in the Sea Org (the highest in the Sea Org, next to ‘Commodore Hubbard) as it legitimates his absolute control of the Church of Scientology.

That is, until young David Miscavige called a meeting of all mission holders. In full uniform, as head of “The International Finance Police” Miscavige and fourteen other Sea Org ‘officers’ accused the mission holders of every possible fraud and crime against Scientology, and demanded repayment. Many mission holders were sent to Scientology labour camps – a sentence that they voluntarily complied with, as, true believers’. The missions were brought under central control.

What motivated this action? there are two views.  One is that it was ordered by Hubbard… for no discernible reason. The second is that Miscavige wanted to establish his authority over Scientology, manipulated Hubbard into believing that the missions needed to be ‘reformed’, then did as he pleased. Any complaints to the leader of Scientology now passed through Miscavige – and would never reach their destination.

My view is that Miscavige held de facto power from the moment he came to control access to L Ron Hubbard. The history of Scientology from 1980 – 1986 is the history of Miscavige consolidating his position and preparing to seize power after Hubbard’s death.

For example, in 1980 the missions not only provided a maintenance-free regular income, but also a flow of believers to more ‘advanced’ organisations, where they paid to be initiated into the higher levels of Scientology. The end of the franchise system removed the mission holder’s  financial incentive – and the flow of both money and people dried up.

This does not seem to be sort of mistake that Hubbard would make – he was shrewd enough to recognise a good earner, and leave it alone. It seems more likely that Miscavige (who was concerned above all with establishing control over Scientology) wanted to curry favour with Hubbard, and neutralise potential dissidents – people in the missions who had always operated with a degree of independence. This could easily be arranged by telling a sick, paranoid old man that the Mission Holders were swindling him.


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