Every year, Scientology throws a huge party for members of the International Association of Scientologists (IAS). This takes place at the UK headquarters of Scientology, Saint Hill Manor, and up to five thousand members from all over the world turn up.
L Ron Hubbard bought this estate in 1959. He seems to have enjoyed playing English country squire because he ran Scientology’s affairs from the site until he was refused re-entry into the country in 1967.
The event is held every year, and its main purpose is to encourage donations to the IAS. As is the case with all Scientology fund-raising, this can involve a very hard sell indeed, and attendees are unlikely to leave without having given as much as they can afford.
The IAS started life as a legal defence fund for the Church of Scientology, but critics characterise it as a huge slush fund under the exclusive control of the present leader, David Miscavige. Little is known about how this money is spent, of even whether is spent at all.
This year, the event took place on the 6th, 7th and 8th of October, and I was there on the Friday with a small group of protesters.
After the Anonymous campaign against Scientology changed the game by seriously damaging Scientology’s ability to suppress opposition, protests have tailed off. It’s now rare to see more than small groups of activists, and the public might think that they don’t achieve much even as they support the effort (passing drivers frequently honked, waved and shouted approval).
In the case of protesters at the IAS event, however, this isn’t true. They cost Scientology at least tens of thousands of pounds just by being there. If that sounds incredible – it is. However, read on to understand why, and assess the figures for yourself.
The UK Context
Here in England we have very well regulated private security companies, and nobody is armed. The most closely-guarded business asset of these enterprises is their reputation. They typically observe the law carefully, in order to protect this.
In previous years there have been two police officers standing outside the main entrance during protests to insure good order. This year they were not present. After having watched over well-behaved protesters for years, the police apparently can’t seen any reason to be there.
This absence may have caused the Church of Scientology to over-react. they have always hired private security, but this year, they seemed to have contracted for a lot more that they need.
The very professional company who watches over the IAS event, has a good relationship with the small group of regular protesters who gather outside the main entrance every year, waving banners at the Scientologists who pour in from all over the world, in cars, taxis and on foot.
A large part of the job of the security staff is to engage with protesters and be as friendly as they can. This is good practice because it defuses potential conflict. What’s more, they are experienced people who can see that the IAS protesters are completely non-violent and represent no threat to a team of well-trained strapping lads.
The staff and management come over as nice guys who don’t want conflict and know exactly what the law permits them to do, and (more importantly) does not permit them to do.
The Church of Scientology’s approach is not as reasonable.
Scientology’s Aggressive Approach
This aggressive approach continues when they arrive outside Saint Hill. For example, on the opposite side of the road to the Saint Hill entrance there was a public right of way – until the Church of Scientology planted trees there to make it inaccessible.
There is also an area of public land to the right of the main entrance, going in, where protesters usually stand. In previous years, the Church told the two police officers present that this was private property and demanded protesters be removed. Unfortunately for the Scientologists, one of the protesters was equipped with extensive documentary evidence that this area was, in fact a public right of way. After seeing this, the police took no action.
Scientology has been reduced to dumping planters full of flowers in the public area, to reduce the space where protesters can stand. They watch these carefully, in the hope that someone will give them the opportunity to complain about property damage. This isn’t a particularly clever tactic. Such things should not, of course, be left on public land because they represent a legal liability – a protester who tripped over a planter could sue for the resulting injuries – especially since the area is bristling with deliberately prominent security cameras.
The Law of The Land
The private security people have a big problem.
Saint Hill Manor is 50 acre site with a huge perimeter that is not defended by any form of security fencing. East Grinstead is a small town just outside London and local government planning departments simply would not give permission for such things to be erected.
For long distances, the property is secured only by low walls, that a reasonably fit person can scramble over in a few seconds, and an extensive network of surveillance cameras.
This has traditionally been an opening for the most ‘serious’ direct action by protesters. In previous years, they have climbed a wall or otherwise sneaked in, and walked through the site – something which Scientologists (especially the Sea Org) react to with utter horror and open aggression.
The English law of trespass is quite clear in this context. If you enter Saint Hill Manor and the owner does not want you there, they are entitled to require that you leave by the shortest practical route.
If you decline to so this, they can summon the police, who can only arrest you if you don’t go when they tell you to. If anyone lays a hand on the trespasser, they have committed common assault.
Consequently, as long as they don’t enter any buildings, damage or steal anything, the law protects the protester as much as the landowner. They can wander about for some time before the police turn up (covering each other all the while with video cameras at all times, just in case of false accusations).
The Church of Scientology has responded to this ‘threat’ by contracting their security company to ‘protect’ their site by hiring over a hundred registered security guards for the entire duration of the event.
Some manage the main entrance, others patrol the site and ‘protect’ the Scientologists inside – who might peak at just over 2,000. The rest are deployed at regular intervals around the very long perimeter. So that they can detect and intercept ‘incursions’ before they get in too deep.
Security Theatre of the Absurd
Scientology teaches that the outside world is a very corrupt and dangerous place, and that the Church is the world’s only hope for redemption. This adds to other pressures placed upon members to socially isolate themselves. In isolation people lose perspective, and that is is the source of great manipulative power.
When they see a huge security presence, Scientologists can be forgiven for thinking that it is there for a genuine reason – to protect them from the degraded beings outside, for example. This reinforces their feeling that they are a special, embattled minority with a dramatic mission.
In truth, the security staff are being used to keep Scientologists away from a small group of non-violent protesters because their fragile beliefs may not survive an encounter with the reality that SPs are actually reasonable people who would like nothing more than to engage with them.
Also, I doubt it occurs to Scientologists that, according to their own doctrine, the security guards are themselves members of the corrupt society outside of Scientology. They should wonder why Scientologists can’t provide security services for themselves. After all, Saint Hill is home to many members of the elite Sea Org. Why does the Church need to employ mercenaries?
The (Human) Great Wall of Saint Hill
The reason is that the Sea Org are untrained and far too arrogant and touchy to deal with the general public. They think they are superior and have the power to control lesser beings. Apart from not knowing how to do the job, their attitude can only lead to conflict and legal liability.
The Church of Scientology seems to agree with this assessment. During a previous event, I was told that the Sea Org had been ordered to stay well back and let the professionals deal with intruders.
I even got the impression that this was a condition of the contract – the company didn’t want to find themselves in the no-win position of having to witness in court against the illegal behaviour of of their own client (for example if a Sea Org member assaulted a protester on camera).
It takes a lot of people to protect the perimeter of 50 acre site to the standard required. The security firm has the advantage of personal radios and a site that is bristling with surveillance cameras, but that only enables them to detect intruders.
In order to prevent anyone getting in deep enough to move among Scientologists, the security company has to have a guards physically stationed at regular intervals along the perimeter so that a group of them they can move in quickly and intercept infiltrators – plus a reserve in case the opposition tries to distract them with decoys.
Protesters don’t even have to do this very often (nobody even tried this year). They only have to be there to force Scientology to take heroic measures against the mere possibility.
How Much Does This Operation Cost?
You can find out a lot by chatting to the security staff themselves, and keeping your eyes open.
The guards are paid £18 an hour. They work 12 hour shifts to provide around-the-clock coverage on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They provide highly visible security within the event as well as ‘protecting’ the perimeter.
Staff will tell you that are at least 100 people on duty during the day so that they can maintain full coverage and provide legally required work breaks.
Also (as noted above) police declined to be present this year, which may have caused Scientology to boost the numbers. There may well have been up to 130 security personnel present – but let’s be very conservative here, and go with 100.
The company not only has to pay its staff, but also cover its expenses and overheads and make a profit. Lets apply a standard business rule of thumb here – to be worthwhile, you have to charge the customer three times what you are paying your staff – that’s £54 per person per hour.
How many man-hours do all these people work? Assuming that there are 100 people on the day shift, working for 12 hours a day for 3 days, that’s 36 hours x 100 = 3,6000 hours. That’s a bill for £194,400 right there. Assuming the night shift only employs 30 guards for 12 hours a day for 3 days, that’s still 1,080 hours costing £58,320
We can see that the levels of ‘security’ that Scientology demands for the IAS event, costs, at the very least, a total of £252,320 just for the staff. Add in the dog handlers, the cost of the metal detector and a lot of other logistical requirements that I can’t imagine, and it’s going to total a great deal more that that.
It would be easy to double that figure, if your client was were particularly paranoid and demanding – which the Church of Scientology most emphatically is.
A small group of protesters, whom incoming Scientologists ignore &/or treat with open contempt, are costing the Church of Scientology tens of thousands of pounds at the very least, maybe the thick end of £100,000, just by being there.
That seems to me to be a very useful day’s work indeed.