By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Early-morning meetings of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors aren't exactly known for fireworks. On the agenda of the July 26, 2011, gathering, for example, was the pressing question of whether the county's dispatch system for medical-aid calls needed upgrading. So audience members might have been half-asleep during the public-comment period, when a slender, middle-aged woman with graying hair, black slacks and a light-purple blouse calmly walked to the podium and explained how, as a trusted, longtime member of the Church of Scientology, she had recently engaged in a spying operation directed at local critics of the church, including a man from Lake Elsinore who'd been protesting the church's so-called "Gold Base" in Hemet, as well as a Laguna Beach woman who'd been picketing in front of the church's massive blue building on Fountain Avenue in Los Angeles.
Then she turned her attention to Supervisor Jeff Stone, whom she claimed had close, personal friends in the church.
"I know, Mr. Stone, you have some friends who are Scientologists," the woman said. "I actually know them personally. They used to be my friends. They have since disconnected from me. They're not allowed to talk to me anymore, okay? This is all part of information control that is going on in the church. Church members are not allowed to do research [on] the history of Scientology online. If they do, there are several repercussions. I strongly suggest you inform yourself about Scientology."
The woman, Paulien Lombard, had joined the church decades earlier and an ocean away. As a 22-year-old psychology student in the Netherlands, she had met a man at a college-dormitory party who would change the course of her life.
A self-described "odd duck in the pond," Lombard had searched for meaning from an early age. She thought psychology was the way to discover her purpose and, she felt, to help others escape the emotional and mental pain that chains the human spirit. By her own admission, she'd staggered into adulthood, laden with a bag of unanswered questions about life, happiness and the mystery of the human mind.
"I was really seriously searching for answers," Lombard says. "And this person was talking about [how] he found some answers, and it sounded very interesting to me."
The answer, her new friend told her, was Scientology.
Over the course of several drinks, the man had spoken glowingly about the power of Scientology's communication exercises, in which the church's initiates could learn how to more effectively interact with others.
"'I want to do that,'" Lombard recalls thinking. "I met him the next day at the Amsterdam [organization, or org], and that same day, I enrolled in that communication course. It cost maybe $30. All the intro stuff is relatively cheap."
But in the next three decades, Lombard would spend nearly $150,000 on Scientology. Her dedication to the church's program, which Scientologists call "The Bridge to Total Freedom," was so strong that, by the end of her sojourn, she was spying on some of the church's most outspoken critics. But Lombard no longer spies for the church. In fact, she says, it's the church that spies on her.
* * *
Lombard's pale-blue eyes are set as though they are gems between tiny lines that pull tightly together whenever she smiles. Her grayish-blond hair falls just above her shoulders; strands of her hair dance in the cool breeze that drifts to her table inside Old Towne Orange's Café Lucca. As she finishes her coffee on a recent Wednesday afternoon, she gazes at passersby.
"I don't have any more friends in Scientology," she says, her Dutch accent dressing a delicate voice that lifts and falls with the telling of a story that began more than 30 years ago. "All my friends have disconnected from me."
She recalls a relatively happy childhood in the Hague, the capital city of the Netherlands' South Holland Province, about 45 minutes south of Amsterdam by train. Her father, a bank manager, and her mother, a homemaker, reared Lombard and her older brother and sister in the Roman Catholic Church, which she left behind when she was around 16 years old. A fan of classic rock bands such as the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, Lombard was a bit of a tomboy. She recalls hating having to take ballroom dancing lessons as her brother and sister had done.
"I always felt I didn't fit in," she says.
In 1978, Lombard says, she joined the Amsterdam org and took introductory courses, which included "auditing" through the use of an electronic galvanometer known as an "E-Meter." The E-Meter was a glorified lie detector introduced to Scientology by its founder, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, shortly after he released his book Dianetics: A Modern Science of Mental Health in May 1950. A science-fiction writer during the previous two decades, Hubbard wanted to scrap the penny-a-word lifestyle of a hack for big money and fame. Just about every facet of the man's life is disputed, be it the extent of his travels, the depth of his education, or the impact of his military service. For every praise the church loudly bestows on the man it calls "Source," there is an equal and opposite denunciation by those who say Hubbard was a huckster with dollar signs in his eyes.