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.
Hubbard's famed E-Meter is little more than two sensors connected by wires to a machine. Scientology claims that traumatic events in our current and past lives are recorded as “engrams” in something called the “reactive mind,” that auditing on an E-Meter will help erase those traumatic memories and achieve greater spiritual awareness. Lombard says auditing at the time cost between $100 and $800 per hour; initially, it helped her deal with lingering issues from her past. However, she adds, she often made up false memories, a practice she claims is common for Scientologists, who put their trust in the E-Meter. After her courses, the Amsterdam org asked her to be a nanny for a handful of staffers' kids. She signed a two-and-a-half-year contract. Though not completely convinced of Scientology, she worked tirelessly for the group.
“I was more of a mother to these kids than their own mother actually was,” Lombard says. “That's the nature of the org. As a staff member, you don't have much family time.”
Upon learning more about the org, she was offered a position as an ethics officer—the group's tough disciplinarian, in which she would chastise those who strayed from Scientology's path. Lombard thrived in the position, but it was short-lived. Scientologists from America began coming into the Amsterdam org, Lombard says, as well as orgs throughout Europe, slashing positions and removing people from power. Executives in Europe either were fired or plucked from their orgs and re-assigned to posts in the United States, she says. “These people took it as an honor to be picked,” she adds. “And, of course, we had no clue what was going on in America—no idea.”
* * *
Scientology in the U.S. was in the midst of upheaval among its leadership during the early 1980s, as Hubbard became increasingly reclusive because of FBI scrutiny. During this time, an upstart named David Miscavige, who grew up in the organization, began to amass his own power. After Hubbard died in 1986, Miscavige assumed power and still leads Scientology today. Lombard was eventually promoted to director of personnel, a position she held for five years.
Lombard met her husband at the Amsterdam org. When she became pregnant with a son, she wanted to take a break from Scientology, but she also hoped to enroll him in a Scientology school in England. (She refuses to identify her husband or the names of their three children, saying she doesn't want to bring more trouble on her family at the hands of Scientologists.)
Her young family moved to East Grinstead, England, where the Church of Scientology keeps its United Kingdom headquarters. They lived there for five years while Lombard taught Scientology courses in a tiny mission. Eventually, they moved to San Diego. Lombard and her husband liked that California had a thriving Scientology community, with its heart in Los Angeles. They also had a desire to travel to Clearwater, Florida, home of Scientology's Flag Service Organization, where advanced auditing is performed. Lombard's husband entered the jewelry business, and the family later moved to Irvine and Tustin, the latter city home to the Church of Scientology's Orange County headquarters.
By 1997, Lombard had been moving up in what the church calls “OT levels,” and she traveled to Florida for higher-level auditing. In 2001, Lombard reached the level of OT 5. There are eight OT levels in Scientology, and Hubbard, as do all Scientologists, believed that an operating thetan (a word Hubbard used to describe the spirit within a person's body) could function without his or her body, whether he or she had one or not.
“It is not anything about God,” Lombard explains. “It's just about self-discovery and self-awareness. They tell you at the end of all that you become 100 percent aware of yourself; you can pretty much [be in] a state of enlightenment. And that is what you strive toward.”
Lombard estimates she spent close to $150,000 in auditing and other Scientology practices to reach OT 5. “That's even kind of on the low side,” she says, “because if you really want to get up there, you probably end up spending for sure a quarter of a million dollars, if not more.”
She was recruited to join Scientology's elite Sea Organization, made up of members who sign billion-year contracts with the group as a show of their dedication. “I had my kids, and I knew kids would not be very important in Sea Org,” she says. “There's a lot of neglect that's been going on, and there are kids who have been damaged for life because their parents didn't pay any attention to them when they were in Sea Org, so I never wanted to go with that.”
Lombard says she doesn't regret not reaching the hallowed OT 8 level. “To me, it's not worth much,” she says. “I've seen OT 8s who are scared to walk around in the dark.”
She says she has seen others disciplined harshly and punished financially as they struggled to attain higher levels. Lombard also says she knew a Scientologist who had not reached OT 3 when he watched the infamous South Park episode that openly mocked the church. She watched the episode, too, but only after she left the church.
“This person got into a lot of problems for having watched that,” she says. “He shouldn't have watched that. He had to probably pay between $15,000 and $20,000 to fix that mistake. If it had come up in auditing, then of course I would have had to be handled on it and so forth, and probably spent a couple more thousand dollars to handle that.”
In Scientology, a person is “handled” when they become “what the church calls a 'Potential Trouble Source,'” one who is “roller-coastering” or experiencing doubts about the church. According to Lombard, it's a costly process that aims to root out the reasons why someone would engage in activity that harms the cause of Scientology.
“In order to move on, you don't make your own program,” she says. “The person in LA who's in charge of all the auditing is called a case supervisor. He would make your program, and the minute he would find out you looked at those kinds of materials, he would definitely make sure you [couldn't] continue until those things are handled. You are totally intimidated to think certain ways.”
But in the throes of Scientology, Lombard was a faithful disciple. One could find her all over Orange County, offering E-Meter tests in front of grocery stores and at public events, including the Orange County Fair. She says the purpose of employing the E-Meter is to have would-be Scientologists pour their misery into the auditor and become convinced the auditor can see what they are thinking. Lombard would then sell the interested person a $5 booklet. As a volunteer, she says, she sold more than 1,500 books for the Orange County org.
“This was something that could save their life,” she recalls thinking. “That was my viewpoint. Right now, my viewpoint is it does more harm than good.”
* * *
By September 2008, Lombard was so trusted within Scientology she was asked to spy on troublemakers who protested at the church's international headquarters in Hemet, a sprawling compound for Sea Org members known as Gold Base. One persistent protester was Francois Choquette, who at the time used the pseudonym AnonOrange. In a telephone interview, Choquette alleges the church tricked him into showing up at a motorcycle shop in Orange County and thinking he was going to do a television interview about an electric motorcycle he had built. Instead, he claims, a church spy followed him to his Riverside County home, waiting along the way as Choquette made stops at a friend's house, saw two movies and drank at two different bars. “It's absolutely common,” Choquette says of the spying. “I've been spied on by 18 different people.”
Lombard was ordered to go with another spy to Choquette's home on a Saturday around 5:30 a.m. She and her fellow Scientologist held up signs calling him a terrorist. When the police were called, Lombard says, she and her partner told them Choquette was a terrorist, then stood outside the private community and handed out fliers to warn his neighbors about him.
According to Lombard, Scientologists are conditioned to believe those who come against the church are terrorists. Lombard was later ordered to talk with Choquette's neighbors to find out how he earned a living, she says. “They want to financially ruin people who protest Scientology,” she claims. “That's their intent. They will try to find your employer, and then they will spread rumors about you, that you're a part of a hate group.” Although she never discovered Choquette's income source, Lombard says, she was given another assignment: to spy on a Laguna Beach woman who frequently protested against Scientology in Los Angeles. Lombard parked on the woman's street on Saturday and Sunday mornings, for three-hour shifts, she says, then would report to the Orange County org and trade off with another spy.
In the meantime, Choquette was running into problems at Gold Base. At one point, Scientology security officers pulled him to the ground and held him until Riverside County sheriff's deputies placed him under arrest. Although charges against the protesters were dropped, Choquette filed a lawsuit against the church, which was recently settled. Choquette told the OC Weekly he can't discuss the terms of the settlement.
But the church's critics weren't only outsiders such as Choquette. In 2009, Lombard's son was surfing the web when he came across a story about Mike Rinder leaving Scientology. The church's chief spokesman defected amid a flurry of accusations that he and other executives had suffered beatings at the hands of Miscavige and that they themselves had beaten others. Lombard then read a series of articles by the St. Petersburg Times in which former top Scientology officials including Marty Rathbun and Amy Scobee blasted the church over what they said was rampant mental and physical abuse.
“For me, that was my reason to get out,” Lombard says.
Scobee, who left Scientology in 2005, details some of the alleged abuses she saw during 27 years inside the church in her book Scientology: Abuse at the Top. Despite the church's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Scobee claims, Miscavige regularly dished out violence on Scientologists, including Rinder. According to Scobee, Miscavige made a ventriloquist doll in Rinder's likeness and had “the doll say idiot things” to humiliate him.
In 2001, she claims to have seen an enraged Miscavige tear into Rinder's office and, without warning, strangle him until his face turned colors and he could no longer breathe. “Miscavige hit Rinder on the top of his head, then tipped over the chair, knocking him to the ground,” Scobee writes. “I have no idea why he did this. When he was done roughing up Mike, Miscavige left the office, and that was the last anyone heard about this incident.”
In a telephone interview with the Weekly, Scobee, who lives in Washington, says she witnessed at least a dozen instances in which staff members were beaten, and has reported them to the FBI. Scobee hopes Scientology's top celebrity adherent, Tom Cruise, can somehow be convinced to sever his relationship with Miscavige. “I hope he wakes up and sees the best friend he is protecting is an egotistical, sociopathic, sadistic asshole,” she says.
According to Scobee, not even Cruise-caliber celebrities are allowed to know about Scientology's inner workings or deepest secrets. Instead, they are treated with kid gloves and aren't asked for financial donations, she says. When actor Tom Berenger took an introductory course in Los Angeles, he told a female supervisor he was going to take a cigarette break. According to Scobee, the supervisor told him that was against the rules.
Berenger walked off the campus and never returned. “She was toast,” Scobee says of the supervisor.
Because she worked for the church, Scobee says, she didn't have to pay for services such as auditing. However, when she left, the church sent her a “freeloader bill” for past services that totaled “a quarter of a million dollars,” she says.
As Lombard and her family began to research the church's history, it was as though they had somehow woken up as characters in a bad science-fiction movie. But Lombard was shocked to discover her friends didn't agree. Many of them refused to read any material critical of Scientology.
“When you're in, everything is true, and if you don't think it's true, well, then you need to get handled,” Lombard says. “Then there's something wrong with you because you don't understand it; you don't have the awareness to understand it. . . . And once you shake that off . . . it's a tremendous freedom. It's a freedom I guess people usually take for granted. . . . It's insane to think of in this day and age.”
Since her friends wouldn't listen, Lombard hoped Choquette would. She says she apologized to him and the Laguna Beach woman for spying on them. Lombard also offered to testify on behalf of Choquette during his court battle with Scientology. “Anybody who wants the story, I am there,” Lombard says. “I will be speaking.”
* * *
Now 56 years old, Lombard is an outspoken crusader against the abuses she claims Scientology heaps upon its adherents. “It is a cult,” she says. “It's a cult to the degree that it has its grip on the people, and the people aren't able to think freely, and I think the minute you aren't able to think freely, you can say that you are in a cult.”
But she doesn't regret her time in the church. “It's like with every experience, you learn stuff,” she explains. “I learned a tremendous amount of different things to do with how to fool people and how to keep them in a trap. . . . In the beginning, I learned communication and stuff like that, but the secrets of the universe and all that? No.”
Since she left the church, more than 150 friends have dropped Lombard from Facebook, and she has had several unpleasant encounters with Scientologists, including a man at a Trader Joe's who rebuked her for becoming apostate. In November 2009, she was served a “non-enturbulation order” by the Orange County org for supposedly agitating the church by spreading her disaffection with Scientology.
Nearly a year later, in October 2010, the Orange County org served her a “suppressive person” declaration and officially expelled her from the church. Among several alleged ethics violations, the org said Lombard had an opportunity to handle her situation, but instead of taking the chance, the declaration stated, “Paulien attempted to recruit two upstat staff members to participate in her mutiny against Church Management while they were trying to help her, proving herself to be a squirrel.”
The church uses the word “upstat” to describe successful Scientologists. A “squirrel” is a heretic, someone who perverts Scientology's teachings for his or her own purposes.
Now, Lombard, who once spied on others, became a surveillance target herself, something she realized one day when she was leaving her house with her daughter and happened to notice a familiar-looking woman parked on her street. “They've had spies on me,” she says. “We took a picture with our cell phone, and the minute we took a picture, she sped off. Her assignment, I guess, was to make a picture of [me].”
Later, the woman caught up with Lombard at the intersection of Chapman Avenue and Harwood Street in Orange. Lombard said the spy snapped a photograph of her and her daughter before speeding off. Lombard isn't scared. She says the church has so many protesters now that it can't keep up. Instead, they focus on bigger names that have left the organization.
“I don't care what they're going to do to me,” she says.
Still, she declines to disclose what she does for a living, out of concern the church will try to ruin her.
According to Scobee, spying is a common church practice. She says she filed a restraining order after a Scientologist tried to run her husband off the road.
“We lived in Florida for a year, and they had up to three, sometimes four [people] on us,” she says. “It's just nuts. . . . They go to people's houses that I've talked to and say shit about me. That's one of the reasons why people don't speak out—because they are so intimidated.”
Lombard claims that while Scientology envisions itself as a family-friendly church, if one member of a family becomes critical of Scientology, the church won't hesitate to break up the family.
“I know mothers who don't ever see their kids ever again,” she says. “That's why . . . I'm willing to let everybody in Orange County know about that because, you see, they're going to start this big building in Santa Ana at some stage in time, and I don't want people to not know about this. They should be informed.”
* * *
On a warm January morning in Tustin, volunteers at the Church of Scientology's Orange County headquarters scurry about the slouching office complex at Irvine Boulevard and Red Hill Avenue. In the midst of a major relocation to downtown Santa Ana, boxes are stacked in several rooms. The volunteers are engrossed in what they call the File Project; thousands of files must be moved to Santa Ana. A friendly young woman who has reached Sea Org level tells me that information is kept on every person who walks through the door. She declines to be interviewed and tells me to call the church's LA office. Three messages later, a church spokesperson provides an email address to which questions can be sent. In response to an emailed list of specific questions, a church official complained about unfair media portrayals and outdated allegations of abuse, which she denounced as “lies.”
The woman gives a quick tour of the aging facility; showing off several offices, including the Processing Center, in which a director oversees the auditors who screen pre-Clears, people who are new to Scientology. Posters adorn the walls in nearly every visible office, edifying believers with tiny reminders of the Scientology lifestyle. An E-Meter is seen in the window of a room dedicated to upper-level adherents. Students new to Scientology quietly read in one of the larger rooms while an auditor awaits them in a pre-Clear office.
The tour guide points out a sauna room with exercise equipment. Scientologists engage in a purification program that takes its cue from a Hubbard book titled Clear Body, Clear Mind. A brochure for the program says that while no one can live in a bubble and escape “the global toxic menace,” there is something one can do to rid the body of accumulated toxins: “enroll into and complete L. Ron Hubbard's Purification Program at your nearest Church of Scientology.”
The program claims to open one up to a new level of personal well-being and spiritual improvement through a combination of nutrition, running and sweating in a sauna bath, which will rid the body of toxins and their effects on the minds of spiritual beings. “Through extensive study and testing,” the program claims, “the Purification Program stands as Mankind's best solution to this modern day toxic scourge.”
There is no specific diet for the program, but fresh vegetables are recommended.
The tour ends with a peek into what the guide refers to as Hubbard's office. In fact, she says, every org keeps an office for Hubbard. Presumably, one never knows when a thetan of his titanic stature might invisibly drop by for some deskwork. Nobody goes inside the room, she adds. On top of a large wooden desk rests a magnifying glass; waiting patiently next to a globe on a credenza is Hubbard's E-Meter.
* * *
A few weeks later, on the sidewalk across the street from Orange County Scientology's future home at the corner of Sycamore and Fifth streets in downtown Santa Ana, Lombard stands defiant. The church is moving on without her. She has seen achievement in leaving the religion after emptying her spirit into all of its rituals and shrinking into a shadow of the woman she thought she would be. The streets are quiet outside the apparently empty building, which used to house the Santa Ana Performing Arts and Event Center. Lombard gazes at the pallid, looming structure, which sits between a collection of small Mexican shops on one side and First Presbyterian Church of Santa Ana on the other.
“I'm extremely happy we're out of it,” she says of the church. “Happy there's no one walking around here.”
Just then, a thin, middle-aged man dressed in a blue shirt and black jeans steps out of a portable toilet in front of Scientology's soon-to-be Orange County headquarters. The man glances at Lombard from a distance, then crosses the street and stands next to her for a moment. Without a word, he marches back across the street and disappears into the building.
This article appeared in print as “The Spyentologist: How Paulien Lombard's quest for truth brought her from Scientology spy to church traitor.”