If the Sea Org doesn’t legally exist, how does it run Scientology?

(Authored by Jeffrey Augustine, this essay was originally published by Tony Ortega at the Underground Bunker and is reprinted here for archival purposes)

Last week, Underground Bunker contributor Jeffrey Augustine began explaining to us the essential structure of the fiction known as “the Church of Scientology.” This week, he dives even deeper, examining how the Sea Org really runs things even though it doesn’t exist, legally. Confused? That’s exactly the point. Scientology’s byzantine internal structure was intended to make it difficult to follow lines of responsibility as a defense against lawsuits or government investigations. But sense can be made of things, and we’re fortunate that Jeffrey has this stuff down cold…


Nothing in the Church of Scientology is as it seems. As we covered last week, there is no single entity known as the “Church of Scientology.” Rather, as the Church told the IRS in 1992, the term “Church of Scientology” is one of convenience:

 The Church of Scientology describes itself as consisting of an “ecclesiastical hierarchy of churches” in which all of its churches are legally separate religious corporations. So who exactly manages and operates this transnational, multibillion dollar ecclesiastical hierarchy of Scientology churches on a daily basis? We focus this week on the Church of Scientology’s Sea Organization – the Sea Org — and its central role in Scientology. While the Church of Scientology likes to call the Sea Org its clergy, we will see that the Sea Org is not what it seems to be.

The Church of Scientology, tax exemption, and Founder L. Ron Hubbard’s ongoing pattern of financial misconduct, megalomania, spying on his enemies, and Scientology’s internal culture of brutality are intrinsic to the creation of the Sea Org. From Scientology’s founding in 1952 until 1967, the movement was managed and operated by staff members and volunteers. These people received very little in the way of pay, worked long hours, and often had to “moonlight” by working a second job to make ends meet. After Hubbard purchased Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, Sussex, England in 1959, he took up residence there with his family and quickly expanded it to be the global center of Scientology’s growing international operations and the destination of massive cash flow.

The Hubbard Communications Office Worldwide was established at Saint Hill in 1959. This operation was proof of Scientology’s growth and burgeoning financial power. Telexes were sent and received around the clock from Saint Hill to an expanding global network of Scientology orgs, operatives, lawyers, and private investigators. In this period, it became apparent to Hubbard that he needed an inner circle of Scientology careerists, people who would devote their lives to Scientology and to him and have no other purposes. An inner circle of permanent and trusted Scientology careerists was needed to give the movement stability and provide standardization of Scientology’s technology and management policy amid international growth. Scientology careerists were also needed to manage and supervise the growing cadre of non-Scientology lawyers and private investigators needed to counter the rising tide of criticism from the media, lawsuits from former members, and investigations from governments in those countries where Scientology operated.

The IRS revoked the Church of Scientology’s tax exemption in 1967 after finding the Church of Scientology of California (CSC) – the original Mother Church – existed for the private financial benefit (inurement) of Founder L. Ron Hubbard. The IRS objected to Hubbard ordering the church pay him lavish royalties on the sale of his books, tapes, and auditing services. The IRS further took exception to Hubbard and his family living aboard a church-financed private yacht that sailed the Mediterranean at Hubbard’s will and pleasure, this while Ron and Mary Sue Hubbard were waited upon hand and foot by church staff.

Hubbard could have cleaned up his finances and those of the church in a way that would have allowed the church to file a new application for tax exemption. However, Hubbard chose not to clean things up financially or morally. Rather, in 1966 Hubbard created the Sea Project and purchased a small flotilla of ships. In 1967 L. Ron Hubbard morphed the Sea Project into the Sea Org and appointed himself Commodore of the Sea Org. Hubbard took to international waters to avoid lawsuits, the service of summons, and the scrutiny of the taxing authorities in those countries where Scientology operated. Hubbard used the Sea Org and a global system of land and sea based telexes to run his empire.

Sea Org members signed billion-year contracts to serve Scientology and devote themselves to L. Ron Hubbard. Sea Org members had no other purpose than to serve where needed. No case on post was allowed. The Sea Org embodied the unquestioning fanaticism and the wanton disregard for “wog laws and customs” Hubbard required.

To fortify his Scientology empire, Commodore Hubbard additionally created the Guardian’s Office on March 1, 1966 and appointed his wife Mary Sue as the First Guardian. In her role as Guardian, Mary Sue was in charge of the Guardian’s Office and second in command of Scientology, subordinate only to Executive Director L. Ron Hubbard. In November of 1968, Hubbard issued the following policy letter: “The Intelligence Section has been formed and placed in Division 7, Dept 21, Office of the Guardian. It is under the direction of the Guardian WW [worldwide].” The GO became the in-house intelligence bureau of Scientology. As such, the GO was tasked by Hubbard with investigating and silencing Scientology’s enemies. Failing to silence them, the GO was tasked with destroying them per Hubbard’s imperious diktat of Fair Game.

The Snow White Program (1973-1977) was a Guardian’s Office intelligence operation that became the largest infiltration of the US federal government in its history. The Church was the subject of a massive multi-location FBI raid on July 8, 1977. Mary Sue Hubbard went to prison along with ten others in the Guardian’s Office. The years long fallout from the Snow White Program allowed Sea Org member David Miscavige and his clique to destroy the Guardian’s Office, drive Mary Sue Hubbard into exile, and push L. Ron Hubbard further into hiding and isolation.

As “Action Chief” David Miscavige’s job was to get things done for the Commodore; Miscavige’s ability to operate on an unimpeded basis both inside and outside of the Sea Org showed that “Scientology command channels” had no meaning or relevance to Miscavige; he was a law unto himself in the Church and reported only to Hubbard. Moreover, as the GO had been morphed into the Office of Special Affairs (OSA) and merged into the Sea Org, Miscavige now controlled Scientology’s nefarious intelligence apparatus.

In the early 1980’s, Scientology’s attorneys created the CST-RTC-CSI franchise system that exists today. After the Commodore died in seclusion on January 24, 1986, Sea Org Captain David Miscavige emerged in a very public way as Chairman of the Board, Religious Technology Center. At the time of Hubbard’s death, the vast majority of public Scientologists had never heard of David Miscavige or RTC. If anything, Sea Org member David Miscavige was notorious for his role in the infamous Mission Holder Massacre of 1982.

In his Last Will and Testament, Hubbard left the bulk of his personal fortune and his vast and financially lucrative intellectual properties – books, tapes, trademarks, copyrights, service marks, signature, etc. – to the Church of Scientology. However, Hubbard stipulated in his Will that his intellectual property could only be owned by tax exempt Scientology churches.

Thus, David Miscavige’s main focus was to a) use whatever means were necessary to secure and consolidate his power as the new and unchallenged Scientology Dictator, and b) gain tax exemption for CST-RTC-CSI and all other Scientology churches. Assisting Miscavige were some of the best tax lawyers in the US; his dedicated clique of loyal Sea Org members; an army of private investigators; and an unlimited budget.

November 1992, Washington DC: Secret and intense negotiations between Church of Scientology officials and IRS officials bogged down over many issues. The IRS wanted far more precise answers from the church concerning the question of inurement and what exactly the Sea Org is. The IRS asked Question 3-a:

 Source: Church of Scientology, Nov. 23, 1992: Third Set of Responses to the IRS — page 19 ¶ 1ff

The Church of Scientology replied:

op. cit. page 19 ¶ 3-4

The Church of Scientology thus characterized the Sea Org as:
— A religious commitment, specifically a commitment of one billion years.
— A religious order.
— A religious order having no corporate form, no property, no assets, and no personnel who administer the Sea Org.

Quite possibly fearing that the IRS would go past a word it did not understand and thus suffer from a deadly “misunderstood word” – a phenomena Hubbard warned of as being the root cause of failing to understand his invented Scientology terminology or anything else — the Church of Scientology became typically pedantic in elaborating upon its use of the word “organization”:

op. cit. page 19 ¶ 6

This clarification offered the IRS even more information about the Sea Org:
— The Sea Org does not have an org board.
— The Sea Org does not have a command channels chart.
— The Sea Org has no secular existence and is neither incorporated nor unincorporated.

Poised precariously on the edge of a nightmarish abyss one billion dollars deep, the church next, and very uncharacteristically so, told the IRS the actual truth about the Sea Org. And keep in mind that the church expected a secret agreement with the IRS. It never expected that Scientologists or the general public would ever read the following words:

In 1992, therefore, the Church secretly admitted to the IRS “there is no such ‘organization’ as the Sea Organization.”

Sea Org members are, in legal terms, nothing more than Scientology staff members who have elected to become Scientology careerists for various reasons. Rather than signing a 2.5- or 5-year contract like regular staff members, Sea Org members sign a symbolic billion year pledge. In practical terms these days, however, Sea Org members sign five-year staff contracts at five year intervals. In exchange for their labor, Sea Org members receive a meager weekly stipend and subsistence-level room and board. For legal reasons, the Church classifies both the Sea Org and Staff as religious orders. The legal net effect of this classification is that workers in religious orders are exempt from minimum wage, overtime pay, and other worker protections.

The obvious question: Why does the Church of Scientology pretend that the Sea Org exists when there is no such organization as the Sea Organization?

While David Miscavige and his lawyers were secretly telling the IRS in 1992 that there is no such “organization” as the Sea Organization, the US Claims Court ruled in that same year in Church of Spiritual Technology v. The United States:

“…After carefully examining the record and attempting to understand the nominal corporate structure of Scientology it is apparent to the court that it is something of a deceptis visus. Real control is exercised less formally, but more tangibly, through an unincorporated association, the Sea Organization, more commonly referred to as the Sea Org. This group, in the nature of a fraternity or clan, began with Scientologists who pledged themselves eternally to Scientology and who accompanied LRH in his sea-going spiritual research in the Mediterranean. In 1967, LRH and other Scientology staff moved onto a yacht, the Apollo, ‘to pursue [LRH’s] research of the upper levels of spiritual awareness.’ LRH and his Apollo staff performed Scientology services, managed the Scientology organization, and conducted spiritual research. If LRH could have been compared to Achilles, members of the Sea Org would have been his Myrmidons.

“The Sea Org appellation survives in Scientology as a distinction afforded to those Scientologists who have dedicated themselves to serving Scientology for the next billion years. It is described by CST as a way to distinguish Scientologists worthy of great deference and respect. Sea Org members are initiates into the highest levels of Scientology, and bear concomitant responsibilities.

“CST staff and officers are required to be members of the Sea Org, which gives CST the distinction of being a Sea Org Church. CSI, RTC, the Flag Service Org (which employs over 900 Sea Org members), the Saint Hill Churches, in short, all high ranking organizations are Sea Org Churches. Being a ‘Sea Org Church’ means that the church’s function is important enough to Scientology to warrant the attention of a significant number of Sea Org members.

“Sea Org rank nominally carries with it no ecclesiastical authority in the sense that Sea Org members still take orders from the ecclesiastical leaders of whichever Scientology organization they join. Upon closer analysis, however, this appears to be a distinction without a difference because in a Sea Org church the ecclesiastical authority necessarily resides in a Sea Org member.”

As mentioned in our previous essay, the Church of Scientology is composed of legally separate religious corporations. Ostensibly, each corporation is independent and responsible for its own affairs. This is stated in contracts Scientologists sign to receive services from these legally separate churches:

 

 

The deceptis visus cited by the US Claims Court in 1992 thus becomes apparent: In order to achieve a unity of command over the legally separate and independent Scientology religious corporations and their employees, the Sea Org exists as the secret governing body of the Church of Scientology. Therefore, whoever commands the Sea Org commands the Church of Scientology. This person, at present, is Captain David Miscavige.

The Sea Org is like the Mafia: It exists and it operates and controls the Church of Scientology, However, Scientology and its lawyers have made it virtually impossible to prove that Sea Org members derive any power whatsoever from their ceremonial ranks in a symbolic and legally nonexistent religious order. Again, to reiterate what we discussed in our last essay, David Miscavige’s attorney Wallace Jefferson declared in 2014 in Rathbun v. Miscavige et. al.:

Plaintiff asserts that Mr. Miscavige exercised control because he leads the Sea Organization, a religious order within Scientology. But the “Sea Org” is not a corporate entity; it has no physical or legal existence. It is not incorporated or established pursuant to legal formalities. It has no constitution, charter or bylaws, and no formal or informal ecclesiastical, corporate, or other management structure. It has no directors, officers, managing agents, or other executives; no employees, staff members, or volunteers; no income; no disbursements, no bank accounts or other assets; no liabilities; no stationery; no office, home, address, or telephone number. It does not create or maintain any financial, personnel, or other records. It can neither give nor receive orders because it has no one to either give or receive them or to carry them out. It cannot sue or be sued. The evidence Mrs. Rathbun has submitted fails to establish a prima facie basis for an alter ego finding, because none of it involves the defendants’ purported contacts relating to this suit, nor does any of it speak to the organizations’ current practices.

— Per David Miscavige and his attorneys, there is no such organization as the Sea Organization.
— Per David Miscavige’s attorney Wallace Jefferson, the Sea Org cannot have any members or volunteers.
— There can be no “religious commitment” to the Sea Org because the Sea Org does not exist to be committed to.
— The Sea Org cannot have volunteers as the Sea Org does not exist to volunteer for.
— The Sea Org has no address and does not exist anywhere. Neither you or I nor anyone else can mail a letter to the Sea Org.
— Sea Org members sign a “religious commitment” that is craftily worded so as to say nothing about the Sea Org being an actual organization:

The real details of the Sea Org are found in the staff contract Sea Org members sign:

The Sea Org controls the Church of Scientology and yet there is no such organization as the Sea Organization. If this seems contradictory and confusing it is because it was designed to be so. The only way any of this legal tissue of lies begins to make any possible sense is when considered in terms of L. Ron Hubbard’s words about the design and construction of the Church of Scientology:
“If anybody tried to attack a Scientology organization and pick it up and move it out of the perimeter or go over the hills with it today — this happened to us once — why, they would find themselves involved in the most confounded weird mass of legal — well, it is just like quicksand. Quicksand. It’s an interesting trick. Every time they shoot at you on the right side of a horse, you’re on the left side of the horse; and then they prove conclusively you’re on the left side of the horse, you prove conclusively that you’re on the right side of the horse. They go mad after a while. This is what the basic legal structure is.”

Marty Rathbun’s affidavit in Miscavige vs. Miscavige et. al. is very instructive in this regard. See the Underground Bunker’s in depth coverage: THE MARTY RATHBUN AFFIDAVIT: Scientology Leader David Miscavige Lied To Texas Court

— Jeffrey Augustine


 

Thank you, Jeff! Back in 2002, former Scientology spokesman Robert Vaughn Young, while he was battling cancer, put together an affidavit that comes to many of the same conclusions about how David Miscavige wields control of the church through his captain position in the Sea Org. That affidavit was to be submitted in a May 2002 court hearing in Lawrence Wollersheim’s long attempt to collect money he’d won in a judgment from Scientology. The morning Vaughn Young’s affidavit was to be heard in open court, the church showed up with a check for nearly $9 million to keep the hearing from happening and end the Wollersheim saga — many years after it had vowed never to pay “one thin dime to Wollersheim.” We wrote up that dramatic story for the Village Voice in 2008.

2 comments

  1. Your attention to detail and precision analysis is greatly appreciated, Jeff. The sooner the whole kit and caboodle unravels, the better, especially for the lost souls still trapped in it. The use of the word fraternity to describe the SO is laughable, since members can’t look out for, or even speak to each other, except as directed by explicit and enforceable orders.

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