The Sea Org is Scientology's answer to Navy SEALs, only with less focus on special ops and more on fleecing children and the gullible. They were originally created to crew L. Ron Hubbard's private fleet, but over the years they morphed from "religious Marine Corps" into something between a cult, the Mickey Mouse Club, and a time-share scam. My name is Derek Bloch, and I spent three years in Scientology's creepy space navy before abandoning ship. Here's what I learned:
My early indoctrination was based on "study tech," which mostly involved learning the definitions of words you don't understand, using toys to act out concepts that are difficult to contemplate, and never skipping over a step in a series for fear of being incapable of performing later tasks. Here's where it gets dumb: These "study tips" are also religious dogma. So if you ever skip one, you risk physical illness or a sudden descent into crime. "Not looking up words in the dictionary" was the meth of my childhood.
I was about 13 when the local Sea Org recruiters smelled blood. The Sea Org is always on the lookout for the young and able-bodied. The long hours and harsh treatment require deeply indoctrinated children who aren't resistant to recruiting techniques and won't burn out. I was already perfectly groomed for them.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
"We're going to work you like a stock boy on Black Friday. Every day."
The Sea Org, from an uninformed child's perspective, looked totally badass. No, they don't look awesome now, but when I was a kid, these guys were like the Power Rangers to me. I had been raised to believe the Sea Org was guarding the innermost secrets of Scientology and personally responsible for delivering the messages of founder L. Ron Hubbard from beyond the grave, both of which would save the world one day. I was even raised to believe that they'd be a space navy with special reincarnation powers. Holy mission to protect humanity, one foot in the supernatural, and secret powers? That's the perfect storm for snaring the interest of children. Just look at the poster:
Sea Org, via Derek Bloch
If they'd been wearing Aviator sunglasses, the poster would've literally caught fire from radness.
But while you grow up learning that Hubbard had sacred secrets that would save the world and that the Sea Org has a huge role to play in it, after joining you soon find out that most of what they do are menial tasks. My jobs involved filing papers, making phone calls, writing, and reading. There was absolutely nothing "awesome" about being a slave to other Scientologists and to the almighty dollar. They ... they lied about the space navy, you guys. That alone is an unforgivable betrayal, but to sign up for the elite defense force, only to realize that most people treat Sea Org members as pseudo-military butlers? You'd be hard-pressed to find that kind of heartbreak outside of a Telemundo soap opera.
Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images
The recruiting process lasted about two years. At the peak of it, when I was 15, they showed up as I was leaving school. I tried to ditch them by taking a different route, but eventually I ended up on the main street again. They pulled up next to me and offered to give me a ride home. Ordinarily this is where the kid in the PSA runs away screaming for an adult, but having been taught that these guys are like the police of Scientology, I trusted them. After some protesting, I even got in the car. Of course, instead of taking me home, they took me straight to the recruiting station, where I spent the next eight or nine hours. They took me into a small room, sat me away from the door, and stood between me and my exit.
"But what if I have to pee?"
"Pee on this, and see if you can spell your name."
There was nothing that was even mildly stimulating in the blank room; not even a clock. I wouldn't leave that room until midnight or one in the morning. I lost track of time and begged them to call my dad several times, but I was denied. There were up to 10 people in the room at any given time, switching between shouting at and begging me to sign the billion-year contract they had put in front of me. Yes, "billion." At an age where planning the rest of your Saturday is an unfathomable exercise in foresight, they want you to essentially sign away your soul. And you don't even get a sweet fiddle out of the deal.
Image Source/Photodisc/Getty Images
Most devious of all was the guy quietly saying "Signsthecontractsayswhat."
When I was finally released, my dad was waiting for me. Instead of greeting me with relief, he shouted at me because I hadn't called him. It only took another one or two "meetings" for them to break me. Pro Tip for all the religions out there: If you have to "break" people to make them join you, you're almost certainly the bad guys.
When I was 15, my mom and dad signed over their parental rights to a member of the Sea Org who was also the guardian for about 20 other kids. I hardly ever spoke to him again after the recruiting process. His job description was literally to own children for Scientology. I lived in a big two-wing building on L. Ron Hubbard Way, across the street from where I worked at the Advanced Organization, in a room with 30 to 40 other males ranging from 13 to 70 years old. The windows were broken, there was no AC, and the place stank. I lived there for almost three years. When I got sick, I was moved to a room called "Iso," which is short for "isolation." It had fewer people, but when you're sharing a single bathroom and dirty mattresses with a bunch of guys suffering from stomach flu, you realize you'd trade "a bit of a crowd" for "not covered in atomized poop" any day of the week.
"Misery loves company" seldom shows up on prescription pads for a reason.
There's no time for socialization or friends. Days off are a joke. I think I had one day off per year the whole time I was working for them. You don't get a paycheck, so no one can afford entertainment (ironic for a "religion" that seems to own half the entertainment industry). But even if you did have the money, you weren't generally allowed to leave the compound unless you were on official Scientology business. Tom Cruise tooth-polishing, for example. Maybe the occasional backup vocal for one of Will Smith's feel-good raps. Ha, kidding, of course: Both of those could be distantly construed as "fun," which was of course not permitted.
Ventura County Sheriff's Dept.
You still got to hang out with some famous Scientologists, just not the ones in the brochure.
How is this not against the law? Well, by claiming to be a religious organization, Scientology does not have to pay their employees. They do give you $20 a week as what they call a stipend, but when you realize that $20 a week is all you get for underwear, socks, toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrush, detergent, soap, wash rags, towels, bath slippers, shoes, socks, and everything else, it's clear that the difference between you and an actual slave isn't nearly as wide as it should be. Theft of personal belongings was rampant across the Sea Org; deodorant and floss were to us what cigarettes are to prison inmates. (Oh boy, to be in prison -- imagine all the down time, all the great books you'd get to read!)
Istolethetv, via Wikimedia
Just imagine having so many possessions, you can spare one to make a shiv.
And if you're wondering how a hack sci-fi writer conned his way into owning people, you need only refer to the time L. Ron Hubbard had his church infiltrate the American government. The operation was discovered, and his wife convicted. Hubbard somehow remained an unindicted co-conspirator even though he had directed the entire thing. After that, they managed to bully the IRS into submission to gain 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in 1994. Yes, the Church of Scientology successfully bullied the IRS. Who do you even root for? It's like watching a Nazi beat up a Klansman.