What is $cientology?
$cientology is a cult practicing in the US, Europe and South America. It was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s. The doctrinal text of Scientology includes the book Dianetics, as well as other writings of Hubbard (who is known within the cult as simply "Ron"). The basic premise of Scientology is that humans have a "reactive mind" that responds to stimuli and that this mind needs to be "cleared" for happiness. Through a series of courses, members travel along a "bridge to total freedom" to become "clear" and are promised all kinds of neat powers like telepathy and perfect memory recall once they've accomplished this. Scientologists believe in reincarnation, rather than in paradise or heaven. A great resource for general Scientology information is http://www.xenu.net/
How Does $cientology Recruit?
Members are usually brought in through one of their many front groups, through the book Dianetics: Science of the Mind by founder L. Ron Hubbard, or through the stress testing and personality testing $cientologists do at their orgs (organization centers) and on street corners. On my university campus we had an outdoor "market" two days a week that had a lot of student religious groups, the atheist group, $cientologists, military recruiters and a few actual vendors. $cientology claims that is compatible with other religions, meaning you can be an atheist $cientologist, a Christian $cientologist, a Jewish $cientologist, etc. This isn't really true, but it gets people in the door.
What Happens Next?
Next the new member will take classes and participate in "auditing" sessions. The classes are in actuality mind-control sessions where the member is put into a susceptible state of mind. Once in this state, they're taking to a registrar's office to purchase more courses and auditing sessions. Auditing involves the use of an "e-meter", basically a primitive electrometer lie detector device. The member will be asked question by a $cientology staff worker. The member will be required to relive a traumatic event over and over again, will be asked about their feelings on $cientology, and will be encouraged to have a "past life" experience.
Control of Information
$cientologists are not allowed to freely use the internet. They are not allowed to speak to any "Suppressive Persons" or "SPs" including journalists, psychiatrists, psychologists, from Church of $cientology members, or anyone who speaks out against Scientology. Children of $cientologists most frequently attend Scientology schools, where they are drilled on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard and deprived of a decent education.
Disconnection and Family Life in Scientology
$cientology has a policy of "disconnection" - if you leave the Church, none of your friends and family who are in, including your spouse and children or parents, are allowed to speak to you, or they risk being declared Suppressive as well. Children attending $cientology schools on $cientology compounds and properties are often forced to do extensive manual labor such as rock hauling, construction work, etc. Entire families are pushed towards entering the Sea Org, the elite staff of $cientology. Sea Org members sign a 1,000,000,000 year contract, promising to work for almost no pay for the rest of this life as well as future ones. They are paid about 50 cents per hour and given maybe 2-3 days off per year. Children as young as 12 years old are putting in 100 hour work weeks, maintaining grounds and doing administrative office work and sometimes being Auditors.
$cientology (often written with the dollar sign by critics like myself) is all about money. In addition to paying their staff nearly nothing, $cientology charges them for food & board, and of course for the auditing sessions and classes, which are part of the Bridge to Total Freedom. In order to move to higher levels on the bridge and within the cult, you must pay. And pay. And pay. To get to the highest level of Scientology, OT8, a member will spend about half a million dollars. If a member runs out of money, and cannot beg, borrow, or steal anymore (which they are encouraged to do), they are put out on the street and no longer cared for, no longer housed or fed, and no longer allowed to see or speak with any of their friends and family still within the Church.
Medical Neglect and Death
$cientology hates psychiatry. This may be due to the fact that L. Ron Hubbard was diagnosed with Narcissitic Personality Disorder (freaking common as hell for cult leaders) and had a personal aversion to psychiatry. Propaganda videos within $cientology claim that the Nazi holocaust was brought about by psychiatrists. Members are encouraged to go off all forms of medicine while in the church, and to rely on vitamins and saunas for health. Stories of epileptics, schizophrenics, and diabetics dying as a result of this regimen are frequent and sadly preventable. There's also the infamous case of Lisa MacPherson. Lisa was a $cientology member at their spiritual headquarters, the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida. In 1995 Lisa was involved in a minor car accident. When EMTs arrived she stripped off her clothes and began rambling. She told one EMT "I want you to think I'm crazy so you'll help me." They took her to the hospital where she was to be held for psychiatric observation. Church of $cientology members picked her up from the hospital, claiming she did not want to stay because of her religious affiliation and objection to psychiatry. What happened over the next 13 days is disputed and unclear. On December 5, 1995 Lisa was readmitted to the hospital, DOA. She was severely dehydrated and covered with bruises and insect bites and had lost 30 lbs in the intervening days. A memorial site covering her life and death, including autopsy photographs (graphic and sad) here: http://www.lisamcpherson.org/
Litigation and "Fair Game" Policy
$cientology employs a team of lawyers, almost all of whom are member of the Church. Any time someone speaks against the Church, attempts to sue for their life's savings back after leaving the Church, or sues for any other reason, $cientology will pursue them relentlessly. They have stalked journalists at their home, calling one St. Petersburg Times (of Florida, a neighboring city of Clearwater) journalist's husband to tell him she was having an affair. They have passed around fliers of outspoken critic Mark Bunker to his neighbors, claiming he was a pedophile and "religious bigot". L. Ron Hubbard endorsed this fully, in a Church policy originally named "Fair Game" which states:
The homes, property, places and abodes of persons who have been active in attempting to: suppress Scientology or Scientologists are all beyond any protection of Scientology Ethics, unless absolved by later Ethics or an amnesty ... this Policy Letter extends to suppressive non-Scientology wives and husbands and parents, or other family members or hostile groups or even close friends
In one case an author critical of Scientology was framed for murder. You can read more about "Operation Freak Out" (the name this plot was given within $cientology internal documents) here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Freakout
Help at Last - Anonymous
Fair Game policy and its league of lawyers made criticisms and lawsuits against Scientology difficult and dangerous. Over the past few years an army of internet activists have banded together in opposition of the slave labor, child abuse, medical neglect, and mental and emotional abuse of its members, as well as other illegal behaviors of the Church of $cientology. Known simply as "Anonymous" this group of protesters wear masks and gather in large groups for safety when picketing outside of $cientology orgs. To find an Anonymous group near you and join a protest, Google "scientology+anonymous+your state". They are separate groups, so I can't provide links to each.
Here's a video by Anonymous telling $cientology exactly what they think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCbKv9yiLiQ
Also this BBC special - Scientology: Inside the Cult (a journalist goes under cover to join Scientology) is excellent