Mar 23, 2015

‘Going Clear’ subject Hana Eltringham Whitfield fills us in on a Scientology secret or two

The Underground Bunker

Here’s another still from Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear, airing a week from tonight at 8 pm on HBO. This screenshot features one of the real stars of the movie, Hana Eltringham Whitfield.

Hana was one of Scientology’s original Sea Org members in 1967, and captained a couple of the vessels in L. Ron Hubbard’s small armada when he ran Scientology from sea until 1975. In the film, she provides key insights about what it was like to work with Hubbard, and how she reacted when she encountered the OT III materials when they were first released in 1968. Her account is one of the best parts of Going Clear‘s first half, and it was a delight to see so much of her on the big screen.

But her journey has many more amazing twists and turns than were able to fit in either Gibney’s film or Lawrence Wright’s epic book. And that’s why we’re happy to report that Hana has revealed to us that she has written a book proposal of her own and several chapters that she’s let us see, and it is material that will knock your socks off.

We also had a long telephone conversation with Hana to talk about her plans for the book, and we learned even more about her singular life. She explained to us, for example, that Scientology was her second controlling group — earlier, she’d escaped what she calls a “family cult.”

If you’ve read some of the smear material that Scientology puts out about Hana — at its Freedom magazine website now, but for many years in classic Scientology “Dead Agent” packs that it handed out or posted online — you might know that Scientology accuses Hana of helping to murder her own father, who was killed by her brother in 1964.

Hana let us in on the actual story, which is mindblowing, and should take up a gripping part of her book.

In 1965, searching for a new life, she joined Scientology. And only two years later, she found herself being assigned as captain of the Avon River, which was later renamed the Athena. Hubbard was on the flagship, originally the Royal Scotman and renamed the Apollo.

At one point, she says, the Royal Scotman was sailing to Tunisia while her ship was in Valencia. They communicated by bouncing transmissions off the stratosphere. And that’s when someone came running to get Hana, telling her to get up to the bridge right away.

It was Hubbard, calling from his ship, and Hana could hardly believe it when she heard him.

“The old man was on the radio, crying. He was blubbering. ‘I can’t stand it anymore, I can’t control this ship. I can’t control these recruits. Set sail immediately and meet us in Tunis,’ he said. I found out later that the Royal Scotman had just received 100 brand new Scientologists who didn’t know a ship from a hole in the ground. Hubbard was going crazy. His plan was to make me captain of the Royal Scotman,” Hana told us. “But we got held up by weather. And I was thankful.”

Later, when Hubbard made port in Corfu, Greece and gave the ships all new names after Greek gods — the Apollo, Athena, and Diana, he did make Hana captain of his flagship. But then, in 1969, he asked her to go to Los Angeles with 15 other people that he wanted to take over the Advanced Org there (AOLA). He had previously sent an earlier captain of the flagship, Bill Robertson, to turn things around at AOLA, but now Robertson needed replacing.

She was there for three years until she was recalled to the Athena in the Atlantic, and stayed with the armada until Hubbard’s sea experiment was finally ended in 1975 in the Caribbean.

Hana was then part of the surreptitious takeover of Clearwater, Florida, which became the new “Flag Land Base.” One of her responsibilities was to create the new floorplan for the Fort Harrison Hotel, the new spiritual mecca of Scientology.

Increasingly, however, she had trouble with headaches and she had, as she says in the film, real problems with OT 3 and the subsequent upper levels that were about removing “body thetans” (invisible alien soul-entities) through auditing. In 1979, the needle on the e-meter during one of her sessions displayed what was known as a “rock slam” — a sudden left-right slashing motion which supposedly indicates “evil intent.” So she was assigned to the Sea Org’s prison detail, the Rehabilitation Project Force, which was housed in the Fort Harrison Hotel’s parking garage — and she was stuck there for a full year. Still, she stayed in the Sea Org for a few more years before she finally left for good in 1982.

Two years later, she met Jerry Whitfield, who had had his own experience with a Scientology front group — Narconon.

The two of them were married at the end of 1985, and they developed a strong desire to help other people get away from Scientology. They began doing interventions with Scientologists in 1987, and they became experts with an 80 percent success rate as they worked with distraught families through 2004.

That’s where Hana’s book proposal really shines. She makes it clear that she and Jerry didn’t consider themselves “deprogrammers,” and never held anyone against their will. But they developed a technique for simply talking to a Scientologist that had uncanny results.

But the entire time, they were experiencing one of the fiercest campaigns of Fair Game anyone has ever seen. Just a taste of it — involving a car chase through hedgerow country in England that Hana describes cinematically, had us clamoring for more.

Another example: In 1992, Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs began an elaborate and expensive plot in South Africa, hiring a local private investigation firm to track down legal figures and lobby law enforcement in an attempt to get the death of Hana’s father re-opened and to get Hana indicted as a co-conspirator. The police were eventually told what was really going on, and they assured Hana that she wasn’t going to be charged with anything. But Scientology’s expenses had to be huge for that ultimately futile operation.

Now, Hana is one of the surprising stars of Going Clear, and we have a feeling a lot of people are going to want to see her proposal and consider publishing her book. We think it’s going to be a page-turner.