Former Church of Scientology member, Merrell Vannier, was with the Church for 30 years, serving as their number one spy for them during many of those years. Then, the Church of Scientology ultimately turned its back on him, and went to the steps of the other Church of Scientology member shuning him, calling him a “suppressive person,’ despite his years of loyal service to the Church. He has not seen his adult daughter, who is a member of the Church of Scientology to this day, in over three years, nor has he had any contact with her.
Merrell Vannier wrote about his experiences in the highly thoughtful and informative book, Arrows in the Dark. He kindly consented to do the following fascinating exclusive interview with Guardian Liberty Voice.
Guardian Liberty Voice: Hi, Merrell. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview and telling the readers of Guardian Liberty Voice about what led to your joining the Church of Scientology, and also working for them as a spy.
What was it about Scientology that you initially found appealing enough to want to join the Church of Scientology?
Merrell Vannier: First, I want to thank you for your interest in my book and inviting me to the interview.
My interest in Scientology began with my reading the book, Dianetics, the Modern Science of Mental Health, a copy of which I saw at a friend’s house and borrowed after reading a few pages after my first year of law school. I was fascinated by it. In the book, author L. Ron Hubbard presented his findings that the so-called “unconscious” mind was responsible for any and all non-optimum problems and psychosomatic ills.
As background, I took a course in psychology in college at the suggestion of a buddy of mine in the Navy. He said it was about the mind. I perked up, thinking, “Yeah, I’d like to learn about the mind.” But I was greatly disappointed with the course. It talked about the brain being the mind. As a student in electrical engineering, I didn’t buy it. There weren’t enough brain cells to store the vast amount of information in a mind. Plus, mental conditions were assigned labels for which there were no standard techniques to resolve the conditions, just drugs and talking it out with a therapist. The idea of chemical imbalances in the brain as an underlying explanation for abnormal behavior didn’t resonant with me. I saw the entire subject as junk science, and discarded it.
Dianetics, on the other hand, rang true to me. The mind was not the brain. Plus, there was a standard technique that could resolve unwanted conditions and psychosomatic illnesses. Not only that, but an ordinary person could learn the techniques and apply them to others.
I was really stoked, and purchased other books by Hubbard. One of my favorites, Fundamentals of Thought, really had an impact on me. It talked about the spiritual nature of man and its relationship to the universe, a philosophy that clarified many questions I had about life and contained principles that I could – and did – apply to improve my relations with others and improve conditions in life.
I also took a philosophy course in college, hoping to find answers to these kind of questions, and found the subject highly significant (i.e., lacking practical application) and confusing. The teacher gave extra credit for having an in-person interview with him at the end of the semester. I remember asking him, “But what can you do with this knowledge?” I didn’t have to ask that question about Scientology. I saw the potential, and saw the results when I applied the principles.
After reading these books I wanted to see if the techniques worked. I took a break in law school and went to St. Louis to study how to audit (counsel). I loved it, both receiving auditing and performing it. I had one experience very early on after I received an auditing session. I walked home that evening out of my body, exterior as it is referred to in Scientology. Just like Hubbard said in Fundamentals of Thought I was a spirit, not my body, and as proof I oversaw about 10-city wide blocks of St. Louis, practically a hundred feet over my body. That’s when I knew: Scientology is for real!
Guardian Liberty Voice: What is the Guardian’s Office branch of the Church of Scientology, Merrell, and why did you decide to also join it?
Merrell Vannier: The Guardian’s Office was an autonomous network established by Hubbard in 1966 to handle internal security and external affairs. By then spies and plants posing as students in the church were a continual problem and the church was not equipped to deal with it.
But it was not until 1974 that I was recruited and volunteered for the Guardian’s Office as an undercover agent, or spy. I did this after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a series of articles critical of the church. The series was filled with falsehoods. Yet many of the general public I ran into took them as fact and even treated me rudely for no other reason than my being a Scientologist. It was unsettling and offensive. I knew history well enough to know how the flames of prejudice against minorities can be fanned – and what can happen as a result.
Truth is, prior to the series running, the Guardian’s Office had publicized documents given to it by a whistleblower employee from the Missouri Institute of Psychiatry (“MIP”). The documents proved an illegal program of drug experimentation on unwitting patients. This and other evidence made it very obvious that the Post-Dispatch series was nothing more than a hit piece in retaliation for the Guadian’s Office exposé of MIP. I wanted to do something about that injustice.
Later, in 1980, after my volunteer “spy” days ended, and after executives of the Guardian’s Office had been indicted for infiltration of government offices in Washington, D.C., I gave up my lucrative law practice in St. Louis and agreed to join the United States Guardian’s Office in Los Angeles in an effort to help them with their legal problems.
Guardian Liberty Voice: Why did the U.S. government want to infiltrate the Church of Scientology?
Merrell Vannier: Why would the FBI tap the phone of, and plant false rumors in the media about, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.? Why did they have John Lennon under surveillance? Historically, governments are terrified of grass roots movements over which they have no control and could upset the status quo or power structure.
In Scientology’s case, it goes back to the 1950 book, Dianetics, which took the nation by storm. Dianetics auditing groups sprang up overnight. The AMA-FDA-Big Pharma industrial complex was shaken. Dianetics promised to alleviate all psychosomatic ills without the need for drugs, doctors or psychiatrists/psychologists. Also Hubbard ripped into the often barbaric psychiatric practices of electric shock and prefrontal lobotomies. Who was this Hubbard guy, anyway? A science fiction writer. He didn’t have one of their degrees or licenses. How dare he not get their permission and work within their system?
Add to this the ability of Dianetics to uncover the dirty mind control experiments of the CIA, who worked in conjunction with top psychiatrists and psychiatric hospitals. These guys thought their secret deeds were buried deep within the unconscious minds of their subjects. The fact that Hubbard uncovered these diabolical incidents freaked them out.
In a perfect world, the CIA would have pinned a medal on Hubbard. In a nefarious one, the intelligence community decided to assassinate his character – and send in spies to learn all it could about his research, and to destroy the movement.
It’s a great story, an untold story. My book covers a small, but important part of that story.
Guardian Liberty Voice: Would you please give a couple of examples to our readers, Merrell, of the acts of espionage you committed and wrote about in Arrows in the Dark?
Merrell Vannier: Back in 1974, I took on the job as a night-time janitor of the law office representing the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the newspaper that did the hatchet job on Scientology after the Guardian’s Office exposed the Missouri Institute of Psychiatry’s illegal drug experimentation on their patients. I gained access to the law office for my handler who took files off premises, copied them and returned them.
In Clearwater, Florida, by pretending to be an enemy of the church, I was given access to files on Scientology at the regional Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS). As background, the INS had ordered deportation of all non-U.S. citizens at the church’s newly established headquarters in Clearwater. Because many of the staff members were from all over the world the church faced losing a large number of its administrative personnel. I spent the day memorizing key intelligence in the INS files and turned it over to my handler. Based on that information, Guardian’s Office personnel were able to obtain a voluntary dismissal from INS officials.
Guardian Liberty Voice: Who chose your code name, “Ritz,” and why?
Merrell Vannier: My handler, Don Alverzo. He didn’t told me why he chose the name, nor did I ask. But interestingly, one of my editors pointed out to me that I had described an incident in Chapter Two in which Alverzo had a box of Ritz crackers beside him the first time I visited him in his “safe house.” I thought, “Hmm… could be.”
Guardian Liberty Voice: In Arrows in the Dark, you mentioned something called “black Scientology.” What is that, and when and why was it used on you?
Merrell Vannier: The term “black Dianetics” or “black “Scientology” simply means the reverse use of Scientology technology – to harm or control someone rather than to help or make them more self-determined, the latter of which is the purpose of Scientology.
Hubbard warns of the practice, stating: “A person on whom Black Dianetics has been employed seldom retains the sanity or will to make a complaint, or does not know he has been victimized.”
It was used on me in February 1982 as I describe in detail in the book. To put the incident in context, the Guardian’s Office was taken over in July-August 1981. At the time I didn’t know by whom but later discovered it was 21-year old David Miscavige. A Bob Dylan lyric comes to mind: “The executioner’s face is always well-hidden.” But the change in management style from a free and easy one to a dominating, controlling one was disconcerting to me – and very contrary to Scientology principles. I set about finding the source. I committed my thoughts and suspicions to paper and stowed them in my desk drawer, thinking my locked office was secure. I returned one day from lunch to discover the lock had been changed and a sign on my door ordered me to report to “Ethics.”
I was removed from post and assigned to manual labor, renovating offices. I was then given a “plant check” to determine if I was a spy sent in on the church. This was pretty rich since I was the one who had accumulated evidence that pointed toward plants at the highest levels of church management, possibly even including Miscavige himself.
After I was excommunicated and had begun to write Arrows in the Dark, the person who performed the reverse plant check on me emailed me out of the blue. I replied and told him that his plant check really screwed me up for almost nine months. He wrote back and said that was intentional. He added that he was ordered to do it by Miscavige.
Guardian Liberty Voice: Why did you call your book about your experiences with the Church of Scientology Arrows in the Dark?
Merrell Vannier: While writing the book I ran across the anonymous quotation, “It is easy to dodge a spear in the daylight, but it is difficult to avoid an arrow in the dark,” and thought it would work as a heading to one of my chapters in which I was getting orders and being shot at from inside the church, seemingly from every direction. As my story took shape, however, I realized that not only were arrows in the dark being shot at me from inside the church but they were also being fired at the church by the intelligence community and media and at me from various sources outside the church.
Guardian Liberty Voice: What caused you to eventually become disillusioned with the Church of Scientology?
Merrell Vannier: After the takeover by David Miscavige in 1981 the church became very controlling and status-oriented. People are told what to think, who they can associate with, and how they should behave, not only in the church but even in their personal lives. I didn’t sign on for that. In fact, I am opposed with all my being to overly controlling organizations, particularly religious ones. The history on this planet is not too good in that regard. The Spanish Inquisition is a prime example.
Even when I discovered the source of all the madness, I tried to reform it internally. The technology of Dianetics and Scientology, when used correctly to benefit people, not to control them, works. In my estimation it is worth saving.
Guardian Liberty Voice: When the Church of Scientology labelled you a “suppressive person” and excommunicated you, how did that affect your relationship with your daughter, who is still in the Church? Have you heard from her since you published Arrows in the Dark?
Merrell Vannier: Miscavige implemented the policy of “disconnection” after he took control of the church way back in 1981. The policy requires members to cut all ties with anyone who is labeled a suppressive person. Those who do not are subject to being labeled suppressive persons themselves.
My daughter is a member of Scientology’s elite Sea Organization, whose members devote their entire lives to Scientology. I knew she would comply with the policy. She was married to a Sea Org member, so not disconnecting from me would be the end of her marriage as well as her career in the church and loss of her Scientology friends. What I did not expect, however, is that she would not even call me or her mother (my wife) or her brother (my son) to let us know that she would be disconnecting from all of us from here on out.
No, I haven’t heard from her in the three-plus years since. Nor have my wife and son. A check we sent her for Christmas went uncashed.
Guardian Liberty Voice: What are a few differences you have seen in the Church of Scientology since David Miscavige took it over?
Merrell Vannier: Today’s church is all but almost unrecognizable by Scientologists who were involved with it in the late 60’s through the early to mid-80s. When I first took Scientology courses in St. Louis in 1973, for example, the course room was packed, and electric, just a fun place to be. I was never told not to read newspapers or books critical of Scientology. I never felt pressured or controlled in any way. People on staff were friendly and respectful.
Miscavige has turned Scientology into a nonstop, heavy-handed demand for donations to build grand, ornate buildings with beautiful furnishings but virtually no people. Members have been declared suppressive persons and excommunicated for the “crime” of going on the Internet one time to read an article critical of Miscavige or Scientology. People are more serious, afraid to make mistakes or earn the disfavor of Miscavige. Not surprisingly, membership is plummeting.
Guardian Liberty Voice: Did you ever dig up any information about any of the famous celebs who are Church of Scientology members, like Tom Cruise and John Travolta?
Merrell Vannier: I only had dealings with Cruise’s family, and they were all positive. My family, for example, vacationed with Tom’s sister, Lee Ann. Our sons were best friends. Additionally, my daughter, Angie, was a highly trained auditor at Celebrity Centre, and audited members of Tom’s family. I never met either Cruise or Travolta.
Guardian Liberty Voice: What other books have you written?
Merrell Vannier: I wrote the novel, Masters of War, under my screen name, Conrad John. It is a spy story involving intelligence secrets of WW II that have only come to light over the many years since the war. Information about it can be found at www.mastersofwarbook.com. I have also written eleven screenplays and made independent films out of three of them. One feature-length film was distributed in DVD. I also wrote the legal self-help book, Lemon Law: A Manual for Consumers. For more information, readers can check out my personal website at www.merrellvannier.com.
Guardian Liberty Voice: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by the Guardian Liberty Voice, Merrell! Arrows in the Dark is a fascinating look at Scientology and how you became a spy working for the Church of Scientology. Arrows in the Dark is available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at brick and mortar bookstores.
Written By Douglas Cobb