Miscavige’s Potemkin Village
The phrase Potemkin village (or Potyomkin village) comes from a historical myth, now largely discredited. According to the story, Russian minister Grigory Potyomkin erected a bunch of false settlements in Crimea to fool Empress Catherine II during a state visit. The false fronts and hollow buildings were supposed to impress the monarch and her travel party with the “value” of these newly conquered territories.
Apparently, it never happened. Of course, we might say – how could anyone ever be fooled by such obvious chicanery?
Well, members of the Church of Scientology are taken in by similarly obvious fraud every day. In fact, there is an entire myth of “Scientology expansion” that has been built up out of nothing.
When I was running the Dianetics Campaign in the 1980s, it was suggested to me that we should “get Scientologists to go out and buy books in the bookstores and thereby increase the sales statistics and bestseller position.” I rejected the idea at the time as silly. Who were trying to fool? I was there to sell books to people who had never been in Scientology in order to interest them in Scientology. Sending Scientologists into public bookstores to buy books was off-purpose and useless from my point of view.
Here we have the essential difference between those who deal in appearances, and those who deal in reality. I was interested in the reality – selling actual books to actual new people, in order to accomplish a purpose. Those who suggested the idea were only interested in appearances. As long as it looked like we were selling books to new people, that was fine with them – we didn’t have to actually do it! And sure enough, when Battlefield Earth came out, Scientologists were sent into the stores in droves.
Over the years, I saw this obsession with appearances grow and grow. It used to be that actual statistics were shown at Int Events – you know, with a scale and numbers and an actual time frame? Then, as Scientology’s actual statistics began to plummet, the concentration went onto looking good. Prior to an event, it would usually be Marc Yager who was tasked with manipulating stat graphs so they looked like they were going up. He’d take some statistic that had been on a death slide for years, then find a recent four or six week period where there was a slight blip upwards. That blip would be re-scaled so it looked like the Matterhorn, then tricked out by Special Effects so it zoomed up and exploded out the top. All of these effects masked the fact that no actual figures or time frame was shown.
And remember how the shell of the SuperPower building went up during the Lisa McPherson trial to “prove” that Scientology was expanding in Clearwater? Then it sat as a hollow shell for years and years. Miscavige didn’t need an actual, functioning building delivering services – he needed a movie set!
And now, we see more and more and more of these movie-set orgs. Big, empty white elephants. And when it’s time to open one of these Idle Orgs, “staff” are suddenly transferred from all over the Continental area so that “hundreds” of staff are there for the opening. But don’t check back a month later – you’ll find most of them gone and the org empty. But Miscavige got what he wanted – the appearance of a big org opening. No real org was opened, only the appearance was there.
And stats? They don’t even show them any more. In 2005, Miscavige announced “Even the manner in which we gauge our expansion has utterly changed. In previous years it focused on our internal statistics. Today our expansion is measured by broad-scale impact out there, helping cities, states, and entire nations.” In other words, we won’t show you statistics any more. We’ll just give you broad, unprovable generalities, like “8,000 Orgs, missions and groups,” or “millions of Scientologists.”
And now we hear that last year, they bussed in a bunch of hired extras to fill out the seats at the IAS Event at Saint Hill. Yes, that’s right, we’re now down to hiring audiences.
Why? Why would someone be obsessed with appearances only and not care about the reality? Why would they be fixated on big buildings and not care that they were empty? Why would one obsess about looking good at an event and not care about actually expanding Scientology in reality?
Well, like the Potyomkin of myth, it’s because they want to fool someone.
But who is Miscavige trying to fool? The broad public? Well, maybe. If all your secret abuse is being exposed, it’s handy to be able to point to all that apparent “expansion.”
But Miscavige really doesn’t care about the broad public. Not really. He’s most interested in fooling Scientologists. Because that’s the source of his money and his power. If Scientologists were to realize the reality – small, failing orgs, tiny missions, plummeting statistics – they might stop giving him all that money.
But worse, what he really fears, they might just tell him to step down.