Memories, 27: The Origins of the RPF

[Relinquishing for now the chronological memoir of times with LRH at Saint Hill Manor. It might resume in the future. This new item is about the RPF and how it started in 1973 when we were on the Apollo.]

How the RPF came to be, and how it was when it began….

After I posted a piece on this blog some months ago about Jesse Prince’s book, a minor rumble took place on “Facebook” about the RPF, encompassing both how horrible the RPF is and how bad I am — since, because I started it, I’m responsible for everything that it has become. Some information was provided on “Facebook” by Janis Gillham Grady– which, truth to tell, she’d got from me in earlier, private e-mails. Janis asserted that “[Ken] swears up and down that…” and, without further attribution, quoted me more-or-less verbatim. I have no issue with being quoted, with or without attribution, but the “swearing up and down” is Janis’ expression, one perhaps induced by my earlier insistence to her on my version of events. Generally, if my account of a happening differs from another’s and I have confidence in my memory, I merely restate mine or let it go. Meanwhile, there is no slightest quarrel with Janis and her choice of words.

When Janis posted her account, I decided to let the sleeping dog lie, partly because I’m tired of telling the story and partly because there didn’t seem to be much to add to what Janis wrote. A suggestion that I publish the story of how the RPF began wouldn’t in itself have moved me to do it, even though I didn’t formally close off the request. But since the “Facebook” fuss there has been a quiet rumble at the back of my mind about the scene that existed at the time the RPF came into being, and what exploration of that scene might tell us and be of interest. At any rate, I’m now putting my impressions of the scene on the record, even if only to get out of my head persistent thoughts about the context then current when I dreamed up the RPF one idle evening, context that will never see the light of day if I don’t write it down. Whether it needs to see the light of day is another question; those who comment freely on the RPF and how it began don’t generally seem to think about any context beyond that of their own impulses.

Scene-setting for the event is that LRH was confining himself to his private cabin on the A-deck of the Apollo, suffering greatly with injuries from his bike crash. The messengers were bearing the brunt of looking after him, and a terrible ordeal it must have been for the young girls. We others of LRH’s personal staff – the Commodore’s Aides, responsible for corporate Scientology affairs, and members of his Personal Office – were peculiarly distant from the agonized victim. Nobody conferred on how to address the fact that our leader was disabled. His powerful presence still dominated all our thoughts – firstly because he declined to let go of his authority, and secondly because he kept his messengers running about among us as he maintained his usual aggressive managerial stance despite the injuries. We on his staff did not get together to work out some particular way to help him. I’d say that we all buckled down and tried our best to handle as much as we possibly could so that he was minimally bothered – this being our normal mode of operation, but now more so.

It was as though we were collectively sighing to ourselves, “Oh, please. We signed on to support an active group leader. He is now playing this game of being an injured hero instead of allowing a doctor to put him right. We are heavily burdened with straightforward work as it is. We are all sleep-deprived. He wants us to get excited because he’s putting us through this drama?” I say “It was as though we were collectively sighing to ourselves…” because nobody discussed the situation with me and I didn’t hear of any others bringing it up between them. We never did speak to each other about how we personally felt about any of LRH’s behavior.

As his Personal Communicator I was directly in the line of fire had LRH chosen to confront us on our apparent lack of concern for him. I expected the hand grenades to land in my lap by way of a messenger or six, but they didn’t come. I waited for his wife, Mary Sue, to light a fire under me on behalf of her husband, but she didn’t. I waited for Diana, his daughter and a distinguished Aide, to make noises at me, but she didn’t. It was as though we all waited for him to get his act together like a good Operating Thetan. Meanwhile, we went about our business with unexpressed sympathy for his plight and withheld embarrassment at how he was not-dealing with it.

He did make one sign of his dissatisfaction with us: He sent one of his messengers to each of his Aides and to say, “The Commodore says his officers are not backing him up!” This in itself didn’t order action, and since the messenger didn’t wait for anybody to say anything in reply, the reprimand was not only ineffective, it showed up a lack of actual authority. It backfired rather spectacularly when the messenger came to Mary Sue, who was the last of the Aides to get it. Sitting in my own office, I heard the messenger’s voice give the message to Mary Sue, followed by the sound of a slap. “Good for you, Mary Sue,” I said to myself. “I wish we all had such bols.” But we were not married to the man.

In this climate of some alienation and frustration on our side and much of the same on LRH’s, a harbour-related upset with us arose in the port where the ship was docked. These “shore flaps” were not uncommon, and rather regularly they landed on LRH’s plate as emergencies for him to directly take care of. This would be either because the flap became so noisy so quickly that it came to his attention before anybody could do much to contain it, or because he heard about it and decided it was much more serious than anyone had been sensible enough to recognize it as. LRH would energetically “handle the hell” out of it; he was extremely sensitive to the fact that a Harbour Master was indeed the Master and could cause any ship terrible trouble, even seize her or order the captain to leave at once.

[LRH was extremely good at handling these flaps, whether they were faux flaps or genuine looming disasters. There seemed to be no bull whose horns he could not grasp if he felt inclined or forced to challenge it. He deserves a lot of respect for it.]

I recall nothing of this particular shore flap except that LRH got it cooled off. Then he ordered the fellow in charge of the ship’s department running the office that dealt with the shore officials and other people to thoroughly examine what had happened, how it had happened, and to propose what he felt necessary to avoid any recurrence. Very shortly thereafter, the report and proposal came to me to forward to LRH. It was part of my work to coordinate all submissions to him and so to lighten his load in dealing with them (98% of his interactions with officers and crew were in writing, excluding messenger runs; the latter were almost invariably verbal).

This submission seemed all right to me so I included it in the daily folder of submissions. The folder came back to me, as usual, after LRH had dealt with it. He had approved the submission to do with the shore flap, and so the actions included in the submission now had the force of authorized orders and had to be carried out.

Now, in examining the situation, the director of the department had found out that the responsible individual who’d failed to carry out a routine duty (leading to the upset in the harbour) excused himself on the basis that he was tired. This information was in the report to LRH. Nobody who signed off on the report took too much notice of this detail. We were all tired all the time; we had to run just to keep in place. We grew extra legs and extra arms to try to avoid a failure that would cause extra work for our leader and bring down his wrath on us. Too bad for us that we couldn’t grow extra brains or create extra hours to sleep in.

Tired was part of our daily life. We woke up to it, worked through it, and went to bed with it. We rarely mentioned it among ourselves, never complained about it. We accepted it as part of life around L. Ron Hubbard on his ship. When we read that this fellow had been extra tired and had failed to take note of exactly what the harbour person had said to him, we all knew exactly what he meant.

LRH, however, took great exception to this excuse of tiredness. He was tired too, but he never moaned about it nor let it stop him doing what he saw as his job – and, as far as he was concerned, he just did not goof, ever. He had a general term for excuse-making of any kind: he called it “case on post”, ‘case’ being the big bag of complaints and excuses, fears, defeats, aches and pains, and all the stuff that one carries around – and hides behind to explain or excuse or justify a failure. Allowing case to interfere with job performance was not acceptable in the Sea Org; all Sea Org members were Sea Org members because they were tough. Sleep deprivation was a mere incidental detail.

Seeing this attempt at excusing a clear lapse of duty that had led to hard work on LRH’s part (he having to do the tired person’s work for him in the cooling-off of the situation caused by said tired person), LRH took up this blaming of tiredness as a matter of “case on post.” This aspect not having been addressed in the proposals for action, LRH inserted an instruction in his own writing. It ordered that a handling be drawn up for all instances of “case on post” throughout the ship – LRH being prone to believing that much of the crew would be goofing off just because he couldn’t be all over the ship at once, cajoling, commanding, or scaring them into being busy. One of his favourite sayings (shared only with confidants, never with the mice) was: “When the cat’s away the mice do play”.

The actions on the submission were each assigned to an individual person or post to complete. The submitter, a relative junior, would never have dreamt of assigning one of the actions on his proposal to a senior, especially not to a Commodore’s Staff person. Well, LRH added in this new action, and he assigned it to a Commodore’s Staff person – me. I saw this, of course, when the submission came back to me from LRH on its return to its originator.

I was fine with the target and with it being assigned to me. No sweat. But of course I noticed that this plan, about to be published for all on the ship to read, would have the department head apparently ordering me (much senior to him) to carry out one of his targets. The mimeo issue of the plan simply showed the LRH-added action without noting that he (LRH) had added it. Not wanting to show that I was sensitive to such an error in protocol, I took it in stride but also took note of it. [The only person on the ship who gave me orders was LRH himself; had Mary Sue given me orders in his absence I would have obeyed them unless I had an objection or alternative that I thought MSH might listen to.]

Despite that minor reservation, I had an immediate idea of what I was going to do to fulfill my assigned action, and I knew it would take a few hours of concentrated working-out and writing. This told me that I’d have to start at once and hope that I’d be left alone long enough to get most of it done or perhaps even all of it. If I’d left it for the next day, or the next “quiet period”, it would never have got done properly. I wouldn’t have wanted LRH chasing me for it even at the best of times, but with his moods being what they were, I was letting no grass grow.

Besides, what I had in mind to do would introduce a pretty radical change into the organizational structure on the ship. Observing how things tended to go in the organization, I felt that the faster one gets a new idea out into group circulation and action the more likely it is to impress and interest; delay in announcement tends to communicate insignificance and unimportance and thus invite delay in implementation.

The Devil, watching over me, kept my desk clear. [He evidently wanted an RPF put in place.] I was able to complete the writing that night. Having finished it, my next action would normally have been to write a cover note to LRH telling him that this was my response to his order and recommending that he approve it for issue to the crew and then full implementation. I would have sent this down to LRH in his next day’s “traffic” folders (the flow of papers into his inbox was called “traffic”).

Now, I knew it was a substantial piece of work, and I felt confident that it was good work. I cast my mind forward to his picking up my proposal from his traffic, wondering what his mood would be when he read it… imagining that he’d be picking holes in it here and there, giving directions for a rewrite – directions that might be not quite clear or might be contrary to the spirit I’d put into the thing. At the same time I was mindful of the slight pride-prick I was feeling of being put in the position of being publicly ordered about by the junior (a fellow I had no quarrel with personally and liked). Moreover, I was aware of part of the intention behind LRH’s addition and its assignment to me – he was lobbing a very hot potato into my hands and saying (in part, at least), “If you think you’re so clever, bud, deal with this for me. Let’s see what you can do. If you fail, I’ll really rub your nose in it.”

I made up my mind: “Right,” I thought to myself. “If you’re so clever as to give the assignment to clever me, and moreover to have a junior appear to be ordering me about, clever me is going to issue his new ship-changing development without your prior approval or even telling you he’s done the work. Then let’s see you rub my nose in that if you want to.”

I sent the piece straight down to the Mimeo Section. It was within my authority to have Mimeo issue items either on behalf of LRH when I could see he didn’t need to be bothered with the work of authorising it, or on my own behalf when I wanted to issue something of my own. [Note: Not once did I ever think of issuing something over LRH’s name off my own bat.] Nonetheless, by rights something this big really should have had his signature on it. He was entitled to hit back.

My big several-page Mimeo issue introducing the Rehabilitation Project Force [RPF] came off the presses and was in all the crew communication baskets in the morning. It created quite a stir –although I was in bed. [We on Commodore’s Staff followed his usual schedule; he worked night hours and slept during the morning and some afternoon hours.]

When I got up to my office that afternoon, the issue was on my desk. I read it and was satisfied that I had followed through on my assignment in no uncertain terms. But didn’t send a copy of the issue to LRH in his traffic folders. Let him find out about it when he finds out about it . . . and let him deal with me as he wants.

Up came a Commodore’s Messenger to me, shortly thereafter. “The Commodore wants to know what this new issue is that everybody is talking about.” Ah, it was likely the messengers on duty told him about the buzz. I handed her a copy of the RPF issue without a word. I waited to see what would hit the fan and how much of it: I had flouted his authority by having the item issued without his prior approval and again by not sending an immediate copy for his perusal. Would he let me get away with it? I waited.

Soon, the same messenger ran back up, put the issue on my desk and said, “Well, that’s very well done!” running off again immediately. I heard no more until late in that same evening when he added to my issue that anyone assigned to the RPF had the right of appeal against the assignment. This would have been understood as part of the general group-wide Ethics system, and I was fine with the addition.

Thus, in this creation of the RPF I had claimed a certain amount of autonomy for myself, and he had gone along with it. In actual fact, I had bypassed him by having shown that I did not go along with the idea of his absolute authority. That he did not immediately pick up on this and restore his position with me was unexpected – it wouldn’t have been simply because he was in pain since he’d been energetically dealing with a lot of business in the preceding weeks. In fact, although I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of it at the time, he had capitulated.

A few days later, however, he radically changed the character of the RPF. One young woman, assigned to the RPF for her “case on post”, had protested noisily and physically. LRH looked into it and decided her protest was groundless. To him her protest was nothing more than her insistence on having case on post. His response to this was to create “the RPF’s RPF” in which to put such rebellious people as this young woman. Any reluctant debutant would be virtually imprisoned in isolation, left to consider the position and come to the correct Sea Org conclusion – to let go of her case on post. I could see how LRH would consider this a good idea.

Obviously, LRH liked the RPF as an addition to the Sea Org system so much he had taken ownership of it. I didn’t like the RPF’s RPF but had no way of countering it without getting myself into trouble for my pains, and it would possibly have resulted in my being put into the RPF’s RPF. That didn’t appeal.

What appealed even less was giving LRH the opportunity to kick me off my post. Although he hadn’t acted on my denial of his authority on the RPF issue, it was likely that something would fester from it. Boils can burst.

I should clarify that he and I were not altogether at loggerheads. We worked closely together most of the time. He could be moody, but while we were on the ship he never crossed swords with me, or yelled at me, or criticised me to my face. He could be friendly and gracious, and was so, almost invariably, in the couple of years we were working together up to 1972 when he left the ship to go to New York. However, after his return to the ship in 1973, I did not support him as before, nor he me. I might argue against something he proposed; he almost invariably disputed it and did what he wanted anyway. He never questioned why when I failed to respond with enthusiasm to something he was doing or advocating or considering. If he had asked, I would have told him. I didn’t force him to bring it out into the open, although I did a few other things (stories for another time) that he really should have taken up with me. It seemed that he accepted my stance, though I didn’t know why he didn’t bring it out into the open, something I wasn’t going to do without his lead. His motorbike accident occurred shortly after his return to the ship and my challenge to his authority was my first open claim to some independence from that authority; his acceptance of the claim remains mysterious to me.

There was one thread in the design of the RPF that I regretted putting into it as soon as it had been issued. I’d been thinking of some of the traditions in the Sea Org of dealing with a rebellious individual, but including a part of the tradition in the design of the RPF resulted later in causing more trouble than good. Specifically, the tradition I thought of was to put the individual into the chain locker, where, according to then current written instructions, the person would be fed by means of a bucket lowered down to him or her, said bucket containing food left over from the crew meals. I had no intention of reviving the hateful chain locker imprisonment but used the bucket procedure into the instructions for setting up the RPF meals, inasmuch as I said the RPF were to be fed on leftovers. I meant it as a sop to the Sea Org die-hards, but there was no real need to pay the die-hards and their opinions any attention.

After my instructions were issued, I made amending this meal guidance something I should do very soon, but I never did get to it. In practice it was never followed on the ship. The Chief Steward, responsible for all catering, somehow got his hands on some RPF members to help him in his vastly-undermanned department. He was so happy to have the help, he made sure the RPF ate just as well as the crew. So I didn’t have an urgent reason to take the time to alter the issue, and the matter slipped into the great Pending Basket in the Sky, I’m sorry to say.

The original RPF issue was set out in a “Flag Order”. (The Sea Org ship that carried the Commodore bore his flag and was therefore known as the “Flagship” or “Flag”.) LRH had several different types of Mimeo issues for different purposes, importances, and audiences. One issue type was the “Flag Order”, which carried instructions and so on for matters to do with the running of the Flagship and all aboard her. Each Flag Order had its consecutive number. The RPF Flag Order was #3434. As far as I can tell, the very first RPF issue has been buried or destroyed; it has been revised many times. There doesn’t seem to be a copy of the first edition of FO3434 outside the Church of Scientology [I’d be happy to have one] – and my original issue has been altered beyond all recognition. As have the intention and the management of the RPF.

The spirit in which the RPF was conceived is as follows: Okay, crew member, your seniors say that you’re not pulling your weight and not taking responsibility for that. And indeed, you’re saying that you have this or that excuse. Excuses are not acceptable: we are going to do something about your giving one. We understand and accept that the pace has been a bit too much for you. We’ll put you in this section of the crew where you will keep up certain basic responsibilities for the good of the ship and the crew, but you’ll also have opportunity to use this Scientology technology called training and auditing. Auditing is intended to help people deal with the reasons they can’t work or do their jobs (among other things). We’ll show you how you can learn some of this technology to audit another RPF member, and we’ll show another RPF member how he or she will audit you. The work we’ll give you to do will take half of your day and will consist mostly of cleaning. You will be given some cleaning to do and you will complete that cleaning so it’s done for the day. Whatever cleaning you start you will complete. Half of the RPF crew will be cleaning while the other half is learning how to audit and doing the auditing. Then the first cleaning crew will shift over to the auditing mode, and the first auditing crew will shift over to cleaning mode. When you have learned to perform your cleaning tasks well and have completed all your auditing requirements in auditing others and in receiving your own auditing sessions, you can apply to “graduate” from the RPF. If you have honestly completed all requirements, you will graduate and return to the crew as a regular member. There are certain disciplinary, logistic, and domesticity guidelines for you to follow.

[It seemed to me, and still does, that the introduction of the RPF’s RPF introduced a note of institutional harshness into this spirit, and that a cleaner and kinder handling of the rebel would have been to simply give him or her the choice to leave altogether. I can accept that my allowing the harshness of “leftovers” to remain in my issue contributed to the eventual degradation of the RPF that has so disgusted so many. But I tend to think that the harshness of the RPF’s RPF concept did more damage to the intended spirit of the RPF.]

Thus the RPF was conceived and then run on the ship and at the Clearwater establishment while I was on post as LRH Personal Communicator. I made sure I was the last person on the list to approve every graduation.

I have evidence that the RPF in the Sea Org PAC [for “Pacific”] region (in and near Los Angeles) had the same decent spirit, at least for a while. Of course, since we were all human and imperfect, there were mistakes and misdeeds within and about the RPF. But on the whole, I’d say the RPF in its original practice, did more good than harm. That some people were harmed in some ways, I have to accept, such as those who had needs beyond what anyone on the ship could take care of. I also believe a lot of moaning is by people who moan anyway.

What drastically changed the management of the RPF — changing it in a context that made it impossible for me to intervene — was the purchase of the “Big Blue” building in Los Angeles (the former hospital) and the need to transform it quickly into premises suitable for Sea Org offices and accommodation. LRH ordered the purchase of the building and its renovation by PAC while he was in hiding in California, and he could only ever want something done in a hurry. The senior Sea Org members in PAC seemed to be delirious with excitement because LRH was operating into their area and made themselves more than ready to get everything done in a great tearing hurry. Impressing the Commodore with one’s ability to force things DONE (“to kick ass”, as they say today) was every loyal Sea Org member’s dream.

[The preceding paragraph has been revised to correct an error. The original version stated that LRH ordered the purchase of the big LA building when he was away from the ship (which would have been in 1972-3, obviously incorrect).]

The Big Blue work required labour and plenty of it. That meant using all the new recruits, but soon the excited PAC officers realized that they could rope in their local RPF. I was not kept abreast of what they were doing at PAC with their RPF. Of course, the Sea Org people there had no reason to put me in the loop, because they were dealing almost directly with LRH, who was in hiding out West somewhere (perhaps in Nevada at that time or in California), and he didn’t need me, in Clearwater, Florida, interfering with anything he wanted done in a hurry in Los Angeles. Nobody who was dealing almost directly with LRH would want anybody else on the line; anyone not put there or called upon by LRH was irrelevant. To intervene in an activity urgent and important to LRH was to ask for inevitable public put-down by him.

Furthermore, the operations of the Sea Org – often Byzantine — required that urgent operations be carried out as “Missions” in which two or more selected SO members were sent on specific and detailed orders from the ship or from a senior office on shore (such as the executive stratum at PAC). These missions were managed only by “Mission Operations”. There were missions at PAC involved in making the renovations happen. If I’d attempted to interfere with missions that had decided to take over the local RPF and use it contrary to my founding guidance, I’d cause a lot of fuss and flap that would have been quickly forwarded on to LRH’s plate (he taking a direct interest in these missions), doing any cause of mine no good whatsoever.

Because the PAC people were dedicating themselves to getting done what LRH wanted done, I had no ground on which to stand with regard to regulating what I did hear about their misuse and abuse of the RPF crews. Clearly, their RPF members were being used as slave-labour and denied their auditing activities– the whole RPF concept had been perverted. I wanted to insist that their RPF follow all rules regarding scheduling, for example. But group politics were against me: any attempt to intervene would have caused a loud chorus of eager complaint to LRH that I was trying to stop them doing what he wanted, which was to get the renovations done as quickly as possible. He was always ready to listen to such complaints; when he received them, he had the tendency to empty his gun and then, maybe, ask some questions.

And misuse and abuse the poor RPF the PAC Sea Org certainly did, without restraint or mercy, without any consideration for human decency. The RPF became a mockery and a denial of its original spirit.

The Sea Organization has a secret motto that one learns only over time: “In joining us you put your sanity in jeopardy.” I’m not a bit surprised that people get righteously shocked at the RPF as it became – I share their indignation. I don’t blame anyone for anyone being unaware of how it began and assuming its current state is totally my responsibility.

I don’t accept that by forming the RPF I directly put anybody’s sanity in jeopardy, although I started something that others changed into sanity-jeopardising misbehaviour. But the degradation of the RPF was part of a movement to change all of the Sea Organization and all of corporate Scientology into sanity-jeopardising misbehaviour — which is also partly my responsibility, but not by any means mine alone. At least I did disconnect from that movement. Thirty-six years ago.

As I’ve said, I did include in my RPF design one element of stupidly harsh Sea Org tradition that would have been better omitted – the serving of leftover food. My bad judgment. On the other hand, the RPF was a major change in Sea Org culture, and, on the whole, I’m satisfied that in its original form it was a constructive contribution to that culture. I regret that the Sea Org could not live with what the RPF was actually meant to be and twisted it into an activity repulsive to all decent people.

But then, so much of what was good in Scientology has the Sea Org seemed to be unable to live with and seems to have twisted into activity repulsive to many decent people. Kenneth G. Urquhart

© 2019


3 Replies to “Memories, 27: The Origins of the RPF”

  1. Robin ScottI was on the Flag RPF from 1977-79. I had huge wins, and met all sorts of fascinating people. One of the most uptone groups I ever belonged to.Some people are going to moan about anything which tries to put their ethics in!I even did the RPF’s RPF twice, and turned that into a positive experience too.“The RPF is what we make it; the RPF is where we make it!”
  2. Rheva Bittelman Spence Mayer Acevedo (HA!!!!)Never have I profusely thanked you (from the bottom of my fat little toes to my then curly head of bleached blond hair) for saving my life. Remember, “PC Rheva Spence is to throw her auditor, Rheva Spence overboard”? Somehow you got me off the hook.Big hug!Rheva
    1. urqbones@gmx.comDarlin’, that particular memory has, I’m sad to say, gone the way of so many.
      However, I’m profoundly grateful to know that I provided someone, and specially you, with some relief and something to remember happily. :))
      God Bless.

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