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How Scientology "Grew" to 8 Million Members

by Robert Vaughn Young

I have seen much speculation on where Scientology representatives get their figure of "8 million members" or "6 million members." Some wonder if it is people who have taken courses or who have bought books or perhaps people who walk in the door. It's none of that. Let me tell you how it started.

Department 20 has been the section that handles media. It is now called the Office of Special Affairs but in the early 70s it was called the Guardian's Office. I worked in the PR section, first in San Francisco and then at the US offices, 1971-82. We had clipping services for the words "Scientology" and "L. Ron Hubbard." Other than the PRs scattered about who would send in clips, that was the only other way to find how we were being covered.

At that time, we were in a massive anti-FDA campaign, stemming from the raid on the Washington, DC, organization, over the role/function of the E-Meter so there was media interest. Inevitably, we were asked how many members we had and while the local PR might come up with a number for his/her area, we didn't have a figure for national, let alone international, and this was noticed at the US office. PRs were giving random figures and so we had to come up with a stable figure. Nothing was used to calculate the figure. It was dreamed up as "over one million" because anything less wouldn't sound good. There was no count of students or anything. It was simply dreamed up and the figure sent to the PRs to use when asked. (We also needed it for the publications we were putting out.)

Then what came into play was the LRH order that Scientology is always growing. He wrote it in a policy letter, to never admit to anything but growth. That meant the "one million" had to grow. Again, no calculations were made. No organizations were asked to submit figures. Perhaps six months later, we were "1.1 million" and then later "1.25 million" and so the membership figure began to grow. Occasionally it would produce some humor, as when a reporter would call the US office and along the way ask for the membership figure and he/she would be put on hold while someone asked what the latest one was. "1.5" someone shouted. "No, we used that one last month, make it 1.6," suggested another. "Why not 1.75," someone else asked. "Too many digits," someone would call back, "make it 1.8." "Hey," the original PR would ask, "I've got a reporter here on hold, gimme a figure!" "Racquel Welch," came a fast reply from someone coming down the stairs.

Okay, so it wasn't "Saturday Night Live" but that was pretty much how we treated it. I think we stayed with the 1.5 that time. But it soon moved up to 2 million and it has climbed ever since.

As to their actual count, it depends on the definition of a "member." But in the meantime, there have been some good samplings that align to my own estimation. For example, when orgs were closed and there were massive phone campaigns ordering everyone to an event in the Greater Los Angeles area, which has the highest number and concentration of Scientologists in the world, they could muster only a few thousand. At a similar function in Europe where they demanded turnout, they couldn't even raise 2000. You can also extrapolate back from some of the "stats" they give. None of it reflects 8 million "members," unless one is including "body thetans" from OT 3.

But this was how it all started and how Scientology "expanded."

Robert Vaughn Young 21 Aug 1997

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