The story hit Thursday night at about midnight, just as we were putting to bed our own piece about a Scientology day care scandal.
A local television station in South Florida reported that a man named Brian Sheen, 62, had filed a “civil rights complaint with the state” over Scientology’s toxic “disconnection” policy which rips apart so many families. In his case, his daughter, a Scientologist, had turned away from him, and he was being told nothing by the church about why it had ordered her to do so.
It seemed like a juicy story, and over the next 24 hours it was picked up by numerous other outlets, including the Palm Beach Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But the original story was perplexing. What was meant by a “civil rights complaint”? Was it a lawsuit? Was there actually a state agency that could be compelled to investigate Scientology’s cases of disconnection? And would it actually have jurisdiction involving a 38-year-old woman on the other side of the country? Meanwhile, the story said almost nothing about Sheen’s background — had he been a Scientologist himself?
Before turning in Thursday night, we found a couple of email addresses for Sheen and sent him messages asking him to share his documents with us and give us a call.
On Friday, he did. And after talking with him, we realized there was a much more interesting story than was told in the “complaint” he had filed with the state.
This is what we found out.
The first thing that surprised us in our conversation with Brian Sheen was that he had actually sought help from attorneys before he took matters into his own hands.
Really? Anyone we know?
“Ken Dandar. I talked to him about my situation,” Sheen said, and we did a double-take. Dandar? The Tampa attorney who fought Scientology tooth and nail for years over the death of Lisa McPherson, one of the darkest periods in Scientology history? That Dandar?
“Yeah, I talked to Ken about suing them. He told me his hands were tied,” he added.
Well, yeah. Not only because there didn’t seem to be obvious grounds for a lawsuit, but also because, you know, Ken Dandar is currently under a million-dollar go-for-the-throat court judgment won by the Church of Scientology against him that the church, we have no doubt, plans to use to grind Dandar into a fine powder.
But still, points to Sheen for creativity. Who was this guy?
We asked Sheen to start from the beginning. Where was he from? New York, he said. And he told us that he first got into Scientology in 1970 at the New York org.
“At the Hotel Martinique?” we asked, having just written a book where some of the action takes place there.
“Yeah! There by Macy’s, with the nice square outside. That’s where I started my training,” he said.
While he was still just 18, Sheen then went to England to Saint Hill Manor, Scientology’s UK headquarters in East Grinstead. He was there to “go Clear” with the Saint Hill Special Briefing Course, and also to train to become a Class VIII auditor at the “Advanced Org Saint Hill” (AOSH UK).
Sheen laughed, admitting that one reason he traveled so far for the experience was that the conversion rate meant that the courses there cost a fraction of what he would have paid in Los Angeles, the other place where such advanced classes were offered.
Saint Hill Manor had been L. Ron Hubbard’s home in the early and mid 1960s, but now the Scientology founder was running the movement from a ship somewhere in the Atlantic. The East Grinstead manor was still a hive of activity even with Hubbard gone, with families from various parts of the globe coming and going.
Including one family from New Jersey that arrived one day while Sheen was there.
“Whenever I hear the name ‘David Miscavige,’ I still think of that 14-year-old kid I met at Saint Hill,” Sheen says, referring to Scientology’s current leader.
Sheen’s next step was to be trained as the AOSH UK Senior “C/S” — case supervisor — but in order to get that important position, he had to get special training that was available only in one place — “Flag.”
“I joined the Sea Org and went to Flag, joining the ship in Las Palmas,” he says. The Sea Organization was the name L. Ron Hubbard had given the young men and women who were sailing with him and his three ships, the Athena, the Diana, and the flagship, the Apollo, also known just as “Flag.” It was from the Apollo that Hubbard ran his worldwide organization.
“I spent nine months on the ship, training up to a Class IX auditor. I did my C/S internship under Quentin Hubbard. What a great guy. Such a nice guy,” Sheen says of the son of L. Ron Hubbard who later took his life in 1976.
Sheen arrived on the ship in 1973, while Hubbard was actually away — the founder hid out in Queens, New York from December 1972 to September 1973, and during that time wrote up instructions for an audacious plan to infiltrate governments in order to find and purge negative information about Scientology. Hubbard named it the “Snow White Program.”
“I didn’t know where he was when he was gone. They never told us,” Sheen says. But one day in September, Hubbard rejoined the ship, and then, Sheen says, things soon changed dramatically.
“I was a student training for AOSH. I wasn’t a member of the crew. I was sitting there and doing 10 to 12 hours of auditing a day. I was there to study and train. But then the RPF happened, and I wanted to get the fuck out of there,” he says, referring to a new form of punishment, the Rehabilitation Project Force, that Hubbard instituted in January 1974. “Everybody was put on the RPF. The whole ship. I was an affluent-stat auditor, and now you’re treating me like this?”
On the RPF, crew members were assigned to hard manual labor all day, and then had to audit each other at night, trying to find what evil intentions they’d been hiding. Sheen says that the woman who had been named “tech secretary,” Cathy Cariotaki, “turned it into a nightmare.”
“She had us all bowing down and other craziness to this great lord. It was so sick and ridiculous. It was bad enough we had to use toothbrushes to clean the ship. When she came in, I said ‘no more’,” Sheen says.
Coming up with an excuse that he had a sick relative, Sheen managed to get away from the ship, and ditched the Sea Org. He was then hit with a “Freeloader’s bill” of $26,000 — a debt that a departing Sea Org member is told they must pay to make up for all of the discounted courses and free room and board they’ve enjoyed.
A Freeloader’s bill is legally indefensible, but Sheen didn’t know that. He borrowed the money from his mother to pay the bill, then set out to pay her back as he began working at a Scientology mission in Boston, the Executive Education Center, where business executives were recruited to learn better communication skills.
“I was 23 years old. I made a deal where I was working and sleeping in the office, because I had to pay off the money I’d borrowed from my family,” Sheen says.
And it was at this point in our conversation that Sheen explained his mindset. “I was still a Scientologist. But I had always differentiated between the tech and the organization. The organization is crazy, but I thought there was a lot of good workable knowledge in Scientology. So I always kept those two apart in my mind.”
Over the next year and a half, Sheen worked at the Boston mission and also made contacts in the music business. He says he became friends with keyboardists Chick Corea and Mike Garson, who would go on to play with David Bowie. (To this day, Sheen, who wrote music with Garson at one time, makes pilgrimages to the Grammy Awards.)
In 1975, Sheen moved to West Palm Beach to work with a business consultant who offered him a contract. At the same time, he set up his own “Dianetics Counseling Group” and began delivering basic courses as a field auditor. When his business contract ran out, he started working at the center full time.
Then, in 1976 he says, “things got a little insane.”
“I met this beautiful girl at the Miami org. We got engaged, and we were getting ready to get married. But the night before the wedding, the ED of the org talked to her and, I guess, third-partied the shit out of me,” he says with a laugh. In other words, the Executive Director of the Miami org, for reasons Sheen has never understood, badmouthed him to his bride.
“She canceled the marriage. And I never spoke to her again,” he says.
Sheen was shattered. When his old girlfriend Jennifer in Brooklyn offered to come to West Palm Beach to help him get through it, he says it sounded like a good idea. “I guess I was rebounding pretty hard.”
He and Jennifer married, and on May 25, 1977, they welcomed their daughter Springsong into the world.
“We were divorced within a year, and she moved to LA with the baby. We had joint custody for a while, and I’d go out to visit her or she’d come to Florida. But when Springsong started school, she lived with her mom, who got remarried,” he says.
Sheen, meanwhile, moved on to another phase of his life. Scientology receded to the background as his field auditing center closed down and he started working in the financial sector.
“I made one more attempt to do something in Scientology. I think it was 1979, and some reg had regged me to do the Ls,” he says.
In other words, a Scientology registrar had “regged” Sheen — convinced him to spend money — on expensive levels known as the “L rundowns,” which we described previously with the help of former Scientologist Jefferson Hawkins. For tens of thousands of dollars, Hawkins explained, a Scientologist is asked hundreds of seemingly innocuous questions, helping him or her “remember” incidents that had happened millions or billions of years before.
At this point, Sheen was at the highest level then available for a church member, a level known as “OT 7″ (the highest level today, OT 8, wouldn’t be released until 1988). So the Ls were supplementary, but still very pricey. Sheen went to Flag, which by now was a set of buildings located in Clearwater, Florida, after Hubbard and his personal navy had finally come back ashore in 1975.
“I was willing to sit there and go through this. I had always found the auditing to be helpful — except for OT 3. But everything else I had found to be useful,” Sheen says. “So I get there to start the Ls, but they brought me into a room and started telling that before I did the Ls, I first had to do this, this, and this. It was something else that was going to cost me another $20,000, and I said, why didn’t you tell me that first? Because then I wouldn’t have come.”
Sheen says he made a scene, demanding his money back for the Ls. “I want it back immediately, I told them. And I ended it.”
He was done with Scientology. But asking for a refund is one of the worst things a Scientologist can do. He got his money back, but Sheen says he was assigned to “lower conditions” — his status in the church itself was at risk.
“I eventually accepted an amnesty that came out the next year, so I was back in good standing,” he says. “That was it. They had nothing more I wanted from them. That was my last involvement with Scientology.”
Despite the way things had worked out with the Ls, Sheen hadn’t been “declared” a “suppressive person” — Scientology’s form of excommunication — and he was satisfied that he’d left the church on good terms.
Meanwhile, he was doing well in finance, and opened up his own firm that thrived in the 1980s. But then in 1991 it all came to an abrupt halt.
The IRS, Sheen says, changed its rules, and tax shelters he’d been using suddenly became liabilities. “My career in finance crashed and burned. I was very depressed. I was seeing a psychologist, who recommended antidepressants. I just watched my whole life blow up. My second marriage was over, I lost my house. I was at rock bottom.”
His broker’s license was suspended, and later revoked. Then, the turning point: Sheen was walking by a yoga and meditation center in downtown Delray Beach, and he decided to take a class.
“I started learning how to meditate, and it made me realize that what I liked most about Scientology really wasn’t Scientology.”
He says he began experiencing through meditation some of the same feelings that had hooked him on Scientology’s early processes, some of which involved staring exercises.
“I got inspired. This is what I was looking for. I dedicated the next five years of my life to researching all of the things that Hubbard had talked about. He talked about the Vedas, for example, but now I wanted to experience it for myself. Or the other things he brought up that I hadn’t actually looked into directly.”
So what you’re saying, we asked, is that you went looking for Source’s sources?
Sheen laughed, acknowledging our use of Scientology’s label for Hubbard, that he was literally Source for all wisdom and knowledge.
“He wasn’t the source! He was a false source. I hadn’t realized this,” Sheen says. “And I’ve been going to the real sources ever since.”
After his five-year journey, he found that the owners of the Delray Beach yoga center were planning to move to India — and they asked him if he wanted to buy them out. And for the past 16 years, he’s built the place into a center that delivers many different alternative therapies. “Hypnotherapy, regression therapy, shamanism,” he says, reeling off several other “integrative” techniques.
Meanwhile, in California, his daughter Springsong was still growing up around Scientology, Sheen says, primarily because her mother was still involved in it. “Springsong didn’t seem to care about it. But then, around 1994, when she was 17, she was doing some courses and she fell in love with a Sea Org member,” he says.
Springsong joined the Sea Org, got married, but then left the SO just a year and a half later and divorced. “Then she just went on with her life,” Sheen says, and insists that his relationship with his daughter was always a strong one. Sheen also says he never tried to interfere with his daughter’s interest in Scientology, or his ex-wife’s. And he says he’s always gotten along well with his ex.
Springsong became a DJ, working corporate events, and Sheen says that today many of her clients are Scientologists or Scientology firms.
Then, last year, she met someone new, and got engaged. “He was very into Scientology,” Sheen tells us.
What’s his name?
“Ryan something. I’m forgetting his last name. His parents were in the Sea Org for a long time.”
Sheen then began telling us that Ryan’s father was an odd guy who wore a ratty T-shirt to the rehearsal dinner for the wedding in San Francisco last November. And things were done on the cheap, with everyone paying for that meal and at the wedding reception the next day, which was just a big meal at a restaurant.
Then Sheen told us what Ryan’s parents did for a living, and our jaw dropped open.
“They own a court-reporting firm,” he said.
“That’s it! Ryan Atkinson-Baker,” Sheen said.
Stunned, we went looking for a photograph. When we found it, we emailed it to Sheen.
“That’s them! Those are Ryan’s parents.”
We explained the significance of the photograph to Sheen. It portrays Alan and Sheila Atkinson-Baker, and the trophy they are posing with was given to them to recognize that by the end of 2013, they had personally donated a cumulative total of $13 million to Scientology’s slush fund, the International Association of Scientologists.
Sheen sounded stunned. We asked what else the family skimped on at Springsong’s wedding.
“Everything!” he said with a laugh. “They got married at City Hall — which is beautiful in San Francisco. But my daughter had her friends there taking pictures because there was no photographer.”
Sheen says he got along well with Ryan and his parents. And he joked with his ex-wife, who was there with her boyfriend. There was no indication at all of any tension, or issues with Scientology. Sheen was no longer a Scientologist, but he didn’t care that his daughter was in the church and had married a Scientologist. It just wasn’t important.
So that’s why, he says, the letter he received in April from the church came as such a shock.
It was from the “justice chief” of the “Flag Land Base” in Clearwater, Sea Org member Cara Golashesky. And it informed Sheen that he’d been declared “suppressive” — in other words, he had been tossed out of the church. In order to get back in Scientology’s good graces, he’d have to do a series of “amends” known as the “Steps A to E.”
A declare order has been issued on you, which states that you have been labeled suppressive and need to do the Steps A to E.
I have attached a copy of the relevant policy letter — HCO PL SUPPRESSIVE ACTS, SUPPRESSION OF SCIENTOLOGY AND SCIENTOLOGISTS. This lists out the A to E steps, see tab. Additionally highlighted are the Suppressive Acts you were found demonstrably guilty of and thus the requisite that you do A to E.
The first stop is for you to recant and, once done, to do Step A, which is for you to cease committing present time overts, attacks and suppressions so that you can get case gain. Your only terminal is the International Justice Chief via a Continental Justice Chief. You may reach me at the below address.
FLB Justice Chief
503 Cleveland St.
Clearwater, FL 33755
Sheen says the document made no sense. It had been 36 years since he was an active Scientologist. He had no interest in doing steps in order that he could make “gains” on his “case.” And as for suppressive acts, the attached document listed only generalities. He couldn’t tell from it what he was really accused of doing. He hadn’t criticized Scientology. Not to his ex-wife, his daughter, or her new family, the Atkinson-Bakers.
But he knew the consequences. Once he was declared, any other Scientologist who wanted to remain in good standing had no choice but to cut off all ties with him. And with her new marriage and her business tied up with Scientologists, Springsong would be in no position to go against that order.
“She called me,” Sheen says. “She had found out right after I got the letter. ‘You know what this means,’ she told me. ‘This is crazy, dad. I’ll do everything I can to work on this and get this changed.’
“She then cut off ties to me, and she won’t answer anything. Calls, emails, texts. Nothing. But I understand. She would face being declared herself.”
Desperate to figure out what was happening, on May 1 Sheen sent a lengthy letter to Golashesky that he shared with us.
“It is nearly a month now and you still have not provided me with any of the facts I have requested to address the false accusations against me which resulted in your ‘Declare Order’,” he wrote.
Sheen says he requested a “comm ev” — a committee of evidence, which is something like a Scientology court-martial — in order to hear evidence against him and then respond to it. But his request has been ignored.
In his May 1 message, he quoted from a letter that Scientology had sent filmmaker Alex Gibney, accusing the director of not checking his facts with the church in his movie Going Clear. Sheen said the church was doing the same thing to him, not checking its facts before accusing him of “suppression.”
Getting no response from the church, Sheen then decided to go public. He created a website about the matter, and then, on July 4, submitted a lengthy, rambling “civil rights complaint” to the Florida Commission on Human Relations, a body that actually considers discrimination claims in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations.
“The Church of Scientology, through their deliberate actions, has abused my civil and constitutional rights,” Sheen wrote, and asked the commission to interpret Florida law “liberally” in order to step in and stop Scientology’s policy of disconnection.
Our legal experts examined Sheen’s complaint and told us they were not very sanguine about the chances of the human relations commission doing anything with it.
But Sheen, after talking with Ken Dandar and other attorneys, knew that he really doesn’t have grounds for a lawsuit. So he’d sent the complaint instead.
“I don’t know any other way,” Sheen told us. “If someone can tell me another way, I’d like to know.”
We then asked if he would share with us his daughter’s phone number. We told him she probably wouldn’t talk to us — she had already declined to talk to a local television station — but it was worth trying to call her. He gave us the number.
After a couple of rings, Springsong picked up.
We figured we had only a few moments before she hung up, so we quickly tried to explain the situation. Journalist. Scientology. Dad Brian gave the number. Why do you think he’s been declared?
After having us go through things a couple more times — which we took as a good sign — she got her feet under her and began trying to push us away. “I understand what you’re saying, but I’m really not interested in having this conversation.”
We tried again, asking her why she thought her father might have been declared, when he didn’t understand what it was about.
“He knows what he needs to do,” she said, and we immediately recognized where she was going. It was a standard Scientology reply — that Brian had been given instructions by the justice chief.
But, we asked Springsong, Brian is no longer a Scientologist — how can he do his A to E steps?
That one seemed to stun her. Maybe she wasn’t expecting a reporter to use the lingo. She started to protest again, saying she was with her niece and needed to get off the phone.
“What’s happening with my religion is really not anybody’s business,” she said. “This is a very, extremely private matter.”
But we protested, saying that it wasn’t private — her father had gone public with it. We said we wondered if her mother might want to talk further about what was going on, but she said her mother would “absolutely not” be interested.
From what Brian had told us, we continued, it didn’t seem that her mother, or Springsong, would have made the complaint that got her father declared.
“We didn’t,” she said.
And yet her father was declared even though he was in good standing?
“That’s not the case,” she answered.
He wasn’t in good standing?
“I love my dad very much and I want him to sort things out. And he knows what he needs to do.”
Again, we pointed out, how could he do Steps A to E if he was no longer a Scientologist? And why should he be cut off from her in the meantime?
“In the meantime, we just wait it out a bit,” she answered. And then insisted that she couldn’t talk anymore.
So we let her go.
We called Brian back and told him about the the conversation.
“Wait? Wait for what? They won’t communicate with me. I’ve asked for a comm ev, and they won’t give me a comm ev,” he says. “If I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong, how can I make up for it?”
For now, Brian waits. And he thinks he does know why he was declared, and it has nothing to do with his daughter, his ex, or his new illustrious in-laws.
“I think it’s my brother,” he says.
Brian says that his older brother, Neil, has struggled as a Scientologist. “He never seemed to make any case gain at all,” Brian says. But after their mother died a few years ago, she left an inheritance.
“Neil suddenly had a lot of money, and Flag found out. He’s been over in Clearwater for some time. I haven’t really talked to him in two years,” Brian says.
Brian’s theory of what’s going is pure, arcane Scientology: “My brother is at Flag, not making any gains, as usual, and so they’re looking for a scapegoat,” he says. And so someone at Flag has dug up Brian’s refund for the L rundowns from 36 years ago and made it the basis of his declare. “This way, if they target me, they’ll get even more of my brother’s money.”
Purging Brian Sheen from Scientology and from other Scientologists would cut off his negative influence, and his brother could then begin showing case gain and — most importantly — begin to pay for more courses.
It’s an explanation that only makes sense to Scientologists, but we told Brian that it makes more sense than anything else he’s explained to us.
Brian tells us that he wants to raise awareness about disconnection, which is the reason that he’s created a website and is talking to the press.
“I want to gather the stories of the people who have suffered disconnection by Scientology and demand that something be done,” he says.
We point out that such efforts have been going on for years.
“There are Facebook groups that are dedicated just to talking about the victims of disconnection,” we tell him.
“I didn’t know that,” he says.
Brian Sheen is only beginning to make his way, it’s clear. But his story is compelling, and much more interesting than we initially thought. He knows that his daughter doesn’t want to be disconnected from him — something we confirmed on our own in our conversation with her.
Only Scientology, apparently, thinks it’s good and proper to rip apart this relationship.
Well, we don’t have much interest in the conspiracy being peddled here, but hey, it’s your proprietor and John Sweeney in the same video! From Channel 5 over there in Blighty…