Dennis Erlich (pictured above, in a weird hat) was the original guy who exposed the craziness of Scientology on the internet. A member since 1967 and later a minister, he started to rebel against the church in the mid-80s. In the early 90s, he began issuing a newsletter called InFormer, exposing the secrets of Scientology.
He became the original internet censorship case in 1994 when he scanned pages of Scientology texts to an online newsgroup, telling the wider world about Thetans and Xenu for the very first time. In 1995 a federal judge permitted Scientologists to raid his house, a video of which can be seen here.
Since then he’s been helping people get back to normal life after being in cults, mainly through smoking marijuana. If you’ve just left a cult, his InFormer Ministry Collective is probably the best place to learn how real life works, while also learning how to get super stoned and grow your own weed.
VICE: When you were Minister in Scientology, were you aware you were in a cult?
Dennis Erlich: I thought I was part of a team that was saving the world.
What happened to change your mind?
In 1968 Hubbard established the Sea Org. They started sending their military missions into the organizations where I was in LA. The very first time these uniformed military types came into the organization they had all of us line up against a wall in the basement. Three uniformed, very fit individuals walked in. The tallest one opened up his jacket, revealing a .45 tucked under his arm. He pulled out a Nazi dagger, with a swastika on it, and flung it into the ceiling above him. Then said in a loud voice, “This organization is now under Sea-Org control.” We had to stay all night. A lot of the things in Scientology knock down the barrier that separates what you’re willing to accept and not.
That sounds rubbish. What’s the appeal to people?
Everybody at some point in there life could use help with some part of their life. Some new tool or direction. Scientology hooks people in then.
You knew Hubbard at the time. Do you think he was entirely serious about this being a new religion?
Hubbard was a lying scam-artist who snuck around and had some kind of a mystical control over those whom he gathered. He was more a hypnotist and a huckster. They make you do drills where you have to sit certain ways, not blink, not talk. Once you’re used to it, they start suggesting to you that control of your mind is only possible with their help.
What’s the process for bringing someone out of a cult?
I do a lot of referring to other agencies and materials. I like to get a person plugged back in to reality. For the average person, first I find out if they’re a legal citizen, if they have a warrant out for their arrest, if they have ID, if they have a doctor; have them deal with that. These are basic things that a cult member might not grasp, how they relate to being a person. It’s like coming from a different planet. I know it took me a long time to figure these things out. Scientology arranged for everyone to drop me; even my own family.
What role does marijuana play in this?
Back in 1984 when I was barely coming out of the cult mindset. I still didn’t know what was true and what was wrong about it. I tried marijuana, which i hadn’t tried for 15 years, and suddenly I understood a bunch of things I didn’t understand before. I don’t know what they are! But I was certain of them in that moment. It gave me absolute certainty, whereas Scientology just gave me the feeling of absolute certainty.
Is this common for other people, too?
Yes, I’ll give you an example: I had a very high technical rating in Scientology, so i was sought-after by some of the breakaway groups. One group in Denver gave me the folder of a low-level woman who was contemplating suicide – they’d messed with her head beyond recognition. I was invited up to her beautiful house, this beautiful woman, great husband, great jobs… I happened to have some smoke with me at that point. I took her out to the balcony. I lit up and told her what the big secrets of Scientology were that she was striving to get to; the exorcism and all that jazz. She was like … what??? I explained the difference between reality and the lies. That was it, the end of her association with Scientology, and she went on to live a happy life.
What does weed do for people?
For a cult member, his [or her] ideas are rigid, very solid. When I smoke marijuana my thoughts become more liquid, they melt. You can do a certain amount of melting away of those fixed ideas from the cult. Since trying to get my feet back on the ground, marijuana has been a great help.
Do you see many people from cults these days?
Back in the early 90s in LA we had focus groups that met monthly where people coming out of various cults could come together could share their experiences and help each other that way. We had about 40-50 people. At this point there’s no organized structure with that kind of gathering. At this point there is not a huge amount of counseling that is necessary, but I have a few different people who count on me for help.
How is your ministry involved? I see you have your own strain of weed, ‘OG Flame’.
I train people how to grown marijuana for themselves, and if they can’t, supply them with good quality, organic product, free of charge. OG Flame is excellent for pain and sleeping, that kind of thing. It’s more a sedentary strain.
Nice. Well, thanks for exposing Scientology. It’s made for some pretty funny episodes of South Park.
I couldn’t ask for more. When i set out in the mid-80s to reveal all this stuff, all i was trying to do was make it a laughing stock, and now it is! It’s so gratifying.