In a Skype call a few months back, I asked L. Ron Hubbard to talk me through his tattoos.
“I have a cross of Scientology here,” he said, gesturing to his right arm. “And the actual Scientology symbol here,” gesturing to his left. “I have the infinity [symbol] on my forehead, which was a coverup of something else I got in prison.”
When I asked what the infinity symbol—a nod to the Scientological belief that our souls are infinite—is covering up, he said, “Let’s just say I was a member of a certain prison gang at one time.” (He would not specify which.)
This particular L. Ron Hubbard is, obviously, not the L. Ron Hubbard who wrote sci-fi novels, founded Scientology, and died in 1986. This L. Ron Hubbard is 31 years old, lives in a small town in Washington State, and claims to be that other L. Ron Hubbard, but in a new body. Though this L. Ron Hubbard’s drivers license identifies him as Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, it has only done so since 2017. Up until that point, he went by Justin Alan Craig.
(I’m going to refer to the new, still-alive L. Ron Hubbard as Lafayette, and the deceased one as L. Ron Hubbard so you don’t have to do the same mental cartwheels I did every time I referred to the old L. Ron Hubbard while speaking to the new L. Ron Hubbard.)
The Church of Scientology says that most Scientologists remember past lives. Hubbard himself claimed to have lived previous existences as British imperialist and mogul Cecil Rhodes, a tax collector in ancient Rome, and an alien race car driver in a distant galactic civilization. In the late 1960s, his followers were so convinced by his tales of past lives, Hubbard was reportedly able to lead an expedition to dig up treasure he’d buried during previous existences (no treasure was found). The church allegedly maintains offices and a mansion for Hubbard to use upon his return.
Lafayette says he was first introduced to Scientology while in prison ten years ago, after another inmate gave him a copy of Dianetics, one of the foundational texts of Scientology. “I spent like, 12 straight hours reading that,” he said. “Went to sleep, got up, and read it the next day, and then I ended up reading it about eight more times.”
That prison stint was one of many. “There’s pretty much nothing I wasn’t in prison for,” said Lafayette when I asked him about his crimes. “Except I never committed a sex offense [and] I never abused a child.” The Scientology watchdog blog the Underground Bunker was more specific, reporting that he racked up charges for auto theft, shoplifting, attempted carjacking, battery, threatening a public official, and resisting arrest. If his claim of reincarnation is true, these acts would be the continuation of a crime spree started by L. Ron Hubbard, who was charged with petty theft and fraud, dabbled in bigamy, and was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in one of the largest ever infiltrations of the US government.
According to Lafayette, at the end of a prison sentence in 2015, he tried to enroll himself in courses at the Church of Scientology in Inglewood, California, but left when they tried to limit the services they would perform for him because of his criminal background. “I just walked off and said, ‘Good luck, hell or high water I’ll do this myself,’” he recalled. Over the next 18 months, he said, he started remembering things from his previous existence.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Lafayette’s claims have been met with skepticism.
When I emailed the Church of Scientology to see how it felt about Lafayette, church spokesperson Karin Pouw, wrote back: “I have never heard of Mr. Justin Alan Craig. The claims are unhinged and ludicrous. You could not be serious about running this story.” (Which I would imagine will be extremely awkward if it turns out Lafayette is telling the truth.) She did not respond to a question about Lafayette’s experience at their Inglewood church.
But not all Scientologists are affiliated with the Church of Scientology. There are people who believe the teachings of Scientology, but for various reasons do not want to associate with the big, mega-controversial organization that Tom Cruise is a part of. It’s within the world of these “independent Scientologists” that Lafayette has found some support.
Brian Cox runs the site Scientolipedia, a Scientology-resource site aimed at independent Scientologists. Last April he posted an interview with Lafayette to its YouTube channel. While the video received a lot of negative comments (“a con artist saying he's the reincarnation of one of the greatest con artists of all time? i'll give the guy credit for his giant nuts ”[sic]), Cox estimated that “maybe 33 percent” of the people who commented on the video and accompanying Facebook posts seemed to believe Lafayette’s story.
Cox, who is himself an independent Scientologist (having parted ways with the main church because he felt they were too focused on money) told me he is agnostic about Lafayette’s claim. “My impression was and still is: I don’t know,” he said.
Steve Watkins, an independent Scientologist who lives in the UK, says he also turned away from the main church after becoming frustrated with the amount of money they expected from him. “It took me years to save up for courses and then, when I paid, it was as if they made it harder than it should be,” he told me via email, adding that while he can’t definitely say Lafayette is the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard, he thinks his story “doesn't seem false.”
“[His] second date of birth and his mannerisms sort of tie-in,” he pointed out. Which is true. Lafayette was born a year and a half after Hubbard died, and speaks with the same mouth-full-of-chewed-taffy, old time-y radio voice that L. Ron Hubbard spoke with. He’s also the only person I’ve ever spoken to that’s used the word “germane.”
Watkins has been working with Lafayette over Skype, doing auditing sessions—a type of counseling that’s central to the Scientological belief system. The sessions are done regularly by believers as a way of ridding themselves of the long-term effects of trauma, with the ultimate goal of entering a state of higher consciousness. While the church of Scientology reportedly charges hundreds of dollars an hour for auditing, Lafayette has been providing his services to Watkins for free.
Lafayette has been developing a new auditing technique called the Infinity Procedure, which he describes as being a continuation of his work from his previous life. Both Cox and Wilkins told me this new technique is what stopped them from dismissing Lafayette outright.
I attempted to listen to the ten-part lecture series that Lafayette made to explain the process. But in true Scientological fashion, it was so dense with jargon I was unable to pick up even the most basic gist of it. (Sample quote: “In case you’re wondering what ‘true static’ is, the definition of ‘true static’ would essentially be synonymous with the original definition of a ‘static.’ This is not to get confused with a ‘thetan’ or ‘theta’ and ‘thought energies.’”)
So I had Cox, Wilkins, and Lafayette explain it to me in layperson’s terms. It sounded like a mix of a streamlined version of the auditing done by the main Church of Scientology and The Secret, the Oprah-endorsed book/documentary that teaches that you can have anything you want if you think about it hard enough (which is currently being adapted into a movie starring Katie Holmes). According to Lafayette, his process is different to The Secret because it’s able to grant people their wishes “in like, two to three days,” and can also give you the power to read minds and remote view. (Lafayette claims to have telepathic powers. I asked him to read my mind, and he said, “I kinda sense you’re just here, doing your job… Bit skeptical maybe, just kinda going through the motions.”)
During his explanation of his new process, Lafayette told me he had also discovered a unified field theory—a long sought-after explanation for how the various branches of physics work together. (Einstein spent the last 30 years of his life attempting to devise one).
While I didn’t see any evidence of wishes granted or fields unified during my chats with Lafayette, Watkins believes his techniques have worked for him. The week before our interview, he had a heart attack and, he says, briefly died in the back of an ambulance. “I don’t think I would have had the determination to come back, let alone be smiling, laughing, and cheerful so quickly without the work [Lafayette has] done with me,” he said. “I can literally say he’s saved my life.”
Joe Warren, an independent Scientologist in Thailand, also sang the praises of Lafayette’s technique. “The results were immediately wonderful,” he said via email. “Unlike anything I had experienced, with such ease at obtaining result.”
“L. Ron Hubbard had always proposed making things easier to achieve his aims of betterment,” he added. “He was always undercutting, making things simpler. Lafayette is truly walking in those footsteps. It is easier and the results are continuing to get better.”
Cox told me that, on several occasions, he’d given some money to Lafayette in exchange for his services. He wasn’t sure of exact amounts, but said each payment would have been for $50 or less. I asked if he thought there might be a chance Lafayette was a scammer.
“He hasn’t got much [money] out of me,” he said. “If it’s a scam, I don’t get the angle. I don’t get what he would be going for.”
But there are other benefits, beyond financial ones, to having people believe you’re L. Ron Hubbard. Whether you think Hubbard was a genius or a con artist, he was, objectively, a special person who impacted a lot of lives. And who doesn’t want to feel special and important?
I asked Lafayette what he would say to someone who thought he might be running a scam. He asked me to imagine that, in a previous lifetime, I had been a brilliant mechanical engineer. But now, in this life, I had been born into a sporty family that didn’t know anything about my inner engineering genius, and instead tried to push me into playing basketball. “You’re gonna feel out of place, you’re gonna feel foreign, you’re gonna feel alien,” he said. “You know you’re good at something, you know, but basketball?… It’s gonna mess with somebody. They’re going to be constantly angry, frustrated, maybe even depressed. They’re gonna feel out of place, they’re going to be socially inept, because, not only that, they’re in a whole entire new era than the one they were just familiar with.” This feeling, he said, is what caused him to act out in ways that repeatedly landed him in courtrooms and prison cells.
“So before realizing you were L. Ron Hubbard, did you have like, a feeling that you were out of place and were maybe very good at something and didn’t know what that was?” I asked.
“My whole entire lifetime, man,” he said. “I always had this unsettling feeling of moving towards something.”
“It was just always having a sense of moving toward something like, I’m supposed to be doing something. I’m supposed to be doing something great,” he continued. “Nothing would ever work or go right, and that was just because I wasn’t doing what I was meant to be doing. And that’s what I’m doing now.”
Tony Ortega of the Underground Bunker is less convinced that Lafayette is not a scammer. During his interview with him, he got Lafayette to refer to Hubbard’s wife Mary Sue Hubbard as Mary, before informing him that Hubbard used to call her Suzy. “I thought he was pretty mediocre as a performer and that it wasn’t very hard for me to sort of get him on his wrong foot, as far as his Hubbard performance,” said Ortega. (Lafayette claims to not remember all of the specific details of his previous life.)
I told Ortega that some of the people I’ve spoken to felt they’d had good results with Lafayette’s auditing techniques.
“Have you listened to Hubbard’s lectures?” he asked, referring to the original Hubbard. “Have you read the tech? I mean, it’s nonsense. So somebody comes along and [says] he’s got a new version of nonsense and that makes him the new LRH? OK. Fine.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.