There's a hair salon 350 feet from the world-famous, sky-blue Scientology building in Los Angeles. Here ex-Scientologist Lynn Campbell helps the shaggy, as well as those who are questioning their faith.
Photos by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete
The Church of Scientology's West Coast base of operations on Temple Avenue and L. Ron Hubbard Way in East Hollywood is LA's answer to the Sistine Chapel. The church bought the world-famous Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, painted it sky-blue, and mounted a giant Vegas-style sign reading "SCIENTOLOGY" on it. Viewed from the 101 freeway, the logo etches itself into the landscape of Hollywood, making sure passing motorists know who is in charge here.
Just 350 feet from "Big Blue," Lynn Campbell operates a hair salon called Shear Perfection. The shop is a stone's throw from daily goings-on at the church campus, prime real estate for attracting any of the devout who are looking shaggy. But according to Campbell, Scientologists get their hair cut elsewhere. The Guy Fawkes mask hanging in her shop window, and the sign that directs Scientologists to a number they can call to "blow" (leave the church), serve as giveaways that devout Scientologists aren't the clientele she expects.
It turns out she's not just some barber who trolls Scientology for fun. Campbell was heavily involved in the church for decades. Marty Rathbun, who was once Scientology's second-in-command, said he remembered her when I spoke to him. In contrast to Scientology's larger-than-life characters, she stood out for her introversion. "I just remember her being quiet and nice," Rathbun told me.
Last week, Campbell cut my hair and told me about what it's like to run a business as an ex-Scientologist in Scientology's front yard. According to the prominent Scientology-watchers I spoke to, the story she told me was once common. I also reached out to the Church of Scientology to get their side of Campbell's story, but they declined to comment, saying they're "a global religion that does not get involved in the business of hair salons."
For about nine months, Campbell says, she was even a member of Sea Org, an elite group of Scientologists famous for signing "Billion-Year Contracts" and working long workweeks, normally for $50 a week. She only lasted eight or nine months, she said, before the workload was too much. "Anybody who asks to leave is by definition insane," and subject, she says, to a grueling ersatz mental health treatment called the Introspection Rundown before they can leave. Campbell claimed she was locked in isolation for four months.
When L. Ron Hubbard died, in 1986, his duties were transferred to the church's current leader, David Miscavige. On Miscavige's watch, the church began to change, beginning with a reform in the mid 1990s called "the Golden Age of Tech."
"All the rules changed in the mid nineties," Rathbun told me. "For people who had been auditing for decades, it was a colossal mindfuck. They probably lost 50 percent of the people who performed audits." Auditing is a Scientology ritual reminiscent of confession in Catholicism. It involves bombarding the subject with questions while the person is hooked up to a purpose-built device called an e-meter. During the Golden Age of Tech, high-ranking auditors like Campbell had to be re-trained. In the view of many, the new system contradicted much of what worked about the old system, which led to widespread frustration.
One of the victims of this colossal mindfuck was Campbell, but her departure took almost a decade. Rather than study the new auditing curriculum, she shifted to a lower profile within the church, focusing instead on cutting hair. "I had been just working in my salon, and I had sort of a connection to real life. Then I went back over there to try and do my Golden Age, and it didn't make any sense to me."
She told her new auditor, "I don't think the Golden Age of Tech is necessary, because I think I got it right the first time." She said that arriving at personal truths that made her feel good was what she loved about Scientology, so she still felt like voicing her belief was the right move, not some unforgivable heresy.
When I talked to Scientology expert Tony Ortega he described "Things That Shouldn't Be" reports as a common way to find yourself in trouble with the church. "You list 'out points.' At the end you write 'This is true,' and sign your name. And then after they see it, a lot of the time they turn around and punish you." Discipline in the Church of Scientology comes from one of the church's officials trained in Scientology's "System of Ethics." Their ethics are more like rules of conduct. As Hubbard himself wrote, "Dishonest conduct is non-survival. Anything is unreasonable or evil which brings about the destruction of individuals, groups, or inhibits the future of the race."
But no discipline was forthcoming, she told me. Instead, she found herself in a waiting room outside the ethics offices in the basement of one of the buildings on Fountain Avenue. "They let me sit there for hours and hours and hours before anybody came to talk to me." The new figures in positions of power, she said, were "young kids" who were "supposedly trained as ethics professors." When someone finally came to help her, she told me, "they didn't know exactly what to say."
Campbell says that after multiple sessions like this, she got fed up. She was sitting less than two blocks from her business, where she could have been cutting hair.
"I just got up and went to the receptionist and asked her, 'Do you know where my shop is?' And she said, 'Oh yes, I know who you are. I know where your shop is.' And I said, 'When someone comes to handle me, that's where I'll be,'" she said. To her surprise, that turned out to be her last act as a Scientologist. "I went to my shop and waited and nobody ever called and nobody ever came. So that's the last time I've ever been there."
There was never a big, dramatic renunciation of the faith. But after years in isolation from her religion, she eventually ceased believing in any of it, she says.
Business got a little hard, as word evidently spread that Campbell had walked out of ethics. Ortega told me a slowdown in business is not uncommon for those who leave the church. "The church gives a 'Disconnection Order,' and you lose your entire clientele," he told me. (VICE cannot confirm that Campbell was the victim of a Disconnection Order.)
"The Sea Org members stopped coming first, then the staff stopped coming, and then the public stopped coming. I've had to build it up from other sources, which has been kinda hard. But it's doable," Campbell said.
Rathbun told me he wouldn't be surprised if "the moment she started doing well, Scientology got all over her tits." When Rathbun left the church and was able to make money by counseling other defectors, he was subject to brazen harassment and surveillance by Scientologists—actions that the church has insisted were carried out by individuals acting of their own volition. This was well-documented in the documentary Scientologists at War.
Then there was what Campbell describes as a puzzling series of burglaries. In the first one, she said, someone simply left "the front door unlocked and the backdoor ajar." Nothing was damaged or stolen, but she was still shaken up. "It had a tremendous effect on me then, because I hadn't decompressed to the point where I wasn't afraid anymore." She felt strange calling the police because she said, "I thought that they would think I was nuts."
But the police were friendly. "They didn't want me to feel odd about talking to them about it, so I've called them for very trivial things," she told me. "I had no evidence, since nothing was missing and nothing was damaged. They wanted to file a report, but they couldn't do anything except say that it was criminal trespass. So they filed a report on that."
In another case someone entered her shop during business hours and snatched one of the signs she keeps in her windows. At the time of the sign-jacking, members of the nebulous hacker and troll collective Anonymous were periodically staging protests in front of the nearby blue building during the Project Chanology round of protests.
Campbell had been involved in the protest movement because she just couldn't help it, she says. "I remember the first day of the protests, they were happening all around the world, and I was online, and I saw it start in Australia. I said, 'Oh my God, look at all those people!' I just can't describe how that made me feel," she said. Still, "picketing probably drew their attention to her," Ortega told me. "That's probably how she got on their radar."
The days of Anonymous vs. Scientology have shaped the present for Campbell. Today, her website still offers V for Vendetta–branded Guy Fawkes masks to protesters. Smaller signs in her windows are a little on the troll-ish side. One says "Since Scientology orgs don't have toilet paper in their bathrooms, we offer Sea Org members a free roll of toilet paper with haircut." Another sign directs bystanders to some of the more prominent Scientology-tracking sites, like Tony Ortega's.
Since adding the signs, she says, there's been an uptick in little pranks and interruptions to her flow of business. Non-customers have taken up all her parking. People have filled her books with haircut appointments and then never showed up. People have come in to ask for products that weren't on display, then run off. Bart Simpson stuff, basically.
But, she told me, there might be a way to track down some evidence, or at least an explanation for this. "They probably have declared me a suppressive person," she said, referring to an official church term (" SP") for a person who endangers members by being "suppressive." According to the Scientology website "To be declared a Suppressive Person is extremely rare and results in expulsion from the Scientology religion."
"As far as I know," Campbell said, "I am an SP and I'm dead filed. Dead filed means that any communication coming in from me gets sent to a special place. Nobody ever answers it, and nobody is supposed to be influenced by anything that I say."
According to Ortega, this was standard procedure in many instances he'd seen. "Some people never really know they're SPs and just have to assume they've been declared. Some people go years without knowing and then find out. Some people are told when they're declared right then and there." These SP's receive a piece of paper, he said. "They call it a goldenrod because of the color. It lists your crimes."
Campbell said she wanted to walk over to ethics and just ask once and for all if she'd been declared an SP or not. That wouldn't give her any hard evidence that Scientology had been tampering with her shop, but it would, she felt, make things clearer for her.
In a famous 1967 letter, L. Ron Hubbard wrote that "a truly suppressive person or organization has no rights at all," and that they can rightly be "tricked, lied to, or destroyed." A few years later, campaigns allegedly began against an SP journalist named Paulette Cooper, including the forging of a bomb threat written in her name by malicious Scientologists. Documents were uncovered revealing that the intention behind Operation Freakout, as one of the plots was known, was to get Cooper committed to a mental institution. According to The Hollywood Reporter, when it was decided that Nicole Kidman was an SP, Miscavige plotted successfully to remove her from Tom Cruise's life.
"When I go over there, all I have to do is appear on the block and the security guards on bikes come over and ask me what I'm doing there," she said. It sounded absurd, and then I saw it. As we approached the building, a guy in a gray polo shirt who looked like he was about 20 years old got off his bike and walked alongside us. He wasn't shy at all.
The door was unlocked. We walked into the spotless interior and found a receptionist. "I love what you've done with the place!" Campbell told her. She pointed us toward the elevator that would lead us to ethics. With the polo shirt guy in tow, we started around the corner, past a display of books that just might have been a gift shop.
Suddenly, the polo-shirt guy sprang into action. "Lynn," he said, without having asked her name. "I need you to leave right now." His voice was pleasant, but he was blocking her path. Walking up to reception was fine, but heading downstairs was out of the question apparently.
"If I don't go down to ethics," Campbell said, "how do I find out if I'm an SP?" she said, also smiling, but looking much more relaxed than the kid blocking her.
He cocked his head when he spoke, gently urging her to email someone her concerns. He gestured to the front door with an open hand, like a restaurant maître d'. Campbell stood her ground for a moment, and then said she'd try the library. "They'll have my file." And with that, she walked out.
In an odd piece of security strategy, the polo shirt guy, whose name turned out to be Alex, quietly followed Campbell to the library, which was just around the corner. Apparently he was powerless as long as she was on the sidewalk. But he sprang into action again when Campbell hit the stairs. "Lynn, this is private property, and you need to leave," he gently reiterated.
A bearded head popped out of the library door. The head belonged to an older security guy who spoke with much more authority than Alex. "Lynn, you know you're not supposed to be here," he said. She approached him and quietly tried to persuade them to let her in for a minute or so. She finally relented when they threatened to call the cops, which the bearded guy said was "not how I'd like this to play out."
Her quest to find out whether she was an SP had come to an abrupt end. But maybe the question answers itself. After all, when a person is an SP, "that person loses both his or her fellowship with the Church as well as with other Scientologists," according to the Scientology site. That second part is odd. I can't imagine Catholicism taking pains to ensure that the excommunicated never interact with any other Catholics again. The way they treated Campbell strikes me as just what you'd have to do to make sure an SP couldn't interact with anyone in the church.
Since Campbell is worried about people getting in and messing with her shop she keeps the front door locked, even during business hours. Customers can get in; they just have to make an appointment first. In my case it was worth the effort, because Shear Perfection happened to have my favorite tea-tree oil conditioner, and she got my neckline straighter than any barber I've ever been to.
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Note: In a previous version, alleged plots against Paulette Cooper were referred to as one: "Operation Freakout." There were actually multiple alleged plots, and only one had that code name.