When you are viewing a book on Amazon, a gallery of covers appears under the heading “Customers who bought this item also bought…” Looking at the titles underneath Fair Game, I realized I had read five of the eight shown. So, yes, I am literally the target audience for this book.
Steve Cannane is a London-based reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who is known in his native country for his “interest in exposing unscrupulous behaviour,” according to Wikipedia. No wonder he wanted to write about Scientology, which has provided him with a veritable banquet of human rights violations, spying on former allies, and members forced to disconnect from “suppressive” loved ones.
Fair Game should provide a great introduction to Scientology-watching for Australians who are curious about the cult’s activities in their own backyard, but it has plenty to offer the non-Oz-based reader who has already read Going Clear, Blown for Good, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, and a Hubbard biography or two. There was plenty of fascinating stuff in this book that was all new to me.
One of the most interesting chapters was “Deep Sleep,” which delves into Sydney’s Chelmsford Hospital scandal. In the 1970s, psychiatrist Harry Bailey used a controversial form of therapy to treat mental patients and addicts, which involved putting them into medically induced comas for long periods of time. Bailey was convinced this would shut down their brains and allow them “to be reprogrammed and cleared of mental disorders.” In reality, the therapy was blamed for the deaths of numerous patients, while others committed suicide within a year of their release. The virulently anti-psychiatry Church of Scientology “played a major role in exposing the atrocities… a rare instance where the Scientologists used their undercover operations as a force for public good.” (Unfortunately, the Scientologist nurse who helped expose the sinister therapy at great personal risk was abandoned by the church; unable to find employment in her field in the aftermath of the scandal, she was left penniless and homeless, finally dying in a nursing home following complications of a stroke that had left her unable to speak for several years.)
Other chapters deal with Scientology’s recruitment of star rugby players, Australian-born Julian Assange’s role in spreading the cult’s secret documents on the Internet in the early days of the World Wide Web, and the surprisingly large number of Australians who wound up holding positions of great power in Scientology, including former Office of Special Affairs director Mike Rinder and Celebrity Centre founder Yvonne Gillham.
The final chapter of the book looks at Rinder’s life after leaving Scientology, and will no doubt shock anyone who isn’t already familiar with the cult’s tactics. Rinder and his wife Christie, a former Sea Org member, have been spied upon, had their garbage intercepted (“Look, I feel really bad, but they are paying me money to give them your garbage,” a sanitation worker told Rinder), and, most bizarrely, were befriended by a young single mom who turned out to be a Scientology spy. Heather “offered to go shopping with Christie, invited her to board game nights and her place and asked if her son wanted to register to play T-Ball with her boy.” After the Rinders moved to a different town, Heather followed, “securing a place a few blocks away.” Christie decided to end the friendship, “but felt tinges of guilt… Had Scientology and its culture of surveillance polluted their minds and made them excessively paranoid?”
As it turns out, the answer was no—Heather was, of course, a spy (though she denied it when contacted by Cannane)—but imagine having to be suspicious of every person you meet, wondering if they’re being paid to report on you. How could you ever trust anyone again?
Fair Game has a happy ending, of sorts: “The 2011 census found that just 2,163 Australians called themselves Scientologists.” (The census also showed that “Australians who describe themselves as Jedis now number over 65,000, over 30 times higher than Scientology’s figures.”) Despite the fact that a 145,000-square-foot Scientology facility just opened last month in Sydney, Tony Ortega revealed that “the church admitted in an environmental impact report that the Advanced Org will serve only about 87 customers on a given day.” Thanks to intrepid reporters like Cannane, it’s unlikely that meager number will grow anytime soon.