L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the controversial and secretive Church of Scientology, was a little-known science fiction writer until his book 'Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health' appeared in 1950. It landed on American best-seller lists and Dianetics -- a kind of amateur psychotherapy -- became a national fad.
The medical profession called Dianetics hokum. Hubbard called it 'a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and the arch.'
After interest in Dianetics faded, Hubbard in 1952 founded the Church of Scientology, described as an 'applied religious philosophy.'
A federal judge in 1971 ruled Scientology was a religion entitled to protection under the First Amendment. But that was not the end of the organizaton's legal involvements. Seeing itself as a victim of government persecution, it has filed hundreds of lawsuits, taking on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligency Agency, National Security Agency, Internal Revenue Service and organizations and individuals in and outside of government.
In 1977 the FBI seized hundreds of documents in raids on Scientology's Washington office and its U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles. Some of the documents, later made public, showed Scientologists had infiltrated the American Medical Association in attempts to discredit it and had planned to 'take over' the National Institute of Mental Health.
In 1959 Hubbard established a world headquarters of Scientology in the English town of East Grinstead, a wealthy community south of London, where adherents established a 'college.' That led to complaints that susceptible people were taken into the cult and taught to hate their families.
Similar charges later were echoed by critics of other cults that flowered in the 1970s, notably the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the Korean evangelist.
In August 1968 Hubbard and some 200 followers -- mostly Americans - moved to the island of Corfu in Greece where they lived aboard a 3,300-ton Panamanian ship, Apollo. In March 1969 they were branded 'undesirable' by the Greek government and ordered to leave the country.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was born March 13, 1911, in Tilden, Neb., the son of Harry Ross and Dora May Hubbard. He attended George Washington University in 1934 and later Princeton.
Hubbard married three times and had two daughters and a son. Mary Sue Whipp, his third wife, became the church's No. 2 official and lived at its world headquarters in England.
In addition to his work as a writer and philosopher, Hubbard claimed to have been a pilot, explorer, reporter, composer, photographer and seeker of truth. He once wrote that he had sought wisdom from 'a magician whose ancestors served in the court of Kublai Khan and a Hindu who could hypnotize a cat.'
His early books included novels of science fiction, suspense and adventure including 'Final Blackout,' 'Fear,' and 'Buckskin Brigades.' In 1949 he told a meeting of fellow authors, 'Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.'
Hubbard was reclusive in his later years and church officials were vague about his whereabouts. According to his entry in the 1978-79 'Who's Who,' he resigned all directorships of his church in 1966 to devote full time to research and education techniques. He gave his address as East Grinstead, England.
In 1977 Hubbard was reported living in the Mediterranean aboard a converted English Channel steamer.
In 1983 his estranged son, who changed his name from L. Ron Hubbard Jr. to Ronald DeWolf, moved to have himself declared trustee of his father's estate. DeWolf contended Hubbard was either dead or mentally incompetent. A judge in Riverside, Calif., dismissed DeWolf's probate suit against Hubbard after a letter from the recluse was produced declaring he was alive and seeking privacy and protection from would-be assassins.
Hubbard claimed to have written more than 125 books and novels. Among his published works after 'Dianetics' were 'Science of Survival' (1951), 'The Fundamentals of Thought' (1956), 'Scientology: A New Slant on Life' (1966) and 'Dianetics Today' (1975).
Hubbard returned to best-seller lists in 1983 with a science-fiction novel, 'Battlefield Earth.'
Federal prosecutors said in a 70-page memorandum issued in December 1979 that documents seized in the 1977 raids showed Scientologists had tried to discredit the mayor of Clearwater, Fla., who criticized the church after it set up headquarters in that city.
Prosecutors said Scientologists also tried to discredit the St. Petersburg Times after the Florida newspaper reported on the church's activities, and that church officials planted a security guard at the Washington Post to steal research material from that paper's files.
Five Scientology officials were sentenced to prison in December 1979 for leading a conspiracy to steal government documents about the church.
One of Scientology's controversial aspects was the use of what Hubbard called the 'E Meter,' a battery-operated skin galvanometer something like a lie detector. Proponents claimed it enabled a Scientology counselor to pinpoint an individual's areas of emotional stress and facilitate his progress toward self-knowledge and spiritual growth. One Scientologist described it as 'a barometer of the spirit.'
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sought to prohibit its use and seized 100 E Meters and 2 tons of related printed matter in a January 1963 raid on Scientology's Washington headquarters.
Eight years later, on July 30, 1971, a Washington D.C. federal judge ordered the meters returned to Scientology. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell termed Hubbard's 'extravagant and false claims that various physical and mental illnesses could be cured' with the E Meter 'quackery.'
He ruled that Scientology qualified as a religion and therefore was entitled to protection under the First Amendment.
Scientology teaches that man is basically good but that to realize his full potential he must be freed from negative memories. It maintains belief in a Supreme Being which it says is compatible with the teachings of major world religions.
As with the earlier Dianetics, Scientology's main technique is individual counseling by an 'auditor,' in effect a lay psychoanalyst. The cult claims most diseases are psychosomatic and that Scientology can cure anything from the common cold to cancer.
The fee for a three-year Scientology course can run to several thousand dollars.
Scientology leaders claim 6 million members in 30 countries worldwide.
A book called 'The Scandal of Scientology' by Paulette Cooper was published in 1971. The church filed more than a dozen lawsuits against her. Cooper counter-sued for $51.4 million in 1972, charging church representatives with harassment.
In a legal settlement her publisher, Tower Publications Inc., agreed to withdraw the book and Cooper agreed not to publish it again. She also was required to sign a statement saying 52 passages in the book were 'erroneous or at the least misleading.' The church agreed to pay her legal fees.
In May 1973, Cooper was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of sending bomb threats and one count of perjury for denying she sent them. The New York writer claimed the government charges were the result of a frame-up, and they were dropped after she passed a sodium pentathol test.
In March 1981 Cooper filed as $25 million lawsuit in Boston charging the Church of Scientology conducted a nationwide campaign to discredit her.
Scientology also proved controversial in England. In July 1968, Britain's Minister of Health, Kenneth Robinson, told Parliament he believed Scientology was 'socially harmful' because 'its authoritarian principles and practices are a potential menace to the personality and well-being of those so deluded as to become its followers.'
The Scientology 'college' in East Grinstead was denied official status as an educational institution, and scores of American 'students' enroute there were denied entry into Britain by authorities, a move denounced by Britain's National Council for Civil Liberties.
A spokesman for the cult said, 'We are in the middle of the biggest witchhunt since the reign of James II.'