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Who is L. Ron Hubbard?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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L. Ron Hubbard (13 March 1911 – 24 January 1986), first name Lafayette, is a controversial figure best known as the founder of Scientology and author of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Prior to these successes, he worked as a writer of pulp science fiction, a passion that continued even later in life. Many considered him to be brilliant, or even a prophet. His own statements and actions caused many others to form a very different opinion.

The non-secular Church of Scientology depicts Hubbard in a very positive light. This often contrasts sharply with credibility issues concerning the man who pointed to his authorship of Dianetics as equally important to the invention of the wheel, the control of fire, and the development of mathematics. He was known for making grandiose statements. For example, he claimed to have been one of the first nuclear physicists in the United States, as noted on the book jacket of All About Radiation, published in 1957. He maintained this assertion in a 1961 Scientology handout designed to interest new members.

Actually, Hubbard was a 1931 dropout from George Washington University, which he attended for fewer than two years. Academic records reveal not only that his grades were dismally sub-par, but also that he flunked physics. He later recanted his claims about being a nuclear physicist.

In keeping with the theme of questionable claims, the author presented himself as a heroic soldier wounded in combat on the island of Java during the Pearl Harbor attack of 7 December 1941. Military records show otherwise, indicating that he was in New York at the time of the battle. During his service, Hubbard was described by a Naval attaché as unsatisfactory for any assignment, while a superior officer noted that he was not temperamentally fitted for independent command. When he did once command a submarine, he reportedly spent three days dropping depth charges “on two Japanese submarines,” claiming to have sunk one. A naval investigation later revealed he had been bombing a known magnetic deposit in the ocean floor, with no evidence that Japanese submarines had been in the area.

The Church of Scientology has been known to disseminate an official military document known as a DD214 form, listing his achievements, medals, and awards. However, the signing officer never existed, according to official Naval records. A statement issued by the Navy acknowledges several discrepancies between the far more modest official Naval records and the document in possession of the Church of Scientology.

According to a June 1990 Los Angeles Times article, The Mind Behind The Religion, Hubbard asked the Veterans Administration for psychiatric help as early as 1947 to treat fits of deep suicidal depression. Along with grandiose periods, this drastic swing from one extreme to the other again potentially points to bipolar disorder, though if he was ever officially diagnosed as manic-depressive, it was never made public.

Notebooks of Hubbard’s presented in a Los Angeles court in the 1980s revealed the writer considered all men his slaves, withholding the right to be “merciless whenever [his] will was crossed.” Nevertheless, he maintained friendships with some influential people, including science fiction editor John W. Campbell.

Hubbard was married three times between 1933 and 1952, fathering seven children between his wives. His second wife, Sara Northrup, divorced him for having been married to his first wife at the time of their wedding, unbeknownst to her. She also cited extreme physical abuse in court papers, including attempted strangulation and the alleged kidnapping of their child.

His eldest child, Ronald L. Hubbard Jr. (1934 - 1991), changed his name to Ronald DeWolf. DeWolf was an outspoken critic of Scientology and his father, claiming in a 1983 Penthouse interview that nearly everything his father said was a lie. DeWolf also suspected that agents from the Scientology organization were responsible for the suspicious death of his half-brother, Geoffrey Quentin McCaulley Hubbard (1954 - 1976). The younger brother had rejected Scientology after being groomed to take over the organization, and died under suspicious circumstances. According to friends, Quentin waned to be a pilot and may have been homosexual, an orientation rejected by Scientology at that time as a perversion.

Hubbard stayed with his third wife until he died of a stroke in 1986. Though Scientologist attorneys reportedly attempted to arrange a quick cremation, the local medical examiner intervened to perform the required autopsy. Curiously, his blood was found to have high levels of hydroxyzine, an antihistamine drug that also has psychoactive properties, making it forbidden by the Scientology ethos.

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