Jamie DeWolf is one of the most interesting people I've had the privilege to chat with. I barely got in any questions because it was so much better to listen to him speak than try to focus his energy. I rarely enjoy Q&A style articles, but even re-reading this one was enthralling. Enjoy.
Bohemian: How vocal are you now about Scientology?
Jamie DeWolf: I've always been willing to speak out against them. It's just that, well, one, they're just monstrous. It's like going against the mafia singlehandedly. I mean, when I first spoke against them publicly was in '99-2000. I performed a piece that I wrote that was super long, this crazy long thing that was like 15 minutes long. I was just trying to fit everything that I knew about the church and the cult into one piece and the history of my great-grandfather and my grandfather as well. I just tried to smash everything into it. Because at that point in particular not a lot of people knew about the inner workings of the cult, a lot of its notoriety and its actual internal beliefs.
A friend of mine put it online. I read it to about 50 to 75 people here in this cafe, I'd actually read it at a very early version of my show Tourettes without Regrets, and he recorded it and put it on mp3.com and immediately within a week Scientologists were after me. They were literally running me down. I had private investigators following me. They showed up at my house, they tracked down my address, they came up from San Francisco, they had this whole cover story that they were promotors putting on a show with me, that was like their running lie to anybody that they met to try and find out where I was. Then they ended up confronting my mom on the porch and she recognized them immediately just by their general demeanor and how they were asking questions about me and tried to identify who they were. She ended up kicking them off the porch.
I definitely felt hunted. Shortly thereafter, I think it might have even been the next two days, I got this anonymous phone call by this guy who only went by the alias of “Mr. Scary” and he was inviting me to come and host this anti-Scientology benefit concert in Clearwater, Florida, which is kind of their Mecca, it's like one of their strongholds—that and Los Angeles. When I flew out there I really saw the scope of the cult, a city they had completely devoured. They had their own bus lines, they had hundreds of security cameras downtown. And to meet people whose entire lives had been completely consumed by this cult, they'd been in the cult for 20 some years and it had destroyed their family or destroyed them and they just wanted to educate the world about how dangerous and criminal they were.
I met a guy who spent millions of dollars battling the church in every court, they fought him with every atom of their being and kind of eventually destroyed this guy. I just saw the sheer totality of how many lives had been utterly wrecked by this insane tentacled creature that my great grandfather created and I realized, Man, there's a lot more that I want to do with my life right now. I was like, This is some quicksand. I certainly would talk about it any time that anybody brought it up or asked me. I was more than up front about it and very direct, but I certainly didn't want it to affect my performances or shows or films or anything else that I wanted to do.
It was only in the last year when Snap Judgement asked me to do a story on families, they had this theme show that was basically stories about family tales. And I said, kind of half-jokingly, that the only thing I'd be interested in writing about would be the Scientology thing and they're like, Oh my god, you've got to do that. Please, please you've got to do that. He actually grew up in a cult himself, it was a Christian sect, nothing about Scientology, and he had done performances about that on his own show. I was like, I don't know man, are you serious? Do you have any idea what a big thing that is? They could come after you, you could get sued. You are poking a dragon with a toothpick. That's not just like a story, that's a seismic shift.
At first I was actually going to just film the show, I was just going to be in it. I was organizing a camera crew to shoot it and all that. I was actually working on another piece and it wasn't working, so I just decided, as an exercise, OK, what if I just try to write on this. Because the subject was so massive, it was like, how do I even approach this as an artist? Do I talk about what they believe? Do I talk about who L. Ron says he was versus who he is? Do I talk about all the criminal shit that they've engineered against people? Do I talk about them coming after me? What do I do? And then I really just focused on the family aspect of it, maybe that's what helped crack it for me, just focusing on a relationship between a father and a son. I just really tried to keep it focused on that because when I talked to my mom about it, I was like, I'm thinking about writing this piece, what do you think? My family's always been incredibly weary of anything I've said against the cult, because they've been trying to escape this cult for their entire life and the last thing they want to see is another one of their family members whose one degree of removal has managed to not be directly conflicted—how do I say, they felt that it had done enough damage that they didn't want to have anything more to do with it.
My mom says that that church is nothing but toxic, its poison. She's like, “Scientology consumed my grandfather and my father,” and that's how she viewed it. There's something that really stuck with me in terms of really focusing on how this cult, Scientology, ultimately consumed L. Ron and his son. Both of their lives are completely destroyed in a way, and that's the legacy that they're both sort of stuck with. MY grandfather, L. Ron Hubbard Jr. was obviously stuck with his same name and had to live in his shadow and fought with him and went to war with him and was eventually destroyed by him.
According to people who were in the cult at the time who are now out, it was one of the most dangerous lawsuits that they had ever had because they had to basically admit that L. Ron was alive, that they knew where he was, at the same time protect his location and make sure nobody else could get to him. It was very dicey for them because at that point, everyone in the world was after L. Ron and there were a lot of people who had a lot of questions for him and I'm sure he would have been brought forth in a lot more trials if he were easily found. At that point, even in Scientology only a few people actually knew where he was, his location to most people was just known as “X.” Also, he had gotten completely psychotic at that point, he had completely lost touch with reality. So it was even more dangerous because the church itself knew that it was in danger because they at least had the forethought to know they had to sort of phase him out, or have a secondary plan.
That was another reason why it's hard to volunteer to sign up for that. I've always been very aware of how dangerous it is to say anything about it. The day that Snap Judgement video came out I said, You've got to let me know when this thing goes public because from that point on I was literally watching for suspicious cars, I was making sure that I was always with someone when I was around, I check my damn brakes when I start my car, stuff like that.
The thing is now, I think there's been a huge paradigm shift because of Anonymous and because of the Internet. Scientology was trying to control the Internet.They would raid people's houses and file lawsuits because they're basically a pyramid scam that sells secrets. So when people are unloading their secrets online, who are ex-members, secrets that would normally cost you potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn, you could now just get with a mouse click. They were trying to censor that and own that. That was when the Tom Cruise internal video got leaked and Scientology immediately tried to control that and Anonymous got wind of it and they were like, “No, you don't get to censor the Internet.” The more Anonymous started to learn about Scientology, they met a very formidable foe.
That was actually one of the biggest missteps that Scientology could have made was attempting to go toe to toe with Anonymous because Anonymous in some ways is like just as disparate, a techno-geek sort of evil nerd version of Scientology themselves (laughs). So it was like a dark mirror battling itself. And because of that now you can find out about anything you want to know about Scientology online and I think that's emboldened and empowered a lot of its critics. Since then, and since the South Park episode, there's been this seismic shift that they've been taking shots from everywhere, left and right and the media's a lot less gun shy about going after them and really exposing them for what they are. And that's certainly given me faith, given a lot of critics faith. I just don't want to live the rest of my life in fear.
Not to mention that it's in my DNA. I didn't want to go to my grave without being able to speak on it. There is a certain amount of power in just the fact that it's my genetic legacy that some people may pay more attention to what I say. At first, when I was a young hellion. The first time I performed about it, it was more like, here's this insane cult and here's some insane factoids and isn't this insane, isn't this bizarre, and going off and talking about how destructive it was. But it wasn't until I went to Florida, and certainly in the past three years, it made me realize how important it was that I had to say something about it because when you meet people who literally lost their very lives to it, lost their entire families to it, because it's a very brilliantly engineered brainwashing campaign, it just kind of dismantles people's psyches, that I really realized, no, this is dangerous. It's not right for even someone like myself to even be worried that I'm going to be attacked for speaking out about stuff that's legally on the record. And to speak out about their actual beliefs. There is no other cult that I know of that has sort of their own secret police. There is no other cult that I know of that has their own prisons, and their own internal Black Ops CIA branch. They're no joke.
It really destroyed my grandfather, it certainly informed a lot of the way my mom raised me. She was very religious. I grew up intensely Christian, which really formed a lot of my own personal experience. I've always wondered how that would have affected and changed things if my great-grandfather wasn't a cult leader, his son wasn't a high-ranking member of the church that ended up falling out, going to war with him and my mom is the first child of this man, seeing how it destroyed him and how that influenced her own views on religion. She tried very ferociously tried to imprint into me. I think there was a lot of terror that we would succumb to it, and to keep us as far away as possible and to be as protective as possible. I was the oldest child, out of all my aunts and uncles I was the first kid, so I was the first one who was really asking about it and they certainly didn't want to talk about it for a while.
Bohemian: What are your current views on religion?
DeWolf: Actually, I wrestled with religion for years. I grew up essentially Baptist Christian. I was a pretty fervent believer when I was young I would pass out pamphlets on the Apocalypse and I was obsessed with Armageddon. I remember going to a Bible camp where they told us the rapture was going to be on Saturday, so for like three or four days while we were out camping we had to sort of prepare for the end of the world. Now, I got to a point that I believe in absolutely nothing. I refuse to waste another day speculating on somebody else's theology that they're going to pre-package and hand to me and I just don't want to waste any more time thinking about it. So I'm toying with just going old-school and believing in the Greek Gods. I think they're not getting their fair shake (laughs). I think that Zeus and Hades are sure as hell a lot more compelling than all these other folks, the New Jacks on the streets, they've got good enough mythology, they've got good stories.
It's really, really difficult growing as a Christian, when your great-grandfather was a cult leader, basically made himself a god sort of in our lifetime, for me to do anything without just a complete view of skepticism, like, Oh, yeah? Someone told you that was a magic book? Ok, you have the magic book. You're right. I mean, it makes the cycle so much shorter, whereas the Bible or the Koran it's so many thousands of years ago that it's so easy to speculate on its roots and its origins and a lot of it's lost in the sands of time. But to see something that's so tangible, and I think that's what Scientology wants to do, is they just want to hang in there long enough that enough time passes that all of these critics die off. All of the first generation of people who actually knew L. Ron personally, they just go away. So that way you can create a myth if you have centuries to distort the issue and make him something larger than life.
Bohemian: What will you be doing in your North Bay performance?
DeWolf: I'll be rocking through all kinds of stuff. I'll probably do the L. Ron piece because I know some people want to see it. I'll probably do some of my bombastic, ahem, rants, some new material, some sex stuff, I'm pretty wacky. It's pretty hard for me to do just one thing. It's pretty confrontational type writing.
All the different people and performers and lyricists and everybody that I've known through the context of just slam poetry itself. I've been on seven slam teams and HBO and performed in Moscow and done slams in San Quentin Penitentiary and it all kind of started in my little small town when I started getting kicked out of my own open mics. Slams are the only show that would not kick me out.
Bohemian: What are you working on now? What would you describe yourself as?
DeWolf: Performer and filmmaker is pretty much what I have been doing for years. Within a performance there's a lot of different ranges of that. I teach writing workshops, I toured with the play for a while that we wrote about school shootings when I was in the trio the Suicide Kings, we toured nationally with that. I just finished a feature film that has nothing to do with poetry whatsoever called Smoke. It's about a Oakland cannabis club robbery. It's pretty insane. That's been in a couple festivals and we're talking to distributors now.
In the next year, I really want to start fusing and making more of a balance between making films and performance because in the last two years I've leaned really heavily on making films to the point where I'm usually working on films about half the time. I want to start performing and touring more. When I was working on the feature it because such a journey to get that done and I was touring as well. Now, trying to help facilitate other people's stories as well through Snap Judgement on NPR,I'm actually working on a story right now. I've also toyed with the idea of working on a longer show of Scientology and Christianity and this kind of duality how it's been in my life and bringing my own sort of acidic world view to that (laughs).
Bohemian: What about doing a Book of Mormon-style show about Scientology? Do you think it can be done?
DeWolf: Man, that's hard. Mormons, they don't have that lighthearted of a history. He got ran from town to town and basically killed. And that's the thing, I think that Scientology wants to become sort of the next Mormonism. If you would have said 100 years ago or less that you'd have a Mormon running for President, they'd say that's impossible, that's never going to happen. It's hard enough to get a Catholic to run. And then we had a Mormon candidate. If I said to you in 50 years a Scientologist is going to run for president, I mean that would just make people absolutely terrified.
Scientology is at a very, very delicate moment right now, sort of a turning point in the entire cult. What's happening is there are no more secrets. L. Ron's dead and it's getting run by this little bulldog of a CEO named David Miscavidge and he's using a lot of strong-arm tactics and a lot of people are leaving in droves. Now, Scientology's become sort of a one-note joke. I'm interested to see what will happen.
I have a lot of projects I'm trying to tie up right now and a couple screenplays I need to finish, but that is something that's been on my mind is doing a longer full dose where everything is self-contained and you're able to go into all of it. It's a completely fascinating story, where you have this almost like manic depressive con man who managed to hustle his way, he smashed his way into history and he got away with all of it. He never went to jail, he never was in a jail cell, he never got charged. He escaped with all of it, he died rich, he died in hiding, he died untouched. He's one of the more enigmatic and bizarre outlaws of the last century and there's a lot to be said about that and a lot of juicy dirt to get into. It's definitely tantalizing.
Bohemian: Would you ever do a book about this?
DeWolf: I've thought about that as well. It's definitely on my agenda for the year. My problem is I way too often bite off way more than I can chew and just keep like 10 balls flying in the air. I'm trying to sharpen my focus a little bit because in a given week, I'm going to be teaching a writing workshop, and then running a burlesque show, and then shooting a documentary and then shooting a music video. It's a really difficult process because when you're a performer, you sort of have to live in this narcissistic cycle where you're focused on yourself, on what you want to say what you're trying to project out. There's also part of me that puts on shows and makes films that is also celebrating other people's art forms and their art as well. A lot of it is that I've got to stay busier than I've ever been and figure out what's the next big thing. But definitely at this point I'm really interested in what's the next big project that I'm going to take on and definitely Scientology is on the list.
Bohemian: It seems like you're getting less afraid of Scientology these days?
DeWolf: Well, I've definitely got a healthy fear of them. I'm definitely weary. I found out that this clip of me is going to be playing tonight on the news in L.A. and I'm like, OK, watch your step, be careful next week, make sure that nothing unusual is happening and just kind of stay on my toes. But at this point I think they're even more terrified of what's happening within Scientology these days and the high-level defections they've had of people who have been in the cult for decades who now are leaving and exposing all the inner-workings of the past decade even after L. Ron's been dead, and I think that that terrifies them a lot.
But outside of all that I'm definitely excited to see what the Sonoma scene is like and hear a lot of new writers and new performers, a lot of them have come out and performed at Tourettes. I'm excited to go out and see a lot of them at their haunts.