Mission: Tyrannical: The Secrets of Scientology |The Sunday Times (UK) | Section 4 – News Review Supplement pp 1 &2 |13th March 2016 | Download as .pdf
The Sunday Times have pushed on the boat on this article – they have even timed it to appear on the very day that Scientologists celebrate the birth of L Ron Hubbard, the founder of their Church.
The days when the British media were afraid of the Church of Scientology seem to be long gone.
- The more liberal Defamation Act 2003 (which passed into law on the first of January 2014 ) made it significantly more difficult to suppress critical comment on the grounds of libel
- As membership declines, Scientology is losing the organisational ability to harass multiple critics
After the break- the full text of the two-page article and comment.
This article almost celebrates the publication of Lawrence Wright’s book, ““Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief“ in the UK, thanks to a one man publishing operation by the name of Humfrey Hunter. Hunter also publishes a number of other critical books about Scientology.
“Going Clear”was originally scheduled to be released by the international giant Transworld in 2013, but they put profit before principle, and pulled out after “legal advice”.
This does not mean that UK readers have only now read the book. It’s been freely available here since its publication in the US – but only in US editions, obtained online.
The Church of Scientology also successfully delayed the UK broadcast of Alex Gibney’s documentary film based on the book by exploiting a curious legal technicality. To do so David Miscavige personally retained a Northern Irish Lawyer with government connections, attracting the scathing attention of the satirical magazine “Private Eye”. This only delayed broadcast of the film, and the attempt to suppress it altogether probably increased public interest – and viewing figures.
So, despite all of their expensive efforts the Church of Scientology haveonly managed to delay the broadcast of the film by a few months, and the publication of the book by a British publisher for three years. They did not prevent UK citizens reading it in and American edition at all.
The Half page image that opens the article is of Tom Cruise, wearing a top that strongly suggests a Star Trek uniform,with a Scientology symbol replacing the Starfleet logo. In the background, is an image reminiscent of the Starship “Enterprise” when it burnt up in atmosphere during the film, “The Search for Spock”.
The Sunday Times is going for Scientology’s jugular (mocking its ‘space opera’ theology) from the get-go.
The Secrets of Scientology
Tom Cruise lends Scientology and air of glamour, but an explosive book by Lawrence Wright only now being published in the Britain claims that behind the façade is a church ruled by violence and intimidation, with beatings, ritual humiliation and enforced abortions.
Great fame imposes a kind of cloister on those who join its ranks. When he was 25, Tom Cruise was the biggest star in Hollywood, on his way to becoming one of the most famous movie legends in history. At around the same time in the mid-1980s, David Miscavige became the de fact leader of Scientology.
Both young men assumed extraordinary responsibilities when their contemporaries were barely beginning their careers. Their youth, poser and isolation set them apart. So it was natural that they would see themselves mirrored in each other when Scientology brought them together.
Scientology plays an outsize role in the cast of new religions that arose in the 20th Century and have survived into the 21st. It is among the most stigmatised, owing to its eccentric cosmology, its vindictive behaviour and the damage it has inflicted on families.
I ws drawn to write about Scientology by the questions that many people ask: what is it that makes the religion alluring? What do its adherents get out of it? How can seemingly rational people subscribe to beliefs that others find incomprehensible? Why do popular personalities associate themselves with a faith that is likely to create a kind of public relations martyrdom?
The Sea Org are the “Clergy of Scientology. Miscavige, like many in Sea Org, was a childhood recruit. Tough, tireless ad doctrinaire he was rapidly promoted by church’s founder, the science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard and was in control by the time Hubbard died in 1986.
That same year, Cruise’ first wife, the actress Mimi Rogers, introduced the movie star to Scientology. For several years he managed to keep his affiliation quiet. When Miscavige learnt of his involvement, he arranged to have Cruise brought alone to Gold Base, Scientology’s secret desert location near Hemet, California, in August 1989. Cruise arrived wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses, trying to keep a low profile.
Cruise, who was preparing to make Days of Thunder, had just met a 21-year-old Australian actress, Nicole Kidman, and they had an immediate, intense connection, which quickly became a subject of tabloid speculation. According to Marty Rathburn, a former senior Sea Org member, getting rid of Mimi was in the interest of he church. Rathburn claims that he took her the divorce papers. “I told her it was the right thing to do for Tom because he was going to do lots of good for Scientology, Rathburn recalled. “That was the end of Mimi Rogers.
Former Sea Org members who had observed Cruise a Gold Base remarked that he seemed liberated to be in an environment where no one hassled him of asked for autographs. Gold Base can sometimes feel like a secret celebrity spa. There are cottages built for the use of other well-known Scientologists such as John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Edgar Winter and Priscilla Presley.
The style of Miscavige’s life, after he became associated with Cruise, began to resemble that of a wealthy and leisured movie star. His habit became to wake at noon and with a cup of coffee and a Camel cigarette. Then he would take breakfast, the first of his five meals prepared by two [page 2 full-time chefs and served by several full-time stewards. When guests such as Cruise come to dinner, the kitchen went into extravagant bursts of invention, with ingredients sometimes flown in from different continents.
‘Mop the floor with your tongue’
As he welcomed Cruise and Kidman further into Scientology, Miscavige showed his instinctive understanding of how to cater to the sense of entitlement that comes with great stardom. A special bungalow was prepared for their stay at Gold Base, along with a private Rose Garden.
When the couple longed to play tennis, a court was provided at significant expense. Miscavige heard about their fantasy of running through a field of wild flowers together, so he has Sea Org members plant a section of the desert. When that failed to meet his expectations the meadow was ploughed up and turf was laid.
At first, Cruise and Kidman seemed like the ideal Scientology power match. They were intelligent, articulate, extraordinarily attractive people. Although she didn’t share his obvious enthusiasm for Scientology – she was a cooler personality in any case – she was drawn along by his intensity.
The Cruise connection is, however only one glamorous face of Scientology. Marty Rathburn, who claims he had helped to kill off Cruise’s marriage to Mimi Rogers, is a significant figure in telling a much darker story.
By the turn of the millennium, the Cruise-Kidman marriage was also coming to an end and they were divorced in 2001. At around the same time, Rathburn spent a year and a half at Flag, a Scientology base in Florida. When he returned to Gold Base in California in 2003, he was shocked by what he found.
All communications into and out of the base had been cut off. Miscavige has several of his top executives coined to the Watchdog Committee headquarters – a pair of mobile homes that had been joined together. By the end of the year the number living there under guard had grown to about 40 or0 people. It was now called the Hole.
Except for one long conference table there was no furniture – no chairs of beds so they had to eat standing up and sleep on the floor, which was swarming with ants. In the morning they were marched outside for group showers with a hose, then back to the Hole. Their meals were a slop of reheated leftovers. When desert temperatures hit 38C, Miscavige turned off the electricity, letting them roast inside the locked quarters.
Miscavige, who is known in the church as leader and “COB” (chairman of the board) ordered them to stay until they have rearranged the “Org Board”- the church’s organisational chart – to his satisfaction, which was never achieved. Photographs of Sea Org personnel were continually moved from one position to another on the chart,
“The Entire base became paralysed with anxiety.
Even confidences whispered to a spouse were regularly betrayed”.
which meant people were constantly being reassigned to different posts, whimsically and no posts were secure. About 900 positions needed to be filled in Int and Gold Bases and the stack of personnel and ethics files was ft high. This archaic process had been going on more or less intensively for four years.
At odd, unpredictable hours, often in the middle of the night, Miscavige would show up in the Hole, often accompanied by his wife and hi communicator, Laurisse Stukenbrock, each of which carried a tape recorder to take down whatever Miscavige had to say. The detainees would hear the drumbeat of his shoes s Miscavige’s entourage marched towards the Hole.
The leader demanded that the executives engage in endless hours of confessions about their crimes and failures in this and previous lives, as well as whatever dark thoughts they might be harbouring against him. Sometimes these were sexual fantasies which would be written up in a report, which Miscavige would then read aloud to other church officials.
The entire base became paralysed with anxiety abut being thrown into the Hole. People were trying desperately to police their thoughts, but it was difficult to keep sects when staff members were constantly being security checked with “e-meters” , electronic devices used by Scientologists in frequent “auditing”sessions. Even confidences whispered to a spouse were regularly betrayed. after one of Miscavige’s lengthy rants, transcripts were delivered to the executives in the Hole, who had to read them aloud to one another repeatedly.
Mike Rinder was in the Hole for two years, even though he continued to be the church’ chief spokesman. Bizarrely, he would sometimes be pulled out and ordered to conduct a press conference or put on a tuxedo and jet off to a Scientology gala; then he would be returned to confinement. He and other executives were made to race around the room on their hands and bare knees. , day after day, tearing open scabs on their knees and leaving permanent scars. When another executive spoke up about the violence, he was made to mop the bathroom floor with his tongue.
The detainees developed a particular expression whenever Miscavige came in, which he took note of. He called them “Pie Faces”. To illustrate what he meant, Miscavige drew a circle with two dots for eyes and a straight line for a mouth. He had T-shirts made up with the pie faces on it. Rinder was “the Father of Pie Faces”. People didn’t know how to react. They didn’t want to call attention to themselves, but they also didn’t want to be a Pie Face.
In Scientology there is a phrase that explains mob psychology: contagion of aberration, meaning groups of peple can stimulate themselves to do things that are insane. According to former church executives, on days Miscavige arrived at the Hole and demanded that Marc Yager, the commanding officer of the Commodore’s Messengers Org, and Guillaume Leserve, the executive director of the Church of Scientology International, confess that they were homosexual lovers.
Rathburn was seen as Miscavige’s chief enforcer. During meetings in the Hole or elsewhere on the base, he would stand to one side and glare at his colleagues while, he says, Miscavige berated and abused them. Although he was physically intimidating, Rathburn was suffering from a number of physical ailments, including a bad back, gallstones, calcium deposits in his neck and painful varicose veins, which he believed came from having to stand to attention for hours on end. He was prone to bursts of sudden violence. “Once, on a phone call, I saw him get so mad he put his fist right through a computer screen”, his former wife recalled. Miscavige would send him down to the observe what was going on in the Hole and come back with reports. In January 2004, when Rinder was accused of withholding a confession from the group, Rathburn took him outside and bet him up. Rathburn says Miscavige called him into his massive office in the Religious Technology Centre, a room with steel wall and 18ft ceiling, an accused him of letting Rinder “get away with murder”.
Then, according to Rathburn, out of nowhere Miscavige grabbed him by the throat and slammed his head against the steel wall. Rathburn blacked out for a moment. He wasn’t hurt,but the terms had changed. A few days later Rathburn found himself in the Hole, along with the entire international management team and other executives. Miscavige said they were going to stay there until they got the Org Board done.
Scientologists are trained to believe that whatever happens to them is their own fault, so much of the discussion in the Hole centred on what they had done to deserve this fate. The possibility that the leader of the church might be irrational or even insane was so taboo that no one could even think it, let alone voice it aloud. Most of the people in the Hole had a strong allegiance to the group and they didn’t want to let their comrades down. Many had been in the Sea Org their entire adult lives and portions of their childhood. They had already surrendered the possibility of ordinary family life. Sex outside marriage was taboo, so many members married in their teens; but since 1986 children have been forbidden. Former church executives say that abortions were common and forcefully encouraged. Claire Headley, a former Scientologist who married at 17, claims that by the tie she was 21 she had been pushed to have two abortions. She estimates that60 – 80% of the women on Gold Base have had abortions:”It’s a constant practice”.
One evening at about eight o’clock, Miscavige arrived with his wife and his communicator flanking him as usual with tape recorders in their hands. He ordered that the conference table be taken away and chairs be brought in for everyone in the Hole – about 70 people at the time, including many of the most senior people in the Sea Org. He asked if anyone knew what “musical chairs” meant. In Scientology it refers to frequent changes of post. About 500 people had been moved off their jobs in the past five years, creating anarchy in the management structure. But that wasn’t the point he was trying to make. Finally,someone suggested it was also a game.
Miscavige had him explain the rules: chairs are arranged in a circle and then, as the player march around them, one chair is removed. When the music stops, everyone grabs a seat. The one left standing is eliminated. Then the music starts again. Miscavige explained that in this game the last person to grab a chair would be the only one to be allowed to stay on the base; everyone else was to be “offloaded” – kicked out of the Sea Org- or sent away to the least desirable Scientology bases around the world. Those who spouses were not in the Hole would be forced to divorce.
While Queen’s Greatest Hits played on a boom box, the church executives marched around and around, then fought for a seat when he music stopped. As the number of chairs diminished, the game got more physical. The executives shoved and punched one another; clothes were ripped apart. All this tie the biting lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody floated over the saccharine melody:
Is this the real life?Is this just fantasy?Caught in a landslide No escape from reality.
One by one the detainees found themselves standing alone behind low cubicle walls, watching the surviving contestant desperately fighting to remain in the Hole rather than be sent off to God knows where.
There was a clock over the door marking the hours as the music played on and on, then suddenly stopped and the riot began again. The former executives allege that, as people fell out of the game, Miscavige had airline tickets for distant locations printed up for them at the base’s travel office. There were U-Haul trucks waiting outside to haul away their belongings. “Is it real to you now?” Miscavige teased.
They were told that buses would be ready to leave at six in the morning. Many were in tears. “I don’t see anyone weeping for me,” Miscavige said.
The utter powerlessness of everyone else in the room was made nakedly clear to them. The game continued until 4am, when a woman named Lisa Schroer grabbed the final chair.
The next morning the whole event was forgotten. No one went anywhere.
A few days after the musical chairs episode, Miscavige ordered everyone in the Hole to stuff CDs into cases. At one point he began sharply interrogating Tom De Vocht, a former church official, who was shaken and stuttered in response.
De Vocht claims that Miscavige punched him in the face. He felt his head vibrate. He tried to turn away from the next blow, but Miscavige grabbed his neck and shoved him to the floor, pummelling and kicking him.
De Vocht had served Miscavige for years and had even considered him a friend. He had dedicated his life to Scientology and had been in the Sea Org fr nearly 30 years. He recalls thinking: “Now here I am,being beaten up by the top dog in front of my peers”.
After the attack,Miscavige continued his speech. De Vocht was so humiliated that he couldn’t bring himself to look at his companions. Finally he managed a glance at them. Pie faces.
Rathburn was there and at that moment he made a decision. As the other executives were led back into the Hole, he slipped away and got his motorcycle and hid in the bushes. When a car finally approached, he raced through the open gate into the outside world.
*The Church of Scientology denies all charges of abuse by Miscavige and denies that anyone in the Sea Org has ever been pressured to have an abortion.
In a statement published to coincide with the release of Going Clear in 2013, the Church of Scientology called the book “ludicrous.. fiction” and a “stale rehash of allegations disproven long ago. Visit tinyurl.com/scientologystatement to read the statement in full.
Lawrence Wright 2016
Going Clear by Lawrence Wright will be published in paperback on Thursday by Silvertail Books at £15.99. Copies can be ordered for £13.99, including postage, from the Sunday Times Bookshop on 0845 271 2134
The one-man publisher taking on Goliath
Over the years the Church of Scientology has become known as an enthusiastic and tenacious litigant with expensive lawyers on speed dial, writes Oliver Thring.
That reputation seems to have delayed the publication of of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief. Lawrence Wright’s devastating expose of the organisation, by three years in this country.
The book had originally been slated for publication here in 2013 by Transworld, and offshoot of the then publishing giant Random House, whose Knopf division had printed it in America in the same year. But shortly before the text was due to be released in Britain, Transworld abruptly pulled it from their schedules after taking “legal advice”.
However, a change in the libel laws later that year saw the introduction of a “publication on a matter of public interest” a reinvigorated defence against an accusation of defamation.
“That change emboldened me to publish”says Humfrey Hunter, the oner (and sole employee)of Silvertail Books, who has bought Going Clear to the British market along with several other books prepared to criticise Scientology.
“I reasoned that in PR terms it would be counterproductive for a multibillion-dollar organisation like the Church of Scientology to pursue a small publisher like us”.
At least a decade of critical media coverage and multiple allegations of of human rights abuse at its premise have, it is claimed, severely reduced the church’s ability to attract new adherents. (The organisation strenuously denies the claims of abuse).
Hunter believes that today the church is in a “parlous”state. “It’s membership is down to, at most, 40,000 people worldwide. I probably sell more books about Scientology than there are Scientologists in Britain. The conveyor belt of defectors – the No 2, 3 and 4 in the organisation have all left in recent years – has done it serious damage”, he says.
Critics point out that the Church has had only two leaders: its founder, L Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige, who is said to have seized power from Hubbard’s annointed disciples in 1986. “The church is effectively his,” says Hunter “It’s not democratic and he answers to no one.”
Some of Scientology’s disregard for human rights could still be occurring, he believes. “Scientologists believe that baby possess and adult soul, so no age is too young to separate children fro their parents. That, to me, is inhuman and it is still going on today, including in Britain,” says Hunter.
However, the organisation’s colossal wealth – its property portfolio alone is estimated to be worth $1.5bn (£1bn) – gives it huge potential power. Those defectors wishing for its imminent collapse are likely to be disappointed.