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Mission: tyrannical — the secrets of Scientology

Tom Cruise lends scientology an air of glamour, but an explosive book by Lawrence Wright only now being published in Britain claims that behind the facade is a church ruled by violence and intimidation, with beatings, ritual humiliation and enforced abortions

Lawrence Wright Published: 13 March 2016

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, when he too was 25, David Miscavige became the de facto leader of scientology.

Both young men assumed extraordinary responsibilities when their contemporaries were barely beginning their careers. Their youth, power and isolation set them apart. So it was natural that they would see themselves mirrored in each other when scientology brought them together.

The church has attracted stars such as Priscilla Presley, John Travolta and wife Kelly PrestonThe church has attracted stars such as Priscilla Presley, John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston (Frazer Harrison) 

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 towards critics and defectors, and the damage it has inflicted on families.

I was 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 and doctrinaire he was rapidly promoted by the church’s founder, the science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, and was in control by the time Hubbard died in 1986.

The Hole at scientology headquarters in CaliforniaThe Hole at scientology headquarters in California 

That same year, Cruise’s 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 Rathbun, a former senior Sea Org member, getting rid of Mimi was in the interests of the church. Rathbun claims that he took her the divorce papers. “I told her this was the right thing to do for Tom, because he was going to do lots of good for scientology,” Rathbun recalled. “That was the end of Mimi Rogers.”

Former Sea Org members who had observed Cruise at Gold Base remarked that he seemed liberated to be in an environment where no one hassled him or 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 reflect that of a fantastically wealthy and leisured movie star. His habit became to wake at noon with a cup of coffee and a Camel cigarette. Then he would take breakfast, the first of his five meals prepared by two

full-time chefs and served by several full-time stewards. When guests such as Cruise came to dinner, the kitchen went into extravagant bursts of invention, with ingredients sometimes flown in from different continents.

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 wildflowers together, so he had 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 Rathbun, who claims he had helped to kill off Cruise’s marriage to Mimi Rogers, is a significant figure in telling a much darker story.

Tom Cruise and Nicole KidmanTom Cruise and Nicole Kidman 

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, Rathbun 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 had several of his top executives confined 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 or 50 people. It was now called the Hole.

Except for one long conference table there was no furniture — no chairs or 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 finally had 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, which meant people were constantly being reassigned to different posts, whimsically, and no post was secure. About 900 positions needed to be filled at Int and Gold Bases and the stack of personnel and ethics files was 5ft high. This anarchic 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 his communicator, Laurisse Stuckenbrock, each of whom carried a tape recorder to take down whatever Miscavige had to say. The detainees could hear the drumbeat of the shoes as Miscavige’s entourage marched towards the Hole.

Hubbard: science fiction writer who founded the church. He died in 1986 Hubbard: the science fiction writer who founded the church died in 1986 (Getty) 

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 that would be written up in a report, which Miscavige would then read aloud to other church officials.

The entire base became paralysed with anxiety about being thrown into the Hole. People were trying desperately to police their thoughts, but it was difficult to keep secrets 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’s chief spokesman. Bizarrely, he would sometimes be pulled out and ordered to conduct a press conference or to 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 beaten by two of Miscavige’s assistants and 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 face 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 people can stimulate one another to do things that are insane. According to former church executives, one day Miscavige arrived at the Hole and demanded that Marc Yager, the commanding officer of the Commodore’s Messengers Org, and Guillaume Lesevre, the executive director of the Church of Scientology International, confess that they were homosexual lovers.

Rathbun 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, Rathbun 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 at attention for hours on end. He was prone to bursts of sudden violence. “Once, on a phone call, I saw him get so mad that he put his fist right through a computer screen,” his former wife recalled.

Miscavige would send him down to 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, Rathbun took him outside and beat him up. Rathbun says Miscavige wasn’t satisfied. Rathbun alleges that Miscavige called him into his massive office in the Religious Technology Centre, a room with steel walls and 18ft ceilings, and accused him of letting Rinder “get away with murder”.

Then, according to Rathbun, out of nowhere Miscavige grabbed him by the throat and slammed his head against the steel wall. Rathbun blacked out for a moment. He wasn’t hurt, but the terms had changed. A few days later Rathbun 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, much less 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 time she was 21 she had been pushed to have two abortions. She estimates that 60-80% 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 players march around them, one chair is removed. When the music stops, everybody 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 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 whose 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 the music stopped. As the number of chairs diminished, the game got more physical. The executives shoved and punched one another; clothes were torn; a chair was ripped apart. All this time 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 contestants 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 that passed 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 anybody 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 for nearly 30 years. He recalls thinking: “Now here I am, being beat 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.

Rathbun was there and at that moment he made a decision. As the other executives were being led back to 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 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.

The one-man publisher taking on Goliath

Oliver Thring

Over the years the Church of Scientology has become known as an enthusiastic and tenacious litigant with expensive lawyers on speed-dial.

That reputation seems to have delayed the publication of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, Lawrence Wright’s devastating exposé of the organisation, by three years in this country.

The book had originally been slated for publication here in 2013 by Transworld, an offshoot of the then publishing giant Random House, whose Knopf division had printed it in America the same year. But shortly before the text was due to be released in Britain, Transworld abruptly pulled it from its 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 owner (and sole employee) of Silvertail Books, who has brought 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 human rights abuses at its premises 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. “Its membership is down to, at most, 40,000 people worldwide. I probably sell more books about scientology than there are scientologists in Britain. The conveyer 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 anointed disciples in 1986. “The church is effectively his,” says Hunter. “It’s not democratic and he answers to no one.”

Some of scientology’s alleged disregard for human rights could still be occurring, he believes. “Scientologists believe that a baby possesses an adult soul, so no age is too young to separate children from 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.


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How DLHDM will spin this:


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Michael Shannon didn’t have to go far to learn about cults for his new movie “Midnight Special.”

“I kind of relied on my pre-existing experiences and knowledge,” he said, before seeming to referenceScientology.

“I’ve known and seen people that belong to — unfortunately, it’s kind of prevalent in the entertainment industry. You’re bound to run into someone who belongs to a cult if you do this long enough.”

However, Scientology, which has a host of Hollywood followers, insists it is a religion, not a cult.

only the second time I’ve seen “Niacin” and “Rehab” used on the internet

hmmm, when Niacin is involved in rehab my ears prick up…. this looks pretty dodgy to me and involves England football legend Gazza… maybe those who follow the Narconon stuff might want to look into this guy John Gillen and see if he’s Narconon/clam connected:

Can gaunt Gazza finally kick his booze addiction with a ‘Marmite vitamin’ drip? Footballer hopes radical niacin treatment will stop alcohol craving

  • Paul has been getting infusions of niacin compound – vitamin from Marmite
  • Since the start of the year he has been taking fortnightly 500ml doses
  • The £400 a time infusions at a rehab made him feel ‘super-positive’
  • Says the ‘amazing’ treatment has helped him stay alcohol free for a year

Paul Gascoigne has been receiving fortnightly 500ml 'infusions' of a compound derived from niacin, the vitamin found in Marmite, and is convinced the treatment is helping him to stay dry

Paul Gascoigne has been receiving fortnightly 500ml ‘infusions’ of a compound derived from niacin, the vitamin found in Marmite, and is convinced the treatment is helping him to stay dry

Gaunt and grim-faced as he sits with an intravenous drip in his arm, Paul Gascoigne is a figure far removed from the powerful athlete who was the most gifted England footballer of his generation.

But this startling image shows Gascoigne having a radical treatment which he believes has given him an upper hand in his battle with alcohol.

Since the start of the year, the former Newcastle United and Spurs star, 48, has been receiving fortnightly 500ml ‘infusions’ of a compound derived from niacin, the vitamin found in Marmite – and he is convinced that the treatment is helping him to stay dry.

‘It’s made me feel good,’ he told The Mail on Sunday. ‘It has given me hope. It’s amazing.’

He attends a rehabilitation clinic in Hertfordshire where he receives the intravenous drip containing the organic compound NAD+, which experts claim can both reduce the physical discomfort of withdrawal and quell the brain’s cravings.

He appears transformed from the skeletal man who was pictured during an alcoholic relapse two years ago.

Gascoigne says he has now been dry for a year and credits the treatment with shoring him up against his psychological troubles.

He said: ‘I had been feeling a bit down and hadn’t been going to the gym. I didn’t want to do anything.’

But after having a double infusion of NAD+ in the New Year, he claimed the way his body felt ‘just changed’.

‘For the first time in months, I woke up at 6am, I felt happy and excited, energetic, and ready to play a football match.’

The £400-a-time infusions made him feel ‘super-positive’ and friends told him he was starting to look better.

Paul pictured in August 2014 looking skeletal during a relapse

The former footballer pictured after undergoing a nutrient infusion at Cassiobury Court, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in Watford, England

Paul pictured in August 2014 looking skeletal during a relapse (left) and the former footballer now (right) pictured after undergoing a nutrient transfusion

The infusions are the brainchild of recovering alcoholic John Gillen, a former jockey and horse-trainer.

The Scotsman brought the idea to Britain from the United States, and set up his Bionad clinic near Harley Street in London.

He also provides the service at rehab centres around Britain.

Paul pictured leaving Bournemouth Magistrates Court after being fined and receiving a restraining order after earlier pleading guilty to harassment and assault charges in October 2015

Paul pictured leaving Bournemouth Magistrates Court after being fined and receiving a restraining order after earlier pleading guilty to harassment and assault charges in October 2015

Mr Gillen claimed NAD+ helped the body process toxic by-products of alcohol, and allowed the body to ‘detoxify itself’ in those who were already dry.

I felt happy, energetic and ready to play a football match.

He said: ‘It also restores “normal” brain chemistry, which means cravings for alcohol are greatly reduced in most alcoholics.’

The therapy was championed half a century ago by Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

But Mr Gillen claimed it had fallen from favour because drug firms had no financial incentive to run trials to prove it really did work.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Mark Collins said there was ‘good evidence’ NAD+ helped reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the short term.

But nutritionist Ian Marber questioned the claims for NAD+, saying: ‘This idea that it’s going to make you feel better – it’s a bit woolly, isn’t it?’

He added: ‘I also have an ongoing concern about individual nutrients being injected into the bloodstream rather than going through the digestive process. I worry about the long-term consequences.’

The £400-a-time niacin infusions made him feel 'super-positive' and friends told Paul he was starting to look better (pictured on Good Morning Britain in June 2015)

The £400-a-time niacin infusions made him feel ‘super-positive’ and friends told Paul he was starting to look better (pictured on Good Morning Britain in June 2015)

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