St. Petersburg Times exposes Scientology to daylight
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Sunday June 21, 2009
Note these names: Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin. They are reporters for the St. Petersburg Times, and if you see any mud thrown at them, it is likely because these brave folks have written an article — the first in a three-part series — on Scientology.
Whenever The Church of Scientology, whose members claim to be the most ethical people on earth, is exposed to daylight it responds in the manner suggested by the cult’s founder: with hate, harassment, and other unethical behavior.
Scientology: The Truth Rundown, Part 1 of 3 in a special report on the Church of Scientology
The leader of the Church of Scientology strode into the room with a boom box and an announcement: Time for a game of musical chairs.
David Miscavige had kept more than 30 members of his church’s executive staff cooped up for weeks in a small office building outside Los Angeles, not letting them leave except to grab a shower. They slept on the floor, their food carted in.
Their assignment was to develop strategic plans for the church. But the leader trashed their every idea and berated them as incompetents and enemies, of him and the church.
Prove your devotion, Miscavige told them, by winning at musical chairs. Everyone else — losers, all of you — will be banished to Scientology outposts around the world. If families are split up, too bad.
To the music of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody they played through the night, parading around a conference room in their Navy-style uniforms, grown men and women wrestling over chairs.
The next evening, early in 2004, Miscavige gathered the group and out of nowhere slapped a manager named Tom De Vocht, threw him to the ground and delivered more blows. De Vocht took the beating and the humiliation in silence — the way other executives always took the leader’s attacks.
This account comes from executives who for decades were key figures in Scientology’s powerful inner circle. Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, the highest-ranking executives to leave the church, are speaking out for the first time.
Two other former executives who defected also agreed to interviews with the St. Petersburg Times: De Vocht, who for years oversaw the church’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, and Amy Scobee, who helped create Scientology’s celebrity network, which caters to the likes of John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
One by one, the four defectors walked away from the only life they knew. That Rathbun and Rinder are speaking out is a stunning reversal because they were among Miscavige’s closest associates, Haldeman and Ehrlichman to his Nixon.
Now they provide an unprecedented look inside the upper reaches of the tightly controlled organization. They reveal:
• Physical violence permeated Scientology’s international management team. Miscavige set the tone, routinely attacking his lieutenants. Rinder says the leader attacked him some 50 times.
Rathbun, Rinder and De Vocht admit that they, too, attacked their colleagues, to demonstrate loyalty to Miscavige and prove their mettle.
• Staffers are disciplined and controlled by a multilayered system of “ecclesiastical justice.” It includes publicly confessing sins and crimes to a group of peers, being ordered to jump into a pool fully clothed, facing embarrassing “security checks” or, worse, being isolated as a “suppressive person.”
At the pinnacle of the hierarchy, Miscavige commands such power that managers follow his orders, however bizarre, with lemming-like obedience.
• Church staffers covered up how they botched the care of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist who died after they held her 17 days in isolation at Clearwater’s Fort Harrison Hotel.
Rathbun, who Miscavige put in charge of dealing with the fallout from the case, admits that he ordered the destruction of incriminating evidence. He and others also reveal that Miscavige made an embarrassing miscalculation on McPherson’s Scientology counseling.
• With Miscavige calling the shots and Rathbun among those at his side, the church muscled the IRS into granting Scientology tax-exempt status. Offering fresh perspective on one of the church’s crowning moments, Rathbun details an extraordinary campaign of public pressure backed by thousands of lawsuits.
• To prop up revenues, Miscavige has turned to long-time parishioners, urging them to buy material that the church markets as must-have, improved sacred scripture.
Church officials deny the accusations.
About The Story
Mark C. “Marty” Rathbun left the Church of Scientology staff in late 2004, ending a 27-year career that saw him rise to be among the organization’s top leaders. For the past four years, he has lived a low-profile life in Texas. Some speculated he had died.
In February, Rathbun posted an Internet message announcing he was available to counsel other disaffected Scientologists.
“Having dug myself out of the dark pit where many who leave the church land,” he wrote, “I began lending a hand to others similarly situated.”
Contacted by the St. Petersburg Times, Rathbun agreed to tell the story of his years in Scientology and what led to his leaving. The Times interviewed him at his home in Texas, and he came to Clearwater to revisit some of the scenes he described.
Seeking to corroborate Rathbun’s story, the newspaper contacted others who were in Scientology during the same period and have left the church: Mike Rinder, one of Rathbun’s closest associates for two decades; Tom De Vocht, whom Rathbun named as key to his decision to leave; and later, Amy Scobee.
Rathbun and Rinder were well known to the reporters, who had interviewed them dozens of times, sometimes combatively, through years of controversy in Clearwater. They also hosted the reporters in Los Angeles in 1998, when Miscavige granted the only print media interview he has given.
Two reporters met Rinder in Denver, where he now lives, but he declined to be interviewed. About a month later, two Washington-based lawyers who work for the church showed up unannounced in Denver, informed Rinder that they had heard about the newspaper’s visit and asked what he had revealed.
They reminded him that as one of the church’s top legal officers, attorney-client privilege did not end when he left the church. They told him he could hurt the church by going public.
Weeks later, after the church provided the newspaper with a 2007 video of Rinder heatedly denying that Miscavige hit him and others, Rinder decided to talk to the Times.
De Vocht was interviewed in Winter Haven. Scobee was interviewed in Pinellas County, when she and her husband came to visit relatives.
The reporters interviewed the four defectors multiple times, and met with church spokesmen and lawyers for 25 hours.
Joe Childs, Managing Editor/Tampa Bay, ran the Times Clearwater operation dating to 1993 and supervises the newspaper’s Scientology coverage. He can be reached at email@example.com
Thomas C. Tobin has covered the Church of Scientology off and on since 1996. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
COMING TOMORROW PART 2
New details about the case of Lisa McPherson — who died in the care of Scientologists — from the executive who directed the church’s handling of the case. He admits he ordered the destruction of incriminating evidence.
COMING TUESDAY PART 3
The defectors describe bizarre behavior, group punishments and other facets of the church’s internal justice system.
Go online for more on Scientology, including video interviews with two of the defectors and previous coverage of the church.
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