FBI investigating Scientology, defectors say

Matt Lauer of the Today Show interviews Lawrence Wright about human rights allegations by the Church of Scientology, including human trafficking and physical abuse by Church leader David Miscavige:

FBI agents investigating human trafficking have interviewed several high-ranking defectors from the Church of Scientology who spoke out to the St. Petersburg Times over the past two years about abusive and coercive practices within the church.

The St. Petersburg Times, which has a lengthy history of exposing the Scientology cult to daylight, says:

Five former church staffers confirmed Monday that the FBI interviewed them individually over the past 15 months about their experiences in the church’s religious order, the Sea Org.

They said agents asked detailed questions primarily about working and living conditions at Scientology’s remote international management base in the desert east of Los Angeles. The defectors — Amy Scobee, Mike Rinder, Tom DeVocht, Jeff Hawkins and Gary Morehead — said they described to agents how Sea Org staffers were restricted to the compound, intimidated, degraded and coerced to work long hours for little pay.

The defectors’ account of life inside Scientology first appeared in the Times in a 2009 investigative series titled The Truth Rundown.

The church has emphatically denied that any staffers were mistreated and says the defectors were lying when they claimed that church leader David Miscavige physically attacked managers whose work performance displeased him.

News of the investigation broke Monday in feature-length New Yorker profile of Scientology defector Paul Haggis. [Listen: Investigative journalist Lawrence Wright talks with New Yorker web editor Blake Eskin about what drew him to this story, how he went about reporting it, and what Haggis’s departure has meant for him and for other Scientologists.]

The St. Petersburg Times said an FBI spokeswoman contacted by them could neither confirm nor deny the existence of the investigation.

But on Monday, Scobee, Rinder and DeVocht told the Times that Los Angeles-based Special Agent Tricia Whitehill traveled to Clearwater to interview them at the FBI’s office on Cleveland Street.

Scientology’s human rights violations have long been addressed by cult experts and Scientology victims. See, for instance, Scientology and the European Human Rights Debate: A Reply to Leisa Goodman, J. Gordon Melton, and the European Rehabilitation Project Force Study by Stephen A. Kent Ph. D.

The cult’s hate- and harassment activities — targeted at former members, other critics and reporters — are based on the writings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, who encouraged such unethical behavior as ‘fair grame‘ and ‘dead agenting.’

Hubbard was a science-fiction writer who had a hard time separating truth from fiction. So does the cult he founded. Wright says

The many discrepancies between L. Ron Hubbard’s legend and his life have overshadowed the fact that he was a fascinating man: an explorer, a best-selling author, and the founder of one of the few new religious movements of the twentieth century to have survived into the twenty-first century. [...]

The tug-of-war between Scientologists and anti-Scientologists over Hubbard’s legacy has created two swollen archetypes: the most important person who ever lived and the world’s greatest con man. Hubbard was certainly grandiose, but to label him merely a fraud is to ignore the complexity of his character.

But his article does include lots of material that portrays Hubbard in a light the Church of Scientology can’t be happy about. Yet by now that is the least of the cult’s worries.

As usual, the Church of Scientology itself denounces the reports, with Scientology spokesperson Tommy Davis reaching for the old and tired ‘apostate‘ defense. Cults and their supporters would have us believe that anyone who turns his back on a cult is unreliable at best.

However, as sociologist Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi says:

Recent and less recent NRM [New Religious Movements] catastrophes help us realize that in every single case allegations by hostile outsiders and detractors have been closer to reality than any other accounts.

Ever since the Jonestown tragedy, statements by ex-members turned out to be more accurate than those of apologists and NRM researchers.

The reality revealed in the cases of People’s Temple, Rajneesh International, Vajradhatu, the Nation of Yahweh, the Branch Davidians, the Faith Assembly, Aum Shinrykio, the Solar Temple, or Heaven’s Gate is much more than unattractive; it is positively horrifying.

In every case of NRM disasters over the past 50 years, starting with Krishna Venta (Beit-Hallahmi, 1993), we encounter a hidden world of madness and exploitation in a totalitarian, psychotic, group, whose reality is actually even worse than detractors’ allegations.

Listen to former Scientologist Tory Magoo:

Research resources on Scientology

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