This story made me look back on the halcyon days of 2012, which for a number of reasons–which I will shortly go into–can be called “Scientology’s Worst Year Ever”. I know Scientology is sort of an easy target, but since I’m posting feel-good topics these days, I felt it ought to be presented.
Friends, 2012 was a rough year for the Church of Scientology. It took so many hits it started telling people it ran into a door. It started falling apart so fast Syria is worried about it. Really, trying to find the worst moment for Scientology in 2012 is like trying to find the worst case of herpes: they’re all pretty terrible, they taint whoever they touch, and a lot of people in Hollywood go to great lengths to hide the sores they cause. Luckily, the treatment for both is the same (pointing and laughing).
WHERE TO BEGIN?
Attempting to find the best place to delve into the weirdness is next to impossible. The story is too long, too detailed. It is a mosaic, not a tale told in a linear fashion. I suppose, though, that January 1st, 2012, is as good a place to start as any.
Debbie Cook was the perfect model of a high-ranking Church executive (what, your Church doesn’t have executives? Crazy!). After 17 years, she was head of the FSO–”Flag Service Organization”–which is essentially the organization that runs the Clearwater Center, arguably the most important Center in the country, located in Clearwater, Florida. Or, as it is better described, Scientology City USA. She was considered a perfect example of what every Church member should be: smart, hard-working, and respected by everyone who worked with her and for her. Which is why her email, sent on New Year’s Eve 2011 to every single church member, caused the incredible impact that it did.
First, her email revealed that the Church has amassed almost a billion dollars in cash reserves, a frankly outstanding amount. This was something of which only a handful of Church members were aware. And just as they were reeling from that news, she asks when the last time they saw a commercial for Scientology on television or radio or anywhere else. “Think about it,” she writes, “how many ads disseminating Scientology, Dianetics or any Scientology affiliated programs have you seen on TV? Heard on the radio? Seen in newspapers? I haven’t seen one in the 4 years I have lived in San Antonio, Texas, the 7th largest city in the US. How many have you seen?”
Alright, that’s a fair question, but there could be a legitimate answer, although if you’re doubtful of that you can’t be blamed. But maybe the Church has expenses of which no one is truly aware, or perhaps Cook doesn’t understand the organization’s financial requirements and structures. Maybe the Church needs at least a billion dollars in capital just to keep itself running. It’s got a navy, so who knows. Regardless, what she suggests next is shocking, considering it comes from a loyal Church-member’s perspective. She concludes that Scientology as a whole is spending far too much time fund-raising and has become too focused on money. “Next time you are asked to donate outside of services,” she advises, “realize that you are engaged in fundraising and ask to see something in writing from L. Ron Hubbard that this is something he expects from you as a Scientologist.”
As her email continues, it becomes clear that Cook is accusing the leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, of turning the Church into a giant fundraising operation. She tells the members that this constant begging for money from the public, from celebrity members, from their friends, is interfering in their spiritual development. She blasts Miscavige again for his scheme in the mid-90s to squeeze more money out of members by releasing a new, “updated” set of books by L. Ron Hubbard that oh by the way everyone is required to buy, and oh by the way they’ll tell you that you’re not as good a Scientologist as you thought you were, which means you need to pay more money for more Scientology courses to get back to the level you were before you bought these books. This all amounted to tens of thousands of dollars per member.
She then describes how, before Miscavige took over, Scientology had been using an organizational structure that had checks and balances, a structure designed by Hubbard himself (which is important in a hokey religion based on a science fiction writer’s insane commands, naturally). Miscavige, in short order, dissolved or defanged all the organizations designed to keep one person from having what amounts to a dictator’s role in the Church. More than that, in a “Night of the Long Knives”-esque move, he had all the leaders of these organizations sent to “The Hole”, an infamous prison disguised as an office in the middle of a goddam desert. Several members, including Cook herself, spent time there and came back with shocking tales of abuse (many members sent there later escaped and left the Church completely, taking with them tales of a deranged Miscavige forcing them to do humiliating things to earn his forgiveness). In fact, the President of Scientology International himself, Heber Jentzsch, was sent years ago and had not been seen at all until his son died last year (under suspicious circumstances, as we’ll see later). From Cook’s email:
You may have also wondered… where is Heber, the President of the Church? What about Ray Mitthoff, Senior C/S International, the one that LRH personally turned over the upper OT Levels to? How about Norman Starkey, LRH’s Trustee? What happened to Guillaume – Executive Director International? And Marc Yeager, the WDC Chairman? What happened to the other International Management executives that you have seen at events over the years?
The truth is that I spent weeks working in the empty International Management building at Int. Empty because everyone had been removed from post.
When I first went up lines I was briefed extensively by David Miscavige about how bad all of them were and how they had done many things that were all very discreditable. This seemed to “explain” the fact that the entirety of the Watchdog Committee no longer existed. The entirety of the Executive Strata, which consisted of ED International and 11 other top International executives that were the top executives in their particular fields, no longer existed. That the Commodore’s Messenger Org International no longer existed. All of these key command structures of Scientology International, put there by LRH, had been removed.
Holy shit that’s a lot of people disappearing for being “bad”. It seems to be catching, too — Miscavige’s own wife, Shelly, has not been seen in public since 2007. This comes after his niece, Jenna Miscavige, defected a couple years ago and promptly went on national television to describe her awful experiences within the Church. Earlier still, his own brother, Jenna’s father, defected back in 2000, but we’ll get into that later. The question remains: what is the money being used for?
We can be certain that a portion money is going toward building more Scientology centers. The Church has claimed that it more than doubled its real estate portfolio between 2004 and 2011, and the tail end of that spree had them opening an 185,000-square-foot International Dissemination and Distribution Center, which will print and mail 500,000 boxes of Church magazines and “educational materials” each month. This increase in real estate seems strange in light of the fact that Church membership has been shrinking steadily as scandal after scandal appears. This according to Jeff Hawkins, author of Counterfeit Dreams and former employee of Scientology’s Central Marketing Unit, where he had access to the relevant statistics. Hawkins places the number of Scientologists worldwide at 40,000, which falls rather short of the millions and millions of members that the Church likes to claim, so why do they need so much property and so many new buildings?
SCIENTOLOGISTS: “LET’S GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE
The Church’s bad luck didn’t stop with Jenna and her father leaving. Miscavige’s own father, Ron Miscavige Sr., as well as his step-mother, had “blown”–Scientology’s term for a member leaving the Church at a dead sprint–by the end of summer 2012. At roughly the same time the leader of Scientology’s own father and step-mother were “blowing”, L. Ron Hubbard’s own granddaughter Roanne Leake took off as well.
Well, single people leaving are one thing, even when they’re family of the dictator or related to the founder, but it’s not like people are fleeing en masse, right?
Hahahahahah of course they are. In Israel last spring Dani Lemberger and his wife Tami, leaders of the Tel Aviv Scientology mission, sent a letter to David Miscavige declaring their intention to leave the Church and join the burgeoning independent Scientology movement. After Cook’s email, they encouraged their mission to investigate the issues it raised on their own and decide what to do. “Everyone came to the same conclusion — the church is fucked. …Miscavige is a lunatic,” Dani told Village Voice writer Tony Ortega. “We decided we wanted to leave the church.” So they did, and they are now no longer required to give ten percent of their profits to Miscavige. And they took 90% of their mission, one of the only growing missions in the world, with them when they left.
According to Church spokespeople, of course, everything is okey dokey. The Church is growing at a healthy rate. Then again, those same people think the ghosts of dead aliens are what make you sick, so maybe reserve judgement on their claims for now. I mean, they also brought the movie Battlefied: Earth to humanity, a movie so terrible that playing it on a television or computer is how you say “go screw yourself” in sign-language.
Despite Scientology’s sudden interest in property (ostensibly to contain the multitudes of new Scientologists), according to the 2010 Census Bureau and follow-up polls by the American Religious Identification Study the Church has actually been shrinking at a steady rate. The new buildings and expanding real estate portfolio are there to give the appearance of an expanding Church, one that has not suffered a “mass exodus”–as worded by Janet Rietman, author of Inside Scientology–under Miscavige’s rule.
MYSTERY! ALSO: EASILY AVOIDED DEATHS (UNLESS YOU’RE SURROUNDED BY SCIENTOLOGISTS)
David Miscavige’s wife Shelly is an interesting case and deserves a second look, or possibly an entire search party’s worth of looks because nobody knows where the hell she is. Except, presumably, David himself. She’s not in the Hole, that much is known, so she could be squirreled away in one of many complexes around LA, or she could be dead. No one knows. Shelley’s mother, Flo Barnett, is also an interesting case, but for Shelly’s sake let’s hope for different reasons. Flo Barnett died September 8th, 1985, four years after her daughter wed David Miscavige. Her death was ruled a suicide by Los Angeles County medical examiner Joan Shipley that very night. She had shot herself with a Ruger 10/22 rifle. In the torso.
And then once more in the head.
So, yeah! Obviously a suicide, right? It’s totally not crazy that a 52-year-old woman used a long rifle to shoot herself three times in the chest and then once in her head, right? That shouldn’t raise any suspicions. And it didn’t, really, except for those of an anonymous writer of a letter of inquiry. The Cororner’s Office can’t recall who exactly sent the letter, to which they paid no attention and did not includ in any records (Shipley does recall, though, that the letter in question existed). But hell, it’s obviously a suicide. A suicide note was found. In fact, two suicide notes were found, according to now-retired LA Sheriff’s Office detective Bob Havercroft, who investigated the scene. Two notes means it was doubly a suicide. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.
Of course, just to play Devil’s Advocate, I ought to mention a 1994 affidavit in a court case growing out of the massive legal cluster-fuck following Time magazine’s 1991 cover story, “Scientology: The Cult of Greed,” in which former high-ranking church executive Vicki Aznaran testified that Barnett had become part of an embarrassing splinter group that had rejected Miscavige’s leadership of Scientology. I should also mention Aznaran’s testimony reveals that Miscavige, upon hearing of Barnett’s death, muttered “the bitch got what she deserved”.
Flo Barnett’s bizarre suicide is far from being the only suspicious death. You remember Herbert Jentzsch? The President of Scientology International that was sent to The Hole and never came back? He lost his son, Alexander, on July 3, 2012 to a combination of pneumonia and methadone overdose. Neither on its own should be able to kill a healthy 27-year-old man. Alexander Jentzsch, however, did not take antibiotics for his pneumonia. No one knows why. He was staying with his in-laws, who knew he was sick, and knew that he had been prescribed methadone rather than antibiotics. They apparently found nothing strange about this. His in-laws told the coroner that Alex had a history of drug abuse, which came as a surprise to everyone who knew him. But then, Alex had just gotten divorced, lost his job, and been forced to move in with his ex-wife’s parents because his own were gone; his father trapped in The Hole and his mother cut off completely by Church decree.
Herbert was able to make it to his son’s hastily arranged memorial service, but Alexander’s mother–who left the Church long ago and has not been allowed contact with her son due to the Church’s “disconnection” policy–was not allowed to attend. She continues to investigate the circumstances of his death to this day. She had heard from more than one of Alexander’s friends that in the days before his death he had experienced some difficulty breathing. The solution provided by his Scientologist friends was to handle everything with a “touch assist”, a sort of therapeutic faith-healing technique. Surprisingly, it didn’t keep him from dying.
It appears that Scietology-sponsored medical care is somewhat lacking. Further proof comes from the American mid-west where, on July 18 2012, Stacy Murphy was found dead of an oxymorphone overdose at the Oklahoma Narconon Center, a Scientology-run rehab center whose headquarters are located in California. That kind of overdose can be treated by trained medical professionals, but that is something that Narconon Centers pointedly do not have, even at their flagship center in Oklahoma. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against that particular Center for gross negligence (to date, Narconon has been sued in several other countries, and Centers are still occasionally shut down by the government for a variety of reasons). The District Attorney launched a full investigation which has since widened to include the deaths of Hillary Holten in April, 2011 as well as Gabriel Graves in 2009.
It should be noted that this center, in fact all Narconon centers, use the same “touch assist” healing technique that emphatically did not save Alexander Jentzsch or Stacy Murphy, and that this same technique was used here in Japan to treat victims of the terrible tsunami of March 2011. After the water retreated, Koji Minami of the Tokyo branch of Scientology provided coordination and translation work for Scientologist “Volunteer Ministers”, who helped search-and-rescue teams and handed out food and water. According to a Scientology Newsroom article, anyway, which utilized an entire sentence to describe all the searching and rescuing they had done and then a paragraph to detail its amazing successes with their faith-healing techniques.
And they provided Scientology assists—techniques developed by L. Ron Hubbard that orient people in their present environment, helping them overcome trauma and stress, thus speeding recovery from illness and injury.
“These are the simplest and easiest technology we have, and yet the help they bring is so powerful,” says Minami. “The success stories come in an avalanche. An old man who could not stand began walking after he received an assist, and another resolved to start his life anew where before he wanted to give up forever.
“We created minor miracles like this on a daily basis. We cheered up the elderly, trained young people in Volunteer Minister technology and changed despair to hope in the most terribly affected areas. Scientology Volunteer Minister activities enable people to dream again—the best thing a person can do. It was wonderful to be a part of it.”
Clearly they have their priorities straight. A friend of mine had been living in Miyako, Iwate prefecture for a couple years when the tsunami destroyed his town. I distinctly recall watching footage of the destruction that same day from my apartment in South Korea, not knowing if my friend was alive or dead, thinking “Wherever he is, I pray to God someone is helping him orient in his present environment and enabling him to dream again.”
TOM-KAT TO THE RESCUE! OH, WAIT
While these events are certainly troubling, 2012 ended with Scientology being rocked by scandals regarding something it cares about far more than the life and death of a mere mortal, or several mere mortals as the case may be–celebrities.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s an actor named Tom Cruise and apparently he’s a Scientologist. He and Katie Holmes got married, had a child with a ridiculous name, and then got divorced in 2012. Tom denied that Scientology had anything to do with the divorce, just like he denied Scientology had anything to do with his breakup with Penelope Cruz and his divorce to Nicole Kidman and the break-up of his little known first marriage to Mimi Rogers.
Well, you may be surprised to learn, if you’re an idiot, that it turns out all of those things are not true. In an October Vanity Fair expose, writer Maureen Orth showed everyone that she had landed a story that makes every writer in this field salivate with envy (if you haven’t read her October 2012 Vanity Fair article, I encourage you to do so now). Its revelations far exceed the things we’ve all suspected but have never seen in print.
Not only did Scientology, David Miscavige in particular (who is very, very close to Tom Cruise, it must be mentioned), play a vital role in the breakup of Cruise’s first two marriages, but Scientology and its Great Leader also put the kibosh on Cruise’s relationship with Penelope Cruz. She was willing to investigate Scientology, according to inside sources that worked with both her and Cruise at the time, but was not willing to abandon her Buddhist beliefs. Miscaviage didn’t like this and she didn’t like Miscavige. She had to go.
Now without a girlfriend, Cruise had begun complaining about being unable to find a companion. So Miscavige and his wife Shelly, the same Shelly that would disappear three years later, held literal, actual, full-on auditions for the next Bride of Cruise. What followed is a horror story of manipulation, betrayal and insanity too bizarre for me to even try to capture all of its relevant details here. Orth’s article in Vanity Fair is revealing and incisive, and because of that it earned Vanity Fair a threatening letter from the Church of Scientology promising lawsuits if the story ran. The incredible allegations in the article were called “defamatory” and “false”. Vanity Fair received the letter and, after the laughter died down, ran the article anyway. No lawsuit has been filed.