Former Scientology executives say leader David Miscavige abused staff

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Florida newspaper St. Petersburg Times published a series of investigative articles on Scientology on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, including exclusive interviews with former high-ranking executives within the organization. Four former Scientology executives stated that they witnessed the Church of Scientology's leader David Miscavige physically strike staff members numerous times.

Scientology building on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Image: Evil saltine.

The former executives speaking out include Mike Rinder, who served as head of the organization's legal and public relations division the Office of Special Affairs, Mark Rathbun, former Inspector General of the organization's Religious Technology Center, Tom De Vocht, former manager of the organization's operations in Clearwater, Florida, and Amy Scobee, a former Scientology staff member in California who assisted in construction of Scientology's Celebrity Centres. Rathbun supervised the Church of Scientology's response to the Lisa McPherson case, after she died under Scientology care in 1995.

Regularly David Miscavige would in the middle of a conference physically assault, punch, slap or grab by the neck a number of executives.

Mark Rathbun, former Inspector General of Scientology's Religious Technology Center

Rinder said the impact was more one of humiliation than physical pain: "The issue wasn't the physical pain of it (being assaulted by Miscavige). The issue was the humiliation and the domination. ... It's the fact that the domination you're getting — hit in the face, kicked — and you can't do anything about it." Rathbun asserted Miscavige would assault executives during conferences. "Regularly David Miscavige would in the middle of a conference physically assault, punch, slap or grab by the neck a number of executives," said Rathbun.

De Vocht said that Miscavige would "lose it" if he did not hear a satisfactory answer from his executives: "If it wasn't the answer he wanted to hear, he'd lose it. If it was contrary to how he thought, he'd lose it. If he found it to be smart aleck, or it was a better answer than he had, he would lose it." Scobee was critical of Miscavige's actions while calling himself a "religious leader". "You cannot call yourself a religious leader as you beat people, as you confine people, as you rip apart families. If I was trying to destroy Scientology, I would leave David Miscavige right where he is because he's doing a fantastic job of it," she said.

In its preparation for the investigation, The St. Petersburg Times staff met with attorneys and representatives for the Church of Scientology for 25 hours. According to the paper Miscavige was sought out by reporters for an interview from May 13, but they were informed he would not be available prior to July. Miscavige e-mailed the paper on Saturday, complaining that he was not interviewed. "I am at a loss to comprehend how the St. Petersburg Times can publish a story about me and the religion I lead without accepting the offer to speak with me," wrote Miscavige.

Church of Scientology representatives denied the statements made by their former executives, and claimed the individuals left the organization after being demoted. They claimed the former executives were motivated by feelings of revenge and only speaking to the press for financial gain.

What they want to do is extort money from the church.

—Scientology representative Lyman Spurlock

Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis acknowledged violence occurred within the ranks of Scientology management, but claimed that it was Rathbun and not Miscavige who carried out the assaults. In comments to the Associated Press, Davis referred to the statements made by former executives about Miscavige as "absolutely, unquestionably false". Scientology representative Lyman Spurlock stated "What they want to do is extort money from the church. ... and right now the St. Pete Times is their extortion vehicle... you're just their lackeys. They're using you."

What do you think of the statements made by the former Scientology executives?

The St. Petersburg Times reported Monday on the attention received by the investigative articles in other media. The Associated Press carried the story, and it was included in over 177 television and news websites including MSNBC, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as blogs and media sites for The Huffington Post, Gawker, L.A. Weekly, and The Village Voice. By Monday the first article in the series had received over 3,600 "diggs" at the social news website Digg and generated over 420 comments at the site. A post at the "On Deadline" blog of USA Today called the investigation "a fascinating three-part series". "Juicy stuff from a mainstream newspaper coming out and hitting Scientology hard," said biologist and University of Minnesota, Morris associate professor PZ Myers in a post to his blog Pharyngula. "I'm sure there are meetings going on in Clearwater right now where they're plotting revenge," wrote Myers.


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