The Village Voice, June 29, 2012
Multiple sources are telling the Voice that Scientology's International Base in California has experienced stunning new defections -- Roanne Leake, who is L. Ron Hubbard's granddaughter, has "blown" the base, which was her home for more than 20 years. But just as shocking, at about the same time, the base was also abandoned by David Miscavige's father, Ron Miscavige Sr.
We sent a request for comment to Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw, but have not received a reply. But starting several days ago, we began hearing from multiple, independent sources that Leake had left the base about two months ago, and about a month earlier she was preceded by Ron Sr. and his wife, Becky.
Our sources tell us that in each case, these are crucial, longtime Scientologists who have abandoned the only world they have known for many years, and is the latest, most dramatic evidence of a crisis in David Miscavige's leadership of founder L. Ron Hubbard's odd organization.
We pressed our sources -- could these people have left the base but still remain in the church, on a mission or some kind of outreach?
"No way. They're all talking to SPs right now," said one of our sources, referring to "suppressive persons," Scientology's jargon for ex-members who have been excommunicated and cannot be contacted by members in good standing.
Through intermediaries, we have put in interview requests to the defected members, and hope to ask about their reasons for leaving David Miscavige's church.
But 2012 is turning out to be disastrous for Scientology -- the year started off with a stunning note of dissent by a popular former executive, Debbie Cook, who, in an e-mail distributed to thousands of her fellow church memebers, accused Miscavige of putting too much emphasis on "extreme fundraising" and driving the church away from the aims of its founder. The church sued Cook, excommunicated her, and then settled its lawsuit with her after she promised never to speak publicly about Scientology again.
Just this week, Wendy Honnor, a well-known Australian Scientologist and former winner of the Freedom Medal of the International Association of Scientologists, dramatically announced her own defection and cited Debbie Cook's e-mail as a major reason for it. Reached through e-mail, Honnor told me, "As you can imagine, I am very taken aback by the huge response to my resignation."
As we were trading e-mails with Honnor, trying to set up an interview, the defection of an IAS Freedom Medal winner was dwarfed by the spectacular news from "Int Base."
It was Ronald Miscavige Sr. who introduced his twelve-year-old son David to Scientology in 1972, hoping to find a cure for his asthma. (See this excellent recent history of the Miscavige family by Philly.com writer Jason Nark.) Within a few years, David was working directly with Hubbard, and then as Hubbard went into hiding in the 1980s, Miscavige began to consolidate his own control over the organization. Since Hubbard's death in 1986, David Miscavige has run Scientology as an absolute dictator.
But he's had trouble in the past holding on to his own family. His older brother Ronald Jr. (known as "Ronnie") left Scientology in 2000 and has never talked publicly about it. Ronnie's daughter, Jenna Miscavige Hill, who had grown up in the church, left in a much more vocal way, becoming the subject of a 2008 Nightline special on the way children in the church are treated -- often harshly, doing hard menial labor for little or no pay.
And now news that Miscavige's own father and stepmother have left -- "blown" in Scientology parlance -- is spreading like wildfire among the ex-Scientology community.
But the news about a Hubbard family member breaking free is even more shocking.
Of L. Ron Hubbard's seven children, only one, Diana, 59, the first of his children by his third wife, Mary Sue, is still a loyal member of the church.
Diana was a favorite of Hubbard's, and served with him aboard his yacht Apollo, as he ran Scientology from a floating armada in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Diana was married to Jonathan Horwich on the Apollo, and they had a daughter, Roanne, who is now in her early 30s.
Roanne and Diana have been living at the secretive Int Base east of Los Angeles since at least the late 1980s (Jonathan Horwich is no longer a church member.)
Only members of the "Sea Org" -- Scientology's most hardcore elite -- live at the base, and most spend lives completely cut off from the outside world. A particularly dramatic example of that was the death last year of Ann Tidman, a woman who was one of Hubbard's caretakers at the end of his life, who remained so sealed off from the world outside the base, her own sisters didn't learn about her death to cancer until six months later.
For Roanne to break free from that kind of insular environment is remarkable, and another indication of how things at the base are deteriorating. Earlier this year, Debbie Cook gave stunning court testimony about high-level executives being rounded up and held in a primitive office-prison at the base for a period of several years. Since about 2002, Miscavige has reportedly been purging the upper ranks of Scientology management of its executives. Many of them have abandoned the base, and in 2009 several former officials went public with allegations that Miscavige was not only imprisoning and humiliating his employees but also physically assaulting them. The church denied that any assaults by Miscavige had occurred and blamed some of the executives for creating an environment of violence. Either way, a hellish picture of the base emerged, and ex-members had predicted that other high-level defections would be likely to occur.
This is the first defection from the base since 2010, when John Brousseau left and gave us our last clear view of what was happening behind its razor-wired walls. Now, there's a flood of new information, some of which we have heard from multiple sources and can piece together at this point.
What we can tell you today may be limited, but for Scientologists, it is earth-shaking news.
As if church members hadn't been asked to give enough already, we're hearing that several new expensive initiatives have been launched or are in the works, and soon David Miscavige will be announcing one of the biggest revelations of his 26-year leadership of the church: there's a new Bridge to Total Freedom.
Before we detail the changes, let's quickly summarize the burden of "extreme fundraising" that Debbie Cook was referring to in her infamous e-mail:
-- For years, members have been hit up for money to build the $100 million "Super Power” Building in Clearwater, Florida, which has been under construction since 1998. When it finally opens, it will promise high-end services to wealthy church members who have already given hundreds of thousands of dollars and are still seeking superhuman abilities.
-- Members are also constantly pressured to increase their status with the International Association of Scientologists by donating higher and higher amounts. The IAS was started in the 1980s as a legal defense fund for the church, and Cook claimed in her e-mail that it's turned into a billion-dollar slush fund.
-- Members have also been heavily pressured to donate for the purchase of new, unneeded buildings for Miscavige's "Ideal Org" program. After years of donations, Miscavige has coordinated things so that quite a few of these buildings are opening this year in order to give the impression that Scientology is expanding -- when more reliable evidence suggests it’s actually dwindling.
Ideal Orgs have been opening practically every week, but Miscavige can't keep up that pace. Soon, he'll have big, fancy, and very expensive empty buildings from Hamburg to Buffalo, but this is not a guy who looks back. He's always looking forward.
And now we're learning that he has big plans to keep his flock donating, donating, and donating some more.
Already, he's launched a new "30 by 30" campaign to increase the coffers of the IAS by another $30 million by June 30.
We'd heard about this push from one of our sources, and then noticed this logo at the bottom of one of those fundraising fliers that we often feature here in our Sunday posts:
The zero in that top "30" is the logo of the IAS, and the zero in the bottom "30" implies that there's very little time left -- church members have only until tomorrow to raise this money.
Why the push for so much sudden cash? What's the hurry?
Well, there's a lot on Miscavige's plate, as we're learning from our sources.
Normally, early in June, Scientology's private cruise ship the Freewinds is the site of a celebration lasting a week or two which is called the "Maiden Voyage." It's an annual event that marks the anniversary of the release of New OT VIII, the highest current level of spiritual enlightenment, which is only delivered to church members on the ship.
We've heard from multiple sources that this year, Maiden Voyage was put off until the first week of July.
This St. Kitts music listing for a concert on July 7 to celebrate the Maiden Voyage also appears to confirm that fact.
Why is that significant? One of my sources tells me that it really is a big deal. It's on Maiden Voyage that Miscavige, surrounded by some of his wealthiest followers, reveals new initiatives and new products which he'll ask the rest of the flock to fork out for later in the year. And we're told that this year, Miscavige has a whopper of a package to preview, and getting it just right has involved delays which have moved back the celebration.
Those wealthy Scientologists who sail on the Maiden Voyage will learn next week that come this Auditor's Day -- a big Scientology holiday that happens on the second Sunday in September -- church members will learn they have a lot more to pay for...
-- Finally, the new Mark VIII Ultra e-meter will be released, and each and every Scientologist will be expected to purchase one, at about $4,000.
-- Because the new e-meter has to be written into materials, an entirely new "Bridge" is going to be released, with a new structure and with new pricing.
-- And the Super Power building will finally, finally be opened.
We're told that part of the reason for the Bridge do-over is to rewrite materials for the new e-meter, but another reason is that Miscavige is trying to address the bad press over how expensive Scientology is.
If you're new to Scientology watching, you may have some basic understanding that church members are taught that we are immortal beings who have lost a sense of our true nature, and through church founder L. Ron Hubbard's "auditing" we can wipe away the fog of countless lifetimes of trauma and become "clear." Then, moving along increasingly more expensive levels of auditing (also known as Hubbard's "technology" or "tech"), we can perfect the ability to "exteriorize" from our mundane bodies and get more control over our immortal inner "thetan." This process of increasing control and power is known as "the Bridge" and can cost years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to ascend.
Our source on this says the many steps up the new Bridge are going to get split out with individual pricing in order to give the impression that prices are lower, even though that's not really the case. One step on the current Bridge costing $2,000, for example, might get broken up into four smaller steps at only $500 each.
Miscavige's overhauling of materials has caused serious strife in the organization before. In 1996, he announced "The Golden Age of Tech" and said that some training levels were in error, and after fixing them, required many Scientologists to redo training that cost them tens of thousands of dollars. In 2007, he republished Hubbard's essential texts in a new package called "The Basics" and pressured all members to buy multiple sets of them at up to $3,000 per set.
At Int Base, the new Bridge restructure and pricing is being referred to as "Golden Age of Tech II" -- a name that had been leaking out among ex-Scientologists in recent weeks.
It's not clear yet whether members who have already moved up the Bridge will have to redo its steps once it is repackaged and repriced. But my source told me there's no question that every church member will have to shell out for at least one new machine. (The Mark VIII Ultra has been in the pipeline for nearly a decade, as Carnegie Mellon University's Professor David Touretzky reveals in lengthy notes about its development. Other rumors had it being prived lower, under $1,000. But my source says Miscavige wanted it cheaper to produce, but even more to buy.)
The wealthy "ambassadors" who go on the Maiden Voyage will, my source tells me, get an opportunity to buy the new machine at a slight discount, and try out new materials, so when the big reveal is made for the rest of the flock in September, they can provide influential testimonials.
Suddenly, the mad push to get Ideal Orgs to open this spring and summer is making more sense. As we saw at the Birthday Event -- Scientology's holiest night, celebrating Hubbard's March 13 birthday -- Miscavige used much of the evening (about forty minutes of a 3-hour program) to show speeches at Ideal Org openings in Hamburg, Cincinnati, and Sacramento. For the big crowd at the Auditor's Day gathering, he'll have film of even more grand openings -- at Denver, Phoenix, Orange County, Buffalo and more -- as he whips up the crowd to prepare for news of all the new things they need to pay for. (As usual, we'll be looking for a video of that event soon after. It should be a doozy.)
With this step, Miscavige is taking a huge risk. Discontent over his first redo of Hubbard's technology -- the 1996 Golden Age of Tech -- has never really died down, and was one of the key reasons for the exodus of longtime, loyal church members, some of them very high profile, like actor
Jason Beghe. With intense fundraising driving away even more people like Dave and Synthia Fagen, Miscavige risks another wave of defections by announcing yet another alteration of Hubbard's tech and even more demands for re-payments.
We are working hard to get you even more information about what's been happening at Int Base and expect to have more soon.
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