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Father of Scientology leader: Church is 'manipulative, coercive and, in my mind, evil'

Ron Miscavige, 80, left the Church of Scientology in 2012 after 27 years on staff. He first brought his family into Scientology more than 40 years ago. [St. Martin's Press]

Published May 4, 2016

The father of Scientology leader David Miscavige issued a blistering indictment of the church he introduced his family to more than 45 years ago, describing his son as a tyrant who has turned the organization into a destructive influence.

In a memoir released Tuesday, Ron Miscavige writes that David Miscavige "still possesses the energy and intelligence that I saw in him as a child. But, while he employed those traits in his youth to get excellent grades in school or to become good at hitting a baseball, today he sits atop a multibillion-dollar church that is controversial, litigious, secretive, manipulative, coercive and, in my mind, evil."

The Truth Rundown: Stories of violence, intimidation and control in the world of Scientology — Past Times coverage in ebook format

The elder Miscavige, 80, also said the church has "morphed into an immoral organization that hides a long list of abuses behind First Amendment protections," spends millions to investigate and harass its critics, and has destroyed families — including his own — through its practice of "disconnection."

Titled Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me, the book takes readers on a wild, 244-page ride. It depicts the young Miscavige clan growing up outside Philadelphia in the 1960s and '70s. It follows an earnest and shaggy-haired David leaving home at age 16 to join Scientology's clergy, the Sea Org. It details the father's own 27-year career on Scientology's staff and the years of hardship and hand-wringing that preceded his 2012 escape from the church's desert base near Los Angeles.

The latter moment is a familiar one that echoes the stories of other Scientology defectors. Hearts pounding at the thought of being caught and brought back by church security guards, Ron Miscavige and his wife, Becky, made it past the main gate of the heavily fortified base and gunned the car motor, hoping not to be followed.

Ron Miscavige recounts many fond memories of his time in Scientology, often taking time to explain the theories of church founder L. Ron Hubbard and their benefits. While he recalls good times and loving moments with his son, who is now 56, the prevailing theme is that a church he once saw as a force for good has gone seriously off the rails under the leadership of his own flesh and blood.

Readers from the Tampa Bay area will take note of a climactic moment near the end of the book that unfolds in Clearwater and involves Scientology celebrity Lisa Marie Presley. It was October 2014, when Ron and Becky traveled to Clearwater to try to talk with his two daughters. The daughters had disowned the parents after they left the church. When Presley, a longtime friend of Ron's, found out, she stormed into church offices in downtown Clearwater and looked into the security cameras with a message aimed at David: How dare he split up his family over this.

Two days later, according to the book, the church invited Presley back. Upon her return, she was confronted by the daughters, who yelled at her about how abusive their father had been when they were young.

Students of Scientology will notice how the disharmony within Scientology's first family is at odds with the church's claims that its communication tools work to dramatically strengthen families.

Early on, Ron Miscavige recounts how he found Scientology in the late 1960s, how his wife and four kids became interested as well, and how they jumped in with gusto, traveling twice to England for extended stays at the church's Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead. Young David became especially interested, Ron Miscavige writes, after Scientology counseling mitigated his distressing bouts with asthma.

From there, he writes of many turning points:

• A moment in 1985, after he had joined the staff, when he called to his son with a "Hey Dave," and back came a glare that said "Don't do that again.'

• A profane, hourlong tirade backstage at a Scientology event where the son dressed down the father, a scene Ron Miscavige describes as "shattering."

• A period beginning in the late 1980s and continuing for years in which David Miscavige planned and micromanaged lavish events celebrating Scientology holidays, often cracking the whip with outbursts and staff punishments.

• The years after 2000, when restrictions and punishments at the desert compound became more severe, and staff began to wither under a steady diet of work, sleep deprivation and tongue-lashings from the leader.

By 2006, Ron Miscavige said he didn't want to spend the rest of his life this way and began thinking seriously about leaving. It would take six more years to finally take the plunge.

On March 25, 2012, a Sunday, they gassed up their Ford Focus. They discreetly loaded what belongings they had left and drove toward the gate, where the guards were accustomed to seeing them drive just across the highway to the other half of the compound.

"Had we been caught, Becky and I would have been locked up in a remote part of the base under 24-hour guard, and I would have spent the rest of my life like that," Ron Miscavige writes. "I never would have gotten out. Never."

To the couple's surprise, the guard opened the gate without incident and they sped away.

"We made it," Ron Miscavige writes. "We were free."

In a final chapter titled "A Final Word," he said he hopes things will change one day.

"But for now, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart: David I forgive you."


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