This story was originally published in the June 21, 2009, edition of the then-St. Petersburg Times as part of The Truth Rundown series.
The Church of Scientology pressed vigorously Friday (June 19, 2009) to delay publication of the Times’ Scientology story. Its spokesmen and lawyers said that the few days the newspaper gave the church to respond to Mike Rinder, who only recently agreed to go public, was not enough time. The church also said the Times needs to talk to more people.
Church spokesmen, executives, attorneys and others flew in from around the country to meet with reporters in Clearwater. The parade started with ex-wives of the three male defectors. All three are Scientologists still. Each praised Miscavige’s visionary leadership and said their ex-husbands can’t be trusted.
Jennifer Linson said her ex, Tom De Vocht, had a reckless streak. Anne Joasem said her ex, Marty Rathbun, “lives for war.” Cathy Rinder said her ex is so out of touch with their children he doesn’t know his 24-year-old son has skin cancer.
Next came Norman Starkey, a church executive who knew Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. He said Miscavige never attacked him. “I know everything he is doing is exactly in line with what Mr. Hubbard had in mind.”
Hubbard biographer Danny Sherman told a story of Miscavige spotting an injured sparrow, talking to it and checking back later to see if it lived. “It was immensely tender.”
New York lawyer Eric Lieberman said he has represented the church 32 years and worked with Rathbun, who he said is aggressive and prone to ill-advised decisions.
After eight hours, when reporters readied to leave, church spokesman Tommy Davis brought in nine senior members of the management team. They stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the exit and insisted they be heard. Marc Yager, Guillaume Lesevre, Ray Mithoff, Mark Ingber, all said Miscavige never struck them.
“I stayed up all night, scribbled notes on a piece of paper of things I had to tell you,” Lesevre said. “And obviously you don’t want to hear me. Fine. I want it on record that you don’t want to hear what I’ve got to say.”
Ray Mithoff: “These guys are attacking — they’re not just attacking him, they’re attacking my whole religion and saying things about my base, the place I’ve worked for 27 years.”
Greg Wilhere, yelling, said, “Mr. Miscavige never hit, abused anyone. And I know it better than anyone because I’ve been by his side more than Rinder, Rathbun and the rest of them.”
David Bloomberg: “Do you not think that you are perhaps being used as a pawn in a very sick game?”
Lyman Spurlock: “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.”
A 25-hour effort
In 25 hours of meetings with reporters, the two church lawyers and two spokesmen extolled the accomplishments of David Miscavige and attacked the credibility of the defectors.
The defectors are spewing “absolute and total lies,” a church spokesman said, in an effort to tarnish Miscavige, a revered religious leader.
The defectors are vengeful failures, said lawyer Monique Yingling, a non-Scientologist who represents the church.
“They didn’t leave because one day they decided they wanted a different life,” she said. “They left because they were removed from post, demoted and they couldn’t handle it. That’s basically it.
“And now they are out there bitter and disgruntled and attacking the one individual who is really responsible for what’s happening to the church. That’s your story.”
Yingling and chief church spokesman Tommy Davis acknowledged that violence became part of the management culture. “Some of them were beat up,” Yingling said. “But not by David Miscavige. You know by who? Marty Rathbun.”
Davis said his own internal investigation found that Rathbun attacked 22 Sea Org members in the years before he left the church — 50 instances in all.
The violence played out at the church “base” outside Los Angeles in 2003 and 2004, the church says, when Miscavige was in Clearwater negotiating to end the wrongful death lawsuit that Lisa McPherson’s family filed against the church.
Back at the base, the church said, Rathbun instituted a “reign of terror.”
Yingling said Miscavige returned to California, put a stop to Rathbun’s brutality and got back to expanding the reach of Scientology. “When that (McPherson case) was wrapped up in 2004, he did go back to the base and essentially said… ‘I don’t have to have my time and energy distracted to those legal lines. So what we are going to do now is what I’ve always wanted to do and concentrate on the expansion of the church. And either you’re with me or you’re not with me.’…
“And it turned out these individuals you are talking to weren’t willing to get on board. And for that reason they were taken off post.”
Yingling cited another reason Rathbun and Mike Rinder were demoted: After McPherson died, they made mistakes when they worked with the church’s legal team in Clearwater.
“Unfortunately, the extent of their bungling was not discovered until afterward… They were removed from post and a lot of it has to do with McPherson.”
Rathbun’s real agenda is to hijack Scientology, the church says, pointing to postings on Internet message boards from “T. Paine” — who the church said is Rathbun. One post concludes Miscavige “has no right to his position in Scientology. He was not appointed, elected or even nominated. He just grabbed it. It’s time we grabbed it back.”
Said Yingling: “Marty is basically saying he wants to come in and set things straight in Scientology and all he has to do is get rid of Dave and then he’s going to take over.”
Rathbun said he didn’t write the posts; the administrator of the Web site told the Times someone else wrote them.
Davis said Rathbun is hurting financially and, against all church rules, is conducting auditing sessions on his own. “I will tell you exactly what this is about,” Davis said. “This is about money, plain and simple. He (Rathbun) ran out… And what he is doing is drumming up business. He is using your publication to do it.”
Davis and Yingling said church growth spiked in the years after the defectors left. “I have represented this organization for more than 20 years,” Yingling said, “and I’ve never seen such expansion.”
Scientology says: It’s been a ‘renaissance’
Scientology has enjoyed unprecedented growth, spokesmen say, a credit to the “hands-on” leadership of David Miscavige. Church material has been updated and new churches opened.
All of church founder L. Ron Hubbard’s books, lectures and course packs have been translated into the 17 languages spoken in Scientology’s target markets.
Nine new churches, called orgs, opened since 2004, plus four smaller test centers, including in downtown St. Petersburg and Plant City. Three orgs opened this year — Dallas, Nashville and Malmo, Sweden — with five more to open before year’s end, in Las Vegas, Rome, Brussels, Tel Aviv and Washington, D.C.
In Clearwater, the church’s signature property, the Fort Harrison Hotel, re-opened in March after a $40 million renovation.
At the OT Summit 2007 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Miscavige announced the release of a new edition of Hubbard’s 18-volume basic texts. Used by Scientologists for half a century, the volumes contained errors. Miscavige corrected thousands of pages over three years and listened to a Hubbard lecture every night.
Calling Miscavige “the author of the Renaissance,” Davis said the church’s numbers refute the defectors’ claims of a slowdown. “The fundamental problem in their allegations is apparent in that it’s incongruent with the great growth experienced.”
Catalog of confessions
The church prepared binders of indexed material that included confessions the defectors wrote during their time in Scientology.
A key tenet of Scientology is that an individual who admits and takes responsibility for his bad thoughts and acts feels unburdened and joyful. Church members write confessions, which go into “ethics files” that are supposed to remain secret. But to rebut the defectors’ allegations about David Miscavige, church officials took the extraordinary step of releasing excerpts from the files. In them, the defectors admit transgressions and praise the leader. The church says the files undercut the credibility of those attacking Miscavige. The defectors say the “confessions” are given under pressure, and writing them is the only way to survive inside Scientology.
Following are some of the church’s assertions about its former leaders.
The church says Rinder is a habitual liar, noting one “Admission” he wrote to Miscavige in which he said he lied 43 times over the years.
February 2005: Apology. “Dear Sir, I owe you something way beyond and, in addition to an apology, my gratitude for saving my life. Your insistence for months and years that I get straight is the only thing that has actually brought me to my senses. Several times in the past I pretended to myself, you and others that I had confronted my out ethics and gotten myself handled. It was not true.”
June 4, 2005: Announcement. “I recognize very clearly how Treasonous I have been towards you and Scientology. This comm. is to inform you of my Step B and Doubt Announcement. The announcement is to go to “persons directly influenced” and that is most definitely you. Your insistence that I get straight is what made me confront my suppressive acts. I know that when you say something it is true and it is what has kept me going…”
The church says Scobee violated rules on “romantic involvement outside marriage.” In her “confession” the 2D reference is for Second Dynamic but is used as slang for sex.
Jan. 16, 2005: Reasons for leaving: “I have constantly been in ethics trouble,” Scobee writes, to the point that she has become a “distraction to the group.”
Jan. 22, 2005: Specifics on 2D activity: In graphic detail, Scobee outlines everything from “holding hands” to back rubs that “evolved into full out 2D” and the time “we were in the C/S office and had sex.”
Tom de Vocht
The church says De Vocht was demoted for overspending on renovation projects he oversaw.
July 20, 2004: Treason report. De Vocht writes that he blew a land deal in Clearwater that not only cost the church $1 million, it wasted the time of the Chairman of the Board — Miscavige — cleaning up De Vocht’s mess.