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“Going Clear:” Scientology’s coverup efforts against the HBO documen …

David Miscavige | Photo by Scientology Media via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1LjAXSO)

One of the eeriest parts of Going Clear:Scientology and the Prison of Belief, the new HBO documentary about the abuses of Scientology, happens when Tom Cruise recounts being asked about whether he’s ever met a Suppressive Person. (S.P.s, as they’re known in the Scientology community, are people who impede your progress as a Scientologist.) Cruise starts to laugh at the idea that he might never have met an S.P., because to him they’re everywhere, and his laugh grows crazier and more maniacal until it becomes super uncomfortable to watch, not unlike his couch-jumping antics. The actor doth protest too much! See for yourself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU4p5CcZvh4

Going Clear is full of moments like this; moments culled from past interviews (because no one from within Scientology would agree to sit down with these filmmakers) that make you realize just how insular Scientology is. Several ex-Scientologists were interviewed and they all, without exception, had friends and family members still in the Church who had to “disconnect” from them once they left. One particularly harrowing story followed a mother whose decision to leave Scientology has left her without a relationship with her daughter and grandchild.

One of the defining characteristics of a cult is its inability to ask critical questions of itself. For all its flaws, evangelical Christianity–my tradition–can at least admit to wrongdoings and have honest conversations about where we have failed. That ability does not exist with Scientology, a religion founded in the 1950s by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer who thought founding a tax-exempt religion would be the best way to make a bunch of money fast. He was right–the Church’s assets are now approaching $3 billion, even at a time when its number of adherents is at an all-time low. The Church of Scientology claims to have about 10 million members, but according to Mike Rinder–a former Church senior executive featured in the documentary–the figure is around 30,000. They’re investing their money in real estate around the world and hedging their poorly-spun defenses with walls of secrecy built by unlimited financial resources. All of this is reinforced by their strategy of appealing through “self-help” to celebrities and wealthy folks who will keep the Church’s doors open with repeated and generous donations.

The narrative that arises from former Church members is that Scientology has a playbook, and an important part of their strategy is to attack the credibility of their detractors. This has led, in part, to their reputation for litigiousness, and seems to have come straight from L. Ron Hubbard (or “LRH,” as they call him) himself, from this 1966 policy letter:

(1) Spot who is attacking us.
(2) Start investigating them promptly for FELONIES or worse using own professionals, not outside agencies.
(3) Double curve our reply by saying we welcome an investigation of them.
(4) Start feeding lurid, blood sex crime actual evidence on the attackers to the press.
Don’t ever tamely submit to an investigation of us. Make it rough, rough on attackers all the way.

Making it rough, rough on attackers hasn’t stopped with lawsuits, though. In light of the HBO premiere of Going Clear, set for March 29th, someone within the Church’s ranks has set up a Twitter account (@FreedomEthics) made to look like a media watchdog but actually running a smear campaign against Going Clear filmmakers and participants. They are paying to promote tweets that accuse ex-Scientologists in the film of being liars or, in the case of Mike Rinder, a “deadbeat wife abuser.” Rinder tells a very different story on that front, of being confronted by seven Scientologists while in a parking lot, and says the ensuing scuffle left his wife with cuts on her arms.

David Miscavige | Photo by Scientology Media via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1LjAXSO)

David Miscavige | Photo by Scientology Media via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1LjAXSO)

Some of the most disturbing parts of Going Clear aren’t interviews at all; they’re the lavish galas thrown by the International Association of Scientologists. Church leader David Miscavige presides over a room of thousands, people dressed to the nines to celebrate their own greatness, and/or their tax-exempt status, an event which prompted fireworks and thunderous applause when it was finally granted in 1993. It’s hard to think of a word other than creepy to describe the self-congratulatory vibe of these gatherings, with the mutual admiration society of Miscavige and Tom Cruise gripping each other’s hands in tight, masculine handshakes, mouthing “thank you” to each other three or four times before letting go so the other could speak and lead the crowd in a rousing round of “Happy Birthday” sung to a portrait of LRH, ever-present.

But the worst abuses of Scientology are reserved for those who would question its essential truth. Those folks end up at a facility called “The Hole,” outside of Hemet in Riverside County, CA. Here, troublesome members are made to beat each other, clean bathrooms, lick dirty floors, and live in deplorable conditions. These Church members–often top executives whose lines of reasoning took them in directions David Miscavige didn’t like–stayed for months, sometimes years, in ant-infested, sweltering trailers with little to eat and less to hope for. It’s nothing short of brainwashing, replete with derogatory treatment and physical abuse. In one of the Church’s most infamous cases, David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, has not been seen or heard from since August 2007. Church leaders claim she is working for the Church in private.

Scientologists do not want you to see Going Clear, which is all the more reason to go. There are bits about Tom Cruise and John Travolta that will surprise you, but the most shocking stuff has to do with the regular people who bear the brunt of this cult’s secrecy and abuse. The Church will continue to try to discredit the filmmakers and participants, but that will only have the effect of piquing curiosity–and, hopefully, eventually, bringing about its own downfall.

About the author

Laura Turner

Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. In addition to being a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, she has also written for publications such as Books & Culture and The Bold Italic. She is interested in the intersection of church and culture.

33 Comments

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  • Thank you for this peek at the MANY , insidious and despicable things this supposed ” church ” has done to its members. You have no idea of the sheer volume of abuses committed daily by this cult & I for one, truly hope that the U.S government grows some balls and does a complete investigation into the illegal holding of passports, imprisonment, harassment & emotional blackmail this group flaunts self-righteously. To them, a Scientologist is superior to us non scieno- “wogs”

  • Margaret,

    Yes, I used to know a co-worker many years ago who lost her husband and house after becoming a member of this “church”. She ended up filing a lawsuit against it and settling for a confidential amount and terms.

    She was so glad to get out of that “money-making business”; and hopefully others involved with it will follow suit!

  • This is a sadly biased and error ridden article.

    1. I’m not sure why you automatically think, “I see it in the film, therefore, it must be true.” Did you research it yourself? Did you speak to the other side? You are a journalist. Seeking TRUTH is a primary code of journalism, ref: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

    2. You misspeak the truth and allude to a superficial effort at researching this article when you say, “David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, has not been seen or heard from since August 2007.” This just isn’t true. She interacted with police who were checking on her due to Leah Remini’s Police report in 2013: Ref: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2386970/LAPD-search-Scientology-leaders-wife-Shelly-Miscavige-prompted-Leah-Reminis-missing-person-report-detectives-met-confirmed-alive-well.html

    3. If you are so quick to assume “Going Clear” is the truth, and you 100% misspeak about Shelly Miscavige not being seen since 2007, how can the reader believe anything of what you say here?

    4. The Church is not alone in objecting to Alex Gibney’s falsified portrayal in a documentary. A major Apple exec has just done the same thing regarding Alex Gibney’s Steve Job’s documentary. How is the Church responding to lies, any different than this Apple exec doing the same over the Jobs documentary? http://mashable.com/2015/03/16/eddy-cue-steve-jobs-documentary/

    Journalist code of ethics: “Seek The Truth And Report it.”

  • thank you for your honest and intelligent article..The facts regarding the destruction of the actions and beliefs of this “religion” that is in this documentary are true. I was a member for over 27 years. I was kicked out due to wanting more family time.

  • Laura, this is an excellent review, and you bring up some astute observations about the cult of $cientology and its members. As an ex-member, I appreciate your comparisons between a cult and a religion. You said a cult cannot admit failures. Human beings learn from mistakes, but members of a cult cannot. Eventually enough cognitive dissonance will make members of cults leave the fold, as I did. I do not regret my mistake of being part of a dangerous cult, because I learned a valuable lesson. I speak out about it now, though in a smaller way than some of the people in Alex Gibney’s “Going Clear” documentary. Getting to the point, I am surprised the “church” of $cientology has lasted as long as it has because it does NOT improve from its mistakes and it does NOT change with the times. All of the attacks they have made recently about this documentary are the same way they have handled the press and journalists in the past. They are predictable and people are not afraid of them anymore.

  • Give me a break, she’s got the picture fine. Clams in the cult wouldn’t participate, get it?

    David Miscavige hasn’t addressed the public since 1992, and your new spokesclown (after the last one quit on his billion year Sea Org contract) will not speak in public or answer questions.

    Miscavige beats his underlings. The Hole was a set of double wide trailers at Gold Base where executives were imprisoned. They aren’t there now. Miscavige had them removed. But your crazy cult denies they were ever there.

    Debbie Cook, a big money-maker for the cult, was sent to the Hole. She knew so much bad stuff about Miscavige that when the cult sued her, they ended up paying her and her husband off handsomely, to be able to live the rest of their lives without working, just to shut up.

    Hubbard was a liar of epic proportions. He was never blind. He never had major injuries from the war. He wasn’t a war hero. He asked the military for psychiatric help because he knew he had mental problems.

    Show your superpowers on Youtube. Seriously, move something with your tiny mind. Perform a time shift or something. You know,as a clam, you have total control over matter, energy, time and space.

  • In the free world, a person has the right to review a movie and report their opinion on that movie. Only scientologist are crazy enough to think that they can shut down free thinking and free speech like they do with each other. One can find examples on their fb pages of the thought policing. They are told to not look at “entheta” (anti-cult news) and to only look at the cult printed hate magazine. Members say to seek the truth yet will refute anything not printed by freedumb magazine. When faced with links to court documents or research done by real journalist, they really go into conspiracy theory mode. They are told that people who speak out are paid by pharmaceutical companies or the evil psychiatric industry. As you can see from the ravings they post to journalist and the hate magazine they promote, these people thrive on thinking they are fighting a common enemy. I pity them.

  • How’s human trafficking, slavery, holding people prisoner until they die, throwing kids overboard, incarcerating children by the anchor of a ship, separating families, forced abortions, not allowing kids to see their own parents, blaming the victims of sexual predators for their own situation because they “pulled it in”, protecting sexual predators from prosecution as long as they are rich donaters, not allowing needed medications even in life-threatening situations, convincing people to give up all their money until they go into bankruptcy and foreclosure, telling people to write “knowledge reports” on their friends and families to rat them out, taking advantage of addicts by performing a bait-and-switch by getting people to spend thousands on rehab which is nothing more than reading LRH taking vitamins and sitting in a sauna (which sometimes results in death), spying, torture both physical and psychological, kidnapping, surveillance, spying, and systematic daily harrassment that goes on for years—pretty sure Scientology “wins” in the evil department.

  • How kind of you to confirm the truth of this article.
    Your response to an article about a film you HAVEN’T seen:
    1 attack the author
    2 attack the author
    3 attack the author
    4 attack the author

    You latch on to a minor inaccuracy. It is true that the LA police have, in response to a missing persons report, clarified that Shelly Miscavige is alive.
    She certainly has not been seen in public since 2007.
    This does not nullify the article or the documentary.

    The real question is “Where is David Miscavige?”
    He is hiding, afraid to appear in public.
    He has not answered a question from an interviewer since 1992.
    Where is hiding on the Tone Scale?

    Your attempt to join the Apple response to the $cientology response is risible.
    Apple have not attempted calumny, slander or other vile attacks – I refer to the pathetic 5 page letter of Karin Puow, official spokesperson for Co$, to the Hollywood Reporter and the vile videos that your sorry excuse for a “Church” has heavily advertised on the internet.

    Google Streisand effect – if your masters will allow you.
    Soon it will be known as the Miscavige Effect.

  • ANDY, the documentary is based on the reporting of Lawrence Wright and all the information given to him by Tommy Davis the ex-Scientology spokesman. It is also based on self damning evidence that is easily found by anyone; video of and writing by Hubbard, his church policy letters excerpted in Ms Turner’s review for example, and the first hand accounts of hundreds of interviewees.

    Ms.Turner’s take on Scientology’s gaudy conferences and rallies is identical to my impression back when I first saw them on youtube. Most folks unindoctrinated by Hubbard’s methods, the TRs, auditing and church propaganda, the pressure to conform and the financial and familial investment, would agree that Miscavige’s galas and ceremonies are tasteless and over the top. Of course somebody in the mental health industry might see these gatherings as a Jew would see a Nazi rally.

    Why should Scientology behave differently than Apple? Unfortunately I subsidize your so-called religion with my tax dollars. You’re not supposed to behave like a for-profit corporation. But even Apple isn’t organizing smear campaigns. They won’t trot out family members and let them embarrass themselves on the internet. Your strategy to combat this documentary is horrible. One just shakes their head. Hubbard’s PR methods are amazingly outdated and ineffective. The poor old fart never saw the internet coming.

    But the real question is; where is your leader, ANDY? Why won’t Miscavige speak? Why can’t he clear anything up. Why are you having to do his thankless dirty work and play a game you can’t win? Will Miscavige ever emerge from his hole and face the real world, or will he just keep kicking around the remaining Scientologists trapped in Hubbard’s yard?

  • Sorry that doesn’t show me Apple is anywhere as upset as the $cion’s, who don’t want to sully the reputation as their pay as you go scam. Should they pay taxes and they should it might cut into their profits. Not even the vatican employs so many lawyers. You know why? Because they are a dangerous cult that destroys lives!

  • If anyone is still undecided whether Scientology is a cult, I encourage you to sift through the dozens of official Scientology documents leaked by WikiLeaks

    fihttps://wikileaks.org/wiki/Category:Scientology

  • I lost my brother to the church of scientology. He spent 40 years in there, becoming “clear”, putting money aside for his ot levels and then ended up delusional/schizophrenic.

  • Andy R:
    I think Bill T was your last handle. No one knows you. Why do you keep using a different name? To make your side appear numerous?

  • Andy R.; I can only hope that someday you will come to your senses and leave this insidious cult. The truth of the matter is that Ron Hubbard was a con man who used religion as his tool to defraud his victims. He preyed upon innocent and decent people by targeting their ruin and appealing to their baser instincts. Pride, greed, envy and wrath, recognized as four of the seven deadly sins, are the most recognized attributes of every scientologist whose actions are exposed to public view.
    As the French philosopher Voltair said “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” You need look no further than the documented and systematc harrassment of Monique Rathbun, whose only “crime” was to fall in love and marry an outspoken critc of the church to witness the moral depravity that the most enlightened scientologists on this planet – those who have achieved the fabled OT states – willingly descend into. You need only look at the court records to view the “wog” crimes – fraud, larceny, and even murder – its most successful members have been convicted of, to understand that compassion, humility, tolerance, and respect are anathema to those involved.
    http://prosecutorialrant.blogspot.com/2011/03/rex-fowler-scientologist-run-amuck.html

  • Andy R. is on the side of Scientology Inc., most likely a $cientologist. My association with that cult deceased Aug. 2014, and began in 1977.

    Laura Turner said it best when she summed up her article: “The Church will continue to try to discredit the filmmakers and participants, but that will only have the effect of piquing curiosity–and, hopefully, eventually, bringing about its own downfall.”

  • Going Clear isn’t trying to define the truth. Going Clear is a repository for all the truths that are already out there and well documented.
    Go check out all the testimonies of ex-members and critics and their experiences with this ‘cherch.’

  • Andy R.; you are lying the article is well written and correct. I have been 32 years in the cult and I can tell you based on first hand observations it is a criminal cult that destroys human beings. I made it up to OT VII and met most of the key players in the church in person. Most people come into Scientology because they want to help and are looking for help. In the beginning there are actually some helpful things, but soon the bait and switch is turned on and people get deceived lied to and destroyed.

    To your points: Shelly was always at David’s side and since 2007 indeed she was not longer seen. The fact that she was produced for LAPD when Leah Rimini filed a missing report does not change the fact that she was never seen at any church event or in public since 2007. The article is correct.

    There is no quick assumption “Going Clear” is the truth. I can name you hundreds of Scientologists who can confirm the sins of Scientology, as they relate to the most disgusting and compassionless abuses of people. “Going Clear” does not even touch 0.001 % of the actual cases that show all the same pattern.

    And Yes the Church of Scientology is alone and presents itself with its rebuttal smear campaigns as the dumb clown in tinseltown.

    Your referral to journalistic codes of ethics are hypocritical and bigot. The Church of Scientology is executing a 2 prong strategy: A) deny everything. B) smear anybody who dares to speak about it.
    Where do you find the truth in the lies your Church spits out with every press statement and in every Freedumb magazine smear article?

    Andy R. I challenge you to post in your real name and discuss in public with you the lies and the crimes of your so called Church.

  • Thanks for the very good review. Mighty brave of you. I see it’s causing quite a stir with a rogue scientologist on twitter. Sore loser ‘can’t handle the truth’,lol. In any event, carry on!!

  • Sorry cult follower. It is all true. I was once the Commanding Officer of Celebrity Center Los, Angeles. Every bit of this is true. I was also David Miscaviages “twin” on the SHSBC.

  • You are a troll! I’m sure you are sitting at your desk wishing you could get out of the cult. Good luck getting out of that hell they call a church.

  • For a religion based on science fiction concepts, they appear to be way behind the curve in dealing with technology. Its like they are totally blindsided by the internet

  • Yeah Scientology is Bunk.

    Scientology appeals to people who love handing everything off to an authority – however dubious – that it is better (and much easier) to accept something on faith than to ask any questions.

    These poor fools are victims of a lie – they should open their eyes and do some research and learn the truth!

    The Church of Scientology is very different from Mormonism, Evangelism, or the Roman Catholic Church…..
    OH Wait.
    No it isn’t.

  • What a shocking film, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch another tom cruise film again. He truly looks like a lunitic.

  • This could distroy tom cruises career, and I hope it does !!!! its sad because 2 hours ago I was a big big fan of his work.

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