Apr 30, 2016

Virtu pays $105M for Jehovah’s Witnesses building in BK Heights

Kathryn Brenzel
The Real Deal
April 29, 2016

Virtu Financial has closed a $105 million deal with the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a religious dormitory.

The investment company, headed by Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola, has purchased 124 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights, a dormitory building that spans 152,670 square feet, property records filed this week show. The building is one of threethat the religious group was actively marketing as it moves its headquarters to Warwick in Orange County.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are also selling its current world headquarters at 25-30 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights. The third property is a block-long building at 85 Jay Street in Dumbo. Some of the city’s biggest landlords, including Silverstein Properties and Vornado Realty Trust, reportedly bid on the properties. In 2013, Jared Kushner, RFR Realty, Invesco and LIVWRK paid $375 million for a portfolio that includes five industrial buildings and a hotel owned by the religious organization.

Virtu recently made another buy in the neighborhood. In September, the company scooped up a 12-story rental building in Brooklyn Heights for $35 million. Viola’s wife, Teresa Viola, president of invitation maker Maida Vale Designs, signed the deed for 124 Columbia Heights.


Apr 29, 2016

Feds Call for Judge to Disband Police in Polygamous Towns

ABC News
April 29, 2016

The police department should be disbanded in polygamous towns on the Utah-Arizona border found guilty of violating the constitutional rights of nonbelievers, the federal government recommended Friday in a new court filing.

Outside agencies such as local county sheriffs need to handle the duties because of the deep-rooted control of the town marshals by leaders of the polygamous sect that has led to entrenched patterns of the people's rights being trampled, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys said.

The government is also asking a judge to assign an independent monitor to watch over municipal staff in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, and have access to city meetings and documents.

Under the government's proposed punishment, Colorado City would also approve a plan to subdivide properties. The delay of that plan has prevented Utah from reassigning properties that are part of a church trust taken over by the state more than a decade ago after allegations of mismanagement.

A judge has scheduled a four-day hearing in October to address the issue. The towns will have an opportunity to respond to the suggested remedies ahead of that hearing.

A jury in Phoenix found in March that the towns denied non-sect followers of basic services such as police protection, building permits and water hookups.

Attorneys for the towns said the government is asking for unprecedented action that is unwarranted. They both plan to fight the recommendation.

"We're not talking about a pattern of civil rights violations like the deep South. We're not talking about people being raped and beaten," Hildale attorney Blake Hamilton said. "We're talking about people claiming religious discrimination."

Colorado City attorney Jeff Matura said no town officer has been decertified by Utah or Arizona state policing agencies for at least eight years.

"Yet the government wants to take away their jobs," Matura said. "The government is saying these officers should lose their jobs because of their religious beliefs. That's a pretty dangerous path to walk down."

The civil rights trial marked one of the boldest efforts by the government to confront what critics have long said was a corrupt regime in the two towns. The seven-week trial provided a rare glimpse into the communities that for years have been shrouded in secrecy and are distrustful of government and outsiders.

As part of a $1.6 million settlement, nine people in the communities will each receive $173,000. The towns and their water utility also will each pay a $55,000 civil penalty.

The towns denied the allegations during the trial and said the government was persecuting town officials because it disapproves of their religion.

The towns were accused of doing the bidding of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, which disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.

The civil rights trial is one of several fights being waged by the government to rein in church activities.

Eleven church members are facing fraud and money laundering charges on accusations of orchestrating a multimillion-dollar food stamp scheme that diverted at least $12 million worth of federal benefits. The defendants, which include high-ranking leader Lyle Jeffs, have pleaded not guilty.

The U.S. Labor Department has a separate action against a ranch with ties to the church over a pecan harvest in which prosecutors allege children were forced to work long hours with few breaks.

During the civil rights case, the Justice Department said town employees assisted the group's leader when he was a fugitive and took orders from church leaders about whom to appoint to government jobs.

They say local police ignored the food stamp fraud scheme and marriages between men and underage brides.

The jury found the marshal's office violated the rights of nonbelievers by breaking the First Amendment's promise that the government won't show preference to a particular faith and force religion upon people.

Jurors concluded that officers treated nonbelievers inequitably when providing police protection, arrested them without having probable cause and made unreasonable searches of their property.

One woman who was denied a water connection testified that she had to haul water to her home and take away sewage for six years. A former sect member said police ignored hundreds of complaints of vandalism on his horse property because he was no longer part of the church.


Only good at cleansing your wallet: The truth about detox

Max Anderton
Coach Magazine
April 27, 2016


From the covers of women’s magazines to our own HRH Prince Charles, you don’t have to look far to find advocates of “detox”. But while detoxification – the medical term for treatments of dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol or other poisons in the bloodstream – is real, these are medical procedures that can’t just be grabbed off the shelf at Holland & Barrett.

No single food or drink can increase the rate at which we eliminate nasty stuff from the body. More to the point, it’s not even necessary.

“The whole idea of detox is nonsense,” says Dr Frankie Phillips, a spokesperson for The British Dietetic Association. “The body is a well-developed system that has its own built-in mechanisms to detoxify and remove waste from top to toe. Skin, the gut and liver and kidneys are all chemically-controlled powerhouses that respond to signals to remove waste products.”

So, how did the idea of detoxing come about and why are we being sold stuff that claims to cleanse? Ancient Egyptians invented enemas to remove a “toxic sludge” build-up in the colon – something still used to sell them today despite no gastroenterologist ever seeing the stuff – while the Chinese believed toxins left the body through the feet and invented vinegar-soaked footpads to help extract them. These, too, are still being sold despite biology proving that’s absolutely not the case.

Suspicions as to how effective purging techniques actually were date back to the 1830s. That scepticism is far stronger now, with no research-based evidence to suggest any modern detox diet, product or ritual can affect the body’s ability to eliminate waste. “Nobody can even name the substances that they’re supposedly eliminating,” says complementary medicine expert Professor Edzard Ernst. “The only thing detox products do eliminate from the consumer is his or her money.”

“The idea that we’re somehow poisoning ourselves and need to atone for our sins seems to be a part of human nature”
Scott Gavura
However, science can’t win all the time, and lack of proof has done nothing to slow the flow of cash from consumers’ pockets. In fact, the market for all things detox is bigger than ever. It forms a large chunk of the worldwide health and wellness industry, which analysts Euromonitor International predict will hit $1 trillion by 2017. It’s no wonder that the shelves of health food shops and supermarkets are packed with products bearing the magic word.

Tablets, face washes, teabags, foot soaks, bath salts, soft drinks, mouth rinses and even water bottles want a piece of the action. Some yoga classes, fitness retreats, and massage therapists also make unsubstantiated claims about ridding the body of accumulated contamination.

And as excess-loving and generally guilty humans, we want to believe. “Purification rituals date back to the earliest reaches of recorded history,” says pharmacist and advocate for science-based approaches to medicine, Scott Gavura. “The idea that we’re somehow poisoning ourselves and need to atone for our sins seems to be a part of human nature, which may explain why fasting’s still a part of most of the world’s religions.”

Food marketing expert Vhari Russell has a less spiritual explanation, attributing the continuing popularity of the detox phenomenon to an emerging trend of combining health and hedonism: “healthonism”. Companies realise it’s no longer a case of either/or, so encourage us to enjoy life by exercising and eating healthily while not feeling too bad about the odd hangover.

However, despite detoxes being nonsense, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned about the toxins in your body. It’s just a case of being careful about what you consume in the first place. “Focus on eating a balanced diet with fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, dairy, lean protein and healthy fats in it,” says freelance dietitian Priya Tew. “Keep hydrated and reduce activities such as smoking, drinking and being around environmental pollutants.”

As the main player in your body’s fight against toxins, liver health is also key. Keep yours fighting the good fight not just by limiting – ideally, completely avoiding – the usual suspects highlighted above, but by watching your sugar intake. “Too much sugar in your diet won’t just make you fat, it can actually cause liver disease,” says Tew. A little now and again is fine, but if like the average British person you consume over 90g of sugar – roughly three cans of Coke – each day, your liver is already working overtime, and that’s before you factor in our other favourite vice: alcohol.

The detox label is also applied to some extreme approaches to weight loss. Despite being championed by celebs such as Beyoncé [her Master Cleanse consists of nearly starving yourself for 10 days], the idea of cutting out the majority of foods for a set time period to “reset” your body is nonsense.

“These diets seem to ‘work’ because they are low in calories, so people lose weight and improve their glucose, insulin and cholesterol levels,” says Dr Carrie Ruxton, dietitian at the Health Supplements Information Service. “However, this effect can be achieved on any low calorie diet, without also having to miss out on vital nutrients.” Yes, you will lose weight by only drinking lemon water or eating grapefruits, but you’ll also forego iron, calcium, selenium, vitamin D and a host of other things that are essential.

"Also, starving your body encourages it to break down muscle for energy – not good if you’re hoping to coax a six-pack out of hiding."

As Professor Ernst says, any product claiming to have special detoxifying powers – whether for overall health or rapid weight loss – is only truly effective at cleansing your wallet of cash.

As long as you aren’t overdosing on sugar and booze you don’t need to worry about toxins accumulating from your diet. This easily avoidable lot, however, can cause serious problems…

BPA is found in some plastics and a five-year study linked it to reduced male sexual function.

Avoid it by… only buying food and liquid containers labelled BPA-free. Pre-packaged meals can contain it, but switching to fresh food has rapid benefits with a 66 per cent reduction of the body’s BPA levels in just three days.

Phthalates are chemicals linked to disrupted hormone production, and found in grooming products including shampoos, colognes and soap.

Avoid them by… reading the labels. Manufacturers don’t have to list phthalates, but anything with “fragrance” on its ingredient list likely contains them.

PFOA is used in non-stick pans. Thought to be carcinogenic and stunt growth, it’s on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of “chemicals of concern”.

Avoid it by… chucking out non-stick pans once the surface is scratched. Binning that much-loved griddle will be hard, but totally worth it in the long run.


Treating Naturopaths Like They’re Medical Doctors

April 27, 2016

Image: Prayers for Ezekiel/Facebook
Prayers for Ezekiel/Facebook
On April 26, David and Collet Stephan, the Alberta couple who treated their sick toddler with horseradish and onion smoothies for two weeks, were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 18-month-old son, a sentence that carries up to five years in jail. Ezekiel died of meningitis in 2012.

It’s a tragic story, even more so because nobody doubts that David and Collet Stephan loved their son. Instead, they seem to have misguidedly believed that alternative therapies, including an echinacea tincture they bought at a naturopath’s office, would help him get better. The boy eventually stopped breathing, and they phoned 911. He later died in hospital. (The parents testified that they thought Ezekiel had the flu, although a family friend and nurse had suggested he may have meningitis.)

Doctors, government, and the alternative medicine industry all have a duty to do better here. Horseradish and echinacea are no substitute for conventional, science-based medicine. Patients across Canada need better access to family doctors, and they need to know—without a doubt—when it’s time to seek one out, and forego the naturopath.

“I hope this sends a strong message about the nature of [alternative] services,” Tim Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, who has been following the case, told Motherboard on Monday, shortly after the verdict. “And I hope it causes policymakers throughout Canada to rethink how they’re positioning these therapies in our healthcare system.”

Alternative therapies, including naturopaths’ services, are popular. It’s easy to see why: in Canada, which suffers from a longstandingdoctor shortage, it can be difficult—if not impossible—to get a family doctor. Even when you do have one, that doctor is often rushed. By contrast, naturopaths sit with their patients for half an hour or longer, going over every little detail of their health. One of their most valuable services is “lifestyle counselling,” simple diet and exercise advice, that doctors often don’t have the time to do.

Naturopaths have been given the right to self-regulate in many parts of Canada, like Alberta, which gives them a veneer of professionalism. But the general public should be clear on this: plenty of their most popular services still have little or no science behind them. In a 2011 survey in Alberta, Caulfield found that homeopathy, detoxification, and hydrotherapy were among the most popular and advertised treatments offered by Alberta’s naturopaths. “There is no scientific evidence to support those services at all,” he said.

Detoxing, for one, has been debunked over and over again. But people keep paying for it.

The growing creep to pseudoscience, and a distrust of conventional medicine, is something we all need to address—Canada’s doctors and policymakers included. A step in the right direction was former Health Minister Rona Ambrose’s announcement, in 2015, that “nosodes” (homeopathic treatments) would be labelled clearly to show they are not vaccines. The College of Naturopaths of Ontario is in line with this advice.

But there’s clearly still some confusion around alternative therapies. In November, another trial begins in Alberta, into the death of 7-year-old Ryan Lovett, whose mother treated his illness with “holistic” treatments. The Canadian Press found several cases dating back to the 1960s.

Since I first wrote about Ezekiel Stephan, I’ve heard from many naturopaths who point out that they’re licensed professionals, working to protect their patients. I don’t doubt that’s true. But what needs to be made absolutely clear is that such treatments are not an alternative to conventional, science-based medicine. Naturopaths have an important role in this.

The Alberta naturopath whose office provided Ezekiel’s parents with the tincture is nowunder investigation. As for David and Collet Stephan, observers seem to doubt that they’ll be sentenced to a full five years in jail.

“Alternative practitioners shouldn’t be your go-to primary care physician,” Caulfield said. If an adult want to pay for a detox or some other alternative treatment, that’s one thing. “We shouldn’t be testing out our ideologies around healthcare on our children.”


Doctors speak out against chiropractors treating children

Ann Arnold
ABC Australia
April 22, 2016

Chiropractic treatment is claimed as a fix for everything from ear infections to tongue-tie. But some doctors want regulators to ban chiropractic treatment for children altogether, and are accusing the regulator of being unable to rein them in. Ann Arnold reports.

When you see a premature baby having its back cracked, it literally makes my eyes water. - JOHN CUNNINGHAM, SURGEON

Popular Melbourne chiropractor Ian Rossborough treats conjunctivitis and ear infection in babies and children with spinal manipulations. He shares the videos on YouTube, drawing millions of views.

In one video posted earlier this year, he is shown treating a four-day-old baby.

'I have to unfortunately extend her a little bit to get her in the right place,' he tells the parents as he moves the baby into position. Then he pushes down on her back until there's a crack.


Melbourne surgeon John Cunningham, who specialises in spines, watched that YouTube video, and says he cannot fathom why a chiropractor would adjust the spine of a newborn.

'There's not many things that make an orthopedic surgeon emotional, but when you see a premature baby having its back cracked, it literally makes my eyes water,' he says.

'There would be risks of harm. There would be risks that the child could suffer some sort of fracture. Why would you do it? This is the thing that goes through my mind when I watch that video. Why on earth would you do that to a newborn?'

Do you know more about this story?Contact Background Briefing.

Because, says chiropractor Ian Rossborough, this baby with colic—a term generally used for young babies' unexplained bouts of crying—was helped by it.

'When you see the patients returned with these children, they always report that the child is just so much more comfortable, they sleep so much better, they eat so much better,' Rossborough says.

The gap between many chiropractors and evidence-based medicine seems ever wider. The only really strong, often-cited evidence is for lower back pain. But some chiropractors continue to push the envelope, about what they can treat, and how they can help people. Their regulator is accused of being unable to rein them in.

'The Chiropractic Board is meant to be serving and protecting the public,' Cunningham says. 'Unfortunately, it seems to want to protect its own practitioners, rather than the general public, a lot of the time.'

Formal complaint calls for board to be sacked

In February, Cunningham made a formal complaint to the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA)—which administers the board—calling for the Chiropractic Board to be sacked.

Now the head of paediatrics at Royal Darwin Hospital, Dr Paul Bauert, says he, too, wants the Chiropractic Board and AHPRA called to account. And he wants the regulators to ban chiropractic treatment for children altogether.

'AHPRA and the Chiropractic Board, should be banning any treatment of children and adolescents under the age of 16, 17, until the evidence is available that shows that there may be some effect,' Bauert says.

'The only evidence that's available at the moment, looking at all the published chiropractic literature, the conclusions of all of those studies say that chiropractors may compete with physiotherapists in terms of treating some back problems. But all their other claims are beyond belief, and can carry a range of significant risks.'

At the same time, the number of GP referrals to chiropractors—of children—has grown by 83 per cent over the five years to June 2015.

AHPRA chief executive, Martin Fletcher, oversees the Chiropractic Board. He maintains it is doing a good job.

'I don’t believe there is a need for the board to be sacked,' he says.

'The board and AHPRA have worked very closely together to make sure that the public are protected, and that high standards of chiropractic practice are in place.'

Newsletter carries ads for courses to treat colic, tongue-tie

Last month, the Chiropractic Board issued an edict to chiropractors, that they must not promote treatment that does not have a strong evidence base. This included using spinal manipulations to treat non-muscular skeletal conditions.

The main professional body, the Chiropractors Association of Australia, does not appear to be leading by example. It accepts ads in its newsletter for chiropractic courses to treat colic and the unsettled baby, and tongue-tie.

Wayne Minter, the chair of the regulatory board, is a member of the Chiropractors Association. Background Briefing put to him that the association's newsletter appeared to contradict the board’s directions.

'I just want to reiterate that the board expects chiropractors to practice in an evidence-informed, evidence-based way, and will be held accountable to those standards,' he said.

'It’s all detailed in our code of conduct.'

Asked if the ads for courses in treating unsettled babies for colic, reflux and persistent crying sounded like an evidence-based approach, he replied that he did not know the details, and so couldn't comment. He also declined to comment on the advertisements for courses in treating babies with tongue-tie.

Health insurer adds to pressure on chiropractors

Pressure to rein in what chiropractors can promote is now coming from several directions.

Background Briefing has learnt that health insurer HCF also recently wrote to chiropractors, saying the fund would not cover treatments that don't have a strong evidence base, or that have unnecessary X-rays or open-ended preventative treatment for wellness.

But the Chiropractic Board's focus on advertising doesn't extend to what chiropractors actually do.

'The Chiropractic Board will put out these edicts, they will put out these statements, and the proof will be in the pudding,' says surgeon John Cunningham.

'I hope that over the next 12 months we see that there's results, and that the chiropractors clean up their act, especially with regarding advertising, but the proof will be in the pudding.'


Thousands flock to 'miracle' icon at south suburban church

Manya Brachear Pashman
Chicago Tribune
April 28, 2016

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Homer Glen
As millions of Orthodox Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter this Sunday and the miracle of Jesus Christ's resurrection, thousands across the Chicago area are flocking to a southwest suburban parish to see what they believe to be a different miracle.

Since July, tiny droplets of fragrant oil have trickled down an icon of St. John the Baptist in front of the altar at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Homer Glen. Parishioners believe the oil has healing properties and that its origins are a blessing from God.

"The first thing out of my mouth was 'What do I do?' " said the Rev. Sotirios "Sam" Dimitriou, the parish priest. "You don't expect anything like this. It's breathtaking. It's so powerful to see such an act of God before your eyes."

Whether it's an act of God or a chemical reaction, no one really knows. And frankly, few in the Greek Orthodox community care. A rational explanation is irrelevant if what seems to be a supernatural event draws people toward God, clergy say.

"We don't necessarily make official pronouncements on these things," said Bishop Demetrios, auxiliary bishop of Mokissos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago. "We let the faithful believe it if they wish. … If it brings you closer to God that's wonderful. If it doesn't, it doesn't."

The oil, which parishioners believe to be myrrh, exudes from the icon's halo, wings, hands and beard. Collected every week by a reservoir of cotton at the base of the icon, Dimitriou regularly extracts the oil into a pitcher, then saturates cotton balls, which he seals in plastic bags for parishioners to take home and share with their loved ones. So far, he has handed out more than 5,000 samples — a handy way to track the flow of pilgrims.

While Dimitriou certainly does not mind sharing the oil, he has been reluctant to broadcast its origins. Instead, news of the icon has spread by word of mouth.

Reports of the oil's healing effects have made their way to Dimitriou. One man reportedly went to the doctor concerning a blockage in his artery, but it had disappeared. Another reports being cancer free after touching the oil.

The painter of the icon, Peter Mihalopoulos, said he believed the oil was the reason why he was in his garage painting two days after a hip replacement.

Dimitriou himself, who before the oil began to flow, frequently passed out at the altar or in his office because of nerve damage, said he has not been hospitalized for his nerve condition since September and he stopped taking his medication in January.

This is not the first time unexplained streaks of moisture have been spotted on an icon in the Chicago area.

A weeping icon of Mary has drawn huge crowds to St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church several separate times since it began to emit moisture in December 1986. In 1994, parishioners at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cicero said they witnessed tears streaming from the eyes of Mary in an icon of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus.

Unlike those weeping icons, Dimitriou said the oil on St. John the Baptist appears to come from everywhere but his eyes. He has been told that means the icon offers a sign of joy, not sadness.

The fact that it's an icon of St. John the Baptist, also sets it apart. John Price, a 20-year-old altar server, noticed the droplets of oil on the icon, as he held a flickering candle during a Sunday service in July.

Sitting in the front chair that morning, his mother Miki noticed her son transfixed. When he told her later what he had witnessed, she immediately went back to the church to see for herself. "That's my son's saint, and my son wants to be a priest," Miki Price said. "It totally blesses me that John was the first to see it."

James Skedros, dean of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., said that although icons don't exude oil every day, similar episodes have taken place across the U.S. There is no formal process in the Orthodox church of authenticating such incidents as miracles, he said, but they are believed to hold significance.

Just as Christians believe God broke into the physical world with his incarnation 2,000 years ago, Orthodox Christians believe that matter can be a conveyor of sanctity, he said.

"We have a very different understanding of matter as a vehicle of holiness so we treat icons in that matter," Skedros said. "We put them on walls, burn candles in front of them, light incense in front of them because they're images of what they represent — the holy person or image of Christ or the saint."

Could the phenomenon be attributed to a reaction to the church's environment? Of course, Skedros said. But why go there? What bishop wants to question the congregation, discredit a priest or doubt God?

Indeed, Bishop Demetrios sees the rivulets of oil and powerful perfume emanating from the icon as a blessing for a wounded congregation.

In 2007, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese suspended a former priest over allegations he sexually abused minors in the early 1970s while he was a priest at Assumption, when it was located in Olympia Fields.The parish eventually moved to Homer Glen in 2013.

"God through this icon is somehow healing this parish from some serious hurt in its past," Bishop Demetrios said.

Helen Conits, who joined the parish this week, said the icon has offered her comfort and peace of mind. On Wednesday, she came to the church to be anointed with oil in the sacrament of holy unction and to pick up a cotton ball for her ailing father and her daughter.

"I do believe in miracles," she said. "I don't necessarily have to see it but it's nice. At a time when everything seems to be falling apart in the world and for us personally, it's nice to see."

Dimitriou said the potential for crowds does make him nervous but it's stories like Conits' that remind him what a blessing the icon offers to the world.

"When people see this, it's just a reminder that God is still alive and still working through us and it's a reminder that there's still hope in the world for us," he said.

Pamela Arvanetes, a parishioner at Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Palos Hills, brought her five children to venerate the icon Wednesday.

"I wanted them to witness it," she said, "an extra blessing, the symbol of our faith, a miracle."

Twitter @TribSeeker


Scientology Leader David Miscavige's Father Says His Son Changed After Joining Church Leadership

ABC News
Apr 27, 2016, 


 interview with Ron Miscavige on ABC News
Watch the full exclusive interview with Ron Miscavige on ABC News' "20/20" THIS FRIDAY, April 29 at 10 p.m. ET

Ron Miscavige said that by the time his son David Miscavige was 15 years old he wanted to be fully committed to the Church of Scientology.

“He says, ‘I want to go and help L. Ron Hubbard,’” Ron Miscavige told ABC News "20/20." “And I thought to myself… I would be pretty proud of him… So, I said, ‘OK, I’ll help you, whatever I can.’”

At the time, David was already an auditor and a minister of the faith. When David turned 16, he left home and school in Pennsylvania with his family’s consent and went to Scientology’s spiritual headquarters, the Flag Land Base, in Clearwater, Florida, for "Sea Org" training.

The members of the “Sea Organization” or “Sea Org,” are like the clergy of the Scientology. Ron Miscavige would eventually join Sea Org himself, but he said as the years went on something in his son changed.

Ron Miscavige spoke to ABC News in an exclusive interview for “20/20” about his experience as a former Scientologist and about his son David’s rise to power within the Church. Miscavige also talked about his new memoir, “Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me,” out on May 3, which he wrote with Dan Koon, a former Church official who is now a vocal critic.

Ex-Scientologist Lois Reisdorf told ABC News she first met David when she was at Flag looking for recruits to join Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s personal elite Sea Org unit called the Commodore’s Messenger Organization.

“Dave was just like a 16-year-old kid,” Reisdorf told “20/20.” “He was very… gung ho. He had a lot of spark.”

The Church told ABC News in a statement that Reisdorf’s comments about recruiting David Miscavige are “utterly false.”

Before long, David Miscavige was in Hubbard’s circle and moved West without his family where Hubbard, who was also known by his initials LRH, was building new secret bases and shooting Scientology training films.

“He [David] ended up being a cameraman,” Reisdorf said. “But in the beginning, we used to call him ‘the kid,’ and LRH would call him ‘the kid.’”

Ron Miscavige wasn’t in Sea Org at the time and doesn’t have direct knowledge of this.

The Church says Hubbard decided early that Miscavige would eventually succeed him.

“Mr. Hubbard viewed David Miscavige as one of his closest and trusted aides, and he essentially groomed him to become the leader of the Church,” said Church lawyer Monique Yingling. “So really while there wasn’t an anointment or anything like that, it was clear to everyone… that David was the person that Mr. Hubbard would want to take the Church forward.”

But that claim is intensely disputed by Church critics. Reisdorf said originally Hubbard wanted the Church to be run by a committee after he died, not one person. But she said that after Hubbard went into seclusion in 1980, David Miscavige’s influence and power grew as he evolved from the Commodore’s Messenger Organization into a Gatekeeper.

“He started to get power and started to pull in people … onto his side, and it ended up being like a coup, where you had half of the management took over and kicked out the other half,” Reisdorf said.

Reisdorf claims she was part of the “other half” and that she was relieved of her executive duties.

“It was a betrayal,” she said.

In a statement to ABC News, the Church said, “Lois Reisdorf was removed from Church staff and expelled in 1982.”

“Hubbard was the one who personally removed Lois Reisdorf from her management post, never to hold an executive position again,” the statement continued. “Hubbard found that she had ‘systematically crashed’ production by issuing destructive orders, … He stripped her of all rank, and assigned her to clean rooms.”

“Her claims regarding Mr. Hubbard’s plans and intentions for the future of Scientology are lies,” the statement said. “She has no knowledge of them, because she had long since been removed.”

Ron Miscavige joined Sea Org in 1985 when his son David, then in his mid-20s, was already established in the Church’s leadership. His father said he learned shortly after he arrived at Sea Org that things were different between them.

“I saw him walking, oh about 20 yards from me,” Ron Miscavige told ABC News “20/20.” “I says, ‘Hey Dave.’ And he turned to me and he looked at me like, ‘Who are you talking to?’ No words were said but that glance told me those days were over. I would never, I could never do that as a father to a son.”

At first, Miscavige said he enjoyed himself. A longtime practicing musician, he joined the Church's Golden Era Productions as a musician and composer and traveled the world. He said he believed he was helping change the world through Scientology. But he said his son's management style reflected his short temper and often involved yelling or shouting, citing one particular incident where he said David yelled at him at a music event for almost an hour in front of other people.

"I'm the one that got him into Scientology. I raised him, good or bad," Miscavige said. "And to come to this? What the hell is this? This is nuts."

The Church insists Ron Miscavige doesn't know much about David's management style because they didn't spend much time together.

When L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, David officially became the head of the Church, taking the title of Chairman of the Board.

"There were no checks and balances on him [David], at a certain point, where he could just go ahead," Ron Miscavige said. "He just assumed that power. And he had an authoritarian figure. He was a great talker.... he used to say, 'You have power if people will listen to you.' And people did listen to him."


Fraud probe in polygamous town aided by surveillance video

Brady McCombs
St. George Daily Spectrum
Associated Press
April 27, 2016

Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Investigators took aerial videos and installed surveillance cameras at a polygamous town's general store to gather evidence in a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud case, prosecutors revealed Wednesday.

The FBI got permission from a judge and placed a couple of cameras on poles outside the store for about a year, and a camera inside the store for about 40 days, prosecutor Robert Lund said in a Salt Lake City courtroom.

Investigators used planes to take videos of people making bulk purchases at the Meadowayne Dairy Store and taking the items to a community storehouse instead of their homes, he said.The FBI got permission from a judge and placed a couple of cameras on poles outside the store for about a year, and a camera inside the store for about 40 days, prosecutor Robert Lund said in a Salt Lake City courtroom.

The disclosure provided new insight into how authorities conducted the multiyear investigation that led to 11 people being accused in February of diverting at least $12 million worth of federal benefits. It marked one of the biggest crackdowns on a group run by imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty to fraud and money laundering. All but high-ranking leader Lyle Jeffs are on supervised release.

Federal public defender Kathryn Nester declined comment on use of the cameras.

Prosecutors say sect leaders instructed followers to buy items with their food stamp cards and give them to a church warehouse where leaders decided how to distribute the products to followers.

The food stamps were also cashed at sect-owned stores without the users getting anything in return, with the funds then diverted to front companies and used to pay thousands for a tractor, truck and other items, prosecutors say.

The volume of food stamp purchases at two small convenience stores was so large that it rivaled retailers the size of Wal-Mart and Costco, prosecutors say.

Lund offered the information after U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart questioned why the government hadn't turned over all its evidence by an April 15 deadline. Lund says the lengthy videos were still being processed.

He said investigators are working now to synchronize the aerial video with the footage from inside and outside the store to paint a picture for jurors of how the scheme worked. They also obtained video from security cameras put up the by the sect at the store, Lund said.

The polygamous group, based in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, has cameras throughout the community on poles and buildings.

The sect, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, which disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago. The leader is Warren Jeffs, who is considered a prophet and is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting girls he considered brides. His brother, Lyle Jeffs, runs the day-to-day operations.

The food-stamp crackdown marked the government's latest move against the sect, coinciding with legal battles in two states over child labor and discrimination against nonbelievers.

A jury in Phoenix decided in March that the towns violated the constitutional rights of nonbelievers by denying them basic services such as police protection, building permits and water hookups. The Department of Justice is expected to recommend punishments for the towns later this week that could include asking a judge to disband the town police department.


Scientology leader threatens UK publisher with legal action

Patrick Clarke
The Bookseller
April 27, 2016

Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige
British independent publisher Silvertail Books has been threatened with legal action by lawyers representing Scientology leader David Miscavige.

Silvertail is due to publish an account by Miscavige’s father Ron on 3rd May titled Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me in the UK and Ireland.

However, the publisher has received a letter from Johnsons law firm, seen by The Bookseller, warning that if the book is published next week then the company will be sued for defamation.

Despite this, Silvertail’s publisher, Humfrey Hunter, said he intends to go ahead with publication next week.

“The letter has had no effect at all,” he told The Bookseller. “I’m going to publish the book because I believe it’s an important story told in good faith and a brilliant read.”

He added that he had already received a “good number of e-books pre-orders already” through Amazon and his own website, silvertailbooks.com.

Silvertail’s website describes the book as tracing Miscavige’s life from his early years to his rise to power as the current leader of Scientology, told from his father’s perspective.

However, in the letter, Miscavige’s lawyers said the book contains “false, misleading and highly defamatory allegations”.

Hunter added to the Hollywood Reporter: "Full legal due diligence has been carried out on the manuscript, and I am both confident in its integrity and very proud that Silvertail is publishing it. Ron’s story is an important one, and he is a brave man to be telling it."

Johnsons’ letter also implies that the American publishers of the book, St Martin’s Press, have also received similar correspondence from the Church of Scientology’s US attorneys.

Silvertail has previously published a number of other books related to Scientology, including The Unbreakable Miss Lovely by Tony Ortega, about how the church allegedly "tried to destroy" journalist Paulette Cooper, and John Sweeney’s The Church of Fear: Inside The Weird World of Scientology.

Last month, The Bookseller reported that Silvertail was set to publish Going Clear, an investigation into Scientology by Pulitzer prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, three years after it was pulled in the UK by Transworld.


Church Of Scientology Expands Its Georgia Presence

GPB News
April 28, 2016

Georgia's first Ideal Church of Scientology opened its doors on April 2, 2016 in Sandy Springs.

Earlier this month, Georgia's first Ideal Church of Scientology opened its doors. The 45,000-square-foot mansion that houses the church is located in Sandy Springs, just outside Atlanta. We talk to a Scientologist from Atlanta about what draws him to the church, and how it has diversified. Then, we learn more about the church's practices and its history with journalist Tony Ortega of The Underground Bunker blog.



Panel at International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) - Cults and Sex Trafficking

Panel at International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) - Cults and Sex Trafficking
Panel at International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) - Cults and Sex Trafficking, event held Saturday, April 16, 2016 at the University of Southern California.

Alan W. Scheflin, JD, LLM, is Emeritus Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law in California and a member of ICSA’s Board of Directors.

Michael Kropveld, Founder and Executive Director of Info-Cult /Info-Secte, and a member of ICSA’s Board of Directors.

Michael D. Langone, PhD, a counseling psychologist, received a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the Executive Director (ICSA)

Robin Boyle Laisure, JD, Assistant Dean for Academic Success and Professor of Legal Writing, St. John’s University School of Law, and on the editorial board of ICSA’s International Journal of Cultic Studies

Halleh Seddighzadeh, PhD, She is the Founder of ARMAN (Asylee, Refugee Migrant Assistance Network)


Xi signals new party stance on religion via subtle change in words: Sisci

Asia Times
April 26, 2016

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping
President Xi Jinping delivered a very significant speech on religion on April 23. His oratory is expected to guide relations between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the country's religious groups in the future.

The CCP has made similar pronouncements on this subject in the past. In the latest case, Xi notes the party will have to "guide" religions. However, Xi has tellingly chosen to use a Chinese verb for "guide" for the first time that is fraught with new and subtle meanings.

Using this verb means the CCP is de facto introducing an entirely new model that will govern its relationship with religious groups. The model tries to blend two elements ― conservative and innovative. The party keeps the old role of guidance and management of religious organizations. But it is told to do so by recognizing each religion's specific characteristics.

The party will thus manage religious organizations by keeping "politics and religions separate." This point has been conveyed by using the special verb in its rhetoric. The cryptic word play resembles a similar practice in Catholic scholastic tradition. It is easy for foreign media and other commentators outside China to miss this point ― as has often happened in the past several days.

Different characters, different meanings

The key element of the speech is the concept of yindao 引导 that means to lead to guide but it is different from other words with a similar meaning ― as for example zhidao 指导. Yin in yindao indicates a reaction, that is to guide by reacting to an action taken by others (the religious "bodies" which Xi says are like the masses and should be considered as such, as an essential element for the attention of the party).

This is unlike, for example, the word zhidao where zhi means "indicate" and it points to a whole subjective action towards an element that must be and must remain passive.

Therefore, there appears to be a linguistic/philosophical compromise in the role of the party and religious groups where it is clear that the faithful of each religion will adhere to the precepts of their religion. In yindao there is a way to escape the possible contradiction of the faithful: do you first obey your religion and then the party or vice versa? With this formulation the party maintains the lead but not in an autocephalous way. The party must guide by reacting to the stimuli and impulses of religious bodies.

China has had a complex relationship with religions. It is ruled by an officially atheist communist party that in the late 1990s saw its hold on power challenged by the semi-Buddhist beliefs of the dissident sect Falun Gong.

After the government crackdown on the Falun Gong in 1999, China's attitude to religions slowly began to change. The party realized that the common people needed an anchor for their souls. The party couldn't fill such a need after Mao's demise in 1976 and had to stop claiming to be a total answer to mass spiritual needs. This contrasted with the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s when Mao was regarded as some form of demigod.

Traditional religions revived

In this context, the CCP encouraged people to turn to traditional religions ― especially Chinese Zen Buddhism and the semi-religious rituals of Confucianism. President Hu Jintao (2002-2012) organized the first world conference on Buddhism hosted by the province of Zhejiang in 2006 and amply promoted a revival of Confucianism.

Yet not all religions are treated equally in China. Radical Islam, in the past couple of years, has been repressed in restive western province of Xinjiang, where local anti-Beijing militants are inspired by traditionalist Wahhabi Islam. Similarly, the worship of the Dalai Lama, a symbol of independent Tibet, is also repressed in the large Tibetan areas of China.

But overall, the CCP's attitude toward religion has officially changed since the 17th Party Congress in 2007. At that time, Hu underscored the point that "religious figures" play a positive role in building a harmonious society. Building a harmonious society was the party's official goal in those years.

Christians multiply

Over the past 15 years or so, Christians of all stripes have also multiplied. According to some estimates, they represent about 10% of the Chinese population. They made up about 2% in 1949, with 1% Protestants and 1% Catholics. Many current Christians are led by self-appointed pastors without formal training or education in Christianity. They may add their special beliefs to traditional Christian doctrines, similar to the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Taiping, the rebels who nearly toppled the Manchu empire in the 19th century.

In the last few months, controversies have erupted over the demolition of some churches in Zhejiang. Some Christians have alleged religious persecution. However, many of these churches were erected without official building permits. With the new religious fervor, building Christian churches and Buddhist temples have become a new business in China: donations and alms can recover the initial investment of constructing a building in less than one year.

The opinions expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.


The God Drug: When Religion Becomes an Addiction

The InfluenceValerie Tarico
April 29th, 2016

Although he quit believing in God as a teenager, 50-year-old Brandon Osborn feared hell and damnation until he was 35. Raised in the “holiness movement” branch of the Church of LDS after escaping his mother’s abusive home, Osborn finds addiction and recovery fitting symbols for his experience.

“I consider religion to be an imposed addiction—no different than holding a baby and shooting it up with small doses of heroin, increasing the doses as the baby grows,” he says. “Religion is as poisonous and as attractive, to many, as heroin—Karl Marx said it right, ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’ I’m still recovering from it. Part of my recovery is helping others get free.”


Can you really become addicted to religion? Well, the risk of any activity or substance becoming an addiction depends in part on the characteristics of the substance or activity, and in part—some experts believe most significantly—on the characteristics of the situation and user.

For even the most intense pleasures—those that tend to create the highest rates of compulsion—most users retain their capacity for autonomy and balance. Most people can ingest a pleasurable neurotoxin like alcohol or even cocaine in moderation, for example, while others find themselves drawn inexorably toward self-destruction. The same can be said about pleasurable activities like sex or gambling. And the same is logically true of religiously-induced pleasures—including intense feelings of euphoria, transcendence, hope, joy, absolution, security, immortality, certitude, purity, purpose, belonging, or superiority.

Chris Scott, a former devout Bible-believer from Phoenix, notes how the euphoric feelings spurred by religion have the potential for poor outcomes. Scott says that his experience was “most definitely” like an addiction. “The best definition of addiction that I’ve ever heard,” he says, “is anything that provides a mood-altering experience but has adjoining negative consequences, and yet the behavior is continued anyways.”


In recent decades, the idea of recovery from addiction to religion has taken root, particularly in Christian America. A proliferation of websites provide platforms for sharing stories, like exChristian.net, or offer support and help, like RecoveringfromReligion.org. There are self-help books, too: When God Becomes a Drug, by Father Leo Booth, promises readers “practical ways to overcome excessive devotion and attain healthy spirituality.”

Thousands of testimonials leave no doubt that going cold turkey—abruptly quitting a faith or religious community—can leave people who quit religion experiencing both residual symptoms from their time in the religion, and withdrawal symptoms.

“Here I am, a 51-year old college professor, still smarting from the wounds inflicted by the righteous when I was a child,” reads an anonymous online testimonial. “It is a slow, festering wound, one that smarts every day—in some way or another…. I thought I would leave all of that ‘God loves… God hates…’ stuff behind, but not so. Such deep and confusing fear is not easily forgotten. It pops up in my perfectionism, my melancholy mood, the years of being obsessed with finding the assurance of personal salvation.”

“Despite the fact that I’ve intellectually broken from Christianity, however, I cannot seem to let go of my beliefs. Every single day is a nightmare, plagued with mild panic attacks, de-realization, doubt, OCD, etc.” relates another former Christian in the book Christianity Is Not Great. “Sometimes I think, “Oh, but this is exactly what they warned me about, the world can’t be trusted, and it doesn’t matter what reason says, the fact is that Christianity is true no matter what and even if it flies in the face of all reason. Reason is unreliable and you just have to keep believing. I know this is illogical, but every time I try to convince myself that, my brain just stubbornly insists that I just believe, believe, believe. My life is a living hell.”

Dr. Marlene Winell, a human development consultant who works with people who identify as being in recovery from addictions to religion, says that her clients are not simply people who would otherwise struggle with mental health issues. Rather, they are people who get sucked into toxic versions of religion because they care deeply about doing good and living well, and once free, many transition to other world-views that promote both meaning and happiness. The book A Better Life offers a window into how former believers, including Winell herself, find joy and purpose.

Winell uses the term religious trauma syndrome to describe the most severe psychological damage arising from harmful experiences with religion. According to Winell, the psychological harms of Christianity can be “the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group.” Online forums such as ExChristian.net post testimonials detailing these harms and the recovery process, and provide online community for those in transition.


Just like any drug, religion can be a lot of fun for some. In her book Sober Spirituality, author Elizabeth Esther describes how church experiences produce a “high.”

“There’s the ubiquitous mood lighting so that you can only see what’s meant to be seen… Loud music ensures you hear only what is meant to be heard… Several high-energy warm-up acts make you feel only what you’re supposed to feel… By the time the featured attraction steps on stage… you’re so amped up you’ll hand over your body, soul, and wallet. It doesn’t even occur to you that this might be destructive, because feeling elated is the desired outcome.”

The result, says Esther, can be a destructive quest for righteous euphoria.

Former Christian Nate Zimmer describes the feelings of euphoria he experienced when he was a part of the Charismatic Christian sect. “You live for the high of having a metaphysical encounter with God, but more than anything you hope to have that experience in the presence of other believers,” he says. “From conference to conference, waiting to see or hear the next great prophet or miracle worker. The substance of their message is often secondary to their ‘spiritual anointing.’”

The Phoenix-based blogger Sandra Kee, who calls herself a “Christian heretic,” sees her family’s history as trading one addiction for another. “My family for several generations was in a dysfunctional and addictive religious life, using God—or what we believed about God—as a drug. Many of the family who left religion simply traded for another addiction,” she says. “The generations that entered into religion did so to escape alcoholism and other addictions, though it wasn’t called addiction back then. Many who remained in religion developed additional addictions as well.”

So when does the quest for healthy spirituality cross over into addiction? On the internet, checklists can be found at both self-help sites and listings for professional recovery services. They include symptoms that would sound familiar to anyone acquainted with addiction (or Al-Anon):
Do you use religion to avoid social and emotional problems?
Are you preoccupied with religion to the point of neglecting work?
Does your commitment to a religious leader or institution take precedence over your children and family relationships?
Does religion isolate you from outside friends and activities?
Do you use religion as an excuse when you are abusive to friends or family members?
Would people who know you describe your religiosity as extreme or obsessive?
Are your religious contributions financially imprudent?
Do you feel irritated and act defensive when someone questions your religion?

But religious addiction checklists and books often also include symptoms that, while psychologically unhealthy, may have little to do with diagnosing addiction.
Do you use guilt to beat up yourself or others?
Do you think of sex as shameful or dirty?
Do you use religion to manipulate or exploit others?
Does your religion threaten violence against people who believe differently?
Are you uncompromising and judgmental, quick to find fault in others or evil in the world?
Do you find yourself arguing against scientific evidence to defend your religion?
Do you wait for God to fix things in your life or blame your problems on supernatural forces?
Do you tell other people “what God wants” or the “right” way to interpret the Bible?
Are you preoccupied with sin and the afterlife?
Do you experience psychosomatic symptoms, like headaches and backaches?
Do you threaten others with divine punishment or otherwise try to control them?

Without a doubt, a yes to any of these questions suggests that something is out of whack. Each of these patterns can interfere with healthy self-esteem, personal empowerment, community engagement, or loving relationships.

In fact, research suggests that participation in some form of religious community may be adaptive. Recognizing this, humanist and atheist groups have begun experimenting with how to create secular churches—communities that meet to channel wonder, provide mutual support, talk about deep values, and inspire service. These experimental communities are exploring how to keep some of the best of religion without the parts that lead people to talk about religion being addictive or harmful, such as the certitude, euphoria, and exclusive insularity that make withdrawal so difficult for former Christians and members of other faiths.

In the end, the issue of whether religion is addictive for you comes down to similar questions to the ones you might ask yourself about your drug use: Has your religion eaten your life? Does it feel freely chosen or compulsive (and how would you know)? What are the good things about it? And what price are you or others around you paying for the good stuff you get?

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington, and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings. Her articles can be found at valerietarico.com.


Scientology Leader's Father Ron Miscavige Describes the Moment When He Says He Escaped

ABC News
Apr 29, 2016

Two hours east of Los Angeles, in Hemet, California, sits a 500-acre Scientology compound known as the “Gold Base.”

The Church characterizes the base as a slice of Scientology utopia, with state-of-the-art facilities and gorgeous landscaping.

“If you talk to the staff, they'll tell you it's a worker's paradise,” Scientology attorney Monique Yingling told ABC News “20/20.” “It couldn't be a better place to work.”

But that’s not how Ron Miscavige remembers it.

Ron Miscavige, the father of Scientology’s leader David Miscavige, and his wife Becky moved onto the base in 2006, where he said they were forced to live under serious restrictions.

“I’m living on a compound…where your mail going out is read before its seal and sent out, where before you get your mail, it’s opened and read before you get it,” Ron Miscavige told “20/20” in an exclusive interview. “Phone calls, you’re on the phone, somebody else is listening on an extension.”

Gary Morehead, a former Scientologist turned Church critic, says he was once director of security for the Church and would go through people’s belongings at Gold Base to collect information on them.

“I would go through people’s personal belongings out of their berthing, where they slept… obtaining bank records, date of birth, passwords, any personal information, where their family addresses were,” Morehead told “20/20.”

Before he moved to the base, Ron Miscavige had joined the Sea Organization, or “Sea Org,” the clergy of the Church, in 1985 and was working as a musician and composer for the Church’s Golden Era Productions. But Miscavige said by the late 2000s, the crushing workload, rigid lifestyle and lack of sleep on the base became unbearable.

The Church rejects those claims, telling ABC News in a statement that “long and hard hours” and a “restrictive lifestyle” are part of the mission that Sea Org members sign up for.

“These are people that have dedicated their lives to something they really believe in,” Yingling said. “They may work hard. They may work really long hours… but they enjoy it.”

As for Ron, he “was working with first-class musicians in one of the best studios in the world,” she continued. “He had nothing to complain about.”

To prove it, the Church gave “20/20” photos of Ron enjoying fancy birthday meals they said his son David Miscavige provided and a car David and his two sisters had bought their father for his birthday.

The Church also sent ABC News video testimonials and letters from Ron’s former bandmates and other staffers in which they called Ron “lazy,” and claimed he used “racial and ethnic slurs,” was a “poor musician” and a “disgusting pig.”

All of which Ron Miscavige disputes, pointing to a video showing him being allowed to play at a birthday party the Church threw for
Tom Cruise, and asking why he would be allowed to be a part of the celebration if Church members thought so little of him.

Ron also claims he was subjected to a practice called “over-boarding,” a disciplinary measure in which a Sea Org member in trouble with the Church is thrown overboard from the Sea Org ship into the water with clothes on. The Church claims over-boarding is voluntary.

“When you jump off… you commit yourself to the sea, so that you’ll be cleansed and come back, you know, better,” Yingling said. “There’s… some sort of an ecclesiastical discipline thing or it can be done as a group, and when a group does it, it’s more, sort of, because they’re all agreeing that somehow they screwed up, and ‘let’s get together and cleanse ourselves of it.’”

But Ron disagreed.

“I’m going out there and I’m thinking to myself, this is straight lunatic asylum stuff,” Ron Miscavige said. “This is going to make me better? The only effect it had on me is make me all the more want to possibly get out of there.”

For months, Ron Miscavige and his wife Becky said they planned what they called their escape from Gold Base by conditioning guards into letting them make regular Sunday trips to the music studio across the street. It all came to a head one day when Ron drove his car up to the security gate and pressed the button. To his relief, the gate opened.

“I drove out slowly so it wouldn’t arouse suspicion,” Miscavige said. “When I turned left, I put my foot right to the floorboard… I knew we were free. I knew they couldn’t catch us.”

“It was an escape,” he continued. “You can’t leave. You think you can just walk out? No. You will be stopped. I escaped.”

The Church denies that this was an “escape.” Yingling told “20/20” that Gold Base “is not a prison.”

“People can come and go as they please, and they do,” she said.

But Gary Morehead said he had many ways to discourage would-be deserters from leaving the base.

“I wouldn’t open up the gate,” he said. “I would send my rover guard down there to meet up with them face-to-face in case he started scaling in and I would try to calm, cool and collectively talk to him on the intercom.”

During his tenure there, Morehead said he tracked people down who he said had deserted and got them to come back.

“I used to have to keep a statistic which is a printed out graph of security threats, and that was the people who wanted to leave or the people to had left that we brought back and were undergoing handling,” Morehead said. “So every time somebody left, I learned something new to make it that much quicker for me to find somebody… the amount of sheer pressure that I would get until that person was back here was incredible.”

At the time, he said he thought that he was “helping that person.”

“They’re obviously having troubles, they’re leaving for a reason,” Morehead said. “So I’m going to be the one to help bring them back and… regain their spiritual enlightenment… and that sheltered my true view of the way I should look at it.”

The Church told ABC News in a statement that Morehead hasn’t worked at “any Church of Scientology” for 20 years, his comments are false and, “He is a teller of tales with no credibility.”

Once Ron and Becky Miscavige were off the base, they said they drove for three days to Wisconsin where Becky’s mother lives. But despite all of Ron’s complaints about the Church, he said he sent his son David Miscavige a letter asking for money soon after they left.

“In that letter, I said, ‘Hey, listen, I spent a lot of years in the Sea Org, I couldn’t live under those conditions, and I have very little money paid into social security. If you can give me some financial help, I would appreciate it,’” Ron Miscavige said.

He said his son David gave him $100,000, from money David had inherited from his mother, to buy a house.

“Maybe he read it and he’s thinking, you know, ‘he is my old man and he’s old, maybe I’ll help him out,’” Ron Miscavige said. “And then on the other hand… I think, ‘well, maybe he did it just so it would be insurance that I wouldn’t do anything.’ And I wasn’t going to do anything.”

Ron Miscavige wrote a memoir, “Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me,” with Dan Koon, a former Church official who is now a vocal critic. It's out in stores on May 3.

Apr 28, 2016

Couple targeted by FLDS neighbors talks about changes

Mike Watkiss
April 28, 2016

Link to Video:


For nearly a decade, Ron and Jinger Cooke have lived under siege, targeted by their FLDS neighbors in the twin border towns of Colorado City, AZ and Hildale, UT because they are not followers of FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs.

For several years, the Cookes and their three children were denied water and power hook-ups to their Colorado City home by the FLDS-controlled utilities. They also were relentlessly hassled and abused by the community’s FLDS faithful and members of the FLDS-controlled Town Marshal’s Office.

The Cookes sued and won a judgment in federal court -- more than $5 million. Today the Cookes are among a growing number of people who are not followers of Jeffs and who are now helping take Colorado City and Hildale in a new direction.

We have followed the Cookes' story from the beginning and recently we sat down with them again to talk about the winds of change now blowing along the Utah/Arizona border.


How Faith Healing Laws Puts Children at Risk

Kyle Jaeger
April 27, 2016

Faith healing is a religious practice that flies in the face of medical science. There are exemptions for parents who choose to treat their kids with a faith-based approach, but in six states, parents are literally protected from felony charges including manslaughter, negligent homicide, and capital murder.

faith healing

Idaho, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio and West Virginia shield parents from these felony charges. They are offered legal immunity in spite of evidence revealing that rates of preventable child mortality are higher in these six states, according to Slate. What's more, 43 states allow parents some type of religious exemptions if they endanger their children by taking a prayer-based treatment approach in lieu of conventional medicine.

It's not just that parents are legally allowed to deny their children vaccines or antibiotics — basic medications that have saved countless lives — on religious grounds. The types of religious exemptions vary by state, protecting parents from charges that range from child neglect to involuntary manslaughter.

"Several states allow parents to use a religious defense against charges of murder of their child — and in some places they can’t be charged with murder at all," Slate reports. "And even when parents are prosecuted, acquiescence to religious belief often leads to their being acquitted or given light sentences, including unsupervised parole."

No exemptions exist for parents who try to contest such charges on nonreligious grounds.
In extreme cases, parents in religious sects such as The Followers of Christ have been accused of refusing basic treatment for children suffering from preventable illnesses and physical pain, blaming the kids' suffering on a lack of faith, The Guardian reports.

A 2000 study published in the Cultic Studies Journal looked at cases of child mortality in communities that practice faith healing exclusively. Researchers found that 140 of the 172 deceased children included in the survey died from conditions that were treated with more than a 90 percent success rate with modern medicine.

Child advocates and health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics want to repeal all religious exemption laws, but so far, efforts to reform the system have been largely ineffective, blocked by state lawmakers who feel that the exemptions represent an important tenet of the the First Amendment "freedom of religion" clause.

"By all means let us have religious freedom, but let us curtail that freedom at the line where health and lives are at stake," Jerry Coyne, the author of "Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible," wrote. "Neither philosophy nor religion should allow parents the right to substitute prayer or ritual for science-based medicine."


Inside NYC's Social Club For The Formerly Devout

April 27, 2016

Video by Jessica Leibowitz

Last Christmas, a 51-year-old woman from the Upper West Side walked into a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan and introduced herself to twelve strangers.

A victim of a highly-publicized rabbinical scandal, she'd recently shed the daily routines of Modern Orthodox Judaism for good. There to greet her was a group of former Mormons, Hasidic Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Muslims. "There's a bazillion different appetizers and there are 12 people at the table, so I go around the table and say, 'Who eats treif? Who eats vegetarian? Who eats meat but not treif?'" she recalled. "Because when you leave, your what-kind-of-Chinese-appetizer cues are no longer defined by the system."

For the members of Formerly Fundamentalist NYC, a meetup group for New Yorkers who have left strict religious communities, perusing a menu is an exercise in post-religious decision making.

"I don't want to go to a dinner party that's a therapy session. I have a therapist," the woman explained. "But I want to meet like-minded people, and that's exactly the point of the group. You can say nothing, or you can hang out and talk about the presidential race, or you can spill your guts."

Todd Kadish and Isaac Carmignani came up with the idea for Formerly Fundamentalist in November 2013, over coffee at the Starlight Diner on 34th Street.

Carmignani, a 47-year-old ex-Jehovah's witness from Queens, was nervous that his social circle would always be limited to ex-Jehovah's Witnesses. Kadish, a 42-year-old ex-Modern Orthodox Jew from Connecticut, had watched his private Facebook group, Formerly Religious, balloon to more than 1,000 members, and become more of a repository for memes than a substantive sounding board.

The name Formerly Religious felt too exclusive for their joint project—while most members of the group identify as atheist, there are also many agnostics and believers. So the men settled on Formerly Fundamentalist instead.

Kadish applies the word fundamentalism broadly. "To me it's any group that defines itself on whether you believe in certain fundamentals of the faith," he said. The definition is even applicable to "less extreme" religions, like the Modern Orthodox community that he left behind, because "you're still supposed to believe in certain things, otherwise your beliefs are heretical."

For Carmignani and Kadish, the goal is to not simply be an exile among fellow exiles—an ex-Jehovah's Witness seeking out the company of other ex-Jehovah's Witnesses—but to be part of a group of New Yorkers who can relate to each other, and also have unique tastes and interests.

We spoke with more than a dozen members of the group for this story, offering various levels of anonymity to respect the boundaries they maintain with their coworkers and families.

A 32-year-old ex-Pentecostal woman learned about the group from an OKCupid date who had left ultra-Orthodox Judaism. She was intrigued by the chance to socialize with people who understood what she had gone through, but who weren't all raised under the same religion.

"Growing up you're taught that you're so special, your [religion] is so different, yours is the truth, and you have all this personal responsibility to God," she said. "Realizing that all these other people were also controlled with the exact same mind games, yet with a different truth, that's really validating."

She added, "If [the group] was just Pentecostals—what are we going to do, compare pastors?"

The group's earliest meetings were in food courts—DUMBO Kitchen on York Street in Brooklyn, and Whole Foods in Tribeca. Members turned off their phones and spent hours on introductions and discussing a wide range of topics, including dietary restrictions, dating and sex, and what it's like to wear pants for the first time.

Kadish brought up an obscure Orthodox rabbinic ruling at one meeting, stipulating that people should not celebrate birthdays because the Pharaoh celebrates his in Genesis 40:20. "I remember Isaac explaining that the Jehovah's cite the same verse," he said. "Similarities like that come up all the time."

While the group includes ex-Pentecostals, ex-Mormons, and ex-Muslims, the majority of its members have left the Jehovah's Witnesses or an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect. The reason for this is partly geographic—the Jehovah's Witnesses have been based in Brooklyn for more than a century; Chabad-Lubavitch, one of the largest Hasidic groups in the world, has its international headquarters in Crown Heights.

A few years ago Kadish reached out to Ibrahim Abdallah, who runs a meetup group for ex-Muslims called Muslimish. Together, they decided to host a Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant, which has since become the group's most popular annual event.

Abdallah grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, where Islam is the dominant religion and speaking against it is an imprisonable offense.

He balks at the term "fundamentalist," because Islam for him was grounded in his personal interpretation of the Koran, rather than the followings of a religious leader. "I was never a fundamentalist," Abdallah says.

Still, growing up in Alexandria, his experience fit Kadish's definition of fundamentalism. "The idea that you can say whatever you want doesn't exist," he says. "That's why I cherish it in America so much."

Carmignani didn't have to worry about going to prison when he began to question his faith, but the consequences were still dire. The last time he saw his oldest daughter was in December 2014, over pizza at Uno's in Astoria after a trip to Night At The Museum II.

"Clear out of the blue she said, 'I'll always be there for you if there's an emergency,'" he recalled. "That's a script I'm very familiar with." Though they both live in Queens—he lives in Corona and she lives in Woodside—Carmignani hasn't heard from his 19-year-old daughter since she decided to be baptized in the faith he abandoned.

"I know absolutely nothing about her life," he said. "Nothing whatsoever."

Carmignani left the Jehovah's Witnesses in 2009, when he was 40 years old, 23 years after his first teenage inklings of doubt. He was raised to believe that the apocalypse was imminent and that the secular world was steeped in sin, but that world was difficult to ignore growing up in Bushwick in the 1970s.

On summer Saturdays, proselytizing door-to-door near his Putnam Avenue home, he'd pass by block parties and daydream about being a DJ. "That was the two turntable era," he recalled. "Disco was forbidden by the Witnesses, but I wasn't seeing all the bad stuff that was supposed to be happening."

It wasn't until the mid '90s, when he was appointed an Elder, that Carmignani began questioning his religion in earnest. At first he "lurked" on an online discussion forum for ex-Jehovah's Witnesses.

"After maybe a year I began posting under an assumed name," he said. "The first time was from an anonymous computer at a hotel in Oklahoma that I was at for some job training. I was very reserved, hoping never to have my identity or even my IP address traced. That's how scared I was."

Carmignani believes he was outed by someone on that forum in 2006. "When you have a position of authority [in the Jehovah's Witness community] and you also start to speak out a little bit, they're going to force you to leave," he said. "The best way to put it is that you lose your entire network."

Many of the group members we spoke to for this story considered their former religious community a "cult."

Meir Rotbard, 42, a former Hasid who works as an artist and home organizer, defines a "cult" as a group that treats everyone outside the religion as an "other."

"When I was an Orthodox Jew I was very judgmental of anyone who wasn't as Orthodox as me," he told us recently. "I would almost...value that other person's life as less-than."

He calls the early stages of his doubt "torturous." As a teenager living in Rockland County, he had no obvious escape route. "I actually tried to force my mind to have faith in God," he said. "I tried to study an immense amount of Talmud. By the time I was 21 I had developed these symptoms where my hands were shaking a little bit and my left shoulder was pinching and I could not study one more word without an immense amount of pain."

Rotbard eventually spent all of his money on a car, and drove to California. He started playing guitar and gawked at partiers on Venice Beach. Free of his own faith, he became increasingly curious about others.

"As a matter of fact, I find religion fun," he said. "I love the stories of all the different faiths. I never thought I would ever interact with anything that wasn't a Rabbi, a book of Talmud, and maybe a prayer book."

Formerly Fundamentalist has about 170 members, about a third of whom are women.

Tanya Johnson, a mental health counselor and former Mormon, says women tend to have a harder time leaving their religions than men.

"Fundamentalist communities are patriarchal and work well for men,” she said. "For men, it's shedding some rules. For women, their identity is no longer defined by the organization. It's like, do I have to be subservient to a husband? What if I want a career now?"

The ex-Modern Orthodox woman from the Upper West Side argued that the Modern Orthodox community's patriarchal structure also facilitates sexual abuse against women and children.

Rabbi Barry Freundel was her spiritual role model, and prayed over her father's deathbed. She visited his mikvah, a bathhouse for ritual purity that women traditionally visit before their weddings, and later learned that he had bugged it with hidden cameras to watch women bathing. Freundel is currently serving a six-and-a-half year prison sentence for voyeurism.

"Fundamentalism is a system controlled by men," she said. "It's crimes committed by men and covered up by men."

Celia, 19, grew up in three predominantly-Hasidic communities—Borough Park in Brooklyn, and later the villages of Kiryas Joel in Monroe, New York, and New Square in Rockland County.

She recently spent a year living with her only non-religious uncle and attending the Brooklyn High School of the Arts. Their apartment lost heat that winter, and she says the cold months solidified what she was willing to put up with for the freedom to make her own decisions.

"It is pretty rare to find women who have left the community for intellectual purposes," she said. "Women get engaged very young. At any given point, they could have two children and be pregnant with the next and they're busy with house chores and cooking. They don't have time for thinking about what they want and who they are as people."

Katie, a 22-year-old former Jehovah's Witness from New Jersey, first Googled "ex-Jehovah's Witness" two years ago.

"I learned that the flood didn't happen, the 10 plagues didn't happen, that the Israelites didn't wander into the wilderness for 40 years, and that just blew my mind," she recalled. Katie realized she was gay around the same time, and started spending hours on Reddit and a Google hangout group for ex-Jehovah's Witnesses.

"I started looking into how there's nothing scientifically or medically wrong about being gay, or being a woman and having sexual desires," she said. "My mom would go on rants about how disgusting gay people are so it was just...I can't live like this."

One weekend morning, while her mom and sister were out proselytizing, she stuffed her belongings into trash bags and left. Katie shaved her head, and now lives about 20 minutes from her family in northern New Jersey. For her and many other group members born and raised in the New York area, it's been a matter of distancing oneself mentally from religion, if not physically.

"I'm not in the community, but geographically speaking [I am]," Celia said in a recent phone conversation. She currently lives with her mom, who is very religious, in a primarily Hasidic section of Borough Park.

"There are no Internet cafes near me, so I have to pay ridiculous amounts for data," she added. One day recently, her Hasidic landlord saw her wearing pants and threatened to terminate her family's sublet. Her mom, meanwhile, "is in complete denial," still discussing Celia's eventual marriage to a Hasidic man.

Kadish notified the group beforehand that I would be attending one of their meetings. It fell on a Sunday after a historic blizzard in January, and turnout was low: a small handful of members, all formerly Modern or ultra-Orthodox Jews who had been able to dig out of their apartments and were comfortable meeting with a reporter. The group was mostly women, and conversation quickly turned to the unreasonable expectations of ex-Ultra Orthodox men experimenting with dating for the first time.

"They try to treat women like these vending machines where you press these buttons and sex comes out," said Celia, eliciting vigorous nods. She was curled up on a deep couch in baggy jeans, eating pumpkin-flavored pita chips and drinking red wine out of a plastic cup. "I want to be with someone who values me for me entirely." Someone started clapping.

We ate cholent, a traditional Shabbat stew with beef, barley and whole eggs hardboiled in the shell, and joked about the "shitty Manischewitz" that nobody touched. One of the group members had left the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect—"They're like the Jewish version of the Westboro Baptists, since they're always protesting gay rights and Israel"—and that prompted an argument about whether Israel was a Jewish state. When the conversation turned to the opaque tights that Hasidic girls and women wear, everyone started talking at once. "A five-year-old wearing thick-ass tights." Celia shook her head. "That's basically child abuse as far as I'm concerned."

Still in its infancy, Formerly Fundamentalist doesn't have a budget, much less a website. The screening process for new members is tedious, and the group is trying to be more racially and religiously diverse.

But while Formerly Fundamentalist doesn't have the resources of other established ex-religious groups in the city—Footsteps, for ex-Orthodox Jews, offers job training and psychological services—it's still the only meetup group for New Yorkers who have left many different faiths.

"Online can be a bit of a rabbit hole," the Upper West Side woman said. "In the best of all possible worlds, whatever you are facing, I'm hoping there's an in-real-life person for you."

Which is why Kadish and Carmignani want to keep up the momentum: They recently screened Truth Be Told, a documentary about leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses, and invited the director to host. There was a picnic in Prospect Park last summer, and group member David Tuchman just invited the group to his next live recording of OMGWTFBIBLE, a podcast that "translates" the Old Testament into a serialized comedy.

"It's easy to get religious people to go somewhere. 'Oh, God says we've got to be there? Okay.' And they just got there," Abdallah, the former Muslim said. "Working with non-religious people is like herding cats."

To get involved, email formerlyfundamentalistnyc@gmail.com