Jan 12, 2017

A Scientology battle like no other: Miscavige versus Miscavige

Tampa Bay Times
Thomas C. Tobin, Times Staff Writer
January 12, 2017

It says in Chapter 36 that the Church of Scientology is great for families.
Scientologists communicate more freely, raising "their capacity to love other people." Family bonds "strengthen dramatically." And church members "take deep pride in their record of resolving family problems and conflicts."
The words come from What is Scientology?, a volume the church first published in 1992 as it sought greater acceptance from a wary public.
Yet their promise has eluded the church's first family.
Scientology's 56-year-old leader, David Miscavige, and his 80-year-old father, Ron Miscavige, have been embroiled for months in an epic feud that has brought the family's dysfunction into public view. It also has exposed the church to questions about whether its core practices — costing thousands of dollars — live up to their claimed benefits when it comes to family.
The father, who brought his wife and kids into Scientology in 1969, now calls his son a tyrant who has turned the church into a bullying, paranoid, money grubbing enterprise that has ruined families, including his own, with its practice of "disconnection."
The son, through his church, says Ron Miscavige is a wife-beating, philandering, child-abusing "monster" who is lying to make money off the family name. His two sisters, residents of Clearwater, have taken his side, saying they never want to see their father again. And Ron Miscavige's other son, known in the family as Ronnie, has been pulled into the fray, accused by the sisters of sexually abusing them when they were children while their father looked the other way.
In May, Ron Miscavige released Ruthless, a tell-all book about how he found Scientology, saw his son soar to its peak, then escaped — disillusioned over the church's "off the rails" culture.
The church responded with a new website, ronmiscavigebook.com, a raw and unprecedented storehouse of the most personal dirty laundry, full of videos, court documents and enough spite to fill a season's worth of reality TV.
Immersed in Scientology for more than four decades — and with ready access to all that it offers — the Miscaviges are shouting to the world that they are angry and broken apart.
"The website," says Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw, "is nothing more than a single repository of information to correct the record created by a senile old man who has become a pawn" of Scientology's enemies.
Ron Miscavige admits he wasn't the perfect dad, but says the church is spreading lies, as it does with others who speak out.
"I knew that they would do it," he said. "I didn't think they'd stoop as low as they have though."


When a friend told Ron Miscavige about Holiday Magic, a multi-level cosmetics marketing scheme, he didn't think much of it at first. But in 1968, the promise of $100,000 in extra income for top distributors proved too enticing for a cookware salesman with four kids at home. A good talker with an entrepreneurial bent, he put in $5,000 to became a "master distributor."
The next year, at a meeting to recruit other distributors, he overheard a man talking about Scientology and quizzed him.
The man described it as a philosophy he could use to improve his life, even his health. Next time you get a headache, the man said, look in the mirror and give that pain away. One day in the rear view mirror, Ron Miscavige said he tried the headache trick and it worked.
He began attending a Tuesday night discussion group near the family's home in Willingboro, N.J., outside Philadelphia. There, he learned some of the Scientology tools that are said to improve communication.
One is to acknowledge people when they talk to you, make sure they know you understand them. It seemed like a small thing, but Ron Miscavige found it improved his interactions with people. Between that and the headache trick, he began to wonder whether Scientology might help his son David.
The boy's terrifying bouts with asthma had led to some crazy moments, like the time David turned blue and Ron Miscavige hurried him into a warm shower and turned on the cold to trigger his gasp reflex. The attack ended, but the search for reliable remedies had been a constant frustration.
David was 9 when Ron pulled him out of school one day and took him to the Scientologist who ran the Tuesday meetings.
Scientologists believe that revisiting painful incidents can remove the barriers that blunt a person's natural abilities. An "auditor" asks questions, guiding you through past episodes as you describe how you felt in each instance. You are holding two metal "cans" connected to an "e-meter," which sends a tiny electrical current through your body and is said to measure the energy and mass that make up "mental image pictures" from your past.
Ron Miscavige recalls in his book that his son went into an office and, after 45 minutes, emerged radiant, convinced his asthma was under control.
He says David later told him he underwent a different kind of exercise in which a person uses his creative energies to turn something — a health condition, for instance — into an object that can be removed from the body.
Whatever transpired, the boy was transformed.
"From that moment I knew this is it," David Miscavige said in a 1998 interview with the Tampa Bay Times. "I mean I absolutely know that that is the point in my life where I said, 'This is it. ... I have the answer.'"


The Miscaviges lived a conventional suburban life during the 1960s and '70s — solid schools, activities for the kids, vacations at the Jersey shore. But a bleak undercurrent surfaced in May, after Ron Miscavige published Ruthless.
"It pains me to admit it now, and I regret ever doing it, but there were times when I punched Loretta," he writes, referring to his first wife and children's mother. "I never slapped or hit her in the face but, still, sometimes, I did strike her. I might punch her in the arm or push her away when she was getting on me. She threw things at me — pots, pans, a pot of boiling coffee once. After a fight I would think … this is no way to live."
Another passage: "Were Loretta still alive, she undoubtedly could fill in the other side of the story. Suffice it to say, it takes two to tango and we both contributed mightily."
As for his children, Ron Miscavige says he spanked them but did not abuse them.
The church says he is greatly underplaying the level of violence in the Miscavige home, and that minimizing his role and blaming his wife are traits of an abuser. Its new website includes a 33-second clip of Ron Miscavige telling former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly last summer that he struck Loretta about once a month over a 10-year period.
In a statement, the Miscavige sisters, Denise Gentile and Lori Verneuille, say their father beat their mother "senseless" and struck them, whipped them with belt buckles and tied them up "for the slightest or imagined offenses."
The website also features images from the late 1970s of "ethics" reports that Scientologists write to bring up wrongs that they or others have committed. In yellowed passages pulled from larger documents, there are handwritten statements — said to be from Ron, Loretta and two of their children — that discuss him striking, threatening and choking them.
In an interview, Ron Miscavige said the church has created a grossly exaggerated portrait that amounts to character assassination. "They are capable of telling any lie and they do it all the time," he said. "These f------ people will make up anything to discredit me."
He writes that he and Loretta's constant fighting led them deeper into Scientology. They tried a psychiatrist, but ended up at a Scientology center in Cherry Hill, N.J., and began to receive auditing. Their kids, meanwhile, took communication courses.
As he read books by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, listened to his taped lectures and received more auditing, Ron says he moderated and became more tolerant. He and Loretta still argued, but things were calmer and "I never again even had the urge to strike her."
He began talking up Scientology with strangers and selling Hubbard's book, Dianetics, out of the trunk of his car. By 1971, he decided to travel to the Scientology center at Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, near London. There, he says, he achieved the state of "Clear" — when a person is rid of his "reactive mind," where Scientologists believe painful emotions are stored.
Loretta Miscavige made a pilgrimage to Saint Hill later that year. And the family went together in 1972, staying for 15 months. Ronnie was 15 at the time, David and Denise were 12, and the youngest, Lori, was 10.
Ron Miscavige says in his book that the three older children learned how to conduct auditing sessions, and that David did particularly well.
Saint Hill, he recalled, was teeming with people who believed they had found something of value, and the Miscaviges drank it in, taken by East Grinstead's charm. Ron — who had played the trumpet since childhood and once belonged to a U.S. Marine Corps band — started a jazz band.
Their money running low, the family came home in the summer of 1973 but returned to Saint Hill the following year.
By August 1975, they were living in a rented home in Broomall, Pa. Ronnie worked for a local Scientology mission; the other kids went back to school.
That spring, David, a 15-year-old sophomore, dropped a bombshell. Fed up with the drug culture at his high school, he saw no point in staying through graduation. He wanted to join the Sea Org, Scientology's military-style work force.
On April 30, 1976, David's 16th birthday, his parents put him on a plane to Tampa. Already an accomplished auditor, he would work at Scientology's "Flag Land Base," a retreat that Hubbard had just established in Clearwater.
"I had gotten so much out of Scientology and had seen David helping others with it, so I thought it would be a terrific career for him," Ron Miscavige writes. "If he was ready to make the quantum leap into a new adventure, who was I to stand in his way?"


In October 1984, a man came to an apartment complex in King of Prussia, Pa., told the woman in the office he was interested in a place, then attacked her as she showed him a unit. She kicked him and ran. Police made a composite sketch and sent it around.
Seven months later, the victim said she was "pretty sure" the man in the composite was Ron Miscavige, who was questioned by police after making sales calls at another complex nearby.
They arrested him for criminal attempt at rape, indecent assault and other charges.
At home after his release, a panicked Ron Miscavige called David. The teenager who left for Clearwater eight years earlier had risen fast in the Sea Org. Now 25, he was a top executive who had gained Hubbard's confidence. David sent church staffers and a legal team to Pennsylvania, and the case was quickly dismissed.
Ron Miscavige's arrest was a "case of injustice" and he was a "victim," the church told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2011, when Ron was still on staff. But there is no such defense on the church's new website, which details the case and urges readers to think the worst. The father, it says, was "headed for prison until his son saved him."
The arrest became a life-altering event that would push Ron Miscavige into the Sea Org. He says he had often thought about joining, and finally did out of gratitude to the church for helping him out of a jam.
The church describes it differently, saying David Miscavige offered legal help on the condition that his father join the Sea Org to "straighten out his life and stay out of trouble." It says Ron obeyed his son, "as ordered."


In the summer of 1985, Ron Miscavige drove to Los Angeles to take his place among Scientology's most dedicated followers. Sea Org members wear Navy style uniforms, work long hours and are paid so little the church describes them as volunteers.
At first he stayed in L.A., where he and his son sometimes chatted after work. Within weeks, though, he was transferred to the church's Gold Base in the San Jacinto Mountains, about 90 minutes east of the city. The facility is home to Scientology's top management and Golden Era Productions, which produces training films, marketing materials and lectures by Hubbard.
Ron Miscavige came to play trumpet and arrange music for the Golden Era Musicians, a group that performs for the films and at church events around the world. He says he jumped in with both feet, convinced he was helping mankind.
In 1986, Hubbard died and David Miscavige emerged after a power struggle as the church's leader, at age 26. The son let his father know early on not to expect special treatment.
Ron Miscavige says he accepted that, and their relationship was good. He was, after all, proud his son had risen so far.
But before long he grew weary of the restrictions: Church security reading staffers' mail, listening to their calls and closely monitoring their movements.
He enjoyed working with Scientology's celebrities and traveling with the church band. But the workload could be crushing, with little reward or praise.
Five years in, having divorced Loretta, he married Becky Bigelow, a long-time Sea Org member from Wisconsin. And life, he says, got much better.
Still, he wavered for years over whether to leave or stay. Part of what troubled him were the traits he saw in his son: a hot temper, a tendency to drive people to their limits — to dominate and belittle them.
When the Times visited the Gold Base in 1998, the outward picture was of the Miscavige men riding high in Scientology. David spoke of wanting to grow the church and make peace with its enemies. His father seemed happy in his work, and filled with praise for his son. Ronnie held a top marketing post.
But Ronnie and his wife would leave the Sea Org within the next two years, and Ron began to think more seriously about leaving by the early 2000s.
He recalls a church event where his son verbally "ripped me apart" for nearly an hour backstage, with several people in earshot. "I do not deserve this," Ron Miscavige thought. "That was shattering, I gotta tell you."
Did any of that anger stem from the domestic violence David witnessed as a boy?
Ron Miscavige goes there in his book, but backs away from any responsibility, saying he believes his son's worst impulses were with him from birth.
By many accounts, David Miscavige ruled with more force and antagonism in the years after 2000. His profane outbursts became more frequent as the sleep-deprived Sea Org struggled to please him. Former high-ranking staffers said he often punched or slapped people — charges the church denies.
At meetings, some staffers were brought forward and told to confess how they had let the group down while their colleagues jeered. Church executives were consigned for weeks or months to a small building called "The Hole," where they berated and shamed each other, and often came to blows.
Ron Miscavige had never seen such behavior in Scientology, or read any Hubbard writings that supported it. "I started thinking this is really off the rails."
The church rejects these accounts, and the idea that Ron Miscavige's life in the Sea Org was hard. Its website contains photos of him enjoying parties and catered birthday dinners arranged by his son. It shows David's gifts to his father — an Italian motorcycle, a fancy exercise machine, a novelty trumpet.
In 2006, David and his sisters went in on a new Ford Focus station wagon for their dad's 70th birthday. Ron is seen posing with the car, which was wrapped in a giant red bow.
There were good times, the father says today. But the overriding feeling was grim. And by the middle of last decade, long-time senior staffers began to leave.
Ron thought about it too. His music kept getting rejected and he felt useless. Becky told him things would improve.
Then in late 2011, he set up a meeting with his son. Ron told him he couldn't live this way and begged for more satisfying work.
David Miscavige said he would look into it, according to Ron. But when nothing happened, Ron told Becky it was time to go, and she agreed.
"That's when we started planning our escape," he said.


In March 2012, Ron and Becky drove from the church's desert compound to Becky's parents in Whitewater, Wis., west of Milwaukee. But soon they moved to Virginia to live with Ronnie.
Ron sent David a letter asking for financial help since he had not paid much into Social Security while in the Sea Org. Scientology's leader responded with a $100,000 check so his father could buy a house.
The church says the money was part of David Miscavige's inheritance from his mom, who died in 2005. He also paid thousands for his dad's medical costs.
Images of the checks, written in 2013 from a Merrill Lynch account, are displayed on ronmiscavigebook.com as evidence of the father's betrayal. The headline: "How Ron Miscavige Bites the Hand that Feeds Him."
Ron Miscavige says he is grateful for the money; he used it to buy a small brick house in West Allis, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb. But he says his son was paying private investigators to follow him at the same time. "I wonder if it was just a payoff to keep my mouth shut."
The investigators, a father-and-son team from Leesburg, Fla., were exposed after the father was arrested in July 2013 while trying to case Ron's home.
Dwayne and Daniel Powell told West Allis police they had followed Ron and Becky from Wisconsin to Virginia and back again, listening to conversations, rifling their trash, tracking them with a GPS device and reporting their findings hourly. Their $10,000 weekly fee came from Roffler & Associates, a Tampa investigations firm.
The local officers — struck by the odd circumstances, the money involved and the heavy presence of firearms in Dwayne Powell's SUV — initially suspected the PIs were hit men.
Detective Nicholas Pye grilled Powell about the church's motives: "Why would they spend this amount of resource to know everything about (Ron Miscavige) all the time?"
"It's his dad," Powell answered, referring to David Miscavige.
"Um, a father and son would normally communicate with one another conventionally," Pye observed.
Though the church describes David Miscavige as a hands-on leader who pays attention to detail, it says he never ordered the surveillance. Scientology attorneys made that call on their own, the church says, for Ron's "own safety and well-being" and out of concern his famous name would expose him to harm.
Ron Miscavige said he called to tell his son to "get these goons off me," but was told David wouldn't talk to him and didn't trust him. He said his daughters, who initially were in regular contact after he left the church, had stopped talking to him as well.
He traveled to Clearwater to see them, but was told they wanted nothing to do with him.
Ron Miscavige says he's another victim of Scientology's practice of "disconnection," in which members cut all communication with anyone seen as a church enemy, even family.
"That was the point I thought to myself I've got to write a book … and expose this toxic policy of disconnection," he said. "It's a control mechanism, it's called leverage. And this is what's being done to Scientologists who dare to speak out or have any critical thoughts about the church or David."
On its new website and in its letter to the Times, the church says the primary reason the daughters cut contact is that, against their wishes, Ron went to live with Ronnie, who they accuse of sexually abusing them when they were children.
The website also showcases records of Ronnie's arrest in a 2012 prostitution sting while Ron and Becky were staying with him in Virginia. It criticizes Ron for leaving the arrest out of his book, and "cavorting with individuals hostile to the church" and its leader.
The daughters say in their statement they would never betray David and want nothing to do with their dad. "We know what is right and moral, and what is evil. Evil is Ronald T. Miscavige. We reject him."
The father contends his daughters spent holidays with Ronnie over the years, and that Denise encouraged him to live with Ronnie — statements denied by the church. He also says his daughters often bought him gifts and sought to spend time with him through the years.
"All of a sudden I've changed into a horrible person and they will never talk to me again?" he asks. "There's something wrong with this picture, man."
The church bristled at the suggestion that these divisions raise questions about Scientology's ability to strengthen family bonds. The notion is "ridiculous and insulting," Pouw, the church spokeswoman, said.
She called Ron Miscavige a "black sheep," and said the other Miscaviges are a close-knit group that has "benefited greatly from Scientology."
For now, a truce seems unlikely. The church continues to update ronmiscavigebook.com with new photos, videos and stories. And Ron Miscavige says he plans to keep speaking out; he appeared last month in a new A&E series in which actor Leah Remini, a former Scientologist, takes the church to task.
"I've lost my family," Ron Miscavige says. "Bad or good, I was the father that raised them. I think we've had a lot more good times than ever the bad times."
Contact Thomas C. Tobin at tobin@tampabay.com. Follow @ThomasCTobin.

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