Tommy Davis, Scientology Spokesman, Secretly Recorded Discussing 'Disconnection'
The Village Voice has obtained an audiotape secretly recorded in December 2009 at a meeting between Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis and a man named Shane Clark. The purpose of the meeting: Clark was facing the prospect of being declared a "suppressive person" by the Church of Scientology, carrying with it the prospect of Clark being "disconnected" by his entire family, who are all Scientologists.
Just a year earlier, in May, 2008, Davis had appeared on CNN and claimed that the policy of "disconnection" does not exist. But in the audiotape he speaks openly about it, saying at one point, "It is what works. It is what safeguards the church."
Since that meeting, Clark, 30, has indeed been "declared" by the church, and his family -- his parents, his brother and his sister -- have all disconnected from him, cutting him out of their lives entirely.
Clark's crime? He was employed by a man named Marc Headley, a former Scientologist who defected in 2005 and subsequently became an outspoken critic of the organization.
In the recording, Davis makes it plain that unless Clark quits his job and disassociates himself from Headley, he will be declared a suppressive person, or "SP." According to church doctrine, Scientologists in good standing are not to communicate with people who have been declared SPs. To indicate the seriousness of the situation, at the beginning of the meeting, Davis announces that he is going to tape it. "I was going to record this, our conversation. I didn't know if you were aware of it. For both of our benefit," Davis can be heard to say.
What Davis was not aware of, however, was that Clark was also taping the meeting.
Clark's recording of the meeting was made available to the Voice some time ago by Headley, Clark's friend and now former employer. Since then, we have authenticated it, transcribed it, and turned a large portion of it into short movies so that our readers can view the words as Tommy Davis speaks them.
Last week, the Voice made numerous phone calls, left voice mail messages, and e-mailed Tommy Davis and the Scientology media desk seeking comment on this recording. We received no reply.
Tommy Davis was once a fairly ubiquitous face for Scientology, appearing on a CNN special series about Scientology last year, and also on widely seen programs in the UK and Australia. The son of Scientologist actress Anne Archer, Davis rose to become Scientology's chief spokesman following the defection of his predecessor, Mike Rinder, in 2007. In 2008, he appeared on CNN's morning show and was interviewed by anchor John Roberts. In the segment, Roberts asks Davis about the policy of disconnection, which critics of Scientology complain about:
"They claim that the church separates family members and there is this practice of 'disconnection,' where if you're a member of the Church of Scientology...and someone in your family, or a friend, or your spouse is skeptical or critical of the Church of Scientology you are supposed to disconnect yourself from that person," Roberts says.
Davis replies: "Well, first of all, this is a perfect example of how the Internet turns things and twists things. There's no such thing as disconnection as you're characterizing it...There isn't any such policy in the church that's dictating who people should or should not be in communication with. It just doesn't happen."
Davis was just repeating what church officials have said publicly for years, that L. Ron Hubbard's 1960s-era policy of disconnection was abandoned long ago. Davis was refuted, however, by director Paul Haggis, who had seen the spokesman's appearance on CNN: "We all know this policy exists," Haggis wrote to Davis in a 2009 letter announcing that he was leaving Scientology. "I didn't even have to look any further than my own home. You might recall that my wife was ordered to disconnect from her own parents ... although it caused her terrible personal pain, my wife broke off all contact with them."
Davis, who was so prominent from 2007 to 2010, seems to have all but vanished in the last year. He has made no recent television appearences. Daniel Miller, a writer for The Hollywood Reporter, says that he communicated by e-mail with Davis between April and June of this year for a story. But otherwise, Davis has not been heard from. Former Scientologists speculate that he is at "Int," the organization's secretive desert headquarters, serving some kind of punishment by church leader David Miscavige.
In December 2009, however, he was still an important, public member of Scientology's highest executive ranks when he met with Shane Clark at a building in Los Angeles. Davis arrived at the meeting with Jessica Feshbach, who is his wife and media relations colleague.
Feshbach is best known for her role as the Scientology handler for Katie Holmes, who was introduced to the church by her husband, Tom Cruise. Feshbach is often seen with Holmes, and they are said to be very close friends.
Shane Clark arrived to the meeting with his girlfriend, Ranna, who was a Scientologist. Clark was 29 at the time and no longer considered himself a practicing Scientologist after having worked for the church, but everyone else in his family were enthusiastic members. His parents had split up years before, but his father was still an active member, as was his sister, both of whom Clark saw often. His mother and brother are hardcore Sea Org members, who are required to sign billion-year contracts and promise to come back, lifetime after lifetime, to serve Scientology with abject devotion. Each were so dedicated, Clark had not seen his brother in nine years, and his mother only one time in that same nine year period, two years earlier.
And now, Clark knew he might be in some trouble with the church. For some time, he had been working for Marc Headley, a man who escaped from Scientology in 2005 and subsequently wrote a book about his experiences, Blown for Good. As we have written earlier, Headley's access to damaging information, in particular regarding church leader David Miscavige, made him a major concern to the organization. Headley had denounced the church in Germany, where the government has considered banning Scientology, and his media production business had become a kind of haven for other former members who needed to find employment outside the church. Headley and his wife, Claire, had also filed lawsuits against Scientology, claiming that they were owed money for being forced to work at sub-minimum wage for so many years while they were Sea Org members. (Sea Org members typically take home 40 to 50 dollars for a week that could reach 100 hours or more of work.) Those lawsuits were dismissed last year.
As you'll hear in the recordings, Clark explains that although his employer, Headley, is an outspoken critic of the church, Clark himself has not criticized the church publicly, even though he has some issues with its policies. In fact, to this day, Clark tells the Voice that he "bears no ill will to Scientologists" and told me he believes "most Scientologists are good people trying to help." But in the meeting, it was quite clear what the stakes were: if Clark didn't leave his job working for Headley, he would be declared a suppressive person, with the implication that his active Scientology family would disconnect from him.
"My being employed with Marc, my being associated with Marc was putting me in a position, in their mind, that they would protect other people by declaring me," Clark told the Voice last week in a telephone interview. "Oh, that was absolutely understood. My being declared meant that my family would have to disconnect from me. That was the point of the meeting."
In this first segment, introductions have already been made, and Davis has announced that he's taping the meeting. Now, note how Davis immediately brings up Clark's family as he begins to describe the situation that Clark is in. And then Davis makes a pretty surprising analogy, as you will see.
Davis has now established that, from the church's perspective, Headley is akin to a neo-Nazi, and Clark is a kind of collaborator. (Davis will come back to this theme a few more times.)
In the next portion of the recording, Davis quotes at length from an L. Ron Hubbard policy in regards to declaring someone a suppressive person. In particular -- and a part of the policy that Davis will repeat several times during the meeting -- is the notion that even if a person is not himself criticizing or harming the church, but is associating with someone who is, that in itself is grounds for being declared a suppressive person.
Then, in this next segment we've put into a movie, Davis explains why such a policy is needed, to protect the people who devote so much time and effort to the church. While making that point, Davis provides his justification for why Sea Org members live such austere (some would say abusive) lives.
As you'll see in the next segment, which occurs a few moments later, Clark does something remarkable -- he sticks up for himself. At several points during the meeting, in fact, Clark defends his actions and even questions Scientology's policies in remarkable moments of backbone. Remember, Clark is in a fairly intimidating position -- if the church declares him, he knows that his family is made up of people who take Scientology policy seriously enough that he may never see them again.
(There at the end, Ranna assumes that Davis is in the Office of Special Affairs -- Scientology's intelligence and covert operations wing, which also oversees the organization's public relations. But as chief spokesman, Davis is under a different branch of Scientology's alphabet soup structure.)
In this next segment, you'll see that Davis explains that he's not interested in debates about the church or its policies -- and then he provides a rapid-fire description of how massively Scientology is expanding (a constant refrain from Scientology officials which has repeatedly been debunked).
Davis then suggests that critics like Headley are only motivated by greed.
Davis's final statement there has a few eyebrow-raising elements to it. First, he tries to sound somewhat noble, saying that it would be "criminal" for Scientology to take money from people who could not benefit from its services, and does not do that. But we are reminded of the notorious case of Raul Lopez, where a brain-damaged man who hardly had the capacity to decide things for himself was bled dry by Scientology, which got its hooks into the $1.7 million he had received after injuries sustained in a car accident.
And again, we're starting to hear Davis repeatedly ask about what Clark's "values" are. Clark, in other words, has to decide whether he really cares about his own family -- because it is he, not the church, who is forcing the potential disconnection.
In the next portion of the recording, there is some discussion of the Marc Headley case, and his accusations about violence at Int base, which Shane says he saw with his own eyes when he worked there himself.
Davis steps in, however, saying that it isn't appropriate to discuss what happened at the base in front of Clark's girlfriend, who has not been there.
Instead, Davis wants to bring the focus back on Clark and his family, and now, in this next segment, you'll see that he and Feshbach begin to build a case that if Clark hasn't seen his family more, it's his own fault.
In the next section of the recording, after Shane says that quitting his job is not really an option, Feshbach speaks up and says that it's not just the job that is a problem, but Clark's association with Headley.
"We're talking about the bigger picture of the connection. If it really is that you need another job, I'll help you find another job," Feshbach says. "We do that all the time. Do you see what I mean?"
She goes on to say that the church has a duty to inform members of anything that could have a negative effect on the church. But Clark doesn't like the idea that he's being branded an enemy.
In the next segment, you will see that Clark boldly brings up the policy of disconnection itself and suggests that the church get rid of it, saying that nothing else causes the church more problems.
Davis then answers, you will hear, in skillful doublespeak: "Well, from the viewpoint of the people who are involved in being responsible for the breaking up of those families, I could see how you could have that viewpoint."
There at the end, Davis suggests that there are policies by which a Suppressive Person can get back in the good graces of the church (the "A to E steps"), again putting the blame for disconnection on the SP and not on the church itself.
There's some noise on the recording as Shane shifts in his seat, and then we go right into the next segment as Davis continues to explain that the blame for disconnection is on the wayward former member, not Scientology. In fact, Davis says, the idea that people are separated from their family by outside forces -- and not their own fault -- is "a bit of a lie."
During that segment, Davis speaks most directly about disconnection, justifying it as a legacy of L. Ron Hubbard and group survival:
"Anyway, I think I've sort of said my piece. I've read you the key policies, I've read you the one in terms of organizational suppressive acts...LRH puts it in historical precedence as it relates to groups, period, not just to Scientology. There's a reason groups do this, it's integral to their survival. Groups who don't do it get destroyed. And it's just been proven over and over and over again in Scientology's 58-year history...to whatever degree SP's scream about how horrible it is, bottom line, it is what works, it is what safeguards the church. And by virtue of the fact that people who are connected to suppressives do rollercoaster, cannot make gains, and are called potential sources of trouble, or sources of trouble for a reason, based on historical precedence, it isn't a policy that's going to change tomorrow, next week, next month, or ever."
The next segment immediately follows the last. Davis is starting to sound a little more forceful now. Clark's repeated objections about the nature of disconnection policy seem to be getting to him...
That last part by Davis bears repeating: "You're either the most stubborn, obstinate SOB I've ever met, or you have a two-digit IQ. I don't know how else to spell it out for you, man. I really, really don't. OK? You know, go pull out some law books, call an attorney: litigation is unpleasant. It really is. It just really is. And if you can't, and I'm not even making a threat. I'm not."
Not a legal threat? Well, if Tommy says so.
In the full recording, he then goes into a long description of the background of the Headley lawsuits. But then he waves them aside: "Let's take the whole lawsuit out of it, completely," he says. He then boasts that he's actually trying to put people together, not disconnect them.
"Believe me, I have put far more families back into communication than Marc," Davis says.
Ultimately, Davis says, It's Clark who is in violation of policy, and the next move is his choice. And as you'll see in this next segment, Tommy will take the Nazi metaphor in a surprising new direction.
It's now clear that they are at an impasse. "I've said what I think, and you guys obviously think I'm nuts," Shane says on the recording. His girlfriend, Ranna, now simply walks out.
Davis then seems to try to impress Clark again with how well the church is doing. He puts on a short video extolling the virtues of a new Scientology resort in Florida where church members will be able to rocket up "the bridge" to spiritual advancement.
But Shane reminds him that he's not really a practicing Scientologist anymore.
"I don't believe what most Scientologists believe," he says.
"That's your call," Davis replies.
"I would prefer not to get declared. That would be an issue probably with my sister, and probably my dad. At the same time I do need the job," Shane says.
And then, the final segment that we've put into a movie...
On the recording, we then hear Shane zip up a bag and then leave for his car. As he drives away, he calls Ranna and they talk about the meeting.
"In their eyes, it's 'my way or the highway.' No compromise. I have to stop working for Marc, or that's it," Shane says.
Shane didn't quit his job. Several months after the meeting, Clark learned that he had been declared a suppressive person by the church. His family immediately cut all ties to him.
"My dad was talking to me all the way until the point I was declared," he told me last week. "I had been debating with him the stories about COB -- David Miscavige -- beating people up. He would have none of it." ("COB" -- Chairman of the Board -- is one of ways Scientologists refer to Miscavige. "DM" is another.)
"We debated this for months before I got declared. Then I got declared and all of a sudden he wouldn't talk to me," Shane adds.
As we learned from the recording, he was already almost entirely cut off from his mother and brother, who are Sea Org members and too busy to do anything but work incredibly long hours for low pay (Headley, when he was at Int, says he worked more than 100 hours a week for a weekly salary of about $40.)
"They would argue that my mom and brother weren't talking to me because they were too busy saving the planet, and I wasn't on the same page with them. Which I understand. They wouldn't be lying if they made that argument," Clark says. "My mom is convinced that her mission is more important than her family." He assumes she's at the headquarters near Hemet, California, but he can't be sure. He says he has no idea where his brother might be.
Clark is now declared, but the reason for it no longer exists: Headley is no longer his boss. Headley sold the company recently, but he points out that Shane's new boss is also an SP. So he may not really be in a better situation.
I asked Clark how life is nearly two years after Tommy Davis told him he was the equivalent of a bartender serving drinks to concentration camp guards.
"I'm still in the same job. Living in a decent place. I have a new girlfriend. So things are good, actually. I have nothing the church can take away from me. There's nothing more that they do," he says.
But he adds that he would, at some point, like to see his family again.
See all of our recent Scientology coverage at the Voice
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard's organization:
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology #15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics) #16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church's HQ #17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano #18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive #19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons) #20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures) #21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church #22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members) #23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church) #24: David Touretzky (and other academics) #25: Xenu, galactic overlord
The Larry Wollersheim Saga -- Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story -- How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself The Jason Beghe Defection -- A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue The Robert Cipriano Case -- A Hellacious Example of Fair Game The Paul Haggis Ultimatum -- The 'Crash' Director Tells Scientology to Shove It The Marc Headley Escape -- 'Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle' The Aaron Saxton Accusation -- Australia turns up the heat on Scientology The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation -- Scientology's former PR genius comes clean The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross -- Scientology lures a young defector into a trap A Church Myth Debunked -- Scientology and Proposition 8 Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back -- Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits When Scientologists Attack -- The Marty Rathbun Intimidation A Scientologist Excommunicated -- The Michael Fairman SP Declaration The Richard Leiby Operation -- Investigating a reporter's divorce to shut him up The Hugh Urban Investigation -- An academic takes a harsh look at Scientology's past Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh -- A precedent for a Scientology-Branch Davidian link Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology -- A masterful telling of Scientology's history The Western Spy Network Revealed? -- Marty Rathbun ups the ante on David Miscavige Scientology's Enemies List -- Are You On It? Inside Inside Scientology -- An interview with author Janet Reitman Scientology and the Nation of Islam -- Holy Doctrinal Mashup, Batman! Scientologists -- How Many of Them Are There, Anyway? Roger Weller's Wild Ride -- Scientology When it was Hip The Marc Headley Infiltration -- A Scientology Spying Operation Revealed Placido Domingo Jr: Scientology's Retaliation is "Scary and Pathetic" An Interview with Nancy Many, Former Scientology Spy The Paulien Lombard Confession -- A Scientology Spy Comes Clean The Deputy Benjamin Ring Hard Sell -- Scientology wants your 401K The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology -- the whole series! The Squirrel Busters Busted -- Unmasking the Scientology PI in Charge
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.