Over the past few months, actor and Scientology-defector Jason Beghe has been hinting to us that two absolutely top-level officials who had recently escaped the church’s clutches were about to unload on their former supreme leader, David Miscavige.
This morning, the first installment on that project was unveiled, and it is stunning.
For decades, Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder were two of the highest-ranking members of Scientology, with plenty of access to Miscavige, who muscled his way to the top after founder L. Ron Hubbard’s death in 1984. Journalists who cover the church have long known that Rathbun and Rinder were among a small group with access to some of Scientology’s most important secrets — like how Miscavige convinced the IRS to throw in the towel in 1991 and restore Scientology’s tax-exempt status, for example, or what really happened in the strange death of church member Lisa McPherson at a church-owned hotel in 1995.
It was surprising enough to hear that in the past few years, both Rathbun and Rinder had left Scientology. But now, both of them and other high-level defectors are speaking out for the first time on those issues to veteran journalists on the Scientology beat, Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin of the St. Petersburg Times.
(The St. Pete Times has long been a great source for stories on Scientology — the paper’s coverage area includes the town of Clearwater, Florida, which Scientology virtually took over in the 1970s when Hubbard grew tired of running things from a boat and wanted a land base. Scientology’s two centers of power are in Clearwater and in Southern California.)
As recently as 2007, in a BBC special, Rinder was seen denying rumors that Miscavige — who is supposed to be the worldwide leader of a religion based on the ethical treatment of human beings — actually maintains order by physically beating his staff, including high-ranking managers like Rinder himself.
Now, Rinder is out and telling the St. Pete Times that he lied in that BBC special. It’s true, he says, that Miscavige is a terror, slapping and beating and humiliating his employees.
Some spiritual leader.
Today’s article is just the first of three — the other parts will appear tomorrow and Tuesday — and it’s accompanied by a fine video that features Rathbun speaking with what appears to be utter credibility. (If you’ve seen current Scientology spokesman, Tommy Davis, then you know what the opposite looks like.)
When the Times
asked for responses from Scientology, the organization did something many of us have been pointing out for many years: that if you join the
church, from day one Scientology starts building a file on you as you are compelled to admit to errors and ethical lapses (whether true or
not). As a matter of course, Scientology spokesmen have denied that these files are created so that the material can be used to discredit
people who defect.
Of course, that’s exactly what Scientology did in this case. For each of the defectors speaking for the St. Pete Times project, the church has mined their personal files in an attempt to smear them. Not only is that shocking behavior for a “religion,” it turns out to be transparently ridiculous and makes Scientology look worse. The Times reporters do a brilliant job giving the church its say, but also provide real facts to deflect the attempts to damage Rathbun and Rinder and the others.
How huge is this blow to Scientology? The writers themselves come up with an apt parallel. They say that Rathbun and Rinder dishing on Miscavige is something like Haldeman and Erlichman coming clean about their boss.
Yes, a “religion” run the way Richard Nixon ran his White House. That’s a comparison we can get behind.