On August 5, we started a countdown that will give credit — or blame — to the people who have contributed most to the sad current state of Scientology. From its greatest expansion in the 1980s, the church is a shell of what it once was and is mired in countless controversies around the world. Some of that was self-inflicted, and some of it has come from outside. Join us now as we continue on our investigation of those people most responsible…
#8: Mike Rinder
Mike Rinder says he was 5 or 6 years old when his parents got into Scientology and then raised him in it. By 20 years old, he had left his native Australia and was running the telex desk at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, where Scientology had just formed its land base after years of running things at sea. Rinder was one of several very young members on the rise who were beginning to take over Scientology — his close friends Marty Rathbun and David Miscavige were also part of the new guard.
Their timing was good. In 1977, Scientology endured one of its most damning episodes when the FBI raided its offices, finding documents that proved the church’s Guardian’s Office had perpetrated the largest infiltration of government offices in this country’s history. L. Ron Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue, and 10 other executives went to prison for “Operation Snow White,” and the Guardian’s Office (GO) itself was dissolved. Miscavige, Rathbun, and Rinder were among the young executives charged with picking up the pieces and moving Scientology away from the Snow White debacle. Rinder, in particular, helped create the Guardian’s Office successor, the Office of Special Affairs.
“I can’t be credited with creating OSA, but I was certainly there when it happened. And within a short period of time I became the head of OSA,” Rinder told me recently. “These people [at the GO] had done a bunch of kooky things. Myself and a bunch of other people had the idea that we had to start doing things the right way and not the wrong way.”
For more than 20 years, Rinder was involved in and led OSA before he left Scientology in 2007. He played a role overseeing Scientology’s legal affairs, he ran an office that employed private investigators, and he eventually also became the church’s chief spokesman.
“At some point [Scientology leader] David Miscavige decided that Heber Jentzsch was incompetent and stupid, so I ended up being the one dealing with any major media stuff,” Rinder says. (Heber Jentzsch was chief spokesman and was also president of the Church of Scientology, International — largely a nominal role — but he has vanished, and his ex-wife says he’s being kept in a kind of prison program at Scientology’s international headquarters near Hemet, California.)
If OSA was meant to supplant the GO, there’s the account of Nancy Many, who has written that she worked as a spy for both incarnations of Scientology’s covert operations wing. I asked Rinder, did he really succeed in cleaning up the GO’s legacy?
“I would look back and say, you see, spying isn’t illegal,” Rinder says. “The GO did things that were illegal. We said, no more illegal stuff. No more fake hit-and-run accidents and that sort of nuttiness. [Referring to the campaign to smear Clearwater mayor Gabe Cazares.] But I never considered that spying itself was illegal — it’s done by corporations all the time. It’s not done by churches, I understand that, but it’s done by corporations all the time. It’s not very savory, but it’s not illegal.”
Speaking of “fair game” operations that were carried out under Rinder’s watch — attempts by Scientology to smear or harass its critics — I asked him about readers of the Voice‘s coverage of Scientology who seem angry that he hasn’t done enough to reveal what happened under his leadership, or to admit wrongdoing and do amends for it.
“Think whatever you want to think. I live my life according to what I think is right. I don’t live it according to what other people think I should do. I did that for 20 years. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But really, the people who say those kinds of things, they really don’t have a clue. It doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be people who are critical,” he says. “There are people complaining to me that I haven’t reported what I know to law enforcement. How do they know I haven’t? I’m supposed to answer to those complaints? I don’t have time for that.”
Rinder worked very closely with church leader David Miscavige for many years. I asked Rinder what he thinks Miscavige worries about the most regarding ex-Scientologists or other critics.
“I think he’s worried that he can no longer control the flow of information, and keep people in a state of suspended animation, circling around his world of bullshit PR. What he fears the most is a crumbling of his empire, and the support and money he gets from people who still buy his bullshit. On many fronts, there are things that worry him that he can’t control what’s being said about him. All of these things create holes in the black box, and the light is shining in through more and more of those holes, and he doesn’t know where to stuff his hands to plug up the light,” he says. “In Australia, in Germany, Scientologists there who see the media, they’re going to start wondering what’s really going on. More and more people then start finding out what the real truth is.”
Rinder has been one of the key reasons Miscavige has that problem on his hands. After giving his first television interview to Bryan Seymour, cooperating in the groundbreaking St. Petersburg Times series “The Truth Rundown,” and appearing in John Sweeney’s BBC special, “The Secrets of Scientology,” Rinder is now talking regularly about his time in Scientology and the abuses he saw under Miscavige.
I asked Mark Bunker about what a huge turnaround that is:
When I first started looking into Scientology, one thing was clear: Mike Rinder was evil. He had to be. He was the head of the Office of Special Affairs. He was in charge of all the nasty stuff that Scientology did to people like my friend Bob Minton. It was OSA who hired private investigators to follow me, who had me arrested while I was trying to interview former members in Chicago and then spread my mugshot to all my neighbors telling them that I was a dangerous criminal. It was OSA who sent Scientologists to leaflet my neighborhood with inflammatory flyers about me and sent two members to picket me at my home. I know one thing about me: I’m a good guy. So therefore Mike Rinder was a bad guy. The chief bad guy. How could you do all these evil things if you yourself are not evil?
But then I worked with Stacy Brooks at the Lisa McPherson Trust. She knew Mike Rinder. She used to work with Mike Rinder. She liked Mike Rinder. She hated what Mike Rinder was doing to people, especially to Bob Minton who was the man she loved. She was working to try to stop OSA from hurting anyone else. We all were. Mike Rinder was to me a caricature who I saw smirking on TV shows when asked about Lisa McPherson’s death. But I started to see him as a human being, one who was part of this machinery that was in motion, grinding away, tearing up families. It was a step in moving away from my previous black and white mentality. I was starting to see some grays.
I’m not excusing what Mike Rinder did to me, to Bob Minton or to the other people who have been hurt by the Office of Special Affairs and by his own actions. I understand the viewpoint of those who want him to do more to make amends. But I’m grateful that he’s no longer part of that machinery and has been helping to dismantle it.
The Church of Scientology has mastered the art of black and white messaging. Critics are Suppressive Persons. Reporters are Merchants of Chaos. Members are told not to even consider what we might have to say. I say we have to find some way to start communicating so we can work together to stop the abuses of the organization. I’ve sat down and talked with Mike Rinder a couple of times this year. One thing was clear: Mike Rinder is not evil. In fact, I rather like the guy.
For his upcoming movie, Knowledge Report, Bunker interviewed Rinder recently about Scientology’s use of private investigators…
I asked Bryan Seymour what it has meant to have Rinder speak out about Scientology in Australia:
Apart from giving me his first broadcast interview about his time at the top of Scientology, Mike Rinder has helped with insight and contacts to unravel a host of anomolies and abuses. In Australia, Rinder has assisted in the understanding of Scientology’s complex financial structures. He has also been a wellspring of detail on internal politics and policies. Other issues he has lent his experience to will emerge in the near future. Australians might have continued thinking Scientology was a largely harmless, weird religion but for the efforts to expose the truth of former members. Chief among them — Mike Rinder.
Like Marty Rathbun, Rinder is now being targeted by OSA operations that the two of them helped develop over the years. The irony does not escape either of them. We reported earlier about how a contingent of the Squirrel Busters tried to disrupt a medical trade show where Rinder was working. Freedom magazine’s sad imitation of a reporter, Jim Lynch, has also regularly showed up to question Rinder. But the former OSA chief seems largely unfazed by it. In fact, he’s almost preternaturally calm as a final report from Australia’s “Fair Work” Ombudsman is due to be released any day now. But then, he has his eyes on a larger game.
“I think a bunch of governments — particularly in Europe and in the Commonwealth — will follow in the footsteps of the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman and begin their own investigations and reviews,” he told Australian television this week.
In other words, more holes for Miscavige to worry about, letting in more light.
UPDATE: In response to this countdown item, Marty Rathbun posted an interesting remembrance of what it was like to watch Rinder endure verbal abuse by church leader David Miscavige. Worth a look.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#1: L. Ron Hubbard
#2: David Miscavige
#3: Marty Rathbun
#4: Tom Cruise
#5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin
#7: Mark Bunker
#8: Mike Rinder
#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#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
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin’ Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing “disconnection”]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun’s open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun’s cause] | [Squirrel Buster’s claim to be making a “documentary”] | [VIDEO: “On a Boat”] | [“Anna” sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology’s highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND “FAIR GAME”
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology’s West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology’s enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard’s remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to “handle” the Voice]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
[“Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | [“Tom Cruise not a kook!”] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his “suppressive person” declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology’s retaliation is “scary and pathetic”]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo’s “Turnaround King”: [Doing Scientology’s dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone’s smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]
JANET REITMAN’S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman’s first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn’t like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman’s print reviews, and why isn’t she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN’S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
[Marc Headley: “Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman’s Story] | [Jeff Hawkins’ Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology singalong, “We Stand Tall”] | [Captain Bill Robertson and “Galactic Patrol”]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The “Ideal” dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York “org”]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist’s letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth]
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]