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…
#3: Marty Rathbun
There may be no greater outside threat to the continued existence of the Church of Scientology than a lone man who lives near Corpus Christi and who operates a blog he updates about once a day.
Mark “Marty” Rathbun is 54 years old and lives with his wife Monique in Ingleside on the Bay, Texas. Since April, Rathbun and his wife have been undergoing a daily siege by an intimidation squad sent to film them from just outside their house. It has been established now without any real doubt that this squad has been sent and is being directed by the Church of Scientology. Members of the squad have been flown in from around the country. They are being housed, equipped, fed, and if one whistleblowing videographer’s testimony can be believed, paid well. The sheer cost of such an operation — which includes the use of private investigators and local law firms — has to be fairly staggering.
I don’t really doubt Mike Rinder — who until he defected in 2007 was the Church of Scientology’s top spokesman and ran the office that would oversee such an operation — when he says that the “Squirrel Busters” siege is proof that church leader David Miscavige fears nothing like he fears Rathbun and his blog.
And that’s the one and only reason Rathbun is so high in this countdown.
Until now, we’ve listed in this countdown a lot of fascinating people who are dedicated to the fight to educate the public about the Church of Scientology — academics, attorneys, journalists, ex-Scientologists, mask-wearing protesters, obsessive Internet researchers, and government officials. Every one of them has contributed to the current rotten state of affairs for Scientology, which is that it’s getting increasingly more difficult for the church to find and recruit gullible young people when most of the general public has at least heard something about Scientology’s odd beliefs and well-documented abuses.
But as we’ve learned again and again from former church members, the people who remain in the organization (even as it dwindles in size) are living in a kind of bubble, told to shut out criticism, told to mistrust the media, told even to ignore friends and family who raise questions about church leader David Miscavige.
If Miscavige is in a panic, the reason may be Rathbun’s ability to reach deep inside that bubble with his writings in a way that most of us outside the church can’t really hope to.
I have to give credit to Jason Beghe for helping me understand this. In 2009, when Rathbun began blogging, years after he’d left the organization in 2004, it seemed odd that, unlike other defectors, he proclaimed that he still believed in the philosophies of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. But Beghe explained to me that Rathbun wasn’t writing for us journalists or other ex-Scientologists or for the legions at Anonymous — Rathbun was targeting his longtime friends still in the church. And he had many friends.
Before he defected and then vanished, Rathbun had been the second-highest-ranking executive in Scientology. He has said that he worked directly with and only answered to church leader Miscavige. As the “Inspector General of Ethics” at the “Religious Technology Center” Rathbun was Scientology’s fixer, the guy Miscavige trusted to take care of problems for the church. It was Rathbun, for example, who hired Eugene Ingram, a disgraced former cop and perhaps Scientology’s most legendary thug. Rathbun also admitted to the St. Petersburg Times that he destroyed documents pertinent to the investigation into the death of Lisa McPherson. Rathbun is fully aware of the irony that today he is being victimized by the kind of intimidation and harassment that for years he dished out to the church’s perceived enemies.
But Rathbun wasn’t only Miscavige’s enforcer. He was also one of the most respected auditors in an organization built around the belief that Hubbard’s talking cure and odd e-meter device could bring some kind of spiritual salvation. Beghe told me about auditing with Rathbun, and how when he was entering or leaving the room where Rathbun counseled him, he’d often run into Rathbun’s other celebrity client, Tom Cruise. It was only Rathbun, Beghe told me, who Miscavige trusted to bring Cruise back into the fold after the actor had spent nearly a decade out of the church.
Beghe himself was struggling with frustrations that were common among high-paying, longtime Scientologists, even if they were discouraged from airing their grievances. Miscavige had announced that there were errors and problems in the Hubbard materials that everyone in the church had been using for decades. After making corrections, he asked members to retrain on exorbitantly expensive materials, to redo levels that they’d spent years on. As Beghe puts it, he couldn’t believe he was being asked to spend tens of thousands of dollars for supposed mistakes that the church itself had made. Beghe poured out those concerns to his auditor, Rathbun.
Today, Rathbun is making an appeal to the people who remain in the church, but who may be too afraid to tell anyone else their own frustrations and doubts. After all, people — even terrified Scientologists — do talk. And through such gossip they hear that Rathbun has a blog where he discusses Miscavige’s changes to the tech. Fearful Scientologists who might not dare read the St. Petersburg Times or look at “Operation Clambake” or the Anonymous website WhyWeProtest find their way to Rathbun’s blog. And there, they find a fellow Scientologist who understands their frustrations and beckons them to leave the church for a loose, independent movement of Hubbard adherents. We regularly see such church veterans declare their independence on Rathbun’s blog in jargon-filled recitations of greivances about Miscavige and the official church.
For those who fear that Rathbun, by recruiting such defectors, is just creating some kind of mirror church, the truth is more prosaic. Even Rathbun admits that those coming out and auditing with him are not doing it to rocket up “the bridge” to Hubbard’s legendary superhuman states, but simply to deal with the pain they are going through because of their disillusionment with the church.
“He’s trying to give people a stepping stone out of the church. It’s really hard to give up everything you were indoctrinated your entire life to believe,” says Amy Scobee. “That was the missing link, I think, for people to leave.”
Some time ago, I began thinking of Rathbun’s blog and his independence movement as a kind of halfway house. Longtime Scientologists, some of whom were accustomed to paying thousands of dollars every month, have been leaving the church to spend time either at Rathbun’s blog or visiting him in Ingleside on the Bay. They might get some counseling and give Rathbun a donation. (Michael Fairman said recently that after several days fishing and auditing with the Rathbuns, he donated $1,000, far less than what he was spending for similar treatment in the church.) And after such counseling to deal with the pain of leaving the church, they then move on, some going entirely out of Scientology altogether, as they get accustomed to living without the regimented structure, the constant “regging” (asking for money), and threats of disconnection and fair game (shunning and retaliation).
“People listen to me because I’m not attacking Hubbard, I’m not attacking the technology,” Rathbun told me last week. “I have never tried to convince anybody to come see me. I’ve never tried to convince or sell somebody on continuing to try Scientology.”
Amy Scobee tells me the same thing: “He doesn’t try to push Scientology on us. We’re not Scientologists at all.”
It’s the opposite of Miscavige’s hard-sell approach. And it seems to be working. His recent arrest, he says, shocked many high-level, longtime Scientologists, and is only going to help him bring them out of the official church. And if they come to him, he says, he doesn’t care if they want to continue to audit or not.
“I’m not dogmatic. I contend that the technology, applied rationally and sanely, can help you in your life. But really, it’s all about freedom. Tony, I’ve had three referrals from psychoanalysts,” he says, explaining that three former church members were recommended to him by therapists who wanted him to help their patients deal with the difficulties of leaving the church. Each of them, he says, he has only seen once, and he doesn’t anticipate seeing them again.
It’s certainly been a remarkable two years since Rathbun (with the surprising help of church critic Mark Bunker) started his blog.
“We thought Marty was dead. There was a lot of talk about it online,” Amy Scobee told me recently. She says there was even a supposed death certificate being talked about since Rathbun had left the church in 2004 and had vanished. Then, in 2008, her husband Mat Pesch noticed that a MySpace page he hardly ever looked at had a message from someone who said he was an old friend who needed to remain nameless.
“That’s either Marty or someone pretending to be Marty,” he told her. Pesch and Rathbun had known each other since the late 1970s, when they joined the Sea Org. He had been the best man at their wedding.
“We asked him questions only Marty would know,” Scobee says. When he answered them correctly, they were thrilled to learn that he was, in fact, alive. They went to see him for a five-day visit.
“We didn’t know if he wanted to talk about Scientology,” she says, admitting that they were somewhat apprehensive at first. “We practically didn’t sleep. We talked and talked. I asked so many questions that I could finally get answers to. The things only he knew,” she says.
“We just had a blast. We were fishing and talking for hours and hours. We told him about our stories of disconnection. That it was so devastating,” she adds. “That had a huge impact on him. He was writing to us often after we went back home, that maybe he could do something about it, maybe force Miscavige to let our family get back together.”
She declined that invitation. She was finished with Scientology, and the last thing she wanted was to be back in its “good graces” so it would lift its disconnection order.
After Scobee and Pesch visited, Jason Beghe went to Texas to spend time with Rathbun. And that’s when, Rathbun has told me, he started to think beyond just helping a few people with their lingering problems with the church. In his words, he started “to think big.” A few months later, he started blogging.
I asked Scobee if she agrees with Mike Rinder that David Miscavige fears nothing like he fears Rathbun and his blog.
“I think that is what David Miscavige thinks,” she answered.
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 dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested]
[All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots]
[Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige “toxic” and “violent”]
[Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?]
ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS
[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]