You’re going to hear a lot about the troubles that Tom Cruise finds himself in as he turns 50 years old today.
We thought we’d take a different tack. We’ve often thought that Rona Barrett’s 1984 interview of a pre-Scientology Tom Cruise is one of the most revealing. We see a young man with half a dozen movies under his belt who is becoming a big star at the same time that he’s vulnerable, even damaged, after growing up through the divorce of his parents. He was a religious seeker who briefly dealt with his psychic scars by running to a seminary. Bright, curious, but suffering, Cruise was almost the perfect example of a young person open to a new religious movement. Is it any wonder that he went willingly to a group that offered certainty, belonging, and structure?
If that helps explain why he was susceptible to the undue influence you find in a group like Scientology — which he ran into a few years after that interview — that doesn’t explain what he’s still doing in it so many years later.
Tom, today you’ve lived half a century. And it’s time you grew up.
Back in February, we wrote you an open letter. This was a part of it:
Here’s what you must begin to deal with, Tom: you are the public face for an organization that is becoming known for confining and torturing its own executives, that is employing children of public school age in ways that would make a nineteenth-century foreman blush. You are the symbol for an organization that beats confessions of homosexuality out of high-ranking members. That asks children to work around the clock without a chance to get real schooling. That does all this with claims that it is somehow helping the planet.
Tom, you’re in a bad position here.
Obviously, things have only gotten worse since we published that letter.
Tom, I understand the lure of Scientology. The certainty of it. The stability of its data. The knowing that you have the answer to everything.
But out here in the non-L. Ron Hubbard world, one of the things about being an adult is having the courage to deal with uncertainty. To maintain stability when everything around you is wobbly. To knowing you don’t have the answers to everything and finding peace in it.
Your thoughts have mass, Tom. Not in the way Hubbard believed, but in their intention and their force, in your desire to do good.
Join us out here in the wog world.
Suri in Boot Camp? Hardly.
It’s been stunning to watch the last few days as a celebrity divorce has quickly become a national referendum on Scientology.
In some ways it’s been exhilarating. In other ways, beyond frustrating.
Yesterday’s facepalm moment happened when, in yet another scramble to get something first rather than right, TMZ announced that what had convinced Katie Holmes to divorce Tom Cruise was the prospect that Cruise and Scientology were going to ship little Suri off to the Sea Org, which TMZ likened to a “boot camp.”
This story had a lot of problems.
The Sea Organization grew out of the years that L. Ron Hubbard ran Scientology from a small armada of ships that sailed the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Caribbean from 1967 to 1975. On Fridays, we post previously unpublished daily dispatches by Hubbard which he distributed to his crew as he sailed in his flagship, the yacht Apollo.
Only the most dedicated, gung ho young folks were accepted to serve on the ships with Hubbard. In 1975, Hubbard moved operations to Clearwater, Florida, but the Sea Org continued to exist.
The children of Scientologists are under particular pressure to join the Sea Org, and they begin getting bombarded by recruiters at a very young age. Taught growing up that Sea Org members are people of immense stature, Scientology kids tend to be in awe of them.
Once a person agrees to join, they are heavily vetted — only members with spotless backgrounds (no history of drug use, for example) can get through the intense “sec checking” (interrogations) and qualify. They then sign billion-year contracts, agreeing to serve Scientology faithfully, lifetime after lifetime, and give up almost all contact not only with the outside world, but even with family members who are not in the Sea Org.
I talked to a young man, who was nominally still a church member, who had not seen his Sea Org mother and brother in nine years. He assumed that they were too busy, working day and night for the good of Scientology.
The workloads of Sea Org members is legendary. Many former members talk of working 100-hour weeks, getting maybe three or four hours of sleep at night, and then getting only $20 to $50 for a week’s work. Housed in cramped quarters, six or seven people in a two-bedroom apartment, for example, they had no privacy and almost no free time.
When a new Sea Org member signs up, he or she does go through a month-long program called the Estates Project Force (EPF), which is a kind of “boot camp.” But the Sea Org itself cannot be described as a boot camp.
It’s a billion years of hard labor and total, utter dedication — that’s the Sea Org.
If you have read our lengthy accounts of life in the Sea Org — stories about Valeska Paris, her sister Melissa Paris, or their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning — you’ve noticed that they joined the Sea Org at a very young age.
Valeska signed her billion-year contract when she was 14 years old. Melissa and Ramana were 15. (The church sent TMZ a statement yesterday saying that no one, including Suri, is allowed to join the Sea Org before 16 years of age. That hasn’t stopped them in the past from signing up children only 10 or 11 years old.)
In February, Australian journalist Bryan Seymour reported the story of Shane Kelsey, a Sydney boy who signed his billion-year Sea Org contract at 8 years old, and subsequently began working 35-hour weeks while confined to a suburban labor camp.
So yes, very young Scientologists are being recruited to the Sea Org, which is not a boot camp but starts with a brief boot camp, and are then dedicated to working for the church day and night.
But it’s extremely hard to imagine Suri being shipped off to the Sea Org.
Celebrities like Tom Cruise and his daughter are much more valuable as “publics” — Scientology jargon for non-Sea Org members. Their PR value is immense. Other, non-famous youngsters can be lured into a life of menial and cheap labor to keep the place running.
That’s not to say that Suri wouldn’t be indoctrinated into Scientology’s intricate systems of control. As we pointed out Saturday, children as young as 6 are subjected to L. Ron Hubbard’s 1961 policy of “sec checking,” and are interrogated with the e-meter device in order to gather information that could be used against their parents.
As Tom Cruise famously put it in the 2004 video leaked in 2008, “I won’t hesitate to put ethics in on someone else” — he’s talking about that culture of turning in others to be interrogated.
After being with Tom for more than six years, Katie Holmes had plenty of time to see him shipped off to the Int Base for his six-month security check, she’d had plenty of time to notice that her own household employees would be pumped for information. She would have seen Tom’s older kids subjected to the same methods of control.
She would not have worried about Suri going off to join the Sea Org. She had enough of Scientology’s methods to worry about in her own house.
Handling the “Religion” Question
Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks invited me on his Current TV show yesterday, and threw me a bit of a curveball, talking about Scientology and “discrimination.”
I thought it was important to make the point that what makes Scientology “controversial” is less its beliefs than its practices.
Yes, it’s fun to talk about Xenu and engrams and the jaw-hinge of a clam. But the subject of this blog has really been the alleged abuses of a controlling organization, not the religious beliefs of its adherents. You can judge if I got that point across…
(For some reason the version they posted didn’t include the first third of the segment, which was actually pretty lively. Perhaps somewhere someone has the entire thing.)
Shifting gears: On Friday morning, we reported the big news that Roanne Horwich, the granddaughter of L. Ron Hubbard, had “blown” (church lingo for escaped) from Scientology’s International Base east of Los Angeles, which had been her home for more than 20 years. The month before, we learned, the base had seen another dramatic escape: Ron Miscavige Sr. and his wife Becky. Ron is the father of Scientology leader David Miscavige.
These were huge defections, and were massively embarrassing to Miscavige — his own father has ditched the church, and so has a living descendent of Hubbard.
Since we posted that story, we’ve heard from three different, independent sources that Miscavige has put out a “PR Line” on Horwich’s defection — he’s telling church members that she left the base on a “one year leave of absence.”
We reached out to Roanne through an intermediary, and she responded to us in no uncertain terms: She’s blown the base for good, and is not on a leave of absence.
Lots more news coming. Please check our Facebook author page for updates and schedules.
We’ll leave you with one final reason why Katie and Tom should both be running from Scientology like their clothes were on fire — the ongoing admiration for Hubbard that is mysteriously bringing together the Nation of Islam and Miscavige’s church. This was recorded on Sunday…
Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he’ll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, “What is Scientology?” Another good overview is our series from last summer, “Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.” At the top of every story, you’ll see the “Scientology” category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we’ve covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology’s “Mecca,” whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology’s policy of “disconnection” that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We’ve also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there’s plenty more coming.