I’ve spoken to John Brousseau numerous times over the past couple of years. In 2011, I reported about the photographs he smuggled out of Scientology’s International Base east of Los Angeles which documented the work he did customizing a motorcycle, a Ford Excursion, and an airplane hangar for Tom Cruise while working for pennies an hour as a member of Scientology’s “Sea Org.”
More recently, it was Brousseau who helped me understand why Sea Org members believe that Scientology leader David Miscavige’s wife Shelly was “disappeared” to a secret base in the mountains above Los Angeles.
But until now, I’ve never told Brousseau’s entire story as a 32-year member of Scientology and the last person to escape from the International Base who is talking publicly about it.
In some ways, Brousseau’s tale is one of the most remarkable to come out of the secretive organization, and one that parallels so much of Scientology’s own development and controversies.
He and Miscavige were brothers in law. They were both young cameramen working for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard during his movie-making phase. Brousseau was Hubbard’s personal chauffeur and helped maintain the cloak of secrecy when Hubbard vanished for good. He watched Miscavige transform Scientology and turn its base into a prison camp. He worked for Tom Cruise, which included serving in the household with Cruise and Katie Holmes. And having worked closely with both Cruise and Miscavige, he has choice things to say about the nature of their relationship.
There are few people, in other words, more qualified to provide a front-row seat to what the Church of Scientology has been through since 1977. And this is his story.
For Christmas 2006, Tom Cruise took his family to a house that had been upgraded and transformed. It was his place in Telluride, Colorado, and he was there with his wife Katie Holmes, their eight-month-old daughter Suri, his mother, and his older children, Isabella and Connor.
There was also a full set of people working to make sure that everything went smoothly, as well as the man wrangling them, who had also overseen the house’s upgrade. He was John Brousseau.
“I was making sure everything was beautiful and clean. I made sure the servants knew what they were doing. They had to learn how to make things go right without being visible — I learned that from Miscavige. I would show the staff that it’s not your job to bump into Tom in the hallway. It’s your job to make sure everything’s right, but be invisible. Anticipate his every move. You had to be there with a salt shaker before he even realized he needed it,” he says.
“I was sitting there having meals with Tom and Katie and the family. It was like we were guests,” he says.
I asked how the couple appeared to him. “They looked really terrific at that time. They were a hit, it was very evident to me. They were still gaga. At the end of the day, Suri was put to bed, Connor and Bella were in bed. Most of the help had gone home. I’d still be around. And Tom and Katie would go off on their own to chat. They seemed really genuinely happy,” he says.
I asked Brousseau for his impression of Katie Holmes.
“Tom Cruise was the dream of her life since she was a little girl. The Church of Scientology wasn’t. That was just glued on to the package. They put Jessica Rodriguez on her and she must have thought, what the fuck is happening? I didn’t marry a person, I married an entourage.”
Rodriguez — born Jessica Feshbach — was from a legendary family in Scientology. She became Katie’s “handler,” and was seen at every public appearance during those early years in the relationship. (We hear that Jessica is now gravely ill, and I’ve wondered if Jessica’s absence was a factor in Katie’s ability to secretly plan such a slick getaway from Cruise and the church.)
Brousseau left Scientology in 2010, but I asked him why he thought Katie acted the way she did when she surprised Cruise with her divorce filing.
“The maternal instinct kicked in. And Katie’s parents pointed things out. And Katie had read shit. And Suri is six,” Brousseau conjectures. “You don’t fuck with a mother’s child. She just figured the best thing was to yank her little girl out of there, and good for her.”
Brousseau had first met Tom Cruise in 1991, when the young movie star had come to Int Base to learn how to audit. As Marc Headley explains in his book Blown For Good, Headley was chosen as a guinea pig for Cruise to experiment on. Brousseau says there were a couple of others as well.
While Cruise and Headley learned how to talk to ashtrays, Brousseau took care of Cruise’s Porsche Speedster. And when Miscavige took Cruise to the base’s shooting range, Brousseau helped out.
“I was the gun guy. I’d shoot the first couple of shells to make sure the gun wasn’t going to blow up. Then I’d hand it to Tom.”
Brousseau says this was also when he first got to work for Tom, the first of many jobs making or repairing things for the actor. “I got to customize a Bluebird motor home for him. It had custom hard surfaces and upholstery,” he says. Another Sea Org member who was an audiophile made sure the vehicle had the latest hi fi equipment.
“Tom paid for everything. The church never bought stuff. When it came down to paying for stuff, Tom paid for it. But he didn’t pay us,” Brousseau says. As Sea Org members, Brousseau and the others who worked on Tom’s vehicles and properties were paid only about $50 a week by the church, even though their hours could reach 100 a week.
After that initial encounter with Cruise at the Int Base in 1991, the actor made himself scarce, Brousseau says.
“He was with Nicole Kidman at the time. But then, he sort of fell away after that. He was gone from Scientology for like ten years. That’s where Marty came in, to get him back in,” he says.
As we’ve written numerous times, this was a secret that Cruise and the church managed to keep at the time: Nicole Kidman, after initially embracing Scientology, soured on Miscavige and pushed away from the church. For years, Cruise also maintained a distance, and wasn’t auditing or going to events. But then, after Cruise and Kidman broke up at the beginning of 2001, Miscavige assigned Marty Rathbun the job of auditing Cruise and bringing him back into the fold. From 2001 to 2004, Rathbun helped turn Cruise into the most rabid of Scientologists.
During that period, Brousseau also began to work more closely with Cruise.
“In 2002, Marty was auditing him and getting him through his OT levels [Scientology’s highest spiritual packages]. And I went to his house on Alpine Drive in Beverly Hills. I was put in charge of a complete overhaul of his house,” Brousseau says. David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, was overseeing the project, and was pushing everyone to hurry.
Brousseau says Cruise had been impressed with the way Miscavige lived at his apartment in Hollywood. When Cruise complained that he couldn’t get his own place and staff the way he wanted it, Miscavige reassured him that he’d take care of it.
“The result was people like me going and working for Tom, making his house perfect. We even landscaped the grounds, everything was transformed. I was the technical guy, directing people, getting the irrigation fixed, the windows, doors, gutters, even the light bulbs.”
After doing many projects not only on Cruise’s house, but also with his vehicles and his airport hangar in Burbank, Brousseau says he got to know the man pretty well.
“He’s got more energy than the local grid. But he’s not very smart,” he says. “He has so much energy, and he always has to be doing something with somebody.”
That’s backed up by something a person who worked closely with Cruise for many years told me recently about watching him during his marriage to Kidman: “Tom can’t be alone. He goes nuts if there’s not someone else around him, someone he can bug about stuff. He’d walk around the house, saying ‘Where’s Nick? Where’s Nick?’ He was like a kid that way.”
Hearing Brousseau talk about all the work he was doing around Cruise’s Beverly Hills house in 2002, I had to ask: had Tom Cruise really been living in squalor before the Int Base crew arrived?
“It was bullshit,” he says. Yes, they improved the place, but Cruise hadn’t been living in a dump to begin with. “Why did it need to be done? It was Miscavige,” he says.
Brousseau says he had ample opportunity to examine the two men up close. And it taught him that theirs was a very uneven relationship.
“It isn’t the same both ways. Miscavige would throw Tom Cruise under a bus in a minute,” Brousseau says. “But Tom thinks Miscavige is the greatest person in the world. He worships him like a god. Miscavige would pretend that Tom was his best friend, but you could see it was horseshit. Tom couldn’t see it.” (Miscavige has not given a public interview since he talked to Nightline in 1992.)
I asked another person who knew both men and who worked very closely with Miscavige for many years about Brousseau’s claims about that uneven relationship. Mike Rinder left Scientology in 2007, but he had been the church’s top spokesman and the executive director of its Office of Special Affairs, its intelligence and legal affairs wing.
“JB knows of which he speaks,” Rinder says. “If Miscavige felt that Tom Cruise was no longer able to provide him things he wants — access to big names in Hollywood, money, expensive gifts and star power — Cruise would find himself in the same category as a Geoffrey Lewis or Michael Roberts, rating a polite, camera-posed handshake and ‘Hi, how are you’ when Miscavige visits Hollywood Celebrity Centre once a year for their annual ‘gala.’ No more ‘insider’ briefings or hanging out together at Telluride, no more special birthday parties and expensive gifts, no more Sea Org slave labor projects, no more staying in Miscavige’s personal guest quarters at Int Base or using Dave’s tanning bed. Tom would become like all the other pieces of gum on the bottom of Miscavige’s hand-made John Lobb shoes, someone to be tolerated as a cost of doing business, but generally looked upon with disdain. And Cruise cannot see it, even though the evidence of every single person who has ever come close to Miscavige (with the exception of [Miscavige’s ‘communicator’] Laurisse Stuckenbrock) lays strewn in his wake like the victims of the Bataan Death March.”
Brousseau was equally damning in his words about the way Miscavige uses and discards the people around him.
“There isn’t a human being that David Miscavige admires,” Brousseau says. Not L. Ron Hubbard, I asked him?
“No. He says he does, and I think he thinks he should. But I know he thinks everything he does is best, and if things get destroyed, someone else caused it. Miscavige actually thinks that Marty and I and the others are all a bunch of suppressives bent on destroying everyone including ourselves, and he’s the only one who really knows what’s going on, and he has to drive the whip to push humanity in the right direction.”
After his Christmas with Tom and Katie and baby Suri in 2006, Brousseau saw them only occasionally.
Brousseau says he had bigger things to worry about. It had become, he says, the period of “Miscavige unplugged” as Int Base increasingly became a prison camp and more and more top executives were being “disappeared” — at the same time that Tom Cruise was being hailed by Miscavige as the church’s epitome of dedication.
“The only thing I have against Tom is that he accepted this shit.”
Since he left Scientology, Brousseau has released photographs of the work he did for Tom Cruise — work that was unpaid, and that some have used to argue that Cruise and Miscavige benefited from inurement — enriching them in a way that violates Scientology’s tax-exempt status.
“The reason I’ve released those photos is because I want Tom to wake up. I remember at the time, I was being told I was doing a good job on these things for him. But I was thinking, what the fuck am I doing? How the hell is this helping humanity? Why am I being flown to Telluride to be the babysitter for Connor and Bella? What the fuck was I doing?”
It was New Year’s Eve, and John Brousseau had nowhere to go. At midnight, it would turn 1977, but the 20-year-old didn’t have a date or a party to go to.
Bored, he called up an old high school friend to see what he was doing. The friend was going to a party, and asked Brousseau to go along. It turned out to be at Scientology’s mission in Berkeley.
“They were friendly people. They weren’t a bunch of druggies or weirdos. One person said, you should come back some time — but he wasn’t pushy about it. So I ended up going back and took the comm course, which was like 20 bucks back then. It had a few things I liked,” he remembers.
Brousseau had been born in San Diego but grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. After high school, he was drifting. College wasn’t really in the cards — not only did he not have the money, but he didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his life. He’d been working as a machinist in a safe manufacturing company. “It was gas money. I was standing at a milling machine getting covered with oil and metal chips,” he says.
At first, his involvement in Scientology was modest. “I was going one or two nights a week, and then I dropped out for a few months.” A change in his schedule made it tough to get to the Berkeley mission, which had limited hours. But then Brousseau realized that in San Francisco there was an “org” — short for “organization,” a Scientology facility that is bigger than a mission. It was open longer hours, and Broussau finished his comm course there.
“That’s where a Sea Org recruiter approached me,” he says. It didn’t take much convincing to sign up. “I was tired of living with my mom and dad. I was bored. Let’s go for it, I told the recruiter.”
Looking back, Brousseau says he was ripe for recruitment because he was drifting and unassertive. “I’d really been into the sciences in high school. I figured I’d be a research chemist at a big company or something. But I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I can look back and tell the difference I saw in other kids my age was they were willing to stick their necks out and say what they were going to do. Other kids like me were getting recruited into the Marine Corps, the Navy, or a church, or the Sea Org. When someone comes to you with everything figured out you grab on to that. It’s what you’re used to,” he says.
Brousseau was sent to Los Angeles for his Estates Project Force — the Sea Org’s version of a boot camp. After three months, he was sent to Clearwater, Florida for more EPF training.
“Then, somebody pulled me aside from the CMO — the Commodore’s Messengers Organization.”
In the late 1960s, when L. Ron Hubbard was running Scientology from a small armada of ships sailing the Mediterranean and North Atlantic, on his flagship, the Apollo, he surrounded himself with young “messengers” — mostly teenaged girls in halter tops and hot pants — who tended to his every need and ran from place to place to deliver his messages, even trying to imitate the way he had said them. Once Scientology came back on land in 1975, the CMO became an elite unit inside the Sea Org, mostly of young people who tended to Hubbard’s needs and carried a lot of responsibility.
“The guy from the CMO said, how’d you like to work with LRH and make movies? Sure, I said.”
3. La Quinta
Brousseau drove back to California and was taken to Hubbard’s ranch in La Quinta, where the science fiction writer was hiding out and had taken up directing movies.
Five years earlier, in 1973, while Hubbard was still at sea, he and his wife Mary Sue wanted to come back onto land, but they were concerned that there was too much damaging information about them in the files of the U.S. government. So they came up with a plan they called Operation Snow White to remove that material — by infiltrating hundreds of government offices over several years with the use of operatives from Scientology’s “Guardian’s Office.” The theft of documents finally ended with a massive July, 1977 FBI raid on Scientology offices in Washington DC and Los Angeles. Since that time, Mary Sue and ten other Scientologists were being prosecuted and faced prison time, while Hubbard was only named an “unindicted co-conspirator.” But he worried that at any time, he too could be pulled into the prosecution.
After the raid, Hubbard had first run from his La Quinta, California ranch to Sparks, Nevada. While he was in hiding, the American public was buzzing that spring and summer over the most successful science fiction movie ever released, George Lucas’s Star Wars. Perhaps frustrated that his own tales hadn’t experienced that kind of success, Hubbard spent his time in hiding writing a screenplay, Revolt in the Stars, using the bizarre tales of the galactic overlord Xenu which were part of Scientology’s super-secret upper-level teachings. As Jon Atack explains in his excellent history, A Piece of Blue Sky, Hubbard realized that he didn’t have the resources to make such an ambitious film, so he decided to develop a crew making smaller, internal training films. He moved back to his La Quinta ranch to make movies while Mary Sue cooled her heels at a house off Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, awaiting prosecution for Operation Snow White.
Hubbard assembled a crew of young Sea Org members building sets, making costumes, and memorizing lines in California’s desert. Among them was David Miscavige, an 18-year-old from South Philly, who had been named chief cameraman. “Marc Yager was deputy cameraman, Jim Jaroff was the video cameraman — we called him ‘JVC I/C’ for being “in charge” of the JVC video unit — and I was the JVC assistant. There were four of us guys in the camera unit,” Brousseau says.
I asked him what Miscavige was like then.
“He was a little bit of a punk. The little bully bastard in high school, kicking people and laughing at their misfortune. He didn’t have a lot of power yet, so he wasn’t ‘Miscavige unplugged’ like he was in the 2000s,” he says.
About five days into his new job, Brousseau saw L. Ron Hubbard for the first time. “He was walking somewhere with a couple of messengers. Hey, come meet LRH, someone said. ‘This is John Brousseau,’ they said. Hubbard said, ‘Terrific. Great. Nice to meet you,’ something like that. Afterwards, I don’t know, I just thought, wow, I met the dude, cool.”
Although he’d finished the comm course back in San Francisco, Brousseau was really absorbing none of Hubbard’s writings and philosophy as a member of the Sea Org. There just wasn’t time. They were working every minute of the day. And while they work, all Sea Org members know the saying, “No case on post.” Meaning, that they could not work on their spiritual “case” — advancing up Scientology’s “Bridge to Total Freedom” — as long as they were on the clock. “No one in the Sea Org has much of a case,” Brousseau points out. “You just work every day. You hardly progress as far as auditing. Everything is a screaming emergency, year after year,” he says.
That’s ironic, because when Scientology is challenged in court about the way its Sea Org members are treated, they are quick to characterize the Sea Org as a monastic community and a religious order. But former Sea Org members tell me that they did anything but ecclesiastical matters while they were on post.
“It was just a lot of panic,” he says. “We were making training films for auditors and stuff. All the actors were Sea Org members, the makeup unit, wardrobe. Very few if any professional actors were brought in, like today. LRH was the director. It was new and exciting for a 21-year-old,” he says.
I asked him about Hubbard’s legendary temper on the set. “He’d get pissed off and yell at people, but I never really saw him go nuts,” Brousseau says. “He’d yell something like ‘Goddammit, you guys screwed this up and we’re almost out of light! Can you please get it right!’ That kind of thing. But then he’d seek out people he yelled at. He was actually pretty good at patching people up.”
During his two months in the Cine Org, Brousseau lived in a couple of different places at the La Quinta ranch. “There was a large ranch house. In a bedroom there would be three sets of double bunks, so six guys. It wasn’t too crowded.” There were several similar houses on the property, filled with Sea Org workers.
Among the workers was a teenaged girl named VerDawn Hartwell. Brousseau remembers when VerDawn’s parents, Ernie and Adell Hartwell, showed up at the ranch. “They were really old,” he says. “They looked like they were in their late 60s or early 70s. Really out of place. Everyone was young. Hippie types. They stood out,” he says. But they had some peripheral experience in the entertainment industry, and had been asked to come to the Cine Org. Shocked by the conditions they found, with young Sea Org members living in squalor, the Hartwells soon left, and were severely harassed by Scientology operatives, as Atack describes in detail. They ultimately went to the police.
“LRH had to leave real quick,” Brousseau says, once word got back that the Hartwells had fed information about La Quinta to the authorities. Suddenly, the movie making experiment was over.
“Everything was moved to Gilman Hot Springs, but LRH went to Hemet, a location we called ‘X’.”
Some time earlier, Scientology had purchased a 700-acre property near Highway 79 that included an old resort, Gilman Hot Springs, the site of the church’s international management headquarters to this day. Most of the people working at La Quinta went there, but Hubbard wanted to stay in a separate place. A small apartment complex in Hemet was chosen — the Mayflower Apartments — and its location was kept strictly secret even from other Scientologists.
Five apartments were rented — one for Hubbard, three for a small number of staff, and one apartment just for storage. Only about 10 staff lived at the apartments with Hubbard.
Brousseau was one of them.
“When we moved to Hemet, I became Hubbard’s chauffeur,” he says. “That’s how I got to know him personally.”
I asked Brousseau about the stories of Hubbard, during this period, going out in public wearing outrageous disguises. But Brousseau says there was nothing very outlandish about it.
“He had a baseball cap, and around the band of the cap was a little brown hair. Maybe he had a little something on his eyebrows, but it wasn’t extensive. His hair was starting to turn grey, but not much. The red part of his hair was fucking red. He had piercing blue eyes and very, very red hair. The ball cap hid most of it, so it really changed his appearance,” he says.
“He was walking around Hemet. He was nine miles from Int Base [at Gilman Hot Springs] where there were hundreds of people who knew him by sight. But no one spotted him,” Brousseau remembers. “I’d drive him to a shopping center and he’d walk around and buy some useless stuff. Some cookies or candies for his people. Or I would drive him to the forest to get some exercise. There were dirt roads near the San Jacinto River. Pretty. A nice place to walk. He’d do maybe a mile of walking and then we’d go back. It was a daily thing, just to get some air.
“I would walk with him, and with maybe one or two messengers. We might have a little lunch packed. Folding chairs, a folding table. Everyone would sit down and shoot the shit for 20 or 30 minutes. He was just like a regular guy,” he says. “I remember when he looked up and saw a sailplane. ‘You know I used to do that,’ he said. He talked about what they were like, with canvas over wood in those days. How to land them. It sounded cool. I told him I could take him to the Hemet airport to do that. It was only 30 bucks to get a lift. The next day he came down to the van. I asked him, what do you want to do today? ‘I want to fly a sailplane.’ So we started to drive over there. But he changed his mind. I’m getting too old for that, he said.”
Hubbard had flown sailplanes in his youth. But as with just about everything else, while Hubbard had actually lived an amazing life, he had a hard time recounting it with any faithfulness. As Russell Miller shows with excellent detail in his 1987 biography, Bare-Faced Messiah, Hubbard enjoyed some flying success, but then fibbed wildly about it, saying that he’d set numerous world records and made daring exploits — even at times when he didn’t possess a flying license.
Knowing Hubbard’s track record for veracity, however, Brousseau still has fond memories of his time with the man.
“The dude was a regular guy. I’ve read everything about his life. He made mistakes, I get it. He definitely embellished things. And the church ran with it. Then Gerry Armstrong came along and said this shit is crap, and we’d do a lot better if we cut the crap and stuck to the truth — and he got hammered for it. Not by LRH, but he got hammered,” Brousseau says. (Armstrong had been a Sea Org member who had sailed on the Apollo with Hubbard; he had later gathered documents about Hubbard that a professional writer was later hired to turn into an authorized biography. When Armstrong realized that original documents from Hubbard’s life contradicted so much of what Hubbard and the church said about him, he spoke up about it and was punished by his superiors. He left Scientology, and was the subject of years of nasty litigation by the church. But the document’s he’d found formed the basis for books such as those by Miller and Atack.)
Brousseau says that about a dozen times he drove Hubbard from “X” to the Int Base at Gilman Hot Springs. “Mostly to go and shoot stills for a picture book that he wanted to put together. I would drive him in secretly to meet with people in the Cine Org, and then drive him out,” he says.
Each time, it involved an intricate process to make sure that no one followed Hubbard back to his Hemet apartment.
“We had a second van held in storage about five miles away. Another guy would park that van at a Denny’s. We’d drive to the Denny’s, switch vans, and then drive to Int Base. When we came back, we’d switch again. Then I’d have to drive with the second guy to put the second van in storage again. My van was parked at X, and I didn’t want to drive it into Int Base.”
One trip in particular stands out in his memory.
“It was Christmas 1979. He was at old Bonnie View before Miscavige bulldozed it,” Brousseau says, referring to a mansion on the grounds that was set aside for Hubbard to live in, if he ever moved to the base. “Mary Sue showed up. And their kids. Diana and Jonathan with little Roanne. Arthur. Suzette. Mary Sue had her own domestic staff with her. They were laughing and having a good time as a family. I remember thinking it was fun, and that they didn’t get to do this very often. Mary Sue was about to go to prison.”
(Mary Sue Whipp was Hubbard’s third wife. Diana was their daughter, and she had married Jonathan Horwich in 1971 while aboard the Apollo. They had a daughter, Roanne Horwich, who we reported recently has broken away from the Int Base after living there most of her life. Diana’s younger siblings, Arthur and Suzette, left Scientology long ago. Mary Sue died in 2002. Diana Hubbard is now the only member of the family still living at the base.)
Shortly after that Christmas dinner, with Mary Sue facing her trial, Hubbard decided in 1980 that it was time to disappear altogether.
“I’m the guy who went and bought another van, known to no one but Pat and Annie Broeker,” Brousseau says. The Broekers were part of the staff at X, and were becoming Hubbard’s most trusted aides.
“Pat gave me cash, told me to buy a van and to tell no one. I bought a used Ford cargo van. I put a foam mattress in it, with bedding and pillows. I put it in storage. Then I told Pat that it was there, and that it was filled with gas. The next day, I picked up LRH with the Broekers at X. No one else at X knew about it,” he says.
“It was the last time I saw him. He got in the van and sat on the corner of the mattress, his elbows on his knees. He held out his hand. ‘All right, John. Thanks for everything. I’ll see you,’ LRH said. Pat was driving. Annie was in the back with him. Then they drove off. I never saw him again.”
5. Newberry Springs
For the next six years, until his death on January 24, 1986, Hubbard would be tended to by the Broekers and a few other people, and the rest of Scientology — and the public and press — never knew his whereabouts or his condition. But word did pass back and forth between Hubbard and Scientology, and Brousseau was part of that, too.
When Hubbard had information to pass to Scientology’s international management, Pat Broeker would notify David Miscavige and John Brousseau by paging them.
“It was usually in the middle of the night. We had to then be at a predesignated pay phone — there were seven of them, depending on the day of the week, in places like Riverside and San Bernardino,” he says.
At the pay phone, a coded conversation would take place. “Baseball” or “football” were words that indicated a certain all-night restaurant or parking lot. And then Miscavige and Brousseau would go there and wait for Pat Broeker to show up with a man named Steve Pfauth, who was known as “Sarge.”
“Sarge and I were excluded. Broeker and Miscavige would spend hours talking,” Brousseau says.
By the time of the secret go-betweens with Broeker, Brousseau and Miscavige had become brothers-in-law. Brousseau had met Clarisse Barnett in La Quinta in 1978. Clarisse’s younger sister, Michelle, was known as Shelly. “We got together two years before Miscavige and Shelly did. Shelly seemed like a nice, smart girl.”
At their secret meetings, Pat Broeker and David Miscavige would talk about Hubbard’s instructions for people in international management, and Broeker would bring a ream of typewritten instructions.
“I’m wondering what they were talking about. I’m falling asleep. Sarge and I are on our ninth cup of coffee, about to puke from the acid. What the hell are they talking about? I didn’t know.”
But occasionally, there would be instructions for Brousseau.
Brousseau was faithfully taking care of Hubbard’s cars at Int Base. “He had a 1964 International Scout that I bought for him at X. He really dug it. He said it reminded him of the old Land Rovers he’d driven in Africa. He had a ’68 Cadillac DeVille convertible. He really dug cars. And guns. He mostly had little hand guns. Gold filigreed and engraved. They were collectors’ pieces.
“I would package them up and Pat Broeker would take them. I was getting communications from LRH from Broeker. I had this little secret line from LRH. I was taking care of his vehicles and taking care of his guns. And I was a nut case, arriving with Miscavige at all hours to meet Broeker, two or three times a week.”
Then in 1983, he remembers, word came from Broeker that Brousseau needed to get some special vehicles ready.
“They wanted a big ass motor home to put together a convoy for the road. I had to pay $125,000 cash for a Bluebird motor home and customize it. I also had to buy a Datsun 4-wheel pickup, with a camper shell and with a mobile kitchen, so the cooking for LRH would not happen in his bus. The motor home was for LRH to live in, towing the 4-wheel drive. Annie was supposed to drive that. For Pat I bought a big dually pickup, a 1983 white cowboy truck. Then I had custom made a 40-foot fifth-wheel trailer. It was literally a rolling wardrobe. It was a whole convoy of vehicles. I spent six months getting the trailer custom made in Indiana, at Kountry Aire RV. I ended up putting it all in storage units in the Redlands area. I would have to go every couple of weeks and wash them and wax the motor home. I’d have to start them up and drive them around the block to keep them alive,” he says.
Then, one day, he was told it was time to mobilize the convoy. Broeker came and picked up the Bluebird with its Datsun pickup in tow, and then the next day came back for the dually with its trailer.
Brousseau was then given another mission. Broeker told him to find a ranch property as a backup plan to whatever Hubbard was doing in seclusion.
“I looked all around Southern California, talking to realtors. I found some nice prospects. But then Broeker said he had found something. It was in Newberry Springs, near Barstow. It was a perfectly square, flat piece of desert, 12 and a half acres. Isn’t this great, he said? I was looking at places backed up against mountains, really nice places. This place had a house and some falling-apart trailers. A little lake with some catfish. Well, we bought it, and I became the caretaker. From 1983, I lived there as ‘Jim Dudley.’ Clarisse became ‘Claire’.”
Never knowing if the Broekers might suddenly show up with Hubbard, the “Dudleys” built up the ranch near Barstow.
“Pat Broeker started bringing up horses and chickens, and I got used to building ranch buildings and corrals. I had almost no connection with the church. I hardly ever went to Int Base. I was just living out in yahoo land under an assumed name. I was given cash to buy things. I learned to slaughter a steer and pigs, and how to pluck chickens. I didn’t know what this had to do with the Church of Scientology, but it was kind of fun. I was a rancher in the Mojave Desert, and I really made the place shine.”
I asked him to estimate the livestock on the ranch: 8 to 10 horses, 15 to 20 cattle, 15 to 20 sheep and goats, 12 pigs, 25 turkeys, a couple dozen chicken and ducks.
“It was quite an experience. I don’t know what purpose it served. LRH never showed up. I was still taking care of the place when I heard he’d died…I found out later that LRH had been living in the Newport/Costa Mesa area after leaving X, and then they went mobile and traveled a bit. I don’t know where they traveled. And then they ended up in Creston. They stayed there until LRH died in 1986.”
Hubbard spent the last couple of years of his life at a ranch in Creston, California, inland and north of San Luis Obispo.
“I didn’t know he was there until a week after he died,” Brousseau says. “I went up to the Creston property. I ended up working both of the ranches. Creston had been undergoing a renovation program when he died. I got roped into helping to finish the place. For three more years, until 1989, I took care of both places. Then Miscavige decided he didn’t want me there anymore, and he yanked me back to Int Base Transport.”
After six years as a Mojave Desert rancher, Jim Dudley became John Brousseau again, and he was back to taking care of cars at the base. But now, he says, the place was changing.
6. Gilman Hot Springs
“I didn’t really like it. Miscavige was starting to wield his Nazi-like hand. There was the big flood, for example, you’ve heard of that, right?” Brousseau refers to something Marc Headley, another former base worker, wrote about in his book Blown For Good, when a sudden downpour caused a mudslide in the base.
“Everyone was dripping wet, and Miscavige was yelling at everyone that it was their fault it had rained so much and so quickly,” he says. “How is this my fault, I wondered. But you struggle in your mind, trying to figure out how he’s right. And you don’t dare yell out that he’s wrong. If you did, you’d get murdered by the rest of them.
“You just learned to shut the fuck up.”
To help me understand the David Miscavige that he knew, he tells me a series of anecdotes about the man that he personally witnessed. For the first, he takes me back to 1981.
In July of that year, L. Ron Hubbard had vanished and his wife, Mary Sue, had become a liability to Scientology. She had been convicted for her part in Operation Snow White, and would go to prison two years later. It was decided that Scientology needed to distance itself from Mary Sue and the Guardian’s Office she ran, which was disbanded.
It was Miscavige who was selected to deliver the news to her. Brousseau went along.
“I wired him and two other people with radio microphones and sat in a van outside the hotel where Miscavige was meeting Mary Sue. It was very Mission Impossible, sitting in that van with reel-to-reel recorders, let me tell you. And I think it was actually illegal in California, which is a two-party state,” he says.
“I had three people wired. I was just sitting there, with my big old headphones with a banana plug, plugging it into one reel-to-reel and then another to make sure they were all working,” he says.
“I heard some of it. I remember Mary Sue was vehemently opposed to Miscavige, and accused him of trying to take over. She screamed at him. He told her she had to resign, and she crumbled,” he says.
There was little question, Brousseau says, that Hubbard himself had known at least the general outline of what the Guardian’s Office had been up to during Operation Snow White.
“Here’s this woman, his wife, doing everything she can in his own best interest — she was trying to get the government off her husband’s back. She was trying to be the loyal wife. And she and a bunch of other people got nailed for it,” he says.
“I think she was used as a scapegoat, and Miscavige was making sure that was the case.”
For his second anecdote, Brousseau skips ahead a year, to 1982.
“I’m at the Int Base, he and I are married to sisters — Miscavige and Shelly have been married maybe a year. We got a liberty — this was back when Sea Org members got a day off. Since he’s my fucking brother in law, we decide, let’s the four of us drive up to Lake Hemet near Idyllwild. Because it’s spring, a beautiful day, the air is alive with butterflies and birds and bugs — let’s go fishing,” he says.
“I get four fishing rods and we go up there. We walk along this little path among the ferns and trees on the shore of the lake. We find a shaded beach area, and I’m showing these guys how to fish for trout. We put salmon eggs on a small hook. I tell them how to cast it out, let it sink, and then sit here and wait. I explained how the trout live, and how they’ll eventually come by and swallow the egg and we’ll catch them. The girls are laughing and talking, and we’re all a few feet apart. But I noticed that Miscavige was sort of sitting by himself.
“He was shaking, and his teeth were gritted. He was looking at me with a scowl, and was starting to shake his head. I wondered if he was having some kind of palsy freakout. But then he started yelling at me. I remember exactly what he said…
“Are you fucking kidding me, JB? This is it? This is how you fucking fish? You just sit here and wait? I feel like jumping in the water and shoving the hook in the fish’s mouth!”
Brousseau laughs at the memory. “OK, so fishing wasn’t for him. And that’s what he thinks about anything in life. You can’t just let it do what it’s going to do. You have to grab it and shove it down its throat.”
For a third anecdote, he takes me to 1986, and the death of Hubbard at the Creston ranch property.
“I was with Miscavige when he went like ballbusters up to Creston. He ordered the Broekers separated, and he wanted to question Pat Broeker. But Pat has this big Akita, snarling and barking and howling at Miscavige and Norman Starkey. I grabbed the dog and dragged it out so they could keep yelling at Broeker,” he says.
“Later, I’m walking with Miscavige, just the two of us. He says, ‘Broeker thinks I want to be king. Broeker wanted to be king. I don’t want to be king. I’m just the guy who has to crack the whip and make people do what they’re supposed to be doing.’ That’s how he sees himself.”
(In the early 1980s, Hubbard had ordered a complex reorganization of Scientology’s byzantine corporate structure which appeared to put in a series of checks and balances between its top entities. He also appeared to anoint Pat and Annie Broeker as his most trusted aides and the logical successors to run the church after his death. But Miscavige maneuvered the Broekers out of that spot and rules Scientology with unquestioning sole power today, seemingly ignoring the church’s corporate structure.)
For a fourth anecdote about Miscavige, Brousseau brings me to 1994. “I was acting as his personal bodyguard on the Freewinds, and we had stopped in Aruba. We had run into a black-skinned Aruban guy who looked like he was blown out on speed. He was six foot tall and just skin and bones. The guy was in bad shape. And Miscavige said, ‘Look at that guy, he’s in his native state.’ If you understand LRH philosophy, you know that ‘native state’ means ‘unencumbered with aberration and engrams’ — in other words, a good thing. But Miscavige thinks ‘native state’ means the opposite.”
If Hubbard believed that all men and women are, at their core, essentially good, Miscavige believed the opposite, Brousseau claims.
“If there’s an antichrist, then Miscavige is the anti-Hubbard.”
7. Happy Valley
Five years after he’d been a Mojave Desert rancher named Jim Dudley, Brousseau was taken off his job taking care of automobiles at Int Base for a new assignment.
At the time, 1994, there had been a serious security breach involving Scientology’s computer systems, called INCOMM, at the big administrative headquarters in Los Angeles.
“My job was to do a lockdown of the INCOMM office. I had to put in all kinds of security measures, and weed through the staff to see who was loyal. Gary Morehead was head of security on that,” he says. Morehead ran the Int Base’s security for many years, and most people knew him by his code name, “Jackson.”
“If there was anyone on the base I could trust, it was JB. That’s why I brought him in to that mission,” Morehead tells me.
From that job, Brousseau was moved into a job as an internal security officer in the Religious Technology Center — RTC was the controlling entity of Scientology led by Miscavige, who is known as RTC’s “Chairman of the Board,” or “COB.”
Part of Brousseau’s job was to incarcerate people who turned out to be security risks.
“So for example, I was in charge of Maureen Bolstad being incarcerated at the OGH [Old Gilman House, an aging structure on the periphery of Int Base]. I hated that job,” he says.
“I did that job from 1995 to 1997. Three years. It was the most painful job I had in the Sea Org. We were keeping people locked up at OGH, having them sec checked every day,” he says, referring to “security checking,” an interrogation technique that involved using the e-meter as a kind of lie detector while subjects were pressed to make confessions of their “crimes” against the organization — as well as their sexual transgressions, all of which were recorded.
For some it was too much. And Brousseau and Jackson had to be on the lookout for people who were tempted to blow — Scientology’s word for escape.
“When people would blow, we ran the blow drill. We’d have all their bank account and credit card and debit card information. You knew everything about these people,” Brousseau says. “So you’d call Wells Fargo and pretend to be those people, and you’d ask, what was the last use of my credit card? Then you’d find out that this guy had just checked into a hotel room in Sacramento. So you’d call the local office and fax them a photo of the person, then you’d be driving people 90 miles an hour to the airport to get them there,” he says. “If you used a credit card, we’d be on you in minutes. They have private investigators who are ex-FBI and ex-CIA who know how to get into systems and track people down. I saw some of it because it was part of my job for some of the time. And I hated it. It tore me up.”
By then, he had been divorced and remarried. “Clarisse and I got divorced in 1993. I don’t blame that on the church. That was our own personal thing. We were married for 16 years, and then we ended it amicably.”
Then, while he was still in the RTC, he met Deidre Assam.
“We were both in the RTC, and Miscavige’s rule was, if you were in the RTC, you could only marry someone else in the RTC. Deidre was Polynesian. She was tall and gorgeous,” he says.
If his marriage was solid, his confidence in his job wasn’t. The incarcerations were getting to him, and then he made the mistake of saying something about it. As punishment, he was sent to the Old Gilman House for a three month stay.
“It was atrocious. People were getting busted out of RTC and sent to the OGH all the time. You had to admit that you were a Suppressive Person. And you had to admit that anything you had ever done in your life was crap. Then you could reeducate yourself as a real human being. That started with stupid courses on stuff like personal grooming, how to tie your shoes,” he says.
Brousseau says he hated the reeducation courses, but he got through them passably so that he could leave the Old Gilman House and made it back to the base’s motor pool.
“Then suddenly, Miscavige wanted a bulletproof van. He has it to this day. A white GMC Savanna van. [It was later painted black.] I spent time making it bullet and bomb proof. We totally decked this thing out. It looked like an executive limo, even though it was a van. It weighed 15,000 pounds because of all the bulletproofing,” he says.
“Miscavige was coming down every day to see it, and he didn’t understand that when you do a job like that, you tear things apart to put them back together again. He would say, ‘This looks worse than yesterday!’ Um, yeah, we were tearing it down. Well, he sent Norman Starkey down to check on me. I got sec checked, and I really unleashed about how I was treated at the Old Gilman House. I just cut loose. And that was it,” he says.
It was early 1998, and for the next three years, John Brousseau became a prisoner of the Rehabilitation Project Force.
He was physically escorted to the Happy Valley ranch property, which was about nine miles away. He asked to speak with his wife, Deidre, but was told that she was busy.
“Three fucking years,” he says. Happy Valley’s RPF was “like a concentration camp,” Brousseau says, but he adds that it wasn’t all bad. Although he was isolated from his wife, he spent much of his time reading.
“I read the LRH books on RPF. Once you’re on the RPF, you’re out of Miscavige’s mind. So I thought, OK, I’m finally going to learn Scientology. I learned how to audit.”
The schedule at Happy Valley was strict, he says. “You slept in a dorm. Meals lasted 15 minutes. You ran everywhere. You couldn’t originate any communications with regular staff. It was like a Marine Corps boot camp. You can’t read newspapers or magazines. There is no television. You’d have five hours of study time at the end of each day, then boom, time to quit. Five or ten minutes for a smoke, and then lights out. There were two RPF guys assigned to security to make sure nobody blew. You’re just living this kind of puritan life and you’re there to toil and atone. We were building sets for the Cine Org. I learned how to make a floor or a wall look like rock. It was Hollywood stuff,” he says.
“For three years, I never saw Deidre. I wrote her letters. They were censored, so you could only write happy talk. I’d ask if she could send a Christmas card to my mom and dad for me. If you actually wrote that you weren’t doing well, it wouldn’t get to her. You had no privacy,” he says.
“I spent Y2K on the RPF,” he remembers. On that momentous New Year’s Eve, he says, everyone had to be in bed by 10 pm.
Then, in 2001, helicopters started showing up. Someone was trying to get a look at the conditions in Happy Valley. Was it reporters? No one was sure.
“Miscavige put out instructions to disband the place.”
There had been about 70 people on the RPF at Happy Valley, Brousseau remembers. “Maybe 12 went back to Int Base. I was one of them. Then they told me they wanted me back in the RTC.”
Brousseau was shocked. But Miscavige had another big project that wasn’t going well, and it was the kind of thing Brousseau had handled in the past.
He was made estates manager for Building 50, where RTC’s own offices were.
“I got checked out on an e-meter to make sure that I had no animosity for Miscavige or Shelly. Somehow I got through that. Then boom, I’m back.”
Tom DeVocht, another how-to guy management relied on, showed Brousseau what he needed help on — signage at the new building. Brousseau handled it so well, soon Miscavige was relying on him to keep Building 50 itself in top condition. Brousseau trained up two assistants who are taking care of Building 50 to this day.
And now, Brousseau was so completely back in Miscavige’s good graces, he once again was trusted to help out Tom Cruise.
Scientology’s president and the death of his son: our complete coverage
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Scientology’s new defections: Hubbard’s granddaughter and Miscavige’s dad
Scientology’s disgrace: our open letter to Tom Cruise
Scientology crumbling: An entire mission defects as a group
Scientology leader David Miscavige’s vanished wife: Where’s Shelly?
Neil Gaiman, 7, Interviewed About Scientology by the BBC in 1968
The Master Screenplay: Scientology History from Several Different Eras
And a post that pulls together the best of our Scientology reporting
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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.