NEW: Scientology’s concentration camp for executives — John Brousseau helps us compile a list of its prisoners, past and present.
Yesterday, we published the first part of our conversation with John Brousseau, a 32-year veteran of Scientology’s “Sea Org” who escaped from the church’s International Base east of Los Angeles in 2010.
In our first part, Brousseau described his work in the Tom Cruise household with Katie Holmes and baby Suri. He saw up close the odd relationship between Cruise and Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige. He recounted his early days in the Sea Org, making movies with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, whom he later served as a personal chauffeur.
Brousseau helped convey Hubbard’s instructions to the church after the aging writer went into seclusion. Brousseau lived for several years under an assumed name as he ran a Mojave Desert ranch in case Hubbard needed to hide there. And after Hubbard’s death in 1986, Brousseau served Miscavige at Scientology’s Int Base until Miscavige had him sent to a prison program for three years. After his return, Brousseau was surprised when Miscavige restored him to a position in Scientology’s most powerful entity, RTC — which allowed him to do more work for Tom Cruise.
And now we continue with part two….
8. The Hole
In 2006, John Brousseau outdid himself creating luxury for Tom Cruise. He’d been customizing vehicles and houses for the actor on occasion over the past 15 years. But this time, he wanted to do something that would mean something special to Cruise.
He’d been asked to customize yet another vehicle, a black Ford Excursion, which on its own was nothing special for a celebrity like Tom. But Brousseau had found a way to upgrade the vehicle in a way that would bring Cruise, then 44, nearly to tears.
Brousseau replaced many of the surfaces in the vehicle with wood sculpted from the burl of a Eucalyptus tree that had been blown down in a storm at Scientology’s International Base.
“In 1991, Tom had done his auditing at the base,” Brousseau says. He thought that carrying around a piece of the compound in his car might have some meaning for the man. The custom job was so detailed, it even included a matching pen in a special hidden compartment.
“Tom fell in love with this thing,” Brousseau says.
“I told him, ‘Here you go, Tom. Here’s the pen and stuff that was made from a tree that grew at the place where you learned to audit’,” he remembers.
“There were tears in his eyes.”
Brousseau says Tom showed the car to Katie Holmes, and opened up the special compartment to show her the pen.
“‘Oh, JB, did you make that?’ she asked me.”
And Brousseau knew that as soon as she said it, Katie’s question actually put him in a tough spot.
“I couldn’t accept the praise. Miscavige was standing there,” Brousseau says, referring to Scientology’s leader and his former brother-in-law, David Miscavige.
Thinking quick on his feet, Brousseau blurted out, “Don’t thank me. I’m just the hammer.”
He then held out his hand to Miscavige and said, “This is the hand that wields me.”
Brousseau says Tom nodded, knowingly.
“‘Thanks, Dave,’ he said. And that’s how you survive at the base. You can’t accept praise. You have to divert it to Miscavige.”
He also had to be prepared to mobilize for another Cruise project on a moment’s notice. The Ford Excursion, for example, sometimes needed repairs.
“Somebody spilled something, or there was a scratch on the burl-wood finish. I’m out there wet-sanding it and buffing it in the middle of the night. Laurisse [Stuckenbrock, Miscavige’s “communicator”] gets hold of me after Miscavige has flown somewhere in Tom’s Gulfstream. And she wants that done right away. Things like that happened three or four times over the next few years,” he says.
“I went up to Oregon to a manufacturing plant that was making Tom Cruise a new motor home,” he remembers. (Brousseau had earlier customized a Bluebird motor home for Cruise in 1991.) He spent the next six months working at the plant, each day from six in the morning to midnight. “I was making sure these guys were doing these finishes correctly. They weren’t used to this high-end stuff. Tom paid the tab to the company, Marathon Coach, but he never paid me,” Brousseau says.
Over the years, however, Cruise did give him numerous gifts. “A lot of Oakley stuff, like an Oakley backpack. A $125 flashlight. And a Corum Admiral wristwatch, which is worth like $5,000.”
Brousseau wants to be clear that he never felt slighted when he wasn’t paid for the hours he put in working on Cruise’s homes and vehicles. “I’m not complaining. I had low overhead. I had a place to stay and food to eat. I even saved money despite being paid $50 a week.” When Brousseau has publicly released photographs of the work he’s done for Cruise, he says it was not to carp that he was owed money, it was to make Cruise question why he was benefiting from a group that is supposed to be helping humanity.
Why, for example, was a church redecorating Tom Cruise’s Burbank airplane hangar?
“Tom had gone to where Miscavige lived, near ASI,” Brousseau says, referring to an apartment the church leader keeps in Hollywood, near his offices at Author Services, Inc., one of Scientology’s many entities, and the literary agency for L. Ron Hubbard’s books.
“Miscavige had a garage there all tricked out. I had made signs for every kind of car and motorcycle he owned. Tom saw it and said it rocked, and said he wished his airplane hangar looked as good. So Miscavige had the people in Cine [Scientology’s movie making division] make these giant signs. Four months it took just to make the signs,” he says.
“We used scissor lifts and trussing to hang them. And the hangar’s fancy office was completely designed and constructed at Cine Castle. It was reassembled at Burbank. Tom was blown away by it. He was raving — ‘Dave, thank you!'” Brousseau says. “It was sick.”
Brousseau says he enjoyed working for Cruise, but things were different than when he first met the actor at Int Base many years before.
“Back in 1991 we called him ‘Tom,’ but not anymore. Now we had to call him ‘Mr. Cruise.’ Anyone in the Sea Org had to call him ‘sir’.”
It wasn’t the only change that Scientology had been going through in recent years.
From 1996 to the early 2000s, Scientology was weathering one of the biggest threats to its very existence — the death of Lisa McPherson. McPherson had died in 1995 at the Fort Harrison Hotel, which is just about Scientology’s holiest place on the planet. And after news of how she had perished — while held for 17 days being “cared for” by inept Scientologists as she died of dehydration — the criminal investigation and then civil litigation coming out of her death was turning into the church’s worst press nightmare ever (and if there’s one thing Scientology is good at, it’s attracting bad press).
But in 2000, the criminal case fell apart, and gradually, so did the intense media scrutiny. In 2004, the wrongful death suit filed by McPherson’s family was finally settled, and the matter seemed to be over.
And Brousseau says Miscavige seemed like a different person.
“It was high-fives time. He just seemed to be pretty high on himself after that. Like he was invincible,” Brousseau says.
And for some reason, Miscavige then turned on his own management staff.
“I remember that he was really wailing on these guys for several weeks. What a bunch of suppressive criminal pieces of shit they were, he said, and that he should just offload them. Miscavige was in this constant, unending fury,” he says. “It was the era of what I call Miscavige Unplugged.”
About 50 people in international management — also called “Exec Strata” — were working out of some offices constructed from a couple of double-wide trailers at the Int Base. They were known as the “CMO Int” trailers, for Commodore’s Messengers Organization International.
One day, Brousseau says, he was called to the CMO Int offices. “I was there with Laurisse Stuckenbrock, Miscavige’s personal communicator. Miscavige comes storming out of the trailers, points to the wooden sign above the main doors, and says, ‘Take that fucking thing down, they don’t deserve to have that above the door.’ So I did it,” he says.
“A few days later, he has them all march up to Building 50 [the offices of the RTC] and put into one big room. He gives them all pieces of paper and tells them to write down all of their crimes against humanity. He had them starving in there all damn day. Someone eventually brought them some food. Then I was told to change the deadbolt lock on the door to that room in Building 50. I had to change the lock so the keyed side was on the inside. So he could lock them in,” he says.
Eventually they were marched to another set of buildings, known as “Berthing,” where they were allowed to get some sleep.
“It was a group seance, a total mindfuck. They were being told to confess their crimes,” Brousseau says.
“They were up there for about three days. Miscavige was trying to figure out what to do with them. Then, all of a sudden I got called by one of his personal secretaries, Ailon Barram, who told me to meet him at the CMO Int trailers,” he says.
Brousseau was told that Miscavige wanted the trailers made secure. “He wants steel bars put on the three doors. He wants it so no one can blow from this place,” he says.
“So I went down to the big garage. I knew where everything was. I rummaged around and found some real heavy chrome-plated steel tubing. Kind of oval. I went and measured every door, cut the pipe, made holes in the end with a drill press, and then put them on with these big ass nasty screws. I put bars on each of the three doors. In the windows, I put in a block with weird screws that no one would have a bit for in their pocket,” he says.
“The next morning, these people all got marched down to the new ‘Hole’ that I’d built. I’d turned it into a prison.”
When Brousseau left the base six years later, in 2010, there were still 80 to 100 executives being held in the place that came to be known as “The Hole.”
“It was Miscavige at his absolute worst. There were a lot of people in there. I was never in it. I just put the bars on the doors. But the people outside, they talked about it like it was a comedy. You had to be in agreement, too. You didn’t know who was going to turn you in. It was just this fear factor.”
As the Tampa Bay Times reported in its landmark 2009 investigation, “The Truth Rundown,” one of the worst mind games in The Hole occurred in 2004, when Miscavige had his disgraced executives play a game of “musical chairs” to the sound of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, promising that he planned to ship the losers that night to Scientology’s most godforsaken, far-flung locations around the planet.
“Miscavige wanted a bunch of U-Haul trucks parked by the door. He told me, rent three 24-foot U-Haul trucks, park them right by the front door. So when the people in The Hole came out for showers in the morning, they’d see them. It was just to make the ‘musical chairs’ thing more dramatic. Those trucks were there for three weeks,” he says.
“I remember telling the FBI this. I told them, there have to be records to prove what I was saying was true. You could find a receipt at the U-Haul in Hemet for three trucks that only had 18 miles each on them, the distance up to the base and back.”
9. Sublette Road
The Hole was in place by 2004. But I asked Brousseau to back up, to 2001, when he had returned to Int Base after his three-year imprisonment in the RPF, the Sea Org’s prison detail, at Happy Valley.
I wanted to know if he’d been reunited with his wife, Deidre.
“Yes — she didn’t abandon me, which often happened when someone was in the RPF for three years,” he says. “We were doing great. We were in a house on Sublette Road, homes that used to be golf homes the church bought up.”
They shared one room in a 3-bedroom house. There was another couple in one room, and several woman who were RTC trainees in the third room.
But in 2002, when he was working on the transformation of Tom Cruise’s Beverly Hills home, at the end of one day, with twilight deepening, Shelly Miscavige took him aside, Brousseau says.
“Listen, JB, you know there’s this rule in the RTC, that RTC staff don’t really have relationships or marriages with people who aren’t also on RTC staff,” she told him. She then said what a good job he’d been doing for the Sea Org for so many years.
After his stint in the RPF, Brousseau had been brought back on to the RTC staff. But in that time, Deidre had lost her RTC position, and had been busted down to a spot at Golden Era Productions, which makes internal church films.
“Shelly said Deidre wasn’t qualified to come back to RTC, whatever that was supposed to mean. And then she said, ‘I’m not telling you what to do, but…’ which of course meant that she was telling me what to do.”
Shelly told him he needed to make a decision.
“She asked me how my marriage was, and I said it was great. So she told me that she’d try to find me a post somewhere else, but it couldn’t be at RTC. If I wanted to keep doing the work I was doing, I would have to deal with the fact that I was with someone who wasn’t in the RTC. She gave me a couple of weeks to think it over,” he says.
“But I had the information I needed. I don’t like to think things over. Here was my thought process, my Sea Org mentality. When I joined the Sea Org, I didn’t do it to get married, that wasn’t my prime motivation. I wanted to help what was going on. And I couldn’t be selfish. I had to be more broad-minded,” he says.
“I looked Shelly in the eye. I said, If you don’t have me in this job, I don’t know who’s going to do what I do. Can you think of anyone? ‘I really don’t know,’ she said. It was pretty obvious to us that I couldn’t leave the job. OK, I told her, I’ll talk to my wife.”
Shelly asked him not to say anything about her involvement to his wife.
“That night, I talked to Deidre. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. I told her we had to end our marriage,” he says.
She had waited for him while he’d been imprisoned in the RPF for three years. But now, only a year later, he was telling her they had to split because of Miscavige’s rule about RTC relationships.
“I spent three nights talking with her. I managed to get her to agree. We ended it amicably. But inside, I’m thinking, what the fuck does my marriage have to do with my job? Why do I have to get rid of my fucking wife? It was only a problem in the mind of Miscavige. I had a really hard time dealing with it,” he says.
They signed divorce papers at the end of 2002 or early 2003, he says.
“I was a single guy for the rest of my stay in the Sea Org,” he adds. “It’s over. Deidre’s still in Golden Era. I have a new wife and a baby. I could never put it back together. And I hate whiners. I don’t want to whine about it. But I got the knife in the back on that.”
Deidre was out of his life. And then, a few years later, Shelly Miscavige herself vanished.
She had not only been David Miscavige’s wife, but a hard-nosed administrator in her own right. She’d seemed as dedicated to the cause as any other Sea Org member.
But then, after appearing at the funeral of her father in the summer of 2007, she was suddenly nowhere to be seen. She didn’t show up at the big Scientology events that happened half a dozen times a year. She wasn’t seen at Int Base and Flag Land Base — Scientology’s spiritual mecca in Clearwater, Florida.
Lawrence Wright, in his epic 2011 New Yorker profile of the director Paul Haggis, writes that Shelly had reportedly fallen afoul of her husband by filling some open executive spots without his permission.
It was Brousseau who helped me understand why Scientologists assumed that Shelly was being held at a super-secret base in the mountains above Los Angeles, the headquarters of Scientology’s Church of Spiritual Technology. (It’s CST that digs vaults in various locations in California, New Mexico, and Wyoming for storing L. Ron Hubbard’s writings to survive a nuclear holocaust.)
Brousseau says he figured Shelly was up at the “Twin Peaks” CST headquarters near Lake Arrowhead because he’d seen her mail at Int Base being sorted out and sent there.
It’s been two years, however, since Brousseau left Scientology. I asked if he thought Shelly is still at Twin Peaks.
“I’m sure she’s at one of CST’s properties now. She could be at Creston,” he says, referring to the ranch near San Luis Obispo where Hubbard died in January, 1986.
After several stories about Shelly ran in the wake of the TomKat split, the church put out an official statement that Shelly was not “missing” and was working hard for Scientology.
It was cleverly worded. No one familiar with the situation ever thought that the church didn’t know where she was.
I told Brousseau that I was surprised Miscavige hadn’t already produced her to tamp down the media interest.
“I think you’ll hear that she’s dead at some point, because she’s never coming back,” he says. “Once Miscavige loses faith in someone, you’re a treasonous bastard never to be trusted again. And he’s basically right, because once you realize what a prick he is, you’re never going to be fooled again.”
Brousseau, though he had done a three-year stint in the RPF and had been forced to divorce a woman he loved, had managed to stay out of The Hole or get disappeared to a CST base.
“I could see that people were in absolute terror,” he says. “The slightest provocation and boom, you’re toast for the next ten years. And you couldn’t predict what was going to piss this guy off. There was no reason for it. But I managed to stay out of trouble.”
Also, he was away from the base at times. There were the months he was in Oregon overseeing the fabrication of Tom Cruise’s motor home, for example.
And then, in 2008, he left for the Freewinds.
“I had just finished restoring LRH’s 1960 Jaguar XK 150. It took six months in a workshop in Los Angeles. That was my dream. If there was anything I wanted to do it was restoring this car,” he says.
“I had just finished that project, and had come back to the Int Base and saw how fucked up things were. There were renovations going on to Miscavige’s living quarters in Upper Villa. Laurisse asked me if I could take it over. So I personally hand-built some of the furniture. I built him a bed for the gods. It had a hand-carved headboard. It looks like a giant fantail. It had inlaid wood from all over the base. Cottonwood, elm, eucalyptus. Tom Cruise was beside himself when he saw it. God, look at this bed!”
“I built a handmade humidor that would hold 500 cigars. I had hand-tooled leather on top. It was one of a kind. You could probably get $40,000 for that humidor. And the thing was, Miscavige didn’t smoke cigars. Tom Cruise did, and Miscavige wanted to show off for Tom when he came to visit.”
The work on Miscavige’s quarters also included a tanning bed — a photo of which former church executive Marty Rathbun put on his blog in 2010 to jab his former boss.
“It was a big secret. No one was supposed to know that he had one,” Brousseau says. Once he was done with Miscavige’s lavish digs, however, he had another emergency to handle — Scientology’s private cruise ship, the Freewinds, was in trouble.
The ship’s 20th anniversary as Scientology’s floating cathedral — where wealthy Scientologists go to receive Operating Thetan Level Eight, the highest level of church enlightenment — was coming up in June, 2008. An asbestos problem had been cleaned up, Brousseau says, but the ship was still far from being ready for the celebration. Renovations had been going on since the previous June, but they were nowhere near done, and there was only three weeks to go before the event.
It wasn’t enough time to solve the real problems on the ship, Brousseau says, but he made it presentable enough for the celebration.
“They had allocated $12 million for a refit, they’d spent $25 million, and about 60 percent of what they’d done had to be ripped up and redone,” he says.
Miscavige gave him until the following Maiden Voyage celebration, in June 2009, to get things right. And to do it without any additional money.
“I figured this was the end of my Sea Org career. I just can’t do this,” he says.
“I was mortified. I felt like a guy who was going to be stood up against a wall for a firing squad. I’ll have a stigma I’ll never shake — the guy who couldn’t fix this problem.”
But he gathered the ship’s workers and gave them assignments. He figured out where to get some money for the project. He spent months just planning — something that had not happened the previous time.
“Then it took Miscavige two months to approve the plans. He was like that. He wanted things done now, but if his approval was needed on something, he’d take forever,” Brousseau says. “Then I sent out for bids, and I got bids of $28 million and $30 million. I turned white. How can we do this? I actually asked the captain if we could sail to China. They laughed. But we did end up sailing to Colombia — we pulled it off for only $3 million. And we made it a beautiful yacht.”
Brousseau’s work was recognized by Maritime Reporter and Engineering News, which was impressed by the transformation of the Freewinds.
A Scientology website still refers to the Maritime Reporter story about the refit, but doesn’t mention Brousseau’s contribution…
“Miscavige was blown away,” Brousseau says. “I restored the whole engine room. The bridge. All the crew quarters. We put in a central laundry room. I wanted to take care of the crew and make sure their dining room was nice and the galley had all the latest equipment.”
And Brousseau credits the workers at the ship for pulling together and getting things done when they had failed to do so earlier.
“It was a very different flavor to what usually happens in the Sea Org,” he says. “This was the final lesson for me. If you really like people and you get them to do what they like doing, it’s amazing what you can get them to do for you. It was a firm lesson to me about the way things should be. All of Miscavige’s screaming and hollering and telling people that they’re full of shit — That was the problem.”
Even Miscavige had to acknowledge what Brousseau had pulled off.
“He came out to see it, and then he gave me a check for $10,000. He looked me in the eye, and said ‘Thank you’,” Brousseau says. “Wow. Probably in the real world I should have been paid $6 million, but whatever.”
Later, he learned that Miscavige had bought up dozens of copies of the Maritime Reporter with the article about the Freewinds and had them delivered to the executives languishing back at the Int Base in “The Hole.”
“He called them pieces of shit for not doing that kind of work,” Brousseau says. “Miscavige knows how to take good news and inflict pain with it.”
Brousseau’s work on the Freewinds was finished, and he wanted to come home. He’d had enough of the Caribbean, but Miscavige had other ideas.
“He didn’t want me to come back. He said I should stay for three more months and make it ‘150 percent’,” Brousseau says.
It didn’t really make sense, he says. But then, he didn’t know what was going on outside the bubble most Sea Org members live in.
“I didn’t realize that everything had blown up with the St. Petersburg Times with ‘The Truth Rundown.’ And with Marty’s blog.”
Marty Rathbun had been, until he left the church in 2004, the Inspector General-Ethics of the RTC, and second only to Miscavige in power. He had known Brousseau well, and they were close friends before Rathbun “blew.” After vanishing for several years, Rathbun had resurfaced in a big way — he was writing a blog that was harshly critical of Miscavige, and then he appeared with several other recently defected executives in the St. Pete — now Tampa Bay — Times investigation.
“Miscavige didn’t want me exposed to that,” Brousseau says. And even after his extra three months on the ship were up, he was told to report to Clearwater, Florida, the church’s spiritual headquarters.
The mecca’s centerpiece — the Fort Harrison Hotel — had just gone through a renovation, and Miscavige asked Brousseau to look it over for any potential problems.
“It was surprisingly devoid of public people,” he says. “I hadn’t been there since 1978, and there were like 18 times as many people there then. I had to wonder: is Scientology shrinking?”
(Rathbun and other former executives who had access to enrollment documents say Scientology has been shrinking since reaching its greatest extent in 1991. Scientology today claims to have 10 to 12 million members, but the best evidence suggests it has no more than about 40,000 active members planetwide.)
Brousseau did spot many problems with the hotel’s restoration, and in a few weeks, he’d put fixes in place. Finally, he was allowed to come home to the Int Base. It was September, 2009.
“I was picked up at the airport and driven straight to Building 50 [RTC’s offices]. I felt like I had a leash on me. I’d been in the Caribbean for 14 months, and I wanted to see the people I’d known for 25 years. I was told that Miscavige’s orders were that I stay away from my old office and the two people I’d trained to handle things, Maggie and Brendan. I was told I’d stay in the Building 50 office and study full time.
“Fuck that. I went down to say to hi to everyone.”
It turned out that the “training” Brousseau was assigned consisted of reading the entire new set of “Basics” books that Miscavige had published in 2007. (Insisting that there had been transcription problems with L. Ron Hubbard’s early Dianetics and Scientology books and lectures of the 1950s and 1960s, Miscavige had them republished and asked every church member to purchase multiple sets, at up to $3,000 a set. It was hard not to see it — by many both inside and outside the church — as a cash grab, especially when Miscavige, at the event announcing the books, complained that the early books were confusing because they contained too many semicolons.)
“It’s amazing what getting rid of those semicolons will do,” Brousseau says sarcastically.
Leaving the assignment unfinished, Brousseau looked for new work to do — in part, he didn’t want to take over his old position maintaining Building 50 because the workers he had trained to take his place, Magaena “Maggie” Truax and Brendan O’Hare, were doing it well without him.
So Brousseau took on another headache: the rest of Int Base was in terrible shape.
“Miscavige was pissed off. He said the place was a dump and nobody was taking care of it,” Brousseau says.
But fresh from his lessons on the Freewinds, he gathered up the people working in the Estates Division and began cheerleading them into taking care of the base’s air conditioning, plumbing, drainage, electrical systems and structural maintenance.
“Before, they were just getting yelled at. But now they started turning things around. I was sending pictures to Miscavige. I was teaching them how to mow the lawns properly — they were doing it wrong before. I mean, there’s a right way to do it, and now the lawns started looking really good.”
About a month into his project, he was asked how things were going by Miscavige’s communicator, Laurisse Stuckenbrock.
“I was telling Laurisse that it was going great. I was encouraging them, not yelling at them. I was doing the same thing I did on the Freewinds. You could see it in my report, this place was getting better, and I didn’t have to add a single person,” he says.
I asked him what her response was.
“If anyone can do it, JB can,” she said.
“An hour and a half later, my phone rings. It’s Laurisse,” he says.
“She sounds totally different. She says, ‘I think you’re being too soft on these guys. They’ve fucked this place up.’ And I can hear pauses in what she’s saying — she’s literally listening to Dave. She has this amazing ability to talk while she’s being talked to. And all this filthy language came out of her — and it’s Miscavige telling her what to say, because he can’t tell me this himself.”
I asked him what Laurisse said to him.
“You better tell these motherfuckers that they’re a bunch of criminals and they’re responsible for wasting millions of dollars over the years, do you understand me?”
Brousseau responded the way a Sea Org member should: “Yes, sir.” (Women in the Sea Org are “he’s” and are addressed “sir.”)
“She hung up. She had probably made the mistake of telling Miscavige that I was doing a good job,” Brousseau says.
“But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go down to these people I’d been helping, and tell them that. And I dared to begin having dangerous thoughts. I allowed myself to start thinking that these things were really fucked up because of Miscavige.”
And then, it was time to watch Anderson Cooper.
Following the publication of “The Truth Rundown” in the Tampa Bay Times, CNN talked to the same former church officials — Marty Rathbun, Amy Scobee, Tom DeVocht, Jefferson Hawkins and others — and produced a four-night series in March 2010 reporting that Miscavige had assaulted his employees and made the base a nightmare. The fourth night was dedicated to Scientology’s denials, spoken in part by the ex-spouses of the executives who had left.
Brousseau says a conference room at Building 50 was set up so the RTC officials could watch the shows.
Brousseau didn’t take part, but he did watch the series anyway — on the iPhone he’d been given that Christmas by Miscavige.
“Wow. I couldn’t believe the stuff they were saying. I was dumbstruck. And riveted. I watched all four episodes, including the last show with all of these clowns up there lying. And now I’m looking elsewhere. The CNN website had a link to Marty’s blog. From that I go to the Tampa Bay Times and watch all the video interviews of Marty and everyone else. I spent 36 hours of doing nothing but watching this shit, and thinking, holy fuck.”
He pauses to explain: “You have to understand, when you’re in the Sea Org, you think no one else sees the things you see,” he says.
“And I couldn’t deny it anymore. I was sitting there in my room, thinking, I’m out of here.”
Five days later, he made his escape.
12. Carson City
John Brousseau had been in the Sea Org for more than 32 years. He had lived at Int Base for much of that time. He knew how skillful and dogged the security forces at the base were when someone blew.
“What am I going to do?,” he says he asked himself over and over. But then, like he was taking apart a problem with one of Scientology’s buildings or vehicles, Brousseau began to think things through.
“I didn’t have a spouse to take with me. I had a Ford Excursion. I had ten grand in the bank. I had a bunch of personal belongings. I had thousands of photos on my work computer,” he says. “So I started packing up my clothes and belongings. Since I was on an odd schedule, I could walk out of Berthing at the crack of dawn carrying a couple of boxes, putting them in my truck. When I went home in the evening, I’d carry more boxes out to the truck. Before too long I had a pretty good pile of shit.”
Security guards at the base had long treated him differently than other workers. They knew that he was often on special missions for Miscavige, and if they asked him where he was going, he’d tell them it was none of their business.
“I drove out of the gate and said I was going to town. They didn’t stop me. But I didn’t go to Hemet, I went the other direction, to Beaumont. I went to a mini-storage place, paid cash, and unloaded my stuff. I did it four times. And each time I also pulled out several grand in cash.”
He went to his office at Building 50 to pick up his personal items. “I was just being casual and cool like nothing was happening. I talked to Brendan and Maggie, asking them how they were doing. Then I got every photo out of the hard drive on my work PC, and put them on another hard drive that I’d personally purchased — I didn’t make the Danny Montalvo mistake,” he says, referring to a young employee of Scientology’s Bridge Publications who, when he bolted, took some church hard drives. Although he returned them almost immediately, Scientology had Montalvo arrested by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office.
After Brousseau had moved the personal photos to his own drive, he wiped the drive on his work PC, leaving behind the files necessary to his job. He knew it would be obvious, when they looked, to deduce what he’d done.
“I wanted to have ammo. And I wanted them to know I had ammo,” he says. “A couple of times when they’ve pissed me off, I’ve released some photos. And I have backups. It was my insurance. I told them to leave me the fuck alone. And in general, they have. Now, they’re so busy their power is seriously drained.”
One morning early in April 2010 (he’s not sure now whether it was the 20th or 22nd), he prepared to leave for good.
“I drove down to Building 50. I made a cup of coffee. I talked to Brendan and Maggie briefly. I knew that I’d probably never see them again, which sucked. I liked them,” he says. “The truck was full of gas. I had brought down the last two or three boxes from my room. I had taken my Nextel phone and blackberry, both owned by the church. I did the complete factory reboot on each of them, which obliterates all of the addresses, texts,
everything. Then I took the sim cards from each one and cut them up into tiny pieces.”
He had left a note on his nightstand: “I guess you’ve figured out that I’ve left. I don’t like seeing my fellow workers treated like this.”
I asked him what he was thinking as he drove away.
“What was going on in my mind was that there was nothing I could do to stop what was happening there. I was an ant in a war zone. And Miscavige used me for so much. If I left, would it in any way impair his ability to do all this stuff for Tom Cruise? I really thought about that.”
At about 6:30 am, he pulled away from the base, and again the security guards didn’t try to stop him.
“I was 52 years old. I had no wife. No kids. No mom. No dad. No brothers or sisters. I was leaving the Sea Org. Where the fuck was I going?”
He drove to his bank and took out the last of his cash. Then he drove south 30 miles.
He pulled over and stopped. “I pulled the battery out of my iPhone and destroyed it. I threw the pieces of the phone on the passenger seat. Then I turned around and drove north, up to Carson City, Nevada. I figured they would track my phone south and assume I’d gone straight to Marty’s house,” he says. (Rathbun lives near Corpus Christi, Texas.)
He tossed the iPhone pieces at a rest stop.
At 10 pm, he pulled into a Wal-Mart in Carson City.
“I bought a cheap netbook and a throwaway cell phone, all for cash. I plugged it all into my car. Then I went online, created some new e-mail accounts, and hunted down an e-mail address on Marty’s site. Then I sent him a message.”
But Brousseau knew that Rathbun would take some convincing that his breakout was legit.
“I knew that he’d think Miscavige was running me in on him. He’d think I was a plant to find out what he’s up to,” he says.
“I was terrified. I was so fucking paranoid. I couldn’t believe that I’d left. I’d left the only life I’d known for 32 years.”
13. Corpus Christi
It wasn’t yet 6 am, several days later, when John Brousseau left his motel room in search of a cup of coffee.
He heard the door of the room next to him click open, and the sound of steps as someone began walking up behind him. So he turned around.
It was Tommy Davis.
“JB, you bad boy,” Davis said.
Until last year, Tommy Davis — the son of actress Anne Archer — was the very visible spokesman of Scientology, and had gained some fame for tangling with the BBC’s John Sweeney in his documentaries about the church. Behind Davis were three more executives from the church. They were all standing on the second-floor walkway of a cheap motel near Corpus Christi.
Brousseau quickly assessed the situation, then turned around and kept walking.
“JB, we gotta talk. You’re in big trouble here,” Davis said as he followed him.
“Tommy was doing all the talking. I told them I wasn’t interested in talking to them and kept walking,” Brousseau says.
After he’d reached Carson City and e-mailed Rathbun, he’d soon received a reply. Rathbun encouraged Brousseau to come to Corpus Christi. After three days on the road, Brousseau arrived in the Texas town and the two men met.
Rathbun was eager to hear about the latest news from the base. He helped Brousseau find the hotel room, and planned to meet again the next day. Then, that morning, Davis and the others showed up.
With Davis and the others following, Brousseau went to a convenience store (it wasn’t open yet), and then to the hotel lobby, still in search of coffee.
“There was this girl at the desk. I said, ‘Hey, call the police. These people are harassing me. She laughed and said it was funny.”
Brousseau tried to convince her that he was serious, but Davis pointed out that they were also guests of the hotel and weren’t trespassing.
Brousseau says Davis kept badgering him, saying that something could be worked out.
“You’re probably not coming back to the base,” Davis told him.
“You’re damn right,” Brousseau replied.
“You’re probably not coming back to the Sea Org.”
“You’re double damn right.”
Brousseau managed to push his way into his hotel room and close the door on the others by telling Davis that he’d come back out and talk. Then he called Rathbun with
his throwaway cellphone and woke him up. Rathbun said he’d call right back.
Davis was pounding on the door, Brousseau says, and then his room phone began ringing. He ignored it.
“I had my laptop open, and I got an e-mail on one of my old e-mail addresses. it was Tommy. It said, ‘I know you’re a guy who keeps his word. Get out here. We need to talk’.”
Rathbun called back and said he’d called the police, who were on their way and were familiar with the situation.
Under the hotel room’s door, a slip of paper appeared. It was a note from Tommy, the same as his e-mail.
But when the police arrived a short time later, Brousseau says, Davis and the others were gone.
Rathbun, meanwhile, got dressed and jumped into his car. When he pulled out of his driveway, he found his way blocked by four cars, each with four passengers.
“The plan was to run interference with Marty while the other four were handling me,” Brousseau says. “But it was never going to work. I was never going back. And the more people you throw at Marty, the more he’s going to break through.” (Rathbun wrote about his own experiences that day at his blog.)
After that, with no reason to hide what they were up to, Brousseau went to stay with Rathbun and his wife Monique.
“There was a private eye driving by every 20 minutes. Mike Rinder was blown away when he heard what had happened. He was on a plane from Tampa later that day. When we went to the airport, we had another group meet us there and it started up again,” he says.
“But after that, it was all uneventful.”
Brousseau was out. Tommy Davis and David Miscavige could do nothing about it.
And so JB got to work putting his life back together.
John Brousseau says he has a lot of time to make up for.
“Heck, I’m busier now than I ever was for David Miscavige and the Sea Org,” he says.
Less than two months ago, he moved to South Florida from the Atlanta area.
“I’m following the almighty dollar,” he says. “I just tripled my income with this new job.”
He’s 54, he’s living with his girlfriend Mareka James, 30, and they have an 11-month-old daughter named Isabelle.
Mareka was featured in John Sweeney’s 2010 BBC documentary, “The Secrets of Scientology.” A lifelong church member, she had decided to leave and was “disconnected” by her then-fiance.
Just a few months after John Brousseau escaped the Sea Org, he and Mareka shared a ride from California to a reunion of ex-Scientologists at the home of Mike Rinder in the Tampa-Clearwater area.
By the time they got to Florida, they’d become friends. They started dating a few months later.
Brousseau says it’s the last reunion he’ll be going to. He didn’t go to one last year in Texas or the one that happened just a couple of weeks ago in Minnesota. Despite his friendship with Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, Brousseau says he doesn’t consider himself an active part of the growing “independent Scientologist” movement that the two former executives are such a visible part of.
“I look at everything that happened, even the real nasty shit, as an adventure,” he says. “But I’m busy. I’m not going to drag all this shit around with me.”
And he has a lot to look forward to.
At some point, in the six or seven hours that Brousseau and I talked about his adventures, I asked him what had happened to his parents after he had left their house in the Bay Area to join the Sea Org.
His mother died in 1997, when he was working in the RTC at Int Base — and like any Sea Org member, he was given very little time away from his job. “I was only given one week leave to see her,” he says. “I went and saw her in the convalescent home, and then I walked out and broke down in the car.” When she died soon after, he was allowed to come up for a funeral.
When his father fell gravely ill a couple of years later, however, Brousseau was doing the RPF in Happy Valley. Getting out to see his father wasn’t going to be easy.
“I kept getting all these delays because they were sec checking [interrogating] me to make sure I wouldn’t blow,” he says.
“I got one call through to my dad. He said he was dying of liver cancer. And then he died before I could get there.”
He finally arrived, and was asked to identify his father.
“They brought me the wrong body. I was so numb,” he says.
At the funeral, there were some old friends of his parents. He felt very alone.
“I went to the house, and spent some days going through old photos,” he says.
His father had left him some money. But there was a catch.
“He made it so I couldn’t touch it until I’m 60,” Brousseau says. “I guess he figured I couldn’t be trusted with it until I was out of the church. And he figured I’d be out by the time I was 60 years old.
“He was pretty smart.”
Scientology’s president and the death of his son: our complete coverage
What Katie is saving Suri from: Scientology interrogation of kids
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
Please check out our Facebook author page for updates and schedules.
Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, 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.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 29, 2012