For actor Tom Cruise, Scientology’s leader David Miscavige is a shining example of all that is best about the movement: a paragon of compassion, tolerance and intelligence.
In October 2004, at a special event in England, Tom Cruise paid this tribute to Miscavige, Chairman of the Board (COB) of Scientology’s Religious Technology Center.
“Thank you, Sir: Thank you for your trust and your confidence in me. I've personally been privileged to see what you do to protect and help and serve all of us.
“I have never met a more competent, intelligent, tolerant, compassionate being, outside of what I have experienced from LRH [L. Ron Hubbard: Scientology’s founder]. And I've met the leaders of leaders. I've met them all.
“So I say to you, Sir, COB, we are lucky to have you. Thank you.”
Many of those who once worked alongside Miscavige however, recall him as a tyrant and bully. For some of them, he is the main reason they quit the movement.
In a rare 1998 interview with the St Petersburg Times, a Florida daily that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Scientology in 1980, Miscavige was asked about his rise to power.
“People keep saying, ‘How’d you get power?’” he replied. “Nobody gives you power. I’ll tell you what power is. Power in my estimation is if people will listen to you. That’s it.”
---David Miscavige grew up in Scientology: it is all he has ever known.
As an 18-year-old in 1978, he sat at the feet of the founder himself, as L. Ron Hubbard worked on a film project at La Quinta, one of Scientology’s properties in the southern California desert.
Hubbard was by then 67, and the years of conflict with the authorities in several countries were beginning to tell.
Some former members who knew Hubbard during this period recall him as a tyrant who screamed abuse at his minions and continually called for more blood in the film’s increasingly lurid action scenes.
By 1979, some of Scientology’s top executives – including Hubbard’s own wife, Mary Sue – were on the way to jail for an extensive spying operation on the U.S. government. Hubbard himself was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
Hubbard chose new people to run the movement from his personal staff and David Miscavige was among them. But as Miscavige and his colleagues took power in the 1980s, in the years running up to Hubbard’s death in 1986, tales of abuse began to emerge.
Respected, senior Scientologists found themselves forced to perform humiliating punishments at one of Scientology’s desert compounds in California, ironically known as Happy Valley.
David Mayo, once a personal counsellor to Hubbard himself, left Scientology after what he said was six months as a prisoner under the new regime. In a 1987 affidavit, he said he had been subjected to lengthy night-time interrogations and threatened personally by Miscavige.
“During that six-month period of captivity, I was forced to run around a tree in the desert in temperatures of up to 110 degrees for 12 hours a day, seven days a week for three months,” he added.
“I was under tremendous coercion and duress I was refused medical and dental treatment … I was not permitted to make or receive phone calls and all letters I wrote were read by Scientology security guards.”
Homer Schomer, another Scientologist who fell foul of the new regime, also described lengthy overnight interrogations in a 1986 affidavit. “I was punched, spat upon, threatened, intimidated and completely humiliated as a human being,” he declared.
And in court testimony, he said that Miscavige and another Scientologist had spat tobacco juice in his face during this time.
Larry Brennan was a senior Scientology executive in the 1980s. He used to travel every week from Los Angeles to the Hemet Base to write up reports for Hubbard. One such visit, in 1982, he remembers vividly.
“I just happened to walk into the office and there were three guys standing up at attention,” he recalls. “I saw him [Miscavige] punch one guy hard on the mouth, slap another as hard as he could and then choke another guy until he was red in the face.”
Brennan saw one of the victims later the same day. “One of those poor guys came up to me at Int [the Hemet base] and he was totally a broken man and he asked me if he was going to jail as he was told he would be.
“My heart went out to him … The poor guy committed no crimes whatsoever but DM [Miscavige] got them to believe that those who opposed him were criminals and would be going to jail for a long time … It was a total horror show from the mind of a madman as far as I am concerned.”
---By the time Hubbard died in 1986, Miscavige and a few others had effectively taken control of the movement. During this period, hundreds of veteran members were either expelled or resigned.
Some of Miscavige’s onetime allies later fell foul of the new regime themselves and ended up quitting the movement.
Don Larson was one former Miscavige ally who fell from grace. He told the BBC’s Panorama programme in 1987 how he saw the young leader rough up a Scientology official.
“David Miscavige comes up, grabs him by the tie (makes punching motion with his right arm) and starts bashing him into the filing cabinet,” Larson told Panorama. “And he’s thrown out in the street; his tie is ripped off.”
More than 20 years on, Larson stands by his story. He still believes that some Scientology techniques offer real benefits. “There are a number of truths that are quite amazing.
“On the other hand,” he adds, “the organisation itself is quite psychotic and dangerous.”
Scientology has dismissed all such allegations as the self-serving accusations of embittered defectors.
Tom Cruise’s devotion to Scientology may have a lot to do with his friendship with Miscavige. Former members say that in the 1990s in particular, Cruise did a lot of his training on Scientology’s upper levels at the California compound where Miscavige is based.
Over the years, he and Miscavige have raced motorbikes, practised clay-pigeon shooting and enjoyed the base’s facilities together. In November 2006, Miscavige was best man at Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes in Italy, rubbing shoulders with the likes of David Beckham and Will Smith.
But some of Miscavige’s former colleagues say he has installed a reign of fear inside the movement. And they say he is dragging it towards disaster.