For years, she worked closely with Scientology’s leaders, David and Shelly Miscavige. And she was there when it all went wrong.
By Tony OrtegaWe have a very unusual story for you today, and in order to tell it, we need to adopt some unusual conventions.
Not only are most of the sources for our story not going to be named, neither are we going to identify the main subjects of this tale, a young couple working in Scientology’s “Sea Org.” Before writing about them, however, we obtained eyewitness accounts from multiple sources who each corroborated the others. It’s not our preference to use unnamed sources, but in this case we had no other way of telling this story, which we consider an important one about Scientology’s secretive International Base. — T.O.
The young woman had a front-row seat for the dispute between COB and COB’s Assistant.
And when all hell broke loose, the young woman — and her marriage — became collateral damage.
Until COB turned on COB’s Assistant, the young woman had enjoyed, more or less, her stressful job serving the upper management at Scientology’s exclusive International Base.
Int Base is on 500 acres of land about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. It’s a small world unto itself, where not only is the public never allowed in, even most Scientologists never set foot inside its razor-wired fences, and hear nothing about what goes on there.
The few hundred church employees who live at the base generally live in fear of the man who rules the place as his fiefdom.
He is Scientology leader David Miscavige, a diminutive man who is referred to as “COB” by his employees, for “Chairman of the Board.”
His wife, Shelly Miscavige, was known by the formal title “COB’s Assistant.”
As the title implies, she was not only Miscavige’s spouse, she was also a formidable executive in her own right. Both of them were at the top of Scientology’s “Sea Organization,” the church’s hardcore worker corps, made up of fanatical believers who had each signed billion-year contracts to serve Scientology, lifetime after lifetime.
The Sea Org is not for the faint of heart. Instructions tend to get screamed. Punishments are harsh. The food tends to be lousy, the living quarters can lack privacy. Sea Org members live in fear of fouling up or in some way losing favor with their superiors.
But no executive was more feared, more capricious, more irrational, than Miscavige himself.
So, by comparison, Shelly couldn’t help appearing less rash, more compassionate, more reasonable.
The young woman served both of them. She was a steward, one of numerous Sea Org members who had joined the corps very young — in her early teens — and now lived at the beck and call of her superiors. Most of her family were also Scientologists, but she didn’t get to see them very often.
She did whatever was necessary to please Miscavige. Mostly having to do with meals, serving at his table. And also bringing him things while with him on his frequent trips around the world.
Like other Sea Org members, she had married young. Marrying young is often the only way that Sea Org officials can get any privacy. Members who are single live in all-male or all-female dorms, often with four or more people to a room.
The young woman had married another Sea Org member (of course, there was no other way), and she loved him. He was not only a Scientologist, he was a by-the-book Sea Org lifer. He was the type who would never question “command intention” — whatever it was that Miscavige wanted done, and done now.
They had met at “Flag,” Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida and had married there. At that time, Miscavige was using Flag as his own headquarters because the church was engaged in a court fight in Florida over the death of a parishioner, Lisa McPherson, which had happened several years earlier. The young woman was promoted and began working with Miscavige there, and when he eventually returned to Int Base in California the young woman went with him.
Her husband stayed at Flag.
The separation was difficult for them, but at least with the young woman working directly for COB — and the prestige that brought inside the church — she had opportunities for an occasional trip to Florida to spend time with her husband. It wasn’t ideal. But this was the Sea Org.
For several years, the young woman went everywhere that Miscavige and Shelly went. On trips across the planet. Serving them at every meal.
Meanwhile, the pressures on the Base were becoming more and more unbearable.
COB’s obsession with the Base’s “Org Chart” was wearing down everyone.
Miscavige berated his underlings that they had not been able to place Sea Org workers into positions on a complex chart of job descriptions at Int Base. Although hundreds of people worked at the base and did their jobs, Miscavige was manic about the job organization chart.
But whenever one of his top executives attempted to fill names in that chart, Miscavige rejected the scheme, or simply wouldn’t approve it. And then he’d berate them again that he was going to have to do it all himself.
It made little sense, and most people who worked at the Base were sick of hearing it.
COB’s mood had gotten fouler, and the punishments on the base had gotten downright sadistic.
At the beginning of 2004, Miscavige had ordered dozens of top executives into a locked room, calling them “SPs.” (A “suppressive person” is someone with evil intention to Scientology — being declared an SP is the church’s form of excommunication.)
Over time, that office-prison became known as “The Hole” as up to 100 base executives were held in it day and night, sleeping on the floor and eating from buckets of soupy slop.
Miscavige was becoming less and less predictable. Every Sea Org official walked on eggshells around him, and were hypersensitive to any of his rants, looking for ways to stay in his good graces.
And then, in 2005, a surprising thing happened.
Miscavige announced that he was going to Los Angeles to work on a new set of re-edited L. Ron Hubbard books he wanted published. (They would come out in 2007 and be called “The Basics,” and every Scientologist would be pressured to purchase multiple sets, with lectures, for about $3,000 each.)
Shelly, however, said she was staying at Int Base. And she asked the young woman to stay with her.
It was the first time in the young woman’s career that David and Shelly Miscavige hadn’t traveled someplace together.
The young woman did what she was told, and she stayed at the Base.
While Miscavige was gone, Shelly got to work. She filled the org chart with names, and then informed those employees that they had new jobs.
Finally, the org chart would no longer be an issue.
Miscavige also had continually groused that he was going to need to move out of his quarters in the “Villas” — three buildings on the north side of the property — so they could be renovated and turned over to CMO Int, one of upper management’s alphabet soup of entities. “I’m going to give you the Villas, you assholes,” Miscavige would taunt his top lieutenants.
So while he was gone, Shelly finally made that happen. She had COB’s things crated up and moved out of the Villas to a drab set of quarters known as the “G’s.”
At about this time, Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder arrived at Int Base after visiting Miscavige in Los Angeles. He was immediately cornered by Shelly as soon as he arrived.
“She took me to the back patio of the RTC building, which is really isolated. There was no one around,” Rinder tells us. “She asked me, ‘When you saw him, was Dave wearing his gold or platinum wedding ring?’”
Rinder says he thinks she knew it would have been too much of a giveaway to simply ask if Miscavige was wearing a ring at all, which is why she asked it that way. Rinder had no idea if Miscavige actually had more than one version of his wedding ring.
“Oh, you know, I didn’t notice,” he told her.
“The question was so out of the blue, and so bizarre,” he tells us. “I knew that she was in deep shit. She was worried that he was going to abandon her.”
Rinder wonders if, knowing that she was on thin ice, she was suddenly taking on the things Miscavige always complained needed to be done — the org chart and the renovation of the Villas — as a way of getting into his good graces. Shelly was trying to make things go right for COB.
“That was the last conversation I had with Shelly,” Rinder says. (He was not around when Miscavige returned. He was later put into The Hole as a prisoner for more than a year, and then defected from Scientology while he was in London in 2007.)
By the time Miscavige did return to the base, a couple of months after he’d gone to LA, the org chart had been filled and the Villas were gutted.
He was not pleased.
“He had a total psychotic fit,” one eyewitness tells us. “He said we were a bunch of treasonous fucks.”
A week later, Shelly Miscavige vanished.
About 60 miles from Int Base is another Scientology complex, a place so secretive that even high-level Scientology executives rarely or never hear about it. It’s the headquarters of a Scientology entity called the Church of Spiritual Technology. CST owns the trademarks and copyrights of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s works, and it seeks to preserve them by creating underground vaults in various places — California, New Mexico, Wyoming — where millions of Hubbard’s words are being etched on steel plates and sealed in titanium crates, filled with inert gases. The vaults are intended to keep Hubbard’s words safe against nuclear attack.
CST’s headquarters, which includes one of the vaults, is on a compound near Lake Arrowhead in the mountains above Los Angeles. The complex has several buildings where work is being done on the preservation effort. In 2005, Shelly was transferred to the compound, which has very little contact with Int Base, let alone the outside world.
To public Scientologists — members who don’t work for the church but were used to seeing Shelly at public events — as well as staff members who worked at Int Base and other church facilities, it was as if she had disappeared.
She was allowed to make one more public appearance — at the funeral of her father in August, 2007 — but since then, she’s become a non-person in the church.
To this day, our sources tell us, she’s living at the CST headquarters above LA, banished there by Miscavige. At a subsequent meeting of high-level executives, Miscavige said that he and Shelly were through as a couple, but as a religious leader he could not divorce her.
It’s not known what Shelly thinks of her fate.
But she wasn’t the only one affected by the schism. Because the young woman had stayed behind when Shelly asked her to, she was punished, too.
For a year, she endured hard labor as an “ethics particle” — someone the church could not trust, someone who had to be interrogated over and over again to draw out of her any evil intentions she might have for COB or Scientology.
Her husband was still at Flag, in Florida, and for the next four years, the young woman was more or less completely cut off from him as she worked in menial jobs at the base, trying to repair her status.
“Her life was ruined by that altercation between COB and COB’s Assistant,” one of our sources tells us.
Seeing her own husband during that time meant that the young woman would have to go through a “security check” — an intense and brutal interrogation to determine if she still wasn’t thinking of betraying Miscavige or the church.
Over a seven year period, we’re told, the young woman and her husband averaged only one short visit per year.
About two years ago, her husband moved to Los Angeles — the primary reason was not to be closer to her, but to address another alarming issue that needed “handling.” But now that her husband does live closer, the young woman can get out to see him more easily than she could when he was in Florida. But the married couple still does not live together. And she must still submit to brutal interrogations just to spend time with her own husband.
Her husband, as a by-the-book Scientologist, has been trained to believe that any unfortunate events in their lives are their own fault, that somehow they “pulled in” their fate, and his wife’s harsh treatment was caused by her own actions.
And theirs is just one of the relationships that has been warped under the influence of Miscavige.
As we were learning about this story, we asked about other couples at Int Base and were told this astonishing fact: No one has married at Int Base in about a decade.
Although executives who live and work at the Base can only marry each other, none has done so — even though many couples would like to, and they date each other in the chaste Sea Org style (the penalties for pre-marital sex are harsh, and transgressions always can be found out in “sec checks.”)
We asked if there was now a written rule preventing marriages at Int Base, but were told that this, too, was the result of a Miscavige temper tantrum.
In the early 2000s, one of COB’s closest personal employees was scheduled to get married. But when he asked for the day off for the ceremony, Miscavige wouldn’t grant it. Things at the Base were simply too hectic, he said, and there were too many emergencies to be handled. (There are always too many emergencies that need dealing with.)
Around that same time, another Base couple planned to get married and invited Miscavige. “Let’s do this when the base is in better condition and we’ll have a proper ceremony,” he replied.
So they waited more than ten years for the base to get in “better condition.” Eventually, they broke up.
Word quickly traveled after those two incidents, and no one else attempted to get married on the base. And after a few couples managed to get off base for quickie ceremonies, security was changed, and that doesn’t happen either.
Since then, for about a decade, no one else working at the Int Base has dared ask permission to get married.
“If he gets no sleep, then no one gets sleep. If he doesn’t shave, you better not shower. If he hears that someone has watched a movie, he’ll say, ‘How did you get to watch a movie? I worked all night’,” one source told us about how much the base workers fear Miscavige.
And so, we’re told, some couples at Int Base have been dating for up to eight years — though they cannot sleep together. They spend year after year, waiting for some sign that COB has relented, and in the meantime they don’t dare suggest they be given a few hours off to hold a ceremony.
It’s love in the time of Miscavige.
As for COB’s Villas — he moved back into them after they were lavishly renovated in 2008. In a previous story we wrote about a man named John Brousseau who helped with those renovations, we detailed some of the personalized items that went into creating COB’s dream home — a custom-made humidor, a custom bed with elaborate woodwork, a tanning bed that he wanted kept secret.
We hear that things at the CST headquarters — where COB’s Assistant lives — are considerably more spartan.
Posted by Tony Ortega on April 17, 2013 at 07:00
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