In 1978, the Church of Scientology paid $2.7 million to acquire a fading resort in the California desert known as Gilman Hot Springs. The 550-acre parcel included a relatively modest house named “Bonnie View” that founder L. Ron Hubbard intended to live in, once it was renovated. But he never got the chance. By the end of February 1980 Hubbard went into permanent hiding elsewhere until his death in 1986.
In Hubbard’s absence, the parcel at Gilman Hot Springs became Scientology’s secretive “Gold Base,” also called “Int Base” because it was the location of Scientology’s international ‘exec strata’ — the top officials of the worldwide organization. And over the past couple of decades, the man who succeeded Hubbard as the church’s leader, David Miscavige, has renovated and rebuilt the place primarily as a lavish monument to himself.
Scientology doesn’t give tours of Int Base, and aerial shots don’t give us access inside its buildings. But accounts by former church executives have given some idea that Miscavige has spent incredible sums to create a palace for himself, particularly an oversized office building for the use of the Religious Technology Center (RTC), the entity that nominally rules Scientology. Miscavige is the RTC’s chairman of the board, which is why Scientologists routinely refer to him as “COB” for short. And we say “nominally,” because former officials will tell you that RTC is only one of several corporate fictions that make up Scientology’s structure. It’s really the “Sea Organization” — with Captain David Miscavige at its top — that rules Scientology. And RTC contains the Sea Org’s most trusted inner circle. Scientology is an organization obsessed with hierarchy, and no group is more lofty than the tiny circle of Sea Org members who work with Miscavige in the RTC and at its headquarters at Int Base.
You can easily find the RTC’s headquarters yourself on Google Earth: That’s it pictured above, at the east end of Int Base. You can’t miss it — its footprint is more massive than just about anything else at the compound. Also known as “Building 50,” it is described by former members as the best evidence of “inurement” — David Miscavige’s excessive spending to benefit himself, which would be a violation of the agreement that brought Scientology non-profit status in 1993.
But are those stories enough to get the IRS interested in what Miscavige has spent on himself? Perhaps that will change now that former Scientology chief spokesman Mike Rinder has revealed a stunning set of photographs that show in great detail what’s inside the building.
At his blog, Rinder explained that one of the firms hired to renovate Building 50, Montbleau & Associates, has posted examples of its work to attract other corporate clients. They show some of the incredible and expensive work that went into RTC’s offices — but not Miscavige’s own rooms. But then, Rinder was smuggled photos of Miscavige’s quarters too.
Let’s take a tour!
Sinar Parman (who was once L. Ron Hubbard’s personal chef) took this aerial photo of Building 50. Rinder says that Miscavige’s wing takes up the near half of the second floor. The view here is looking north. The front of the building is on the left.
This photo of the front of Building 50, on the west side, was smuggled out four years ago by former Sea Org worker John Brousseau. It shows two of Tom Cruise’s motorcycles flanking one owned by David Miscavige. All three had been customized by Brousseau, working for pennies an hour. The bike on the left is a Honda Rune that Cruise was given by Steven Spielberg for the War of the Worlds premiere, and that Brousseau had to disassemble to give a new red paint job Cruise wanted. Now, let’s go inside Building 50.
Rinder says this is the hallway that takes you into the “COB Wing” of the building. If you faced punishment, you would be asked to sit in these steel chairs before being ushered into Miscvaige’s office, which these chairs face. “The chairs were specifically designed to feel hard and cold so you knew you were in trouble,” Rinder writes. The floor, he points out, is made from a very expensive combination of limestone and stainless steel. The walls are finished in African anigre wood, and Rinder says the corridor was widened after Miscavige decided it was too narrow. Imagine the cost. “Everything you see in the hallway picture – as is true with the other pictures – is custom-made. Including the mirror, which Miscavige specified be facing his door so that he could check his image as he walked out of his office,” Rinder says.
Rinder says this was a library intended for Miscavige’s use. The custom table includes playback equipment that rises out of the center. The custom lighting in the room alone cost $70,000. And despite all of that lavish detail, “This room is a total prop. Miscavige never used it or even walked into it other than to show Tom Cruise how cool his junk was.”
Rinder says this is the office for secretaries with access to Miscavige’s inner sanctum. We see the door to his office on the left, and the one on the right led to the office of the “COB Assistant,” which was the Sea Org’s name for Miscavige’s wife, Shelly. The desk to the left is used by Miscavige’s “personal communicator,” Laurisse “Lou” Henley-Smith Stuckenbrock, and the desk to the right is used by Maria Starkey, who, Rinder says, primarily takes care of Miscavige’s dogs. (Amy Scobee has written that members of the Sea Org were required to salute COB’s beagles.) Incredible expense went into every room you see, Rinder says. “This room is a good example of why the building needed four locomotive-sized air handler units in the attic…This room alone had some 450 incandescent light bulbs hidden in the soffit all around the room as well as the big square ceiling panels you see in the center. This is close to half a million watts of incandescent heat-producing lights — roughly equivalent to plugging in and turning on about 300 toasters or hair dryers in one room. Ridiculously overspecified lighting, done with a cost-is-no-object zeal, characterizes the entire mindset with which this building was constructed. The cost of electricity for this great empty building (mostly for lighting and air conditioning) is about $2,000.00 per day.”
Rinder says this is the “COB Compliance” room, where his orders get transcribed and compiled. “Funny that there is a whole office devoted to COB Orders and Compliance Reports when Warren McShane and Allen Cartwright testified under oath in the Monique Rathbun case that they are completely unaware of ‘COB Orders’ or ‘Compliance Reports’,” Rinder points out.
Rinder calls this the “COB PR” office, and notes the irony of that designation. Miscavige has had pretty rotten public relations since he took over Scientology, and Rinder says that few people elected to use this room have lasted long.
Rinder says this is the courtyard area in the center of the RTC building and rarely had chairs set up this way. More commonly, Miscavige lorded over meetings that went on for hours from a long table set up here. It was in this location that Miscavige harangued the troops about their inability to fill positions on an “org board” — a kind of job chart. When Miscavige left the base for a while in 2005, his wife Shelly, tired of hearing Miscavige scream and yell about the issue, filled in the org board herself. When Miscavige returned and saw what she had done, he went ballistic, and Shelly vanished a week later. We are confident that she is being held at another, more secretive compound about 60 miles away in the San Bernardino mountains to this day.
The rest of these photos did not come from Montbleau & Associates, and Rinder doesn’t name his source — which can’t make Miscavige very comfortable. This one portrays the “COB Conference” room in Miscavige’s wing of the building.
Note the elegant lighting fixtures of the “COB Project Room.”
A hallway in the COB wing. Rinder had pointed out the downlighting on the walls, which was requested because originally plans called for elaborate life-sized portraits of Hubbard to line these passageways. Later, that gave way to plans for photos of Miscavige at various Scientology events, or photos taken by Miscavige on his scuba-diving adventures. And then, finally, they were left bare.
The “COB Patio” at the rear of the building. Rinder had earlier told us that it was here that he had a dramatic meeting with Shelly Miscavige in 2005. Rinder had just returned from working with COB in Los Angeles, and Shelly wanted to know if her husband was still wearing his wedding ring. It was at that moment, Rinder tells us, that he knew she was in serious trouble. She vanished not long after that meeting.
Rinder says this small patio is just off of Miscavige’s own office, so he can pop out for a smoke. He points out the use of bullet-proof glass for Miscavige’s protection from snipers on the distant roadway.
And finally, we have two photos of the church leader’s inner sanctum, Miscavige’s own office. This image reveals his desk, custom made from steel and leather, with a price tag, Rinder estimates, of between $15,000 and $30,000.
Even the rugs in Miscavige’s office are custom, hand-made jobs costing up to $20,000, he estimates. And there’s more: “The windows in his office have 3 layers of treatment: A metallic fabric sheer, a rolldown sun screen and a rolldown blackout. All motorized and controlled by a touchscreen panel.”
With the IRS stirring, the release of these photos might not have surfaced at a worse time, from Scientology’s perspective. The glimpse we get of the cost involved is simply astounding — and that’s only bolstered by documents showing that Scientology’s entities have amassed incredible levels of wealth. Can the government continue to ignore Miscavige’s wealth, built with the assistance of American tax law?
Posted by Tony Ortega on May 29, 2014 at 07:00
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