Maria Bustillos contacted us recently, telling us that she was working on a review of Alex Gibney’s film Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, and she wanted to ask us a question, which turned out to be quite good.
We were familiar with Maria’s work because of a story she did at The Awl in 2011 lauding the work of Los Angeles Times reporters Joel Sappell and Robert Welkos, who wrote about Scientology in a number of stories in the 1980s, culminating in a huge series in 1990. She also referred to earlier work done by Pulitzer-prize winners Charles Stafford and Bette Orsini at the St. Petersburg Times.
Maria’s point was that there were great and brave journalists who had done much of the heavy lifting before Lawrence Wright came along in 2011 with his massive story on Paul Haggis in The New Yorker. That point is well taken, and here in the Underground Bunker we have tried to give credit to brave journalists where it is due, going back to the likes of Paulette Cooper, for example. (Ahem, shameless plug.)
Anyway, here’s the question that Maria asked us: “The film is so damning of David Miscavige that it’s difficult to believe that there won’t be repercussions for him. Can you speculate as to how a succession might be managed?”
Wow. Great question. We decided it deserved a full and lengthy reply, some of which Maria generously excerpted for her story. But we thought you might want to see the entire thing, including our disclaimers and qualifiers. So dig in. We’re sure to hear some interesting responses.
Maria, this is a really good question, so I’m going to give you a lengthy reply. I hope it’s useful.
Totalitarian organizations run by sociopaths never have a succession plan. The megalomaniac in charge simply cannot imagine himself no longer in control.
L. Ron Hubbard never had a succession plan in place. He couldn’t for a minute imagine someone else running Scientology. After he went into permanent hiding in 1980, he still maintained control by sending “despatches” through Pat Broeker (who was with him at his hiding place) to David Miscavige, who then took them to the rest of the organization. That put both of those men in powerful positions — they were the chokepoint of information between Hubbard and the rest of the Scientology world. In 1981 and 1982, Hubbard had Scientology completely reorganized not because he was preparing to hand over power, but simply to make it harder for creditors or law enforcement to get its hands on him and his money.
Briefly, CSI — the Church of Scientology International — would be the “mother church,” RTC — the Religious Technology Center — would regulate CSI, and CST — Church of Spiritual Technology — would remain mostly in the shadows, having ultimate control of the trademarks and copyrights and Hubbard’s hundreds of millions of dollars. The purpose of this onion-layering was that Hubbard knew the lawsuits would be aimed at CSI, might possibly rope in RTC, but would almost never touch CST, the ultimate backstop for him and his cash.
Even longtime Scientologists don’t understand why this reorganization was done and what its purpose was. They’ll tell you it was Hubbard’s way of creating a system of “checks and balances” so that when he was gone, there would be a more democratic platform for running Scientology. That’s nonsense. There was no succession plan and no democracy in the CSI/RTC/CST model.
Near the end of his life, as it was obvious that he was becoming frail, Hubbard wrote a vague statement announcing that Pat and Annie Broeker had been named “Loyal Officers.” This was a science fiction term he had used in his Xenu ravings when he was trying to turn the OT III madness into a screenplay. So when people say that this was Hubbard anointing the Broekers to be his successors, that’s pretty speculative. And it was academic anyway. By around 1983, a few years into Hubbard’s total seclusion when he’d moved to a ranch near San Luis Obispo, Miscavige had begun to solidify his position as the new leader.
He was able to do it, again, because he was the chokepoint, along with Broeker, that controlled access between Hubbard and the rest of Scientology. Broeker didn’t have it in him to become the next dictator. He was loyal, but he was weak. Miscavige easily maneuvered him out of the way. But he did so secretly.
I’ve talked to people who were longtime Scientologists who were at the Hollywood Palladium on January 27, 1986, when David Miscavige came out on stage to announce that Hubbard had “discarded his body” three days earlier, and they wondered, “Who’s David Miscavige?” Seriously, he had taken over complete control and many people in Scientology didn’t even know who he was.
And that’s because he’s not elected. He doesn’t have to be popular. He answers to no one. He doesn’t even acknowledge that he runs Scientology as a whole. He and the lawyers and Karin Pouw, the spokeswoman, always point out that he’s only the “ecclesiastical” leader of Scientology, and is the Chairman of the Board (COB) of the Religious Technology Center (RTC). In other words, they want to portray him as some kind of philosophical figure who contemplates the best way to keep Hubbard’s teachings pure. And nothing more.
But the truth is, he’s an utter dictator, and micromanages every aspect of Scientology down to the smallest detail. As the Tampa Bay Times revealed in 2009, that translates to him erupting on people, beating them, and having them beat each other up and spit on each other. He’s a little tyrant.
Everyone who has ever gotten close to him in power eventually gets burned and then turned out. Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder are two good examples. Who is close to Miscavige’s level of power today in Scientology? Is there anyone? Marc Yager? Greg Wilhere? Jenny Linson? They’ve all been tossed into The Hole, and only emerge when Miscavige summons them. (We think there is still a version of The Hole today, but Miscavige had to make it less horrific after details about it first surfaced in 2009.)
There is no succession plan in the bylaws of CSI/RTC/CST, and it’s hard to imagine how there could be any kind of transfer of power, as long as Miscavige is alive. So what’s going to happen?
I can think of some scenarios, but I tend not to prognosticate at my website. With Scientology, I’m continually surprised with how things turn out — which is why I enjoy reporting on it so much. The decision just this week by Judge James D. Whittemore to hand Scientology a total win in a federal fraud lawsuit that seemed to be going the other way is a good example. Guessing how that was going to turn out was a sucker’s game. That’s why I try not to put too much faith into any one particular outcome.
So, I caution you, these possible scenarios might turn out to be completely wrong. It’s just really hard to imagine what is going to happen. But I will try.
1. Miscavige is incapacitated. He’s only 54, so this seems somewhat unlikely, but let’s say he’s debilitated by a stroke or passes away. Who takes over? It’s completely unclear from both the bylaws of CSI/RTC/CST as well as who seems to be around him. At this point, it’s the lawyers (most of whom are not Scientologists) who prop up Miscavige. Would the lawyers quickly move someone like Marc Yager or Jenny Linson into the “Chairman of the Board” spot? Would the membership accept that? It’s really hard to know.
2. Miscavige removed by coup. This is something that a lot of angry former Scientology members want to see happen, as well as some still inside the church. But they base it on a bad misreading of the CSI/RTC/CST founding documents. As Denise Brennan explained to me before she died last year, when she helped Hubbard create those alphabet soup entities in 1981, they specifically designed them to make it appear that a system of trustees and boards of directors could select a new leader of Scientology. But it was all a sham, she explained. As long as Miscavige is alive and has the attorneys working for him, he will not be removed. Mike Rinder agrees with me on this score.
3. An outside force. To me, this seems the most likely. I have a feeling that the IRS or the FBI is biding its time, watching as Scientology continues to shrink and weaken. At some point, they’ll move in. And then Miscavige and Scientology will be caught up in court actions basically forever, and a succession will be a moot point.
Again, I reserve the right to be completely wrong about these scenarios, and the actual outcome may be a complete surprise — but that’s what makes it so fun to write about this nutty group.
Well, what do you think? Where do you think things are going to end up?
‘Going Clear’ is causing so much fun
We wanted to make sure everyone got a chance to see the really fun shoop posted by Nat-leficent yesterday. If only HBO would use this as an ad!
Also, we guffawed at this tweet last night by Marc Headley…
— Marc Headley (@blownforgood) March 19, 2015
Bonus photos from our tipsters
Remember Joy Villa and Connor Cruise getting ready to entertain at a fundraiser at the home of some wealthy Scientology whales? Now she says that little shindig raised $8 million.
Hey, we want one of these!
Scientologists are using social media more than ever. Drop us a line if you spot them posting images to Instagram or Facebook!
Posted by Tony Ortega on March 19, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
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