Marc Headley remembers where he was and what he was doing because David Miscavige, the leader of Scientology, was spitting obscenities about, of all things, the bad teeth belonging to Marc’s stepfather.
It was late summer 1995 in the 1,500-seat grand auditorium at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, Scientology’s most holy site in the world. The place was packed with the Scientologists at the “Flag Land Base” who worked as technical experts — people whose jobs involved the arcane rules of counseling invented by Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
For several months, Miscavige, who normally worked from Scientology’s international management base in Hemet, California, had been working instead at “Flag,” Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater. In 1975, Scientology surreptitiously invaded the Florida Gulf Coast town, taking over property under the fake name “United Churches of Florida.” Twenty years later, the church owned numerous buildings in the city’s downtown, and Scientologists arrived from around the world to pay for expensive courses and counseling that is only available at the complex.
Headley, who was also usually at Int Base in California, was temporarily in Flag after working on a project in Denmark. Headley wasn’t a Scientology “technology” person. He was a specialist in actual technology, like computers and audiovisual equipment. And so while he was at Flag, he was corralled to make sure that Miscavige’s briefings in the auditorium were properly amplified and recorded.
“Sometimes he’d show a new video, and it was my job to make sure it played correctly. We’d run the mics, and record everything. After the show someone from his office would pick up the recordings,” Headley tells us. “One of those briefings is when he thought up the new e-meter. Another time there he figured out Golden Age of Tech, at one of those briefings.”
It was a very productive time for Miscavige, Headley says. Just two years before, in 1993, Miscavige had succeeded in the greatest goal he had set for himself, gaining tax-exempt status for Scientology, and now he had turned his attention to the Flag Land Base and its earning potential. Through much of 1995, Miscavige worked out of an office up the street in the West Coast Building (or WB) at 118 North Fort Harrison Avenue. At the briefings in the Fort Harrison Hotel, Miscavige harangued his followers that Flag, which provided the most money in Scientology’s worldwide scheme, could be bringing in even more money.
“Flag makes more money per week than all the other orgs in the world combined. And a huge portion of that is profit. So, if Flag has an operating budget of $500,000 a week and brings in $1 million, then they clear $500,000. The rest of the orgs barely cover their costs, and often have to be subsidized by Int Base, which itself is subsidized by Flag,” Headley says. “So Dave went to Flag, where they had been making about a million a week, and he said fuck that, these motherfuckers could be making two million a week, or maybe even three. And he camped there until they did it.”
With characteristic coarse language, Miscavige used the briefings to explain ways that efficiencies could be found to get Scientologists paying more money and more quickly, Headley says. In one briefing, for example, Miscavige railed at the Flag auditors that they were asking wealthy Scientologists to have to travel several blocks from where they were staying at the Fort Harrison Hotel to where they were getting their upper-level counseling at another hotel, the Sandcastle. That transport back and forth was a waste of time when those wealthy customers could be on the clock, paying up to $1,000 an hour for auditing. Miscavige ordered that several floors of the Fort Harrison be changed from hotel rooms to auditing rooms so those rich marks wouldn’t even have to leave the building, and could get on the billing cycle more quickly.
“You take out the travel time so you get an hour more in auditing from 100 people all paying $1,000 an hour for it, that’s $100,000 more per day. See? He was doing things like that for auditing and for training. [“Training,” in Scientology, specifically refers to learning how to become an auditor.] If someone takes ten days to get through a training checksheet, fuck that, get rid of these things, and someone can get through it in five days, he’d say.” (In other words, when something was charged by the hour, the goal was to extend it as long as possible, but if something had a flat fee, the goal was the opposite, to get people through it quickly.)
And Miscavige wasn’t only looking at ways to increase revenue from an overall perspective. He was getting involved in specific cases, looking for ways to get them speeded up and more profitable, Headley says. And he remembers it most vividly because, during one briefing, Miscavige started talking about the man who was, at that time, Headley’s own stepfather.
“My stepdad was supposed to go off and get some dental work. So he was going to skip some processing time. But Miscavige used that as an example of how screwed up things were at Flag. ‘Fuck his teeth. That motherfucker can go in session,’ he said.”
Hearing about his stepdad remains so vivid in his memory, Headley says, it’s also the reason he remembers another case Miscavige discussed during that same briefing. “He talked about Lisa McPherson. How he personally oversaw her getting through Clear so she could get on to the next thing,” Headley says.
On September 7, 1995, Lisa McPherson, who had been a Scientologist since 1982, was declared ‘Clear’ at the Flag Land Base. As Janet Reitman explains in her excellent 2011 book that examines McPherson’s experience in detail, Inside Scientology, it was unusual that Lisa was being hurried through Clear, given her recent history.
In June, Lisa had become so distraught, in part because of a failed romance, she had been put through a Scientology process reserved for people who have had a mental breakdown or psychotic event, called the “Introspection Rundown”…
At the hotel, Lisa was assigned a roommate named [Susanne] Schnurrenberger, a Sea Org member who worked in the base’s medical office. Schnurrenberger, who had a nursing background, was charged with watching over Lisa to make sure she ate, slept, and was “sessionable” — able to receive auditing. Schnurrenberger was also supposed to prevent Lisa from hurting herself, as she had repeatedly threatened suicide. During the first few weeks, Lisa’s moods roller-coasted from upbeat and “gleaming bright,” as one staff member wrote in a memo, to dark and depressive. She felt as if she had an “enemy” inside of her. “Susanne,” she told Schnurrenberger one night, “I think I’m going crazy.”
Despite that recent past, in September Lisa was certified Clear. And Reitman writes that for a brief moment, Lisa was beaming, happy to have finally reached the milestone, a major step for any Scientologist. But soon enough, Lisa was again a very troubled woman. With so many warning signs, why had she been pushed to get through Clear and be certified as an exemplar of Scientology success?
Headley says Lisa just happened to be there when Miscavige was involving himself in Flag and pushing to get it working more efficiently.
“Nothing could happen there without him knowing about it and approving it,” Headley tells us. “My stepdad, he was a total nobody. And so was Lisa McPherson. Why was Miscavige involved in their cases? That’s how micromanaging he was. He was trying to make examples of these people. Before this, he had been involved in the IRS and at the Golden Era Studios at Int Base. But in this particular time, 1995, he was suddenly involved in the ‘technology’ side of things. It was all about how he could make Flag generate more money. And Lisa McPherson was just a small example of that. He was just trying to shove her through, even though she was losing her mind.”
As Reitman points out, two other Flag officials, Tom DeVocht and Don Jason, both personally witnessed Miscavige “case supervising” Lisa’s counseling, and that it was Miscavige who declared her Clear.
“So Miscavige declares her Clear. And obviously, however he decided to do it was wrong,” Headley tells us, referring to McPherson’s subsequent mental breakdown. “If you’re auditing in Scientology and something goes wrong, it’s always the auditor and the case supervisor who screwed up. It’s never the subject. Miscavige was Lisa’s case supervisor, but no one could say Miscavige screwed up — that’s impossible.”
No one would dare question the case supervising skills of Scientology’s ultimate leader. But everyone, Headley adds, would know that it was Miscavige who had pushed Lisa through Clear. And so when she then went into mental distress, it was like a big advertisement that Miscavige was technically deficient.
And the leader of Scientology could never countenance that.
Maybe it’s good to keep that in mind as we watch what was done to Lisa McPherson as her life began to crumble over the next few weeks, 20 years ago.
Karen de la Carriere on Scientology’s ‘attack, never defend’ mindset
Karen gives us an entertaining look at why Scientology acts the way it does…
We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.
Our book tour is concluded for now. (But you can re-experience it through this nifty interactive map!) We’ll let you know about future appearances. Previous events: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25), Adelaide (10/28), Perth (10/30)
Posted by Tony Ortega on November 13, 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
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield