“Today I cut ties with my mother, the most dedicated Scientologist I know.”
That’s how Liz Gale opened an essay published last month at former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder’s website.
We found it startling for a couple of reasons. Not only for the circumstances of an ex-Scientologist disconnecting from her Scientologist mother rather than the other way around, but also because we had met Liz Gale and knew something of her family’s complicated and tragic background.
Liz’s older brother Philip Gale was a child prodigy, a gifted computer wizard who in 1998 threw himself from the 15th floor of a building at MIT at 19 years old. Our friend and former colleague, Los Angeles journalist Mark Ebner, wrote a brilliant examination Philip Gale’s remarkable life and perplexing death for the newspaper we both worked for, New Times Los Angeles, in 1999. That newspaper went out of business in 2002 and its archives disappeared from the Internet, but Ebner’s story was resurrected by Gawker, which published it in 2008.
Philip, like his sister Liz, had been raised in Scientology by his parents, but he had pushed away from it as he struggled with his emotions at MIT. And nearly twenty years after Gale stepped out that window, there is still a fascination for what motivated such a talented and likable young man to kill himself, and to do it on March 13 — Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday.
Last year, on our book tour’s stop in Portland, Oregon, Liz Gale introduced herself to us. We told her then that we wanted to hear her own story, which has been so overshadowed by her brother’s. And her essay at Rinder’s website reminded us that she’d been through her own struggle.
It is very different from her brother Philip’s.
Liz, 34, is a third-generation Scientologist. Her grandmother became a Hubbard follower, and raised her children in it, including her youngest, Liz’s mother Marie, who started in Scientology at 12.
By the time she was a teenager, Marie was working on staff at the Hawaii org. She spent a couple of stints in Scientology’s “Sea Org,” which took her to Los Angeles. She was also married twice, despite her very young age, Liz says. And it was in L.A. that Marie met her third husband, a Scientologist named David Gale.
They were married in May 1978, and six months later they had Philip. They moved to New Hampshire three years later, where David had started a software company. In 1982, just after her brother had turned four, Liz was born. Four years after that, the family moved to Clearwater, Florida, the location of Scientology’s spiritual mecca, the “Flag Land Base.”
“I was a Flag brat,” Liz says about living in Clearwater from ages four to eight. “My mom was always on services, and dad was working. My brother was in boarding school. So I hung out at the pool at the Sandcastle.”
She remembers a 16-year-old Sea Org worker, baking in her polyester suit in the Florida sun, exploding at Liz and the other young children who were left to their own devices at the pool while their parents were busy with Scientology courses. “We’re not babysitters!” the teenage church executive screamed.
“My mom was for the most part a professional Scientologist. She went to OT 8 on the Bridge, my dad was OT 5. She worked with WISE, CCHR, and I think maybe OSA as well,” she says, referring to Scientology’s business front the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises, the anti-psychiatry front Citizens Commission for Human Rights, and Scientology’s intelligence corps, the Office of Special Affairs.
Her mother also spent a lot of time on Scientology’s cruise ship the Freewinds, and was otherwise away taking courses. “I remember talking to her on the satellite phone when she was on the ship, with the huge delay. I remember being upset quite a lot. She would say she’d come home in two weeks, and it would turn into two months.”
When she was eight years old, Liz was sent to the expensive Scientology boarding school The Delphian in Oregon, while her parents moved to Utah. Her brother Philip had been at the school for several years already and was considered a prodigy. But her parents struggled to pay for two children at the school, and Liz came home to her parents in Utah without finishing the school year. After her brother finished at Delphian at only 14 and headed to MIT, Liz went back and was at Delphian from 10 to 12 years old.
“Then I was kicked out. I was a troublemaker. I got a lot of attention for being crazy,” she says. “I had boobs by then, and braces. And I got into more trouble. I did a lot of real petty stuff. Stealing change and candy. And I kissed a boy. At 12 I really had no parents. I looked older than my age, and I had money to spend. I was just being bad.”
Liz says she was given an ultimatum: Go to Flag and take some courses, and you can come back to The Delphian. So she spent four months in 1995 back in Clearwater, and was back to being a Flag brat.
“I ended up living with a 20-something hairdresser. They put me through the sec check for children,” she says, referring to Scientology’s interrogation designed by L. Ron Hubbard for kids. “I’d been through it at eight, and now I was 12.”
While Liz was hanging around the Flag Land Base, her parents were living in North Carolina, and her father was working for IBM. And then in October 1995, after a fishing trip, David Gale had a heart attack and died. He was only 47.
Liz was sent once again to school in Oregon. And once again, she was a holy terror. “They let me get away with a lot. I think in part because my brother had been their star student.”
After graduating from The Delphian at 14, Philip Gale had entered MIT, but then gave it up because Sky Dayton, a Scientologist who had founded Earthlink, had offered Philip a lucrative job.
“He was emancipated then. And I think it had as much to do with taxes than anything else. He was making a lot of money,” Liz says.
Back at The Delphian, meanwhile, Liz had once again caused too much trouble. “They advanced me up to the ethics officer for the staff,” she says, meaning that she was such a handful, she was assigned to the officer who disciplined the teachers. “And then every Friday I was supposed to go in and write my O/W’s up. So I would do what I wanted to all week as long as I confessed it at the end of the week.”
She said it was ridiculous. Finally she was asked, “Do you really want to be here?” No, she said.
“I got kicked out again at 14.”
When her mother asked Liz what she wanted to do, Liz said she wanted to be an actress. So they moved to Los Angeles.
“We were in Los Feliz, and I was in high school. I’d have school until noon, and then I’d have classes at the Celebrity Centre,” she says. Then they moved up to Sunland, north of the city, and she’d ride into town with a woman who was boarding with them to help with the rent. A couple also lived in the house to help pay the bills.
“I didn’t do very well as an actress. But I was temporarily represented by Patrick Renna’s mom,” she says, referring to The Sandlot actor, who is a Scientologist.
Not long after they moved to Sunland, Marie went to Flag, and Liz chased off the three boarders. That left her living alone in the house, until her boyfriend moved in.
“I stopped going to school, I stopped taking Scientology courses. I was living with a 19-year-old guy and I’d discovered marijuana.”
Then her mother returned from Flag. Marie had promised the couple who were boarding at the house (and that Liz had chased off) that they could use the house to get married, and so the event was planned for August 31, 1997.
That was the day Princess Diana died in Paris, Liz remembers. As the house began to fill up for the wedding, Liz drank heavily. And while her boyfriend was picking someone up at the airport, Liz made out with another guy.
Confused, drunk, and feeling disgusted with herself, Liz took a handful of Tylenol capsules. She woke up in the hospital, having survived the overdose.
She was still a couple of months short of her 15th birthday.
One of the things adding to her state of mind that awful day was the heavy pressure she was under from Scientology recruiters. They had convinced her to sign the Sea Org’s billion-year contract, and when she turned 16, she would be joining the corps, working around the clock for pennies an hour and cut off from family and friends. “When I overdosed, it wasn’t just my boyfriend. Everything was looming,” she says.
With her daughter in crisis, Marie Gale tried to regroup. First, they got Liz the equivalent of a high school diploma. They went to a place called Dennison Academy, where Scientologists who wanted to join the Sea Org could get a diploma in only a day.
“I took a one-day test. And then they printed out a diploma.” She says it was obviously a bogus operation, but it seemed like the thing to do as her mother was trying to get them in a better place.
“Her solution was to get us out of LA and up to Oregon. We had this plan,” she says.
The plan involved a timber farm that Marie’s family owned in southern Oregon. The parcel had three houses on it, and Marie took Liz to live with her in one of them. “My boyfriend moved up with us, and the couple we knew in Sunland. But they soon left us, and then so did my boyfriend.”
Liz was living alone with her mother, but there was other family around on the farm, and friends. One day in March 1998, Liz was out with some friends four-wheeling in the forest when another rig caught up with them and flagged them down.
“The guy in the other car said, ‘You have to go home right now, there’s bad news.’ But he wouldn’t tell me what it was. He did say something to the guy driving our car, and I bugged him about it until he said, ‘I’m not supposed to tell you this, but your brother is dead’.”
After working for Earthlink for a year, Philip Gale had returned to MIT, but as Ebner found by speaking to many people who knew the young computer genius, Philip struggled with the ordinary world. He was drinking and smoking pot heavily and dealing with a potent brew of emotions after the sudden death of his father and other torments.
On the evening of March 13, Philip Gale went to a classroom on the 15th floor of MIT’s tallest structure, the Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences building. He put on a digital recorder as he went to the blackboard. “In his bold hand, he wrote out Newton’s famous equation for how an object accelerates as it falls. Next to it he sketched a stick figure of a man throwing a chair and signed his work, ‘Phil was here’,” Ebner wrote in his masterful examination.
After writing the equation on the blackboard, Philip threw a wooden chair through a plate-glass window before throwing himself out of it.
Back at Philip’s dorm room, campus security found a note.
Presumably I have jumped from a tall building. Yes, it is odd. To tell you why would be to tell you my mind! I cannot do this. I am not crazy, albeit driven to suicide. It is not about any single event, or person. It is about stubborn sadness, and a detached view of the world. I see my life — so much dreary, mundane, wasted time wishing upon unattainable goals — and I feel little attachment to the future. But it is not so bad, relatively. I exaggerate. In the end, it is that I am unwilling (sick of living) to live in mediocrity. And this is what I have chosen to do about it. The saddest part is the inevitable guilt and sorrow I will force on my family and friends. But there is not much I can say. I am sorry. Try to understand that this is about me and my ‘fuked up ideas.’ It is not because I was raised poorly or not cared for enough. It just is. Please give my $ to my family and my gizmos to people who will use them. — and no fuking suing! I am scared of the fall. I am scared of the impact. But when it is through, it will be through. take care world, Philip. And stay happy!
Liz remembers her mother flying to Boston right away, and then she came later to attend the funeral. But it was years before she could bring herself to read the note her brother had left behind.
“I shut myself off a lot. And it was weird. I didn’t read much of what was going on, but I knew my mom was being attacked. It was horrible.”
At the time, Marie Gale had become a national spokeswoman for CCHR, the Scientology front that attacks psychiatry.
“Mom said Scientology was great. And she believed it.” But now, Marie was suddenly a liability, with her son committing suicide by throwing himself out a window at MIT on March 13 — L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday.
“She was erased from CCHR’s websites by April,” Liz says.
Online speculation about the role Scientology had played in Philip’s death was rampant, Ebner writes. It turned out that just a week before Philip killed himself, the Boston Herald published a series of critical articles about the church, and Philip had spoken to the author for it. He wasn’t named, but a reference to Philip is made in one of the pieces.
Marie Gale herself suggested, in an online posting, that Philip’s involvement in the article may have contributed to his state of mind. “I can only assume that there was some connection between this newsgroup (or the individuals on it) and that reporter contacting him,” she wrote on a Usenet group that was critical of Scientology. “The interview was upsetting to him. That was the last time I talked to my son.”
But critics were quick to point out that Philip’s upbringing in Scientology might have prevented him from getting help when he needed it — Scientology demonizes psychiatry, particularly through CCHR, the front group his mother had worked for.
Her father and brother dead, her mother still dedicated to Scientology and its front groups despite being erased from its websites, Liz had to figure out things on her own.
But gradually, she got her life in order. She began to take classes at a community college in Eugene, and then got a bachelors degree at Portland State University. In the meantime, at 19 she joined staff at the Scientology org in Portland. “I made it six months. I lived with a Scientology family, and mom gave me money. I was a PES, a public executive secretary. I wasn’t very good at it. My main job was going over the results of personality tests with people. It sucked because you were always telling people they were fucked up.”
She also received auditing during this time, but it always ended up turning into an interrogation.
“I would confess to everything. It took hours and hours, and it’s not cheap,” she says.
Even after routing off of staff, she continued to go back to the org from time to time. But gradually, she moved away from Scientology.
In 2004, Liz met a neighbor named Justin, and they began dating. Twelve years later, they’re still together and they have two young sons. She says Justin tried to understand what her family had been through with Scientology. But some of it was difficult to assimilate, like when Marie shushed him when he said something to Liz as their first child was being born. He didn’t understand why everyone had to keep quiet during a Scientology “silent birth.” He also didn’t appreciate it when Marie announced that their newborn would be a fourth-generation Scientologist, and had to be raised in the church. (Liz and Justin have not subjected their two sons to Scientology.)
Over time, the strain between Liz and her mother over Scientology began to push them farther apart.
After a 2005 South Park episode revealed the confidential teachings from Scientology’s upper levels, Liz asked her mother about it. “Is this what’s on OT 3, mom? I asked her. ‘I can neither confirm nor deny it,’ she said, just like that. I think that was one of the times when I started to wonder what was going on,” she says. And she remembered thinking that it was ridiculous for her mother not to own up to what was in OT 3. “You know I can Google it, right?” she thought.
Five years ago, Liz and Justin left Portland and moved to the family timber farm. They moved into one of the houses, and became neighbors to Marie and her husband, Jere Matlock, who is also a longtime Scientologist — he had been on the yacht Apollo with L. Ron Hubbard and was involved in Scientology’s controversial Guardian’s Office.
“He was a webmaster, and he ran Narconon sites,” Liz says, referring to the websites that refer potential customers to Scientology’s drug rehab network, Narconon.
Taking advantage of the changing laws in Oregon, Liz and Justin began farming marijuana at the family parcel. And that didn’t go over well with Marie and her husband, Liz says.
Liz adds that she was also reading the Underground Bunker, and at one point she brought up with her mother and stepfather the numerous lawsuits that had been filed against Narconon that we’ve reported on here.
“They weren’t thrilled. I tried to talk to my mom about a lot of stuff. And she was pretty receptive at first, but at some point she said she thought Scientology did more good than bad.”
Liz learned that after she’d walked away from the church, one of her former Scientology friends wrote her up in what’s known as a “Knowledge Report.” Scientology is a snitching culture, and one of her friends dropped a dime on her. She found out that the church declared her “PTS Types B, H, and J.” That meant the church considered her a “potential trouble source,” one step below outright excommunication and being declared a “suppressive person.”
According to the church’s own literature, PTS Type B indicates that Scientology considers Liz a “criminal” and “therefore should not be accepted for processing.”
Type H indicated that she had an open mind, and therefore “a lack of ability to decide about things and…seldom found to be very responsible.” And Type J said about her that she was a person “attempting to sit in judgment on Scientology.”
As tensions rose with her mother about their differences over Scientology, the farm was also an issue. Liz says raising marijuana became a major issue for her stepfather because of his work for Narconon. “My mom and stepdad were upset that we were doing medical marijuana and that the others in family were allowing it. So one day they got in an RV and left. And they’ve been traveling all over since then.”
On August 11, 2015, Marie and Jere drove away in a 36-foot 1987 Beaver Marquis, and Marie has kept a blog about their travels, which took them from Oregon to Florida, up to Maine, and then back south, to Georgia.
Marie also maintains her own website, which contains this statement: “I’m always willing to talk to someone about Scientology, so please feel free to contact me if you have questions about Scientology.” We emailed her at the address given, but we have received no response.
Liz says her mother promised to send a letter, explaining how she felt about things and why she had left. But months went by and she heard nothing.
“I feel for her, but I also don’t want to be wrapped up in it. There she is, traveling around with her hardcore Scientology husband, and they think my husband is a suppressive,” Liz says. Because of Liz’s association with her husband and his marijuana farm, her mother and stepfather can’t get additional processing at Scientology’s Flag Land Base. And that’s part of what has poisoned their relationship, Liz says. It has eaten away at her, that her mother blames her daughter for her Scientology career being held down.
One of the last things her mother said to her, Liz says, was “You are picking your guy and I’m picking mine,” referring to their husbands. Liz took offense, feeling that her mother had not tried to understand Justin. But over time, she began to think maybe her mother was right. Marie had chosen Jere and Scientology. Liz had chosen Justin and their two sons.
In June, tired of waiting for the letter her mother promised, Liz sent one herself.
She told her mother that their relationship was over. She was, in Scientology parlance, disconnecting.
Last month, Liz made her decision public in the essay at Mike Rinder’s website.
It has taken me almost ten years to get financially stable, emotionally ready and spiritually strong enough to come out from “under the radar.” I have come to the conclusion that the practices of the Church of Scientology, and its fundamental belief system, are corrupt in their very core. L Ron Hubbard did not have the answer to personal relationships, how to solve drugs, crime or war. He did learn a lot of about hypnotism and mind control, which I believe he used to make money from unsuspecting followers…
So today I say goodbye to the spiritual extortion. I say goodbye to threats, to silencing, to censoring and to ruling with fear. I don’t blame my mother for these things, but she is still playing the Scientology game and I want out.
We told Liz that the Church of Scientology claims that it does not force disconnection to separate families, even though there’s plenty of evidence that it does. But we told her it wouldn’t surprise us if Scientology referred to Liz’s situation to say that it was ex-Scientologists who did the disconnecting.
But she was undaunted. “I believe my mother is better off now. She can do her precious Scientology, and I know I am better off, at least for the time being. I don’t have to deal with the constant disappointment, the talking behind my back with other parts of the family,” she says. “I am done pretending Scientology is OK.”
Leah Remini on the Today show this morning
Her new series premieres tomorrow night at 10 pm Eastern on the A&E network.
Go here to start making your plans.
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. 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
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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