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Jenna Miscavige Hill on her Uncle, Scientology’s Leader: A Bully Too Afraid to Show His Face

BeyondBeliefWe’ve just finished Jenna Miscavige Hill’s memoir, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, and we can say that it packs a powerful punch in its final pages as the niece of Scientology’s leader considers his behavior and its effect on her life, both in and out of the church.

Along the way, we get one of the most complete and compelling narratives of how someone grows up in, and falls under the spell of, this organization which wields so much power over its members through interrogation, intimidation, and control.

And behind it all is one rather diminutive man, David Miscavige, who comes off as a meddling, tyrannical, but ultimately cowardly man who Jenna and other ex-Scientologists are determined to expose.

“To me, the Church is a dangerous organization whose beliefs allow it to commit crimes against humanity and violate basic human rights. It remains a mystery to me how, in our current society, this can go on unchecked. It is particularly insidious because of its celebrity advocates and affiliated groups, such as Narconon, Applied Scholastics, and the Citizens Commission on Human Rights,” she writes.

“The problem is that Scientology is a system that makes it nearly impossible for you to think for yourself. People like my uncle are enablers who create an environment of fear that discourages independent thought. Get rid of them and you would continue to have a system that, almost by definition, restricts individual freedoms.”

When Lawrence Wright’s lengthy history of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, Going Clear, came out less than three weeks ago, some reviewers complained that he hadn’t quite succeeded in one of his stated goals — to explain why some people are drawn to this group, which seems to have such outlandish beliefs.

Jenna Miscavige Hill’s book answers that questions in more detail than any critic could ask for. Because, while Beyond Belief is ultimately one of the most devastating takedowns of Scientology ever published, Jenna isn’t afraid to talk about the parts of her experience that she enjoyed, the things in the church that inspired her, and ultimately the things that made it hard to reconcile with so much abuse she witnessed.

In fact, it’s that terrible contradiction — how something that had meant so much to her growing up could turn into such a malevolent organization in the end — which gives her story its power.

Jenna Miscavige was a third generation Scientologist. Her grandfather, Ron Miscavige Sr., joined Scientology in the late 1960s and got his entire family in, including his two sons, Ron Jr. and David, who by 1975 were committed Sea Org members. Ronnie dropped out of the SO for a while, but then rejoined after he’d married Elizabeth Blythe — known as “Bitty” — who in 1984 had given birth to Jenna.

Very early on, then, Jenna became accustomed to rarely seeing her parents, who were both working ungodly hours for the Sea Org. In January 1986, L. Ron Hubbard died, and Jenna’s uncle David Miscavige — then only 25 years old — started pushing out a rival for control of the church.

“From this point forward, everyone in the Church referred to him as COB [Chairman of the Board], but to me, he was just Uncle Dave,” Jenna writes.

In an example of what it was like to grow up with parents who were completely dedicated to their work, which paid pennies an hour, Jenna describes catching her leg in a parking gate, which left her with a broken knee. But her parents were expected to report for work, so they left her with only an ACE bandage. She was four.

At five years old, she was moved to a ranch in the California desert where a workforce of other children were set to improving the place. Not everything on the ranch was unpleasant, but Jenna still seems astonished, all these years later, that between hard labor to renovate the facility, school studies, and Scientology coursework, small kids were going to bed after 14-hour days. By seven years old, she was the ranch’s medical liaison, in charge of making sure other kids weren’t ill. Generally, the only thing she could do when they were sick was give them vitamins. During these years, she saw her father only for a few hours a week, and her mother even less.

The Scientology coursework, she realizes now, was all about indoctrination and control.

“In reality, the TRs made me feel like it as wrong to react or express my emotions. In our everyday life, if we started to get upset by something someone said or did, we were told ‘Get your TRs in.’ I was supposed to be in control of my emotions at all times, and the courses helped me to do that, even if that meant burying those emotions inside me,” she writes. “The list of duties and procedures went on endlessly, and the result of all this process, paperwork, and regulation was that there were no children at the Ranch — only little adults. At special events, we were dressed up in cute outfits and paraded in front of our parents and Int crew to make it seem as though Scientology was creating a normal and joyful childhood, when in fact we were all being robbed of it.”

At some point, as she got a little older, it dawned on her that she was being treated differently because she was the niece of the most powerful man in the organization. At holidays, when she spent time with her uncle, she’d notice the adults treading lightly around him.

One result of her family connection, however, was that she was recruited especially young for the Sea Org. She signed its billion-year contract at only seven years old, and was sent to Clearwater to become a member of the Commodore’s Messenger Organization at only 10. It’s there that she begins Scientology in earnest, and nervously anticipated learning about L. Ron Hubbard’s great discoveries. In particular, she was excited to learn something called the Factors.

“People talked about this next step as though it imparted some amazing information on how we had all come to this planet. I was curious, because I had been hearing about it for a while now. When we opened The Factors, we found pretty pictures of clouds and sunrises, leaves and mountains, lightning, and other natural phenomena. On the last page, there was a quote that read, ‘Humbly tendered as a gift to man from L. Ron Hubbard.’ As cryptic and mysterious as the book was, it felt anticlimactic.”

Despite the disappointment of the “tech,” including Jenna’s discovery that Scientology’s vaunted exploration of past lives was pretty much a lot of nonsense, she still found life in the Sea Org challenging and inspiring. Until, that is, she continued to find herself in “ethics trouble.”

Scientology’s oppressive system of ethics — a labyrinth of interrogation and control — was a minefield for Jenna, who was by nature rebellious. As many other ex-Scientologists have described it, Jenna found that once you had found yourself in some kind of trouble with the Sea Org’s interrogators, what you said under their questioning had a way of digging you in even deeper.

Fortunately, for much of the time she stumbled through this period, Jenna could rely on her friendship with her aunt, David Miscavige’s wife Shelly. It’s clear from the book that Shelly was often kind to Jenna, and Jenna knew she could count on her aunt to help out when things got difficult.

Unfortunately, Jenna’s book casts no new light on Shelly Miscavige’s whereabouts or why she hasn’t been seen by other church members since 2007.

After she turned 15, Jenna seemed to be constantly in some kind of trouble, but later she realized that part of the reason for that may have been that her parents had decided to leave the church — and that was a huge deal.

Ronnie and Bitty wanted out, and what did it say that David Miscavige couldn’t keep a member of his own family in the fold? Church officials knew the defection of Miscavige’s brother was a potential PR disaster.

In one of the revelations of the book, Jenna reports that her father told her that David Miscavige had offered his brother $100,000 to stay in the Sea Org and let his wife leave. Ronnie refused.

Meanwhile, Jenna found herself constantly being subjected to humiliating interrogation sessions — called “security checks” — which she realized later was in part a way to try to get information about what her parents might be telling her.

“Between the ages of twelve and fifteen, I had at least eight eighty security checks,” she says.

If Miscavige was unable to get his brother to dump his wife, Ronnie and Bitty were persuaded to move to Cabo San Lucas, making it less likely that they would get subpoenaed for the litigation going on in Florida over the death of church member Lisa McPherson. Also, there was a church spy in Cabo to keep an eye on them.

But Jenna herself chose the church over her parents, deciding not to join them in Mexico. She was told by top church officials that she would go far.

In 2001, Jenna met Dallas Hill, an aspiring actor who had worked at the Hollywood Celebrity Centre. (There’s a brief, perhaps mandatory, interlude about Scientology’s celebrities, but it feels tacked on. This is not a book about Tom Cruise or John Travolta.)

She fell in love with Hill, and they decide to marry, but their plans were constantly caught up in more Sea Org manipulation. Tired of waiting to get married, and already committed to each other, they slept together, and that caused new, untold levels of Scientology freakout. Pre-marital sex in the Sea Org is “out 2D” — unethical behavior in the second dynamic. She found herself being confronted by the second-highest ranking official in the church, Marty Rathbun, who was the Inspector General of Ethics in the Religious Technology Center (RTC), the most powerful entity in Scientology.

“I was briefly ashamed that the second-most-important person in the Church had to come here to deal with me and my out 2D, but I was over trying to do right by RTC. They fucked up everything in my life. All I wanted was to be allowed to get married, and be assigned a post in the Sea Org for my value, not because of who my uncle was. I was exhausted from always having to be sec-checked because of my family name and the Church’s paranoia-driven PR. Other people in my situation would have either been in or out, cut off from their family or not. I was in a constant in-between, which was a complete mind-fuck,” she writes.

The couple was separated, and Jenna got violent while trying to find where Dallas had been hidden. We figure these are going to be some of the best scenes in a movie, if, hopefully, one is made.

The couple was put through even more isolation and interrogation, and you find yourself wanting to grab them and say, “why don’t you just run for it!”

But Jenna does an excellent job explaining the mindset of a desperate Scientologist — Jenna’s family may have been out (her brothers had also left), but Dallas was in a family that are all in the church, a family he is very close to. If they ran, they would be declared “suppressive persons,” and all church members in good standing — including Dallas’s own parents — would have to disown them completely.

So there’s more interrogation, more mind-fuck, until, gradually, Jenna and Dallas began to see things on the Internet that opened their eyes. A stint in Australia put them under less supervision, and they stumbled upon the website Operation Clambake and they watched the infamous South Park episode that satirizes Scientology’s beliefs.

And after they got back to the U.S., things only seemed to be getting worse, with the constant pressure to get donations from members ramped up to unprecedented levels. Jenna describes a March 13 birthday celebration for Hubbard, when a few thousand Scientologists were lured into an event and then were kept inside until they forked over cash.

“Security guarded the door, making sure we didn’t leave until seven-thirty in the morning. Some people did manage to leave early, like a seventy-year-old woman with emphysema, who left at three in the morning,” she writes.

Finally, in 2005, Jenna decided to leave the Sea Org, but Dallas, who had wanted to go, suddenly had doubts. She eventually found out that Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder had been secretly pulling Dallas aside, trying to poison him against Jenna and her family.

(We messaged Rinder today, who acknowledges that he was tasked by Miscavige to do such a thing, and it was one of the reasons he left Scientology himself just two years later.)

That leads to a maddening situation where Dallas and Jenna tried to route out properly, but are presented with conditions they can’t agree to. They get kicked out, but are told it is as if they had abandoned the church — exactly what they were trying to avoid.

As they left, Jenna writes that a security guard pointed to Dallas’s face and said, “I am going to do everything in my power to make sure you never talk to your family again.”

Jenna and Dallas settled into a new life, but they devoured even more of what information there is about Scientology that they weren’t allowed to know before. Jenna was disgusted by what she read.

In 2008, Andrew Morton published an unauthorized biography of Tom Cruise, which included allegations that in Scientology, families are ripped apart by disconnection. Church spokeswoman Karin Pouw fired back that the church does not engage in disconnection, and Jenna was incredulous. She decided she had to do something.

She wrote a letter to Pouw, pointing out that the family of David Miscavige, the leader of the church, had been ripped apart by the church’s policy of disconnection. And if that wasn’t true, why couldn’t she, Jenna, see her own grandfather, Ron Sr., who was still in the church? (Ron Sr. finally left in 2012, which we reported first and which Jenna confirms in her book.)

Jenna’s letter went public, and the huge response motivated her to join two other women who had grown up in the church to start the website Ex-Scientology Kids in March 1, 2008. Later in the year, she appeared on ABC’s Nightline.

The church struck back, meanwhile, with private investigators who followed Jenna and Dallas and church operatives who tried to get Dallas’s parents to disown them.

By 2008, however, Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun had left Scientology, and Jenna began to get a much different picture about her uncle and the role he had played in the years of misery she had gone through.

“It was telling,” she writes, “that Uncle Dave was always pulling the strings, but never showing his face.”

We can hardly think of a more emasculating indictment.

But Jenna cautions that it’s too easy to blame Scientology’s toxicity on her uncle. There’s more blame to go around.

“L. Ron Hubbard was the ultimate con man, and it’s hard to figure out how much of Scientology was an experiment in brainwashing and controlling people, and how much of it was truly intended to help people.”


Posted by Tony Ortega on February 5, 2013 at 16:45


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  • I have no idea where this is going to show up in this incredibly tangled commenting system, but I just thought I’d check in and see how all y’all are enjoying Stephen Colbert’s takedown of Miscavige happening RIGHT NOW, prior to his interview of Lawrence Wright!

  • Can you hear that? Listen.

    Listen really closely… tick, tick, tick…

    David Miscavige’s time is almost up. The hour grows late and the end is near at hand. What will it bring? Prison? Death à la Jonestown? Perhaps retirement in Bulgravia ensconced in walls of cash-filled sandbags?

    How do you think it will end? And what do you think the end will bring after it?

    • Still_On_Your_Side

      Oh, I hope that there’s enough life in people locked in that cult that no Jonestown could happen! It was 35 years ago, and I still have images of those poor people. I think Miscavige has never cared about anybody but himself, and he has his bags packed and an exit strategy in hand.

      • BuryTheNuts2

        I agree with you. At some point the tiny terror will flee.

        I feel so sorry for those people though. The ones that remain are so beaten down that deprogramming is going to be an arduous journey. So many years of life lost.

  • sugarplumfairy

    Omg.. Colbert is up on scientology..

    • ParticleMom

      Wow, he does, lol.

  • N. Graham

    Colbert is using Scio-speak! He’s so upstat!

  • sugarplumfairy

    Colbert is great.. And Wright kept right up with him.. Interview was waaaay too short..

    • ParticleMom

      I love him, but I was disappointed. He downplayed the abuse too much.

      • sugarplumfairy

        It’s a comedy show.. He actually did great considering the venue..

        • ParticleMom

          I thought the venue would have made it possible to be more scathing. Instead he compared it to the Catholic church abuses and the Sea Org to interns.

          • ParticleMom

            But I have walking pneumonia, my judgment could be clouded, lol.

            • sugarplumfairy

              Hope you feel better, mom..

            • badtigger

              And I had that in high school…it sucks. Feel better and rest 🙂

          • badtigger

            I think he does that because he is a very public Catholic who has expressed issues with his church. Also, Catholicism and Mormonism (which he also name checked) are pretty bad about abuse and civil rights (read: gay) issues as well.

      • I agree, but even still, Miscavige has got to be smarting over the watermelon-with-a-knife joke. Colbert doesn’t usually devote the entire segment before his interview to the subject of the interviewee’s book. So I’d characterize it as a WIN even in my own Wog way. ; – }

  • N. Graham

    Colbert Instant Review-Five Stars!! on the intro where he went where most major media fear to go-mentioning the religion while invoking the c word, having Steve challenge Miscavige to sue him…
    Lawrence Wright interview-Five Stars!! while Steve continued to treat Scientology as the joke it is. Tired of the networks giving the weak denouncements of the non-present church equal time? None here!! Go Comedy Central-the What Scientologists Really Believe Network.

    • DeElizabethan

      5 Star is was. Perfect!

      Also had the NarCoNon news vid on local CBS tonight as listed below. I’ll repeat it.
      Lovely evening…

    • PurpleToothTech

      I agree about these interview shows reading the denouncements from Scientology. The View read the most. So annoying. Anderson Cooper read a little and then told the viewer to go read the rest online at their website if they want. I think that if David M. wants to be heard then go and appear on the show. Otherwise I think the stations should tell him that they won’t read nothing from their so called church. Appear or shut up.

      • badtigger

        They are just covering their asses. Disney is almost as litigious as Scientology so I’m pretty sure their lawyers told them to err on the side of caution.

    • BuryTheNuts2

      I just watched this and it was fantastic. The watermelon with the knife in it was awesome.
      And the interview was great. I love that guy.
      Can you imagine anyone doing that five or ten years ago?

  • badtigger

    Not to be off topic, but it would be really nice if the “downstat” button and the reply button weren’t so close together. I’d like to express my thoughts without the OP thinking I disagree already (and yes I know I can undo it 🙂

  • 1subgenius

    Project Chanology is alive in Minnesota

    Dance protest a go-go

    ‘Dance protest’ of Church of Scientology in St. Paul a go. Vuvuzela playing? Limited.

    “The intent of the group is to actually harass and intimidate church members, and we’re hoping you will vote against it,” she said.

    No one representing Minnesota Anonymous spoke at the hearing.

    He he we win even without showing up.

    • BuryTheNuts2

      That is hilarious!

      Scientology’s toxicity levels at critical mass.


  • mook

    so I watched some TV last night, including Watch What Happens Live w/ Jenna Elfman. there was no CoS talk whatsoever (she was mainly there to promote 1600 Penn which is on the bubble), but she did appear to be sloshed to high heaven.

    more importantly, Larry Wright was on the Colbert Report last night to promote Going Clear. Stephen Colbert has made fun of the cult in the past and he didn’t disappoint this time around.

    • 1subgenius

      Thanks for the link. Colbert did his usual excellent job of getting to the facts and getting laughs at the same time.

  • Sherbet

    I never thought I’d say this, but Louanne raised an interesting question with one of her blog stink bombs: Do we have any proof of cos’s abuse or illegal acts, other than sworn testimony or other official documents? I’m not disparaging any of those, of course! But are there photos or smuggled videos of The Hole? Police or hospital photos and reports of bruises or other physical damage? Photos of escapees being pursued over fences? Anything visually damning? Louanne says she can’t believe anything untoward is going on, because she doesn’t see it, and it’s easy to dismiss witnesses as liars.

    • sugarplumfairy

      We have Lisa Mcpherson..

      • Sherbet

        Amen, Fairy. Compelling and horrifying proof. Take THAT, Louanne.

    • There were photos of the double-wide trailer that was the original Hole, shown when we were told that “the Hole does not exist” (probably meaning that the Hole detainees had been moved out to the desert).

      • Sherbet

        That’s right, too! I suddenly got worried that cos’s extreme secrecy had kept any evidence hidden. And with no evidence or probable cause, cases get dismissed and the Govt. takes no action. Thanks, RobE.

    • DeElizabethan

      My thought on this is that they are afraid someone does have some damning stuff and want to know who so they can hunt them down.

      • Sherbet

        Ah, they’re fishing. Got it, De.

    • N. Graham

      Yes, the COS security cameras and DM’s personal copy of the Bohemian Rhapsody episode.

  • I personally loved trenching, my grandfather was a farmer and farm produce middleman, and my grandmother, I love the manual work, shovels and a hard road that needed to be trenched, without water to moisten the soil, to me, that was a challenge I loved.

    You have to sort of get into some mental peaceful zone, and then all forms of manual labor are quite relaxing and I loved working in a factory, and compared to my 20 plus years paper pushing and librarian scribe and computer stuff, in the Sea Org, compared to my 7 years of manual labor, I liked the manual labor more.

    I was very disappointed in how top management of Scientology hasn’t evolved really sane leaders, though, and that has to be blamed on Hubbard, since of all the ex senior leaders, only a tiny handful (Lucy James, Janis Grady) in my opinion were the types of top managers who might have tempered Hubbard’s paranoid management theory.

    The whole top end of the movement is a losing proposition.

    Jenna, had no future, but as a person, she had she stayed in the Sea Org, only had there been a saner faction in the top management, would Jenna have risen up to be like Amy Scobee, or Janis or Lucy James, which are more temperate managers at the top.

    How to actually impact this Scientology mess, it will have to be done internally, but the top scene, when I saw the list of who is and was in the Hole, I realized they don’t have the types of people there, to undo what Scientology’s become.

    So, leaving, is the only sane option.

    It’ll take decades, and for David Miscavige to leave, to outwit and evolve the movement more sanely, internally, and at least, this era of good books, ex member books, and good TV and print journalism, should influence anyone who strays into Scientology, who might long range be the future top management who will reform the mess that exists at this moment.

    Debbie Cook, also, would have been in the class of Sea Org member, who I think would have huge beneficial effects on the movement, had there been a faction at the top, who was more like her.

    David Miscavige truly is number one priority to be ejected from his top role, if Scientology as a movement isn’t to continue to be rightfully hated and stigmatized.

    I wish Debbie Cook hadn’t been bought off, since I’d love to hear her story.

    • Sherbet

      “I wish Debbie Cook hadn’t been bought off, since I’d love to hear her story.”

      Many of us have been saying the same thing for a year. And I was never even in the cult. It must be worse for you exes to wonder what Debbie would have to say.

    • Peter Robinson

      Interesting to try to understand how an insane organisation set up by an insane man to make money can ever be made sane, or why indeed anyone would want it to be so? No personal offence intended, but it is rotten to the core and from the start, and the only sane hope must be for its total demise.

  • Dean Fox

    My one criticism of the book is that Jenna sticks with referring to females as “Mr”, in keeping with L Ron Hubbard’s equality ethics, it’s confusing sometimes to know whether Mr Rathbun refers to Marty or his then wife for instance; maybe the inclusion of first names in all such instances may help. Other than that a great read.