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Scenes from Scientology’s Armageddon

SPPorVidaWe’re certain that Scientology will soldier on for years to come. But for now, we can’t help feeling that the End Days are upon us.

Last night, while we were still trying to absorb the news that Scientology leader David Miscavige had indefinitely postponed the grand opening of the Super Power Building, we were sent this wicked tattoo design which was created for former church member (and former John Travolta handler) Spanky Taylor.

Spanky’s daughter Vanessa Piñón asked artist Anthony Suorez to come up with a design to go with the words “SP Por Vida” — Suppressive Person For Life — and Suorez created this mind-bending Day of the Dead treatment of L. Ron Hubbard.

We find it mesmerizing. And this week, of all weeks, particularly appropriate.

We can hardly believe what we’ve seen over the last seven days. Last Thursday, we were stunned to see that the Church of Scientology had sent more than a dozen high-priced attorneys to a small county courthouse in the Texas hill country to try and strangle a harassment lawsuit in its crib. And we blogged, live (part one, two, three, four), as one church strategy after another was rebuffed by some smart local attorneys and a likeable judge. (It’s early, though, and Scientology wouldn’t attempt its delaying tactics if they didn’t often work.)

Over the course of that two-day hearing, it seemed like our commenting community ballooned by an order of magnitude. We’re still several days behind, trying to get through all of the comments you’ve left.


And after a Tom Cruise sighting and a great interview with Jenna Miscavige Hill, we finally went Clear in our weekly series on Scientology tech with Claire Headley.

And here we thought that might be the highlight of the week.

But no, yesterday afternoon, Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, who has kept an eagle-eyed watch on the church and Clearwater city officials, wanted to know what Scientology was going to do with a 5 pm deadline rapidly approaching. The church was supposed to turn over more information about the big grand opening for its long-delayed Super Power Building on October 6, at which it said it was expecting 10,000 Scientologists to attend. But an event that big needs plenty of logistical planning, and the city was still waiting for the church to turn over more details.

Instead, Frago found out that a church representative had called the city and said the grand opening was off. Within minutes of Frago’s story appearing at 2 pm, we were getting e-mails and PMs and texts like a hailstorm had suddenly hit us. Well, we scrambled and did our best to get our own story up as quickly as we could. And then we watched as the comments poured in faster than ever.

What a day. What a week.

But what does it mean? We’ve been writing about Scientology since 1995, and we don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this. Mike Rinder, the former Scientology spokesman, has been keeping a close watch on the church’s internal communications over at his blog. And over the last few weeks, through the internal documents that Rinder has posted, it’s been stunning to watch this organization, which usually runs with ruthless precision, go off the rails.

The Scientology Armageddon, which we’ve been predicting for a couple of years now, really seems to be accelerating.

If so, several different crises have contributed to Scientology’s woes. But we think it’s pretty obvious that church leader David Miscavige primarily has himself to blame for the mess he finds himself in.

For several years, his problems were clearly manifest: a solid contingent of high-ranking officials defected after enduring brutal treatment and then spoke publicly about Miscavige’s shortcomings. But even more alarming, many other Scientologists who perhaps weren’t so high on the command structure but who had spent decades in the organization, as well as huge sums of money, were walking away, disillusioned not with the ideas of Scientology, but with its leader.

The reasons for these defections were pretty plain. Capricious changes to longtime practices in church counseling; make-money schemes that were incredibly burdensome and treated members like compliant sheep; sadistic “disconnection” enforcement that split apart families and drove away people who for years had been reliable members and donors.

But rather than ameliorate any of these practices when it was becoming obvious that they were driving people away, Miscavige instead doubled-down on them. Policies became even more draconian. Calls for donations even more incessant. An emphasis on the funding of new buildings so the church could claim that it was expanding (when it really wasn’t) created a thirst for funds that even deeply-conditioned Scientologists could no longer satisfy.

It was bound to come to a breaking point. So why, assuming that Miscavige himself knew the real situation, would he set the church up for such a spectacular failure by setting a hard date for the Super Power opening?

For fifteen years, the Super Power project had been a fundraising dream — the church has raised about $145 million for a building that may have cost half of that to complete. But the facility itself is so huge, if Miscavige didn’t have hundreds of staff members and customers using it, it would seem empty and a failure. Miscavige was well aware of that, which is why for months he’s been flogging his troops to make the trip to Clearwater for training. As reports leaked that staffers were arriving and training in huge numbers, Mike Rinder, who was publishing those reports, kept saying that they were pure fantasy.

Apparently, he was right. Miscavige didn’t have the numbers. He couldn’t keep up the illusion. And with the city of Clearwater staring him down (even with its history of weak enforcement), it was enough to call Miscavige’s bluff.

We’re struggling to think of anything quite like it in the 60-year history of the church. If you can think of any, please tell us in the comments. We’d love to hear it.

And of course, this is only one crisis among many. We have so many other stories working about the Narconon network consuming itself in lawsuits, more examples of disconnection, and numerous government investigations and lawsuits around the world we’re keeping an eye on, we can hardly pause long enough to note this singular moment.

It has never been a more fascinating time to be a Scientology watcher. Let’s not stop now.

PS: Spanky tells us she loves the design, but she’s not actually getting the tattoo. Pity.


Posted by Tony Ortega on September 19, 2013 at 07:00

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