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ABC’s ’20/20′ let Scientology trash Ron Miscavige — but here’s what you didn’t get to hear


[Getting down at Saint Hill Manor, 1973]

Mike Rinder predicted that this was going to happen. On March 20, he said that Scientology’s response to Ron Miscavige writing a book about his son, church leader David Miscavige, would follow a familiar pattern.

Rinder predicted that Scientology would fight Ron’s book by attacking Ron himself, “dead agenting” him, in Scientology jargon. As Rinder put it, the church would find a way to put out the message that “Ron is a failure at everything in life.”

And that’s what we saw Friday night during ABC 20/20 ‘s special episode about Ron and Scientology. ABC’s Dan Harris said that the church had sent him more than 120 videos of Scientologists praising David Miscavige and trashing his father.

The program showed a few moments from one of those videos. It featured an older man sitting at a piano.

“My name is Peter Schless, I’m a songwriter,” the man said. ABC skipped ahead, and then we heard him saying, “Ron was an embarrassment to me, personally.” And Dan Harris indicated that the network had heard from other Scientology musicians who trashed Ron, with one of them even calling him a “disgusting pig.”


Harris pointed out, however, that Ron had not only been a member of Scientology for forty years, a member of the Sea Org for 27 years, and its musical director for some of that time, but he had been trusted to play trumpet with the band that performed at the 2004 birthday party for Tom Cruise aboard the church’s private cruise ship, the Freewinds.

Why would Scientology put Ron in charge of its musical direction at its top international management compound, and trust him with the musical entertainment at a Tom Cruise birthday party, if he were really such a failure?

It’s hard to take seriously any official information put out by the Church of Scientology, especially videos of its members that have about as much credibility as the statements made by prisoners of war when they declare that their captors are really the good guys.

But we still wondered about Ron Miscavige and his history as a musician for Scientology, and we decided we’d try to find out a little more about Peter Schless and why he said that about Ron.


[Peter Schless, disappointed by Ron]

So we called up Karen Pressley, a well known former Scientologist who just happened to have been married to Schless for 20 years, from 1978 to 1998. She spent some of those years at Int Base, or “Gold,” the base where Ron Miscavige lived and worked before his escape in 2012.

We asked Karen how well she had known Ron and his wife Becky.

“We shared an apartment with them for two years,” she said.

So, pretty well then.

“Ron helped to get Peter up to Gold. They got to be really good friends,” she says. Karen had been working at the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, and she was there when Tom Cruise first started taking courses there. (For more about Tom’s early years in the church, see our full story about Tom and his first wife, Mimi Rogers.)

“When I got moved from CCInt [the Hollywood Celebrity Centre] to Int Base, Ron was trying to work it out for me to have a job over the Gold musicians. I got a different post,” she says, but she doesn’t blame Ron for the disappointment over her posting. “Ron and Peter were really good friends. I blew the base in 1990, but Peter didn’t want to leave, so I came back.”

Because Karen had left without permission (“blown” in Scientology lingo), she was assigned to the Sea Org’s prison program, the Rehabilitation Project Force or RPF. When she’d finished that, she and Peter then moved into an apartment with Ron and his wife Becky Bigelow, who had been married in 1990.

“We got to be really close, being apartment roommates,” she says. And she remembers how, when she got home from a long day in the Sea Org, at about midnight, she’d find Ron pacing. “He was so tensed up and upset. What’s up, man? we’d ask. He would go on and on about his son Dave.

“This was in about 1991. Ron was talking about how he couldn’t believe the way Dave was treating people, and how abusive he was. He would yell at Ron in front of other people,” she says. “Ron looked at me and said, ‘Karen, I’ve created a monster.’ He felt responsible for what Dave had become. He told me the whole story about getting Dave into Scientology, and going to Saint Hill.”

When David Miscavige was only about 11 years old, Ron had taken him to Scientology’s UK headquarters, the Saint Hill Manor estate in East Grinstead, England, to get auditor training. Years later, after the death of L. Ron Hubbard in 1986, David was now running Scientology, but his father Ron lived pretty much like all of the other Sea Org employees at Gold Base, in meager conditions and with around-the-clock work.

We asked Karen, did her then-husband privately complain about Ron and his work as musical director?

“No way. They were good friends,” she says. She explains that as musicians, Peter and Ron were submitting compositions to be played at Scientology events or for albums, and every composition would need to be signed off by David Miscavige, who was known as “C.O.B.” to his subjects, for “Chairman of the Board.”

“Peter would get in so much trouble if C.O.B. didn’t like a composition. But Ron was a buffer. Ron saved Peter so much grief over the years. They were such close friends,” she says. “They worked together for so many years. They did so many events. At Saint Hill, Celebrity Centre, on the Freewinds. You couldn’t get any closer.”

She says that when she saw her ex-husband say what he did in the video showed during the 20/20 program Friday night, she was stunned. “All I could think of was, how Peter had sold out. What did he earn by making that statement? What kind of favor did he win with Dave for making such a statement?”

Karen pointed out that Schless might have been doing a kind of “amends” project to redeem himself after being put in what’s called “lower conditions.”

“He was in The Hole for many years,” she points out.

“He was wearing a blue Sea Org uniform shirt, but with no stripes on the shoulder. He used to be a Lieutenant JG. Maybe he lost his stripes when he went in The Hole,” she says. “Or maybe they removed officer ranks for the video, who knows.”

The effect, for someone who knew both Peter and Ron, she says, was tough to absorb. “It made me so excruciatingly sad for what Peter had become. It’s beyond sad. To make a statement like that about Ron is so bad. It’s so heartless,” she says.

After Friday’s program, we heard from another former Ron Miscavige bandmate, who sent us a really remarkable photograph.

“Thought you might like a picture of Ron Miscavige playing trumpet at Saint Hill in 1973,” his message read. “I am the bloke on the drums and Ron Moss (father of Elisabeth Moss) is playing trombone.”


David Haskins sent us the names of the rest of the band — Tom Armistead on keys, and David Dunlop on bass — and then we arranged to talk to him in England via Skype.

We asked him about how he managed to end up in a Scientology band featuring Ron Miscavige.

“I took too much LSD and I was really out of my head,” he said. “I had gone to Afghanistan, then I came back to Brighton and saw the Incredible String Band.” The well known psychedelic band’s members were into Scientology, and David decided to try it out himself. Before long, he was working at Saint Hill Manor and then had joined the Sea Org and met a girl from Holland named Marion Pouw.

“Her family had moved to Melbourne and she grew up in Australia. Then the whole family moved to Saint Hill,” he says. He and Marion were married from 1972 to 1975. Marion today is a key executive whose job it is to hunt down Scientologists who blow from Int Base, including Ron Miscavige when he escaped in 2012. Her sister-in-law is Karin Pouw, Scientology’s international spokeswoman.

In the 1970s, Ron Miscavige made multiple trips to Saint Hill, and during one of his stays, he and David and the others formed a band in 1973: Ron Savage and the Jazz Influence.

“That was a really good band,” David says. “It was the first thing at Saint Hill that was actually good for PR.”

During the late 1960s, the large number of foreigners coming to East Grinstead for training at Saint Hill had produced a major backlash in the country against Scientology. But now, here was a small way to improve relations, David says.

“We played at local pubs. It was the time of the three-day week protests in England. The miners were on strike. They decided to send the band to play all around the country,” he adds. “We started playing at a pub on Saturday nights and packed it up. Scientologists and people from the town. Karen Black sat in one night. She sang ‘Summertime.’ You’d have film stars sitting in, and it was really good PR for the church,” he says.

“Did you know, we won a battle of bands contest in East Grinstead? Won a trip to France with a cycling team. The only one not completely drunk was Ron, who drove the bus back to Calais,” he says.

David said that Ron was the responsible one, the bandleader who was garnering Saint Hill Manor and Scientology its first positive press in years. And when they weren’t touring, David got a chance to know the Miscavige family.

“I stayed with Ron and his family in East Grinstead. David and Denise were 14. He was a funny little lad. Really quiet, and very serious. His sister Denise was a bit wilder,” David says.

In 1974, Ron landed a contract at Polydor Records, and the group recorded an album, titled “Freewheelin’.”

During Friday night’s 20/20 you might have managed to catch a glimpse of Ron pulling the album down from his shelf…


After the album came out, David says, things got more complicated. Scientologist and jazz pianist Mike Garson — who had worked with David Bowie on his early albums — got involved, and David didn’t like what was happening to the band. So he left it, and he left Scientology as well.

We asked David what he thought about the church saying today that Ron was such a poor musician and a “disgusting pig.”

“I thought it was crazy. He was a lovely player and fantastic to be in a band with,” David said. “He was a fantastic leader. He got us jobs everywhere. We were working six nights a week. And he made sure we were all well paid. He was a tough bloke. He’d been in the Marines, you wouldn’t mess with him. And Saint Hill loved him. They loved his playing, and they used him as a big PR thing. They can’t say now that he was rubbish. That’s bullshit.”

We asked David if any of the album’s songs were online. He didn’t think so, but he sent us a sound file for his favorite song on the record, “Space Love.”

“It’s my favorite song from the album. I still find myself humming it, even today,” he said.

With his permission, we have posted it to YouTube so you can dig Ron “Savage” Miscavige on the horn.


After his experience in Scientology, David Haskins became a computer engineer, and eventually taught computer science at university. He’s retired now, but he still plays the drums.

“I’d love to meet Ron again. Give him my love if you see him,” David told us.

We sure will.

BUNKER PROGRAMMING NOTE: Readers are advised to look for a new post that will be going up at midnight Eastern.




3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on May 2, 2016 at 07:00

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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 and Kindle editions. 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


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