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Is the Enquirer’s ‘exclusive’ on Scientology’s ‘hooker orgy’ a David Miscavige backfire?

EnquirerDM

 
The National Enquirer announced this week that it had a “blockbuster world exclusive” involving some FBI documents that describe, in the Enquirer’s words, “Scientology Leaders’ HOOKER ORGY!”

Actually, the documents detail an investigation of Ronnie Miscavige Jr, older brother to Scientology leader David Miscavige, that took place long after Ronnie had left Scientology. And what the Enquirer didn’t say about its “exclusive” is that these documents have been available for months at a website set up by the Church of Scientology itself to smear Ronnie and his father, Ron Miscavige Sr., in order to hit back at Ron’s book, Ruthless, that came out in May.

Ron Miscavige Sr. introduced his son David to Scientology in 1969 as they looked for a solution to the 9-year-old’s asthma. The entire family eventually got into Scientology and moved to England to pursue higher courses and so David could become an auditor. After returning to the US, David got close to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and eventually, after Hubbard’s death in 1986, took over the organization. In 1985, Ron, a musician, joined the “Sea Org” and played trumpet and led Scientology’s orchestra, which played frequently at church events around the world. But eventually, as Ron describes in his book, he became disaffected with Scientology under the dictatorial rule of his son, and in March 2012 he and his wife Becky Bigelow escaped from a compound near Hemet, California.

After that escape, Ron learned that his son had assigned private investigators to follow him, and David also instructed his sisters, Denise and Lori, to cut off ties with their father. That’s what motivated him, Ron says, to write his book and reveal what a totalitarian ruler his son had become. His book was a bestseller, and it was featured on a highly watched episode of ABC’s 20/20 program.

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And then, right around the time the book was coming out, we started getting emails from addresses we didn’t recognize, urging us to look at a website that contained a lot of negative information about Ron Miscavige. Many of our readers and other people who watch Scientology also got the emails. It was pretty obvious that the church was behind the advertising campaign and the smear website, which contained slick videos of Ron’s former colleagues in the Sea Org, now trashing him as someone who was unreliable.

It was brazen, even by Scientology’s decades-old style of smearing people it considers enemies. Previously, the church had posted online campaigns about Lawrence Wright’s book Going Clear and Alex Gibney’s documentary that was based on it, but those were quite mild by comparison. The material about Ron was vicious, and spun in ludicrous ways to make it sound even worse than it was.

We wrote about one aspect of the online attack against Ron, debunking the notion that the musicians he played with at Gold Base were now “revealing” that Ron had been an incompetent musician and manager all along. But most of the material that Scientology has been posting about Ron was not worth addressing, it was so obviously a smear of the lowest sort, and based mostly on material that was irrelevant or exaggerated.

And some of it was an attack on his son, Ronnie Jr., including documents detailing a 2012 criminal investigation of Ronnie Jr. hiring prostitutes. The National Enquirer has now picked up those documents, playing them up for all they are worth (“Offering a hooker a date at a shooting range — so she could practice with a pistol!”), but then had to point out that the end result was that after a six-month investigation, Ronnie pleaded guilty for solicitation of a prostitute, but later the case was dismissed.

We don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of Ronnie Jr.’s unwise adventures, but it has little to do with Scientology, and even less to do with Ron Sr. and his explosive tell-all memoir.

So why is it in the Enquirer?

It’s not hard to imagine that David Miscavige found a way to feed the story to the newspaper. But the documents have been online for so long, it’s equally possible that the Enquirer found it on its own. And if that’s the case, we can’t help wondering if Scientology’s smear website ended up backfiring, because the Enquirer plays this up as a Scientology scandal more than anything else. It’s David Miscavige’s photo at the top of the double-page spread inside, and there’s an obligatory photo of David with Tom Cruise on the cover of the newspaper.

And just take a look at the opening paragraph:

Scientology’s sordid connection to guns, prostitution and bizarre sexcapades is exposed in chilling confidential FBI files baring the sinful secrets of the powerful family controlling the controversial cult!

A casual reader of that paragraph probably isn’t going to see this as a hit on Ron Jr., Ron Sr., and Ron Sr.’s book. The casual reader will take away instead that the Church of Scientology is run by monsters.

So, is it likely that David Miscavige (or his minions in the Office of Special Affairs) fed this story to the Enquirer, and does that make it an embarrassing backfire?

“I don’t doubt that the church fed it to them. It’s the way they operate,” Ron Sr. told us yesterday by telephone from his home in Wisconsin. “I don’t put anything past Dave and these guys in OSA. They are hell-bent and determined to set up these hate websites about anyone not in their group.”

But if his son David was behind the article, wasn’t he aware that it might turn out to be a huge embarrassment for the church itself?

“Have you ever heard the expression, ‘a person would cut off their own nose to spite their face’? David would do that,” Ron said. “It’s a convoluted mind that comes up with this shit.”

We also traded messages with Ron’s co-writer, Dan Koon, a former member of the Church of Scientology who today lives in Sweden. He pointed out that the attacks on Ron Jr. are meant to be confused by the reader as revelations about Ron Sr. and by extension his book — which didn’t keep it from being a bestseller.

“Imagine living life in a rage, as Dave does most of the time, and it would be easy to confuse your big brother with your father. Dave can’t bring his father down, so the closest target is his brother. It makes no sense, like everything else in his world. I looked at some of the stuff on his smear site about Ron, and I have read other attempted take downs on Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder, Alex Gibney, Lawrence Wright, etc., and even recently myself two days after my wife won a prestigious award here in Sweden for her first novel based on the 25 years she spent in the church called The Cult on Fog Island. It then dawned on me that the anger expressed in each one is meant only for a single set of eyes: Dave’s. Every one of these attempted smears is a reflection of the inside of Dave’s forehead.”

So when the Enquirer takes the bait from David Miscavige but ends up making Dave and the church look bad?

“What you or I or the casual reader thinks is of zero consequence compared to how Dave can use these stories to soothe his bruised ego. He could care less that anyone reading the article will react precisely as you describe. To him the Enquirer article balances a scale for him and that’s all that matters. It’s insane, which makes it impossible to grasp. I knew Dave for nearly 27 years and worked with him closely for half that time. The more authority he gathered to himself the more abusive he became. Marty Rathbun observed that it was the McPherson case that finally pushed him over the edge, an edge that Dave brought on himself because he is the one who declared her Clear when she obviously wasn’t and precipitated the entire tragedy,” Koon says. “Dave doesn’t give a rat’s ass about any collateral damage to Scientology so long as his brother is squashed like a bug. Someone tipped off the Enquirer about the story and even if it wasn’t Dave himself, he no doubt will be making everyone on the base read, M9, and star-rate the article three times over to drive the point home, which point will never be made quite clear.”

 
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Mario Feninger

Mario Feninger

Allen Barton remembers Mario Feninger

In 2013, one of the stories that meant the most to us was the depressing disconnection tale of Allen Barton and Mario Feninger. Allen, who ran the Beverly Hills Playhouse, had moved away from the Church of Scientology, but he still took lessons from Feninger, an admired pianist who had been an early admirer of L. Ron Hubbard. That relationship ended when Feninger was forced by the church to give up his student, and at a time when he was finding it difficult to make ends meet. Barton ended up writing a play, “Disconnection,” about his experiences with Mario. This week, Feninger died, and we asked Barton for a remembrance.

I was saddened but not shocked to hear last night of Mario’s passing. It wasn’t just his age – at 95, anything can happen. But three months ago, I took the Gower exit off the 101 south, from where you can look directly into his apartment, as I had countless times over the last 17 years, even since his church-coerced disconnection from me in 2013. On this occasion, I could see clearly that the apartment was now empty with broken windows. My pulse surged with worry – there was nothing about the idea of his leaving that large, rambling second floor apartment that could have been good news. Honestly, since then I’ve been almost expecting this.

I’ll remember Mario best for his kind disposition and charm – for me at that moment of meeting him and beginning to work with him, it was a welcome departure from my long line of authoritarian, tough teachers. Given the progress I was to make under him, his style served as an influence for my own teaching at the Beverly Hills Playhouse: Even in the performing arts, the kinder touch is sometimes the most effective. He gave me my current technique at the piano, broke a decades-long pattern of excessive and harmful tension, but without ever imposing his own, very differently styled musicality upon me. My work with him was a matter of technical liberation begetting much greater artistic expression, another lesson that I’ve taken from Mario not only as a student, but as a teacher.

Even though we never spoke again after that last phone call, where he told me he was being “asked” to disconnect from me by higher ups at the Church, I feel connected to him every time I play the piano. In this way, one can see that disconnection policy, while hurtful and absurd and damaging, is ultimately completely ineffective. RIP, Mario.

 
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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on August 26, 2016 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

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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