Scientology is often considered the most dangerous and controversial cult of all, based on reports from many high profile former members. It brands itself a religion to avoid paying taxes (and to get away with many other things far darker than tax avoidance). Ever since the sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard first founded the Church of Scientology in 1953, this bizarre religious practice has grown into a multi-billion dollar organization and has gained the devotion of many high profile followers along the way, famously recruiting Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
But beneath the glitz and glamour of its celebrity connections and grand outward appearance, a very dark and sinister world exists beyond the church gates. The inhumane treatment of Scientology members at the hands of their psychopathic leader is something the Church continues to deny, but defectors from the questionable organization continue to come forward after years of what they considered brainwashing and expose the "barbaric" and screwed up religion for what it really is.
Since L. Ron Hubbard’s death in 1986, the Church was taken over by “Pope” David Miscavige, the psychopathic and aggressive new leader behind Scientology who has been repeatedly accused of physical and psychological abuse towards church members as well as blackmailing and harassing the lives of those who dare to leave. Those brave enough to escape the Church find themselves struggling to carve out a normal life after years, sometimes decades of brainwashing. From famous figures to those with close ties to the ring leaders, here are 15 chilling accounts of living with (and leaving) Scientology.
15 Writer/Director Paul Haggis
The writer behind the Oscar-winning films Million Dollar Baby and Crash became a member of the Church of Scientology at the age of 22 in 1975. Haggis would remain a member until as late as 2009, when he publicly announced his defection from the church. Haggis originally signed up because he was in a troubled relationship and believed Scientology to be the thing that could save it.
Throughout his time within the church, Haggis’ wife at the time was ordered to cut off all ties with family and friends (a pretty common practice within Scientology). The final straw for Haggis was when the church failed to protest against Proposition 8 (the proposal which made gay marriage illegal in the state of California). In a damning resignation letter to the church, Haggis called them out on their hypocrisy for "promoting freedom and human rights," when he says they actually promote intolerance, homophobia, and fear.
14 Thelma And Louise Actor Jason Beghe
You may recognize Jason Beghe from his acting roles in Thelma and Louise and more recently in Chicago P.D., but did you also know this guy signed up to the church of Scientology in search of a spiritual journey? Beghe became a member in the early 1990s and spent over a decade within the church until some life-altering news prompted him to leave Scientology in 2008 – Beghe learned he was to become a father, so he reassessed his priorities and left, but the church never let him forget it.
Shortly after posting a video on YouTube in which Beghe discussed the "emotional violence" used by the church and in particular, by its leader David Miscavige, church officials began harassing Jason for years after his defection, including pinning fake lawsuits on him and coming very close to almost bankrupting him. Scientology officials often have ex-members followed and even have a sub organization setup known as "Squirrel Busters" who make it their duty to stalk defectors with cameras attached to their hats.
13 David Miscavige’s Ex-Wife, Shelly Miscavige
The wife of David Miscavige made every public appearance with him since the late 1980s - she was seen by followers as the "First Lady" of Scientology - until one day in 2007 when Shelly Miscavige disappeared entirely from public view. Church officials and devotees claimed that Mrs. Miscavige was simply working away on special projects or visiting sick relatives. But knowing the volatile and almost psychopathic nature of her husband, it’s probably far more likely that Shelly long defected and paid the price for the ultimate betrayal.
The mystery of Shelly’s disappearance was raised in a very public way at Tom Cruise’s wedding in 2006 when actress Leah Remini asked Mr. Miscavige about her whereabouts and was reportedly told to shut up. Remini was insistent, however, and has pressed the issue ever since, but the church refuses to comment. Speaking to Vanity Fair, fellow defector Marc Headley says the most tragic thing about Shelly’s disappearance is that she would have the power to end the whole thing. “She could walk away from the craziness and say ‘OK, this is where the bodies are buried, this is what he did’, and it would be done.”
12 Ex-Scientology Executive Marty Rathbun
Rathbun started out as a counsellor within the church before moving up the ranks to one of the head executives in the Scientology headquarters, working directly under the current leader, David Miscavige. While working as a counsellor, Rathbun was actually one of the auditors for Tom Cruise. An auditor’s role within the church is to detect a person’s painful and negative thoughts using an E-meter and subsequently help them get rid of these emotions.
Rathbun soon joined the Sea Org - an elite organization within the church made up of the most dedicated members. He spent the next 27 years of his life climbing the ranks of Sea Org, until the abuse he witnessed and the conditions within the church became too hard to ignore. In 2004, Rathbun finally escaped from the Church, making the heartbreaking decision to leave his wife there, who was still a dedicated member. Rathbun later revealed that any member who questions their methods and doesn’t "toe the line" is labelled an SP (Suppressive Person) and from here on in, their lives are made a living hell by existing members.
11 The Current Leader’s Niece, Jenna Miscavige Hill
At the age of just 7 years old, the niece of Scientology’s beloved leader, Jenna Miscavige Hill, was made to sign a billion year service contract with the church. (Ridiculously, all new members are made to enter into a billion year contract as a symbol of their unfaltering and eternal devotion to the church in the afterlife). Jenna Miscavige Hill broke off her contract a little shorter than L. Ron Hubbard and her Uncle might have hoped - she left when she turned 21.
Opening up about her ordeal on Nightline in 2008, Hill reveals that she “didn’t have a life” and spent her entire childhood feeling controlled and intimidated by the unorthodox style of education thrust upon her and other kids by the clergy of the church. As well as being forced to work under conditions that she says “would have been tough for a grown man” to handle, Hill was made, at aged 13, to record and reveal all of her sexual experiences in a questionnaire issued by the church. Creepy AF.
10 The Eldest Son Of L. Ron Hubbard, Ronald DeWolf
It’s good to know that even L. Ron Hubbard’s own son was eventually able to escape the bullshit cult he had been born into. He may have been the eldest child of the Godfather and founder of Scientology, but it did not brainwash young Ronald too deeply to the point of no return. Ronald spent his teenage years watching Scientology come into fruition and directing the training process that would help recruit generations of followers into the religion.
Ronald left at the age of 24 in 1959, changing his name to DeWolf in the process. Ronald later revealed that his unhappy childhood and role in creating the church was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to his reason for leaving. DeWolf spoke about how his father sold the KGB access to his family’s private files and belongings for a $40,000 payout. He also recalls a traumatic childhood incident in which he walked in on his parents' bloodied room after his father had performed an abortion on his mother using a coat-hanger. Seriously messed up...
9 Ron Miscavige, David Miscavige’s Father
They say a parent’s love is unconditional, but how anyone could love what David Miscavige eventually became is a puzzle. David’s father, Ron Miscavige, has tried to make sense of his son’s destructive moral downfall since he left the church in 2012. He has also opened up about his crippling experience within the cult in his 2016 book entitled Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me.
Ron Miscavige detested the conditions within the church which consisted of long working days and little privacy, which caused him more than 30 years of misery after he (regrettably) introduced his ruthless son to the religion. In one horrific revelation as to how callous and cold his own son can be, Ron recalls one incident after defecting in which he was followed by a private investigator. The PI, who Ron believes was hired by David to stalk him, suspected Ron of having a heart attack. Ron was fine but later found out that David had instructed the PI to “let him die and not intervene” if this was ever the case.
8 Actress Leah Remini
The King of Queens actress was apparently forced to join the church by her mother in the early 1980s. Remini left more than three decades later in 2013, reportedly spending millions of dollars during this time on Scientology books and classes as well as on her auditing sessions. Even the rich and famous Scientologists have to pay for the privilege of studying Scientology and climbing the ranks of the complex auditing process. It’s not known what level Remini achieved before she left, but to put things into context, Tom Cruise is at the highest level (and this costs around $130,000 to achieve).
Despite dedicating her life and fortune to Scientology, a series of incidents eventually prompted Remini to leave the poisonous cult for good. She reportedly conflicted with Miscavige after asking questions about his wife and also for frictions caused at Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes (at which Miscavige was Best Man). The final straw for Leah was that she had also lost contact with her youngest daughter because of the "disconnecting" process forced upon troublesome members.
7 Ex-Celebrity Recruiter Amy Scobee
Amy Scobee signed up to Scientology at only 14 years old, against her own father’s wishes. She quickly rose up in the ranks and eventually began working with the elite Scientologist staff as a member of the Sea Org. Once Scobee had reached executive level, it was part of her job description to round up celebrities to the church, to no doubt help them promote a positive and polished image to the outside world. Behind the scenes, the way Scobee was treated by the church was sickening.
As a teenager, Scobee was allegedly raped by an older married member within the church and told no one out of fear (and most likely blackmail). On top of this, Amy spent many visits in the Rehabilitation Project Force, which has been referred to as "the Hole" by ex-members - a mobile room in which members are subjected to manual labour and abuse. Most tragically of all though, Scobee’s terminally ill mother refused to have contact with Amy before her death due to the disconnection policy of Scientology where members are forced to shut out ex-members.
6 Ex-Scientology Executive Tom DeVocht
Tom DeVocht joined up in the early 1970s and quickly became a valuable member of David Miscavige’s team. As he advanced to executive, DeVocht was soon managing his own Scientology center in Clearwater, but the closer he got towards the church’s inner circle, the more abuse he witnessed and became a victim of frequent physical abuse himself. DeVocht escaped the church in 2009, but he came away with a great deal of physical and psychological scars.
Again, this ongoing abuse was often at the hands of leader David Miscavige, who didn’t discriminate between young, fresh blood and high-ranking, loyal members when it came to handing out punishment. DeVocht recalls one bizarre incident in which Miscavige beat him brutally after DeVocht failed to get a permit for renovation work to be done outside Scientology HQ. Miscavige reportedly grabbed him by the neck tie until he couldn’t breathe. In another incident, DeVocht lost a game of musical chairs, so Miscavige threw him to the ground and beat him repeatedly.
5 Ex Marketing Official Jeff Hawkins
Jeff Hawkins joined as a teenager in the late 1960s and remained a member for almost 40 years. During his time, Hawkins helped to promote the bestselling book Dianetics - L. Ron Hubbard’s work that kick-started the Scientology religion. The troubles started for Hawkins (as for most defectors on this list) when David Miscavige took over from Hubbard. Hawkins recalls one marketing meeting in which Miscavige punched him hard in the gut, without warning. Psycho.
Hawkins revealed another time that he was Miscavige's punching bag in order to show the other marketing executives “who’s in charge.” Unhappy with an infomercial script Hawkins and others had been working on, Miscavige screamed insults at Hawkins, jumped onto the conference table and launched himself at Hawkins. Hawkins fell backward in his chair and landed in a work cubicle occupied by fellow executive, Amy Scobee. Miscavige would often have his assistant, Laurisse, on hand with antiseptic to erase any evidence of physical abuse.
4 Scientology Film Producer Marc Headley
The church of Scientology prides itself on the promotional material it feeds to the outside world. The church has its very own multi-million dollar movie and TV studio complex in Hollywood, and in the early 2000s, Marc Headley had the role of producer within the church’s production company. When Headley was giving the leader a tour of the facilities in 2004, he, unfortunately, spoke to Miscavige in a “smart-aleck” tone. The abuse Headley suffered afterward convinced him and his wife to make a break for it and escape just a few months later.
After Headley had answered back, Miscavige reportedly pushed him against a shelf unit and began punching him mercilessly. Headley fell and Miscavige only continued to beat him up. After a mix up with the payment of auditing equipment a while later, Headley faced the ultimate punishment for a Scientologist and was sent to "the Hole." Forced to complete long days of labour on a meager wage of $75 a week, Headley and his wife Claire eventually escaped to Kansas City, where the couple stayed with Headley’s father.
3 Former Scientology Executive Mike Rinder
For many Scientology defectors, particularly the high-ranking ones, the decision to leave is not taken lightly. This isn’t just down to the consequences of leaving the church - for people like Mike Rinder, the act of leaving Scientology behind can take so long because they still believed the religion itself had some redeeming benefits before its leader allowed it to mutate into an organization built on violence and abuse.
Mike Rinder had been introduced to Scientology by his parents and shortly after graduating from high school, Rinder joined up with the Sea Org and quickly became a key player in the church’s inner ring. Rinder spent the next 34 years of his life in the church, denying allegations that he was abused by the church leader Miscavige along the way. When he finally left in 2007, Rinder finally admitted to the abuse he suffered and lamented the fact that he tried and failed to change the church’s “culture of violence and abuse” under Miscavige’s leadership. Defecting also cost Rinder his marriage and loss of contact with two of his children.
2 Assistant To David Miscavige, Mark Fisher
As a Washington high school graduate in 1973, a young Mark Fisher swapped college for a path that promised adventure and excitement, but would only bring him misery and abuse for almost 20 years of his life. Fisher was passionate about studying Scientology and poured his heart and soul into understanding Hubbard’s work and taking training classes. A few years later, however, Fisher would be stripped of all his hard work and cruelly separated from his wife.
By the mid-1980s, Fisher was one of many assistants to the up and coming leader, David Miscavige. Fisher was also married, but in 1990, his wife was sent away as punishment for poor work performance. Fisher attempted to find his wife but was caught and life was a living hell from there on out. Fisher was ordered to dig weeds, he was also stripped of every single achievement he had worked for within the church and was beaten bloody by Miscavige, which fellow Scientologist, Marc Headley, was witness to. Fisher made his escape in late 1990.
1 Head Scientology Auditor Bruce Hines
As one of the church’s chief auditors, Bruce Hines often worked at the Celebrity Center of Scientology and helped to counsel stars such as Nicole Kidman and Kirstie Alley in his time. But despite his high ranking status within the church and rubbing shoulders with the stars, this didn’t make Hines exempt from the leader’s temper. In fact, Hines faced the brunt of Miscavige’s abusive and brutish behaviour throughout his time in the church.
Hines was repeatedly abused by Miscavige for the pettiest of reasons (including not standing when he entered the room). Hines spent six years in "the Hole" performing manual labour (in which time, he only spent 3 weeks with his wife and son) and slept in isolation on a concrete floor under constant guard. When Hines was doing roof work in New York on the morning of September 11th, he volunteered at Ground Zero and this put the ridiculous practice of Scientology into perspective. Hines officially left in 2003.
Sources: rollingstone.com, dailymail.co.uk, vanityfair.com, nydailynews.com