'Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle': Life at Scientology's Secret Headquarters
"Tom would ask me to find a place in the room that I could easily communicate to. I was supposed to look around the room, and then tell him the place I had picked out. I might say, 'the doorknob.' And he'd tell me to over there and touch it. And then he'd say, 'OK. Now do it again with another place.'"
Headley says that after a couple of weeks, he did begin to wonder about trying to make objects move by talking to them. But this was Tom Cruise, and not someone you would question.
That was part of why Headley had been chosen. He was young and green, and had few contacts outside the base.
"It couldn't be someone who might run off the next day and tell the National Enquirer that Tom Cruise was telling me to talk to a bottle for the last three weeks," he says.
As Headley points out, this kind of instruction is quite common in Scientology, and you can even find the routines spelled out in places on the Internet.
But Headley's book also provides stunning material that has rarely been collected in one place, even with the Internet's deep resources on L. Ron Hubbard's strange creation. Headley's story provides a damning account of life working for Scientology leader David Miscavige at the secretive desert base, where young people who sign billion-year contracts work 100-hour weeks for little or no pay with the ever-present threat that they may be pulled into hellish disciplinary drills, or separated permanently from friends and family members for the slightest perceived infraction.
In 2005, after 15 years working at the base, Headley found himself accused of embezzling money (he'd actually been selling old Scientology equipment on eBay in an approved scheme to raise money for a new base project), and was told he was about to be declared a "suppressive person." He knew he'd probably be sent to the dreaded "Rehabilitation Project Force" in Los Angeles, a kind of prison program that was known to physically debilitate church members through harsh labor and extreme deprivation. He knew also that he'd be separated permanently from his wife of 13 years (she was also a Scientologist at the base) as well as the rest of his family in a notorious policy Hubbard had termed "disconnection."
Before he was scheduled to be interrogated, Headley made a break for it, ditching the base in a dramatic chase with security guards that ended with Headley taking a spill on a motorcycle. An ensuing shouting match with Scientology guards drew the attention of Riverside County sheriff's deputies, who helped Headley get away.
Headley managed to get himself to Kansas City, where his father lived. But then came the real challenge: His wife, Claire, got word to him that she also wanted to defect so that they could be reunited. Would they be able to pull it off now that she was being watched day and night? Her attempt to escape provides a thrilling final chapter to the book, which has some of the rough edges of a self-published tale but is well-paced and an entertaining read.
While he was at Gold Base, as the compound is known, Headley worked many different jobs that generally had to do with manufacturing audio and video products for Scientologists. He was involved in setting up large stage productions that Miscavige used for celebrating church members but also to shake them down. ("The big events were really about getting people to donate money," Headley says.) And he also was involved in installing audio and video equipment at various Scientology facilities.
Headley provides a vivid picture of what it was like to manufacture thousands of copies of old L. Ron Hubbard speeches on cassette tapes, for example, with equipment that had a tendency to break down and with the fear of reprisals from Miscavige if quotas weren't met.
The diminutive church leader, who wrested control of Scientology after Hubbard died in 1986, spends most of the book screaming at hapless Gold Base workers who rarely seem able to please him. In one incident, Headley writes, when he pointed out, with a touch of sarcasm, that production quotas would be simple to meet with the tens of millions of dollars Miscavige planned to lavish on a new manufacturing facility, the Scientology leader became enraged and assaulted Headley with a rain of blows. Tempted to lay into the much shorter man, Headley was held back by other employees.
Headley's claim that he was beaten echoes the numerous allegations by other former Scientologists in a St. Petersburg Times special investigative report, published earlier this year, which provided compelling evidence that Miscavige is known in Scientology for physically assaulting his employees. (The church has denied that the beatings took place and routinely accuses any former members of lying.)
But we noticed something else interesting about Headley's tales regarding the manufacture of items for Scientologists. On numerous occasions, Headley writes about the fabrication of "e-meters," the small devices that are supposed to work something like lie detectors. Scientologist auditors use them in counseling sessions, but they're also used during interrogations -- called "sec checks" -- during which church workers suspected of wrongdoing are pressured to confess their "crimes."
Headley mentions that the devices cost the church about $40 to make, but were then sold for about $3,000 each. What really caught our attention was Headley's assertion that Miscavige demanded that enough of a new line of e-meters be manufactured so that every member in the world could purchase two of them. (Headley says each working Scientologist is supposed to have a backup unit in case the other fails.)
In order to have that many, Miscavige demanded that 30,000 be built, Headley writes.
We asked Headley, doesn't that imply that there are only 15,000 Scientologists in the world?