Scientology vs Marty Rathbun: An Unfair Fight?

Categories: Scientology

Last summer, we brought you extensive coverage of Scientology's bizarre siege of a South Texas home. A goon squad calling itself the "Squirrel Busters" claimed to be a documentary crew making a film about former high-ranking church executive Marty Rathbun. The intimidation squad even managed to get Rathbun arrested.

Well, here's yet another collection of their footage, as Scientology continues to try to convince someone (who, we're not sure), that a series of 2009 stories revealing the violent nature of Scientology leader David Miscavige got things wrong and that Rathbun is the violent one, not DM.

After the jump: while Scientology still argues over allegations that are nearly three years old, Rathbun keeps hitting the church where it hurts.

If you can sit through that video, did you catch that Scientology is accusing Rathbun of leading a "cult"? Is that precious or what?

Also, that narrator sure sounds familiar. Isn't he the same voice we hear on Freedom magazine's hilariously bad attacks on film director Paul Haggis and the New Yorker?

If so, it makes sense. There's really no question that Scientology was behind the Squirrel Busters siege of Rathbun's house last year, even if an otherwise excellent new story about the siege in Texas Monthly seems to leave it as an open question.

In a nice bit of investigative reporting last August, Corpus Christi Caller-Times reporter Mark Collette interviewed a freelance videographer who had briefly worked for the Squirrel Busters, Bert Leahy. Leahy revealed that the crew's boss told them that the real point of sitting outside Rathbun's house and following him around town was really just to make his life a "living hell." Leahy then identified that boss as none other than Dave Lubow, a private investigator and longtime contractor for Scientology's intelligence wing, the Office of Special Affairs.

In other words, despite its "shore story" that it was an independent crew of filmmakers, there was no doubt that the bumbling Squirrel Busters were just the latest OSA harassment campaign, in this case aimed at a man who had been the second-highest ranking executive in the church, Rathbun. (And a very expensive campaign, at that. The Busters rented a house near Rathbun's Ingleside on the Bay, Texas home, flew in numerous shifts to replenish its goon squad, paid teams of lawyers and Lubow, and kept up their surveillance of Rathbun and his wife Monique for six months.)

This latest video, which has the feel of Golden Era Productions (Scientology's filmmaking arm, housed at its desert base in Southern California), reveals once again the point of its "documentary" efforts -- Scientology is still hopping mad over 2009's epic series of articles at the formerly St. Petersburg Times, a project titled "The Truth Rundown." That series, produced by editor Joe Childs and reporter Tom Tobin -- and followed up by an Anderson Cooper series at CNN -- revealed that a recent exodus of high-ranking officials all complained that Scientology leader David Miscavige was an irrational and dictatorial man who regularly punched and slugged his employees.

Rathbun was one of those former executives, and in his interviews with the newspaper -- now the Tampa Bay Times -- he openly discussed his own beatings of employees at the urging of Miscavige. (It was after he attacked fellow executive Mike Rinder, a close friend, that Rathbun says he reached a tipping point and shortly afterward left the organization.)

In this video, what you're seeing is Scientology portraying Rathbun as a thug by quoting unnamed people describing the beatings he dished out while he was the second-highest ranking executive inside the church itself. How Scientology thinks that somehow exonerates Miscavige for his own violence is a mystery.

But this video is not really intended to make any sense. Note that there's almost no explanation of who Rathbun is, what this "cult" is that he's supposed to lead, or who is making the video and why it exists. Once again, the Squirrel Busters have been used to produce a video with only a single viewer in mind -- David Miscavige himself.

"It's just for Miscavige. He's in his own universe, and it's a dark, twisted place," Rathbun told me yesterday by telephone. "I mean, two years of following me, for these little snippets?

"To me it's so ridiculous that two and a half years after the violence issue was already covered, it's no longer an issue, and think of the cost to track me for more than two years with the intent to prove that I'm the violent one, not Dave," he said. "You see what I'm saying, Tony, how fucked up these people are? Miscavige is like a walking anachronism. He just can't get up to the times -- look at 'The Money Machine,' look where we are now."

He's referring, of course, to the blockbuster new series from Tobin and Childs which appeared in November -- "The Money Machine" -- which exposed how much Scientology is consumed with fundraising, exhausting its own people with constant appeals for large donations.

A little more than a month later, on New Year's Eve, Scientology's fundraising obsession was slammed again, this time by Debbie Cook, a former church executive who was enormously respected inside the church. Among other things, Cook criticized Miscavige for amassing a billion dollars in reserves and for not using it to bring in new members. Her e-mail to thousands of fellow church members rocked Scientology, and many longtime ex-church members say it is the most significant act of rebellion inside the organization that they can remember.

And just yesterday, as Scientology was leaking this videotape -- still obsessed with allegations made against Miscavige in 2009 -- Rathbun landed yet another blow in the current crisis over Scientology's obsession over money.

At his blog, Rathbun revealed what he says is an internal ledger showing money reserves at just one of Scientology's operations -- its spiritual mecca in Clearwater, Florida, the Flag Service Organization.

The ledger shows reserves of $150 million for the FSO in December, 2009.

"That's only FSO. That's not [the International Association of Scientologists] or Church of Scientology International," Mike Rinder told me yesterday by phone. Rinder, once Scientology's top spokesman and the director of its intelligence wing, says that the ledger is consistent with what Cook said in her e-mail.

"Those reserves are just what they keep in FSO. What they send to CSI [the mother church] isn't there at all," Rinder says. "Nor is whatever money that is given to the IAS. Some weeks they collect $10 million to the IAS."

When I asked Rathbun and Rinder whether these rather astounding amounts are an indication that Scientology is actually growing, they both denied it.

"That's what they were making when I was there," Rathbun says, who left Scientology in 2004.

"There are only tens of thousands of Scientologists around the world, but they keep going back to the same people and squeezing money from them," Rinder says. "I would say the total net is actually decreasing. But more of it is going to Super Power and the IAS, and less is going to churches around the world."

Recently, the Voice revealed wild schematics for installations planned at the new "Flag Mecca" building in Clearwater, where the Super Power Rundown will be offered to wealthy Scientologists. As this ledger suggests, there was $60 million in reserves for that project in December of 2009, which one would think would be plenty of money to finish the building (the church has said it will finally open sometime this year).

The ledger at Rathbun's blog is another rare peek inside the church as the leaks keep coming, and as more recent defectors come out and tell us that even loyal, longtime church members have been worn down by Scientology's focus on extreme fundraising.

But Miscavige, apparently, is still spending those funds trying to portray Rathbun as a "violent psychopath." Well, good luck with that.


Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.

tortega@villagevoice.com | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared


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