"Tom Cruise Worships David Miscavige Like a God": A Scientology Insider Gives First Full-Length Interview to the Voice
|L. Ron Hubbard, film director|
Brousseau drove back to California and was taken to Hubbard's ranch in La Quinta, where the science fiction writer was hiding out and had taken up directing movies.
Five years earlier, in 1973, while Hubbard was still at sea, he and his wife Mary Sue wanted to come back onto land, but they were concerned that there was too much damaging information about them in the files of the U.S. government. So they came up with a plan they called Operation Snow White to remove that material -- by infiltrating hundreds of government offices over several years with the use of operatives from Scientology's "Guardian's Office." The theft of documents finally ended with a massive July, 1977 FBI raid on Scientology offices in Washington DC and Los Angeles. Since that time, Mary Sue and ten other Scientologists were being prosecuted and faced prison time, while Hubbard was only named an "unindicted co-conspirator." But he worried that at any time, he too could be pulled into the prosecution.
After the raid, Hubbard had first run from his La Quinta, California ranch to Sparks, Nevada. While he was in hiding, the American public was buzzing that spring and summer over the most successful science fiction movie ever released, George Lucas's Star Wars. Perhaps frustrated that his own tales hadn't experienced that kind of success, Hubbard spent his time in hiding writing a screenplay, Revolt in the Stars, using the bizarre tales of the galactic overlord Xenu which were part of Scientology's super-secret upper-level teachings. As Jon Atack explains in his excellent history, A Piece of Blue Sky, Hubbard realized that he didn't have the resources to make such an ambitious film, so he decided to develop a crew making smaller, internal training films. He moved back to his La Quinta ranch to make movies while Mary Sue cooled her heels at a house off Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, awaiting prosecution for Operation Snow White.
Hubbard assembled a crew of young Sea Org members building sets, making costumes, and memorizing lines in California's desert. Among them was David Miscavige, an 18-year-old from South Philly, who had been named chief cameraman. "Marc Yager was deputy cameraman, Jim Jaroff was the video cameraman -- we called him 'JVC I/C' for being "in charge" of the JVC video unit -- and I was the JVC assistant. There were four of us guys in the camera unit," Brousseau says.
I asked him what Miscavige was like then.
"He was a little bit of a punk. The little bully bastard in high school, kicking people and laughing at their misfortune. He didn't have a lot of power yet, so he wasn't 'Miscavige unplugged' like he was in the 2000s," he says.
About five days into his new job, Brousseau saw L. Ron Hubbard for the first time. "He was walking somewhere with a couple of messengers. Hey, come meet LRH, someone said. 'This is John Brousseau,' they said. Hubbard said, 'Terrific. Great. Nice to meet you,' something like that. Afterwards, I don't know, I just thought, wow, I met the dude, cool."
Although he'd finished the comm course back in San Francisco, Brousseau was really absorbing none of Hubbard's writings and philosophy as a member of the Sea Org. There just wasn't time. They were working every minute of the day. And while they work, all Sea Org members know the saying, "No case on post." Meaning, that they could not work on their spiritual "case" -- advancing up Scientology's "Bridge to Total Freedom" -- as long as they were on the clock. "No one in the Sea Org has much of a case," Brousseau points out. "You just work every day. You hardly progress as far as auditing. Everything is a screaming emergency, year after year," he says.
That's ironic, because when Scientology is challenged in court about the way its Sea Org members are treated, they are quick to characterize the Sea Org as a monastic community and a religious order. But former Sea Org members tell me that they did anything but ecclesiastical matters while they were on post.
"It was just a lot of panic," he says. "We were making training films for auditors and stuff. All the actors were Sea Org members, the makeup unit, wardrobe. Very few if any professional actors were brought in, like today. LRH was the director. It was new and exciting for a 21-year-old," he says.
I asked him about Hubbard's legendary temper on the set. "He'd get pissed off and yell at people, but I never really saw him go nuts," Brousseau says. "He'd yell something like 'Goddammit, you guys screwed this up and we're almost out of light! Can you please get it right!' That kind of thing. But then he'd seek out people he yelled at. He was actually pretty good at patching people up."
During his two months in the Cine Org, Brousseau lived in a couple of different places at the La Quinta ranch. "There was a large ranch house. In a bedroom there would be three sets of double bunks, so six guys. It wasn't too crowded." There were several similar houses on the property, filled with Sea Org workers.
Among the workers was a teenaged girl named VerDawn Hartwell. Brousseau remembers when VerDawn's parents, Ernie and Adell Hartwell, showed up at the ranch. "They were really old," he says. "They looked like they were in their late 60s or early 70s. Really out of place. Everyone was young. Hippie types. They stood out," he says. But they had some peripheral experience in the entertainment industry, and had been asked to come to the Cine Org. Shocked by the conditions they found, with young Sea Org members living in squalor, the Hartwells soon left, and were severely harassed by Scientology operatives, as Atack describes in detail. They ultimately went to the police.
"LRH had to leave real quick," Brousseau says, once word got back that the Hartwells had fed information about La Quinta to the authorities. Suddenly, the movie making experiment was over.
"Everything was moved to Gilman Hot Springs, but LRH went to Hemet, a location we called 'X'."
Some time earlier, Scientology had purchased a 700-acre property near Highway 79 that included an old resort, Gilman Hot Springs, the site of the church's international management headquarters to this day. Most of the people working at La Quinta went there, but Hubbard wanted to stay in a separate place. A small apartment complex in Hemet was chosen -- the Mayflower Apartments -- and its location was kept strictly secret even from other Scientologists.
Five apartments were rented -- one for Hubbard, three for a small number of staff, and one apartment just for storage. Only about 10 staff lived at the apartments with Hubbard.
Brousseau was one of them.
"When we moved to Hemet, I became Hubbard's chauffeur," he says. "That's how I got to know him personally."
I asked Brousseau about the stories of Hubbard, during this period, going out in public wearing outrageous disguises. But Brousseau says there was nothing very outlandish about it.
"He had a baseball cap, and around the band of the cap was a little brown hair. Maybe he had a little something on his eyebrows, but it wasn't extensive. His hair was starting to turn grey, but not much. The red part of his hair was fucking red. He had piercing blue eyes and very, very red hair. The ball cap hid most of it, so it really changed his appearance," he says.
"He was walking around Hemet. He was nine miles from Int Base [at Gilman Hot Springs] where there were hundreds of people who knew him by sight. But no one spotted him," Brousseau remembers. "I'd drive him to a shopping center and he'd walk around and buy some useless stuff. Some cookies or candies for his people. Or I would drive him to the forest to get some exercise. There were dirt roads near the San Jacinto River. Pretty. A nice place to walk. He'd do maybe a mile of walking and then we'd go back. It was a daily thing, just to get some air.
"I would walk with him, and with maybe one or two messengers. We might have a little lunch packed. Folding chairs, a folding table. Everyone would sit down and shoot the shit for 20 or 30 minutes. He was just like a regular guy," he says. "I remember when he looked up and saw a sailplane. 'You know I used to do that,' he said. He talked about what they were like, with canvas over wood in those days. How to land them. It sounded cool. I told him I could take him to the Hemet airport to do that. It was only 30 bucks to get a lift. The next day he came down to the van. I asked him, what do you want to do today? 'I want to fly a sailplane.' So we started to drive over there. But he changed his mind. I'm getting too old for that, he said."
Hubbard had flown sailplanes in his youth. But as with just about everything else, while Hubbard had actually lived an amazing life, he had a hard time recounting it with any faithfulness. As Russell Miller shows with excellent detail in his 1987 biography, Bare-Faced Messiah, Hubbard enjoyed some flying success, but then fibbed wildly about it, saying that he'd set numerous world records and made daring exploits -- even at times when he didn't possess a flying license.
Knowing Hubbard's track record for veracity, however, Brousseau still has fond memories of his time with the man.
"The dude was a regular guy. I've read everything about his life. He made mistakes, I get it. He definitely embellished things. And the church ran with it. Then Gerry Armstrong came along and said this shit is crap, and we'd do a lot better if we cut the crap and stuck to the truth -- and he got hammered for it. Not by LRH, but he got hammered," Brousseau says. (Armstrong had been a Sea Org member who had sailed on the Apollo with Hubbard; he had later gathered documents about Hubbard that a professional writer was later hired to turn into an authorized biography. When Armstrong realized that original documents from Hubbard's life contradicted so much of what Hubbard and the church said about him, he spoke up about it and was punished by his superiors. He left Scientology, and was the subject of years of nasty litigation by the church. But the document's he'd found formed the basis for books such as those by Miller and Atack.)
Brousseau says that about a dozen times he drove Hubbard from "X" to the Int Base at Gilman Hot Springs. "Mostly to go and shoot stills for a picture book that he wanted to put together. I would drive him in secretly to meet with people in the Cine Org, and then drive him out," he says.
Each time, it involved an intricate process to make sure that no one followed Hubbard back to his Hemet apartment.
"We had a second van held in storage about five miles away. Another guy would park that van at a Denny's. We'd drive to the Denny's, switch vans, and then drive to Int Base. When we came back, we'd switch again. Then I'd have to drive with the second guy to put the second van in storage again. My van was parked at X, and I didn't want to drive it into Int Base."
One trip in particular stands out in his memory.
"It was Christmas 1979. He was at old Bonnie View before Miscavige bulldozed it," Brousseau says, referring to a mansion on the grounds that was set aside for Hubbard to live in, if he ever moved to the base. "Mary Sue showed up. And their kids. Diana and Jonathan with little Roanne. Arthur. Suzette. Mary Sue had her own domestic staff with her. They were laughing and having a good time as a family. I remember thinking it was fun, and that they didn't get to do this very often. Mary Sue was about to go to prison."
(Mary Sue Whipp was Hubbard's third wife. Diana was their daughter, and she had married Jonathan Horwich in 1971 while aboard the Apollo. They had a daughter, Roanne Horwich, who we reported recently has broken away from the Int Base after living there most of her life. Diana's younger siblings, Arthur and Suzette, left Scientology long ago. Mary Sue died in 2002. Diana Hubbard is now the only member of the family still living at the base.)
Shortly after that Christmas dinner, with Mary Sue facing her trial, Hubbard decided in 1980 that it was time to disappear altogether.
"I'm the guy who went and bought another van, known to no one but Pat and Annie Broeker," Brousseau says. The Broekers were part of the staff at X, and were becoming Hubbard's most trusted aides.
"Pat gave me cash, told me to buy a van and to tell no one. I bought a used Ford cargo van. I put a foam mattress in it, with bedding and pillows. I put it in storage. Then I told Pat that it was there, and that it was filled with gas. The next day, I picked up LRH with the Broekers at X. No one else at X knew about it," he says.
"It was the last time I saw him. He got in the van and sat on the corner of the mattress, his elbows on his knees. He held out his hand. 'All right, John. Thanks for everything. I'll see you,' LRH said. Pat was driving. Annie was in the back with him. Then they drove off. I never saw him again."