Scientology Reacts to TomKat Divorce from Nixon-Era Playbook
On Sunday, we talked to former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun and agreed with his predictions for how the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes divorce would go. The next day, the former couple announced that they had reached a settlement. So how did we do?
Prediction 1: Katie would get sole custody of Suri, and Tom gets visitation rights. Result: All indications are that this is the case.
Prediction 2: Katie and Tom would say publicly, however, that they are sharing custody to hide the actual situation. Result: Their statement does hide the actual situation by essentially saying nothing, but this isn't really what we predicted.
Prediction 3: In return for custody of Suri, Katie would sign a written statement that Scientology had nothing to do with their split. Result: The couple instead issued a terse, vague statement about respecting each other for the commitment to their respective beliefs, and Katie selected a Catholic church in Manhattan, a pretty big middle finger to Scientology. Katie showed far more backbone than we gave her credit for.
Prediction 4: Scientology would launch a shame-and-blame-the-media campaign aimed at pushing back all of the negative publicity it's received.
Result: We think this is going to happen. But so far, it's being rolled out like Scientology still thinks it's 1974.
Last night, Piers Morgan wasted the talents of Nancy Many and Steven Hassan in a segment that was pointlessly brief. (Each did get in good points in the short time they had.)
However, CNN did manage to get this statement out of Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw, which was about as delightful as one of her announcements ever gets...
With respect to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorce, the Church has no comment. Please direct any questions to their representatives. This is and always was a private family matter and the Church will continue to respect their privacy.
With respect to your other questions, the Church regrets that excommunicated self-serving apostates are sadly exploiting private family matters to further their hate-filled agendas against their former faith. Having left the Church many years ago, these sources have no current knowledge about the Church and their recollections are distorted by their animosity.
Every religion has its detractors and these stories come at a time of tremendous Church growth. Anyone desiring correct information about the Church can find it on the Church's website, www.scientology.org, which contains thousands of pages of information and hundreds of videos involving all aspects of Scientology.
It just doesn't really get any better than when Karin unleashes her righteous fury on those pesky apostates.
Karin, of course, is just following the classic Scientology "Black PR" playbook, whose first principle is "dead agenting," as explained by founder L. Ron Hubbard. You see, church mouthpieces like Pouw are taught never to actually address the substance of complaints made about Scientology abuses. Instead, as Hubbard explained in a May, 1974 policy letter, she is instructed to focus all of her efforts in tearing down the credibility of anyone who dares reveal church secrets:
This is correct procedure:
1. Spot who is attacking us.
2. Start investigating them promptly for FELONIES or worse using our
own professionals, not outside agencies.
3. Double curve our reply by saying we welcome an investigation of
4. Start feeding lurid, blood sex crime actual evidence on the
attackers to the press.
ALWAYS ATTACK in a press release. Never Defend or Deny.
Unlike her predecessor Tommy Davis, however, Karin Pouw seems to lack much originality or personality, and she tends to fall back on the same bizarre insult, calling people "apostates" as if this were the 13th century and excommunication featured a human flesh-fed bonfire.
What caught our eye this time, however, was a new step in Karin's routine -- the bit about these apostates having "left the Church many years ago."
Well, in Nancy Many's case that may be true. But Nancy also had one of the most remarkable careers of any ex-Scientologist, as she details in her book My Billion Year Contract and as we explained in an interview with her. This is a person who worked directly with L. Ron Hubbard, spied for the Guardian's Office, and spent months in the RPF -- the Sea Org's prison detail -- under horrid conditions. This is a woman who not only knows the history of the church, she lived it. (And she managed to make a great point during the Piers Morgan show, that in her 23 years, she was part of a self-help group, not a church, and was always told the stuff about Scientology being a religion was just for the attorneys and accountants.)
But OK, let's give Karin her due and grant that Nancy's been out of the church for awhile. Based on some similar chatter we've heard behind the scenes, we're getting the feeling that this is going to be a big part of Scientology's strategy to curb the media frenzy: Scientology is trying to frighten network attorneys by claiming that prominent ex-Scientologists who tend to be interviewed for these shows have all been out of the church too long to know what is happening inside it right now.
We're big fans of Scientology history here at the underground bunker, so we've always found it illuminating to talk to someone who was around in the early days. But let's play Karin's game. How fresh are some of our sources, and can we really claim to know what's happening in David Miscavige's church in the present day?
Well, we can only point to the story we published on Friday, about a couple named Dani and Tami Lemberger. They've each been in Scientology for 32 years, experienced it in cities around the world, and for the last 20 years they've operated the largest mission in Israel, the Dror Center in Haifa.
As we explained in our article, they're now fed up with David Miscavige and the controversies gripping the church, and they have decided to pull their entire mission out of official Scientology. As part of that decision, they came to the U.S. last month, and as they were arriving at the Tampa Airport on June 28, a woman walked up to them and handed them a letter informing them that they had been excommunicated. We then interviewed them on Tuesday, July 2 -- only five days after they had been kicked out of the church.
[Click to enlarge.] The letter Dani Lemberger was handed in the Tampa airport.
I don't know, Karin, I think I'm going to have a tough time beating that record. And it's kind of hard to argue that someone like Dani Lemberger doesn't know what its like inside the Church of Scientology right now. (Of course, that's not taking into consideration all of the Scientologists supposedly in good standing who also feed us information, but we can't talk about that.)
Tom Cruise, a God?
Unfortunately, I was unable to get Amy Scobee on the phone last night to ask her about a fairly strange quote that was attributed to her by E!Online and picked up by Jezebel, that Tom Cruise is "viewed as a complete god" in Scientology.
I had to scratch my head at that one, because in the past Amy has said pretty much the complete opposite.
Sure, Tom Cruise is a shining movie star and Scientologists, even more than the rest of the population, have a right to be in awe of his success. But there's something else about him we've been pointing out for years that wasn't really well known at the time -- that while he was married to Nicole Kidman, Tom severely reduced his participation in the church, until, in the late 1990s, he had only a tenuous connection to it. After Cruise and Kidman broke up, Marty Rathbun was tasked with bringing Tom back into the fold, and from 2001 to 2004 he did such a good job of it, Cruise became as gung-ho as anyone. To reward Tom for that return to fervor, David Miscavige decided not only to name him an International Association of Scientologists Freedom Medal winner (a few are named every year), but to create a special version it just for Tom, the Freedom Medal of Valor, with a consequently bigger medallion. At the ceremony, Miscavige called Cruise, "the most dedicated Scientologist I know."
Amy explained to me that Miscavige's praise of Cruise -- a pampered movie star who had spent a few years of hard work, not the twenty or more years of abject, around the clock devotion of your typical Sea Org executive -- came as a slap to the face.
A god? Hardly.
I hope I can get Amy to explain what she said to E! to clear that up.
UPDATE: I just talked to Amy Scobee on the phone and yes, she confirms that a reporter took her words out of context.
Amy says she was explaining the 2004 moment to a reporter about how Miscavige was trying to give the impression that Tom Cruise, with all of his dedication, was like a god. And she also pointed out that Tom, at his house was treated like royalty.
But Amy was not saying that Scientologists actually think of him as some kind of deity.
In fact, as I reported earlier, Amy's reaction was the opposite -- she was actually offended that Miscavige was trying to give the impression that Cruise was some kind of savior to the movement. And she says her husband, Mat Pesch, had the same reaction:
"When Mat and I saw that, we thought it was over the top and ridiculous. He's an actor."
Karen de la Carriere is Going to Need a Bigger Boat
Last night, Karen de la Carriere told me that hundreds of e-mails from Scientologists were pouring in after she sent out her mass message to church members, informing them of what was really going on with the death of her son Alexander Jentzsch, and her ex-husband, Alexander's father Heber Jentzsch, the president of the Church of Scientology International.
She had gathered mailing lists of the most active and influential church members to target with her message. By the time she pushed send, she had more than 10,000 addresses. Some of those recipients have in turn sent her additional mailing lists.
"It makes me cry. People who are still in are risking their eligibility to give me support," she says. "The response has been overwhelmingly positive."
A few have angrily told her off, she adds. And she also heard from the Office of Special Affairs, Scientology's intelligence and legal affairs wing, which wasn't amused.
But as many have already pointed out, while this salvo from de la Carriere was clearly modeled on the Debbie Cook example, it seems more personal and has more emotional impact. It's also gratifying to hear that Karen is receiving replies from many church members in good standing who tell her that they'd learned about the death of her son by reading this blog.
Hey, Scientologists! Thanks for reading.
What Katie is saving Suri from: Scientology interrogation of kids
Scientology's new defections: Hubbard's granddaughter and Miscavige's dad
Scientology's disgrace: our open letter to Tom Cruise
Scientology crumbling: An entire mission defects as a group
Scientology leader David Miscavige's vanished wife: Where's Shelly?
The Tanja and Stefan Castle Story, Done by KABC
One of my favorite parts of Janet Reitman's excellent 2011 book, Inside Scientology, was the dramatic way she tells the story of Tanja and Stefan Castle, a couple forced to divorce by the jealous David Miscavige.
Now LA's ABC station, KABC, has done a fine rendition of it...
KABC is sitting on a ton of interview footage about Scientology that it had gathered over the last couple of years. It's good to see the station finally starting to make use of it!
Here's hoping they show the Lori Hodgson story soon!
And Astra Woodcraft did a great job last night on CNN...
Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.