Tom Cruise's bike didn't come easy. (S Granitz/ Wire Image) Xenu, couch-jumping and silent birthing. Mysterious deaths and rumors of forced abortions. A super-star believer virtually speaking in tongues and saluting his religious mentor. And a quip at the Golden Globes that was met with silence and possibly fear. Scientology doesn't want to be considered a cult, but it can't seem to escape the accusation.
This week's feature story in the New Yorker about the organization founded by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard nails the church into a cult coffin. Journalist Lawrence Wright interviews current and former members of faith, including Academy Award winning writer Paul Haggis, who denounced his three-decade affiliation with Scientology publicly. The 28-page investigation into the history and horror stories of Scientology is chock full of weird. Here are the highlights:
- The FBI probe: The article reveals that the church is under investigation from the FBI for human trafficking. Former members have made claims of unpaid, forced labor and physical abuse from current head of the organization, David Miscavige.
- The founder's fake past: The church fabricated documents about founder L. Ron Hubbard's war heroism, claims The New Yorker.
- The celebrities: A lot of them were siphoned by a Scientologist acting teacher at The Beverly Hills Playhouse. That's how Anne Archer joined the fold. Now her son, Tommy Davis, heads up the church's Celebrity Centre. In other news, bossman Miscavige was Tom Cruise's best man when he wed Katie Holmes.
- The six-figure membership: Members can spend upwards of $100,000 on courses and training in the church.
- The fenced off boot camp: If you don't have that kind of money, you can work for your faith as a Sea Org member at Gold Base, a compound in central California. Miscavige spends a lot of his time there and most high level members make their way to the base at some point for brief, intensive stays.
- The fenced off prison: There's also a re-education camp near Gold Base. Here's the description: "Sea Org members who have 'failed to fulfill their ecclesiastical responsibilities' may be sent to one of the church's several Rehabilitation Project Force locations. Defectors describe them as punitive re-education camps. In California, there is one in Los Angeles; until 2005, there was one near the Gold Base, at a place called Happy Valley. Bruce Hines, the defector turned research physicist, says that he was confined to R.P.F. for six years, first in L.A., then in Happy Valley. He recalls that the properties were heavily guarded and that anyone who tried to flee would be tracked down and subjected to further punishment."
- The escape: Two former members claim to have escaped in the middle of the night. One drove a car through a fence.
- The punishment: According to a former Gold Base security chief, the church is not averse to using mental and physical tactics to bring escaped members back in the fold.
- The most bizarre game of musical chairs ever: A violent version of the kids' game set to Bohemian Rhapsody, mandated by Miscavige, took place one night at Gold Base. It lasted all night, and by the end people were punching each other. As full-time residents and workers at the Base, they were playing for their livelihood. Everyone who lost would be shipped off the Base immediately, deprived of their shelter and $50 a week income.
- The most bizarre celebrity anecdote ever: Actor Josh Brolin claims to have witnessed John Travolta using his Scientology practice to heal the wounded leg of Marlon Brando at a Hollywood party. "I watched this process going on-it was very physical," Brolin recalls. "I was thinking, 'This is really f------- bizarre!' Then, after ten minutes, Brando opens his eyes and says, 'That really helped. I actually feel different!'" (Travolta, through a lawyer, called this account "pure fabrication.")
- The horror stories of Scientology kids: For kids who grow up in the church, there's a thing called a 'freeloader' tab. If you want to leave the church's fold, you're charged with a six figure debt for unpaid coursework, according to ecclesiastical policy. Former underage members, including the niece of Miscavige who joined at 12, have formed an online support group called exscientologykids.com. They talk about how hard it is to leave the fold because they never received a formal education, and instead were put to work as manual laborers. The article states: "In 2009, two former Sea Org members, Claire and Marc Headley, filed lawsuits against the church. They had both joined as children. Claire became a member of the Sea Org at the age of sixteen, and was assigned to the Gold Base. She says she wasn't allowed to tell anyone where she was going, not even her mother, who was made to sign over guardianship."
- The horror stories of dealing with Tom Cruise: A former member claims he was ordered to pimp Tom Cruise's motorcycles, pro-bono, of course. Haggis claims Cruise reported him to the church when he joked about Scientology to Stephen Spielberg on the set of "War of the Worlds." Another former member claims a botched project for Cruise resulted in a member being sent to the work camp for a stint.
- The horror story of the Scientology chief's wife: David Miscavage's wife Shelly hired several people for jobs at Gold Base without her husband's permission. Shortly thereafter, she disappeared. When the New Yorker asked Scientology spokesperson Tommy Davis of her whereabouts he said, "I definitely know where she is." He didn't elaborate.