This account comes from executives who for decades were key figures in Scientology's powerful inner circle. Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, the highest-ranking executives to leave the church, are speaking out for the first time.
Two other former executives who defected also agreed to interviews with the St. Petersburg Times: De Vocht, who for years oversaw the church's spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, and Amy Scobee, who helped create Scientology's celebrity network, which caters to the likes of John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
One by one, the four defectors walked away from the only life they knew. That Rathbun and Rinder are speaking out is a stunning reversal because they were among Miscavige's closest associates, Haldeman and Ehrlichman to his Nixon.
Now they provide an unprecedented look inside the upper reaches of the tightly controlled organization. They reveal:
• Physical violence permeated Scientology's international management team. Miscavige set the tone, routinely attacking his lieutenants. Rinder says the leader attacked him some 50 times.
Rathbun, Rinder and De Vocht admit that they, too, attacked their colleagues, to demonstrate loyalty to Miscavige and prove their mettle.
• Staffers are disciplined and controlled by a multilayered system of "ecclesiastical justice.'' It includes publicly confessing sins and crimes to a group of peers, being ordered to jump into a pool fully clothed, facing embarrassing "security checks'' or, worse, being isolated as a "suppressive person.''
At the pinnacle of the hierarchy, Miscavige commands such power that managers follow his orders, however bizarre, with lemming-like obedience.
• Church staffers covered up how they botched the care of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist who died after they held her 17 days in isolation at Clearwater's Fort Harrison Hotel.
Rathbun, who Miscavige put in charge of dealing with the fallout from the case, admits that he ordered the destruction of incriminating evidence. He and others also reveal that Miscavige made an embarrassing miscalculation on McPherson's Scientology counseling.
• With Miscavige calling the shots and Rathbun among those at his side, the church muscled the IRS into granting Scientology tax-exempt status. Offering fresh perspective on one of the church's crowning moments, Rathbun details an extraordinary campaign of public pressure backed by thousands of lawsuits.
• To prop up revenues, Miscavige has turned to long-time parishioners, urging them to buy material that the church markets as must-have, improved sacred scripture.
Church officials deny the accusations. Miscavige never hit a single church staffer, not once, they said.
"But I believe these abuses need to end … This rot being instigated from inside Scientology actually is more destructive to the Scientology movement than anything external to it.''
BEATINGS: Random, whimsical
At 49, Miscavige is fit and tanned, his chiseled good looks accented by intense blue eyes. His frame is on the short side at 5 feet 5, but solid, with a matching, vise-like handshake.
The voice, resonant and strong, can transfix a crowd of thousands. Many call him "COB," because he is chairman of the board of the entity responsible for safeguarding Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1954.
"He is one of the most capable, intelligent individuals I've ever met," Rathbun said. "But L. Ron Hubbard says the intelligence scale doesn't necessarily line up with the sanity scale. Adolf Hitler was brilliant. Stalin was brilliant. They were geniuses. But they were also on a certain level stark, staring mad."
Rathbun, Rinder, Scobee and De Vocht say they participated in and witnessed madness, from musical chairs to repeated physical abuse.
What triggered Miscavige's outbursts? The victims usually had no clue.
"If it wasn't the answer he wanted to hear, he'd lose it," De Vocht said. "If it was contrary to how he thought, he'd lose it. If he found it to be smart aleck, or it was a better answer than he had, he would lose it."
Rathbun and Rinder list the executives they saw Miscavige attack:
Marc Yager: At least 20 times.
Guillaume Lesevre: At least 10 times.
Ray Mithoff: Rathbun said Miscavige "would regularly hit this guy open-handed upside the head real hard and jar him. Or grab him by the neck and throw him on the floor."
Norman Starkey: "Right in the parking lot, (Miscavige) just beat the living f--- out of him, got him on the ground and then started kicking him when he was down,'' Rathbun said.
He said he saw Rinder "get beat up at least a dozen times just in those last four years … some of them were pretty gruesome."
Said Rinder: "Yager was like a punching bag. So was I."
He added: "The issue wasn't the physical pain of it. The issue was the humiliation and the domination. ... It's the fact that the domination you're getting — hit in the face, kicked — and you can't do anything about it. If you did try, you'd be attacking the COB.
"It was random and whimsical. It could be the look on your face. Or not answering a question quickly. But it always was a punishment.''
Scobee said Miscavige never laid a hand on her or any other woman, but she witnessed many attacks, including the time the leader choked Rinder until his face turned purple. Rinder confirmed that account.
De Vocht estimated that from 2003 to 2005, he saw Miscavige strike staffers as many as 100 times.
Rathbun, Rinder and De Vocht admit that they, in turn, hit others. In January 2004, Rathbun pummeled Rinder and had to be pried off by several church staffers.
"Yes, that incident happened," Rinder said. "It wasn't the only time that Marty or I was involved in some form of physical violence with people."
He recalled holding a church staffer against a wall by the collar and pressing into his throat.
Rathbun said he attacked many people, many times, including throwing Lesevre across a table, boxing Starkey's ears, and tackling Yager down a flight of stairs — all, he said, on Miscavige's orders. He said he threw another staffer against the hood of a cab at Los Angeles International Airport. As a crowd gathered to watch, he cocked his fist and told him to improve his attitude.
De Vocht said he "punched a couple of guys" during one of many sessions where managers confessed their wrongdoings to their peers, a gathering that got raucous and physical. Embarrassed about it now, he says he easily rationalized it then: "If I don't attack I'm going to be attacked. It's a survival instinct in a weird situation that no one should be in."
The four defectors each said the leader established a culture that encouraged physical violence.
"It had become the accepted way of doing things," Rinder said. "If COB did it, it was okay for everybody else to do it, too."
Rinder said Rathbun was Miscavige's enforcer. "If Dave didn't want to go do any dirty work himself, he sent Marty to do it for him."
Rathbun doesn't deny it. It's difficult to get the truth, he said, "unless you talk to somebody who's got some dirt on their hands. And I freely admit I got dirt on my hands, and I feel terrible about it. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing."
Rathbun wasn't exempt from Miscavige's attacks. "He once grabbed me by the neck and banged my head against the wall.''
Nobody fought back.