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All of Scientology’s Denials

A fresh look at Lawrence Wright’s reporting on the church

Marc Tracy
February 22, 2011

UPDATE: A commenter alerts me that TNR‘s Jonathan Chait basically already did this. Clip and compare!? Not to make this New Yorker Day (especially since it’s already Ron Rosenbaum Day), but I doubt I am the only one who used the long weekend to finish up Lawrence Wright’s nearly 25,000-word exposé on the Church of Scientology through the eyes of a prominent defector, screenwriter and director Paul Haggis; and nor, would I imagine, am I the only one to feel that the religion—which is clearly of outsize relevance in Los Angeles and the film industry—falls broadly under the purview of a daily magazine of Jewish life and culture. (By way of example: Did you know that Jerry Seinfeld flirted with the church?)

One of the more interesting subplots concerns the reporting of the article itself: Though Wright—by the way, one of the very best journalists working today—was initially told by church spokesperson Tommy Davis that the church would not comment for the article, in response to 971 fact-checking queries from the magazine, officials eventually spent a full day responding to Wright’s questions. Throughout the article, you can see where Wright has responsibly inserted caveats presenting, where appropriate, the church’s responses to the facts he reports.

I’ve done something a bit different: I’ve taken much of those caveats and re-appropriated them, below, into a single stream of (to my mind largely unconvincing) qualifications, parentheticals, and denials. This isn’t a substitute for Wright’s article, which you should most definitely read. But hopefully it will serve as a nice supplement.

Except for what appears in brackets, all of what follows is in the article; these are not my words, but Wright’s and those of the people he quotes.

(Such remarks don’t appear in recent editions of the book.)

([Prominent Scientologist and actor John] Travolta, through a lawyer, called this account* “pure fabrication.”)

(In 1988, a new level, [Operating Thetan] VIII, was introduced to members; it required study at sea, and Haggis declined to pursue it.)

(The church says that there are no fixed fees, adding, “Donations requested for ‘courses’ at Church of Scientology begin at $50 and could never possibly reach the amount suggested.”)

(The church considers psychiatry an evil profession.)

(“Thoughts have a small amount of mass,” the church contends in a statement. “These are the changes measured.”)

(“He’s busy,” Davis told me [of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s authorized biographer].)

“Hubbard broke up black magic in America,” the church said in a statement.

Hubbard and his followers cruised the Mediterranean searching for loot he had stored in previous lifetimes. (The church denies this.)

([Current Church of Scientology head David] Miscavige declined requests to speak to me, and Tommy Davis says that Miscavige did not attend the event.)

[Prominent Scientologist and actor Tom] Cruise says that he was introduced to the church in 1986 by his first wife, the actress Mimi Rogers. (Rogers denies this.)

(Spielberg’s publicist says that Spielberg doesn’t recall the conversation.)

Davis told me that Haggis was mistaken about his daughter having been ostracized by Scientologists. Davis said that he had spoken to the friend who had allegedly abandoned Katy, and the friend had ended the relationship not because Katy was a lesbian but because Katy had lied about it. (Haggis, when informed of this account, laughed.)

Scientology defectors are full of tales of forcible family separations, which the church almost uniformly denies.

The church claims that such stories are false: “There is not, and never has been, any place of ‘confinement’ … nor is there anything in Church policy that would allow such confinement.”

The church provided me with eleven statements from Scientologists, all of whom said that Miscavige had never been violent.

(Scientology denies that it obtained the information this way, and Davis produced an affidavit, signed by Scobee, in which she admits to having liaisons. Scobee denies committing adultery, and says that she did not write the affidavit; she says that she signed it in the hope of leaving the church on good terms, so that she could stay in touch with relatives.)

The church says that it adheres to “all child labor laws,” and that minors can’t sign up without parental consent.

“How dare you compare Dave Miscavige with Martin Luther King!” one of the officials shouted. Haggis was shocked. “They thought that comparing Miscavige to Martin Luther King was debasing his character,” he says. “If they were trying to convince me that Scientology was not a cult, they did a very poor job of it.” (Davis says that King’s name never came up.)

Marc says it was widely known around the base that he was one of the first people Tom Cruise audited. In Scientology, the auditor bears a significant responsibility for the progress of his subject. “If you audit somebody and that person leaves the organization, there’s only one person whose fault that is—the auditor,” Headley told me. (Cruise’s attorney says that Cruise doesn’t recall meeting Marc.)

(The church denies this characterization and “vigorously objects to the suggestion that Church funds inure to the private benefit of Mr. Miscavige.”)

Former Sea Org members report that Miscavige receives elaborate birthday and Christmas gifts from Scientology groups around the world. One year, he was given a Vyrus 985 C3 4V, a motorcycle with a retail price of seventy thousand dollars. “These gifts are tokens of love and respect for Mr. Miscavige,” Davis informed me.

Both Cruise’s attorney and the church deny Brousseau’s account. Cruise’s attorney says that “the Church of Scientology has never expended any funds to the personal benefit of Mr. Cruise or provided him with free services.” Tommy Davis says that these projects were done by contractors, and that Brousseau acted merely as an adviser. He also says, “None of the Church staff involved were coerced in any way to assist Mr. Cruise. Church staff, and indeed Church members, hold Mr. Cruise in very high regard and are honored to assist him. Whatever small economic benefit Mr. Cruise may have received from the assistance of Church staff pales in comparison to the benefits the Church has received from Mr. Cruise’s many years of volunteer efforts for the Church.”

(Davis says that he does not recall meeting Shannon, has never scrubbed a Dumpster, and has never had a need to borrow money.)

Davis, early in his presentation, attacked the credibility of Scientology defectors, whom he calls “bitter apostates.” He said, “They make up stories.”

The Apostate [The New Yorker]

* Brolin says that he once witnessed John Travolta practicing Scientology. Brolin was at a dinner party in Los Angeles with Travolta and Marlon Brando. Brando arrived with a cut on his leg, and explained that he had injured himself while helping a stranded motorist on the Pacific Coast Highway. He was in pain. Travolta offered to help, saying that he had just reached a new level in Scientology. Travolta touched Brando’s leg and Brando closed his eyes. “I watched this process going on—it was very physical,” Brolin recalls. “I was thinking, This is really fucking bizarre! Then, after ten minutes, Brando opens his eyes and says, ‘That really helped. I actually feel different!’ ”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.