LOS ANGELES-The Church Of Scientology is being investigated by the FBI for several illegal practices, according to blockbuster article in the New Yorker, that focuses on former Scientologist, Paul Haggis, who directed “Crash.” The article claims that Scientology members were forced to abandon their family, pay the Church, play high stakes games of musical chairs, and were beaten by the head of Church David Miscavige, a close confidant of Tom Cruise and even forced into slavery.
In Los Angeles, a former Sea Org member, Lawrence Wollersheim, sought twenty-five million dollars for “infliction of emotional injury.” He claimed that he had been kept for eighteen hours a day in the hold of a ship docked in Long Beach, and deprived of adequate sleep and food.
According to a court declaration filed by Rathbun in July, Miscavige expected Scientology leaders to instill aggressive, even violent, discipline. Rathbun said that he was resistant, and that Miscavige grew frustrated with him, assigning him in 2004 to the Hole—a pair of double-wide trailers at the Gold Base. “There were between eighty and a hundred people sentenced to the Hole at that time,” Rathbun said, in the declaration. “We were required to do group confessions all day and all night.
According to Rathbun, Miscavige came to the Hole one evening and announced that everyone was going to play musical chairs. Only the last person standing would be allowed to stay on the base. He declared that people whose spouses “were not participants would have their marriages terminated.” The St. Petersburg Times noted that Miscavige played Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” on a boom box as the church leaders fought over the chairs, punching each other and, in one case, ripping a chair apart.
Tom De Vocht, one of the participants, says that the event lasted until four in the morning: “It got more and more physical as the number of chairs went down.” Many of the participants had long been cut off from their families. They had no money, no credit cards, no telephones. According to De Vocht, many lacked a driver’s license or a passport. Few had any savings or employment prospects. As people fell out of the game, Miscavige had airplane reservations made for them. He said that buses were going to be leaving at six in the morning. The powerlessness of everyone else in the room was nakedly clear.
Jefferson Hawkins, a former Sea Org member and church executive who worked with Haggis on the rejected Dianetics ad campaign, told me that Miscavige had struck or beaten him on five occasions, the first time in 2002. “I had just written an infomercial,” he said. Miscavige summoned him to a meeting where a few dozen members were seated on one side of a table; Miscavige sat by himself on the other side. According to Hawkins, Miscavige began a tirade about the ad’s shortcomings. Hawkins recalls, “Without any warning, he jumped up onto the conference-room table and he launches himself at me. He knocks me back against a cubicle wall and starts battering my face.” The two men fell to the floor, Hawkins says, and their legs became entangled. “Let go of my legs!” Miscavige shouted.
Haggis called several other former Scientologists he knew well. One of them said that he had escaped from the Gold Base by driving his car—an Alfa Romeo convertible that Haggis had sold him—through a wooden fence. The defector said that he had scars on his forehead from the incident. Still others had been expelled or declared Suppressive Persons. Haggis asked himself, “What kind of organization are we involved in where people just disappear.
Whitehill and Venegas worked on a special task force devoted to human trafficking. The laws regarding trafficking were built largely around forced prostitution, but they also pertain to slave labor. Under federal law, slavery is defined, in part, by the use of coercion, torture, starvation, imprisonment, threats, and psychological abuse. The California penal code lists several indicators that someone may be a victim of human trafficking: signs of trauma or fatigue; being afraid or unable to talk, because of censorship by others or security measures that prevent communication with others; working in one place without the freedom to move about; owing a debt to one’s employer; and not having control over identification documents. Those conditions echo the testimony of many former Sea Org members who lived at the Gold Base.