The following interview of Mike Rinder was published in the most widely circulated and influential newspaper in Germany, Sueddeutsche, over the weekend. It is informative and gets more integral differentiation going out worldwide.
Thanks to Greta Alexander for translating for us.
Scientology-dropout about leader of sect “He beat me, he made me clean toilets”
January 14, 2012, 15:57
Interview: Marc Felix Serrao
For 20 years Michael Rinder has led the feared secret service of the Church of Scientology. In 2007 he dropped out – because he could no longer deal with the totalitarian methods of the sect leader. Since then his own family despises him. In his first interview he explains why an open revolt in Scientology is only a question of time.
Over the past few days all hell has broken lose in Scientology. In an email to thousands of other Scientologists a devoted member named Debbie Cook has voiced sharp criticism about the leader of the sect, David Miscavige and his supposedly wasteful dealings with donations. Such sound bites have so far only been known to come from dropouts and not from the inside of the organisation. A unique happening? Not at all, says Michael Rinder. There are few people who know the sect as well as this 56-year old Australian. Rinder grew up in a Scientology family. He was spokesman and for more than 20 years was the boss of the Office of Special Affairs, the infamous secret service of Scientology. He left in 2007 because, as he said, he could no longer deal with the totalitarian methods of the leader of the sect. In his first interview appearing in Germany, he explains that an open revolt in Scientology is only a question of time.
The Scientology building in Hamburg: The sect is almost nowhere else as disputed as in Germany.
SZ: Mr. Rinder, is the Church of Scientology stuck in a crisis?
Michael Rinder: Indeed. And if you want to know why, you have to know who Debbie Cook is. She has written this critical email – and she belonged to the Sea Organization in Scientology (Note by editor: That is the name of the sect’s elite-unit; the members wear military-looking uniforms and address their superiors with ‘Sir’). Unlike people like me, Debbie was still a member of the church. She was loved, she enjoyed great deal of respect. That means that most members would have read her email.
What Debbie wrote appeals to Scientologists: She quoted the policies of L. Ron Hubbard (Note by editor: The still glowingly worshiped founder of the sect by the members who died in 1986). And she remarks that much of what the current leadership of the church does today is in gross contradiction to that.
SZ: According to Scientology Debbie represents a single opinion, stemming from a “small, ignorant and uncleared look at today’s world”.
Rinder: That’s a lame PR answer. An attempt at damage control, no more.
SZ: And how big is the damage?
Rinder: Considerable. The reactions following that first statement show that too. Now Debbie is even being called an apostate. This may sound bizarre to you but that is a message specifically directed to the members: Debbie is an apostate, do not believe anything she says!
SZ: What do you think how many members secretly share Cook’s criticisms?
Rinder: The majority.
Rinder: Yes. If parishioners could openly talk to you, each one could tell you a story about the ‘vulture culture’.
SZ: Vulture culture?
Rinder: The obsession to squeeze as much money out of people as possible. This thinking has permeated the whole organization. And when Debbie pokes the finger into the wound any Scientologist knows what that means.
SZ: Then why aren’t there thousands of such protest-emails?
Rinder: People are in fear, especially from the media. Debbie had not intended that her mail would be known.
SZ: Do you know what is happening with her now?
Rinder: No, I am not in touch with her.
SZ: But if someone knows how Scientology deals with a critic it is you.
Rinder: That is true. I have quite a good idea of what is now going on. First the face book police are activated. They inform all members that Debbie may not be anybody’s Facebook ‘friend’ anymore. Following that she will be given the label of “suppressive person” – and disconnection. And then you will see more and more attempts to position her as a liar, as someone who has no clue. As an apostate with an axe to grind. That is the standard procedure.
SZ: And does this work?
Rinder: Not as good as it used to. Many, many staff members of Scientology live in a totally isolated way. They read no press. They shut themselves off from anything that could be critical. But now this is reaching the parishioners – and through them the criticism reaches the staff members. For any parishioner asking questions, they need someone to deal with it. Anyone doing so will be confronted with the criticisms – and when this repeats, sooner or later the staff member will start to ask questions himself. That is the beauty of Debbie Cook’s criticisms. In the short range it will only produce an echo in the media. In the long term the consequences are enormous. Doubts are sown. It will bear fruit.
SZ: Let’s talk about David Miscavige, the chief of Scientology and best friend of Tom Cruise. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of his rule?
(Michael Rinder led the secret service of Scientology for 20 years. Then he dropped out.)
Rinder: No, that began way back. But what is happening now will speed up his demise. His power depends on people listening to him. That they believe that he will lead Scientology into the land of milk and honey. When this image is shaken, the whole structure of the church starts to shake. The church is in his image. Nobody can do or decide anything without Miscavige’s consent.
SZ: A dictator?
SZ: How well do you know him?
Rinder: Oh, I know David Miscavige. We have worked together very closely for a long time.
SZ: What kind of a man is he, on the good as well as the bad side?
Rinder: Clearly, the bad dominates. But the good…He is an extremely fast study and there is almost nothing he cannot deal with intellectually. But he uses his intelligence to manipulate. He is incredibly vain and very resentful. When you question something he says he’ll teach you a lesson. He keeps everyone around him off balance and in fear. His punishments are often arbitrary. You never know when you have to clean the toilet or get beat up.
SZ: Did he beat you?
Rinder: About 50 times. He had me clean toilets. I had to sleep on the bare floor. I was put into “The Hole.” Stuff like that.
SZ: Have you ever defended yourself?
Rinder: I only raised my arms in front of my face. I really wasn’t the only one. There are many reports about his attacks.
SZ: You supposedly also did some of that.
Rinder: Yes. David Miscavige told me and others: “Go and beat so and so. And if you dont’ do that I will do it and will give you a beating afterward.”
SZ: Scientology rejects what you say. Your own wife described you a liar on CNN.
Rinder: Out of fear, people like my wife say anything. They start marching like good little robots and spout what David Miscavige dictated. There were several ex-wives of defectors on CNN. Two even used the exact same formulation.
SZ: It is being said that Miscavige has a dog and staff members must salute it?
Rinder: Correct. The uniform is blue with gold stripes.
SZ: You call yourself an “independent Scientologist”. What does that mean?
Rinder: I believe that Scientology philosophy can help people lead a better life. However, the organization uses this knowledge to pull money out of their pockets.
SZ: Do you yourself not wish to annihilate critics and dominate the world?
Rinder: No. And I know that especially in Germany this is a huge topic. This arrogance: We are superior, we alone know the way to happiness. It is David Miscavige who is responsible that Scientology and its members are considered radical. While this image really does not match the truth of what Scientology stands for, it is reinforced when the church proceeds against critics and journalists like you and treating them like dirt.
SZ: You mean the infamous “fair-game”-rule, the merciless dealing with critics. That, by a long shot, is not the only fundamental, why Scientology has such a bad reputation. Such rules have always existed. They are the invention of the founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
Rinder: That could turn into a long discussion. I can also understand that you see it this way. The fair-game rule should never have been written in such a manner and has been badly misinterpreted. The same goes for the “disconnection”-rule…
SZ: The duty to break off contact to people, who in the eyes of Scientology are “suppressives”
Rinder: Right. But if you were to read all that Hubbard wrote about that, you would see that this was considered a last resort. Disconnection is designed to allow someone to lead a happier life. When you are in an abusive relationship it is best to cut off the contact. That is its purpose. It is supposed to be a tool for the individual not as a political tool of control where the church tells people who they are not allowed to talk to.
SZ: When one listens to you, it sounds as if Hubbard had been innocent. Ronald De Wolf, the oldest son of the founder of Scientology, who passed in 1991, described his father in an interview as a sadistic, violent and paranoid occultist, who, contrary to his own teaching of purity, drank like crazy and took drugs.
Rinder: First I know that Nibs (Note by editor: nickname of De Wolf) later retracted this statement. And number two I have spent myself a lot of time with Hubbard. He was the most brilliant person I ever had the pleasure of meeting. Yes, he had a temper and could get angry when something went wrong. But was that always like that? No. Did he treat people like Miscavige does? Not a bit. Did he take care of his own family? Absolutely. Did he take drugs? Absolutely not. Was he polite? Incredibly so. Was he humorous? Very much.
SZ: All that sounds very terrific. But it was Hubbard who made this steel hard differentiation between the supposedly spirit-liberated Scientologists and the rest, the “wogs”, the “raw meat” the “suppressives”. This worldview of black and white, friend and enemy is Hubbard in pure form. And you, Mr. Rinder, experience it yourself since your exit. You are now one of the bad ones. Even your family has declared war on you. How do you get all that under one hat?
Rinder: I do that by pushing that kind of thought about the church out of my life. I see it as you do. This attitude that we fight against the rest of the world and have to deal with any critic as an enemy is wrong. You may possibly find passages from Hubbard that you could use to support this. So what? There are many favorable passages that say something completely different. I am not a full-time explainer of Hubbard that has to think at each sentence how to defend him. I only want the abuses to cease that are now the order of the day in the church.
SZ: Your wife describes you as a man that hates children. Your daughter calls you a bigamist. Does that hurt?
Rinder: Of course it hurts. But I know why they are doing it. They think they have no choice. My goodness, they even visited my 86-year old mother in an old folks home and got her to write me vicious letters. But I know who I am. I know how I live. I now have a 5 year old step son that I love tremendously. We have a great relationship. If I was such a fiend why would Cathy stay married to me for 30 years? You know, I don’t even read any more all of the dirt that is being dumped on me.
SZ: Do you see any chance that you and your family could make peace at some time in the future?
Rinder: Only if they wake up. Only if they recognize that they had been brainwashed.
SZ: If you summarize all of your experiences, how do you see yourself then: as a perpetrator or as a victim?
Rinder: I am not a victim. I harvest only a part of what I have sown myself. For that reason I will contribute my part to end the abuse of this organization.
SZ: There are few countries where the Church of Scientology is dealt with in such a critical manner as in Germany: as a dangerous cult ruining people financially, knowing of no freedom of opinion that attacks critics and dropouts without regard. In short, as danger. Can you comprehend this criticism?
Rinder: Clearly so. I’d like to plead though to differentiate. It is the organization and the command personnel that are the problem, not the simple parishioner. That latter should be allowed to think and believe what he wants without being branded. In many cases these are the same people that are being abused by the church, by extracting money out of their pockets and are being controlled with the threat of disconnection.
SZ: The German Agency for the Protection of the Constitution is also very interested in that last point.
Rinder: And correctly so.