Is Scientology's "pope" a foul-mouthed, violent bully?
A new book released this week by BBC newsman John Sweeney makes use of secret electronic communications that portray Scientology's leader, David Miscavige, berating his underlings in texts with phrases like "You suck!" and "Counter-Intentional Cock Sucker!" and "You Suck Cock on Hollywood Boulevard!"
Sweeney is famous for blowing up in a temper tantrum while filming his 2007 BBC Panorama special, Scientology and Me, and says he's wanted for years to write a book about his experiences making that documentary and its followup, 2010's The Secrets of Scientology.
Now in The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology, Sweeney has done just that, providing a disturbing look at the electronic communications going on between church operatives as they spied on Sweeney and his crew.
Sweeney is careful to point out that the church denies that the communications are genuine, and they have also consistently denied that David Miscavige has ever been violent with his employees or that he swears like a sailor.
But in his book, Sweeney meticulously lays out the evidence that Scientology is run by a dictator who screams at his underlings and worse; about a dozen former church members have now come forward saying they witnessed Miscavige pummel his junior executives, he says.
One of these was Mike Rinder, who appeared in the first film as one of the church's "zombie-like" PR people, denying every allegation that Sweeney came up with. But after he defected in 2007, Rinder changed his tune and said he'd been lying to the BBC reporter: In fact, he estimated that he'd actually been assaulted by Miscavige about 50 times during his years as a high-level church executive.
In a gripping set of chapters, Sweeney describes what it was like to be spied on in 2007 by Rinder and his fellow church spokesman, Anne Archer's son Tommy Davis, and shows that Rinder and Davis were constantly in a three-way electronic conversation with David Miscavige's "communicator," Laurisse "Lou" Stuckenbrock. As Rinder and Davis tracked Sweeney around the country, the PR duo were constantly being berated by Stuckenbrock, who Sweeney was told merely acted as a front for Miscavige.
"Ex-members of the Church say that the role of the Communicator is a deliberately constructed cut-out. [The texts] read as if Miscavige says something, his word is recorded and transcribed and put into the third person, so there is always a measure of deniability," Sweeney writes.
"Taken together," he adds, the texts "paint an extraordinarily weird picture of the Church."
There's no doubt about that. For instance, after Sweeney interviewed actress Anne Archer -- who barked at him "Do I look brainwashed to you?" -- Rinder reported to his boss that she had "demolished" Sweeney. But that doesn't seem to satisfy Stuckenbrock/Miscavige, who fires back...
"Were these ass rippings on camera?...Any other details, you Generality infested CSMF?"
Sweeney says CSMF stands for "Cock Sucking Mother Fucker."
As he points out, it's a bit hard to imagine the leader of a mainstream church chewing out underlings in quite the same way.
Other choice utterances from Scientology's pope (through his communicator):
"Now answer my comm, you CICS!" (CICS = Counter-Intentional Cock Sucker, "counter-intention" being church jargon for failing to carry out Miscavige's orders, or "intention.")
Another actual quote, with misspellings: "You really are just sp aren't you? I wqaited to get this crap? I can't even believe it. You just can't work or do can you? YS YS YS YS YS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" (YS = You Suck. SP = suppressive person, Scientology's notion of a hopelessly degraded human being who doesn't deserve to be in the church.)
"One ex-member of the Church later told me that this kind of potty-mouthed, one-way abusive language was standard from David Miscavige. Another of his favorite sign-offs was YSCOHB. Decoded, it means: 'You Suck Cock On Hollywood Boulevard'," Sweeney writes.
But even with all the spying and harassment, Sweeney is still deeply apologetic about the thing that he's best known for: losing his temper in a blow up that garnered seven million views on YouTube. Part of his reason for writing the book was to explain fully how that episode occurred, and he does so in fascinating detail.
We talked to him this weekend about that and other statements he makes in the book: for example, his assertion that despite all the places he's worked, from war zones to the sites of massacres, he's never felt more fear than when he reported on Scientology.
Read the rest of the story, including our interview with Sweeney, at tonyortega.org