BOOK REVIEW

Father of Church of Scientology leader doesn’t pull his punches in memoir

Ruthless chronicles how David Miscavige rose to the top of the controversial organisation, which boasts Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta as members

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2016, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2016, 6:00pm

For a man who devoted half his long life to the Church of Scientology, then quit, wrote a book highly critical of its leader – his son – and now suffers the church’s wrath, Ron Miscavige comes off as a pretty happy, upbeat guy.

The 80-year-old last month released his memoir, Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me, which almost immediately landed on The New York Times’ bestseller list and put the first-time author on major US network news shows.

It also thrust him into the cross hairs of the church, which calls the book a lie and launched a website portraying Miscavige as a wife beater, ungrateful son and huckster trying to make a buck off his famous son.

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Plus, he assumes he’s still under constant surveillance, but doesn’t seem to care. “You don’t ever beat a bully by running away,” he says.

His main hope for the book, he says, is that it might lead to an end of the church’s policy of “disconnection”, in which all members stop contact with anyone who leaves. He remains cut off by two daughters still in the church.

It chronicles his attraction to Scientology’s original principles in the 1960s, and how his family became so involved that David left home at 16 to go work closely with founder L. Ron Hubbard and rose to become leader of the organisation after Hubbard’s death.

Miscavige still believes in the value of some of those early teachings; he says they helped him stop being physically abusive to his first wife. But he says his son turned the church into an obsessively controlling, secretive money machine, and has become, “in my mind, evil”.

The book is an easy read that offers a primer for those unfamiliar with Scientology, but it is more of a tell-all about Miscavige’s own life and how it brought his son into the church. He describes a normal parent-child relationship when David was young, although, as a cookware salesman, Miscavige Sr travelled a lot.

While he thinks David had the brains and drive to be successful at anything, he thinks his son modelled his punitive, controlling style on Hubbard, taking on his “valence”, in Scientology jargon.

Miscavige is just the latest in a series of critics and former church members to publicise their beefs with the organisation, which he believes continues to exist on the momentum of its billions of dollars and celebrity members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

“I think the church will continue shrinking,” he says. “No one ever achieves what’s promised [spiritually],”, and his son isn’t grooming anyone to take over.

Eventually, at age 76 and after 45 years in the church and 26 years in its administration, Miscavige and his second wife escaped the California desert compound known as Golden Era Productions, or Gold for short, in 2012. The church has posted a video mocking Miscavige’s dramatisation of his departure.

Miscavige says other church critics urged him to write a book but it wasn’t until his daughters rebuffed his attempts to communicate that he decided he would.

It wasn’t hard to write. It was just the truth
Ron Miscavige

He sat down with collaborator Dan Koon and told his whole story in five days. “It wasn’t hard to write,” he says. “It was just the truth.”

He does have normal contact with his eldest son, who left the church many years earlier. Why did Miscavige stay so long, given the oppressive conditions he describes in the book?

“I was 76 years old, father of the COB,” he said, using the term for his son’s title, chairman of the board. But eventually, the conditions living on the base – no vacation time, limited food options, emotional denigration – led Miscavige and his wife to drive off one morning, after weeks of elaborate planning.

During his years on the Scientology staff in California, he composed, performed and recorded music for church films and events, including with Isaac Hayes.

Now, he plays standards on cornet at a bar in Milwaukee where he performs with the Dixieland group Razzamataz. He brought his horn to an interview and volunteered a riff from Louis Armstrong’s Struttin with some Barbecue.

In part, it was to counter one of the many claims about him by the church, that he was a third-rate musician. “Hey, I can play.”