Scientology Leader Attacked by Estranged Father in New Memoir

ABC previewed the heavily embargoed 'Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me' on a special edition of '20/20.'
Courtesy of St. Martin's Press

Ronald Miscavige, the estranged father of Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige and himself a former Scientologist, appeared on an ABC 20/20 special to promote his memoir, Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me, which publishes on May 3. This was the first real sense of the book’s contents, since it is heavily embargoed until its release next week.

Ron talked about how his son went from what he described as “a lovable kid” to the ruthless leader of the church. Ron added, “To come to this is nuts.” Ron’s view of his son is a devastating portrait. “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he said, paraphrasing the famous quote by Lord Acton.

In the special, Ron went back to the beginning of his and David’s story to describe how he introduced 9-year-old David to Scientology in 1969 (soon after Ron himself first encountered the church) and how the church’s auditing routines helped David with his asthma attacks. Ron described that as the key turning point in David’s life, the moment he decided he would dedicate his life to the church.

Ron recounted how David joined the Sea Org, the Church’s elite leadership group that requires members to sign a billion-year contract, in the mid-1970s. Fellow Sea Org members at the time described David as “gung ho” and very ambitious (he was nicknamed “the kid” by founder L. Ron Hubbard).

In dispute is whether Hubbard wanted David Miscavige to succeed him as the leader of the Church of Scientology. During the early 1980s, Miscavige became the gatekeeper to Hubbard. His father, Ron, said he developed a taste for power, though he admitted he doesn’t have firsthand knowledge of what happened during those years or how David became the church’s leader after Hubbard’s death in 1986.

In 1985, Ron himself joined the Sea Org (after David helped him fight a sexual-assault charge). Ron recounted how David then treated him as an underling, not as his father, often yelling at him in public.

Ron also touched on David’s relationship with Tom Cruise, probably the highest-profile Scientologist in the world. Ron said Cruise and his son were “the best of buddies” and that Cruise thinks David is “the top spiritual being” on Earth.

Ron painted a devastating picture of life at Scientology’s 500-acre “Gold Base” compound in Hemet, Calif., claiming it's a place where incoming and outgoing mail is read and phone calls are monitored. Ron hated it so much that he left both Gold Base and Scientology in 2012. Ron called it an “escape,” a term the church disputes.

The church tried to undermine Ron’s credibility by telling ABC that he hit David’s mother. (Ron did not dispute the domestic-abuse claims, but disputed the church’s allegation of the frequency of these instances.) The church also provided ABC access to members of the Scientology band Ron played in, who called him an “embarrassment,” “lazy” and a user of racial slurs.

After Ron left the church, he moved to West Allis, Wis. (helped by a $100,000 gift from David). While living there, he discovered that private detectives hired by the church were spying on him. Ron said they were working under David’s direction. In fact, Ron learned (from the West Allis Police who pulled over one of the detectives) that once, when it appeared that Ron was having a heart attack, the detectives called Scientology headquarters and were told by David not to intervene. “If he dies, he dies,” is what they said David told them. (If He Dies, He Dies was the original working title of Ron’s book.)

The 20/20 special also delved into the Miscavige family feud. Ron’s two daughters side with their brother David. Ron, who has never met his great-grandchildren, said David ordered his sisters to disconnect from their father ("disconnect" is a Scientology term for cutting off contact with former members). Statements from the two daughters read on the air (they declined on-camera interviews) denied the disconnection allegations and said they cut off contact with their father because he was much more abusive than he admits.

David Miscavige did not appear on the program. ABC’s interview attempts at a church event were rebuffed by Scientology workers.

At the end of the 20/20 special, Ron said that he still loves his son David and that he forgives him. (In the program, church lawyer Monique Yingling scoffed, saying that David has done nothing that he needs to be forgiven for.)

A statement from the Church of Scientology to The Hollywood Reporter vigorously denied Ron Miscavige’s account and praised the leadership of his son David as the head of Scientology.

"Ronald Miscavige is seeking to make money on the name of his famous son. David Miscavige has taken care of his father throughout his life, both financially and by helping him in even the most dire circumstances.

"Ronald Miscavige was nowhere around when David Miscavige ascended to the leadership of the Church of Scientology, mentored by and working directly with the religion’s founder L. Ron Hubbard, and entrusted by him with the future of the Church. Any father exploiting his son in this manner is a sad exercise in betrayal.

"Mr. David Miscavige’s far-reaching vision and unrelenting dedication has brought the Church of Scientology to where it is today, guaranteeing its future for generations to come. Scientologists worldwide love and respect Mr. David Miscavige for his tireless work on behalf of their religion."

Earlier this week, the church threatened to sue Ron in the United Kingdom for defamation if the British publisher Silvertail Books went ahead with plans to release the book there on May 3. American publisher St. Martin’s Press received a similar letter, but the more plaintiff-friendly libel laws in the United Kingdom would make it a more favorable location for a lawsuit.

Silvertail publisher Humfrey Hunter told The Hollywood Reporter he wasn’t worried. "My plans for the book haven’t changed at all since I received the letter. Full legal due diligence has been carried out on the manuscript, and I am both confident in its integrity and very proud that Silvertail is publishing it. Ron’s story is an important one, and he is a brave man to be telling it."

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