Monday, 16 January 2012

Mike Rinder Speaks in Germany.

Ex-Scientologist about Cult Leader:
"He Beat me, He had me Clean Toilets"

Interview: Marc Felix Serrao

For 20 years, Michael Rinder was the head of the feared intelligence agency of the Church of Scientology. In 2007 he left - because he couldn't cope with the cult leader's totalitarian methods anymore. Since then his own family despises him. In his first interview he explains why an open revolt in Scientology is only a matter of time.

Since a few days ago, all hell has broken loose at Scientology. A Scientologist with conviction by the name of Debbie Cook sharply criticized the cult leader David Miscavige and his alleged wasteful conduct with donations in an e-mail sent to thousands of other Scientologists. Such strong statements were until now only known to come from former members and not from within the organization. An isolated occurence? Not at all, says Michael Rinder. There are few people who know the cult as well as the 56 year old Australian. Rinder already grew up in a family of Scientologists. He was a spokesperson and for more than 20 years head of the Office of Special Affairs, Scientology's infamous intelligence agency. In 2007 he left, because, as he says, he couldn't cope anymore with the totalitarian methods of the cult leader. In his first interview, which appears in Germany, he explains why an open revolt in Scientology is from his perspective, a mere question of time.

SZ: Mr. Rinder, is the Church of Scientology in a state of crisis?

Michael Rinder: It is. If you want to know why, you need to know who Debbie Cook is. She is the author of that critical mail - and she was a member of the Sea Organisation within Scientology (editorial remark: That's the name of the cult's elite unit; its members wear military-style uniforms and address their superiors with "Sir".) In contrast to people like me, Debbie was the whole time a member of the Church in good standing. She was popular, she enjoyed a lot of respect. This means that most members will have read her mail. And what Debbie has written impinges on Scientologists: She's quoting L Ron Hubbard's rules (editorial remark: who is the late cult founder, who died in 1986 and is enthusiastically adored by the members to this day) And she points out that very much of what the leadership of the Church does these days grossly contradicts them.

SZ: According to Scientology, Debbie Cook represents an individual opinion, which was a sign of a "small, ignorant and unenlightened view of today's world."

Rinder: This is a lame PR answer. It's an attempt at damage control, nothing more.

SZ: And how big is the damage?

Rinder: It's considerable. This can also be infered from the reactions following the first statement. By now Debbie has even been called an apostate. It may sound bizarre to your ears, but it is a message that is
mainly directed at members. Debbie is an apostate, don't believe a word she says!

SZ: What do you think, how many members secretely share Cook's criticism?

Rinder: The majority.

SZ: Seriously?

Rinder: Yes. If the parishioners were to talk openly with you, everyone of them could tell you a story about the "vulture culture".

SZ: Vulture culture?

Rinder: It's the attitude of vultures. The obsession to squeeze as much money out of people as possible. This kind of thinking has permeated the organization in its entirety. And when Debbie brings up this painful subject, it resonates with every Scientologist.

SZ: Then why aren't there thousands of such protest mails?

Rinder: People are afraid, especially of the media. Debbie also didn't intend for her mail to become public.

SZ: Do you know what's happening to her now?

Rinder: We're not in contact.

SZ: But if there is anyone who knows how Scientology deals with a critic, it's you.

Rinder: That's true. I even have quite a precise idea of what is currently going on. At first the facebook police is activated. It informs all the members that Debbie must not remain "friends" with anybody. Then she is given the label of "suppressive person" - a prohibition of contact with her. And later you'll be able to observe an ever increasing number of attempts to paint the woman as a liar. As somebody who doesn't know anything. As a disgruntled former member who holds a grudge. That's standard procedure.

SZ: That works?

Rinder: Not as it used to. A lot of Scientology staff members live a completely isolated life. They don't read the press, they completely cut themselves off from anything that could be critical. For every member asking questions they need somebody to handle it. That's the nice thing about Debbie Cook. At first she's just causing a media reaction. But the long term consequences are enormous. The doubt has been planted. It's going to bear fruit.

"I had to sleep on the bare floor"

SZ: Let's talk about David Miscavige, the head of Scientology and Tom Cruise's best friend. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of his rule?

Rinder: No, that already happened before. But what is happening now is going to speed up his demise. His power depends on people listening to him. That they trust him to lead Scientology into the promised land. When this image starts to shake the whole structure of the Church starts to shake. It's entirely aligned to his person. Nobody there can do or decide anything without Miscavige's agreement.

SZ: A dictator?

Rinder: Absolutely.

SZ: How well do you know him?

Rinder: Oh, I know David Miscavige. We have worked together for a long time and very closely too.

SZ: What kind of a person is he, good and bad both considered?

Rinder: The bad clearly predominates. But [good/well]... He's an extremely fast learner, very intelligent. There is almost nothing which he cannot intellectually process. But he uses his intelligence to manipulate others. He's incredibly vain and very vindictive. If you question something he says he's going to teach you a lesson. He never allows people around him a minute of rest. His punishment is often arbitrary. You never know when you have to clean the toilet or when he's going to slap your face.

SZ: He punched you?

Rinder: Maybe 50 times. He beat me. He had me clean toilets. I had to sleep on the bare ground. I was sent into the hole. Things like that.

SZ: Did you fight back?

Rinder: I just covered my face with my arms. I wasn't the only one. There are many reports about his violent behaviour.

SZ: Supposedly you also hit others.

Rinder: Yes. David Miscavige told me and others: You'll now go over to that person and hit him. And if you don't do that then I will and after that I'm going to hit you too.

SZ: Scientology denies what you say. Your own wife called you a liar on CNN.

Rinder: People like my wife say everything out of fear. They march like good little robots and tell what Miscavige told them to. There were several wives of ex-members on CNN. Two of them even used the exact same word order.

SZ: Supposedly Miscavige also has a dog that wears a uniform and which has to be greeted by members with a salute?

Rinder: That's correct. The uniform is blue and there are golden stripes on the front.

SZ: You describe yourself as an "independent Scientologist". What does that mean?

Rinder: I believe that our philosophy has the potential to help people lead a better life. The organization, however, uses this knowledge to get to their money.

SZ: So you aren't interested in obliterating critics and in world domination?

Rinder: No. And I know that this is a huge topic in Germany in particular. This arrogance: We're superior, we alone know the way to happiness. David Miscavige bears responsibility for the fact that Scientology and its members are considered to be radical - in the sense of: crazy jihadists. This image does not represent reality, but is reinforced time and again when the church acts against critics and journalists like yourself and treats them like dirt.

SZ: You're refering to the infamous "fair game" policy - the ruthless handling of critics. It's by far not the only principle that Scientology owes its bad reputation to. Such rules have always existed. They were created by the founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Rinder: [Well.] That could be a long discussion. So: I can understand how you arrive at that perspective. The "fair game" policy should never have been written that way [in the first place] and it was badly misinterpreted. The same holds true for the policy of "disconnection"...

SZ: The duty to cut off contact with people who are "suppressive" in the eyes of Scientology.

Rinder: Exactly. If you read everything Hubbard wrote on the subject, you will see that it was meant as a last resort. Disconnection was supposed to allow someone to be happy. If you are in an abusive relationship, then it is best to cut off contact. That was how it was [originally] intended. As a means to help the individual, not as a political means of control which grants the Church the power to say: You must no longer see this person or that person.

"I must protect myself"

SZ: Listening to you, it sounds as if Hubbard had been harmless. Ronald DeWolf, who passed away in 1991 and was the oldest son of the Scientology founder, described his father in an interview as a sadistic, violent and paranoid occultist, who in contrast to his own teachings of purity had drunk a lot of alcohol and also taken drugs.

Rinder: First of all, I know that Nibs (editorial remark: De Wolf's nickname) has later taken back these statements. And secondly, I myself have spent a lot of time with Hubbard, as much as few others. He was the most brilliant person I ever got to know. Yes, he was moody at times and he could get angry when something went wrong. But was it always like that? No. Did he treat people like Miscavige? Not one bit. Did he care for his family? Absolutely. Did he take drugs? Absolutely not. Was he polite? Incredibly. Was he funny? Very much so.

SZ: That sounds all fine and dandy. But it was Hubbard who created this unshakable distinction between the supposedly [clear] Scientologists and the rest, the "wogs", the "raw meet", the "suppressives". This world view of black and white, either with us or against us, that's pure Hubbard. And you yourself experience it, since you left, Mister Rinder. Now you are one of the bad guys. Even your family has declared war on you. How do you reconcile all of that?

Rinder: By pushing out that church-like kind of thinking out of my life. We're on the same page: This position of us fighting against the rest of the world and treating every critic as an enemy, is wrong. You may
find individual passages by Hubbard with which you can demonstrate that we're in disagreement. So what? There are many passages that have very different content. I'm not a full time interpreter of Hubbard's words who thinks about how to defend him with every sentence I utter. I just want the abuse to stop which is currently happening on a daily basis within the church.

SZ: Your wife calls you a person which hates children and your daughter calls you a bigamist. Does that hurt?

Rinder: Of course it hurts. But I have to protect myself. I know why they do that. They think that they don't have a choice. They even have visited my 86 year old mother in a home for elderly people and got her to write [mean] letters to me. But I know who I am. I know how I live. Now I have a five year old step-son who I love to bits and pieces. We have a wonderful relationship. If I really was such a horrible person, then why was Cathy married to me for 30 years? You know, I don't even read all that dirt anymore which they throw at me.

SZ: From your point of view: Is there any way for you and your family to ever find reconciliation and peace?

Rinder: Only if they wake up. Only if they recognize that they have been brainwashed.

SZ: If you take a look at all you experienced: Do you see yourself as a victim or as a perpetrator?

Rinder: I'm not a victim. I'm just reaping part of that which I have sown. And that's why I want to do my part in ending the abuse in this organization.

SZ: There are few countries which treat the Church of Scientology in as critical a fashion as Germany: As a dangerous cult that financially ruins people, which knows no freedom of speech and which recklessly attacks critics and former members. In short: as a danger. Can you understand this criticism?

Rinder: Certainly. But I would like to argue for a differentiation. The organization and its leadership are the problem, not the normal members. They should be allowed to think and believe in whatever they want without being stigmatized. After all, in many cases these are the same people who are being abused by the Church by pulling their money out of their pockets and by controlling them through the threat of disconnection.

SZ: The latter is also of interest to the german Office for Protection of the Constitution.

Rinder: And rightly so.

Rinder: First of all, I know that Nibs (editorial remark: De Wolf's nickname) has later taken back these statements. And secondly, I myself have spent a lot of time with Hubbard, as much as few others. He was the most brilliant person I ever got to know. Yes, he was moody at times and he could get angry when something went wrong. But was it always like that? No. Did he treat people like Miscavige? Not one bit. Did he care for his family? Absolutely. Did he take drugs? Absolutely not. Was he polite? Incredibly. Was he funny? Very much so.

The Hubbard Rinder knew must have been an impostor.

Scientology's Crimes:

Cult Awareness Network:

Cult Information Charity faces Charity Commission Curb after Complaint.

Haworth said: "We were awarded charitable status 20 years ago in spite of complaints from the Moonies, Scientology and the Hare Krishnas, which the commission was prepared then to override. Meanwhile, the commission continues to award charitable status to some very sinister and suspect groups whose contribution to the public good is arguable, and now the CIC is being told it can't operate effectively.

"The commission has got it all so wrong, while the whole business has distracted us from our core work. Our website content is now problematic, and we can't fundraise properly or talk openly to the press about groups, which is particularly worrying given that the vast proportion of stories go untold because cults are so litigious.

• This article was amended on 13 January 2012. The original article said that "an official [from the Charity Commission] let slip at a meeting attended by Haworth, and some CIC trustees that it was the Church of Scientology" which had made the complaint to the Charity Commission about the CIC. This is denied by the Charity Commission which has asked us to make clear that it is the commission's policy not to reveal the source of any complaint and that the complaint came from an individual who did not claim to be making the complaint on behalf of any one else or any other organisation.

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