Leaving the Church of Scientology: a huge step
By Thomas C. Tobin and Joe Childs, Times Staff Writers
Those who join the Sea Org dedicate their lives to Scientology and sign a 1-billion-year contract, to symbolize their commitment to serve in this life and the next ones. Many of those who leave undergo a "security check'' to see if they have ill intentions for the church, and many are cut off from contact with family still in Scientology.
In March 2007, David Miscavige assigned Rinder to get the BBC to spike a story it was preparing. A reporter and film crew had been to Los Angeles, asking pointed questions about Miscavige. Rinder followed them back to the UK.
Working out of church offices in North London, Rinder wrote network executives, asking to meet. He camped out at BBC offices.
On March 31, he intercepted the reporter at a church test center. A church videographer stood by. Blocking the doorway and face to face with the reporter, Rinder repeatedly denied allegations Miscavige abused his deputies. "It's rubbish,'' he said.
The story aired May 14, but it did not expose Miscavige. Rinder was relieved.
But Miscavige still was furious with him. The first week of June, Rinder says, the church leader wrote that he was to be sent to a remote part of Australia. And a manager in the London office told Rinder that Miscavige had phoned to say that first he was to report to the church's facility in Sussex, England, and dig ditches. He was not to return to the United States.
The church says Rinder was not told to dig ditches and was not told that he could never return to the United States.
Rinder picked up his briefcase and headed for the subway. He knew the route well. Go to Victoria Station, catch a train to East Grinstead, in Sussex. He had made the trip many times.
But not this day. He exited the subway before reaching Victoria, walked up to street level and toured one of his favorite cities.
A few days later he called Tom De Vocht, saying he was flying into Orlando. Could Tom pick him up?
De Vocht hadn't seen his old friend since he left the church two years earlier. On the way to De Vocht's apartment, they stopped at Kohl's to get Rinder something to wear.
Rinder stayed a few days, then went to Virginia. He wrote the church, saying he wanted to talk to his wife and also wanted his stuff, except his motorcycle and bicycle. Give them to his kids, he wrote.
He did not talk to his wife.
Soon a FedEx package arrived, including a check for $5,000, to cover the motorcycle "and everything else,'' Rinder said. The only items not sent were family photos.
Rinder and his wife, Cathy, divorced after 35 years. A Sea Org member for 35 years, Cathy Rinder called her ex-husband's allegation that Miscavige struck him on some 50 occasions "outrageous.''
"I slept with Mike,'' she said, "and I would have seen it.''
The Rinders have two adult children, both Sea Org members. Since he left the church in 2007, Rinder has had no contact with them and didn't know their 24-year-old son battled cancer the past 18 months.
A Sea Org member since he was 18, Rinder is 54 and lives in Denver. He sells cars.
After riding away from the California base aboard his motorcycle in February 2004, Rathbun flew to Clearwater to "sort things out'' with his wife, Anne, a longtime Scientologist. Eventually, he hoped to sort things out with Miscavige, too.
Rathbun was a "potential trouble source" for any Scientologist he encountered. For 10 months, he ate alone, roomed alone in staff housing — his wife in a separate apartment — and pulled a daily shift in the church's furniture mill.
Through his wife, Rathbun conveyed that he wanted to confront Miscavige. He said he waited for 10 months but the leader never came to see him.
On Dec. 12, 2004, he walked away from 27 years in Scientology. He rented a car and drove around the South for 35 days, stopping at the southern tip of Texas, where he found it easy to blend in.
"It's not a big thing that a guy in middle age comes into town destitute or depressed. There's a lot of that along the border," he said. "So it wasn't like I stuck out like a sore thumb. It was nice."
In Clearwater, a church critic put up posters asking, Where's Marty Rathbun? On the Internet, there was speculation: "Is Marty Rathbun dead?''
Now divorced, Rathbun and his girlfriend of three years share a stilt house near Corpus Christi, Texas. They have a dog, Chiquita.
His former wife, now Anne Joasem, remains in the Sea Org. She said Rathbun was violent and saw his role as a warrior for the church.
She said he told her he was leaving because the church was entering an era of expansion and he didn't want to get in the way.
Rathbun scoffed at that. "This is all manufactured. This is Miscavige-scripted stuff."
Rathbun writes for two small newspapers but considers himself more activist than journalist. Last year, he worked as an organizer for the Obama campaign. He also hawked beer at a local ballpark.
He said he gives advice and counsel — and listens a lot — to people in and out of Scientology.
He has an e-meter in his home office and says he still practices Scientology. He is 52.
When Scobee first saw Miscavige physically strike a church executive, back in 1995, she said she rationalized it this way: The guy must have done something really wrong to make the leader angry.
The next six years, she saw more abuse and other dehumanizing practices, she said, before she had an epiphany:
"What I am seeing is completely insane and I am nonstop trying to make it make sense, and it doesn't."
She started speaking up and constantly got in trouble. She was sent to Scientology's Rehabilitation Project Force, RPF for short, a work detail that is supposed to offer Sea Org members a chance to sort things out, recharge, reorder misaligned priorities. Scobee called it "slave labor.''
She had to scrape the inside of a septic tank with a wire brush. She dug drainage ditches.
Scobee was married 17 years to fellow Sea Org member Jim Mortland. But she said they rarely saw each other because they were often assigned to different locations, had different schedules and were kept apart a total of five years because of the RPF.
In 2003, a church "Fitness Board'' found her unfit to work at the California base and "off-loaded" her to the RPF in Clearwater.
At first, she thought, she would try to redeem herself. But then she started thinking she wanted to leave. She asked fellow Sea Org member and longtime friend Matt Pesch if he wanted to leave with her. He did.
They began the cumbersome process of "routing out.'' They knew they faced confessionals called security checks, but Scobee was shocked to learn she was being declared a "suppressive person,'' an enemy of Scientology. She would be allowed no contact with any church member.
"I blew up. Somebody's going to do a sec check on me and put me on the streets after 27 years of working my a-- off around the clock, not getting paid. I was really livid.''
During the routing out process, Scobee said she and Pesch were guarded 24 hours a day and fed only beans and rice.
Two months later, on March 1, 2005, Scobee and Pesch told their handlers the process had gone on too long. They left separately.
The church gave her $500, most of which paid for her flight back to her home near Seattle. On the way to Tampa International Airport, she had her driver stop at a salon so she could get a haircut.
Twenty-six years after coming to Clearwater as a 16-year-old Sea Org newbie, she said she boarded the plane with about $175.
"That's how much I started the world with,'' she said.
"I never had job. I had no prior job experience. No high school diploma. I had no bank account. No driver's license. … I knew nothing of the outside world.''
A few weeks later, Pesch traveled to Seattle and the two married. They buy and sell used furniture. Scobee is 45.
TOM DE VOCHT
De Vocht said Miscavige hit him twice, first in 2004 after musical chairs, and again in May 2005 in the film studio at the church base in California.
"He slapped me across the face, pushed my neck and head up against the wall, which hurt pretty good.''
De Vocht told his wife, Jennifer, a Miscavige aide, that if it happened again, he would fight back.
Days later, De Vocht said, he was summoned to a room, where about 15 people waited, including his wife. Miscavige telephoned from Clearwater and over a speaker phone read an order declaring De Vocht a "suppressive person," an enemy of the church.
Not allowed to talk to his wife again, he bunked in a small room. Rinder shadowed him for three days, pitching reasons to stay.
But De Vocht wouldn't budge. He agreed to a limited number of confessions called "security checks," but he told everyone he was leaving, that Sunday afternoon at 3:30. He also asked to talk a last time with his wife. Rinder told him no.
Sunday came. The guard at the base wouldn't open the front gate so De Vocht scaled it and walked to Hemet, a city 6 miles away. Rinder walked with him.
De Vocht, a 28-year Sea Org member, had his $300 severance pay. He checked into a hotel and called his brother in Florida to come pick him up. Days later, Rinder met De Vocht and turned over his belongings and his two dogs, Puggers and Guppers.
The church also called, saying he had left his wet suit. De Vocht gave a forwarding address. Two weeks later, the wet suit arrived, along with a "freeloader's bill'' for $98,000 to reimburse the church for courses he took for free as a Sea Org member. He hasn't paid a dime.
De Vocht and his wife, now Jennifer Linson, were divorced after 19 years. She told the Times her ex-husband successfully completed a number of construction projects in Clearwater, but badly overspent on a key project at the base, was demoted, became bitter and left. They haven't spoken since.
"I don't hold anything she had to say against her,'' De Vocht said, "because she was put up to saying it.''
He is 45 and runs a furniture business in Winter Haven.