originally published February 26, 2013

Scientology. It’s a harmless religion, packed with goofy alien-oriented scripture, intriguing sci-fi technology and at worst, it makes Tom Cruise jump up and down on couches, claiming psychiatry to be crap. No big deal, right?

While answering this question with a resounding “NO” might land me on some crazy Enemies List, written in goat’s blood by lanky Gregorian chanters in charcoal robes, I’m sticking with that as my answer. To be clear, I mean no disrespect to anyone’s faith, but… well, I’ll let this story speak for itself.

And because it creeped me out while I was doing my research, I’ll pepper the text with the enigmatic, almost sentient grin of Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige.

In 1978, a group calling themselves the Scottish Highland Quietude Club bought a slab of land in Southern California. This was a front for the Sea Org, the inner circle of the Church of Scientology, who converted the space into Gold Base – their headquarters. A number of Scientology’s higher-ups, including Smiles Miscavige up there, live and work on Gold Base. But he’s the one you don’t want to piss off.

Allegedly – and all of this comes from former members who have defected back to the real world, but since nothing is proven, this entire article will have a big ALLEGEDLY slapped around its neck – around 2002, Miscavige started getting a bit ornery when people pissed him off. He’d slap them, kick them, yell at them, and refer to them with terms like ‘CSMF’ (Cock-Sucking Mother Fucker) and ‘YSCOHB’ (You Suck Cock On Hollywood Boulevard – clearly Dave isn’t a fan of fellatio). Then the discipline got a little heavier.

Back in the 60’s, L. Ron Hubbard developed the disciplinary technique of ‘overboarding’, in which naughty parishioners were tossed over the side of a boat, often blindfolded and bound. Miscavige used the local swimming pool or lake for this; alternately, he simply stood the offenders against a wall and had buckets of water thrown on them.

Okay, that’s weird. But then they adapted a pair of double-wide trailers that had been used as management offices into becoming The Hole. Enter the most twisted game of Musical Chairs ever.

It was the fall of 2004. Miscavige popped Queen’s Greatest Hits onto the stereo, and instructed his executive staff to play a massive game of musical chairs. Those who lost were taken from their families and tossed into lockdown in these trailers for days. The fighting for seats got fierce, escalating quickly to violence.

The Hole became the most feared form of punishment in Scientology. Up to a hundred people were crammed into a space so tiny, one couldn’t roll more than six inches in any direction whilst sleeping, lest they collide with their neighbor. People – I want to call them prisoners – were only allowed to leave under guard, and even then only to be escorted to a nearby shower facility, or to the mess hall to eat soupy leftovers within a quick ten to fifteen minute window.

Some of the so-called executives who had been banished to The Hole were forced to spend months, even years there. Disgusted yet? Just wait.

One of the tactics employed by the “church officials” overseeing The Hole was to encourage the prisoners to turn on one another. Time between meals and showers were spent making public confessions to one another. These confessions might be actual wrongdoings, or they could just be bad thoughts about Scientology. Also, sexual fantasies. Prisoners had to confess those too, though I’m sure it’s not because the people running the show were deviant perverts.

Picture it: 50-70 other inmates, people you’d once been close to, who have been your cellmates for the past few months, screaming at you to confess that you’d stolen, or that you’d had an affair. Or worse still, that you’d had a homosexual encounter, like maybe with a masseur at a hotel.

Truth didn’t really matter in The Hole. You think the guy everyone else is yelling at also forced a pigeon have sex with an ocelot once? Call it out. Though chances are, you yourself are already too broken to get clever. People wrote apologies that – according to former incarcerated executive Mike Rinder – read like POW confessions of the evils of America, coming out of North Korea. Not confessing? How about some torture? Not Jack Bauer stuff – even Scientologists have their limits – but forcing executives to crawl around a table on their knees while fellow inmates kicked them for a few hours? No problem. Sit them under a fan while pouring cold water over their heads until they’re shaking so badly they can’t even speak? Sure!

Debbie Cook, who was the head of the church’s Flag Service Organization (their charitable wing), was on the phone with Happy Dave Miscavige when two members of her church slipped in her office window and abducted her, tossing her in The Hole. Not long afterward, she was standing in a garbage can for twelve hours, getting slapped across the face while water was poured over her head, as she held up a sign that said ‘LESBO’. They wanted a confession of her homosexual tendencies. According to one witness, she never broke.

The fence around Gold Camp is lined with blades along the top, positioned just as much to keep people in as to keep them out. People had to take drastic efforts to flee. Those who did were often sent “Freeloader Bills” by the church (one reported a dollar amount of $98,000) for church services they had received.

In 2009, Mark and Claire Headley took the church to court, citing the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. They brought up the deplorable conditions, the forced labor (Mark had been forced to clean up human excrement by hand with no gloves), the outright cruelty (Claire was banned from the mess hall for 8 months, subsisting only on protein bars and water), not to mention the sheer insanity of inner Scientology (Sea Org) culture. Claire was required to have two abortions during her time at Gold Base, as Sea Org members were not to have children.

The case didn’t stick. The church was protected under the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment. There was a brief FBI investigation, but nothing came of it. The Hole still exists, though allegedly the inhumane conditions have eased up. They now get to sleep in a different building, and get a whopping 30 minutes to eat their gruel.

This is what disgusts me about Scientology. It’s worse than a cult – this is a cult that is sanctioned by the authorities and granted tax-fee, protected status by the Constitution. This Gitmo-level abuse isn’t happening in some far-off land that America is trying to “liberate”, this is happening in Riverside County, just a few miles from where my Uncle Bernie buys his bagels and lox.

People enter into Scientology willingly, this is true. But they should know what they’re getting into. And America needs to decide just how much degrading, dehumanizing ‘discipline’ is acceptable in the name of religion.

And maybe this guy needs to pull his head out of his own hole and spend some time in the Hole he created.

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