Confessions of a Former Scientologist: David Miscavige and Donald Trump Are Eerily Similar
Tom De Vocht served for close to 30 years in Sea Org, the clergy of the Church of Scientology, before leaving the religion. He opens up about his traumatic experience.
There is a scene in My Scientology Movie, a documentary hitting theaters this Friday by the British provocateur Louis Theroux, that will leave you rattled.
Upon landing at Los Angeles International Airport en route to an interview with the filmmaker, former Scientology senior executive Marty Rathbun is ambushed by a trio of high-ranking Scientologists. Rathbun, once the second-highest ranking official in Scientology, has become a whistleblower since exiting the church in 2004—famously claiming in the documentary Going Clear that he was tasked with facilitating Tom Cruise’s “breakup with Nicole Kidman” by church leader David Miscavige.
With a camcorder trained on Rathbun, a woman gets in his face. She is incensed. She shouts, “Stop committing suppressive acts! Full-time suppressive acts! Just end it!” as her two male comrades look on, grinning impishly.
For Tom De Vocht, a former high-ranking Scientologist, the sequence hit particularly close to home: The woman is none other than his ex-wife, Jennifer Linson.
“That’s my ex,” mutters De Vocht. “I left Scientology and we were divorced within 24 hours. It’s a pretty gross scene, and was jarring for me, too. Although, having been in it, you can sort of see where they’re coming from—and not in an ‘I agree with you’ way, but ‘I feel sorry for you.’”He pauses. “They’re under extreme pressure by [David] Miscavige, and these are people that believe in their religion 100 percent. They believe that if they don’t do what they’re told and don’t do everything they can to protect their religion their eternity is screwed forever. They’re true believers. So from their perspective, it’s the right thing to do. I was there at one point, man.”
De Vocht, oddly enough, joined the Church of Scientology through the Steve Miller Band. His cousin Dickie Thompson, an organist in the group and avowed Scientologist, paid a visit to the family’s Central Florida abode in 1974, preaching the virtues of the newfangled religion. De Vocht’s family joined its ranks later that year, and by 1977, De Vocht had enlisted in the Sea Org, the church’s clergy comprising its most ardent acolytes. Sea Org participants must sign a billion-year contract to “symbolize their eternal commitment to the religion.” He was 12.According to De Vocht, who is one of the subjects of My Scientology Movie, he held various job titles within Scientology. He served as a member of the Commodore Messenger’s Organization (the “internal police” wing of Sea Org), rising to the rank of commanding officer, before working his way up to what he calls “project manager” for David Miscavige. In this capacity, De Vocht claims he worked very closely with the shadowy Scientology honcho, and that the two spent many nights discussing the religion over Scotch and backgammon.
“It hit me one of those nights that this entire religion is a farce. From a believer’s perspective, it was a holy cow moment,” De Vocht tells me.
His aha moment, he says, concerned Operating Thetan (OT) levels. According to the Church of Scientology’s literature, “Operating Thetan (OT) is a spiritual state of being above Clear. By Operating is meant ‘able to act and handle things’ and by Thetan is meant ‘the spiritual being that is the basic self.’ An Operating Thetan, then, is one who can handle things without having to use a body of physical means. Basically, one is oneself, can handle things and exist without physical support or assistance. It doesn’t mean one becomes God. It means one becomes wholly oneself.” Furthermore, once you advance to higher and higher OT levels (OT VIII is the highest), which can cost Scientologists tens of thousands of dollars, you are allowed to “study the very advanced materials of [founder] L. Ron Hubbard’s research.”
De Vocht says it’s all a ruse. “You know the OT levels? Hubbard was said to have ‘discarded his body’—which he didn’t, he died like the rest of us are going to die—and went off to planet Target 2, so he had left his folders to keep track of everything you say and do in an auditing session, and Miscavige explained to me that [Hubbard] actually didn’t develop these next OT levels, and that all he had were Hubbard’s worksheets and it’s now Miscavige who’s the one developing them.” Auditing, according to the Church of Scientology, is a session between an auditor and Scientology novice (or “preclear”) that “uses processes—exact sets of questions asked or directions given by an auditor to help a person locate areas of spiritual distress, find out things about themselves and improve their condition.”
If that weren’t enough, De Vocht also elaborated on a claim he made in Going Clear: that Miscavige shared intimate details from Scientologist Tom Cruise’s audit with him over the course of their late-night Scotch and backgammon sessions.
“It was [Cruise’s] sex life and other stuff,” explains De Vocht. “It was Miscavige talking himself up and trying to make himself seem more superior to Cruise, and that Cruise was a peon compared to him. Now, you wouldn’t go and say that to Cruise, but that was his whole thing. I’m not going to go into details of what he brought up. They did it to me, so I’m not going to do it to somebody else.”
“But I think Cruise is a true believer,” he adds. “Secondly, I think he likes the power that Miscavige gives him. Cruise will eventually crack, though. I think everybody does.”
When The Daily Beast requested comment from the Church of Scientology, they replied with a threatening four-page letter from their lawyer wherein they denied the claims and characterized De Vocht as a “vociferous anti-Scientologist” who was dismissed from the church.
I also asked De Vocht about President Trump’s head-scratching connection to Scientology. As of November 2015, despite regularly invoking the 9/11 tragedy on the campaign trail, Trump’s Donald J. Trump Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Trump Organization—had made only one donation to a 9/11-related charity, according to IRS records obtained by The Smoking Gun. Trump’s foundation donated $1,000 to the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project: an initiative co-founded by Tom Cruise that allowed 9/11 firefighters to freely employ Scientology’s “Purification Rundown,” a detoxification method devised by L. Ron Hubbard that members of the medical community have described as “quackery” and “scientifically bereft.”
“I am aware of it,” De Vocht says of the program, which was established in 2003. “That was all a PR thing. Miscavige had to do something 9/11-related.”
But when I mention the Trump foundation’s donation to the organization, he is shocked: “Are you kidding me? I didn’t know that! That’s funny.”
While De Vocht says that he never heard the Trump name uttered in connection to Scientology—Trump’s donation also came in 2006, one year after De Vocht left the church—he attests to there being many similarities between Donald Trump and David Miscavige.
“They are two peas in a pod, I tell ya, with regards to spewing at the mouth and lying constantly. There’s a definite similarity between those two guys. It’s scary,” he says. “The lying is part of believing in himself,” De Vocht adds of Trump. “Just take the inauguration and lying about the number of people there—that’s something that Miscavige totally did, too.”
De Vocht alleges that Miscavige inflated the crowd size for his speech delivered on Oct. 8, 1993, at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. The event marked the 9th anniversary of the International Association of Scientologists, and was where Miscavige announced that the Church of Scientology had been awarded tax-exempt status from the IRS.
“When he had the big event announcing the tax exemption, there weren’t that many people there,” says De Vocht. “He believed that it was the biggest event, but it wasn’t. It’s just constant lies, you know? And making themselves look good. More important than anything is how Miscavige comes out looking and smelling. More important than anything.”
Scientology, like most religions, is also homophobic. Founder L. Ron Hubbard wrote in Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health that: “The sexual pervert such as homosexuality, lesbianism, sexual sadism, etc., is actually quite ill physically… he is very far from culpable for his condition, but he is also far from normal and extremely dangerous to society.”
“It’s not just minorly,” says De Vocht. “Scientology is totally 100 percent against gays. [In the books] it’s sending them off, and burning the boats down or something. It’s severe, like, holy shit, man. It’s a well-known term in Scientology that everybody who is gay is a ‘1.1.’ That means ‘covert hostility’: They’ll smile in your face but they’re going to stab you in the back when you’re not looking. That was it, man. Everybody believed that if you were gay, you were screwed up. It was bad.”
De Vocht left Scientology in 2005. He says that he’d gotten in “trouble” with Miscavige over a building project he was overseeing. “I did renovations for his building for him and re-did them three or four times because he didn’t like it, and when it was finally done to his liking I got reprimanded by him because it cost too much money,” De Vocht alleges. “It was ridiculous.”
As punishment, De Vocht says that he was confined to The Hole—the nickname for a facility on Gold Base, a Scientology compound in Riverside County, California.
“In 2003, Miscavige grew increasingly upset with the performance of the church’s top managers. He began consigning many of them for weeks and months at a time to a small office building made of double-wide trailers,” reported the Tampa Bay Times. “It became a place of confinement and humiliation where Scientology’s management culture—always demanding—grew extreme. Inside, a who’s who of Scientology leadership went at each other with brutal tongue lashings, and even hands and fists. They intimidated each other into crawling on their knees and standing in trash cans and confessing to things they hadn’t done. They lived in degrading conditions, eating and sleeping in cramped spaces designed for office use.”
One former Scientologist told the Tampa Bay Times they were forced to lick a bathroom floor for 30 minutes. “It was crazy, man,” De Vocht recalls. “I saw the beatings, physical abuse, verbal abuse, sleep deprivation. It was crazy. I decided that I’d rather be dead than stay with this. It was that bad, emotionally and otherwise.”
De Vocht guesses that he spent “a couple of months” in The Hole. “It seemed like an eternity,” he says. When asked for comment, the Church of Scientology claimed that allegations about The Hole have “long been disproven” (they have not).
These days, he’s in a better place. Though he can’t speak to his Scientology-affiliated relatives—the religion forces you to “disconnect” from those who choose to leave the faith—including his brother, a handyman in Clearwater, Florida, and his sister, who remains in Sea Org, he’s busy running a business out in sunny California and raising an 18-month-old baby. And, in addition to Going Clear and My Scientology Movie, De Vocht featured in ex-Scientologist Leah Remini’s groundbreaking A&E docuseries Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, which he says has done a fine job exposing the more insidious aspects of the faith.
“It’s effective because it tackles it on a personal level, and goes through people’s individual stories,” he offers. “People are finally starting to realize, Oh, I get it. So many people have gone through it, these stories are the same, and these people definitely aren’t lying. They’re getting beaten down with the truth.”