How Scientology leader David Miscavige rose to power, according to insiders

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Scientology leader David Miscavige.
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Luke MacGregor/REUTERS

A&E docuseries”Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” examined how David Miscavige rose to power to become the leader of Scientology.

In order to tell the story of David Miscavige’s rise, the series introduced us to former Scientologists with intimate knowledge of the man, including his father Ron Miscavige.

“He rose up through the ranks,” Ron, a former Scientologist and author of the book about his relationship with his son, “Ruthless,” said on the show.

“He’s a tough kid and smart,” he continued. “Once [Scientology founder] L.Ron Hubbard died, he saw his opportunity and he moved right up and took power.”

For the record, the church has declined to take part in the series. It contendsthat the statements Remini and the other contributors to the show have made about Scientology are false and are driven by a desire to profit or gain publicity from their time in the religion.

Here’s what we learned about David Miscavige from Tuesday’s episode:


David Miscavige was a young man with a lot of ambition.

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David Miscavige and wife Shelly in 1981.
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Ron Miscavige

Ron Miscavige and his family joined Scientology in 1971. At 16, David Miscavige dropped out of high school and moved to the Scientology campus in Clearwater, Florida and joined the church’s elite SEA Organization. Ron said that within six months, David was working alongside church founder L. Ron Hubbard as a cameraman on the church’s films.

“David Miscavige got himself into a position where he had communication with L. Ron Hubbard that nobody else had,” Mike Rinder, Scientology’s former international spokesperson, said. “And it gave him enormous authority to be telling L. Ron Hubbard that people were doing things, that this was happening, and couching everything in the framework that made him look good and anybody who he felt was a rival look bad.”


L. Ron Hubbard’s death and David Miscavige’s rise to power.

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L. Ron Hubbard with an OT chart, a guide to moving up through the spiritual teachings of Scientology.
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HBO/”Going Clear”

After steadily rising through the ranks and becoming Hubbard’s most trusted advisor, David Miscavige announced the founder’s death in 1986. Hubbard’s passing was framed as an intentional decision by him to leave his body in order to go on to even higher levels of spiritual being.

“The core belief of Scientology is that you are a spiritual being,” show host Leah Remini explained. “L. Ron Hubbard had reached, obviously, the highest level of Scientology there was to reach, promoting this idea that there’s an afterlife, and he found the answer to it by deciding to discard this body to go explore new OT levels. All of this is bulls–t. L. Ron Hubbard died of a stroke.”

As Hubbard’s closest advisor, David assumed the leadership of Scientology. His official title is Chairman of the Board, Religious Technology Center. But according to Mike Rinder, David liked to refer to himself as “the pope of Scientology.”


David Miscavige allegedly took on the responsibility of finishing the church’s course curriculum, or OT chart, because L. Ron Hubbard wasn’t able to complete it before his death.

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David Miscavige, Scientology’s Chairman of the Board, Religious Technology Center.
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HBO/”Going Clear”

Tom Devocht, who left Scientology in 2005 after 28 years, worked closely for David Miscavige. His job was to work with city authorities for Clearwater, Florida. He said he was often dispatched to carry out outrageous requests from the leader.

Devocht said that his doubt of the church began after David allegedly divulged that he had L. Ron Hubbard’s various writings and was going to finish the OT chart.

“It suddenly hit me,” Devocht recalled. “Then, it’s a farce that Miscavige himself was going to finish these off. Hubbard died. He’s not some superpower being.”

“You have parishioners believing that L. Ron Hubbard obviously reached the highest level of Scientology there was to reach,” Remini said, “that he could actually decide to discard his body, because how else was [David] going to keep Scientology going? What if he came out and said, ‘L. Ron Hubbard has died of a stroke.’ Then, why are we doing all this if we’re just going to die of a stroke?”


David Miscavige’s relationship with his father diminished over the years, in accordance with the church’s belief that family relationships were false.

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David Miscavige’s father, Ron, on A&E docuseries “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.”
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“Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath”/A&E

“On that base, [David Miscavige] referred to me as Ron,” Ron Miscavige said of his relationship with his son. “He never called me dad. I was a staff member… Family connections were considered [by Scientology as] a false dynamic, meaning no spiritual being is the father of another spiritual being.”


David Miscavige is allegedly prone to resorting to violence against those who report to him, as well as encouraging violence amongst his staff.

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Former Scientology marketing head Jeff Hawkins on A&E docuseries “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.”
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“Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath”/A&E

Jeff Hawkins, who was in charge of church marketing while he was a Scientologist and wrote a book about his experiences called “Counterfeit Dreams,” described a violent scene in which David Miscavige was unhappy with an infomercial Hawkins wrote, accused him of crimes against the church, then allegedly physically assaulted him.

“I was scratched up, my shirt was ripped off,” Hawkins described. “Everybody [else in the room] was sitting.”

Hawkins claimed that David assaulted him on at least five occasions.

Tom Devocht described when David allegedly assaulted him when he couldn’t get the city permits to destroy the sidewalks around the Clearwater, Florida headquarters in order to dissuade protestors from standing around the property. Devocht said that even then he blamed himself for failing at the task instead of being angered by David’s violent reaction.

Devocht said, “It was, ‘Man, I f–ked up.’ That was the level of control and power that [David] had.”

If the leader believed that someone was guilty of “crimes” against the church, David would allegedly tell other members to get that person to confess their crimes. Often, they would allegedly resort to violence on the member, according to the show’s insiders.

“It was like ‘Lord of the Flies’ in there,” Rinder, who had detailed his own alleged assault by David on a previous episode, added. “I mean, it was insane. It was literally, ‘I’m going to beat the crap out of you before I get the crap beat out of me.'”


David Miscavige allegedly maintains extreme levels of security at Scientology’s Hemet, California headquarters to keep people out and to keep members in.

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The security around Scientology’s Hemet, California headquarters.
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“Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath”/A&E

Ron Miscavige says that he and others were monitored around the clock at the Hemet, California headquarters. He described locks on doors, sharp spikes on the gates – both facing out and in – being chaperoned by other members when exiting the facility, the internet being severely filtered and monitored, and all calls being eavesdropped on.

He decided to leave the church after a fatal error by his son. David Miscavige gave his father an Amazon Kindle, which was connected to the internet — unfettered by the church’s filters.

“[Ron] just googled Scientology,” Remini said. “And he was hard-pressed to find anything good that the world was saying. He found all the bad things.”

In 2011, after 42 years as a Scientology member, Ron Miscavige decided he had to leave. He and his wife planned their escape for six months. They finally were able to do so during a routine trip across the street to the only refrigerator available to him on the campus. The guards were used to them doing the trip once a week and let the couple pass through the gates.

David, Ron’s daughters, and their children ended their relationship with he and his wife after they left Scientology, an alleged church policy toward former members called disconnection.

But Ron and his wife weren’t totally free from the church. After escaping, police told Ron that he had been followed and surveilled for 18 months by a private investigator hired by the church in 2013. During questioning, the investigator told police that they once mistakenly thought that Ron was having a heart attack. When David was informed, he allegedly told the investigator not to help his father and to let him die, a heartbreaking thing for Ron to hear.