Scientology defectors describe violence, humiliation in “the Hole”

imagesFor years in a desert compound east of Los Angeles, dozens of managers for the Church of Scientology endured an unusual trial by fire. The church called it “ecclesiastical discipline,” part of the religion. But some managers came away with stories so troubling they attracted the attention of the FBI. They tell of violence and abuse in a place called “the Hole.” The church says their stories are lies and exaggerations.

This is the most detailed account yet of what happened inside the Hole. It is based on numerous interviews with a dozen former members of the church’s religious order, the Sea Org, and on information found in church materials and court testimony.

To outsiders, it may have appeared the Church of Scientology was humming along nicely in the mid-2000s. Church officials spoke of a Scientology “Renaissance.” Years of strife over the death of a Clearwater Scientologist, Lisa McPherson, had ended.

At big church events, chairman of the board David Miscavige strode smiling to the podium, awash in applause from thousands of parishioners.

Only a few on the inside saw another Scientology storm raging at the church’s International Base.

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.

The staff called it “the Hole.”

As the decade wore on, 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.

All were ministers, members of the Sea Org.

Scientology bills itself as a bridge to “a much higher level of existence — a brighter, happier world.” But that was hard to see from the grim environs of the Hole.

Many defectors told the Times that the daily indignities they saw and suffered made them doubt Miscavige and question the cause to which they had given most of their lives.

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