The world has become increasingly aware in the last decade or so that Scientology isn't just part of a punchline about closeted homosexual celebrities, but an actual cult that believes that humans are reincarnated aliens and uses mind control, physical abuse, and indentured servitude to not only keep its members in line, but keep the entire operation running. This week, Jenna Miscavige Hill—a third-generation Scientologist and the niece of David Miscavige, the church's leader—has released her tell-all memoir, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, of growing up inside the organization that isolated her from her family, robbed her of an education, and put her to work, full time, at hard labor when she was just seven years old.
It's one thing to think that Scientology is weird, gawk at its bizarre relationships with celebrities, and be horrified by stories from ex-members. But it's another to be confronted with the abuse of little children who were brought into the religion by their parents and forced into a life of oppression, severe punishments, and psychological control that borders on torture, as Miscavige Hill describes in her book. As far as brainwashing, miseducating, financially defrauding cults go, Scientology is right up there with the FLDS in its treatment of children. (Interestingly, Miscavige Hill's coauthor was Lisa Pulitzer, who also cowrote Stolen Innocence with Elissa Wall, who escaped the FLDS and became the star witness against polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs at his trial for accomplice to rape.)
There's an excerpt from Miscavige Hill's book on Salon about Scientology's infamous Celebrity Center. It's really the only time in her memoir that she drops any famous people's names, so of course that particular chapter would attract attention. There isn't anything there that we hadn't read about before, but did establish the stark contrast in treatment that the celebrities experience compared to the members of Sea Org.
The accommodations were gorgeous, and the beautiful grounds made the experience enjoyable. Everything was tightly controlled and orchestrated, and if the celebrities themselves took things at face value, they'd simply see the act and never witness what went on behind the curtain. There was never a risk that they would get exposed to child labor or something similar that the Church didn't want them to see. Sea Org members at the Celebrity Centre appeared happy because it was their job to do that, so celebrities wouldn't know from talking to them or watching them whether they'd been paid their forty-five dollars that week, or if they missed their families.
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The reason why there aren't celebrities scattered throughout Miscavige Hill's book is because, despite their public association with the religion, they weren't part of the day-to-day operations of the organization at its different bases.
When she was just five, the members of Miscavige Hill's family—her parents and her brother—were separated. She was raised by other people, while her parents worked for the church. (She wasn't allowed to speak on the phone privately with her mother, and there was a period of time when she went for two years without even seeing her.) When she was six or seven she moved to where her older brother was residing, a place called the Ranch, owned by the church, and where the members of Sea Org's children were to be raised and educated. She's not specific about its location, but it was in some remote desert area in California, that had once been a motel.
The children—nearly 100 of them—did not receive a traditional education, like math and science and history, but instead, took Scientology courses. They were completely isolated from not only their families, but also non-Scientologists. This included doctors and medical care. Children were not allowed to be given fever-reducing drugs, even if their temperature was over 103 degrees.
The kids were put to work, six days a week, on construction jobs renovating the old motel. This involved landscaping and digging and using pickaxes, even in the pouring rain.
Rock hauling to build stone walls was another arduous deck project. We would pick up rocks from a creek that ran nearby and put them into a pile, where another group of children would load them into a wheelbarrow and carry them tot he site of the newest rock wall. once the rocks were in place, yet another set of kids would lug around cement bags, and the older, more skilled kids would use the cement to secure the rocks in the wall.
She was seven! The kids were told that the hard labor was an exchange for them being allowed to live on the ranch.
We got calluses and blisters. We had cuts and bruises. Our hands lost feeling when we plunged them into the frigid water of the creek bed for rocks. When we pulled weeds from the scorched summer earth, our hands burned from the friction and stung from the nettle. The conditions we worked under would have been tough for a grown man, and yet any complaints, backflashing, any kind of questioning was instantly met with disciplinary action.