The Church of Scientology found itself further entrenched in a mass media backlash Wednesday over more detailed claims of violence and brutality committed by its higher-ranking members. Debbie Cook, a former high-ranking member of the church who ran their famed Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida for 17 years, spoke to ABC News to repeat her testimony first spoken in a Texas state court earlier this month, with additional details. Cook alleged that she witnessed church leader David Miscavige punching another senior executive in the face and wrestling him to the ground while she was at the International Base (known as Gold Base) in Riverside County, California. She testified that she first noticed disturbing, volatile behavior from Miscavige in 2005. Former high-ranking members Mark “Marty” Rathbun and Mike Rinder have reported similar stories over the past few years. While she says he never personally struck her, Cook told ABC that he ordered an assistant to slap her, and the blow was so violent that she hit the floor. The executive in question sent a signed letter to ABC, which stated: “This alleged incident did not occur and I would remember it if it had.”
Debbie Cook also claims to have been yet another victim of Scientology’s brutal disciplinary methods, following a report from Australia wherein 21-year-old Shane Kelsey described horrendous abuses during his time with the church’s Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), a disciplinary program designed for members of the church’s top rank, the Sea Org. The church responded that Kelsey was exaggerating the level of brutality to which he was subjected, and that he had “voluntarily” chosen to take part in the program, though he was not legally old enough to consent to any such thing at the time. The church also says that Cook was in a disciplinary program voluntarily, but she claims she was held against her will back in 2007 for seven weeks, in an area consisting of two double-wide trailers nicknamed “The Hole.”
Cook says that there were bars on the windows and security guards posted at the doors preventing people from leaving. She stated that there was an ant infestation, and she and others slept in sleeping bags on the floor. Her testimony is eerily similar to Kelsey’s, specifically the part where she claims she was only given leftovers to eat and that the food was insufficient and was not nutritious. She said she was made to stand in a trash can and had water poured over her head as church officials screamed at her to admit to “bad things.” The church insists that Cook is a bitter ex-member making up lies, but this routine defense is beginning to wear thin as the line of ex-members telling similar stories gets longer and longer.
Unfortunately, Scientologists will continue to hide behind the First Amendment in the United States and it will be a case of “he said, she said” until the victims are taken seriously and a true, congressional and FBI-led investigation is launched. It would be impossible for a journalist to go undercover and document these behaviors due to the years of study and genuflection that are necessary to gain access, therefore law enforcement must look at the increasing list of claims and act accordingly. If the church wishes for its reputation to be cleared, then David Miscavige should welcome such an investigation, because nothing short of it will suffice at this point.