The cult of break-ups: ‘How Scientology tore my family apart’
The great-grandson of the controversial religion's founder describes how the church deals with defectors
Jamie DeWolf’s childhood was plagued by fear. Growing up in northern California, his Baptist family felt “hunted” throughout the 1970s and 80s, stalked by mysterious cars and watched by shadowy agents.
It was only when DeWolf was older that he realised they were afraid of retribution from the Church of Scientology, the controversial religion founded in 1954 by his own great-grandfather, Lafayette Ronald (L Ron) Hubbard.
A science fiction novelist who struggled to make money selling books, Hubbard is said to have adopted the motto “If you want to get rich, start a religion”. He turned viciously against his own son, DeWolf’s grandfather, when he attempted to leave the church, allegedly stalking him with “wiretaps, break-ins and death threats”. The dispute left DeWolf’s family looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives.
Stories like his are all too common, says DeWolf, because Scientologists accept family break-ups as part of life, with followers isolated from their parents and children and those who don’t accept the religion’s ways expelled. He was not surprised, then, to hear last week of yet more claims of strife within the family of Tom Cruise, the world’s most famous Scientologist.
The Hollywood star has reportedly banned Nicole Kidman, his second wife, from attending her adopted son’s wedding because, as a non-believer, the church considers her a “suppressive person”. It was also reported that Isabella Cruise, Tom and Nicole’s 26-year-old adopted daughter, has followed in her father’s footsteps and ramped up her involvement in the church.
Representatives of the church did not respond to a request for comment on either claim.
According to a prominent Scientology whistle-blower, “Bella” appeared in an e-mail from Scientology London last week, describing her “internship” within the church, writing: “It turned out it was exactly what I needed ... this IS what I had been searching for. The missing piece. Suddenly everything began to make sense.”
Cruise was introduced to the religion by his first wife, Mimi Rogers, and later asked church leader David Miscagive to be best man at his wedding to Katie Holmes in 2006. For some, his embrace of Scientology looked like little more than an attention-seeking fad straight from the bizarre world of La La Land. Indeed, Cruise has always had a tendency for spectacle, epitomised by the moment he jumped up and down on Oprah Winfrey’s couch in 2005, declaring his love for Holmes (whom he divorced seven years later).
But Scientology is far more than that, says DeWolf, a screenwriter from Oakland, California, who has become one of the religion’s fiercest critics since learning about his family history. The church – which owns more than £1bn in assets across the globe – emerged from Hubbard’s bestselling self-help book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, which promised to elevate its readers above the humdrum of everyday life. Followers of Scientology claim that the religion is a pathway to spiritual freedom, enabling them to abandon their “reactive” mind, which is clouded by day-to-day trivialities, and embrace their “analytical” mind instead.
Hubbard’s great-grandson is not surprised at unconfirmed reports that Kidman has been blacklisted from her son’s wedding. “Disconnection is one of the policies that Scientology insists upon, and it is Cult Mechanics 101,” explains DeWolf, 41, whose encyclopedic knowledge of the religion borders on the obsessive. “It’s ironclad – if someone leaves Scientology, you never communicate with them ever again, forever. I’m talking until death. I’ve worked with [people who have] left Scientology and they haven’t talked to their father, mother, sister for 20 years. They’ve tried everything possible – they’ve sent letters, they’ve contacted other relatives – [but] Scientology has a cult mind grip, a blockade designed to shut everyone off.”
He remembers this policy all too well from his own childhood. He says his grandfather, known as Junior, was a kind soul who visited him every Thanksgiving and gave him Star Wars toys on his birthday. But he was forever traumatised by his defection from his father’s religion, which left him isolated from the rest of his family. A nervous, guarded man who died in 1991, his story remains “just as murky and hidden” as Hubbard’s own, says DeWolf.
“He had a soldier sensibility about him ... like someone back from a war. He felt like someone who had gone through hell, and you had to give him respect and space.”
As a child, DeWolf quickly learnt never to ask about his great-grandfather, who hung like a silent spectre over the family until he died in 1986. In bookshops, he would point out L Ron Hubbard’s name on the spines of sci-fi novels, prompting slow, uncomfortable nods from his aunts and uncles, and remembers his mother turning “really pale” when he first asked her about Scientology.
DeWolf describes as “heartbreaking” allegations that Bella may have stepped up her involvement in the church. Particularly that she is alleged to have become an “auditor”, reportedly giving a gushing account of her “auditing adventure” in the leaked Scientology London e-mail last week. An auditor, DeWolf explains, is “basically the priest of Scientology, the person who hears your confessions”. Scientologists believe that hidden bad memories create negative mental “masses”, but answering an auditor’s questions honestly, no matter how intrusive, while connected to an electropsychometer, or e-meter, can dissolve them, helping you to ascend to a higher spiritual plane.
Typically, these sessions cost money: Scientologists can run up bills into the many tens of thousands. It’s entirely possible, says DeWolf, that Isabella knows nothing about what senior Scientologists believe. He says that in a process called the Bridge to Total Freedom, followers move up through various Operating Thetan (OT) levels of knowledge, with each new stage promising an improved state of spiritual awareness that can only be unlocked by those likely to have invested a significant amount of time and money in Scientology.
“It’s nothing but sad,” he says. “I grew up hardcore Christian. But [Isabella] and many other Scientologists, they don’t even know what they believe, because they haven’t gotten their way to OT Level Eight, their secret ‘highest level of truth’. That’s what it’s called, because L Ron was a fan of theatre.”
DeWolf remains under no illusions about what he sees as the dark powers of Scientology, but thinks the past decade has been promising. The internet, he says, has lifted the veil over the once-shadowy religion, exposing it to mockery. “Any time someone who has left Scientology is able to look at it in an objective light,” he says, “they want to bring their relatives out of it as soon as possible.”
I didn’t know mum had died until after her funeral
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my mother: how I never got to say goodbye.
When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, I had no idea. I didn’t even find out she had died, last year, until a week after her cremation. I was not asked to attend because by then, I had long since left the Church of Scientology.
My family are Scientology elite. We joined the church 50 years ago, when I was a teen, after a Scientologist saved my mother, Betty Wordie, from suicide. She excelled and became the first person to reach Operating Thetan Level 6 (OT 6), the highest ranking for a member at the time.
Decades later, my sister’s husband is the executive director of the London Org and my brother travels around Europe collecting donations.
The allegation that Tom Cruise has banned Nicole Kidman from attending their son’s forthcoming wedding came as no surprise to me; I have missed out on countless family milestones since I was excommunicated in 1982 and then again in 2012. When you come to the conclusion that Scientology is not for you, you lose everything. Kidman and the children she adopted with Cruise may never see each other again. In the 1980s, I was director of events for Europe and founded the gathering that would become the International Association of Scientologists at its Saint Hill, East Grinstead headquarters. L Ron Hubbard’s wife came to England to congratulate me on my work in 1982. But soon after, we came to blows over money. My mother asked me to waive my fee, but I couldn’t keep living a lie, and walked away with nothing.
I hid from Scientology and my family, but never forgot them. I went to teach in South America, where I met my wife. When we had two children, I called them Scottie and Sharlene after my brother and sister. I felt that I needed to do so as some form of remembrance. In 2010, I rejoined when my wife said: “Go and look up your family.” It was only when I re-entered that I found out my father and one of my brothers had already died, and my mother had Alzheimer’s.
My wife and children moved to the UK, too, but wanted no part in the church, and as I refused to cut myself off from them, I quit for good in 2012. I feel lucky, but the family I had before are lost. Now 68, I live in Plymouth and try to do my bit to undermine Scientology. I have nothing to gain, no ulterior motive, I just want to tell my story.
– William Drummond, as told to Cara McGoogan
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)