Scientology's 'heretic': How Marty Rathbun became the arch-enemy of L Ron Hubbard devotees
For 27 years, Marty Rathbun was a key player in the
world's most secretive religion – even mentoring top celebrities
including Tom Cruise. Then he left, and things turned ugly...
The men who came for Marty Rathbun wore a kind of uniform: dark
glasses, clipped facial hair, and light blue T-shirts. Each carried
either a microphone, or a video camera. On their chests were pictures of
a squirrel, upon which a photograph of Marty's head had been crudely
superimposed. Topping off the ensemble were black baseball caps with an
embroidered slogan stitched in white above the peak. It proclaimed:
There were four of them, and they appeared around lunchtime on
18 April last year. Marty was making a sandwich in the kitchen of
his home in Ingleside on the Bay, on the Gulf Coast of Texas. When
he heard them knock, he grabbed a video camera kept on his
sideboard for such an occasion. Then he turned it on to 'record'
and proceeded to the front door.
There followed a brief altercation which, even by the standards
of YouTube, where clips of what occurred were later posted, seems
impossibly surreal. "Come on, Marty!" bellows the group's
middle-aged leader, who wears a camera on his head, "got anything
to say?" Rathbun asks who he is. "I'm with Squirrel Buster
Productions," comes the reply. "I'm doing an investigation on you,
and your squirrel technology." Heated discussions ensue. "We'll be
here for weeks and weeks," promises one of the men, after Marty
orders them off his property. Another adds: "As long as it
'squirrel buster' outfits began turning up outside Rathbun's home
every few hours. Sometimes, they'd arrive in a car; often, as the
long, hot summer wore on, in a golf buggy. Occasionally, they
moored boats in the canal outside his home. According to a
harassment log local police advised Marty to keep, they'd video him
inside and outside the property. From time to time, they'd also
pepper his wife, Monique, with hostile questions, often about their
The 'squirrel busters' stayed in Ingleside throughout May, June,
July, and August 2011. They rented homes nearby, carried placards
denouncing Marty, and posted occasional footage of him on the
internet. Soon, they became the talk of the village. One day, as
news spread, Mark Collette, a reporter from the Corpus Christi
Caller, appeared on Marty's doorstep and asked what was going on.
The answer left him stunned.
Here, in this seaside hamlet, full of retirees and fishermen,
Marty Rathbun was fighting an extraordinary religious war. The
'squirrel busters' were among its (possibly self-appointed) foot
soldiers. At stake in the dispute, which has now been running for
almost three years, is the future of one of the world's most
controversial and headline-prone spiritual institutions: the Church
A few weeks ago, I travelled to Ingleside to meet Marty Rathbun,
who is 55 and shares his home with Monique, a lapdog called
Chiquita, and several hundred books by L Ron Hubbard, the
science-fiction author who founded Scientology in the 1950s. Like
many people drawn to the faith, he is an easy conversationalist
with a fascinating, if somewhat troubled life story. We started
from the top, and ended up talking for a little more than three
Many aspects of Marty's story are disputed by the Church, which
calls him a liar, a criminal, and an apostate. But the verifiable
facts are as follows: he was a fully-paid-up Scientologist for 27
years, before quitting in 2004. For much of this time, he was a
high-ranking executive in the Church, helping steer some of its
most sensitive legal campaigns. He was also acquainted with many
celebrity members, including Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, and Tom
Marty says he left the Church for two reasons. The first is what
he calls the increasingly onerous financial demands it places on
followers. The second is a series of personal disagreements with
its leader David Miscavige, a charismatic former associate of
Hubbard who has reigned over Scientology since the mid-1980s. Over
the years, Miscavige has built ties to a string of Hollywood
personalities. When Cruise married Katie Holmes in 2006, he was
When Marty left, eight years ago, he dropped off the radar and
attempted to build a completely new life. But in 2009, after
renewing contact with a handful of disaffected former colleagues,
he changed course. First, he launched a blog, which has become a
popular forum for the Church's critics. Then he turned his home
into what he calls a "half-way house", offering refuge to people
attempting to leave Scientology.
Since then, Rathbun has provided a temporary home to 72
defectors. His blog, 'Moving on Up a Little Higher', gets around
10,000 hits a day. It has been visited a total of six million
times, is credited with encouraging scores of former Scientologists
to quit, and has broken a string of sensational news stories about
the Church, including film director Paul Haggis's resignation, in
2010, and January's decision by Debbie Cook, a senior member of
Church clergy, to quit in protest at what she called its "extreme"
fundraising. Almost every former Scientologist I have spoken with
checks it daily.
Today, Marty has become one of the Church's most public
detractors, and has appeared in that guise on virtually every major
US news network. Tony Ortega, the Village Voice editor and one of
the most prolific journalists covering Scientology today, wrote
recently: "There may be no greater outside threat to the continued
existence of the Church of Scientology than a lone man who lives
near Corpus Christi and who operates a blog he updates about once a
I spoke to several ex-Scientologists who have stayed with
Rathbun. "When I left Scientology, I lost every friend I had," said
Samantha Domingo, who quit in 2009, after 20 years. "Then I went to
see Marty. He gave me certainty, gave me hope, and made me realise
I wasn't alone." Domingo, the British former daughter-in-law of the
opera great Placido, now lives happily in Kent. "He picked up the
broken pieces of my life and put them back together," she said.
John Brosseau, who quit the Church in April 2010, after 30
years, recalled: "Leaving felt like jumping out of an aeroplane
with no parachute. But after two weeks at Marty's place I got my
feet back under me. He put me in touch with a community of former
Church members. One even offered me a job. It's been two years
since then; I've now got a home, a wife, and a wonderful
Marty does not charge house-guests. But he does accept their
financial donations. Along with financial pledges to his website,
these now represent his entire income. Critics say he is therefore
leveraging his former status within the Church for financial gain.
In a letter sent in 2009, Tom Cruise's lawyer, Bertram Fields,
asked Marty to stop using his blog to mention the fact that he was
the actor's former counsellor. "This is... a serious invasion of
Tom's privacy and a violation of the priest-penitent relationship,"
wrote Fields. Rathbun replied, insisting otherwise. Cruise did not
pursue the claim.
In March, I contacted the Church's PR department to inform them
that I was writing a profile of Marty, and asking if they would
like to respond to criticisms he had made of them. I also sought to
check a few points of fact. They asked me to submit questions via
e-mail. A few days later, their response arrived. It covered 15
pages. A second letter arrived at The Independent's offices in
London the following day, from the Church's British lawyers,
The Church called Rathbun "an anti-Scientologist, desperate and
delusional". It said he was "expelled from the Church for violating
Scripture" and has "a history of malfeasance" recently exposed in
detail by Freedom, Scientology's in-house magazine, which claims he
belongs to a "posse of lunatics". It advised me to research Marty
via the website whoismartyrathbun.com.
Among other things, it dubs him a "cult militia leader" and claims,
"Rathbun's eyes glow with a psychotic gleam".
Since Scientologists "live in the community", the Church's
letter argued that "the idea of a half-way house is absurd". It
said Marty had been responsible for "lies, obstruction of justice,
and violent behaviour" within the Church and had been dismissed
from an executive position in the organisation rather than having,
as he claims, quit. Because of his work since then, it claimed: "he
is what we call a squirrel (a heretic)".
All of which brings us back to the strange campaign that began
in Ingleside on the Bay last year. If, in the argot of Scientology,
Marty is indeed a "squirrel", it follows that the cameramen who
turned up at his home were out to "bust" him. Regardless of where
they came from (and the Church formally denied being behind their
activities), Marty came to the view that these strange men, with
their golf buggies, weird T-shirts, and highly-visible surveillance
equipment, had a plan: they wanted to shut him down.
To properly comprehend the threat Marty poses to the Church of
Scientology, you need to grasp an important point: though no longer
a Church member, he has by no means renounced the faith. Instead,
he calls himself an "independent" Scientologist.
In practice, this means Marty still subscribes to many key
tenets of the religion. He continues to practice "auditing", the
form of counselling Scientologists use to seek enlightenment, and
he continues to revere Hubbard, whose books and lectures he
frequently quotes. Like L Ron, he believes firmly in reincarnation.
"The way I see it," he told me, "this faith has a lot in common
with Zen Buddhism."
Marty insists, however, that the Church, which he calls
"corporate Scientology", has become estranged from its core values.
In recent years, he argues, an organisation created to harness
individualism became obsessed with loyalty, discipline and control,
with getting members to obey rules, and, above all, with separating
them from their money. "I never doubt the gains that I got from
Scientology," he says. "I've never doubted the effectiveness of
auditing. But I believe there's a real problem with the Church. The
core poison is greed. I look at Scientology, and I think it's being
destroyed by this quest for the buck."
The Church, for its part, denies placing unreasonable financial
demands on members, claiming that it's perfectly possible to
participate in the faith without making financial donations, and
pointing out that all religions depend on the financial support of
members. In a statement, it added: "There are no such things as
'independent Scientologists'. Scientologists are members of the
Church... Others are squirrels."
Either way, critics such as Tony Ortega believe Marty's
reformist platform is central to his ability to win over
disaffected Scientologists. "He speaks their language. He's not
abandoned Hubbard. He's not given up on the faith. He's just worn
down. And the people he's speaking to are also worn down. They are
exhausted with requests for donations. Because of that, he reaches
deep inside the organisation."
In the eyes of supporters, Marty is not even an enemy of
Scientology. Instead, he is leading a sort of Reformation. "Marty
presents himself as a true believer," says Janet Reitman, the
author of Inside Scientology, perhaps the most complete history of
the Church. "He still believes in the faith, but he's trying to
reform it. He sees himself as a Martin Luther figure."
Marty argues that "corporate Scientology" is dominated by
fundamentalists who mandate literalist readings of its theological
texts, including a famous piece of literature by Hubbard which
argues that mankind's problems are the work of a despotic alien
called Xenu who fought an intergalactic war 75 million years ago
(see box). Marty would prefer to see that story as allegorical, in
the same way many Christians view the Old Testament. The Church
counters: "This shows he is no longer a Scientologist.
Scientologists are true to the writings of Mr Hubbard".
Marty is also sceptical about the Church's rigid system of
self-advancement, which requires members who wish to ascend its
'Bridge to Total Freedom' (see box) to take paid study courses.
"There's an old rumour, from the 1970s, that Yvonne Jentzsch, who
founded the Church's Celebrity Centre, tried to convert Led
Zeppelin," he says. "The band got the sales pitch, and didn't buy,
but later wrote "Stairway to Heaven" about Scientology. If that's
true – and I'm not saying it is – I'd have to agree with Led
Zeppelin. Scientology has become a stairway to heaven."
Marty's views strike a chord with many Church members who are
struggling with their faith. I recently spoke with Luis Garcia, who
had been in Scientology for 28 years, ascending to OT8 (the highest
level of The Bridge) before stumbling on Marty's blog in 2010.
"Reading it had a therapeutic effect," he said. "It made me realise
that I wasn't the only one with doubts. He reflected exactly what I
I also spoke with Mike Rinder. He was one of the Church's most
senior executives, working in its PR department, before leaving in
2007. "Marty's blog is a forum for information," he said. "That's
what makes it such a threat. He's not trying to be a leader of men,
or take over the Church, or storm the castle walls. He's just a guy
on the outside who wants to speak his mind."
Their experiences illustrate a fundamental truth about the
Church's future in the internet era. Unlike during previous
decades, when defectors had no means to communicate with each
other, today's breed can join forces and make themselves heard.
"There have been exoduses of senior staff in the past, but they
haven't websites like Marty's to connect them," adds Reitman. "Now,
for the first time, they have been able to build a significant
resistance movement, which isn't going away."
The web makes it impossible for anyone to silence critics.
Typing 'Scientology' and 'cult' into Google will return more than
three million hits. Searches for 'Scientology' on YouTube will turn
up a wealth of footage, most of it negative – from tapes of Tom
Cruise jumping on sofas, to scatological clips from South Park, to
two revelatory documentaries about the Church by the BBC's John
How deeply this affects recruitment is impossible to say. The
Church insists that its membership is "estimated to be in the
millions" (though academic studies have put it in the tens of
thousands). But the sheer volume of critical material that now
exists online can hardly attract new members.
"The internet is a curse for Scientology," Sweeney tells me. "In
the old days, people thinking about quitting would have had to go
to bookshops to hunt down scepticism. Now, one click takes you to
Xenu... When they've picked themselves off the floor and stopped
laughing, they may start wondering about the Church that likes to
wear dark glasses."
Marty's journey in Scientology began on a pavement in Portland,
Oregon. It was 1977, and he was walking to a bus stop when a man
outside one of the Church's missions thrust a leaflet into his
hand. "Look, man, I got 45 minutes to my bus," Marty told him.
"Tell me what it is you're doing here." The man said he was seeking
recruits for a three-week course that advanced "a technology for
Marty, who was then aged 20, was a troubled soul. His mother had
committed suicide when he was five, and his brother suffered from
schizophrenia. He'd been brought up in bohemian Laguna Beach,
California, and experimented with drugs as a teenager, before
dropping out of college. "I was having serious problems with
communication, so what the guy said intrigued me," he recalls. "The
course was 50 bucks. I only had 25, but he said, 'If you pay cash,
I can get you in'."
The next three weeks were "life-changing". Marty was given
intensive auditing, carried out lengthy meditation exercises, and
at one point during a "communication drill" in which he had to
silently stare into a counsellor's eyes for an hour, underwent what
he calls an "out-of-body" experience. "I literally exteriorised
from my body," he says. "It was incredible. It changed
A few weeks later, the Scientology mission in Portland was
visited by a man from Los Angeles, wearing a quasi-naval uniform.
He was a member of Sea Org, the Church's version of the clergy,
seeking new recruits. "He was dynamic, and he spoke about working
to change humanity. I was sold," says Marty. He duly joined Sea Org
that day. Like every other member, he signed a billion-year
I asked Marty how an outwardly normal 20-year-old could, in the
space of a few short weeks, become so committed to a minority
religion that he would agree to devote his entire life to it. "What
you don't understand," he replied, "is how much of Scientology
really works. The auditing, and the counselling, and the
communication drills sorted me out. They completely changed
Members of Sea Org are given board, lodging, and a small
allowance. They are also offered resources to further study
Scientology. In return, they are expected to work for the Church,
in whatever capacity they are asked. Marty was sent to Los Angeles,
on a stipend of $17 a week. "It was kind of cool," he says. "I
thought it was a great socialist experiment. I mean we all lived
communally. We were people who shared the same ideas. I was
engaged. You can't help but be engaged. It was a hive of
At first, Marty performed fairly menial tasks. But over the
years, his seniority grew. By the late 1980s, he had become a
trusted lieutenant of David Miscavige, who had in turn inherited
the leadership of the Church following the death of Hubbard in
1986. His remit included contributing to some of the Church's most
important legal battles, and attempting to silence its critics.
In 1993, Scientology won a 30-year campaign to be granted
exemption, as a religious institution, from US taxes. It was a huge
moment: loss might have bankrupted the Church. In 1995, Rathbun led
the Church's response to one of the greatest crises in its history:
the death of Lisa McPherson, who had suffered a mental breakdown at
Scientology's Flag headquarters in Florida, and died while in its
care. The felony charges it faced were eventually dropped.
In the same era, Marty became adept at battling news
organisations seeking to cover Church affairs. In the early 1990s,
he helped pursue an epic defamation case over Time magazine's cover
story, 'Scientology: the cult of greed'. The Church eventually
dropped its claim, but not before Time Warner had endured five
years of litigation.
Marty was also a gifted auditor. And by the end of the 1990s, he
had worked with a slew of celebrity Scientologists. In 2001, Tom
Cruise, who was going through a divorce from Nicole Kidman, asked
him to come to Los Angeles for some sessions. "It was a big deal,
because Tom hadn't been on line with the Church for eight years,
and that had been a huge loss," Marty says. "So I went to LA and
Later that summer, Cruise asked Marty to help him "devote
serious time" to Scientology. "From July to November 2001, between
Vanilla Sky and The Last Samurai, he was with me almost every day.
He was actually practising for Samurai between sessions. He had
swords with him all the time."
Cruise had recently embarked on a relationship with Penelope
Cruz. Marty says he was asked to recruit her to the faith. It
didn't work. "She was doing auditing, and she was doing it with a
very open mind, but she never really bought into it," he recalls.
"She was a professed Buddhist, and she was continuing to meditate,
and that ended up freaking people out."
Marty says he also audited Kirstie Alley, helped Lisa Marie
Presley during her very public separation from Michael Jackson, and
worked with John Travolta ("a very sweet guy; innocent and
sometimes naïve, but sweet"). He also became close to Greta Van
Susteren, the Fox News pundit and longstanding Scientologist, who
quietly assisted Church PR campaigns near its Florida
"Greta's very wary of wearing Scientology on her sleeve. But she
had this yacht, the Sequoia. She'd bring it to Clearwater harbour
when she came down for the holidays. Opinion leaders from the local
community would be told, 'You're invited to have dinner with Greta
on her yacht'. She'd be very charming, without ever talking about
Scientology. Afterwards, guests would be informed: 'She's a leading
Scientologist and as you can see, she's also a regular person'. It
would really impress them."
I asked the Church about Marty's dealings with high-profile
members. It responded: "the Church does not comment on spiritual
advancement of any parishioners. This is shameless name-dropping by
a defrocked Scientologist".
Marty's career in the Church came to an abrupt end on 12
December 2004. The reasons for his departure are hotly disputed. He
claims to have witnessed troubling abuse at a Scientology compound
in Riverside, California. Several other recent defectors who were
there at the time have publicly supported that version of events.
However, the Church describes their claims as "blatant
fabrications" which reveal him to be "an apostate and
anti-religious hate-monger". Either way, he fled on a motorcycle,
and has not been back since.
It's hard not to conclude, taking a long view of Marty's 27
years in Scientology, that his role in the Church made him uniquely
suited to his current life outside it. "Marty was the guy who used
to be the Church's enforcer. So when they go after him, he has the
full knowledge of what their tricks are," Tony Ortega told me. "I
mean, when the squirrel busters came to his home, he just sucked it
up. In fact, I got the impression that he was almost enjoying
The men in strange outfits stayed in Ingleside for several
months last year. Their modus operandi became simple: they'd walk
to the edge of Marty's property line, and film there. Any
subsequent confrontation would then be captured on tape. "Their
endgame," says Marty, "was to get me prosecuted for assault."
When newspapers asked the Church what was going on, they denied
any affiliation with the squirrel busters. But regardless of who
was pulling their strings, they got under Marty's skin. A total of
13 criminal complaints were filed against him, following various
scuffles, though none resulted in a prosecution.
At one point, he came close to leaving town. "I went to the
local council when it started getting pretty heated in May or June,
and said, 'Look I'm the guy who dragged these horseflies in here,
and I'm sorry and if it doesn't end, we're going to move house',"
he says. But the locals were having none of it. "They said, 'You're
not going anywhere!'," he recalls. "The lady who lives next door
told us, 'This country was founded on freedom of religion. Who are
they to come across the country and tell you how to go about your
religious activity? That's not America!'."
On 1 September, Marty recalls asking a squirrel buster called
Norman James Moore to stop bothering his wife. When Moore didn't
respond, Marty snatched the sunglasses from his head. On 18
September, a police car appeared at Marty's door and told him he
that was being arrested. Mr Moore had filed an assault charge,
claiming that his forehead had been scratched during the
Four days later, local prosecutors made an announcement: no
jury, they said, would possibly convict Rathbun after learning of
the circumstances he had endured during the previous five months.
All charges were dropped. "We took a totality of the
circumstances," said a spokesman. "We examined the level of
provocation and the extent of the injury, which was literally a
scratch." The decision brought national media attention on Marty.
Shortly afterwards, he was invited to discuss the affair on Good
September 18th turned out to be the last day the squirrel
busters ever appeared on Marty's doorstep. Maybe they had grown
bored. Maybe their leaders realised that their presence was
becoming counterproductive. They left town on 2 November, no less
than 199 days after arriving. Since then, Marty has been blogging
daily, running his "halfway house" and writing a memoir of his
career in Scientology. He hopes to publish it later this year.
"I've seen the Church from inside and out, over such a long
period," he says. "It's made me realise that the best thing I can
possibly do is to tell my story, warts and everything, and let
people make up their own minds."
Scientology: a beginner's guide
Scientology posits that a form of counselling known as
'auditing' can allow human beings to identify pain experienced
years ago. The process of confronting that pain will improve their
emotional well-being. During sessions, subjects are questioned
while attached to an 'e-meter', which measures resistance being
exerted on an electrical current being passed through someone's
body. Scientologists believe that both conscious and subconscious
thoughts affect the e-meter's reading. By locating and dealing with
their subject's harmful thoughts, an accomplished auditor aims to
help them reach a state of enlightenment known as 'clear', where
their negative sentiments have been wiped out.
Church members follow a study programme called 'The Bridge', or
'The Bridge to Total Freedom', based around texts and lectures
created by L Ron Hubbard. It boasts dozens of different levels,
which take years to complete.
The cost of ascending The Bridge is fiercely disputed. To
complete each stage, members must pay for lengthy auditing sessions
and intensive study courses. David S Touretzky, a professor at
Carnegie Mellon University who has researched Scientology, says
that, based on price lists he has analysed, the total cost of
ascending to the highest level, OT8, runs to $500,000
However the Church calls that figure 'absurd'. A spokesman said
that ascending The Bridge involves an 'intensive amount of study,
equivalent... to about two years of university study' but costs
less than two years of tuition at a typical US university, such as
At a stage called OT3, Scientologists are presented with L Ron
Hubbard's creation theory, known as 'The Wall of Fire'. The Church
refuses to publicly discuss this aspect of its theology, deeming it
potentially harmful in the hands of anyone who has not been
properly trained. But details entered the public domain in 1985, in
documents released by a court in Los Angeles.
A summary of The Wall of Fire published by the LA Times reads:
"A major cause of mankind's problems began 75 million years ago,
when the planet Earth, then called Teegeeach, was part of a
confederation of 90 planets under the leadership of a tyrannical
ruler named Xenu. Then, as now, the materials state, the chief
problem was overpopulation.
"Xenu decided to take radical measures to overcome the
overpopulation problem. Beings were captured on Earth and on other
planets and flown to at least 10 volcanoes on Earth." After that,
"H-bombs far more powerful than any in existence today were dropped
on these volcanoes, destroying the people but freeing their spirits
– called thetans – which attached themselves to one another in
"After the nuclear explosions, the thetans were trapped in a
compound of frozen alcohol and glycol and, during a 36-day period,
Xenu 'implanted' in them the seeds of aberrant behaviour for
generations to come. When people die, these clusters attach to
other humans and keep perpetuating themselves."
Scientologists will tell you they're all about peace and love and "can't we all just get along" - yet their actions betray their words.
Scientologists on here are trying to suppress ANY discussion about Scientology by putting up non-Scientology-related polls with the tag "scientology" to push actual polls about their cult, uhm, religion down in the search engine, and they are trying to discredit any critics by any means necessary, including calling them "haters" and "religious" bigots. It's like mobsters saying "Can't we all just get along, haters? Everyone talking smack about us are liars and haters!".
Don't be duped by flowery words about love and tolerance when it is a proven fact that Scientology is a litigious, shady, vicious, intolerant cooperation. Ask them about how tolerant they are concerning people practicing Scientology OUTSIDE of the Church of Scientology and see how "tolerant" they are. Ask them about Scientology's "Fair Game" policy and see how tolerant they are. Ask them about psychiatrists and see how tolerant they are.
They send you PM's telling you to block this or that person because they are an alleged "hater". They don't want you to listen to critics because the critics are RIGHT - so they try to keep YOU from listening to them. People with critical views of Scientology are INTOLERABLE for Scientologists.
Also note how they never actually address allegations or even proof of anything critical of their cult but instead attack the messenger. When they tell you something, don't just believe it - google it. You'll see what's what.
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