HBO’s Going Clear: A Missed Opportunity

Going Clear (349 x 232)First, a disclaimer. I’m biased; I’m an Alex Gibney fan. I’ve seen many of his documentaries and found them to be informative and artfully constructed. I’m also knowledgeable about the subject matter of Going Clear, and am the author of the recently published Arrows in the Dark, an insider’s view of the Scientology organization.[1]

Based on my personal investigation and almost 4o years as a member of Scientology – I was summarily excommunicated in 2012 for seeking internal reforms – 80% of the facts presented in the film are true. Scientology watchers have heard them all before, but for persons who haven’t, Gibney skillfully and convincingly reveals the violence, mental abuse, and downright tyrannical control over senior managers, staff and parishioners by the self-anointed “Pope” of Scientology, David Miscavige. Gibney also does an excellent job showing the special treatment afforded stars like John Travolta and especially Tom Cruise whose exceptionally close relationship with Miscavige is expertly captured.

The problem with the film is the other 20%. Here, Gibney goes beyond demonstrable abuse of power charges and instead delves into subjective issues of the religion, a subject he clearly does not agree with, or even understand. The result is an appeal to prejudice, an invitation to hate or think less of Scientologists. This impairs and threatens their fundamental right to freely practice the religion of their choice.

Gibney takes a swipe at Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, portraying him as a science fiction writer, the clear implication being that any religion Hubbard created must be equally fictitious. Lawrence Wright, on whose book Going Clear is based, is used to falsely label one of Scientology’s advanced counseling levels (OT III) as its “creation myth.” In truth, Scientology’s actual creation theory is laid out in “The Factors,” which can be found in Hubbard’s Scientology 8-8008, as well as in many of his others books and lectures. These materials are publicly available to one and all.

Meanwhile, in a display of intellectual dishonesty, Going Clear tells viewers that the church declined to be interviewed without also revealing that Scientologists who understand and support the tenets of the religion – but who disagree with the abusive and controlling policies and practices of church leader David Miscavige – were available. Not one of these pro-Scientology voices was selected for the film.

Because Gibney is dealing with spirituality, which is entirely subjective, he’s on thin ice judging its validity, one way or the other. Contrary to the opinions of the subjects interviewed in the film, there have been, over the years, hundreds of thousands of people who feel that Scientology has helped them lead happier, more productive lives. Going Clear’s public denunciation of the religious views of Scientologists violates the fundamental principles of respect, inclusion and acceptance that most Americans honor, thus creating a socially dangerous atmosphere of us vs. them.

Gibney’s failure to differentiate between the theology of Scientology – which anyone is free to accept or reject – and claims of internal abuses and corruption leads him to naively call for Tom Cruise and John Travolta to leave Scientology. Cruise and Travolta are not likely to “leave” a religion, the practice of which they both have publicly stated over and over again has benefited them. Nor should anyone try to shame them into doing so.

What can be reasonably expected, however, is that they heed the abuse allegations and look into them. Some are easy to spot; for example the church’s policy of disconnection and the oppression it causes families. It is hoped that Travolta and Cruise will use their influence to fix what they find broken.

Gibney’s trespass into the theology of Scientology leads him to decree that it is not a real religion. Therefore, he urges the IRS to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status. In truth, American courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have delved into Scientology’s religiosity in detail, examining evidence from both proponents and critics alike, as well as the opinions of religious experts. Their conclusion: Scientology is indeed a religion.

Even Lawrence Wright, the author of the book on which this documentary is based, stated in promotional interviews: “The problem [with the Church of Scientology] is a lack of checks and balances.”

I agree. The problem has nothing to do with the religious tenets of Scientology. The problem is church leader David Miscavige’s one-man rule over all Scientology organizations. The bylaws of Scientology’s governing corporations, the drafting of which Hubbard ordered and oversaw prior to his death, call for seven boards of trustees and directors spread among three entities. This is laid out in detail on this website.

Instead of asking for revocation of tax-exempt status, why not ask the IRS to use its power to impose intermediate sanctions and require the governing corporations to implement the checks and balances called for in the bylaws submitted to the IRS in support of their application for tax exemption? Rather than ask Cruise and Travolta to leave and speak out against Scientology, why not ask them to urge David Miscavige to comply with state law, church corporate bylaws, and the written instructions contained in the estate plan of L. Ron Hubbard? Institute checks and balances, cooperate with an independent, internal investigation into the abuse charges, and abolish controlling policies, such as disconnection.

Reform is achievable. Attacking the religion itself makes the task more difficult. It will cause members of the church to avoid the film, rally around their leader, dig deeper into their pockets for donations, and heed his cries: “See. The evil media are at it again, trying to destroy Scientology.”

Going Clear alienates the very people most capable of causing reform, Miscavige’s pillars of support: the famous, wealthy and influential church members who might have been reached had the documentary stuck to objective and provable facts, such as crimes and abuses of power under the current church regime. And the majority of viewers – most of whom are, of course, non-Scientologists – end up walking away after two hours of viewing, still unable to answer the most important question of all: What is Scientology, and what do people find attractive about it?

Merrell Vannier

[1] See for more information.

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24 Responses to HBO’s Going Clear: A Missed Opportunity

  1. Formost says:

    Well laid out. 🙂

  2. Bright Hopeful says:

    Spot on. Truth and lies mixed up on both sides so only a discerning few can work out what is going on.

  3. 4a says:

    Well said Merrell, thanks!

    • Merrell says:

      You’re welcome. Someone had to say it, right? Where is OSA? Smearing the filmmakers and participants, of course. Tone 1.5 (Anger) and (naturally from that tone level) off-target.

      Of course, that’s Miscavige’s reaction to the charges of abuse that have been leveled against him. He micromanages OSA Int. As we often mention on this blog, there is a proven way to handle charges of internal corporate corruption: investigate the charges independently of those implicated in the wrongdoing. If the checks and balances LRH called for prior to his passing were in place, this would be easy to pull off.

      OSA Int is in Dept 20 of the Church of Scientology International. It’s job is to protect the repute of Scientology and LRH, to see situations that endanger them and handle them. Attacking Miscavige’s accusers is not only not working, it is bringing on more heightened public scrutiny. This is self-evident. We encourage OSA staff and the boards and trustees of CSI, CST, and RTC to put their hats on, look, and take effective action. To them we say: Contact us, if necessary. We have lawyers expert in religious corporate law on retainer who can help them put in checks and balances as intended by LRH and required by law so the proper internal investigation into charges of abuse can be properly conducted, and this situation resolved. Then and only then will OSA PR have the credibility to address the unfair and inaccurate attacks on the religion of Scientology.

      • Robin says:


        From what I understand from reading policy is that OSA was never a department that was personally conceived by Ron by a combination of two departments that existed on the earlier Org that existed prior to Ron developing the 6 then later 7 Division Org board that aligned with the Grade Chart and the Awareness Characteristics that headed each department whereas Ron did indeed create the post of Guardian on March 1 1966 and posted his able wife Mary Sue as the first Guardian.

        Also when the new management who took over “abolished” the Guardian’s Office they did so in complete violation of the policy Seniority of Orders which says specifically:

        Any practice by which junior issues such as directives abolish networks or make off-policy changes can only result in the destruction of networks, orgs and tech.
        This is therefore a HIGH CRIME policy letter and it is an offense both to follow or obey or issue any verbal or written order or directive which is contrary to or changes or “abolishes” anything set up in HCO Policy Letters or HCOBs, including the downgrade of “that’s out-of-date” or “that’s been cancelled” with- out showing the HCO PL or HCOB which revises or cancels.
        HCO PLs and HCOBs are proven by time and are the senior data on which we operate.

        In fact if you look at the current OEC Volumes (which like the current Tech Volumes I consider overt products since they do not keep the originals intact and thus make it difficult to apply the How to Defeat Verbal Checklist since one can no longer verify the original against the so called “revision” or “revisions”) you will see that there is no actual policy that actually cancels the policy The Guardian per the above policy cited nor the one that specifically states how one cancels or revises policy which is the policy, Policy; Source Of.

        In fact the policies Ron wrote relating to the functions and purposes (which involve a lot more then simply espionage or acquiring intel which is actually a branch 5 activity) of the Guardian and later the Guardian’s Office are just simply omitted from the current Volume VII.

        In other words what is called “OSA” as far as I’m concerned is nothing but a Frankenstein’s Monster of earlier policies that have been resurrected to replace the Guardian’s functions and is nothing but a Squirrel department conceived by the current management.

        Thus is OSA really wants to assist us. I suggest that they take back the autonomy they once had before the Junta and use the “heavy hussar” functions given in Mar 1 66 to take back the Org and *enforce policy* which is part of the Guardian’s basic purpose:


        • Merrell says:

          Thanks for your comment, Robin.

          As I show in Chapter 21, Arrows in the Dark, Bill Franks screamed at Jane Kember that, as a messenger speak on behalf of Ron, he cancelled 1 March 1966. I later mention Miscavige’s statement to the St. Pete Times that LRH didn’t learn about the takeover of the GO for another five months. So, Franks was lying, and you are correct that the takeover was in violation of policy.

          But LRH approved the current corporate governing structure afterward, and OSA is now Dept 20 of CSI, so I think your overall argument, and solution asking OSA to take back their earlier autonomy, is incorrect. OSA should, however, fulfill the intention of LRH and ensure that the checks and balances LRH intended are implemented. There are many ways they can do this. For example, give the directors and trustees of each corporation copies of their respective bylaws, California law on nonprofit religious corporations, and relevant laws and regulations on IRS tax-exempt organizations. As a practical matter, it is very dangerous for OSA staff to take these steps.

          For that reason, they can reach out to us confidentially. We have top religious corporation lawyers on retainer. The courts can mandate, even oversee, an independent board meeting. It only takes one director or one trustee to call for a meeting, and it only takes two members to take action. Most important of all these boards is the board of trustees for CST. They are lifetime members and are not automatically disqualified if they are disciplined and placed in bad standing. The original three trustees were: Terri Gamboa; Marion (Meissler) Pouw; and Greg Wilhere. Terri Gamboa, who left the Sea Org/staff, was later replaced — probably improperly — by Russ Bellin.

          In Chapter 34 of Arrows, I disclose that Terri Gamboa did not know she was appointed for life and had not be provided a copy of the bylaws. Miscavige took the lead working with LRH lawyers who were appointed Special Directors of CST. Both Miscavige and the Special Directors should have made sure the trustees and board members of CST were provided copies of the materials I listed above, read and understood them. Obviously, therefore, Marion, Greg and Russ are not aware of the powers and duties entrusted to them by LRH. What a huge over of omission and breach of fiduciary duties by Miscavige and those lawyers!! And if OSA staff and board members learn the truth and fail to put their hats on and take action, what a huge overt of omission, and betrayal of LRH, by them.

          So, which will exert more force on these people, Miscavige’s ability to RPF and imprison them in The Hole — which we can help protect them from, or their sense of duty to LRH and the aims of Scientology? My postulate is that they will come around, look, and put their hats on. They mean well. I know and understand their true purpose.

          I am reminded of a quote by Mark Twain:

          "In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.”

          Scientologists who read this, please spread the word.

          • Robin says:

            Hi Merrell,

            From what I understand. Ron approved the creation of RTC for trademarks,service marks and the registered names of Scientology and Dianetics in early 1982

            He then personally created the CST that same year for the copyrights plus gave them the option to purchase the above trademarks, service marks and registered names if the Religion of Scientology and the Church of Scientology ceased to be in the opinion of the Trustees “co-terminal”.

            Yet from what I understand beyond that he never approved the current corporate structure of the Church but even if he did the fact is that these actions do not alter actual policy.

            The only way that policy can be altered or changed is contained in those policies cited above.

            In my view the current legal entities CST and RTC replace CSC and HASI.

          • Merrell says:

            Church of Scientology of California (CSC) was formerly the “mother church,” and now CSI is the “mother church,” so CSI replaced CSC. RTC owns the trademarks and trade secrets (Upper Levels, basically) of Scientology. RTC licenses CSI to use those marks and trade secrets, and is the only power, legal or ecclesiastical over CSI. CST has options to purchase the marks and trade secrets from RTC, thereby removing RTC from the equation, at which time CST would become the licensor to CSI. The grounds on which CST may exercise the options are set forth in the documents is not that the religion and church cease being co-terminal. We lay all this out on the website and support our findings with the actual documents as well as the findings of our investigation, which was done by lawyers and included interviews with a person who hired LRH’s lawyers to create this plan and was on the comm line.

            Not sure why you would challenge all this with “your understanding,” but will say with confidence that you are off base. More to the point, we offer a sound legal basis for a solution — checks and balances, etc, and you offer a highly technical and theoretical argument that will lead you nowhere except into endless debates.

            A number of situations in the church beg for full, internal investigations. First and foremost is one to investigate the claims of the former Sea Org members — allegations of abuse and Miscavige’s unfettered control over Scientology finances and personal benefit. Until these charges are put to rest in a credible manner, media attacks and damage to the reputes of LRH and Scientology will continue. We recommend an outside audit firm be engaged for this crucial step. Then there are numerous purely ecclesiastical situations that need thorough investigations, including the one you mention, but I would suggest that it ranks low on the list. Claims of alteration of tech would rank highest in my opinion. See:

          • Robin says:


            I am not challenging anything. What I am saying is that Organizational structure is contained in the HCOPLs which are Green on White also known as the “scriptures” in legalese.

            This is not a “theoretical” nor a rhetorical argument.

            It is what Ron says to do when one finds the Organization operating *off policy*.

            By the way I am familiar with the Friends of LRH website which is well documented with facts and I suggest every Scientologist inside and out peruse this site.

          • Merrell says:

            HCO PL and scriptures are ecclesiastical, impossible to enforce when the “ecclesiastical” leader refuses to and actually oversaw the changes you say cannot be done. This should be the end of the discussion. The problem is lack of checks and balances, a legal, non-ecclesiastical matter. The corporate system of checks and balances can be enforced. By any single board member. By certain agencies or persons acting on their behalf. Once checks and balances are instituted, the independent boards can put on their hats, exercise their duty to investigate, and bring the churches of Scientology into alignment with the aims of the religion of Scientology.

          • Robin says:


            “HCO PL and scriptures are ecclesiastical, impossible to enforce when the “ecclesiastical” leader refuses to and actually oversaw the changes you say cannot be done.”

            Personally I don’t feel we should continue perpetuate the myth that Miscavige “‘ecclesiastical’ leader” of anything.

            There is no legal document or policy that says that he is.

            Lies only bring about persistence.

            Other than that I agree totally with what you say 🙂

          • Merrell says:


  4. Τheo Sismanides says:

    Thanks Merrell! This is Theo from Athens, Greece. I will be following your blog. I also want to buy and read Arrows in the Dark. I am very interested in what you have to say over there. Thanks for keeping it sane.

  5. ingrid smith says:

    I LOVE this review!! I am a Scientologist and I am tired of being attacked for being one, whether it be from David Miscavige or any out here. What Gibney “exposes” in the current scene with David Miscavige at the helm is NOT Scientology.
    I am an auditor and have helped many many people with this Technology as many others have too. Where was that story??

    • Merrell says:

      Great point. For virtually all the tech failures, misapplication of policy, attributed to LRH and Scientology, in the film, and in other forums on the Internet, I think the same thing. This is tech under Miscavige, this is how Miscavige applies policy. As a former HGC auditor myself I watched Beghe’s description of his reaction to being forced to continue on an auditing action he didn’t want, and it screamed OVERRUN. Anyone who has overrun — haven’t we all — knows how uncomfortable the somatics can be. We also know how quickly it can be resolved. I listen to Marty blaming mistreatment of Scientologists on Hubbard policies, and I think, one, that’s a misapplication of that policy, and, two, he should know, he used to mistreat them himself, overseeing “gang bang sec checks,” for example. That’s a gross misuse of LRH technology. The techniques recommended for handling critics of Scientology wasn’t meant to be used against fair criticism. It will only backfire. Anyone with a conceptual understanding of Scientology would not entertain doing these things.

      As I mention in my book, Arrows in the Dark, starting with my role as a witness of the Bill Franks-GO takeover, I spotted dominating, out-ARC tactics emanating from an unknown source point that took me many years to identify was Miscavige. People getting in people’s faces and enforcing reality. The name given this practice was an SRA, a Severe Reality Adjustment, the opposite of ARC. Some staff members grew up in this management environment, Marty, for example, who was a fresh Sea Org member when he came onto those high management lines. That’s all he’s seen and known. His knowledge of LRH policy is Miscavige’s interpretation and misuse of it. Marty says the problem with Scientology is Keeping Scientology Working (KSW). Actually, the problem is the failure to apply KSW. Of course, if by KSW he really means Miscavige’s interpretation and practice of LRH policy, which, of course, he does, then his statement is true.

      So, yes, Scientology as interpreted and practiced by David Miscavige is bad. I don’t like it either. As you say, Ingrid, it isn’t Scientology.

  6. Bruce Clark says:

    Thank you. This says what needs to be said, and in words that can easily communicate the actual current situation regarding Scientology. I will certainly use it to enlighten my friends who have been curious about the religion in the aftermath of the film.

    I have recently been dismayed by Ex-Staff friends who have been celebrating some kind of misbegotten victory of the film. Yet I know there are many who have survived without becoming the victim.

    Sorry to hear about Angie, I was her Cram Off at CCI. From what I know of her history, all she knows are the inside walls. She’s a good girl and will surely come around once those walls begin to crumble a bit more.

    • Merrell says:

      Thank you Bruce, and I believe you are correct about Angie. (For readers who don’t know, Angie is my daughter. The story is in my book, Arrows in the Dark, and you can see the memorial I created for her on the book’s website,

  7. iForrest says:

    Thanks for the sane viewpoints. I have a lot more to say but the earlier statement sums it up.

  8. Ronn S. says:

    Good points mostly, but, “… Instead of asking for revocation of tax-exempt status, why not ask the IRS to use its power to impose intermediate sanctions.”

    I’m pretty sure nothing quite that simple exists, or would even be very effective.

    Gibney has made widely available the can of dead worms. I’m all in for destroying the empire of Miscavige, not the Tech per se, but if that means taking down the entire Mother Church of Scientology, then so be it. COS has become an abusive vindictive monster. Hell the tech isn’t even the tech anymore, 3 swing FN, wholesale CSing for redo’s, retraining, wholesale Sec Checks, constant regging for money for nothing, not to mention the complete destruction of Div6 and runway from hell hurdles now in place. Anyone practicing Scientology in the field knows this.

    • Merrell says:

      Your lack of knowledge about intermediate sanctions is understandable. Most people are not unaware of the Internal Revenue Code provision and the cases decided under it.

      I hear you regarding the altered tech. The church today would be unrecognizable to Scientologists from the late 60s, 70s and 80s. But Gibney didn’t raise this issue. He made the problem look like Scientology as developed by LRH, which led to a boom in Scientology — more than once, is the problem. Of course, he’s way off base.

      Any hope Gibney or his supporters have that outsiders will “take down” or destroy the Mother Church is a false hope, for sure. Nor will revocation of tax-exempt status occur. Those who think they can cause either of these results are misinformed, at best. I know there is a very small, but very loud, crowd that espouse these causes. But they live in a bubble and whip one another into a delusional frenzy.

      • Formost says:

        Merril … thanks for all your replies and the questions of other posters here. Very informative and a great supplement to the thread topic. 🙂

  9. Dan Koon says:

    Just finished your book and really enjoyed it. It clarified some things for me. As for Gibney’s push for the IRS to look into the church’s tax-exempt status, I think that is an easier concept to get across than: why not ask the IRS to use its power to impose intermediate sanctions and require the governing corporations to implement the checks and balances called for in the bylaws submitted to the IRS in support of their application for tax exemption?
    To quote David Miscavige directly, “I hate legal,” and that is possibly the single point of agreement that he and I share. Complexity and confront applies here, just as the legal system is made complex by design.
    I am sure, however, that were the IRS to open the book on the CoS again, the process would begin with your suggestion and proceed from there, hopefully going no further than to kick the CST special directors in the ass to get them going their jobs.
    It might take a slick marketing guy like Steve Hall to take the message of and make it easily understood and assimilated by the broad Scientology public. Let’s face it, enough people are ready to hear, that is for certain.

    • Merrell says:

      Glad you enjoyed the book! As for the the push of this website, we are not asking the IRS to get involved. But your point about the complexity of corporate governance of Scientology is well taken.

      By the way, Gibeny isn’t asking for the IRS “to look into” tax-exempt status, he’s pushing for “revocation” of tax-exemption, and his request is based on his bigoted challenge of the religiosity of Scientology, which is an unconstitutional abuse of the revocation process. As simple as the concept may be it is an illusory objective. On the other hand, the government can entertain violations of secular law, and board members can enforce checks and balances. But then again, we are interested in saving the religion of Scientology and reforming the church and Gibney clearly isn’t.

      Also, you might be interested in the Religious Liberty League website where you will see that we’ve taken a different direction.

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