tv 2020 ABC April 29, 2016 10:01pm-11:01pm EDT
tonight on "20/20" -- >> usually when you leave something you don't have an organization attacking you. following you. >> reporter: you mean something like this? having a stranger lurk around a quiet residential street in west allis, wisconsin. >> the people called the cops, and said, listen, there's a guy looking in a house. we think he may be a drug dealer. >> reporter: the police are called in, only to make an eye-popping discovery. the mystery man's rented suv looks like an arsenal on wheels, loaded with hand guns, rifles, ammo, a stun gun, high zoom camera, and a satellite computer. it sounds like this guy's going
to war. >> it sounds like he's a hitman, doesn't it? >> reporter: that man, dwayne powell, swears he's not a hit man. instead he says he's a $10,000 a week private eye, with a very famous client. >> the company i work for is huge. >> reporter: so why are they spying on this 80-year-old man, who plays the horn for a living? >> what kind of super dark secret world is this you've got yourself involved in? >> i have never met a more competent, intelligent, tolerant, compassionate being. >> a story that affects every scientologist. >> reporter: scientology. powell says the church is his client. and his target? the estranged father of david miscavige, the church's all-powerful, wildly controversial leader. >> when snb en -- somebody enrolls, consider he's in for the duration.
>> reporter: tonight, only on "20/20," the explosive, tell-all book that's causing a he said/they said between one man and the church he left. >> it was an escape. you think you can just walk out? no. >> it's not that he wrote a book, he wrote a false story. >> reporter: a deafening crack in scientology's royal family. >> david was backstage literally tearing me apart verbally. cursing, yelling, screaming at me. >> reporter: when he's screaming at you, do you ever think, "i changed this guy's diapers"? how ex-members depict "gold base," the church's mountainside paradise, scientology-style. gated, with tight security. they say your mail is checked. that your phone calls are monitored. is any of this true? >> well, some of that is true, but that doesn't make it a prison. >> reporter: tonight, the story the church doesn't want you to hear. >> i raised him, and to come to this, what the hell is this? this is nuts. >> reporter: "a father's story." >> good evening. i'm elizabeth vargas. >> and i'm david muir. right here tonight, the abc news
exclusive. as a father now faces off against his very own son. the powerful leader of the church of scientology. david miscavige. >> and now the subject of a new book titled "ruthless." the publishers told us, officials from the church asked them not to release it. what's in it? dan harris is about to find out. >> reporter: you have written a whole book about your son, and you've called the book "ruthless." >> yeah. >> reporter: that's a pretty damning charge to level against your own child. >> right. he wasn't always that way. when he was a kid, i am telling you, he was a lovable kid. >> reporter: ron miscavige says long before his son became the almighty leader of one of the most controversial new religions on the planet -- >> how much must one do to call himself a scientologist? >> reporter: before all of those
speeches to cheering crowds of believers, and before all that elbow-rubbing with celebrity scientologists like tom cruise, john travolta and kirstie alley, david was just a regular kid growing up in this middle class neighborhood in wilingboro, new jersey. >> they had four kids over there, phyllis and gill had two girls. >> reporter: aluminum siding, public swimming pools, children bicycling in the street. ron, a salesman and aspiring musician, is raising four kids with his wife, loretta. the oldest, ronnie, david and his twin sister denise, and their younger sister lori. so you spent 12 years right here on this street. >> 12 years right here, yeah. >> reporter: ron says young david was a strong student, with an even stronger will. david is not a big kid. >> not at all. >> reporter: and yet he was getting into fights. >> he's a tough kid. i mean, for his size. he's like a stick of dynamite, you know? >> reporter: in your book, you described him having a habit of saying not-so-kind things about other people, even as a boy.
>> yeah. >> reporter: it seems to me, from reading your book, to you, in hindsight, that's a bit of a red flag. >> it was a bit of red flag, in hindsight. >> reporter: but, at home, it's not as if ron himself is receiving world's greatest dad coffee mugs on father's day. >> marriage-wise, we didn't have a great marriage at all. we had strife, and there was some domestic abuse, which i don't ever feel good about, and i don't think you can make excuses for that, no matter what or how much time goes by. >> reporter: when you, when you say domestic abuse, what do you mean? >> i'd strike her. i'd hit her in the arm, or something like that. >> reporter: in front of the kids? >> and in front of the kids, yeah. >> reporter: ron's mea culpas notwithstanding, the church says his acts of domestic violence are much more serious and more frequent than he admits. in fact, the church says the book, co-written by another former church member who is now a fierce critic of church management, is filled with half-truths and outright lies.
>> it's, in my view, a literary forgery. >> reporter: the church rarely grants on-camera interviews. but it is taking ron's book so seriously that it dispatched attorney monique yingling to discredit the author. what has david miscavige's response been to this book? >> well, i think he's -- on a personal level i think he's -- he's probably very, very sad that his father would do this. there seems to be no explanation except that his father is trying to make a buck off of his name. >> reporter: this unusual family history and subsequent family feud was set in motion in 1968, when ron first hears the word scientology at a business meeting. what was it about the word scientology that got you so interested? >> i don't know. but it did. all i heard was scientology, and i thought, what is that? >> reporter: ron soon learns that scientology is a new religion founded by the science fiction writer, l. ron hubbard.
>> there are certain evils in society which definitely should cease, and we're taking responsibility for them. >> so i went to a place where there was a guy who was teaching scientology. he would do drills to teach you better communication. >> reporter: so it was useful for you, i would imagine, as a salesman. >> yeah. >> reporter: and also as a guy who was in a marriage that had a lot of arguments involved. >> oh, yeah, yeah. >> reporter: and he says scientology works wonders for him. soon he starts paying for one of the central practices of the faith, a sort of counseling called auditing, that uses a scientology device called an e-meter. >> look, i didn't know what i was looking for, but i knew i was looking for something. and when i got into scientology, i felt that i had found what i was looking for, which did have a lot of answers to life, on a basic level. >> reporter: so many answers, so many life-changing benefits, ron feels a duty as a parent to introduce his son david to scientology as well. he hopes that somehow the auditing can help with his son's biggest problem, a nasty and recurring case of asthma.
>> he would get severe attacks. >> reporter: these must've been terrifying episodes for you, as a dad. >> that's putting it mildly. >> reporter: and so it comes to pass that in 1969, at the tender age of 9, david miscavige has his first auditing session. >> about 45 minutes later, david walks out, smiling, bright. >> reporter: and in that moment, the future is born. a future of fame and power as david miscavige rises to the highest levels of scientology. and a future of turmoil and pain as his family life erupts into a civil war. so you think that was the key turning point in his whole life? >> i know it. >> reporter: stay with us. i was energetic. then the chronic, widespread pain drained my energy. my doctor said moving more helps ease fibromyalgia pain. he also prescribed lyrica. fibromyalgia is thought to be
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founder, the science fiction writer l. ron hubbard. this is the critically panned movie version of hubbard's novel, "battlefield earth." it starred noted scientologist john travolta. >> send some guards out and round them up. >> reporter: but back in new jersey, ron miscavige says something close to what christians might call faith healing occurs in 1969. that's when he takes his undersized, asthmatic, 9-year-old son david for his first session of auditing, a kind of scientology counseling. >> about 45 minutes later, david walks out, smiling, bright. i says, what happened?" he says, "dad, it's handled." >> reporter: so, your view at the time was that his asthma was cured by, by scientology? >> let's put it this way, it mitigated it considerably. i think it was at that moment that he decided he's going to do something with this. >> reporter: do you think that
was the key turning point in his whole life? >> i know it. i know it. >> reporter: according to ron, this moment is a sort of conversion experience for the entire family. now everybody starts studying scientology, with david setting himself apart as something of a prodigy. what do you think he was getting out of it? >> satisfaction that he was helping somebody. >> reporter: by the year 1975, ron's music career hits a high note. he even puts out this rather groovy album, while david's scientology career is really taking off. he's now a young auditor, and he decides to join the church's priestly order, the sea organization or sea org. the group's distinctive look, medals, gold ribbons, and dress whites, were modeled in part on hubbard's own time in the u.s. navy. >> he says, "i want to go and help l. ron hubbard." and i thought to myself i'd be pretty proud of him, so i says, "okay, i'll help you, whatever i can." >> reporter: david heads to scientology's spiritual
headquarters, in clearwater, florida, which involves signing a billion-year contract, meaning you agree to work for the sea org in your future lives. while in clearwater, he meets lois reisdorf, who says she recruits david to join the commodore's messenger organization, l. ron hubbard's personal, elite unit within the sea org. >> he was very, if, if i could say, um, gung ho. had a lot of spark. >> at 16, he was a climber. he wanted to be at the top. and he gained a reputation of being really tough. you didn't mess with him. >> reporter: pretty soon, david finds himself in the orbit of the founder l. ron hubbard, who has gone from writing science fiction to writing volumes of sacred scientology texts. teenage david moves west without his family, where hubbard, sometimes known by his initials, lrh, is building secret new bases and shooting scientology training films. >> dave ended up being a
cameraman, but in the beginning, we used to call him the kid, and lrh would call him the kid. >> reporter: while ron miscavige is back east selling cookware and cutlery, what his son is doing during this period of time is a matter of intense dispute. the church is adamant that hubbard decided early that david miscavige would eventually succeed him. >> there never ever was any doubt whatsoever that mr. hubbard intended mr. david miscavige to be the leader of the religion after he departed this life. >> reporter: that's not how lois reisdorf remembers it. she says hubbard wanted the church to be run by a committee after he died, not one person. but reisdorf says after hubbard goes into seclusion in 1980, miscavige's influence and power grow unchecked as he evolves from the commodore's messenger into a gatekeeper. >> he started to get power and started to pull in people onto
his side, and it ended up being like a coup, where you had half of the management took over and kicked out the other half. >> reporter: reisdorf says she is part of that other half. and that she is relieved of her executive duties. >> it was a betrayal. >> reporter: in the book, you say that your son really developed a taste for power in the sea org. >> there were no checks and balances on him, at, at a certain point, where he could just go ahead. he just assumed that power. >> reporter: the church says neither lois reisdorf, who they say was expelled in 1982 by hubbard personally, nor ron have firsthand knowledge of these events. instead they point out during this time period ron is dealing with his own serious issues. in 1985, ron is arrested in pennsylvania and charged with attempted rape, which ron says was a case of mistaken identity. david arranges for his father's defense. >> he said, "listen, you're not on your own. they're going to take on the whole church of scientology."
>> reporter: the charges are dropped after a pretrial hearing. and after it's all over, ron says he owes it to the church to join the sea org himself. >> i could have possibly been convicted of something that i didn't do and end up going to jail. i feel i have to help them. >> david told him that his father needed to turn his life around. >> reporter: despite the fact that in a 2012 article in the "philadelphia inquirer," the church called ron the victim in this case, scientology officials are now playing a different tune, accusing ron of deliberately playing down the seriousness of the charges. the church has gone from calling ron miscavige a victim, in the words of the church, to now raising questions about whether he's whitewashing the whole thing. so the only thing that's changed between now and then, that i'm aware of, is that ron decided to write a book. >> well, it's not just that he decided to write a book. he decided to tell a false story. >> reporter: what is not in dispute is that in 1985, ron
moves to california, divorces his wife, and dons the uniform of the sea org. and ron says shortly after coming aboard, he sees that his son has changed. >> and i saw him and i says, "hey, dave." and he turned to me and he looked at me like, "who are you talking to?" no words were said, but that glance told me those days were over. i would never, i could never do that as a father to a son. >> reporter: in 1986, david miscavige announces a seismic event for the church. l. ron hubbard has died. >> the being we knew as l. ron hubbard still exists. however, the body he had could no longer serve his purposes. >> reporter: the next year, david officially becomes the head of the church, taking the title chairman of the board. he is now alone at the top. from now on, he will be the star of the church's olympic-sized
celebrations. he will lead the church through some of its greatest triumphs like winning its tax exempt status. >> the irs issued letters recognizing scientology as fully tax exempt. the war is over! >> reporter: and he will spearhead the charge to bring celebrities into the fold. were you around when tom was joining the church? was it a high priority for your son? >> it was top priority. >> reporter: when we come back. i have asthma... ...one of many pieces in my life. so when my asthma symptoms kept coming back on my long-term control medicine. i talked to my doctor and found a missing piece in my asthma treatment with breo. once-daily breo prevents asthma symptoms. breo is for adults with asthma not well controlled on a long-term asthma control medicine, like an inhaled corticosteroid. breo won't replace a rescue inhaler for sudden breathing problems. breo opens up airways
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"20/20" continues with a father's story. >> reporter: two hours east of los angeles, in hemet, california, sits a 500-acre scientology compound known as gold base. the church characterizes the base as a slice of scientology utopia. these official videos show a spotless complex with state-of-the-art facilities, gorgeous landscaping and flowing fountains. they tell us the food is great too. when she arrives for her interview with "20/20," scientology attorney monique yingling brings along these baked goods as edible proof. >> if you talk to the staff, they'll tell you it's a worker's paradise. it couldn't be a better place to work. >> reporter: this is where ron miscavige works after signing up for the sea org in 1985. at first, ron says he enjoys himself. he joins the band and gets to play all over the world. that's him jamming with scientologist and soul legend, issac hayes. what's more, he believes he's helping to change the world through scientology. on a more personal note, he
meets his second, and much younger, wife, becky bigelow. so ron is happy, for a time. but he says he can't help but notice his son's sharp-edged new management style. >> david was backstage literally tearing me apart verbally for 55 minutes. cursing, yelling, screaming at me. >> reporter: one night at a church event in the late '80s where ron is performing, he says david gives him an extended tongue lashing, with other people looking on. when he's screaming at you, do you ever think i changed this guy's diapers? >> no kidding. of course i did. of course i did. and that isn't the only time it happened. look, i'm the one that got him in scientology. i raised him. good or bad. and to come to this, what the hell is this? this is nuts. >> reporter: the church insists ron doesn't actually know much about david's management style because they simply didn't spend much time together. david was busy with much bigger things, like conducting this
live interview on abc's "nightline" with ted koppel in 1992. >> you want to bring me up an allegation, you confront me with it. >> reporter: and of course there were the celebrity scientologists to manage, like "king of queens" actress leah remini, now a vocal ex-member who published her own memoir about her life in the church, "troublemaker," last year. >> i think, uh, david miscavige loves his position and power and uses that power to hurt people and comes down hard on anybody who questions him. >> reporter: leah was a big deal, but there is no more prominent celebrity scientologist than tom cruise, with whom david bonds in 1990 during the filming of "days of thunder." what's the relationship between your son and tom cruise? >> tom cruise thinks that david
is the top thetan or top spiritual being on this planet. >> reporter: the top spiritual being on this planet. >> yes. now that l. ron hubbard is gone, they're like the best of buddies. >> reporter: what is the difference between being a sea org member, and being a celebrity in the church? >> well, it's like, you know, getting to be at the cool table. >> reporter: for those not at the cool table, life at gold base can allegedly be more harsh than these glossy church videos might suggest. by 2006, ron and becky move onto the base, as most staff members are told to do, and soon, he says, they start chafing at some serious restrictions. >> i'm living on a compound where your mail going out is read before it's sealed and sent out. where before you get your mail, it's opened and read before you get it. >> reporter: and your phone calls? >> phone calls, you're on the phone, somebody else is listening on an extension.
>> i was in charge of the security in all aspects for every acre of property here. >> reporter: when "20/20" visits gold, we bring along gary morehead, a former scientologist turned critic who says he was once director of security for the church. >> i would go through people's personal belongings out of their berthing, where they slept, obtaining bank records, date of birth, passwords, any personal information, where their family addresses were. >> reporter: former scientologist mark fisher says when he tried to leave the church in 1990, his onetime roommate, david miscavige, exploded. >> he was kicking, pulling at me, pulled my hair, punching at me. i have no idea how long it went on. it finally stopped. and then i reached behind my head because it felt kind of moist, and i pulled my hand back and my hand was bloody. and i said, "you -- you made my head bleed." >> reporter: we spoke to a man named mark fisher, who claims
that in the summer of 1990, david attacked him. to your knowledge, is any of this true? >> not that i know of. >> reporter: but we have heard from numerous former staff members that david miscavige has at times punched, kicked and even choked scientologists. >> to my knowledge that is not true. >> reporter: why do you think they're saying this? >> because i think they believe it is a way to somehow get at david miscavige. >> he is so caring. >> reporter: the church sent us 126 interviews they recorded with their parishioners praising their leader. >> he has the heart of a lion. >> dedicated to our religion. >> mr. miscavige is an amazing person. >> i will love him forever. >> reporter: ron's testimony is different. he says by the late 2000s, the crushing workload, the discipline and lack of sleep on the base becomes unbearable. the church rejects those claims, telling us long and hard hours and a restrictive lifestyle are part of the mission sea org members sign on for in those billion-year contracts. >> they're very proud of what
they do and they may work hard, they may work really long hours, even longer than we do, but they enjoy it. >> reporter: as for ron -- >> he was working with first class musicians in one of the best studios in the world. he had nothing to complain about. >> reporter: to prove it, the church has provided "20/20" with pictures of ron at leisure, enjoying fancy birthday meals provided by his son and even getting a car for his birthday from david and his two daughters. >> my name is peter schless, i'm a songwriter. >> reporter: the church also sent us video testimonials from ron's former bandmates. >> ron was an embarrassment to me, personally. >> reporter: and letters in which those band members call ron lazy, saying he used racial and ethnic slurs, was a poor musician and a disgusting pig. do you know of any other church that criticizes former members in the way in which scientology does? >> well, i -- i think it all
depends on the circumstances. certainly i -- you see that happen with respect to the vatican and so on when the vatican gets attacked. i mean, they have something to say about the attackers. >> reporter: if somebody leaves the catholic church, do you really think they're going to be on the receiving end of this level of vitriol? because people leave and criticize the catholic church all the time. >> yes, exactly. and i do think that if people in the church are asked for their opinion of this particular person, that you may well get the same kind of criticism. >> reporter: but it's not as if the people were just randomly asked. this is the church itself asking its parishioners, videotaping it and giving it to abc news. >> well, again, the facts are what they are. >> reporter: ron points to this video, saying if he was as bad as his former colleagues now say, why then was he allowed to play at this birthday party the church threw for tom cruise aboard its luxury ship, the freewinds? there's david and tom rocking out while ron performs.
that looks like fun, but ron also remembers a much less pleasant aquatic experience. he says he was subjected to a practice called overboarding, a disciplinary measure in which a sea org member in trouble is thrown into the water, clothes on. >> it can be done with respect to one individual, if there's you know, some sort of ecclesiastical discipline thing or it can be done as a group. >> reporter: the church says overboarding is voluntary. ron disagrees. >> i'm going out there and i'm thinking to myself, this is straight lunatic asylum stuff. this is going to make me better? the only effect it had on me is make me all the more want to possibly get out of there. >> reporter: and that's exactly what ron and becky decide to do. coming up, ron says sayonara to scientology. >> that that was like a moment of truth for me. >> reporter: but scientology doesn't say sayonara to him. >> l. ron hubbard said don't defend yourself, attack.
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"20/20" continues with a father's story. >> reporter: it's sunday morning march 25th, 2012, and ron miscavige and his wife becky are attempting what they describe as one of the riskiest moves of their lives. when you were pulling up to the gate, was your heart pounding? >> i would say so. i would say that that was like a moment of truth for me. >> reporter: for months, they say they've planned what they call their escape from gold base, by conditioning the guards into letting them make regular sunday trips to the music studio across the street. and it all comes to a head when ron drives the ford focus his son gave him up to the security gate. he presses the button, and to his relief, the gate opens. >> i drove out slowly so it wouldn't arouse suspicion. when i turned left, i put my foot right to the floorboard. i knew we were free. i knew they couldn't catch us.
>> reporter: what was it like in this car at the moment? >> let's say you were under a pile of rocks, it was like all of a sudden it was gone. >> reporter: the church scoffs at the idea that this was an escape. >> it is not a prison. people can come and go as they please. and they do. >> reporter: you call it an escape. was it really an escape? >> as opposed to what? >> reporter: just leaving. >> no, it was an escape. you can't leave. you think you can just walk out? no. you will be stopped. i escaped. >> i wouldn't open up the gate. i'd send my rover guard down there to meet up with them face to face in case he started scaling it and i'd try to calm, cool, and collectively talk to him on the intercom. >> reporter: gary morehead, the former security chief at gold says he had many ways to discourage would-be deserters from leaving, and ways to track them down if they did. >> nobody would ever try to scale the mountain because it takes you nowhere. we would figure out how much
time they've been gone, you know, when they were last seen, how far away could they be. the amount of sheer pressure that i would get until that person was back here was incredible. >> reporter: once ron and becky are off the base, they drive for three days, heading straight to wisconsin, where becky's mother lives. what were those first few hours and days like? >> undescribable. undescribable. >> reporter: when leah remini hears that ron, the chairman of the board's father, has left, she reaches out. >> i tracked him down. i called him, and i offered my support immediately, because i know he must've felt alone when leaving. and i just wanted him to know that we were willing to take them in. >> reporter: that's a big offer. why did, what made you feel motivated to do that? >> because there is no, um, there really is no place for them to go, unless they have family, which is very rare outside of the church. >> reporter: that may be why, despite all of ron's complaints
about david and the church, he soon sends his son a letter, asking for money. and he did give you $100,000 to buy a house. >> absolutely, yeah. in that letter i said, hey listen, uh, i spent a lot of years in the sea org, i couldn't live under those conditions. i have very little money paid into social security. if you can give me some financial help i'd appreciate it. >> reporter: why do you think he did it? >> i go back and forth thinking well was it -- that maybe he read it and he's thinking, you know, he is my old man and he's old, maybe i'll help him out. and then on the other hand, i think, well, maybe he did it just so it would be insurance that i wouldn't do anything, and i wasn't going to do anything. >> reporter: meaning you wouldn't go public. >> yeah. i had no intention. even before he sent me the money. >> reporter: but remember, the church takes out more, quote, "insurance" on ron, those two heavily-armed private eyes, a father and son team, who followed him everywhere for a year. the church denies david himself had anything to do with their
mission. who hired these private investigators? >> attorneys working for the church of scientology. >> reporter: so attorneys working for the church would hire private investigators to follow the father of the leader of the church without telling the leader of the church? >> yes. lawyers use private investigators all the time for, you know, varieties of reasons. and it's just no big deal. >> reporter: well, it seems like a big deal to ron. especially after he hears what the p.i.s told police about an incident outside this grocery store. >> here's what happened, okay? i thought my cell phone was going to come out. put my hand on the t-shirt pocket where the cell phone was to stop it from falling out, and that looked to the p.i.s like i was having a heart attack. >> david called my dad and said if he dies, he dies. don't intervene. >> it was a mandate from david not to -- >> he just said don't, don't go intervene with it. let it happen. if it's time, it's his time. >> reporter: when you heard that he allegedly said this -- >> it was a shot to the head. it was like somebody punching me in the chest with a sledgehammer.
>> reporter: what did it lead you to conclude about your son? >> that his position in the church and his public relations and his image meant more to him than a father. >> reporter: the church produced this statement from dwayne powell, the private investigator who now says he never spoke to david miscavige and that both the police and powell's own son daniel, his partner, got it wrong. >> i have the police report here. dwayne powell, the father, the private investigator, said that he saw ron grab his chest. was concerned. a man named david got on the phone and said, "if he dies, let him die." >> it's not true. and dwayne powell has said that it's not true. >> reporter: the police stand by their report. telling us, quote, "there is no confusion." >> with the church, they will deny everything. they're probably going to come out with stuff on me that's going to make me look like i'm the worst person who ever lived. this is their modus operandi. l. ron hubbard said don't defend yourself, attack. and that's how they operate. >> reporter: coming up -- it's miscavige versus miscavige
as ron's other children join the fray. here are some of the things your daughter's saying. quote, "our father beat our mother senseless in drunken tirades, averaging two violent attacks with his fists per week." >> it's such a lie. it's, it's beyond belief. >> reporter: and "20/20" tries to speak to the man at the center of the storm, david miscavige himself. >> we were hoping to talk to david miscavige if he's here today? >> reporter: stay with us. see what i mean? it checks you into your flight. ooop, your phone! it pays for stuff like... (mouth full) doughnuts. how about chew then talk. it unlocks things for you. it signs documents for you. hey, you bought a boat! i bought a boat! i just said that. and it does this. yeah, it starts your car. so now we're just starting cars with our fingerprints. just. whoa.
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the roast looks good dad. how good? 162 likes. did i get any retweets on those green beans? yep! and they're blowing up on instagram. honey, your rump roast just broke the internet!!!! as it should. life is family mealtime and everything you need to make it picture perfect. now be sure to tag your mother because she needs more followers. ok.
the roast looks good dad. how good? 162 likes. did i get any retweets on those green beans? yep! and they're blowing up on instagram. honey, your rump roast just broke the internet!!!! as it should. life is family mealtime and everything you need to make it picture perfect. now be sure to tag your mother because she needs more followers. ok. "20/20" continues with a father's story. >> reporter: nothing brings a smile to the face of scientology leader david miscavige quite like the opening of a new church, like this one in atlanta earlier this month. >> thank you very much.
it's really my pleasure. >> reporter: but show up with a camera to cover the event and the smiles quickly vanish. >> we were hoping to talk to david miscavige, if he's here today. >> i don't think that will be possible, and today is going to be very busy. >> reporter: church staff ask us to leave, and even stand in front of our camera. >> this is not going to be cool to be set up out here this afternoon. >> reporter: david's father ron says this type of behavior all stems from his son's need to control every aspect of what happens in the church. >> everybody knows the statement power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. that taste of power i think is what changed david. >> reporter: and ron says one of his son's most powerful tools for controlling scientologists is a policy called disconnection. where, according to critics, church officials pressure parishioners to cease communicating with family or friends who leave and criticize the church. >> i think it's terrible. i don't think you could do a worse thing to a person than have him split up his family so they won't talk to you anymore. you lose your children. and they do it.
>> reporter: this is what ron says happens with his two daughters, denise and lori, not long after he leaves the church. >> they won't talk to me. my grandchildren don't talk to me, which is their kids. and i've never met some of my great-grandchildren. i don't even know how many there are. that is terrible. that is terrible, okay? that's why i'm doing this, dan. >> reporter: you have a number of great-grandchildren and you don't know the number? >> hey, hang on a second. sorry. i've got to get focused. >> reporter: the church says this is another blatant example of ron failing to tell the full story. >> he's saying his daughters were pressured to disconnect from him by the church. it is simply not true. >> reporter: ron's daughters declined to give an interview to "20/20," but in written declarations they tell us they had good reasons to cut off all ties with their father. >> ron's daughters have relayed
that they grew up in a house that they would call a chamber of horrors. >> reporter: in fact, in a series of letters, ron's daughters lay out an extraordinary litany of allegations. laying bare what appears to be an all-out war within scientology's ruling family. they tell us that he was more violent with their mother than he now admits, and that he was violent with them as well. striking them frequently with his fists and his belt. ron says he spanked the girls occasionally, but didn't abuse them. >> i never thought that they would resort to this. i knew that i was going to be discredited. and i want david, who probably wrote this stuff, you come on television and confront me in person. >> reporter: ron's daughters say the final straw for them was their father's decision to move in temporarily with their older brother, ronnie, who they say abused them physically when they were children. ronnie miscavige wouldn't speak to us either, but his father did address the charges.
>> he denied it totally, and when they were growing up, i never knew or never even heard that any of this went on. >> reporter: ron says his daughters are being manipulated by the church to denounce him and his book. if his daughters really hated him, he reasons, why did they chip in to buy him that car on his 70th birthday? why did they send him 75 gifts when he turned 75? and why did denise send him this warm father's day card? "dearest dad, happy father's day, i love you, denise." >> yeah. >> reporter: and this is after you left the church. >> that's right. >> reporter: as for the church, it says there is a policy of disconnection, but that it's a voluntary choice made by the members themselves, not under pressure. >> scientologists know what the policy is. and they, it's a policy that they want to abide by. they do believe that their spiritual progress would be impeded if they continue to communicate with someone who just attacks the church nonstop. >> reporter: increasingly, the issue of disconnection within the church has been bubbling up into the public view.
just last month, this billboard went up in los angeles condemning the practice. "20/20" gathered a group of former scientologists, some of whom you've already met, who say they've lost loved ones to disconnection. by now it may not surprise you hear the church denounces all of these people as enemies of scientology whose relatives had ample reason to cut them off. >> my name is skip young. >> my name is shelley britt corrias. >> my name is lori hodgson. >> this is my sister. >> this is my son craig. >> these are my children, jeremy and jessica. >> that's the reality of the church of the scientology. under david miscavige's regime. >> people are not lying. their pain is real. their, their daughters are not talking to them. their sons are not talking to them. there are people who don't know, have never met their grandchildren. this is real. it's a real thing. >> reporter: coming up, a special reunion. and ron's message for his son. after everything that you say has happened, after all of that,
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all day and all night. try new rhinocort® allergy spray. >> reporter: on a recent afternoon in hollywood, not far from iconic scientology buildings, a reunion between two veterans of the church. >> hi, honey. >> you look like a million bucks. it's great seeing you, i'll tell you. >> how are you? >> you're getting better looking, you know that? >> reporter: so the two of you guys haven't seen each other since you were both active scientologists? >> that's right, yeah. >> yeah. >> he has a right to tell his story, i have a right to tell my story so do thousands of others.
where this is very different is usually when you leave something, you don't have an organization attacking you, following you, trying to destroy your life. >> reporter: back in wisconsin, in the little brick home his son bought for him, ron now spends most of his time with his wife, and with his first true love, music. ♪ >> reporter: as for his son, despite all the nastiness now erupting into the public view, this father insists he still nurses hope for reconciliation. after everything that you say has happened, can you forgive him? >> yeah. it's the only way anybody can move forward. >> reporter: ron said that he forgives his son. >> he has nothing to forgive. his son has done nothing to him but care for him. >> reporter: do you still love him? >> yes.
hard to believe, isn't it? if he were here and if he would do it, i'd shake his hand and i'd give him a hug. ♪ and it's worth noting, the book is dedicated to ron's children, including david, and the great-grandchildren he's never met. and our question for you tonight, about the policy of disconnection. >> let us know your thoughts on facebook and twitter. >> dan harris will have much more on "nightline" a little bit later. >> that's our show. i'm elizabeth vargas. >> >> >> >> >> coming up on "action news" tonight a community meeting with philadelphia's mayor goes from quiet, today yot i can.
and trouble shooters, tackled the case of the flaming car, and that is next. friday night, and the big story on "action news" tonight, it is fire works in north philadelphia, as they came during a meeting. a meeting between members of that community and mayor jim kenney. that is what happens when you talk about