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A former Australian rugby league star who abandoned his sporting career for a life in the Church of Scientology says its head is a “violent” and “toxic” individual.
Former St George captain and player of the year Chris Guider walked away from his league career in 1986 at the age of 24.
After spending more than 20 years in the church in both Australia and the US, working closely with Scientology leader David Miscavige, Mr Guider has now left the movement, which he says is more about money and control than anything else.
“I would go through the day looking for people that weren’t following policy properly or weren’t in the right space they were supposed to be or the right area they were supposed to be in and then handling those people so they got back to what they were supposed to be doing,” Mr Guider said of his time working for the RTC, which has been described as Mr Miscavige’s honour guard.
“I’d report directly to Miscavige on what I did that day.”
Mr Miscavige became the leader of the Church of Scientology soon after the death of its founder L Ron Hubbard in 1986.
He was active in recruiting Tom Cruise to Scientology and was best man at his wedding.
But Mr Guider thinks Mr Miscavige is not the kind of person who should be the head of a religious movement.
“He’s a violent individual. He is and there are accounts of him being physical with people,” he said.
“I’ve seen him physically beat one staff member, Mark Fisher, who was formerly an executive in the RTC, worked very closely with Miscavige for a lot of years, and I witnessed him beating him.”
I found out that the leader of the church, David Miscavige, is basically a very toxic person.Former Scientologist Chris Guider
Mr Miscavige was not available to respond to these allegations. He has done only one television interview in 25 years as head of the Church. The Church of Scientology in the US turned down Lateline’s requests for an interview.
In an email, a spokeswoman claimed the allegations were “a lie” and attached two sworn declarations from Scientologists Marc Yager and Mark Ingber who claim Mr Miscavige did not hit Mr Fisher.
But Mr Fisher has told the St Petersburg Times in a previous interview that Mr Miscavige did beat him.
“He was pulling on my hair and he was punching at me and kicking at me, and this went on for two or three minutes,” the former Scientology executive told the newspaper.
“And when he finally stopped and calmed down, I stood up and reached behind my head and my head was bleeding.”
At least four other former Scientologists have claimed publicly that Mr Miscavige has also hit them. They include Jeff Hawkins, Mike Rinder, Bruce Hines and Tom De Vocht.
The Church of Scientology in the US said in an email to Lateline a small group of anti-Scientologists were feeding stories to the tabloid press to generate controversy.
The Church describes them as a “posse of lunatics” led by a media whore.
But Mr Guider says Mr Miscavige is a violent man, and at one point he was instructed by the church leader to hit a colleague who was editing a Scientology promotional video.
“He was standing behind the person who was editing the property and telling him he was doing this wrong and that wrong and screaming at him,” Mr Guider said.
“In the ethics officer role you have this little, basically it’s a riding crop. It’s just a little baton. It’s just meant to be a symbol of authority that the ethics officer has.
“Miscavige told me to beat the guy with the stick. I looked at him and I refused to do that. He took that very, very severely on me because I didn’t do what he wanted me to do.”
In a statement the Church of Scientology in the US described Mr Guider’s allegations as delusional.
The church provided copies of three sworn declarations from current Scientologists who deny the incident took place, including Mr Guider’s ex-wife and the editor involved, Gary Wiese.
Lateline has tried to contact Mr Wiese but he has not returned its calls. The church has described Lateline’s attempts to contact Mr Wiese to test his written denial as “inappropriate”.
It is common practice for the Church of Scientology to issue blanket denials of allegations made against them.
When Anderson Cooper raised allegations of violence against Mr Miscavige on CNN, the four ex-wives of the accusers claimed their former husbands were lying.
In the Church of Scientology’s internal justice system making a public statement against Scientology or Scientologists is considered a high crime – the worst of all crimes within Scientology.
“That’s church policy – they’re not supposed to admit to anything. So anybody you interview they won’t admit that they’ve done something wrong or it’s not that way,” Mr Guider said.
“They’ll go after you the reporter, they’ll go after whoever’s putting the program together, they’ll go after the individual. That’s how it works.
“RTC would run that. There were executives in RTC on the phones to attorneys telling them what to do, how to handle former members of the church.”
Mr Guider says he was eventually punished for the incident in the edit suite by being sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) in Dundas in suburban Sydney.
The Church of Scientology in the US disputes this, saying he went voluntarily to the RPF for “… long-term negligence in fulfilling his religious duties and his repeated violations of church scriptures”.
The Church of Scientology says the RPF is a voluntary religious retreat. Defectors describe it as a punitive re-education camp.
“It’s like prison, except it’s worse – you don’t have television, you don’t have visitor rights, you can’t read the newspaper, you can’t read books, you can’t listen to music,” Mr Guider said.
Former Scientologists say those sent to the RPF are forced to wear black, do hard labour and eat basic meals like rice and beans.
They say they are not allowed to talk to others except those on the RPF and are not allowed to walk, having to run from one project to another.
Mr Guider says he did two-and-a-half years at the RPF in Dundas.
He says the church seized his passport and his credit card and paid him as little as $2 a week. He has made a formal complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The Church of Scientology in Sydney refused Lateline’s request for an interview about the RPF at Dundas. In a statement it said: “The Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) is a voluntary religious program of spiritual rehabilitation offered to provide a “second chance” to those who have failed to fulfil their ecclesiastical responsibilities.
“The program does not include luxuries, to motivate the individual to improve himself and get through the program to once again be a capable and contributing member of the group.
“The property is open to the street with free access to and from the property.”
The Church says it does not understand why someone who spoke positively about Scientology in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2008 can now be so negative about it.
For Mr Guider, one good thing came out of his time in the RPF. He met his wife Valeska. They have since left the Church and have a baby boy.
“I found out that the leader of the church, David Miscavige, is basically a very toxic person,” he said.
“It’s not about people’s lives and helping other people and being a beneficial program for other people. It’s not about that.
“It’s about control and getting money, and I disagree with that and that’s not what interested me in the first place. It’s not what got me to quit my football career.”
In February, the New Yorker reported the FBI was investigating the Church of Scientology over allegations of abuse and human trafficking.
Lateline understands that investigation is still ongoing.