A couple of recent articles in the Tampa Bay Times: Scientology leader to visit Clearwater officials a week before vote on property purchase and Dynamic of City Council meetings with Scientology leader a rarity, and an analysis of the property situation in Clearwater yesterday on Tony Ortega’s blog make for interesting reading.
I cannot help but draw parallels between what is happening with downtown Clearwater and David Miscavige’s history as the supreme leader of scientology.
Miscavige has long prided himself in his ability to “get things done” that others believed impossible. He began building his mystique when he removed all competitors to his dictatorship after the untimely death of L. Ron Hubbard. Though he was NOT the anointed successor to Hubbard, he assumed power and ruthlessly got rid of anyone he saw as a potential threat to his throne. He then cemented his undisputed position with the 1993 IRS ruling that scientology is tax exempt and money given to its organizations is deductible as a charitable donation despite a US Supreme Court ruling to the contrary. In the wake of Lisa McPherson’s death he moved to Clearwater to direct the defense of scientology against charges brought by the States Attorney. Miscavige personally met with Bernie McCabe and the lawyer for County Medical Examiner Joan Wood and successfully convinced them to drop the criminal charges against the church. At that time, he wooed City Attorney Pam Aiken and City Manager Mike Roberto (who resigned amidst scandal in mid 2000, replaced by Bill Horne who became the new pet target of Miscavige’s affections). He plays the long game, and in person can be charming and solicitous. But only as long as he thinks you are moving in accordance with his plans.
Perhaps the greatest insight into where Miscavige’s relationship with the City of Clearwater is heading comes from his actions within scientology. In 2003 he began selling a plan to scientologists to buy new buildings all over the world to “make planetary clearing possible.” He called these “ideal orgs.” It sounds wonderful on the surface, but the net result has been disaster.
The beauty of his “ideal org” plan was twofold:
1. He convinced scientologists to raise massive amounts of money to purchase and expensively renovate buildings using the concept from Field of Dreams — “if you build it they will come.” 13 years later, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property has been purchased and refurbished, yet scientology is smaller than ever. Many of those who handed over the money and enthusiastically supported his grand scheme now look like fools — yet refuse to acknowledge the reality as it would be too painful to admit they have been “taken.” Miscavige has told them (and the world) that these buildings are “proof” that he is guiding scientology through a period of “unprecedented” expansion. In truth, scientology is shrinking at a rapid rate. They have not opened a single NEW church of scientology for decades, in fact they have shuttered quite a number in the last couple of decades. In the United States – despite this proclaimed “massive expansion” there are still 27 states that don’t have a single official church of scientology organization. The same 27 states as 25 years ago.
2. This scheme has helped solve a problem of scientology accumulating excessive liquid assets — thus running afoul of IRS rules. Though there is no “public benefit test” for exempt organizations in the US as there is in so many other countries, there is a general rule that such organizations should SPEND the money they make on things to contribute to society. Scientology doesn’t like to spend anything that reduces its total assets. Ever. The assumption is that buildings serve the community so the IRS generally treats buildings as “charitable spending” as normal people would not buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of buildings that sit empty. These buildings keep the balance sheet flush with assets.
In truth, the big promises and huge claims Miscavige makes are empty.
He routinely stands on stage and proclaims not only that this is an “era of unprecedented”, “straight up and vertical”, “monumental” and “epic” scientology expansion, he also asserts that scientology is “the largest private relief force on earth” (of course it is not) and it has “the most effective drug rehabilitation program on earth with unprecedented recidivism rates” (though his twin sister tends to put the lie to this claim). Scientologists don’t read the media — they get their news from Miscavige. Of course, nobody who is not an authorized, card carrying scientologist — let alone a member of the media — is allowed to attend these events. So his big lies are never challenged internally.
The point is, big claims and grand schemes are his stock in trade. And he is an effective salesman. He makes people believe, and more importantly, want to believe and invest in his “vision.”
But one must never lose sight of the reality.
Less than a month ago, when the Tampa Bay Times began reporting speculation that recent property purchases in downtown were being done on behalf of scientology, scientology spokesman Ben Shaw was quoted as having told the Times that “the church has no further plans to expand our campus downtown.” It was not even a month before this was exposed as a study in semantic shape shifting, if not an outright lie. Clearly, this was a Clintonian “definition of ‘is'” style response. In this case, the definition of “our campus” being the key: scientology would define their “campus” as their “church facilities” not a downtown development plan. But City Manager Bill Horne had been briefed about that plan in October 2016 and apparently he did not see fit to alert the TBT what was going on or clarify the sleazy answer even though he knew the truth and the intent of the inquiry was clear. Is scientology buying more property — including the Atrium building? And the answer was at best evasive and at worst, a lie.
They would of course say it was only to protect them from being gouged when they sought to buy property because people know the church has a lot of money. That excuse works for a profit making entity like Disney. It’s way harder to justify for a tax exempt “religion.” And if the prices are higher, isn’t this what scientology claims to want by revitalizing downtown?
One thing you can be certain: whatever plan Miscavige presents will be full of promises. And they may even sound appealing. No doubt he will cite the “Florida State University Economic Impact Study” to the City Commissioners who respond to his summons to appear before him at the Ft Harrison hotel. That study was horrendously flawed – based on false and unverified information provided by scientology for the study they commissioned and paid for (I spent some time debunking this study in my blog post “Scientology Takes Clearwater For Suckers”).
Remember, Miscavige has sold his scientology “ideal orgs” grand scheme — but virtually every one of those buildings is EMPTY.
Same thing with Clearwater. Promise the moon, gobble up every lot and create an even greater buffer of emptiness to protect the “Spiritual Mecca” of scientology from the outside world encroaching on their bubble. This is the ONLY reason for wanting to control the downtown area. There is never ANYTHING altruistic about the motives of Miscavige and scientology. He will sound sincere in his private one-on-one meetings, but you can study his track record and know that unless something serves HIS interests FIRST, it receives no attention or support. One need only glance back to recent history. The ONE thing that might have attracted people to downtown Clearwater would be an Aquarium on the Bluff. Yet scientology vehemently opposed this idea and wanted to purchase the land for themselves.
You can be certain that if Miscavige and scientology wanted to be PART of the development of downtown, they would have all their buildings open and accessible — not protected by Security Guards, cameras, Private Investigators and frosted glass windows you cannot see in. Their buildings are forbidding and somewhat creepy and it makes all of downtown Clearwater dark and creepy. You cannot see ANY activities of scientology in Clearwater — except their isolated “PR office” designed to present props and stage dressing as “good works” in the lobby of the old Clearwater Bank building — about 500 sq ft. And the empty Potemkin Village storefronts along N. Ft Harrison. That is it. You cannot enter or see in the Super Power Building. The Ft Harrison. The Oak Cover. The Sandcastle. The old Lee Arnold building. The Coachman. The WestCoast Building. Or ANYWHERE else that is a scientology property.
Scientology is a secret kingdom that wants no outsiders seeing what is happening. From scientology’s perspective, the less “wogs” (non-scientologists) there are in downtown Clearwater, the better. This “Redevelopment Plan” is heading in the direction of guaranteeing that. Scientology ONLY wants scientologists in downtown Clearwater. While Miscavige has plenty of money to buy everything within 5 miles of the Ft Harrison hotel — there are not enough scientologists within 50 miles to keep two restaurants busy, let alone an entire downtown retail district. In case nobody has noticed — most scientologists in downtown Clearwater stay INSIDE the scientology buildings. And the majority of them are scientology staff with no disposable income.
And finally, why are these meetings being conducted without the citizens of Clearwater being able to participate in the fact-finding and decision making process of their city? The Tampa Bay Times recent editorial (Scientology should discuss Clearwater plans in public) made this point eloquently.
Why doesn’t Miscavige show up and make his presentation before the City Commission meeting in City Hall, broadcast on cable access TV so everyone gets to see what is being offered and hear his sales pitch? Just like everyone else. Because he is afraid of appearing before the public and media and being asked questions he cannot answer. So, he avoids public appearances of any sort, instead summoning city officials to his turf to ‘splain things to them.
Why is the City Manager participating in this behind-closed-doors “planning” — reportedly accompanying each of the Commissioners who are planning to go forth and kiss Miscavige’s ring?
If you are a citizen of Clearwater and you wish to express your views, here is the information from the City of Clearwater website:
William Horne, City Manager
Clearwater City Hall, 3rd Floor
112 S. Osceola Ave. P.O. Box 4748
Clearwater, FL 33756
Clearwater City Hall, 3rd Floor
112 S. Osceola Ave.
Clearwater, FL 33756