It’s been some time since any news about Debbie Cook has surfaced. Then last weekend Tony Ortega posted that she has just published a book on Amazon about recovering from Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue.
Although I haven’t spoken to Debbie in years, I have thought about her and Wayne many times and after reading some of the comments on Tony’s blog, I felt some background information might be of interest to fill in a few blanks and perhaps dispel some misconceptions.
There hasn’t really been a reason for me to write about this before. Marty covered the activities of her case and the subsequent settlement on his blog at the time and I concurred with what he said.
But I also have my perspective on events and until now I have not shared them.
At the outset, let me say that I have known Debbie since the day she first arrived to join the Sea Org. I was running the CMO in Clearwater at the time and she came into CMO CW as a wet-behind-the-ears new recruit. Her North Carolina accent and southern manners and style made her stand out.
I was not really close to her in the early years, and I never “hung out” with her other than at “org outings.” But when you work closely with someone and are in the Sea Org together for as long as we were you get to know them. I have always respected Debbie because of her determination to be the best that she could be in everything she did. She trained herself as a NOTs auditor and Intern Sup and was respected as a tech terminal. She trained herself administratively. And she held one of the toughest posts in Scientology – Captain of the Flag Service Organization. If you look prior to Debbie assuming the post there is a lengthy list of previous occupants who lasted months or a couple of years at most. She was the Captain for 17 years.
But I don’t need to describe her history in the Sea Org or the FSO. There are a lot of people who know her from that time.
I am sure she did things she isn’t proud of – it’s pretty much inevitable to remain alive in any executive position in scientology that you do things that are against your inherent nature. It is simply survival. But she did care about the service the public received and brought a remarkable level of stability to the FSO.
Of more interest is what happened after she left the church.
Like everyone else, I was surprised to see her email on New Year’s eve of 2011. It landed like a nuclear bomb in the scientology world. Here was one of the most prominent and beloved scientology executives calling out things that everyone knew were wrong but were afraid to say.
She put her neck on the line because she disagreed with how people were being mistreated. And she paid the price that few others were willing to pay (which is why they were afraid to speak).
At the time of her email I had no idea of the story of how she had come to depart the church, but I was soon to learn. When I left in 2007 as far as I knew she was still one of Miscavige’s “favored ones” — held up as an example to others to prove their incompetence. In fact, the last time I had seen her she had not been sent to the Hole as an inmate, but was sent by Miscavige, along with Bob Keenan to “inspect” the Hole and execute his order to have its inhabitants “overboarded” in the lake… She didn’t seem too enthused about her task.
Shortly thereafter, like everyone who had preceded her as one of the favored few, she too was an “SP” and was assigned to the Hole. Her story about being put in a trash can with a sign declaring her a lesbian because she told the truth that in fact Marc Yager and Guillaume Lesevre had not engaged in homosexual acts with one another would become the stuff of media headlines.
But I knew none of this until the church acted to try to “squash her like a bug” soon after the email appeared. Within about 4 weeks they filed suit against Debbie and Wayne in San Antonio Texas (where they were living at the time) claiming the email was a violation of the contracts they had signed in order to be allowed to leave.
Debbie reached out to Marty Rathbun and I – she was being sued by scientology and she had no idea what to expect. But she knew we would.
I flew to Texas and met with Wayne and Debbie to offer whatever assistance I could.
I learned a lot about what had happened to them since I had left the Sea Org in June 2007.
It turns out they had left later in 2007 after Debbie’s stint in the Hole. They escaped from Flag. It was an exciting story like so many other “blows” and I am not sure it ever came out. Briefly, after her experiences at Int Debbie and Wayne carefully planned their escape. No longer allowed to drive themselves anywhere, they were driven from the Hacienda Gardens each morning by Debbie’s Assistant. She asked her to stop at the dining hall in the Clearwater Bank building and grab her some food, Debbie and Wayne would wait in the van and the air conditioning needed to stay on. As soon as she was inside Debbie jumped in the front seat, drove to the nearest car rental place, got a car and set off for her father’s home in North Carolina.
Enroute, they stopped to get something to eat at a diner in North Carolina, just an hour away from her father’s house. They were tracked down by Kathy True and Co doing a “blow drill.” Ms. True walked in on Wayne and Debbie eating. She had a goon squad in a van outside ready to drive them back to Clearwater. Debbie bluffed and said her father had instructions to call the police if they didn’t show up that afternoon.
Kathy True followed them to Debbie’s father’s and made various promises to get them to return to “route out.” She told Debbie she would be given the medical treatment she needed. That she would be allowed to see her mother and that Wayne would be allowed to remain connected to his family, including his 2 sons. True also promised they would NOT stay at the Hacienda but would be off church premises with Debbie’s mother. They flew back to Clearwater, accompanied by Kathy False. They were picked up at the airport to be driven to the agreed upon location where they would stay. At the last minute the van turned and drove right through the open gates of the Hacienda and they were trapped. But they had anticipated dirty pool, and had a hidden phone with them.
Of course, all promises that had been made to get them to return to “route out” were forgotten once they arrived back under the control of RTC. As anyone who has ever experienced this knows, the sec checks are endless. Literally. The idea is that the sec check is complete when you no longer want to leave and are willing to route yourself to the RPF. Debbie and Wayne had no intention of “being handled,” they wanted out in a bad way, and Debbie was suffering from Fibromyalgia. They signed the documents Elliot Abelson brought them to sign, knowing they would not be able to leave unless they did so. In the end, Debbie brought about a cessation of the sec checks by telling them her mother had instructions to call the police if she was not out of there in 2 days.
They were eventually allowed to leave and Wayne and Debbie started their lives over in Texas with a small marketing company. Debbie focused on recovering from her illness. But the abuses Debbie had witnessed and experienced and the abuses they knew were continuing gnawed on them. They knew they had to do something, but felt restricted by the agreements they had signed.
They decided to write something that was not critical of scientology itself, but pointed to violations of the church’s own policy and send it only to scientologists. They didn’t consider this was a violation of the agreement as it was like writing a scientology knowledge report. The email went out to more than ten thousand Scientologists and the response was ballistic. Debbie received thousands of email answers and Facebook messages and it was picked up in the Tampa Bay Times, then USA Today, Good Morning America, Yahoo News and all around the world. The “Debbie Cook email” was translated by others into Spanish, Italian, German, French, Russian and Taiwanese. Websites and Facebook pages such as “I love Debbie Cook’s email” went up to disseminate the email and recipients sent it to their friends. It was a measure of the importance of that email that something that is essentially written in scientologese and would be difficult for most people outside the bubble to understand generated such enormous interest.
The church didn’t wait long to act. They filed a lawsuit and requested a temporary restraining order. Such proceedings are expedited, meaning you have just a few days before you have to appear in court to respond. It’s a tactic the church has used before, as it puts the person you sue at a distinct disadvantage trying to scramble to respond to something you have had weeks to put together. Debbie and Wayne were not expecting to be sued, had no attorney to work with and not a lot of money to even hire one. Ray Jeffrey was a godsend. A friend of a friend recommended him and Ray agreed to take on the case. Believe me, you don’t find too many lawyers who are willing to take on the church of scientology for any client that doesn’t have a bottomless bank account to fund a team of lawyers. Nor do you find too many that will drop everything to prepare for a Temporary Restraining Order hearing against the church of scientology with virtually no notice. Fortuitously, Ray had read Janet Reitman’s book about Scientology when he was on vacation a few months earlier. From that he knew who Marty and I were and he had an idea of what the church of scientology was about. But still, no matter how you cut it, the deck was stacked against Wayne and Debbie and their new lawyer.
Marty and I helped get Ray briefed and prepared to represent Debbie and Wayne at the hearing and he in turn worked with them to ensure they understood what was going to happen.
They were looking down the barrel of a howitzer. The church had a contract they had signed and thus a presumption they were in the right and Debbie and Wayne had on its face, violated that agreement. They faced a large monetary claim because the agreement specified damages for any breach.
David Miscavige thought he had contained Debbie and Wayne and they had defied him. He was now bringing the full force of his petulance to bear with big gun lawfirms and teams of legal preps staff working day and night to bury Wayne and Debbie. Hell hath no fury like a scorned COP.
The easier option for them would have been to walk into court and ask for lenience, explain to the judge they had not thought they were violating the agreement with the email and promise not to do it again. It may well have worked. But Debbie and Wayne didn’t want to just bail and run.
Debbie’s testimony at that hearing was headlined around the world. Her voice reached tens of millions of people telling of the abuses she had both witnessed and experienced. In the middle of the hearing, the church decided not to continue and told the court they were going to reassess and bring other legal actions.
But Debbie and Wayne were not out of the woods by any stretch, though they had kicked Miscavige and the church right in the nuts and their eyes were watering.
If you have never been in the position of confronting the scientology litigation and intimidation/investigation machinery, I really don’t believe you could understand what it is like. At this point, Debbie and Wayne had a taste of it, but had not really experienced the full brunt of days or weeks of depositions and the weight that this sort of litigation puts on your shoulders.
So, when the church indicated they would be interested in settling the case, both Marty and I told Debbie and Wayne they should do so. We advised them to walk away with whatever they could get and get on with their lives knowing they had struck a blow the likes of which scientology, and especially Miscavige, had not experienced before. A blow that would have never-ending ramifications. That toothpaste was well and truly out of the tube and smeared all over Miscavige’s bathroom mirror.
At first, Debbie adamantly refused to even entertain the idea of settling. Marty and I convinced her to do so. Marc Headley also talked to her, both he and Claire DID know what it was like to engage in a legal battle with scientology and they were plaintiffs. He too advised her to take the win and walk away with her head held high.
I think what finally convinced Debbie that it was not cowardly to settle with the church was the fact that their marketing company had been toileted because of disconnection – most of their clients were Scientologists in the bubble – cutting off their only source of income. But more devastating was the fact that while all this was going on Ray Jeffrey’s long-time law partner was diagnosed with aggressive, advanced breast cancer. Ray had relied on her to take care of his other clients and cases while he devoted himself almost full time to defending Wayne and Debbie. That was no longer an option, and though Ray never told them he was unwilling or unable to continue to fight for them, we all understood the inhumane pressure it would put on Ray to have to try and carry both loads. On top of that, Debbie had a relapse of her Fibromyalgia symptoms.
Debbie and Wayne were drained financially from just round one and though many people made generous donations to their cause, they had no way to continue to fund a lawsuit of this magnitude. The church already had more than a dozen attorneys involved on their side
Settling was the only viable option. It was not as if they were walking away with their tails between their legs. Debbie had stood on the rooftop and shouted long and loud that there was something rotten in Denmark. When they tried to knock her off the roof she had inflicted serious injury as she fought to not be silenced. Injury that has continued to resonate with people to this day. The “Debbie Cook email” and her video’d testimony and media interviews will never go away.
But when you are overwhelmingly outgunned and outmanned and outfinanced, you walk away from the fight unless you have a death wish.
I pushed Debbie hard to settle. It was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned. I knew she would have to agree not to talk further, the church would not settle and would just grind her into dust if she did not agree to shut up. Whether they were right or wrong, scientology could drag out litigation for 10 years. I didn’t want to see her and Wayne and Ray Jeffrey have to live with that sort of stress and financial draining.
What happened in the settlement discussions and the terms that were agreed upon I have no idea. Neither Marty nor I were involved. It was hammered out between Debbie and Wayne and Ray and the church and its lawyers.
Of course, since the end of the litigation was announced, there are those who sit on the sidelines and criticize their decision and proclaim from some assumed position of authority that Debbie and Wayne had an obligation to “keep fighting.” But those people are almost exclusively Monday morning quarterbacks who have never been in battle. They think they have a right to criticize others without having walked in their shoes. To those people I say, do something of enough magnitude that you get yourself entangled in legal proceedings with scientology, and after that, then you can criticize.
I know a lot of people who have displayed a hell of a lot less courage than Debbie and Wayne Baumgarten. In fact, I don’t know a lot of people who have had the courage to do what they have done. Not said they would do. Not taken potshots from the safety of an anonymous blog comment. Actually stood toe to toe and delivered a gutshot.
I hope they are living a well, happy and peaceful life. I believe everyone owes them a debt of gratitude for what they did, not an uninformed snide comment about what they supposedly haven’t done.
When the history of this fight is finally written, Debbie Cook will be an important figure who had a significant and lasting impact on the course of events that will eventually result in an end to the abuses in scientology.
I know from her attorney that her book about Fibromyalgia has nothing to do with Scientology. No touch assists, no engrams. Rather it is about her journey to recovery and the medical resources that she found to recover her health.
Here are links to her books and websites