How The Leader Of Scientology, David Miscavige, Rose To Power

David Miscavige is the leader of the Church of Scientology. According to the Scientology website, he rose to the position after being hand-picked for several high-ranking positions over the years by the founder of the church, science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard's book "Dianetics" would become what amounts to the bible of the Church of Scientology. 

Miscavige was brought into the Church of Scientology when he was 9 years old by his father, Ron Miscavige, according to The Tampa Bay Times (TBT). It was 1969 and Ron Miscavige met a Scientologist in the course of his work and was told that the church might be able to help cure David's asthma through one of the church's practices called "auditing," a sort of counseling session. According to the TBT, the family felt that it worked and they continued to be involved with the church. By 12 years old, David Miscavige became the youngest professional auditor for the organization, per Scientology.

At 16, David Miscavige reportedly dropped out of high school and moved to Clearwater, Florida, where Scientology's headquarters, the Flag Land Base, is located, as noted by ABC News. He joined the church's religious order for the most "dedicated" Scientologists, the Sea Organization (or, as it's also known, the Sea Org), Stand League reported, and he reportedly signed a billion-year contract, as all new members of the Sea Organization are said to do. As such, he was personally chosen to work with L. Ron Hubbard who instructed him on how to make training films and then made him Director of Photography for the films at just 17.

Miscavige quickly moved up the ranks

According to the Scientology website, "by the age of 18, David Miscavige had become the individual L. Ron Hubbard called upon to carry out the most important assignments. No Church executive in history ever received more direct communication from L. Ron Hubbard than Mr. Miscavige."

Clearly, the way the Scientology website spins it, David Miscavige was something like a right-hand man to the church's guru, L. Ron Hubbard, and that gives him a lot of clout. In the 1980s, Hubbard appointed Miscavige to Trustee of the Religious Technology Center, a place where Hubbard's teachings would be "preserved, maintained and protected."

It was around the age of 18 that Miscavige also started dating his wife, Michelle "Shelly" Barnette, according to Vanity Fair. Shelly is described as working closely with Hubbard while she was growing up. He liked being called "The Commodore," and Shelly was a member of the Commodore's Messengers Organization — a group of young girls who served Hubbard as something like personal assistants. Shelly was entrusted to the care of Hubbard by her parents at the age of 12, and is described in Vanity Fair as being among his "most devoted" assistants. She and Miscavige met for the first time when Shelly was 15, with her future husband being just nine months older than her.

The scientology power couple

According to The Baltimore Sun, Hubbard went into hiding in 1980 but used Miscavige as a go-between for himself and other church leaders, so when Hubbard died in 1986, Miscavige filled the vacuum of the loss of leadership — not without a power struggle between a couple of other of Hubbard's closest executives. Still, Miscavige muscled his way into the leadership role, which he has maintained ever since. 

What's more, in 1982 Miscavige married Shelly, and due to their personal relationships with LRH, they worked as something of a power couple in those years that Miscavige was clawing his way to the leadership role of the church. Per Vanity Fair, early in the marriage Shelly and David were equals, with Shelly even being described as "feisty" by someone who knew her, but their equal footing in the relationship eroded and after just a few years, the marriage was devoid of affection and more akin to a boss/employee relationship, according to Vanity Fair's reporting. The couple slept in different bedrooms.

Miscavige had ambitions. He wasn't just Hubbard's pet student. He's been described as an "initiator," as a hard-working, "no-nonsense" leader who has worked hard to grow the church. He's also been described as a "ruthless infighter with a volatile temper," per The Baltimore Sun. According to Scientology, it was Miscavige who steered the organization into its tax-exempt status in 1993 by earning the church legal recognition in the U.S.

The Church of Scientology faces a lot of criticism but Miscavige holds steady

Those aggressive and sometimes violent tendencies were sometimes aimed at Shelly Miscavige, per Vanity Fair, and she in turn would lash out at others in the church. She became insecure and jealous of the young subservient women who Miscavige kept nearby. By 2006 the Miscaviges were spending most of their time apart working on different projects for the church, that's when Vanity Fair reports that Shelly made two "executive decisions" involving the church, and knew pretty much immediately she was in "a crap-load of trouble" according to a former colleague. In short order, Shelly was essentially black-balled from church duties. Then she was just gone.  

Some say she was stashed away at one of Scientology's bases, put to work, or made to pay penance. Or, it's said she was sent to go through "auditing and re-programming" until she reaches the point of contrition (via Vanity Fair). Of course, since no one has reported seeing the woman since 2007, it's hard not to wonder what really happened to Scientology's leader David Miscavige's wife. 

Today Miscavige, a high school dropout, continues to try to grow the church globally, even as more and more prominent or celebrity members of the church — including David's late father, Ron — have defected, sharing their stories about the allegedly shady inner workings of the organization, casting a negative light on Scientology. Still, "Miscavige continues to steadfastly carry forth L. Ron Hubbard's legacy," per Scientology.