FBI investigates Church of Scientology for human trafficking
Human trafficking allegations in the Church of Scientology include forced labor by church workers for the benefit of Tom Cruise. Image: CC clared23/Flickr

The FBI has launched a probe into Scientology, the religion that has gained notoriety because of celebrities such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. The FBI investigation arose on suspicion that the Church of Scientology is involved in human trafficking. Recent Scientology defectors have shared stories of involuntary confinement and forced labor endured for years at remote Scientology re-education camps.

Scientology’s desert re-education camp

The FBI human trafficking investigation of Scientology allegedly began in 2009, when agents started interviewing former Scientologists who tried to quit. In a story that first broke two years ago in the St. Petersburg Times, so-called apostates were confined to a Scientology compound in the California desert east of Los Angeles and subjected to hazing and long hours of forced labor for nominal pay. The FBI investigation of Scientology was revealed in a profile of the screenwriter Paul Haggis in the New Yorker on Feb. 7. Haggis resigned from the Church of Scientology in 2009 because of the human trafficking practices detailed in the Times, along with Scientology’s public support of California’s Proposition 8, a law prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Tom Cruise benefits from forced Scientology labor

Allegations raised in both the Times and New Yorker articles include tracking down escapees from Scientology’s heavily guarded desert compound and returning them by means of force. Women in the compound were discouraged from having children and forced to get abortions. Former Scientologists accused church leader David Miscavige of living lavishly on the church’s dime while workers in the compound were paid $50 a week. One of those workers earning that wage said he was forced by Miscavige to customize a pair of motorcycles for Tom Cruise that would have cost thousands of dollars. Cruise also had an SUV customized and an airplane hangar renovated with forced Scientology labor.

Scientology and human trafficking

In a statement the Church of Scientology denied being investigated by the FBI for human trafficking. A spokesman called the New Yorker article a “rehash of unfounded allegations.” However, signs of human trafficking listed on the FBI website match the experiences shared by Scientology defectors. Some of those signs include people living and working in the same place who experience physical and emotional abuse,  as well as control of their food, schedule, money, speech, ID and travel documents.


St. Petersburg Times: http://www.tampabay.com/news/scientology/article1150248.ece

New York Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/2011/02/07/2011-02-07_fbi_probing_allegations_of_human_trafficking_and_enslavement_in_scientology_repo.html

The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/02/14/110214fa_fact_wright

New York Post: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/cruise_church_labor_probed_lNckRxqOTLp5LvQAe3iGFI

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