Rumors of extortion, abuse, and gaslighting have circled around the Church of Scientology for decades, but because of its strict adherence to secrecy, little has been confirmed outside of the slew of testimonies from former members. Perhaps most notorious and consistent of these rumors concerns the question, "What is Scientology's 'the Hole'?"
The Church of Scientology was created by the writer-turned-tax-evader-turned-cult-leader L. Ron Hubbard. It's based on the belief in the existence of thetans, spiritual identities of the self that originated billions of years ago at the start of the universe. The church claims to be able to aid followers in freeing their inherent thetans. Allegedly, one way to do so is for Scientologists to be punished in the Hole at Gold Base.
However, the Hole wasn't one of Hubbard's inventions. It was his successor, David Miscavage, who created it. Facts about the Hole are scarce, but rumors abound. Here's what we do know.
The Hole Was Created in Reaction to Lisa McPherson's Death
In December 1995, devoted Scientologist Lisa McPherson died in the back of a van full of fellow believers. A lengthy court battle followed in which the Church of Scientology was charged with felony counts in a criminal case and McPherson's family filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit. It was a media frenzy, bringing an unprecedented level of scrutiny to the whole organization.
However, after alleged legal strong-arming of witnesses and medical experts, the church escaped nearly unscathed in 2004. The criminal charges were dropped and the lawsuit was settled. But leader Miscavige was apparently unhappy with the work of high-ranking executives within the organization leading up to and during the investigation.
He subsequently rounded up about 50 of these executives and then held them captive in a building for three days before moving them to a small cluster of buildings - which would later be called "the Hole" - in the Gold Base compound (the international Scientology headquarters in Riverside County, CA). That is where details of their individual fates become hauntingly scarce, though rumors of forced confessions, beatings, and living in overcrowded quarters for extended periods of time exist.
A Few People Have Defected From The Hole
Several former Scientologists have defected from the Hole and reported the conditions there, so while stories are scarce, there is some confirmation of what goes on within the compound. Though not officially involuntary, most people confined to the Hole do not have the choice to leave. Mark Rathbun famously stayed in the Hole for four days before leaving - he claims his friend Tom De Vocht who was also staying there was so badly beaten he refused to stay. Later, De Vocht also defected by climbing over the fence to the compound after guards refused to let him leave through the gate. By all eyewitness accounts, a combination of mental coercion and manipulation are keys to Scientology's cover.
The Hole Is Almost Always Unbearably Crowded
Imagine being crammed into a small space with more than 100 people, exhausted from a day of cruel and unusual punishments, trying to stake out a scrap of floor space to rest before the next round of punishments. That's what the Hole is like.
Quarters there are close, to say the least. Mike Rinder, a former spokesman for the church, claimed that “everyone sleep[s] with only about six inches on either side. Above you. Below you. Getting up in the middle of the night, you’d disturb everyone.” Most are resigned to lie on a hard floor, sans blankets or pillows, making sleep nearly impossible despite their pure exhaustion.
The Hole Is Over 100 Degrees
The Hole is located in Gilman Hot Springs, CA. Yes, in the middle of a f*cking desert. The temperature in the middle of summer can easily climb above 100 degrees F. It's obvious that overcrowding can make occupants feel like there's a scarcity of air and that it can contribute to raising temperatures within a confined space. You would think that this would be bad enough for the prisoners in a sadistic leader's mind.
Wrong. Miscavige has been known to turn off the air conditioning in the Hole for weeks at a time during the middle of the hottest months. This makes dehydration almost inevitable, especially when prisoners are expected to work insanely long hours at labor-intensive tasks.