Cults steal many things from their members, including happy childhoods. Our early years should be filled with freedom and fun. However, for children raised in cults, childhood can be filled with hard labor and indoctrination. This was the case for Michael Brown. His parents’ involvement with Scientology marked Mike’s childhood in many negative ways. His parents joined Scientology when Mike was seven, following his father, a former US Marine who was wounded in Vietnam, buying a copy of “Dianetics.” Mike’s dad was searching for ways to heal from PTSD when he joined Scientology. Mike moved to California with his mom after his parents’ divorce, and Mike was made to join the Sea Organization or “Sea Org,” a paramilitary section of Scientology.  

Mike’s mom, Rosemary, worked directly for one of Scientology’s top executives, Ronnie Miscavige Jr., older brother of the organization’s leader, David Miscavige. As a child, Mike was often left in Los Angeles with other Scientology members, being raised by the organization. He rarely saw his mother and was deprived of a proper education. The Sea Org treats children as “adults in small bodies” instead of as growing humans, and he was forced to do hard labor for many years. This is technically labor trafficking, though Scientology’s tax-exempt status as a religion has so far given it a “ministerial exemption” from prosecution. 

Mike tried to escape Scientology’s undue influence when he was 15. As punishment for trying to escape, he was isolated, sleep-deprived, and forced to do hard labor for over a year and a half. Mike reflects that he felt like a prisoner during this time.  

Mike finally escaped Scientology at age 27 and joined the military. He had little education and no credit history. Despite these odds, he was inspired by his family’s previous military service and flourished in the Army. He was at the top of his class in basic and advanced individual training and became an aircraft mechanic. Mike reflects that he could succeed in the military because the psychological demands placed on a service member during a time of war were lower than his life in Scientology. So, in some ways, his abusive training in Scientology helped him excel in a military environment that required separation from loved ones, sacrifice, and selfless service.  

Mike became a helicopter pilot and instructor. Mike served five combat tours between Iraq and Afghanistan in his nearly 20 years of service. In 2007, he was accepted to attend Warrant Officer Candidate School and became a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter Pilot. He is now a helicopter Instructor Pilot (IP), Standardization Pilot (SP), and Instrument Flight Examiner (IE) with equivalent FAA certifications, leveraging his experience to train the next generation of Army Pilots as a Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4).  

Mike reflects that the military was less controlling than Scientology for him. On a previous episode of the Freedom of Mind podcast, guest Daniella Mestyanek Young discussed her time in the military, which differed from Mike’s experiences. For Daniella, the military was too like her childhood spent in the sex cult, The Children of God. She discusses these experiences in her best-selling book Uncultured.  

When Mike left Scientology, his mother, Rosemary, was made to disconnect from him. Disconnection is an extreme policy of Scientology. Other strict authoritarian groups do disfellowshipping, ex-communication, or shunning. Those still in the cult will no longer have anything to do with those who leave and consider those who leave to be traitors and outsiders. Mike and his mom had been very close. Rosemary had also disconnected from her large Catholic family while she was in Scientology because they criticized the cult. Mike reconnected with this part of his family when he escaped.  

For many years, Mike believed his mother wanted to remain in Scientology. He also admits he naively believed she was being taken care of. However, this was far from the truth. She was, unfortunately, sexually harassed in the course of her work. The perpetrator was allowed to keep his executive position, but Mike’s mom was punished, though she was the victim. When Mike escaped, his mom was punished and was put into the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) in Los Angeles. She worked around the clock. This kind of forced hard labor and exhaustion is a common cult tactic. It is tortuous, and people are treated like criminals with no human rights. Rosemary was in her sixties at this time and suffered a heart attack. Mike returned to the U.S. from Afghanistan to visit her in the hospital.  

In the hospital, Rosemary was surrounded by her cult “handlers.” They did not take good care of her when she was released from the hospital. His mom had reached the age to receive Social Security payments. When the people in charge realized this, they made her pay for her auditing, which she was supposed to get for free as a Sea Org member.  

They went on to take her money until there was no money left. They later ran credit card payments for her auditing to get their statistics up. Then they opened credit cards in her name while she still had to work all day for almost no pay.  

She collapsed while working and was put into hospice. In this environment, she stopped being indoctrinated daily and had access to the internet and public media. She had watched Leah Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath during this time. This let her see others’ experiences and abuse, but she still believed in Scientology’s teachings and in Hubbard himself. However, this belief was shattered, and she realized she had to escape when she watched the documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. This documentary, produced by Alex Gibney and based on the book by Lawrence Wright, represented the end of Rosemary’s dedication to Hubbard and the Scientology organization. So, she contacted her son for help. 

During Covid, they could change her power of attorney without anyone from Scientology knowing. Mike’s childhood friends, one a “Miscavige” and one a “Hubbard,” helped Mike with his mother’s escape.  

Mike is now raising awareness about the scams that older people can be susceptible to within Scientology and other destructive cults.  

Resources:  

Mike Brown’s YouTube Channel 

Daniella Mestyanek Young’s Book Uncultured  

The Convergence of Cult Experience and Military Indoctrination with Former Army Captain Daniella Mestyanek Young 

The California Elder Justice Coalition