At the time, David was already an auditor and a minister of the faith. When David turned 16, he left home and school in Pennsylvania with his family’s consent and went to Scientology’s spiritual headquarters, the Flag Land Base, in Clearwater, Florida, for "Sea Org" training.
The members of the “Sea Organization” or “Sea Org,” are like the clergy of the Scientology. Ron Miscavige would eventually join Sea Org himself, but he said as the years went on something in his son changed.
Ron Miscavige spoke to ABC News in an exclusive interview for “20/20” about his experience as a former Scientologist and about his son David’s rise to power within the Church. Miscavige also talked about his new memoir, “Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me,” out on May 3, which he wrote with Dan Koon, a former Church official who is now a vocal critic.
Ex-Scientologist Lois Reisdorf told ABC News she first met David when she was at Flag looking for recruits to join Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s personal elite Sea Org unit called the Commodore’s Messenger Organization.
“Dave was just like a 16-year-old kid,” Reisdorf told “20/20.” “He was very… gung ho. He had a lot of spark.”
The Church told ABC News in a statement that Reisdorf’s comments about recruiting David Miscavige are “utterly false.”
Before long, David Miscavige was in Hubbard’s circle and moved West without his family where Hubbard, who was also known by his initials LRH, was building new secret bases and shooting Scientology training films.
“He [David] ended up being a cameraman,” Reisdorf said. “But in the beginning, we used to call him ‘the kid,’ and LRH would call him ‘the kid.’”
Ron Miscavige wasn’t in Sea Org at the time and doesn’t have direct knowledge of this.
The Church says Hubbard decided early that Miscavige would eventually succeed him.
“Mr. Hubbard viewed David Miscavige as one of his closest and trusted aides, and he essentially groomed him to become the leader of the Church,” said Church lawyer Monique Yingling. “So really while there wasn’t an anointment or anything like that, it was clear to everyone… that David was the person that Mr. Hubbard would want to take the Church forward.”
Norman Starkey, who was L. Ron Hubbard’s personal aide, said in a Church statement to ABC News that, “There never, ever was any doubt whatsoever that Mr. Hubbard intended Mr. David Miscavige to be the leader of the religion after he had departed this life.”
But that claim is intensely disputed by Church critics. Reisdorf said originally Hubbard wanted the Church to be run by a committee after he died, not one person. But she said that after Hubbard went into seclusion in 1980, David Miscavige’s influence and power grew as he evolved from the Commodore’s Messenger Organization into a Gatekeeper.
“He started to get power and started to pull in people … onto his side, and it ended up being like a coup, where you had half of the management took over and kicked out the other half,” Reisdorf said.
Reisdorf claims she was part of the “other half” and that she was relieved of her executive duties.
“It was a betrayal,” she said.
In a statement to ABC News, the Church said, “Lois Reisdorf was removed from Church staff and expelled in 1982.”
“Hubbard was the one who personally removed Lois Reisdorf from her management post, never to hold an executive position again,” the statement continued. “Hubbard found that she had ‘systematically crashed’ production by issuing destructive orders, … He stripped her of all rank, and assigned her to clean rooms.”
“Her claims regarding Mr. Hubbard’s plans and intentions for the future of Scientology are lies,” the statement said. “She has no knowledge of them, because she had long since been removed.”
Ron Miscavige joined Sea Org in 1985 when his son David, then in his mid-20s, was already established in the Church’s leadership. His father said he learned shortly after he arrived at Sea Org that things were different between them.
“I saw him walking, oh about 20 yards from me,” Ron Miscavige told ABC News “20/20.” “I says, ‘Hey Dave.’ And he turned to me and he looked at me like, ‘Who are you talking to?’ No words were said but that glance told me those days were over. I would never, I could never do that as a father to a son.”
At first, Miscavige said he enjoyed himself. A longtime practicing musician, he joined the Church's Golden Era Productions as a musician and composer and traveled the world. He said he believed he was helping change the world through Scientology. But he said his son's management style reflected his short temper and often involved yelling or shouting, citing one particular incident where he said David yelled at him at a music event for almost an hour in front of other people.
"I'm the one that got him into Scientology. I raised him, good or bad," Miscavige said. "And to come to this? What the hell is this? This is nuts."
The Church insists Ron Miscavige doesn't know much about David's management style because they didn't spend much time together.
When L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, David officially became the head of the Church, taking the title of Chairman of the Board.
"There were no checks and balances on him [David], at a certain point, where he could just go ahead," Ron Miscavige said. "He just assumed that power. And he had an authoritarian figure. He was a great talker.... he used to say, 'You have power if people will listen to you.' And people did listen to him."