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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Militia Accused of Plot Against U.S. Government; Bondage, Money & Politics; Scientology: A History of Violence

Aired March 29, 2010 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Scientology beyond the public face you may already know, beyond the celebrities and the good deeds. Tonight, former church insiders paint a much different picture. Allegations of beatings and humiliations carried out by the leader of the church of Scientology and others.

Allegations of a culture of violence within the top levels of the church, allegations the church adamantly denies. In fact, the church says those making these charges are themselves the abusers, demoted and removed because of their violence.

Well, tonight and every night this week, what our investigation uncovered, what the accusers say and what the church has to say about it all. All of it out on the table, so you can decide for yourself, who's lying and who is telling the truth. Here's a short preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTY RATHBUN, FORMER SCIENTOLOGY INSPECTOR GENERAL: In late '03, there was a beating every day. And if it wasn't him doing it, it was from him inciting others to do it to others.

COOPER: In front of other people?

RATHBUN: In front of other people.

Go along, baby.

COOPER: Marty Rathbun is the highest ranking former member of the Church of Scientology ever to speak out against its leader, David Miscavige.

RATHBUN: I was basically Mr. Fix it for Scientology for a number of -- well, a couple of decades, frankly. I mean, I was -- wherever there was a fire, I was out there to put it out, whether it be counseling a VIP member or whether it, you know, be handling the PR from some suicide of a member or whether it be a lawsuit or whatever.

COOPER: Rathbun joined the church at the age of 19, devoting 27 years to Scientology. Before he left five years ago, he was a member of the Sea Organization, the international management team that runs the church. They sometimes wear naval-style uniforms. They're given room and board and earn just $50 a week. Rathbun became the Inspector General, working for and reporting directly to David Miscavige. While Rathbun was there, he says Miscavige routinely assaulted church members.

RATHBUN: He treats his -- his subordinates, in all of international management, like slaves in a slave camp and literally -- and beats them down.

COOPER: Church officials and their attorneys say Marty Rathbun is a liar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOMMY DAVIS, SPOKESMAN, CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY: First of all the allegations are absolutely untrue. There was nothing of the sort as they were describing, by Mr. David Miscavige --

COOPER: David Miscavige had never kicked somebody?

DAVIS: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Never punched somebody?

DAVIS: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Never strangled somebody?

DAVIS: No, never, never, never, never. Absolutely not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that's coming up.

But first, the breaking news, the last fugitive member of a Michigan-based militia group taken into custody. That and the bigger picture tonight, "Keeping Them Honest." Did the government wrongly bury a warning about such groups because of political pressure? And were the voices creating that pressure simply playing politics with a very real threat?

Take a look at what happened tonight and this weekend. These nine men and women here, some of them actually family members, as you can see, all named in federal court papers unsealed today.

Now, the indictment says they were all plotting to kill a law officer and then bomb the funeral procession to try to kick off a war against the U.S. government. Now, if it's true, it's scary stuff.

Take a look over here on the wall. This is their Web site. This is pictures of the larger group here, kind of all dressed up, weekend warrior types out in the forest. They call themselves Hutaree.

This is actually a video from their Web site. Let's just make that a little bigger and play that here. You can see them kind of running around in the forest. They believe we're in the end-times and they're preparing for battle. In their own words, quote, "The Hutaree will one day see its enemy and meet him on the battlefield." All right, let's just stop this and let's make this a little smaller, move it away, and let's move this Web site away as well.

I want to show you a report that was issued by the Department of Homeland Security, almost a year ago. And it's got a long title, but it warned of just such militia groups as well as lone wolf anti- government extremists and how the recession and other factors are creating a dangerous climate.

So that's what the report said, but when this report was released, well, a lot of people got very upset, because it also said, and I quote, "The return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent acts."

Now, veterans groups understandably went ballistic. Ballistic -- conservative bloggers like Michelle Malkin here, seized on the entire report as a politically driven attack on the entire political right. Last April 14th she writes, quote, "The piece of crap report issued on April 7th is a sweeping indictment of conservatives."

Well, now DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano here apologized to veterans. She called the report an assessment, not an accusation. A month later, it was pulled.

But the question is, apart from the returning vets language, was the report wrong?

Let's take a look at the timeline. June 2009, James von Brunn, a white supremacist opened fire at the Holocaust Museum in D.C., killed a guard; the actions of a lone wolf.

Then just last month: the IRS building, Austin, Texas, Andrew Joseph Stack, crashed a plane into the IRS offices, killing a worker and himself; again, another lone wolf.

And now, of course, this group, according to investigators, a part of a right-wing militia group.

So "Keeping them Honest" tonight, did the DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, cave to pressure despite being largely correct about this report and were right-wing commentators attacking the messenger to score political points?

In a moment, we'll talk to Mark Potok and John Avlon who track extremist elements.

First, though, the breaking news: Drew Griffin who joins us with the very latest -- Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: Now the very latest, Anderson, is just within the last hour, we were notified of that ninth suspect being placed under arrest, in custody. His name is Josh Stone, 21-year-old son of the ringleader, if you will, of this group, arrested about 30 miles away from here in Adrian, Michigan. Brought into custody, quite frankly, as this area of Michigan is coming to grips with trying to figure out how this group openly was doing this kind of training, basically right under their noses.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): They are frightening videos: training for assaults, firing weapons. All the more scary to Jane and Bruce Holey, who found out about the Hutaree from news reports, went to a Web site to look them up and literally saw their neighbors practicing war on tape.

BRUCE HOLEY, LIVED NEAR ALLEGED MILITIA MEMBERS: There's things on the Web site showing all this training, it is obviously, we can pick out landmarks --

JANE HOLEY, LIVED NEAR ALLEGED MILITIA MEMBERS: Oh yes.

B. HOLEY: -- it was done in our neighborhood.

GRIFFIN (on camera): So this training or military filming that they were doing, although you didn't know it was happening, it was happening right here.

B. HOLEY: It was happening right there.

J. HOLEY: And in one shot is them walking down the street with all their guns and everything. It's like, how did we not know? It was how did we not know?

GRIFFIN (voice-over): What they didn't know was that members of the Hutaree militia allegedly were preparing for a major battle against their own country, describing themselves as Christian warriors. They have used their Web site to declare war on law enforcement and all foot soldiers of the federal government.

According to that Web site, they're driven by biblical teachings they believe command Christians to take up arms in defense of the one true church of Christ. How attacking the federal government fits into that plan is unclear.

(on camera): To understand why the neighbors -- or how the neighbors could not know what's going on here, take a look at the neighborhood. The closest true neighbor is about a quarter of a mile down a dirt road. We're at the intersection of two dirt roads, one very muddy, in fact. This is supposedly the base of operations for this group.

(voice-over): This weekend, authorities moved in on this set of trailers in a rural corner of Michigan and arrested 45-year-old David Brian Stone, the man identified as the group's leader also known as Captain Hutaree. Stone's wife, Tina, was also arrested, as was his 19-year-old son, David Brian Stone Jr. All told, eight members of the group were rounded up, the ninth tonight. Prosecutors allege the group was plotting to kill a police officer then set off bombs at the funeral in order to kill even more law enforcement agents. David Brian Stone's ex-wife was not surprised by his arrest.

DONNA STONE, EX-WIFE OF ALLEGED MILITIA LEADER: Yes, he's got a temper. He can get radical and he wants thing done his way.

GRIFFIN: But the younger Stone's fiance said he had done nothing wrong.

BRITTANY BRYANT, FIANCE OF ALLEGED MILITIA MEMBER: My fiance hasn't been in it, because we had a baby together. And once we had a baby and we got engaged, he stopped doing it for a while.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: But according to their Web site, Anderson, this group did believe the end of days was coming -- Armageddon -- and they were planning for an all-out war -- Anderson.

COOPER: Drew has anyone in that area of Michigan been tracking this group or heard of the group?

GRIFFIN: No, struggling like me to even pronounce their name, Anderson. They had no idea this was even a group. These were just guys who wore camouflage clothes and ate at the local diner every once in a while, always together, but not necessarily a group. And you saw those neighbors had no idea that they were even filming this kind of stuff, literally, right down the street.

COOPER: Well, I was just reading -- the four of them have the same last name, so I assume they're all sort of family members, or at least the bulk of them are. Were they members of the community, did they interact with people? You said they would eat at the diner occasionally.

GRIFFIN: Not really. They would stick together. They would stay on the property. I've been trying to find out what they did for a living. It looked like the boys worked on cars in the front lawn there, as you could see. But we can't find any record of any of them being in any kind of church.

We do know that they were considered Christian, because there was a tragedy in the family a few years ago and the local church was praying for them, saying that we know they are Christians when this tragedy happened, but not that they were a member of the church.

So even their own neighbors didn't know them, other than wave to them and they were friendly. You know, the usual stuff, but not a group, not known by anybody.

COOPER: Interesting.

Drew Griffin, I appreciate it, Drew. Thanks very much. Let's "Dig Deeper" now with Mark Potok, Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which keeps track of extremist groups. Also CNN contributor, John Avlon, author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America" and a senior political writer for the Daily Beast.

Mark, did you know about this group?

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Oh, yes. We learned about them probably a little more than a year ago, but I can't claim that we know a whole lot about them. They looked to be a very small group with a very odd ideology, sort of a twist on the New World Order with sort of the Christian millennial angle to it.

COOPER: What does that really mean? I mean, it's hard to find where, why they would call themselves a Christian militia. I mean, it doesn't really make much sense.

POTOK: Well, it is a bit hard to understand, even when you go through all their materials, but you know, basically, like other militia groups, what they really see happening to the world is a kind of takeover of the world by some sort of one-world government, a so- called New World Order.

Normally, most of the secular militia groups, of course, identify that with multi-national bodies, it will be the U.N., it will the Blue Helmets, it will be entities like the European Union that represent at least the beginnings of this wicked government, this one-world government.

In the case of this group, it was all cast in terms of the coming of the anti-Christ, which the group seemed to associate very closely, in fact, with the United Nations.

So it's really quite similar to other militias' ideology, but with a very particular biblical kind of twist.

COOPER: We're going to have more from Mark and John Avlon as well. We're just going to take a short break. The live chat is under way. And let us know what you think at AC360.com.

Also tonight, Michael Steele, head of the Republican Party, no stranger to controversy, but this one's kind of a new one. He's dealing with -- well, it's stranger than most, allegations about party money spent at a racy nightclub that had sort of a bondage theme in Los Angeles.

And later, 360's investigation to allegations that the Church of Scientology is being run by a man who physically abused top followers and condoned a culture of abuse. What former church members have to say and the church's claims that only those former members were actually the violent ones. The ones coming forward making these allegations they say are the ones who were perpetrating violence. We provide a rare look inside the elite organization that runs the church, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Updating the breaking news tonight, the ninth member of a Michigan-based militia now under arrest. Josh Stone, son of the militia leader, was taken into custody late tonight we're told. He and eight members of the Michigan-based Christian militia group called the Hutaree, the alleged plot to kill a police officer and then bomb the funeral procession afterward, the opening salvo, allegedly, of a war against the U.S. government.

Now, their Web site, a YouTube channel full of training videos like this one. Their mission, they say, was to prepare for the final battle against the beast. Now, in the meantime, the federal government says they were setting for police officers, as many as they could kill.

Back now, let's "Dig Deeper" with Mark Potok and John Avlon.

John, when you see this group, you see the folks in it, I mean, there were four members of a family, it looks like, what do you make of it?

JOHN AVLON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "THE DAILY BEAST": Unfortunately, I mean, they are of a theme. It's one of the things I write about in my book, it's this rise of what I called the hate-riot movement, which is essentially a resurgence of the militia movement that we certainly saw in the 1990s, but especially in the first year of Obama.

And Mark's group, The Southern Poverty Law Center, released a report cataloging the increase, showing a 300 percent increase in militia movement in the first year of the Obama administration alone, from 42 to 127. And there are different tributaries to this movement, but a lot of the basic themes that these folks traffic in we're witnessing in this group.

COOPER: So Mark, we talked at the top of this program in our "Keeping them Honest" report about this DHS report, this Department of Homeland Security report that came out, that was basically pulled back because there was such an uproar about it, when, you know, that a lot of conservatives said, well, look, this is an attack on conservatives.

In fact, that report seemed pretty prescient in terms of the violence that we have seen.

POTOK: I think that the report was absolutely spot-on. It was an accurate, on the ground analysis. It very much mirrored our own findings a little earlier that year. And it absolutely has proven to be prescient.

In addition to the list of incidents that you mentioned, of course, was the assassination right before the Holocaust Museum, murder of George Tiller.

And that is one of the specific things that they warned about in this report, single-issue extremists like anti-abortion extremists, carrying out these kinds of actions. COOPER: And John mentioned there was also the shooting of three police officers.

AVLON: In Pittsburgh. There was the murder of two Florida sheriff's deputies. All associated, not directly implicated, but you could tell that these individuals had been trafficking on some of these hate-riot Web sites, imbibing of their conspiracy theories and in this case, leading to violence.

COOPER: So, Mark, why was that report pulled back? Purely politics?

POTOK: I think it was an act of political cowardice on the part of Janet Reno. The section you read may have been slightly worded better, but I don't think anything in the report suggested that all veterans are potential Timothy McVeighs or all people opposed to abortion or certainly all conservative, as Michelle Malkin ludicrously asserted. I mean, if anyone actually read the report, it really didn't say that.

COOPER: You said Janet Reno, you meant Janet Napolitano?

POTOK: I'm sorry?

COOPER: You said Janet Reno, you meant Napolitano?

POTOK: Janet Napolitano, quite right.

COOPER: You're saying it was an act of cowardice on her part?

POTOK: Well, the first thing that happened was the American Legion came out and claimed that this was a defamation of all veterans and the short footnote that you read was it, that was as close as it came to quote/unquote "defaming veterans."

Though, you know, it looked to me like the administration was very cowed by this criticism from the right. It didn't seem to cost it much at the time to pull back the report, but, of course, it's a totally accurate report. And I know that this has caused great havoc in the law enforcement community.

You know, people who actually --

COOPER: Yes.

POTOK: -- do the work on the ground know this to be true and cannot understand the treatment that the DHS report was given by the administration.

AVLON: Well, what we can say is that the report was prescient. We have seen an escalation in these sort of acts and threats and thankfully, thwarted attempts that appeared to be under way. And we also know from studying American history that these -- these survivalist anti-government groups resurface time and time again, with many of the same themes and that many times they have spilled over into violence. The last militia movement in the 1990s, which was radicalized and took root, of course, really lost its steam after, unfortunately, the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma.

COOPER: Have we reached the point in the political discourse where you -- I mean, a report like this becomes instantly politicized? That you can't have a discussion like this without one side or the other believing that this is being seen through -- or seeing this through the prism of their political bias.

AVLON: We are in a spin cycle --

POTOK: I think that's precisely what happened.

AVLON: Yes. We are in a situation where everything is seen through a political and the partisan prism. And it degrades our discourse and then ends up making us do things like politicizing terrorism or domestic terrorism or threats of domestic terrorism. And that is a force that we need to confront.

We are also seeing a larger dynamic in which hate is a cheap and easy recruiting tool. People are using it actively. They are using it on sites of the Web. And the problem with hate is that it ultimately leads to violence. So we do need to confront these forces when we see them, whether it's on obscure Web sites or other places.

So this should be a wake-up call. Let's not mince any words about it.

COOPER: I've got to leave it there, John -- John Avlon, it's good to have you on and Mark Potok, always good to have you on. Thanks, Mark.

POTOK: Thank you.

COOPER: A quick reminder, you can read the full Southern Poverty Law Center's own report on militia groups at AC360.com.

Up next, some very "Raw Politics": why the head of the Republican Party is under fire and what a racy club featuring bondage shows has to do with it. You won't believe this.

Also ahead, a former high-ranking official in the Church of Scientology and the shocking allegations he makes against the church's current leader. The church says he is a liar. Tonight, you can decide for yourself, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is under fire again, this time from his own party. With proof of tens of thousands of dollars in party donations spent on limos and private jets, even a bondage-themed night club, GOP bigwigs are outraged.

Late tonight, the RNC issued a statement clarifying nearly $2,000 in sex club charges, saying Chairman Steele was never at the venue and had no knowledge of the expense. A spokesman says Steele not only disapproves but immediately called for an internal investigation.

Now, all this as Republicans seek new donations for a brutal and expensive battle to win back the House and the Senate during elections later this year.

Tom Foreman tonight has the very "Raw Politics."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As California hot spots go, Voyeur is on fire right now. YouTube is full of videos from Hollywood.TV of the hip crowd pouring in. The club features risque live floor shows with lesbian and bondage themes.

But a visit there by a political consultant has put Republican National Committee boss Michael Steele in the hot seat, because federal records show his committee -- that's right -- the RNC paid for it.

Andy Barr with Politico has been investigating.

ANDY BARR, POLITICO: And the whole thing is just kind of weird. The RNC is saying that Michael Steele was not at the nightclub. They're totally denying that, but at the same time, they're not offering a lot of proof for what did or didn't happen.

FOREMAN: Federal Election Commission records show Eric Brown, a Republican donor, was reimbursed almost $2,000 for a night that included a visit to the club, where topless dancers perform. The committee says the incident is being investigated.

But none of it bodes well for Steele, who's been under fire from a wide range of Republicans ever since taking the top party post. By conservatives after he attacked Rush Limbaugh and later apologized, by moderates who are suggesting he would lead a right-wing attack against them and by some of the party faithful for his spending, and because they fear he is not positioning the GOP well enough to hammer vulnerable Democrats in upcoming elections.

BARR: He's a huge distraction for Republicans who want to win this fall.

FOREMAN: The RNC says Brown will now give back the money for that night at the nightclub, but for Steele the incident has laid bare another problem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Tom, we understand Michael Steele is upset by all this, but what about this donor, Eric Brown?

FOREMAN: Well, you know we called him, Anderson, and left messages. He did not call back. But the RNC is suggesting that Brown, too, was caught up in a mistake by staffers. This is their explanation. They say these people wrongly tried to bill these charges to the organization.

In addition, they say steps have been taken to ensure it does not happen again. And oh, by the way, those staffers are no longer with the RNC.

COOPER: Right, but it's not that somebody just billed this, they actually paid it. Like the RNC actually paid for the bondage-themed nightclub.

FOREMAN: Yes and that's the cost for it.

COOPER: And it's $2,000. How do you spent $2,000 -- how do you drop $2,000 in a nightclub?

FOREMAN: See, that's the tough part, Anderson. You're right. The billing is one thing. The fact that they paid it and now say, no, we shouldn't have, is obviously raising, for Steele's critics, particularly women in the Republican party, come on, what are you thinking? How is this possible that this got this far along before you did something about it?

So I'm sure there'll be more fallout, Anderson, as we go on.

COOPER: I'm glad you're pleading complete ignorance on how to drop $2,000 in a bondage-themed nightclub in one night. I have no idea.

Tom, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Just ahead tonight, a former top scientologist on the violence that he says he saw, took part in, and says church leader David Miscavige condoned, also took part in. That, and the church's answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHBUN: There's beating every day.

DAVIS: They're lying. It's absolutely not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, one of these two men is not telling the truth. We'll let you be the judge, coming up.

And U.S. cities on alert tonight after twin suicide bombs ripped through a pair of Moscow subway stations. The very latest on the investigation ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Just ahead: former insiders and their allegations of violence within the Church of Scientology; also denials from top church leaders -- both sides.

But, first, Tom Foreman has a quick "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Tom. FOREMAN: Hi, Anderson.

Russian investigators continue to comb Moscow's subways for clues in today's deadly rush hour attack. At least 38 people were killed in twin suicide bombings by two women authorities believe to have been Chechen rebels. Meanwhile, transit officials in New York, Washington, Atlanta, and with Amtrak have all stepped up security.

In Juarez, Mexico, an arrest in connection with the drive-by shootings of three people with ties to the U.S. consulate, including a woman who was four months pregnant. Officials have not identified the suspect, but say he's a 42-year-old member of a local street gang affiliated with the Juarez drug cartel.

Also in Mexico, ten children and young adults were gunned down, presumably by drug traffickers, when their pickup truck failed to stop at a fake checkpoint. The victims, all between the ages of 8 and 21, were returning home after receiving a government scholarship on behalf of their school.

The Treasury Department today announced it will sell its 7.7 billion shares of Citigroup. The government acquired the shares, about 27 percent of the company, in exchange for a $45 billion bailout in the fall of 2008.

And a little vindication tonight for America's junk-food junkies: scientists have confirmed fatty foods can be addictive. A new study suggests high-fat, high-calorie foods have the same effect on the brain as cocaine or heroin. The more you eat, the more you need just to feel normal.

COOPER: Hmm.

FOREMAN: Hmm.

COOPER: That's disturbing.

FOREMAN: Yes, that's interesting. You're not a big junk food guy, though, are you?

COOPER: I like the sweets.

FOREMAN: Do you really? So do I. I'm kind of big on those. It's good for me to hear. Now I have another excuse.

COOPER: That's right. All right. All right, Tom.

And coming up tonight, what Scientology leaders have to say about some shocking allegations by former insiders. We've been investigating this for months now. The allegations are that the church's top man encouraged a climate of physical violence within the church, allegations the church strongly denies. We're going to hear from both sides so you can decide who is telling the truth.

And later, we'll tell you about a possible loophole in the health-reform bill President Obama signed, one that could leave your kids without insurance. We'll also tell you what is being done to fix the problem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, some startling allegations involving the Church of Scientology. We've spent months on this investigation, and every night this week, we're going to bring you the investigation that we've been looking into.

But before we begin tonight, we just want to give you a brief overview of the church.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): The Church of Scientology was founded by a science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard in 1954. Its stated goals: to help people, quote, "live in a civilization without insanity, without criminals, and without war, where the able can prosper, and honest beings can have rights."

Members pay to take courses designed to help them work through issues from their past and reach a higher state of consciousness.

L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, and now this man, David Miscavige, is the leader. He oversees a religious order responsible for church management called the Sea Organization. Members sometimes wear naval- style uniforms and dedicate their lives to the church.

Scientology has opened some 170 churches across the globe and claim 10 million members worldwide. Church spokesman, Tommy Davis --

DAVIS: David Miscavige is responsible for the current renaissance of the church's experience. And the fact is, the church has doubled in size in the last five years and has flourished under his leadership.

COOPER: The American Religious Identification Survey, however, cites much lower numbers. According to its survey, the number of self-described practicing scientologists in the U.S. actually dropped from just 55,000 to 25,000 from 2001 to 2008.

Last year, a French court found four church leaders and the church itself guilty of fraud for pressuring its members to pay large sums of money for questionable financial gain. The court imposed fines on the church of more than $1 million, and French church officials were handed suspended prison sentences.

In the U.S., after years of battling the IRS, the church was granted tax exempt status in 1993. The church operates many anti-drug programs, and recently church volunteers flew to Haiti to help with relief efforts after the devastating earthquake. The church is a vocal critic of psychiatry. They've even opened an anti-psychiatry museum in Los Angeles.

For years the church has reached out to well-known performers and caters to their needs with a celebrity center in Hollywood. Kirstie Alley and John Travolta are longtime Scientologists, as is Tom Cruise. TOM CRUISE, ACTOR/SCIENTOLOGIST: Being a Scientologist, when you drive past an accident, it's not like anyone else. As you drive past, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you're the only one that can really help.

COOPER: Cruise is so close to church leader David Miscavige he asked him to be his best man at his wedding. Here's Cruise praising Miscavige at a Scientology event in 2007.

CRUISE: So I say to you, sir, we are lucky to have you and thank you very much.

COOPER: But the man who used to be Tom Cruise's counselor, or auditor in Scientology parlance, says not everything is as it seems with David Miscavige.

Marty Rathbun, who used to work directly under Miscavige, says there's been a culture of violence within the leadership of the church, a culture encouraged by David Miscavige himself.

RATHBUN: He treats his subordinates, in all of international management, like -- like slaves in a slave camp and literally -- and beats them down.

COOPER: It's a claim the church vigorously denies. Church spokesman Tommy Davis says yes, there was violence in the church, but he blames Marty Rathbun for it as well as some others now making allegations against David Miscavige.

DAVIS: First of all, the allegations are absolutely untrue. There was nothing of the sort, as they're describing, by Mr. Miscavige.

COOPER (on camera): David Miscavige has never kicked somebody?

DAVIS: No. Absolutely not.

COOPER: Never punched somebody?

DAVIS: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Never strangled somebody?

DAVIS: No. Never, never, never, never absolutely not.

COOPER (voice-over): In a moment, we'll detail the fascinating claims, counterclaims, and turmoil surrounding the Church of Scientology.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And that part of our series in just a moment, right after the commercial break. Let us know what you think. You can join the live chat at AC360.com.

Also ahead, some of the church leaders, including the main accuser's ex-wife. They say he's lying. Stay tuned. You can judge for yourself.

And later, health care and kids. Did the Obama administration break a promise to stop insurance companies from denying sick kids coverage? We'll tell you about an apparent loophole that insurance companies are trying to slip through and how the White House plans to close it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: More now on our investigation into the Church of Scientology.

We got curious after reading a series of stories in the "St. Petersburg Times." We've been building on what we've learned for months. But as you'll see, not only does Scientology deny all the allegations; they say the people making them are liars out to destroy the church.

The most senior leaders of the church made their objections clear for months but would not sit down to talk about them, at least not without preconditions, until today. After our report, we'll be playing excerpts of those interviews.

We want to make very clear: this is not a story about the philosophy of the church or the beliefs of its members. This is a story about alleged abuse within a religious organization and what those who have made the allegations say has happened to them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RATHBUN: In late '03, there was a beating every day. And if it wasn't him doing it, it was from him inciting others to do it to others.

COOPER (on camera): In front of other people?

RATHBUN: Front of other people.

Go long baby.

COOPER (voice-over): Marty Rathbun is the highest-ranking former member of the Church of Scientology ever to speak out against its leader, David Miscavige.

RATHBUN: I was basically Mr. Fix It for Scientology for a number of -- well, a couple of decades, frankly. I mean, I was -- wherever there was a fire, I was out there to put it out, whether it be, you know, counseling a VIP member or whether it be, you know, handling the P.R. from some suicide of a member or whether it be a lawsuit or whatever.

COOPER (voice-over): Rathbun joined the church at the age of 19, devoting 27 years to Scientology. Before he left five years ago, he was a member of the Sea Organization, the international management team that runs the church. They sometimes wear naval-style uniforms. They're given room and board and earn just $50 a week. Rathbun became the inspector general, working for and reporting directly to David Miscavige. While Rathbun was there, he says Miscavige routinely assaulted church members.

RATHBUN: He treats his -- his subordinates, in all of international management like -- like slaves in a slave camp and literally -- and beats them down.

COOPER (on camera): The idea of the leader of the church physically beating other members of the church seems to be completely against Scientology doctrine and what they're supposedly all about.

RATHBUN: You're right. They're absolutely diametrically opposed to the type of violence and beat downs that this guy engages in and has created a culture of at the upper levels of Scientology.

COOPER (voice-over): According to Rathbun much of the violence occurred here, behind the guarded walls of the church's international headquarters, a 500-acre base near Riverside, California, where the Sea Organization managers work and live in communal housing.

Sea Organization members sign a pledge to work for the church for 1 billion years, a contract for this lifetime and many others they believe are still to come.

Rathbun says Sea Organization members believe the commitment is part of their eternal salvation. He says most rank-and-file Scientologists have no idea what really goes on here.

RATHBUN: The only people who know about it are people on that base. And the only ones of those who know about it are in international management -- actually, probably a couple or 300 probably know, because they've seen one or more incidents. But those are the only people that know.

COOPER: Rathbun says this man, Mike Rinder, who is chief spokesman for the church, bore the brunt of the alleged abuse.

RATHBUN: One night in 1997, towards Christmastime, I get called down to Miscavige's room. Miscavige kicks the screen door open to his bedroom and comes running out in a terrycloth robe and just starts beating on Mike Rinder. I mean, savagely beating on him, across the face, in the stomach.

You know, Mike bends over, Miscavige grabs him around the neck. There's a little tree by his room, swings him around, scrapes his face against the tree, down into the mud, and starts kicking the guy. Rinder's bleeding from the mouth, because his face got scraped right across that tree. There's not a word said, Anderson. He never said a word to Rinder.

COOPER: Rathbun says in 2000, he saw David Miscavige attack Mike Rinder again in a conference room.

RATHBUN: Miscavige came in, pinned Rinder up under the table in his chair and was whacking him upside the head and then grabbing him around the neck, choked him, and twisted him around and threw him to the ground by his neck. He had marks on his neck for weeks.

COOPER: Mike Rinder left the church in 2007. We tracked him down and though he refused to appear on camera, he told us he was physically assaulted some 50 times by Miscavige and verified Rathbun's accounts.

Church officials and their attorneys say both former Sea Organization members are liars.

DAVIS: First of all, the allegations are absolutely untrue. There was nothing of the sort, as they're describing, by Mr. Miscavige.

COOPER (on camera): David Miscavige has never kicked somebody?

DAVIS: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Never punched somebody?

DAVIS: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Never strangled somebody?

DAVIS: No. Never, never, never, never. Absolutely not.

COOPER (voice-over): That's Tommy Davis, a Scientologist for 20 years. He replaced Mike Rinder as chief spokesman for the church when, after 38 years as a church member, Rinder quit.

(on camera): Marty Rathbun says it happened. Mike Rinder says it happened. You say --

DAVIS: They're lying. It's absolutely not true. I mean, it's ridiculous.

COOPER (voice-over): David Miscavige has declined to speak for himself, but in the months we've spent preparing these reports, Church of Scientology officials have provided us with affidavits, declarations and dozens of e-mails and letters. They come from ex- spouses and current leaders of the church who worked for decades with the accusers and also with David Miscavige.

They both defend and praise Miscavige and they assert emphatically David Miscavige never abused anyone. They say that Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun did.

DAVIS: It was part of what led to Marty Rathbun's removal because that is the kind of behavior that actually he was involved in. And it led to his ultimate complete removal from any position whatsoever in the church.

COOPER (on camera): So you're saying that David Miscavige learned that Marty Rathbun had been hitting people, a bunch of people --

DAVIS: That's right. COOPER: -- physically assaulting people, and that's why he was let go?

DAVIS: It was one of the reasons.

COOPER: And for the record, did you ever punch anybody?

RATHBUN: Yes.

COOPER (voice-over): Marty Rathbun admits he assaulted church employees but insists that was what David Miscavige wanted him to do.

RATHBUN: Listen, I was -- had a lot of pressure put on me, because I was the inspector general, which was the position directly below him on the whole ecclesiastical hierarchy, for years and years. And he used to rag on me all the time and constantly push me to get physical with people. And berate me because I wasn't showing my loyalty by, you know, smacking them into line type of thing.

And I've got to tell you, I've admitted to -- to doing a few of those, but not like he did.

COOPER: In their affidavit, the former Sea Organization coworkers and ex-spouses dispute Rinder and Rathbun's claims. The ex- spouses say they never saw any physical evidence of abuse and they say their husbands never said a word.

But it turns out Rathbun and Rinder are not the only ones saying there was a culture of violence created by David Miscavige.

TOM DEVOCHT, FORMER SEA ORGANIZATION MEMBER: The next thing I knew, I'm being smacked in the face and knocked down on the ground, in front of all these people. This is the pope, you know, knocking me down to the ground.

JEFF HAWKINS, FORMER SEA ORGANIZATION MEMBER: David Miscavige was the one leading this whole physical violence kick. And it was him who was beating people up.

COOPER: Tomorrow, their story and the church's response.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: As we mentioned earlier, it took top church leaders until today to sit down with us without any preconditions to discuss the allegations against their leader.

They, along with the ex-wives of the men you just saw, say Marty Rathbun is lying, that he was the violent one. They called him bitter and angry with the man who had him removed from his position in the church.

Here's an excerpt of the interview with the ex-wives. I asked them about some affidavits signed by senior church leaders that indicated a number of violent incidents stretching over several years. No police were ever called, no charges were ever filed. And the church claims the leader of their church had no idea it was happening at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In 2003, it came out that Marty Rathbun had been mistreating others. And at that point in time --

COOPER: So for about three years, according to members of the church, your husband was physically assaulting --

JENNIFER LINSON, SEA ORGANIZATION MEMBER: It was -- it was isolated incidents. It wasn't --

COOPER: Well, this isn't isolated incidents. This is a consistent and virulent physical harassment.

LINSON: We understand what you're saying, and here's the fact --

COOPER: No, what I'm saying is that you were married to a man who, for three years, was a high-ranking member of the church who was assaulting people, and nothing seemed to be done about it.

LINSON: And Mr. Miscavige -- Mr. Miscavige was not at the property at the time --

COOPER: Do you not have telephones?

LINSON: Of course we have telephones. I think you're being quite rude and quite insulting.

Here's the bottom line. Here's the bottom line. There is no history of violence in the church. There was isolated incidences, and yes, you have -- you do have written declarations that Marty Rathbun was a violent man. He was a violent, psychotic man.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Now, we want you to hear from another senior leader of the church, a man who worked closely with the church's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. He too, strongly defends Hubbard's successor, David Miscavige, and is insisting Marty Rathbun is making false accusations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORMAN STARKEY, SEA ORGANIZATION MEMBER: Let's keep this in the perspective of what it is. Marty Rathbun is the perpetrator of this. As I said in my affidavit to you, there is a saying in Scientology called "The overt" -- which is like a transgression -- "doth speak loudly in accusation."

The man's bitter. He's an apostate. He's defrocked. He's out. He's not a scientologist. He never, ever, ever will be a scientologist again.

He's now pointing the finger to my senior. That's like a monk or a priest who has now been called out by the Pope for doing things, pedophile, whatever you want, inside the church. He's been kicked out and now he's turning around and pointing a finger to the Pope? No, this is not OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, there's much more to these interviews, which we'll be bringing you all this week on 360.

Going back to last August, we've asked many times that Church of Scientology chairman of the board David Miscavige appear on 360 for this series. His spokesman Tommy Davis has declined for Mr. Miscavige. Our invitation is still open. We'd love to have him on the program.

As always, you can dig deeper online at AC360.com. If you want to learn more about Scientology from the church's perspective, we've put up a link. Our series continues tomorrow with others now speaking out about what they say went on.

Coming up next, though, tonight, is a health-insurance loophole. President Obama's promise to give health insurance to kids with pre- existing conditions might not be all that it seems.

And get ready. This is going to make you smile and laugh before you go to bed. This might be the cutest "Shot" we have ever done, ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: A lot of other news happening right now; Tom Foreman again with the "360 Bulletin" -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Hey, Anderson.

Charges were announced today in a Massachusetts school bullying case. Prosecutors say nine teenagers at South Hadley High School in North Hampton ran a nearly three-month-long terror campaign against 15-year-old Phoebe Prince until she hanged herself last January. The charges include statutory rape, stalking, criminal harassment and violating her civil rights.

A stern warning today from the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius told insurance companies they'd better provide coverage for all children with pre-existing conditions, beginning in September. Insurance companies claimed a loophole in the health-care reform bill did not guarantee that coverage.

Michael Jackson's father is expected to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Dr. Conrad Murray, accusing Jackson's personal physician of causing his death by delaying the call for an ambulance. Joe Jackson's lawyer claims medical records show the pop superstar's heart beat briefly at a hospital emergency room last June, but that he was, quote, "long gone 20 to 40 minutes before paramedics arrived." Dr. Conrad Murray has pled not guilty to the criminal charges against him.

And a New York state senator has financed a billboard campaign to encourage teenagers to pull up their saggy pants. The slogan, "Raise your pants, raise your image." There you go.

COOPER: We'll see.

Now our "Beat 360" winners: it's our daily challenge to viewers, a chance to come up with a picture -- a caption better -- that's better than one we can come up with for a photo that we put on the blog every day.

So, tonight's photo: former U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin at a Tea Party rally Saturday in Searchlight, Nevada. The event kicked off the latest cross-country protest against big government and health-care reform.

Our staff winner tonight is Claire. Her caption, "Not content with her new reality show, Palin signs on for 'Celebrity Boxing' as the "Thrilla from Wasilla."

There you go.

Our viewer winner is Craig from Northern California? He caption: "Guy in back. Mrs. Palin, please unclench your fists. You're going to smear your opening remarks."

I don't get that. Oh, I see. That her opening remarks on her hand; took me a second. Craig congratulations. Your "Beat 360" T- shirt if on the way.

All right, Tom, tonight's "Shot" -- I'm very excited -- is possibly the cutest video ever -- that I've ever seen.

We found it on YouTube. And it's a loris slowly being tickled. You may be wondering, what is a loris? Well, they live in the forest. Just watch and enjoy, though.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(LORIS BEING TICKLED)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Oh. Oh, my God.

COOPER: Oh, tickle me more. Tickle me.

Is this not the cutest thing you've ever seen?

FOREMAN: Were you doing that voice? Were you just doing that voice?

COOPER: Yes, I was. That was me, pretending to be this little loris. Look at this -- I mean this is the most adorable thing ever.

FOREMAN: Oh, man. That's the life, isn't it?

COOPER: I love its little clenched fists, too.

FOREMAN: This guy's in nirvana. It's loris nirvana right there.

COOPER: He's like, "What is this? Do it more, please, please. On my big fat belly."

FOREMAN: Moments later he grabs the guy's hand and bites him.

COOPER: Actually, apparently, lorises release a toxin when they bite.

FOREMAN: Really?

COOPER: I was so motivated to learn about lorises, I -- Indonesians call them "the shy ones." They actually are hunted for their eyes, if you can believe it. They're endangered, some of them are endangered species.

FOREMAN: You know, it's funny. In junior high school, I was called the shy one.

COOPER: Really? But they didn't refer to you as a loris?

FOREMAN: No.

COOPER: And you weren't that way either.

Tom, thank you very much.

Hey, that's it for 360. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts now.