Trump made his only 9/11 donation to Scientology 'detox' center hyped by Tom Cruise for first responders: report

The Church of Scientology saw the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, as an opportunity to generate some good press coverage, according to a new report.

A group of members who'd been demoted from the church's paramilitary Sea Organization to its punishing "Rehabilitation Project Force" was chipping tar from the seventh-floor roof of Scientology's building on 46th Street in New York City when they heard radio reports about planes striking the World Trade Center, and they were quickly called away to another task, reported Tony Ortega for The Daily Beast.

"At that point, the Sea Org went into emergency mode," said former member Bruce Hines, who had risen high in Scientology's ranks before he was exiled to the work detail. "We were called down and went to the CLO headquarters on 48th Street. It's between 8th and 9th Avenue."

The church sent Hines and his companions the next day to Ground Zero, where they joined other churches and organizations helping rescuers dig through the rubble for survivors or casualties.

"We were there supposedly to help the first responders, which we did do," Hine said. "Some of the people I was with were heartfelt, wanting to help, but for the church overall, it was a PR move."

Their work paid off in a major way, with a glowing report in the New York Times about their efforts, and Scientology leader David Miscavige started stepping up funding to the "Volunteer Ministers" who'd been responding to disasters since 1988, and set up a New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project to deliver the church's "Purif" program to first responders.

"I don't know that there is any scientific proof that the Purification Rundown did anything for anybody. But that doesn't mean that someone reaching out and saying, 'We want to help you,' and being there and talking to someone and treating them kindly didn't help," said Mike Rinder, Scientology's international spokesman at the time. "It was one of those perfect PR positionings. How can anyone attack that? I'm just trying to help the first responders."

Church founder L. Ron Hubbard had come up with the Purification Rundown in 1977 and had expected to win a Nobel Prize for it, but Rinder said he wasn't too impressed while leading Barbra Walters on a tour of the New York facility.

"The tour of the detox place was the most underwhelming," he said. "I'd never been there and I was like, this is it? That's all there is? A couple of guys saying they're feeling better after doing the Purif? That's it?"

Tom Cruise, who at the time had recently returned to the church's fold after nearly a decade away, lent his support in 2003 to the Downtown Medical Center for 9/11 first responders, who by then had been developing health problems related to their work following the terrorist attacks, using Hubbard's "concepts" as treatment.

"Was this Scientology trying to take advantage of a tragedy? Of course it was," Rinder said. "Just like the earthquake in Haiti. Everything is an opportunity for a photo and a PR pitch. And let's not forget, an opportunity for fundraising."

Scientologists -- most famously John Travolta, who loaded his plane to relief efforts -- took part in the 2010 Haiti earthquake relief operation, and they took high-profile turns helping clean up the BP oil spill that same year in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I'm very proud of what we do and L. Ron Hubbard is the author and humanitarian who developed the process," Scientologist Jim Woodworth, who ran the New York clinic and efforts along the Gulf coast, told a Baton Rouge radio station at the time.

Woodworth still runs an environmental cleanup franchise in Louisiana, while Hines had a crisis of faith while working alongside "wogs" -- the church's derogatory term for non-Scientologists -- at Ground Zero.

"We were taught that wogs were basically deluded, and that they were deluded by trillion-year-old implants," he said. "But I saw how well they were operating, how kind they were to everyone, and to us, and how much more genuine they were than what we were doing."

Hines walked away from the church 23 years ago, and the New York clinic didn't last much longer -- although it became an odd footnote in Donald Trump's unlikely rise to political power when The Smoking Gun revealed in November 2015 that his foundation made its only charitable donation to a 9/11-related cause to the detox center.

"Of all the ways that New Yorkers had given to charities helping in the wake of the attacks," wrote journalist Tony Ortega for The Daily Beast, "Trump's outfit had made only a paltry $1,000 donation, and it was to the Tom Cruise detox clinic and its Purification Rundown."

Editor's note: Tony Ortega served as executive editor of The Raw Story from 2013 until 2015.