LOS ANGELES — After leaving the Church of Scientology and its secretive international base in the desert, Ronald Miscavige Sr. settled into small-town life in Wisconsin, his 40-year ties to the religion cut once and for all.

Or so he thought, as he spent his time hawking exercise equipment online and playing trumpet with Dixieland bands in the Milwaukee area. His suburban tranquility was shattered in July 2013, when police told him that two private eyes had been watching his every move for months – and that the church, led by his son David Miscavige, was behind it.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever hit your thumb with a hammer, but when it happens you go numb: It takes a little while for the pain to set in,” the elder Miscavige said in an interview. “I thought, ‘You have got to be kidding.’ ”

Miscavige, 80, has chronicled his life before, during and after Scientology in a book, “Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me.” It paints an unflattering portrait of his son and the church, and it echoes the views of other disaffected ex-members.

“David runs Scientology with an iron fist and, to my mind, it has become a cult, pure and simple,” he writes.

CHURCH LAMBASTES AUTHOR

Miscavige’s book includes no blockbuster revelations, but it has evoked an unusually vehement response from the church, which has mounted an aggressively negative publicity campaign, including a website dedicated to discrediting him.

Dozens of testimonials and blog posts by Scientologists praise David Miscavige and lambaste his father for everything from his musicianship to his morals. He is cast as a liar and an opportunist, on the website and in a church lawyer’s letter to the Los Angeles Times.

“That is a father who is a despicable human being, simply trying to make a buck off of the good name, fame and kindness of his son,” attorney Monique Yingling wrote.

Miscavige said he expected the intensely personal criticism posted on the website.

“Clearly, all it is is a character assassination of me,” he said.

Other ex-members say the website is yet another example of the church’s long-standing efforts to dissuade current and former Scientologists from publicly discussing their experiences.

Ron Miscavige has been singled out for particularly harsh treatment because of his relationship to David, said Mike Rinder, once a top church official and now one of its staunchest critics. He said the elder Miscavige also has been targeted by an email campaign and negative online ads.

“This is stuff that is even beyond the normal smear tactics,” Rinder said.

Founded in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology has its own “study technology,” vocabulary and long-held secret story of Xenu, a soul-stealing galactic overlord. The church teaches that spiritual freedom – the state of “clear” – can be reached through one-on-one auditing, a form of counseling aided by a polygraph-like device called an e-meter and expensive training courses.

David Miscavige, 56, became the head of Scientology after Hubbard’s death in 1986. As chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center, he is the church’s ultimate authority and its ecclesiastical leader. He also is its most controversial living figure.

David and his three siblings were introduced to Scientology by their father, a musician and cookware salesman. At age 16 he left their home near Philadelphia to join the Sea Organization, Hubbard’s religious order.

MOVING OUT

In March 2012, Ron Miscavige and his second wife, Becky, drove off the base while pretending to run errands, and eventually wound up in Wisconsin.

Life there was unremarkable until July 2013, when West Allis police arrested private investigator Dwayne Powell on obstruction and prowling charges and found firearms and a homemade silencer in his rented SUV.

For more than a year, Powell told detectives, he and his son had followed Miscavige, eavesdropped on him and spied on his emails. They were paid $10,000 a week through an intermediary, he told police, explaining that David Miscavige was the “main client.”

Scientology attorneys dispute that account and last year said that David Miscavige had never spoken with Powell and had no connection to the surveillance of his father. They noted that they sometimes retained private investigators in “matters related to litigation” and have since acknowledged hiring Powell.

Church attorney Yingling said he was hired to follow the elder Miscavige but that it was for his own well-being and “out of concern that people with hostile intentions toward Scientology” would harass him.

“It would be naive to think that the father of the leader of a worldwide religion would not be at risk of harm from people inimical to Scientology,” she wrote.

Yingling also forwarded a signed declaration from Powell, recanting his statements to police about the phone call from David Miscavige.

Police in that Milwaukee suburb stand by their account: “There is no confusion in the statements that were made by Dwayne and Daniel Powell,” Chief Patrick Mitchell said in an email.

Now, in the latest twist in the saga of church-sanctioned surveillance, Powell says he was paid thousands of dollars to sign the declaration after church attorneys summoned him to a meeting last year in Atlanta.

“The whole meeting took less than 10 minutes,” he said. “They said, ‘This is what this is, and this is what it’s for. Goodbye and good luck.’ ”

He furnished no documentation, and Scientology attorneys deny that any such payment was made.