In a series of articles at the Village Voice, Tony Ortega profiled the people he feels have had the biggest negative impact on the corporate Church of Scientology. I was pleased to be included in the list. Tony also offered me the chance to share some of my opinions on a number of the people he selected. Here’s how Tony kicked off the series:
We’re starting something new here at Runnin’ Scared. From our underground bunker, where we keep an eye on all things Scientology, we’ve been stunned to see how hard things have been for the venerable church lately.
From surveys which suggest membership is dwindling, to a mass exodus that is taking loyal longtime parishioners into the open arms of an independence movement, to the unceasing efforts of Scientologists themselves to paint their own efforts in the worst possible light, this is an organization seemingly in a tailspin.
Of course, our own loyal readers know that Scientology leader David Miscavige’s current headaches are nothing new and were a long time coming. From the dawn of Scientology’s e-meter fever-dreams, there has always been internal strife, external criticism, and all kinds of nasty litigation when it comes to L. Ron Hubbard’s creation. So who should get the credit — and who the blame — for the sinking morass that is Scientology today? In the coming weeks, we’re doing a countdown to reveal our picks for those most responsible. Naturally, we’re looking forward to your thoughts about our choices in our comments section.
Make sure you click the links to read Tony’s full columns and the reactions of his readers. Tony gave readers a chance to put together their own top 25 lists. You can see those results here.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
We can already hear the howls from the growing independent Scientology movement at our choice for the top person in this list, the church’s founder, 1930s pulp fiction writer, occult dabbler, bigamist, noted singer, author of Dianetics, founder of Scientology — the commodore himself, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard.
How, we’ve been asked, could a man who’s been dead for 25 years be crippling the movement he left behind, as in the present tense? Wasn’t it Hubbard’s prolific output, his charisma, and his shrewd instinct that turned a brief self-help fad in the summer of 1950 into a decades-strong globe-spanning religious organization? And even if the church has fallen on hard times in recent years, isn’t the new independence movement rescuing Hubbard from it, getting back to his first principles, which have nothing to do with the corruption of official Scientology under its current leader, David Miscavige?
Allow me to call bullshit.
Over the years, I’ve poked fun at the relatively short stature of Scientology leader David Miscavige. The dude is not tall. Tom Cruise, his bosom buddy and not a man known for his own vertical displacement, has a good couple of inches over the diminutive church leader. But let’s give credit where it is due. Next year, it will be 30 years since Miscavige began to consolidate his position as absolute dictator of Scientology, even before its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, went to his reward in 1986. Thirty years, and the guy is still only 51 years old! What Miscavige may lack in stature, he more than makes up for in longevity.
During that time, Miscavige managed to secure tax-exempt status for Scientology, ending a decades-long war with the IRS and settling for a relative pittance ($12.5 million). Without that exemption, Scientology might have already gone the way of other disappearing acts from the 80′s, like the Sony Walkman and acid-washed jeans. As the only person who matters within Scientology’s byzantine corporate pyramid, Miscavige sits alone on top of a multinational corporate-religious empire. And with that pile of money under him, who needs lifts?
However, as we’ve been pointing out in this countdown, these are not Scientology’s best days. And according to nearly everyone who has recently fled his presence, Miscavige is responsible for every disaster that has befallen the church in the years since he took over control, grabbing the reins of Scientology as the Religious Technology Center’s chairman of the board. (Hence, “COB,” uttered by his sycophantic junior executives, who reportedly also must salute his beagles.)
As long as we’re talking about a space opera church, let us remind you what Princess Leia said to Grand Moff Tarkin, then-leader of the sinister empire in Star Wars: “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” With each passing year, Miscavige continues to do exactly that. He’s tightened his grip to the point that he has rid himself entirely of potential challengers. But that purging has also left him without competent executive help, judging by the hapless dolts he has in positions of some authority. Micromanaging an organization that can’t help creating its own unceasing public relations disasters requires capable assistance, and the tyrannical Miscavige has made plugging holes in the sinking ship all the more difficult by driving away staff in droves.
There may be no greater outside threat to the continued existence of the Church of Scientology than a lone man who lives near Corpus Christi and who operates a blog he updates about once a day.
Mark “Marty” Rathbun is 54 years old and lives with his wife Monique in Ingleside on the Bay, Texas. Since April, Rathbun and his wife have been undergoing a daily siege by an intimidation squad sent to film them from just outside their house. It has been established now without any real doubt that this squad has been sent and is being directed by the Church of Scientology. Members of the squad have been flown in from around the country. They are being housed, equipped, fed, and if one whistleblowing videographer’s testimony can be believed, paid well. The sheer cost of such an operation — which includes the use of private investigators and local law firms — has to be fairly staggering.
I don’t really doubt Mike Rinder — who until he defected in 2007 was the Church of Scientology’s top spokesman and ran the office that would oversee such an operation — when he says that the “Squirrel Busters” siege is proof that church leader David Miscavige fears nothing like he fears Rathbun and his blog.
And that’s the one and only reason Rathbun is so high in this countdown.
In 2005, actor Tom Cruise fell in love. Like, hopelessly, famously, insanely in love. We know this because he expressed himself by jumping on furniture to show just how crazy in love he was with Katie Holmes.
You remember. It was an arresting moment. Why? Well, for a short time at least, this top-of-the-heap super-celebrity seemed to be coming apart at the seams.
He was jumping on Oprah’s couch about Katie, but then, he was also getting into a strange debate about psych drugs with Matt Lauer, practically daring this country’s mainstream media to debate him about his Scientology beliefs.
Even at the time, those of us in the Scientology watching community knew this was a huge moment.
For decades, celebrities like Cruise had made the mysterious church seem more intriguing, but it was something that the celebrities themselves seemed reluctant to discuss. Now, suddenly, Scientology was fair game.
If Tom’s 2005 freakout opened a window onto Scientology, three years later, a 9-minute video of the actor really tore down the gates. The video had actually been made for a 2004 Scientology event in which Cruise was awarded the coveted International Association of Scientologists’ Freedom Medal of Valor. If you’ve seen such events, you know that church leader David Miscavige likes to have video segments to show the audience. In this case, that took the form of a video interview with Tom which was clearly intended to pump up the audience with what a gung-ho, hardcore Scientologist he is.
But out of context, and shown to non-Scientologists, Tom’s performance is simply bizarre.
I don’t know Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin. I have never spoken with them. I sent them each an e-mail a while ago. I heard nothing back. What little I know about each of these members of the St. Petersburg Times staff is what I’ve read in their stories, and by talking with Mike Rinder and other sources who have spoken with them.
I do know enough about them to be pretty certain that they will not be happy at all to be included in this list.
Childs and Tobin are the Mantle and Mays of Scientology reporting. They have produced devastating exposes of the church, one after the other, for many years. Another epic series, I hear, may be imminent.
It will no doubt land with the force of an H-bomb on the world of Scientology watching.
Anonymous is a hate group that intimidates its enemies with bomb threats and harmful Internet attacks. At least, that’s what Scientology will tell you. And what else is the church going to say? Has any group in history had to deal for so long with such a spontaneously created, massively populated, eternally dedicated and clever-as-hell pain in the ass opposition as the leaderless, nameless legion that is Anonymous?
By now you know the story. An online group that was long on energy and short on attention span that called itself Anonymous suddenly, in January 2008, found something Really Big to do. A strange video of Tom Cruise talking about what he and his Scientologists could do with their special powers surfaced. It was never meant to be seen outside the church, but it was smuggled out to YouTube and quickly became a sensation, only to be pulled down with legal threats by Scientology, which had already long ago made its reputation as a ‘net freedom bogeyman. Anonymous sprung into action with Project Chanology. For years, the Internet had been a huge problem for Scientology — and now, the Internet suddenly grew legs, wore masks, and held protest signs. With so many new critics to worry about, some of the heat was taken off the old guard of Scientology watchers, some of whom had suffered through terrible cases of retaliation and harassment. Today, it’s plain that Scientology’s spy wing, the Office of Special Affairs, is stretched thin, making it an even safer environment for disaffected church members to leave and announce their freedom.
Mark Bunker is currently working on Knowledge Report, a documentary about Scientology that we’ve been previewing here at Runnin’ Scared for months. You probably also know that Bunker was famously dubbed “Wise Beard Man” by Anonymous when he counseled in January 2008 that the upstart movement adopt a more Gandhi-like approach to its fight against Scientology.
But do you know how Bunker first fell into his interest in Scientology on his way to becoming the dean of old time critics? No you don’t — and that’s because Bunker said he was telling the full story to the Voice for the first time anywhere.
Mike Rinder says he was 5 or 6 years old when his parents got into Scientology and then raised him in it. By 20 years old, he had left his native Australia and was running the telex desk at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, where Scientology had just formed its land base after years of running things at sea. Rinder was one of several very young members on the rise who were beginning to take over Scientology — his close friends Marty Rathbun and David Miscavige were also part of the new guard.
Their timing was good. In 1977, Scientology endured one of its most damning episodes when the FBI raided its offices, finding documents that proved the church’s Guardian’s Office had perpetrated the largest infiltration of government offices in this country’s history. L. Ron Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue, and 10 other executives went to prison for “Operation Snow White,” and the Guardian’s Office (GO) itself was dissolved. Miscavige, Rathbun, and Rinder were among the young executives charged with picking up the pieces and moving Scientology away from the Snow White debacle. Rinder, in particular, helped create the Guardian’s Office successor, the Office of Special Affairs.
“I can’t be credited with creating OSA, but I was certainly there when it happened. And within a short period of time I became the head of OSA,” Rinder told me recently. “These people [at the GO] had done a bunch of kooky things. Myself and a bunch of other people had the idea that we had to start doing things the right way and not the wrong way.”
“Jason Beghe is cool. Just listen to the way he says ‘Let me meet a mutherfuckin’ Clear’,” says Mark Bunker, when I ask him to tell me about Beghe. “It’s a distillation of Scientology criticism delivered with the earthy poetic power of George Carlin. It’s something I couldn’t say with my small town Midwestern upbringing but it rolls off Jason’s tongue like a witty bon mot written by Noel Coward.”
In 2008, Beghe went to Bunker to film his public coming out — he’d been a Scientologist for about 13 years, had left, and was now ready to spill his guts.
Fortunately for me, one of the people who helped Beghe meet with Bunker and make that video was Tory Christman, who I had known since I wrote a story about her in 2001. After Beghe cancelled that first TV interview, Tory e-mailed me and asked me if I wanted to do Beghe’s first press interview. You bet, I answered.
The first thing I did was look up his background — he had appeared in several television series (Melrose Place, Picket Fences, Everwood), had a lead role in the 1988 movie Monkey Shines, and also had roles in G.I. Jane and Thelma and Louise, and has many other credits in television. (He’s now a regular in the upcoming Californication season.) Like many others in Hollywood, he’d had a long and successful career, even if he wasn’t a household name. And he was known inside Scientology as much for his gung-ho attitude as for his celebrity status: his dedication to moving up “the bridge” of Scientology’s technical levels endeared him to church leader David Miscavige and also made him popular with rank-and-file parishioners. Beghe also lent his talents to official church videos — he can still mimic the way he did voiceovers in a dramatic style.
Lisa McPherson has been dead almost 16 years now, and yet, in Janet Reitman’s terrific new history of the church, Inside Scientology, four central chapters are focused on McPherson’s life and death.
I asked Reitman in an interview why one woman’s death in 1995 is still such a big part of the Scientology story.
“Because nothing changes in Scientology,” she answered. “The fundamental problem is that this is a fundamentalist religion. [David] Miscavige is a fundamentalist leader… Their mindset is that anything L. Ron Hubbard said or wrote is ‘Source,’ it’s doctrine. This is literal. And as long as they have this literal interpretation of everything, [something like the McPherson incident] could happen again.”
What did happen is that a young woman who wanted help with a bad marriage in 1982 turned to a group that she soon dedicated her life to.
Nearly five years ago, Nick Xenophon, the independent federal senator from the state of South Australia, was discussing a story with Seven Network journalist Bryan Seymour when the topic turned to Scientology. Seymour says that Xenophon expressed some concern about the tax breaks given to Scientology, and said he was going to look into it further.
Boy, did he. In November, 2009, Xenophon stood up in Australia’s federal Parliament at the capital, Canberra, and detailed the shocking stories of several Australian ex-Scientologists. He made a declaration that day in Parliament that is still ringing in the ears of Scientology watchers Down Under: “Scientology is not a religion. It is a criminal organization that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs.” Two years later, Scientology in Australia is battered and bruised, and a government decision coming in the next couple of weeks could bankrupt the church there.
Scientology leader David Miscavige’s iron grip on the organization has led to an exodus among Scientology’s upper ranks over the last decade, greatly diminishing the pool of executives to choose from.
The leading remaining Miscavige loyalist is undoubtedly on-again-off-again spokesman Tommy Davis, who is the son of Scientologist actress Anne Archer. Scientology mouthpieces never have it easy, as they’re constantly being called upon to defend or deny indefensible policies like disconnection, or handling questions about galactic overlord Xenu, whether or not they’ve been exposed to the Xenu material by reaching the level of OT III. Scientology spokespersons have almost always conveyed an elitist, disdainful air — precisely the opposite most organizations want their public faces to communicate. But Davis has taken the role of disastrous public spokesman to catastrophic new levels.
Whether he’s ripping off his microphone and storming out of an interview with ABC’s Martin Bashir in response to a question about Xenu, or abruptly ending an interview with the BBC’s John Sweeney after Sweeney used the term “sinister cult,” Davis’s conduct leads the average viewer to the inescapable conclusion that Scientology is a petulant, hostile, humorless organization.
Janet Reitman didn’t set out to cripple Scientology. She wanted to give it a fair shake. As she’s made clear in interviews with the Voice and many other publications, she took on the assignment of learning about Scientology with more than an open mind: she was determined to see things from the church’s perspective. So she walked into the New York org one day after her editors at Rolling Stone asked her to learn about it, and that first day, she wondered what all the fuss was about. These seemed like normal folks who wanted to help.
As her investigations guided her first to a Rolling Stone piece in 2006 and then, earlier this year, her book Inside Scientology, Reitman examined the controversies surrounding L. Ron Hubbard and his church, but she repeatedly looked for opportunities to show how things looked from inside the organization. She wanted her book to be the first comprehensive and really objective narration of Scientology history written by a journalist.
She succeeded beautifully. A bestseller, Inside Scientology is a compelling introduction to the unusual church, something the field of Scientology watching has desperately needed for a long time. It could be argued that no journalist has given Scientology a better portrayal, has so generously praised Hubbard for his charisma and skills as a master planner, and has worked so hard to understand young church members who are optimistic about Scientology’s future.
So, naturally, Scientology has celebrated this thoroughly balanced examination of its roots and current state, right? Well, no. With complete predictability, Scientology has attacked Reitman and her book with half-truths and exaggerations.
Tory Christman was once such a dedicated Scientologist, she called herself “Queen of the OSA volunteers.” She was so determined to help out the Office of Special Affairs — Scientology’s intelligence and covert operations wing — she went online to do battle with the church’s critics. But in the year 2000, the skirmishes being waged at the Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology were fierce and frenetic — how would she be able to make a dent? Her strategy was to post relentlessly, day and night, and under the moniker “Magoo.” She wrote so often, defending Scientology by making vicious attacks on its critics, other users of a.r.s came to believe that Magoo was really a team of OSA employees working around the clock.
The truth finally came out in spectacular fashion, when on July 20, 2000, Tory announced to the world her real identity, and that she was abandoning Scientology. It turned out that while she was doing battle with church critics, their arguments had begun to give her doubts, and a caring overture by Andreas Heldal-Lund made her question her deepest beliefs. Tory’s defection seemed to symbolize the dire threat a connected world posed to an organization built on secrecy and control.
If Tory was a relentless church defender, she’s been an even more relentless critic since her famous escape.
Andreas Heldal-Lund was not the first person to provide information critical of Scientology on the Internet, and he was not the only one who fought attempts by the church to have his website taken down. But for many years, Heldal-Lund’s “Operation Clambake” has been among Scientology’s biggest Internet headaches around the world. A Norwegian computer engineer who became interested in a local Scientology court case in 1996, Heldal-Lund quickly came to symbolize the free-speech fight that was galvanizing Internet activism against Scientology and its heavy-handed methods. As his website grew to be an enormously comprehensive depository of information about the church, Scientology targeted it and Heldal-Lund with retaliation. In liberal Norway, however, they found it tough slogging.
I first wrote about Heldal-Lund in 2001, describing how he was thought of as “the devil” by Scientologists like Tory Christman, who couldn’t imagine why Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs hadn’t been able to take down Operation Clambake and all of its “entheta” — negative information about the church. In that story, I described how it wasn’t only his website that finally broke down Christman’s objections, but it was the way he reached out to her, took her seriously, spoke to her in a rational and calm way about his concerns with Scientology, and ultimately helped her leave the church after she had been in for 30 years. When I asked him about it, about how he had reached across the planet and helped a hardcore Scientologist break out of the thinking that had kept her in its grips for three decades, he was so humble, I have never forgotten his words: “I was just there at the right time, maybe saying the right things,” he said.
Marc Headley and his wife Claire come up several times in the pages of Janet Reitman’s book, Inside Scientology. The young couple met while working in the Sea Org at Scientology’s secretive desert headquarters near Hemet, California. They were not Even though they achieved high-ranking positions in the organization, they endured stark and primitive conditons as two of the many nameless Sea Org drones who work so very hard. Reitman captures the drama of their meeting and marriage, the dread Claire felt when she realized she was pregnant even though Sea Org members were not allowed to have children, and the devastation Claire felt as she aborted two pregnancies knowing that not to do so would mean she’d be separated from her husband.
Eventually, they escaped from that life, and Marc went on to start a lucrative business in Los Angeles (which he recently sold — the couple now lives with their two children in Colorado). But what really puts Marc on this list is what he did once he got out of Scientology — he didn’t let well enough alone. Headley knew that he possessed crucial, damning information about Scientology: he’d worked directly with Tom Cruise as the actor’s guinea pig while Cruise learned how to audit. Headley had also worked closely with Scientology leader David Miscavige and had witnessed the violence and chaos on the base. Headley began leaking his observations under the name “Blown for Good” on the Internet. What BFG had to say alarmed Scientology so much, we know now that the church expended enormous resources to confirm that it was Headley leaking that information.
Last year, Jeff Hawkins sent me a copy of his book, Counterfeit Dreams, and I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much. I really didn’t know about Hawkins’ more than 30 years in Scientology, and had no idea what he had done for the organization.
Now, after reading the book, it’s difficult to think about Scientology’s amazing expansion in the 1980s without thinking of Jeff Hawkins.
In Counterfeit Dreams, Hawkins skillfully narrates his journey as he went from an eager young joiner learning how to produce church publications during Scientology’s hippie days in the late ’60s, to becoming Scientology’s marketing architect during the greatest period of its expansion.
Amy Scobee was among several longtime Scientologists who not only left the organization, but then helped change the conversation about it.
Scobee, like several other recent defectors, had worked closely with Scientology leader David Miscavige. And as a group, these former executives came forward to tell the world how bizarre and awful it was to work for a leader so irrational, impulsive, and violent. Since Scobee and others came forward in the landmark 2009 St. Pete Times series, “The Truth Rundown,” a new picture of Miscavige and Scientology has emerged, one that is focused on the abuses of an organization rotting from its apex.
In her book about her experiences, “Abuse at the Top,” Scobee describes her entire 27-year journey in Scientology, which began in 1978 when she was only 14 and went to work for the church. That first year, she writes, she was raped by her 35-year-old boss, but the incident was swept under the rug. Still at only 16, she joined the Sea Org and signed its billion-year contract.
Scobee’s narrative is especially moving for the way it describes a talented, hardworking and dedicated young woman who was selected for ever more important jobs and increased responsibility, but that climb was interrupted repeatedly with harrowing stints in the Sea Org’s “RPF” — Rehabilitation Project Force — a kind of prison duty that she was sent to for sometimes the most capricious of reasons. For months at a time, she was assigned to the degrading conditions of the RPF, and was even sent to the lowest situation of all — the RPF’s RPF — and had to work to get herself back in good standing.
The “Squirrel Busters” came on the scene only recently, but the persistent goon squad has quickly made a big impact on Scientology watching.
We first wrote about the Busters when they showed up at the doorstep of Marty Rathbun’s house with cameras strapped to their heads. They were also wearing sky blue T-shirts with an emblem of a squirrel with the head of Rathbun, crossed out. Since then, they’ve provided us with one bizarre episode after another as they’ve turned a cul-de-sac in south Texas into a battle zone, besieging Rathbun, his wife, and their neighbors.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone did not begin skewering Scientology with their infamous 2005 episode, “Trapped in the Closet.”
Five years earlier, they were asked to contribute a short South Park bit for the MTV Movie Awards, and riffed not only on that year’s big blockbuster, Gladiator, but also 2000′s most epic fail — and what certainly continues to be one of the worst movies of all time — Battlefield Earth, John Travolta’s misguided attempt to actually film some of L. Ron Hubbard’s bad science fiction. In the short piece, Travolta’s “Terl” kills Russell Crowe, and Cartman wipes his ass with a Scientology personality test.
But of course, it’s the Season 9 “Trapped in the Closet” episode which remains the supreme comedic takedown of Scientology, probably of all time.
Kendrick Moxon is very good at his job.
The Scientologist and attorney is renowned for making the prospect of litigating against the church a very uncomfortable experience — and he’s been at that work for quite a long time.
Moxon goes back so far, before he was an attorney he was caught up in the government’s crackdown on Scientology’s “Guardian Office,” which carried out what is still the largest illegal infiltration of federal agencies in this country’s history. That covert operation, dubbed “Operation Snow White” by the GO, was a massive undertaking, an attempt to quietly break into government offices to steal documents that were unflattering to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. In 1977, four years after it began, the operation resulted in FBI raids in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, and 11 church officials ultimately pleaded guilty or were convicted of obstructing justice and other charges. One of the officials was L. Ron Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue.
Hubbard himself, like Moxon, was named an “unindicted co-conspirator,” and wasn’t prosecuted.
Moxon then was a legal affairs employee in the Guardian’s Office. He went on to become a lawyer, and these days, he’s known for how uncomfortable he can make a deposition.
“He has made a career out of being a pit bull for the church in the legal arena,” Mike Rinder says.
For several years, a man named Jamie DeWolf has been getting noticed for his slam poetry. But now, it looks like he’s really about to break out.
In Boston this week to compete in a national slam poetry competition with his regular troupe, Tourettes Without Regrets, DeWolf spoke to me on the telephone about his growing celebrity as a Hubbard descendent.
“Some people think I’m just coming out of the gate, the start of my anti-Scientology career,” he says. But it was more than a decade ago, in 2000, that he first dramatized his family background. Today, however, he has a hard time looking back at that performance, saying that it was “an incoherent mess.” He had a lot more to learn about his famous great-grandfather and about Scientology. He’s been apt pupil ever since. But he’s rarely talked openly about it. (He also had a different name then. Born Jamie Kennedy, he has taken his mother’s maiden name, DeWolf, to avoid confusion with another comic named Jamie Kennedy.)
“I think it’s funny when people think I’m trying to cash in on the Scientology aspect, because I’ve actually kept away from it a long time because of the hassle,” he says.
The first person Lisa McPherson’s family thanked after their ordeal was over and they had pried a settlement out of Scientology nine years after Lisa’s death was their attorney, Ken Dandar.
Look, litigation is tough, and there are plenty of Denny Crains out there who wear their court victories like notches on their belts. But it takes a special kind of lawyer to spend year after year battling Scientology, which never saw a local court rule that it didn’t want to pervert, a judge it didn’t want to baffle with bullshit, or a court clerk it didn’t want to bury in paper by the ton.
Just as many news organizations over the years have been pretty squeamish about investigating Scientology, so have there been few academics with the desire and fortitude to dive into an area of research that is actually quite rich with interesting material.
Fortunately for those of us with a serious interest in the matter, a few university types have applied their formidable skills, helping to cut down on the misinformation that can get into this stuff.
In particular, Carnegie Mellon’s David Touretzky, a computer science professor, has been a beacon of reliability for the last 15 years or so, particularly with his research into Scientology’s upper levels, his exposes of Scientology’s anti-drug program Narconon, and his dedication to free speech on the Internet.
It’s hard to blame Xenu, the mighty celestial dictator, for infesting our planet with innumerable hungry alien souls. I mean, what would you do if you were overseeing a galactic federation of planets so overpopulated, each world had something like 150 billion sentient creatures? Obviously, 75 million years ago, contraception was not well known. Or something.
Anyway, Xenu often gets a bad rap for vaporizing billions of alien beings on Teegeeack, which we call Earth today, and then inventing concepts like “Jesus Christ” to implant in their bodiless minds.
But we think it’s time Xenu got more credit for all that he’s done. Think about it, for about 19 years, after L. Ron Hubbard dreamed the sucker up in a pill-popping and boozy haze while sailing the Atlantic and Mediterranean in the mid-1960s, until the Los Angeles Times finally made Xenu’s story public during the Larry Wollersheim trial in 1986, only high-level Scientologists even knew that the alien leader existed.
UPDATED WITH INSANE SCIENTOLOGY VIDEO
Scientology responds to a blistering week of broadcasts that exposed David Miscavige’s brutal reign by printing and distributing a new issue of Freedom Magazine, their in-house attack dog publication. If Scientology is really a good guy and CNN had it all wrong, why does it take Scientology’s own propaganda arm to set the record straight? Why aren’t others stepping forward?
Scientologist passing out Freedom Magazine at CNN’s L.A. headquarters.
Scientology is already losing the war on truth. You see, I can do something Scientology can not. I can give you the link to Scientology’s Freedom Magazine report…and the links to the Anderson Cooper broadcasts:
Scientology could never say, “Look at both sides.”
Here’s the video Scientology produced to smear Anderson Cooper’s name. Its wild-eyed exaggerations and crazy leaps of logic mark it as a typical Scientology project. Listen carefully to the sentence construction and cadence of the language and it is identical to the overwrought speeches David Miscavige does at Scientology events. I think there’s a very strong likelihood that Slappy Miscavige wrote this work of art himself.
And what’s with the childish gay inuendo? “Pulled from his closet?” “Designer jeans and cargo pants?” C’mon, Slappy. Stop being a little bitch.
Marc Headley makes it into the latest issue of Star Magazine. Click the second pic to get a larger image.
I was interviewed for the latest issue of Australian edition of Skeptics Magazine. The article isn’t online but I’ve got a pdf version to share.
Here’s some highlights:
Q What are your thoughts on the controversial founder of the ‘religion’, L. Ron Hubbard?
A Hubbard was a tubby, lunatic charlatan. All you need to know about Hubbard you can read in his Admissions. He lied about virtually every aspect of his life and Scientology continues those lies. They say he used his vast fortune as a pulp writer to finance his research into the human mind but Hubbard wrote for a penny a word and came out of the war a pauper, begging for help from the Veterans’ Administration for extra money in his pension and seeking psychiatric care. The documents are all on the web.
He cobbled Dianetics together from the works of others and was astonished to see he had an audience he could bilk when it got published. Here was the first money he ever made and he was not about to let it end. He skipped out on partner after partner, letting the people who believed in him holding the bills as he hop-scotched across the country, staying one step ahead of the law. In 1953 he turned Dianetics into the religion of Scientology for tax purposes and as a shield from the law. It was the smartest move he ever made. That single move has given Scientology the protection it needed to exist through all its various scandals. As he cabled a partner in an early 50s telegram, “How’s it going on the religion angle? If we can get it approved, I know I can make it stick.” Stick it did.
He had a string of failed marriages and let his last wife take the fall for him as he hid from the law in the desert, never once writing or calling her while she sat in prison for his crimes against the government. Yet he claimed to have the perfect ‘tech’ on marriage. He had one son who committedsuicide because he was gay, and Dad and his church didn’t approve. Another son denounced him in court testimony and changed his name to avoid the stigma of being L. Ron Hubbard Jr, yet Hubbard claimed he had the perfect ‘tech’ on raising kids. If Hubbard’s tech didn’t work for him, why would it work for anyone else? Ultimately, he was a power-mad egomaniac who exploited and abused people who worshiped him as a god. How he could live with himself, I don’t know.
Q Since 2008, there have been successive world-wide protests and pickets of the Churches of Scientology by ‘Anonymous’. What impact do you think they have had?
A They’ve had an enormous impact. They have given former members the courage to come forward and tell their stories and the press the courage to cover Scientology more aggressively again.
I don’t think it’s any accident that more people are speaking up, more lawsuits are being launched against Scientology and more former execs are coming forward to speak.
It just takes one person with a picket sign to shut down an entire Scientology Org. I’ve heard from people who were members in Clearwater during the Trust years. They have told me what it was like to be barricaded in the buildings by management because they were afraid someone might hear what we had to say. It made the staff question why Scientology management couldn’t handle this problem. Why are the most powerful people on the planet, fueled by Hubbard’s perfect tech, unable to confront a single person with a sign?
Now there are people in front of almost every Org on the planet. And videos flooding YouTube. And more and more terrific websites being built every day. The internet is here. Time for David Miscavige to pack his bags.
Reporter Kim Masters wrote this article for the Daily Beast. I’ve always loved her work. I became a big fan when she was a regular contributor to Premiere Magazine and got a chance to meet her 20 years ago, long before my involvement in this issue. She’s one of the best in reporting on the business side of show business. I’m pleased she continues to find interest in covering Scientology.
The actor’s public acknowledgement that his son, who died in January, was autistic has former Scientologists convinced that he will leave the church—which they say has little tolerance for chronic conditions.
When John Travolta took the witness stand last week and testified that his late son, Jett, was autistic, it came as a grim relief to some former Scientologists.
“Wasn’t that amazing?” said a fallen-away church member after Travolta appeared in an extortion case that followed the death of his 16-year-old son last January. “I thought, ‘Good for him.’ He denied it for years. It’s really important that he says it.”
When Jett died after suffering a seizure, some former Scientologists pointed the finger at the church. Until now, his parents had said their son’s illness was a syndrome caused by exposure to chemicals. Some ex-Scientologists—apostates, as the church would have it—believe Jett may have been deprived of appropriate treatment for years because of the church’s teachings. And they think that if Travolta comes to terms with his son’s diagnosis, the church eventually will lose one of its most high-profile members.
“My hope for him is that he starts looking” at what really happened, says Tory Christman, an outspoken Scientology critic who left after more than 30 years in the organization. At one time, Christman says she helped train Travolta in Scientology. Now she believes that if he weighs the facts, “he’ll reach the right decision… And he’s a guy who could really make a difference.”
Travolta’s spokesman declined to comment. Tommy Davis, a spokesman for Scientology, denounced Christman and other former Scientologists who are critical of the church as “liars,” adding, “It’s a horrific, horrific thing for these people to take the tragic death of a young boy and try to turn it on his parents’ religion.”
Davis has said repeatedly that Scientology accepts treatment of and medication for physical illnesses. But Christman, who is epileptic, says the institution has little tolerance for chronic conditions. In Scientology, she says, such illnesses are seen as the product of “covert hostility” and a failure to follow church procedures. Christman says she kept her epilepsy as much to herself as possible when she was still in the church because otherwise she would have been “considered degraded.”
Christman says Scientology pushed her to stop her medication and use vitamins and supplements instead. The first time she cut back on her medications, she had a grand mal seizure in her bathroom and knocked out her front teeth. She says she resumed her medication but tried to stop again in the face of continued objections from the church—and again faced disastrous results. Though the church eventually backed down, she says she doesn’t think her victory was widespread or lasting. “I fought ’em all the way,” she says. But her actions only “fixed it for me and a bunch of other people who were there at that time,” she says.
Davis denies that chronic illness creates a stigma in Scientology and that Christman was ever pressured to stop her medication. As for her description of Scientology’s position on chronic illness, he says, “We could pick and choose isolated sentences, phrases from L. Ron Hubbard’s books and make them sound weird, and I’m not going to go there.” He does acknowledge that in Scientology, “We consider that you alone are responsible for the condition that you’re in.” But he also insists that the church requires members to seek treatment from doctors for “physical” illnesses.
Former Scientologists say autism would have created issues in Scientology not only because it’s chronic and not obviously “physical” but because it is often assessed by psychologists and treated with the types of mood-stabilizing drugs that Scientology opposes. Jett’s mother, Kelly Preston, has acted as a spokeswoman for the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a Scientology offshoot dedicated to waging war on psychiatry and the use of psychiatric drugs. (The group’s homepage is illustrated with a cell door labeled “Psychiatry… An Industry of Death.” While the group’s Web site refers to autism as a “physical handicap,” Scientology has battled the use of medications for conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. (Davis does not acknowledge that these conditions exist.)
Travolta and his wife long said publicly that their son suffered from Kawasaki disease, a rare condition that causes arterial inflammation. “With my son I was obsessive about cleaning—his space being clean, so we constantly had the carpets cleaned,” Travolta told CNN in 2001. “And I think, between him, the fumes and walking around, maybe picking up pieces or something, he got…Kawasaki syndrome.”
A couple of years later, Preston recounted a similar story to Montel Williams, adding, “We don’t have any chemicals in the house. We’re 90 percent organic, though there’s some canned foods, a little bit of junk food here and there.” She credited a Scientology detoxification program with improving Jett’s condition.
But to many observers, Jett’s autism seemed obvious. And John Travolta’s brother, Joey, has worked with autistic children and produced a documentary about the syndrome. Joey Travolta has never indicated that his involvement with autism was linked to his nephew’s condition, but soon after Jett’s death, the London Mirror reported that Joey frequently argued with his brother about Jett’s diagnosis. (Joey Travolta did not respond to an inquiry from The Daily Beast.)
It does not appear that Jett received the early intervention recommended for autistic children. But perhaps he was, at some point, given medication. After his death, a Travolta family lawyer told the Web site TMZ.com that Jett had taken the anti-seizure and mood-stabilizing medication Depakote for several years and had found it effective in reducing the frequency of his seizures from about once in four days to once in three weeks. But the attorney said the medication was discontinued (in consultation with neurosurgeons) because it had stopped working.
I asked James McCracken, a professor of child psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, about protocols for treating seizures in autistic children. (McCracken spoke in general terms, not specifically about any individual.) He said patients don’t ordinarily build up a tolerance for Depakote, so the medication doesn’t usually lose effectiveness. If the medication did not work, a doctor would generally try another. “Typically a neurologist would cycle through two, three, four anticonvulsants and then start working with combinations of them” to control seizures, he said.
Former Scientologist Claire Headley was raised in Scientology and worked in its internal affairs office from the time she was 16 until she left the organization five years ago. (She is now suing for labor law violations, alleging that she was paid $46 a week.) In her experience, she says, the church opposed the use of any medication considered to be a psychiatric drug. She says that as far as she knows, the only approved approaches to Jett’s issues were “assists and objective processing.” Objective processing, according to Headley, involves trying to put individuals “in touch with their environment—like, ‘Look at that wall. Thank you. Turn around. Thank you. Put your hands against mine.’ ”
Assists are meant “to get somebody in communication with their body,” she says. “Like a touch assist—‘Feel my finger. Feel my finger’—all over a person’s body.” That is similar to the process Travolta himself performed on director Randal Kleiser when they were working on the 1978 film Grease. After Kleiser cut his foot and developed a fever, “John came to my trailer to do a healing,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “He took his finger and pushed it into my arm and said, ‘Do you feel my finger? ’ and I said ‘Yes,’ and then he’d move it an inch and say, ‘Do you feel my finger? ’ He did this for about an hour. Here was the star of the movie helping me, so I didn’t criticize. The next day, though, my fever was gone.”
Clearly, Travolta is devastated that he could not save the son to whom he was, by all accounts, devoted. But Tory Christman says she believes that he has an opportunity to save others. “I feel really bad for him,” she says. “But I just don’t want him to be used by the church. It’s horrible he lost his son but—change something. He’s a guy who could really make a difference.”
But Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis calls Christman’s comments “disgusting,” adding, “This religion is utterly and completely about helping. It’s just insane to think that Scientology would be a factor in somebody not getting all the help they need.”
Scientology has sent out press releases bragging about the results of the ad blitz they put out to counter the “David Miscavige is a sadist who beats his staff and subjects them to unbearable mental and physical cruelty” articles printed in the St. Pete Times. They claim 10 million people were drawn to the Scientology website because of those new-age “You are not your name” ads. As BNET points out, they don’t say how many have converted.
Looking back at a Wired article from June, Scientology admitted that Anonymous was a major factor in running their ad campaign. So the Wired article I posted earlier in the day whose writer couldn’t see any accomplishments of Anonymous’ battle with Scientology should check the back issues of the magazine. If nothing else, Scientology has squandered a lot of parishioner’s money, trying to stop the group from speaking out and drown out their message.
The Church of Scientology is in the midst of a multi-million dollar media campaign that includes running ads on news sites, satellite dish networks, 37 cable stations, and even Wired.com — a blitz that seems to have not so much won new friends or influenced people as stir up more animosity towards the group many consider nothing more than a greedy cult.
A typical video: “You are not your name. You are not your job. [...] You are not your fears. You are hope. [...] You are a spirit that will never die. [...] Scientology. Know yourself. Know life.”
A typical reaction: “Just saw a commercial for scientology. seriously? it claimed truth. i pray that nobody buys into that lie,” wrote HannaSheeps on Monday via Twitter.
That reception is to be expected given the internet and Scientology are still fighting what might be the net’s longest running flame war, dating back to the early days of alt.religion.scientology news group. That bitter fight led to lawsuits, raids by the feds and criminal prosecutions of church critics. The criticism of the church has been the same for more than 15 years — that it’s a cult which charges believers thousands of dollars for trainings and uses strong-arm tactics to keep members and critics in line. The church’s line hasn’t changed either — we are misunderstood and we will use the law to silence critics.
The Hatfields to the church’s McCoys are itself a cultish group of loosely-organized hackers known as Anonymous, which “declared war” in January 2008 after the secretive religious group tried to suppress a creepy Tom Cruise video produced for Scientology members. After that incident the leaderless group organized online attacks, leaks of embarrassing internal church doctrine documents and protests outside of Scientology buildings around the country.
A month ago a teen Anonymous member pleaded guilty in federal court to a computer hacking charge for his role in distributed denial-of-service attack that last year shuttered Church of Scientology websites. Two weeks ago Wikipedia banned the church from editing any articles.
Mostly, media just stay away from the story or generally cast the organization in a bad light. Enter public relations and a checkbook. In what Church of Scientology spokesman Ingo Lehmann told wired.com was a reaction at least in part to the Anonymous campaigns, the church began a campaign of TV commercials and Flash ads on May 17 designed to lure eyeballs to scientology.org, where there are hundreds of videos and testimonials (though they don’t say really much about the Church’s teachings). It plans to keep running ads through the end of the year. Interested viewers can go see the ads for themselves.
Disconnect seems to play a big part in all of this: Lehmann sent out the Twitter screenshot in this article along with a press release about the campaign. He described the Tweeters as surprised. A better description might be that every Tweet in the screenshot was either offended or cynical.
Cynical and clueless might be a good description of Scientology.
Wired Magazine has a terrific article about Anonymous, subtitled “How to Enrage the Church of Scientology.” I don’t agree with all the writer’s conclusions but it makes for an interesting read.
The anonymous campaign against Scientology, better known among its participants as Project Chanology, continues to this day. In the months since it launched “Message to Scientology,” Project Chanology has employed a variety of tactics, including pickets, pranks, and propaganda that ranges from the purely informative to the ferociously satirical. It has waxed and waned and waned some more, and yet, improbably, it has endured, evolving into a peculiarly instructive case study in the dynamics of online protest. Project Chanology may well be the first movement to realize the kind of ad hoc, loosely coupled social activism that many have hoped the ad hoc, loosely coupled architecture of the Internet would engender. But it’s also the first one founded on the principles of the most obnoxious innovation that architecture ever produced: trolling. Read more
Published in Quill, The Magazine of The Society for Professional Journalists; November-December 1993. [pages 38-41, consisting of a major story, a smaller story and four sidebars] Copyright 1993 by Quill. Webbed with RVY’s permission. Read more
Ruined lives. Lost fortunes. Federal crimes. Scientology poses as a religion but is really a ruthless global scam — and aiming for the mainstream.
by Richard Behar
By all appearances, Noah Lottick of Kingston, Pa., had been a normal, happy 24-year-old who was looking for his place in the world. On the day last June when his parents drove to New York City to obtain his body, they were nearly catatonic with grief. The young Russian-studies scholar had jumped from a 10th-floor window of the Milford Plaza Hotel and bounced off the hood of a stretch limousine. When the police arrived, his fingers were still clutching $171 in cash, virtually the only money he hadn’t turned over to the Church of Scientology, the self-help “philosophy” group he had discovered just seven months earlier.
Now sit back easily and think of a big rusty nail! Think of stepping on it and the excruciating pain as it enters the tender flesh of your foot.
If you’re like most of humankind this image you conjure up will give a momentary flash of what is called in the vernacular the Screaming Meemies. Indeed, your stomach may even break into a finale of the Ballet Russe. But, among the more erudite who flit about in the highest ethereal reaches of Psychiatric theorizing, you are just experiencing a jolt and a jar at the loci of psychic trauma. If the image so upsets that you hurry angrily out hat in hand, to beat a hardware merchant about the head and shoulders the chances are that your loci is bigger than a watermelon and you ought to have it looked over.
Measuring the degree of psychic trauma is the function of a new machine called the “Electropsychometer” which was devised by Inventor Volney G. Mathison who is also active in psychoanalytical research. One day he set about designing a machine that would aid psychiatrists in measuring nervous reactions. First, he knew that when a person sees or feels or hears something unpleasant there is a spontaneous tightening of muscles. While this reaction is so finite that the person may not notice it, it can be measured. Similarly, a pleasant reaction causes a person to relax. So here was one human reaction which could be measured. Secondarily, the human skin is covered with approximately 400 sweat glands per square inch. On the thumbs and fingers, however, this rises to a dramatic 2700 per square inch. What is called the “psychogalvanic reflex” manifests itself in the jetting of droplets of saline fluid from subcutaneous glands. The sweat glands are closely allied with the autonomic nervous system and respond with extreme rapidity to nervous impulses originating in the autonomic nervous system. When a hand starts to clasp, for example, the jetting has already occurred.
With these two basic facts Mathison set to work. When the pilot model of his machine was built he started testing patients. The patient held two pads. The machine, delicately measuring muscular reaction, shows an upsurge on the dial when a question which was painful to the patient was asked. But the sweat gland measurement was still not so easily measurable. Mathison finally hit upon the simple idea of using an ordinary kitchen scouring pad for the patient to hold. The results were immediately satisfactory; the tiny fibers of metal measured the degree of “jetting” accurately and transmitted it to the machine.
A long series of tests began. The dial was adjusted to show pleasant and unpleasant reaction to questions. If there was a muscle-tightening and increased “jetting” it meant that the questioner had hit upon a painful subject. If there was relaxation it meant the patient found the question pleasing and soothing.
The dial registered, in effect, nervous tension. If a person is asked a question which is of no real concern to the patient the needle on the dial remains stationary. But, if a question is a painful one, the needle points toward a state of nervous tension and stays there. The “tone” of a patient is also measurable by the machine and the tone scale set up by Mathison runs from 4.0 (a healthy person in deep and dreamless sleep) to 1.0 (a state of acute physical and psychic disturbance). The “tone” scale measures the energy-consuming activity of the autonomic nervous system. It may be affected by such things as external stimuli, the patient’s bodily condition or complex mental-physical activity such as “feelings” and “thoughts.” Mathison found that it takes time for each new patient to adjust to the machine and, only by primary testing, could the accurate “tone scale” – or the rate of energy consumption – be ascertained. Once a patient became used to the machine and relaxed, the degree of tension could be judged. From that point on the reaction to questions becomes pertinent.
The review of painful past events then begins. The studies include not only sexual situations, but also illnesses, frustrations, losses of beloved persons, and a vast variety of other injurious occurrences in the person’s life history.
It is also said that the instrument enables the therapist to avoid “running his own case” instead of the patient’s case. In research both patient and analyst are connected to two separate instruments, and Mathison observes both instruments. The analyst will often “hit the pin” in response to one of his own questions, while the patient’s instrument may surge slightly, or not at all. This means that the area in review is more painful to the therapist than it is to the patient. Erroneous evaluations on the case are then inevitable, Mathison thinks, without instrumentation.
Also under research is a technique whereby differentiations between psychosomatic anxieties and actual organic illnesses apparently may be observed.