A helicopter just lifted off carrying former Church of Scientology members Mike Bennitt and Mike Rinder, who are headed for downtown Clearwater to film and report on Scientology’s big Super Power Building opening today.
Bennitt’s carrying a couple of different cameras for filming and still shots, and after they touch down in a couple of hours, we’ll start posting images here that he brings back.
In the mean time, we’ve asked Rinder to send us live updates of how the shoot is going, and give us his impression of how many Scientologists are actually in the streets for this event. This should be fun!
Bennitt is a man of means who has suddenly come on the scene in the last few months. He was in New Braunfels, Texas to film a couple of the hearings in Monique Rathbun’s lawsuit, and he was with us in Tampa for the Garcia lawsuit hearing in October. And now he’s rented a helicopter to cover today’s 1 pm grand opening of the Super Power Building.
Rinder is Scientology’s top former spokesman, and he lives near Clearwater. At his blog yesterday Rinder gave us more detail about what the new “Golden Age of Technology Phase II” is about. Now that we’ve plowed through the lingo, our impression is that Scientology leader David Miscavige has done for the Bridge — Scientology’s courses and their manuals — what he did for L. Ron Hubbard’s books a few years ago. In 2007, Miscavige announced that he had republished Hubbard’s “Basics” after cleaning them up and putting them in glossy new packaging. Church members were then pressured to purchase multiple sets of the books and lectures, at $3,000 per set.
Now, according to Rinder, Miscavige has done something similar with course materials that govern Scientology’s many classes and levels that a member goes through on the “Bridge to Total Freedom,” and specifically for training to become an auditor.
“Apparently, if you tweak a checksheet and make a new course pack cover, it’s a ‘brand new’ course. Of course it also means they have to be bought. Can’t use anything ‘old.’ Every org, every student. Lot of cash going to be rolling in,” Rinder writes.
But how many people have rolled into town for today’s big event? After 15 years, the Super Power Building is finally opening up. Way back in January 2012 while at the Village Voice we leaked the full set of schematics and renderings for the entire seven-floor building. If you haven’t already taken the virtual tour there, you really should.
We’ve noticed that some newspapers are reporting Scientology’s hilarious claim that this city-block-sized monster cost $45 million to build. As the Tampa Bay Times has pointed out, they believe the church raised more like $145 million for it. And we think that’s too conservative. Our sources have convinced us that at least $200 million was raised for the Super Power Building, and that’s the figure we use.
Well, we’re looking forward to hearing from Bennitt and Rinder. And as we get reports from them, we’ll post them in the live updates below.
Posted by Tony Ortega on November 17, 2013 at 12:30
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LIVE UPDATES WILL APPEAR BELOW HERE
Just heard from Mark Bunker, who is on the scene — he sees the helicopter! He had no idea it had Rinder and Bennitt in it.
Rinder: “Crowd looks to me to be about 2,500 to 3,000. Ain’t 10,000 by any measure, unless you’re guzzling Kool-Aid. More people are arriving, though. Another chopper just showed up.”
Just heard from Brandon Ogborn. He pointed out that Bert Fields not only showed up and enjoyed The TomKat Project, but he led the standing ovation at the end!
Just heard from Bunker. He says the two helicopters are LOUD. Is Miscavige going to have a hard time being heard?
Rinder: “The other chopper is the ‘official’ one for church photographers, and they’re telling us that speakers are going to be talking at 1:00 pm. We are ‘advised’ to pull off for 15 minutes. We will then have unimpeded airspace.”
Rinder: “At 12:55 my estimate is no more than 5,000 people, but someone can more accurately estimate when our high-definition zoom shots are available.”
I asked Rinder if they were going to pull away as the church asked: “No way. New chopper now added.”
Rinder: “Miscavige is talking.”
Says Rinder: “Ribbon just cut. Nobody appears injured by falling bunting.”
Rinder: “Front row whales being let in. Everyone else has to wait.”
Rinder: “Plebes now being let in.”
Rinder: “Sea Org members heading back to the salt mines.”
The guys are heading back. Once Mike Bennitt has a chance, he’ll be sending us hi-def photos and VIDEO. We’ll get those up as soon as we can!
Woo-hoo! Thank you Mike Bennitt and Mike Rinder!
We asked Rinder if the extreme brevity of the ceremony had something to do with the noise from the helicopters. “I hope so.
Hey, I just noticed something looking at the photos again — did the church pull down the street signals after all? UPDATE: No, it looks like all signal poles are accounted for.
Here’s the corner I’m talking about, the SE corner of Ft. Harrison and Pierce. You can see the air bridge below. This is a Google satellite view. So it looks like they took out a palm tree, but I’m wondering about the light pole as well. I don’t see it in our helicopter shots. Just wondering. May not be a big deal.
Childs and Frago are saying Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kelly Preston were there today.
The funny thing is, shouldn’t the Tampa Bay Times also report that former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder flew in a helicopter today to take photos of the event, and that his presence and the noise it created might have shortened the event? I mean, isn’t that news, guys?
VIDEO COMING SOON…
Ha. Rinder just pointed out something to me from the TB Times lede today: “Actors Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kelly Preston joined hundreds of other Scientologists today as a massive building church members call their ‘cathedral’ was dedicated in downtown Clearwater.”
I want to put Jefferson Hawkins’ comment here so everyone can see it. Hawkins was once the top marketing man for Scientology and knows what he’s talking about, especially about events.
Epic Fail doesn’t even begin to cover it. That the “fastest growing religion in the world” with “millions of members” was only able to muster up 3000 people for “the most important event in the history of the galaxy” says it all. And probably half of those are staff and student trainees who were already there. They have been claiming for years that there are “10,000 Scientologists in Clearwater.” Guess they all stayed home.
Then, Mike Rinder shows up in a freakin’ helicopter! The pathetic turnout is going to be filmed for all to see! So Miscavige panics. He cuts short what was probably going to be a one hour Dan Sherman special, axes any other speakers, cuts to the ribbon ceremony, and rabbits out of there in eight minutes flat!
Now you can bet he’s hunkered down in his office, screaming at everyone, RPFing a number of people, and beating on others. His big moment, opening the Superpower building after a 15-year buildup, has turned into a stinking disaster! I would really hate to be anywhere in his vicinity right now, and I’m sure his staff are thinking the same thing about now.
There is no way it was planned to be only eight minutes. No way.
Some more details from Rinder: we asked if he’d felt all right with all that activity in the chopper. He said he’d felt fine — he’s been on a lot of helicopter rides.
He said that when the second helicopter showed up, his pilot had radioed to ask what its plans were. And got no response. He tried again. Nothing. Finally, the other helicopter radioed back, saying that it was working for the church, would circle at 750 feet, and wanted Rinder’s pilot to know that speakers were talking at 1 pm. They asked Rinder’s pilot to move away for 15 minutes.
Rinder’s pilot asked, “Are we moving anywhere?”
Rinder then answered with a choice Anglo-Saxon curse word. They didn’t budge.
Just heard from Bennitt. Hopefully getting that video link soon, plus high-resolution photos.
And here’s the video.
And until something clearer emerges, here’s what it sounded like from the position of one of our tipsters on the ground. You can hear the helicopters!
Mike Bennitt has his photos up at his Flickr account, you can see them here.