On Monday morning, we posted Steven Mango’s two and a half hour video about his experience as a member of Scientology. Now that we’ve had some time to absorb the entire thing, we thought we’d highlight some of the really good stuff in it.
In our title, we put the word ‘documentary’ in quote marks because what Steven Mango has put together is probably better described as a testimonial. It’s mostly him talking to a camera about his experiences, and at two and a half hours, it’s ludicrously long.
The film particularly drags when Mango is talking about things he has no personal knowledge of — life in the Sea Org, for example, or Leah Remini’s reasons for leaving Scientology. When he’s not on camera, the film often relies on borrowed material from others that Mango didn’t ask permission to use. We asked him about that, and he explained that he’s really just an amateur and was unfamiliar with copyright law and didn’t intend to harm anyone. We believe him, but that borrowed material will limit the video’s reach — we’d like to see the best 20 to 30 minutes of Steven’s own personal story pulled from it and edited professionally for a product that might have some real potential to reach a large audience.
And we say that because some of what Mango has here is really remarkable. We already knew that Scientology was a homophobic organization that is splitting apart and facing oblivion because of its extreme fundraising. But Mango is better than most former members at describing vividly what it’s like to be harassed day and night for money, and his tales of being recruited for the Sea Org are visceral. We can understand why he says it’s left him with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
So what would we like to see repackaged in a shorter film? Here are the things we thought were most remarkable from Inside the Scientology Celebrity Centre.
1. How he fell into Scientology
Mango was an aspiring actor, and in August 2009, he was reading Backstage magazine when he spotted an ad for a $20 seminar at the Celebrity Centre about breaking into the entertainment industry. It promised to reveal how to get an agent, a manager, and how to get in front of casting agencies.
“Those are all things every actor is looking for when they came to LA, so it was really enticing,” he says.
The admission price included a copy of The Problems of Work by L. Ron Hubbard. Mango says he didn’t know much about Hubbard or Scientology, but he had noticed their numerous facilities in Hollywood. And the celebrities in the church made him curious.
He signed up for the course and was shown a film that struck him as creepy and strange — but he was convinced to purchase additional courses.
Mango says many people in LA are in the same position he was, looking for “background work” as extras, going to Central Casting and standing in long lines for work.
“Scientology knows most actors coming off the Greyhound Bus or just flying into town are going to land at Central Casting,” he says.
So the church sends “Div 6″ people — who specialize in bringing new people into Scientology — over to the lines at Central Casting to talk people into taking the same kind of “breaking into the industry” seminars that roped in Steven.
“They’ll tell these wannabe actors, ‘You don’t want to be an extra. I mean, it’s fine if you want to make a couple bucks and try it out once or twice, but I know the real reason why you’re here is to try to be an actor, and we can show you how to do that,’” he explains.
“The new actor is a real prime candidate for Scientology.”
The church has several different ways to catch the attention of young actors. Big ads in Backstage, and other materials at the Samuel French Bookshops, for example. Backstage also throws a series of conventions for actors, ActorFest, which takes place in late fall in Los Angeles.
“Scientology has almost the entire back wall of the place,” he says.
2. The Purification Rundown
Steven found himself in another seminar, this time with a celebrity giving the pitch for “detoxing.” The program costs $2,000. Steven thought of it as an investment into his future.
“When you’re on the purification program, you’re sitting in the sauna with maybe ten or twenty other people. Now, at the Celebrity Centre, you may be in the sauna with editors, writers, directors, producers, all sorts of types of industry people. So it’s almost like, you know, you can network in the sauna.”
On his second time in the sauna, he was in there with an actor from True Blood. It helped convince him that the program must be useful.
The pushy nature of Scientology registrars — or “regges” — is already legendary. At one point, Mango says he overheard a reg saying she would say and do whatever it took to get a person’s credit card number, no matter what. At the time, he rationalized it. But increasingly, he became aware that the behavior of the regges was getting unbearable.
“At the end of a course period, when you’re about to leave…you have to go out one door. Now the regges line up all along that door. So you’re going to have your IAS reg, you’re going to have the ones trying to get money for courses, the bookstore officer, anyone whose job it is to collect money from you, they’re lined up by those doors. So when you leave you know one of them is about to grab you and pull you into one of their offices and reg you for money. So some Scientologists start trying to find back doors that they can leave through so they don’t have to face the regges. But the regges know that so they start waiting for you in different areas. So, they kind of spread themselves out. Now, to think you’re in a church, and you have to think about an escape route so you don’t have to pay them any money?”
Regging sessions could last several hours as Steven would have to find a way to convince a reg to let him go without giving a large donation. At one point, he even had a reg stop him at his car in the parking lot, and he spent another half hour convincing the reg to let him go home.
He had been regged for hours, got home late, and then he got a call at 2 in the morning, and a reg was still bugging him about spending hundreds of dollars on a set of books that he really didn’t need. He said he would think about it the next day, but the reg said no, he had to get the money tonight. Why, what’s the big rush, Steven asked.
“Look, I can’t even go to sleep until I get my quota met,” the Sea Org worker told him.
Another time, he was again being pushed to buy more courses. But Mango knew he didn’t have any credit — the cards he had were maxed out. The reg had already tried calling his banks to get his credit limits raised, with no luck.
The reg was hitting him for $50,000 to go Clear. The reg knew that Steven didn’t have the money, but she pushed him anyway. “Steve, this is your year. You’re going to go Clear this year.”
He figured he was going to experience another five to six hour regging session. But then, something interesting happened.
“All these regges come over, and they’re all surrounding the desk. So there were all these regges over there with iPads. She’s, ‘We’re going to all start applying for credit cards for you.’ So basically, all the regges had iPads, they got my Social Security number, they got, you know, all my financial information. And all of them were running credit apps at the same time, with the theory being that hopefully it doesn’t look like I’m hitting for a lot of credit at once, because if you put all the credit apps through at once, maybe I’ll be able to get approved for ten credit cards all at the same time instead of doing one at a time. So they all started applying for credit cards on my behalf.”
Steven told them that he didn’t want it to affect his credit. But none of them got approved anyway.
He was told it was fine. It was only the first step.
“Now we’re going to call each of these banks and we’re going to get you your credit line.” they told him. How, he asked.
“She said, ‘Look, we have people higher up in American Express and other financial institutions who are Scientologists and they can underwrite and approve your credit card for the amount of credit that we need for you to be able to go Clear’,” he says.
“I’m locked up in the Celebrity Centre day after day after day, and it’s just not dawning on me that this is a moneymaking scheme.”
4. Staff and Sea Org Recruiting
During a lunch break, Mango was approached by recruiters who want to ask him survey questions. They were trying to convince him to become an employee of the Celebrity Center, which meant working 40 hours a week on a contract for 2.5 or 5 years. He wasn’t interested, he was still committed to becoming an actor. And he was surprised at what they said next…
“Actors are scum. You’re not going to be any Tom Cruise or some shit. No, none of you actors are. You’re just wasting your time unnecessarily in these acting classes and auditioning. You’re not really going to be able to help anyone as an actor. Actors are just down-tone people…”
At another event, two Sea Org recruiters pulled him aside to talk about the elite organization, which requires a billion-year contract and intense, grueling work at more than 100 hours a week. Steven said he explained to them that he had no interest in joining the Sea Org. Another two recruiters approached the table.
“They tell these guys not to waste their time on me. ‘Steve’s a pussy. He needs to grow a pair of balls and handle and confront what the condition of this planet is and he can’t do that. He’s just a sissy. He’s not going to be able to be in the Sea Organization. Don’t waste your time trying to recruit…this piece of shit’.”
Mango said he was shocked to see them talk like that.
“After hearing that, I was on my way out of Scientology.”
Another time, a staff recruiter put a contract and a pen in his hand, telling him that he was going to be part of “the biggest push in 2,500 years.”
“We’re not going to take no for an answer because we’re trying to help you,” he was told.
“One time I was locked in the Celebrity Centre with one of their staff recruiters. It was about 3 am, and unbeknownst to us we were actually locked in the building…He wouldn’t let up…It got to the point where he was running some kind of auditing process on me, where he puts the contract in my hand, and he puts the pen in my hand. And he starts running a process. And he starts going, ‘Put that pen on that paper! Thank you! Withdraw. OK, good. Now put your pen on that paper. Good. Sign the contract!’”
He managed to resist all efforts to recruit him to staff or the Sea Org, and walked away from Scientology in 2012. We’re pleased that he was so quick to go public with what he experienced — sometimes it can take a person years to talk about what they went through in the church. Steve Mango’s memories are fresh, and they ring true.
Now we hope someone can work with him on a shorter film!
Scientologist falls to his death in Clearwater
The Tampa Bay Times reported that a man fell to his death from the eighth floor of a building in Clearwater Tuesday morning, and researchers at WhyWeProtest.net quickly identified him as a Scientologist (and Smurf at ESMB added a trove of info).
Evgeny Zharkin was 43 years old and was from Russia, the source of an increasing number of Florida church workers. His involvement in Scientology included its business front group WISE, but otherwise there’s little information about him so far. If you have more information about his background in the church, let us know.
Smuggled video of what a Sea Org meeting is like
Radio Paul posted this video yesterday after finding it on the Internet and cleaning up its sound. But he admitted to us that he wasn’t sure where it had first come from.
We told him we’re pretty sure it was one of the items funneled out of Scientology by Yulia Keaton, the woman who infiltrated the Sea Org briefly last year with a number of recording devices, including a camera in a tampon.
While we think Keaton was reckless when she infiltrated the church, we agreed with Radio Paul that this is a pretty interesting look inside a Sea Org meeting.
Posted by Tony Ortega on January 29, 2014 at 07:00
E-mail your tips and story ideas to email@example.com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.