Earlier this year, London-based Australian journalist Steve Cannane published a terrific new book on Scientology titled Fair Game. We asked him for a year-end message and he sent us this…
Tony has asked me to write about my experience of having a book come out in 2016, but I’m ignoring the editor, and instead of focusing on myself, I want to pay tribute to the people who allow journalists to report on Scientology – the whistleblowers.
The cult of Scientology relies on secrets to maintain its control. Every time a former member speaks out or an insider leaks information it’s a hammer blow to the organization. Scientology relies on a combination of deception and ignorance to hoodwink newcomers. Each time an ex-member speaks out they help inoculate the next generation from being recruited into Scientology.
I doubt I would ever have reported on Scientology if it were not for two brave women I was introduced to in 2010 – Scarlett Hanna and Carmen Rainer. Scarlett told me what it was like to grow up as a child in the Sea Org. Carmen told her story about Scientology officials covering up the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her Scientologist stepfather. The courage of these two women opened my eyes to what was going on inside a secret organization I knew little about. They did so at great personal risk. Scarlett is the daughter of the head of Scientology in Australia, Vicki Dunstan. She risked never speaking to her parents again. Carmen was taking on some very powerful people by exposing her story.
It takes incredible courage for ex-members to speak out about Scientology. Firstly, it takes great courage to leave, to risk disconnection, to walk away from what has been drummed into you is the key to your immortality. To then speak out is a further leap into the unknown. Many ex-Sea Org members suffer from post-traumatic stress and to speak out is to relive those traumatic events. Others feel shame for not leaving earlier or for what they might have done inside. Then there is the risk that you are making yourself a target by telling your story. As we all know those risks can be real.
One of the great thrills for me this year was helping to tell the stories of Terri Gamboa, Janis Grady, Eric Kleitsch and Jose Navarro – former Sea Org members who had not gone public with their stories previously. Jose had been transported from the Freewinds to the RPF in Sydney for the “crime” of falling in love with woman he was told he could not have a relationship with. It was an example of Scientology treating Australia like a penal colony. Eric was on the RPF in Sydney for extraordinary 12 years. Most of you know of Terri and Janis – the daughters of Yvonne Gillham, the founder of the Celebrity Centre. The sisters had been two of Hubbard’s original messengers and rose to very senior positions in Scientology.
So as we head into 2017, I’m raising a glass to Jose, Eric, Terri, and Janis and all the other whistleblowers who have over the years had the courage to stand up to an authoritarian organization no matter the consequences. Let’s hope we hear more from others like them in 2017.
— Steve Cannane
And how. We obviously couldn’t keep this website going without the bravery of whistleblowers and researchers and tipsters. In the comments, let us know which of the people who brought Scientology’s secrets into the open are the ones you admire most.
Our Scientology year-in-review: August
We’re continuing our look back at the year of 2016 here in the Underground Bunker, and today we’re looking at the stories we published in August.
The month started out with our account of what it was like trying to cover the opening of Scientology’s newest “Ideal Org” — in Harlem. The church did its best to keep us far away from the festivities, but we managed to find a local business that had defied Scientology’s request to shut down for the day, and they let us use their lobby as a refuge. Oh, how that seemed to drive Scientology’s security force into a tizzy! It’s almost as if Scientology had a lot to hide from reporters.
The next day, we had a great surprise for our readers, thanks to hard work by our researchers — we’d tracked down Scientology’s most notorious former dirty tricks private investigator, Eugene Ingram. These days, Gene is running a bar in Cabo San Lucas, where he appears to be the life of the party. Doing Scientology’s dirty work must pay very, very well.
Thanks to one of our tipsters in Italy, we got a mid-year update on which of Scientology’s “whales” was turning in the biggest donations. And we also reported on the latest vanity purchase from the biggest Scientology donors of them all, California couple Bob and Trish Duggan, who spent several million to buy a tract of land known as “Holy City.” The site of a former white supremacist cult, Holy City today is mostly a ghost town. But what are the Duggans going to do with it, and will it somehow benefit their pal David Miscavige?
On August 11, we posted a previously unpublished photo of L. Ron Hubbard’s daughter Diana that was taken in Amsterdam in 1982. Scientology has done its best to erase all of Hubbard’s wives and children from church publications and history, but we were happy to find this record of Diana, who remains the last Hubbard family member still in Scientology.
A few days later we had another update on an Underground Bunker favorite — former Scientology mouthpiece Tommy Davis. Earlier, we’d broken the news that Tommy’s new job is working for Australian billionaire James Packer, who spent some time in Scientology, where he and Tommy got to know each other. Packer made Tommy the general manager of his family business in the US, which includes helping to run RatPac Entertainment funding movie projects in Hollywood. Now, some photos had surfaced of Tommy enjoying himself as a new player in Hollywood.
One of our researchers helps us by sifting through old newspaper archives, looking for items that others have missed. In this case, he found a really significant 1968 Daily Mail investigation that tracked down L. Ron Hubbard in Tunisia. For our purposes, it was the first confirmation we had that Hubbard publicly acknowledged that he’d written about his claims to have visited “heaven” some 43 trillion years ago, and then a second time 42 trillion years ago. He found it rather shabby.
On August 19 the website Gawker was shuttered, and we wanted to make sure its passing didn’t happen without reciting its role in the online squabble over a 2004 video of a Tom Cruise interview that was meant only for internal consumption in the Church of Scientology. That 2004 tape surfaced four years later, in January 2008, and Gawker helped to assure that it wouldn’t be pulled down despite the best efforts of Scientology’s attorneys.
It was also in August that the dust had settled from the summer’s two political conventions, and the ticket for US president was set for a battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. For months we’d been seeing comparisons between Trump and L. Ron Hubbard, and between Trump’s followers and members of the Church of Scientology. But we pointed out that Trump really had no connection to Scientology that mattered, and the one with the heavy Scientology baggage was really Clinton. It was her husband, Bill, whose time in the White House was the friendliest to the church of any U.S. president. It was Bill Clinton who signed off on the IRS granting tax-exempt status to Scientology in 1993, and Clinton’s State Department went to bat for Scientology in Germany, where a government crackdown was happening. Would Hillary prove to be as friendly to the church? Well, she never got the chance. Hell, who knows, maybe a Trump administration will actually be interested in taking a hard look at Scientology.
Normally, we don’t pay a lot of attention to what the National Enquirer says about Scientology, but this time we made an exception. The paper took a bizarre shot at David Miscavige’s older brother, and the story appeared to have been cribbed from Scientology’s own attack website that tries to harm the reputation of David’s father, Ron Miscavige, and his 2016 memoir, Ruthless. Had David Miscavige fed the paper the story? If so, it was another Miscavige foot-bullet, as the newspaper referred to a “hooker orgy” and made it look like David was as involved as his brother. Bizarre.
As the election neared, we got another tip about it, this time about a Scientologist who had quietly put himself on the ballot to run for city councilman in Orange County. A little digging showed that he was not only a church member, but he had actually worked as a Scientology goon and enforcer. He ended up losing his race.
And finally, we finished August with some bad news for Vance Woodward, who lost a court appeal and now owes the church $90,000 in fees. It was Woodward who had helped us with one of our favorite projects — blogging ‘Dianetics’ from cover to cover — and we’ll be rooting for him as he looks for another way to turn his legal fortunes around.
A LOOK BACK AT AUGUST 2015: Steve Fishman, of the famous Fishman Papers, is doing serious time for a bizarre crime. Tom Cruise gave a speech in Spanish, and turned up at a Scientology org in Colombia. And Paulette Cooper had an amazing encounter in Europe.
A LOOK BACK AT AUGUST 2014: We remembered Denise Brennan on the occasion of her passing. Mary Sue Hubbard’s house finally went up for sale, as we had predicted. And Kim Poff and Michael DeLong filed lawsuits over the troubling behavior of Oklahoma state officials who were too afraid to take on Scientology.
A LOOK BACK AT AUGUST 2013: Leah Remini filed a missing-person report on Shelly Miscavige, PZ Myers read A History of Man with us, Gerry Armstrong helped us tell his tale, and Monique Rathbun filed her harassment lawsuit.
Bonus items from our tipsters
A tweet from last night that should reverberate around Hollywood. Hey, Judd, looking for movie material? We know about a certain woman named Paulette you ought to hear about…
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) December 28, 2016
Newlyweds Joy and Thorsten with their “minister,” Monica Agami and her husband David. It’s another member of the Agami family, Moises, who is building the super double penthouse for Tom Cruise in Clearwater. Are Joy and Thorsten, the ultimate Scientology climbers, angling to become part of Tom’s entourage? Of course they are.
E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.
Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield