Once again, our tipsters have come through. The Underground Bunker has obtained a secretly recorded audiotape of the New Year’s event that Scientologists around the world will be watching tonight to bring in 2017.
Scientology leader David Miscavige presides over several big events each year — L. Ron Hubbard’s March 13 birthday in Florida, the anniversary of the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) each October at Saint Hill Manor in England, and “Maiden Voyage,” held on the ship Freewinds in the Caribbean in the summer. But New Year’s is perhaps Scientology’s biggest annual bash, held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Usually, the event is taped a few days early. This year, it was held on December 17, for some reason. But the result is the same. At various times, and particularly tonight, video of David Miscavige’s three-hour speech will be shown at Scientology “orgs” around the world.
Some of those video replays have already taken place, including a recent gathering at the New York “org” on 46th Street. When the video was played for the local members, one of the attendees secretly made an audio recording, and it’s made its way to us.
What you’ll hear when you play it is David Miscavige, for more than two hours, giving his usual spiel about “expansion,” interrupted a few times by the playing of a video segment. Near the end of the program, one of those video segments is the new Super Bowl ad which will be five years in a row that Scientology has run an ad during the game (but usually with local ad slots bought in certain cities for a total of about $1 million, not a national ad spot at about $5 million). Expect the ad to show up at Scientology’s YouTube channel around midnight tonight.
This audio recording dropped in our lap pretty late last night, so we haven’t had a chance to transcribe very much of it. If we can get to it, we’ll add transcriptions to the post.
Scientology’s 2016: Another year is in the books at the Underground Bunker!
This dumpster fire of a year may finally be over, but we still have a lot to wrap up today to finish up our business here on the last day of 2016.
First, we’re going to finish up our year-in-review with a quick look back at the stories that rocked the Bunker in November and December. It was a very strong finish to the year, so we have a lot to go through.
November continued 2016’s terrible trend of taking away beloved music figures from us when Leonard Cohen died on November 7. We mentioned Cohen in our book about Paulette Cooper because he was taking Scientology courses at the New York org around the time that she began her investigation of Scientology there. Cohen was an experimenter who dabbled in a lot of different spiritual pursuits, and we will miss his transcendent genius. Speaking of spiritual figures, a Tampa Christian pastor named Savanna Hartman had become an Internet star for a viral video she made about racial unity. And she was scheduled to participate in a Scientology event — at least until our Rod Keller reached out to her and let her know what she was getting into. She then cancelled her appearance.
On occasion, we enjoy diving into Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s history, and one of our researchers tracked down a 1927 Helena, Montana newspaper item that treated Hubbard, a local high schooler, as something of an exotic character for his tales of traveling in Asia. Even at a young age, Hubbard knew how to capture public attention with his tall tales. Back in present time, we noted that an interesting court hearing was happening in Los Angeles featuring a film director and his insurer who had met in Scientology, but were now facing decades in prison for allegations that they funded a movie flop with a Ponzi scheme.
It’s always interesting to hear from a new person going public for the first time about their experience in Scientology. And on November 18 we heard from Kelly Jordan, who described her time working in a Scientology mission that sounded almost as degrading as what you find in the Sea Org. A few days later, we felt obliged to weigh in on a growing controversy: Scientologist Vivian Kubrick was raising money for actress Shelley Duvall, who had appeared on a Dr. Phil episode exhibiting severe delusional behavior. In the face of controversy over why an anti-psychiatry Scientologist would be getting involved in the fate of a woman who clearly needed treatment by mental health professionals, Kubrick took down her fundraising website and gave refunds.
We hated to contradict David Miscavige and the speech he gave at the grand opening for the new San Diego Ideal Org, but it just isn’t true that L. Ron Hubbard brought surfing to California. We also figured it was time to deal with the Scientology claim that it doesn’t have anything to do with space aliens by letting readers hear L. Ron Hubbard in his own words talking about — you guessed it, space aliens and Scientology.
But of course, the hurricane that swept through this place in November and December had Leah Remini’s name on it, and she kept us busy as Scientology tried gamely to frighten A&E out of showing her series, Scientology and the Aftermath, which debuted on November 29. As early as November 3, we were taking apart Scientology’s smeary response to the network. And then we got the first look at a lengthy letter from Scientology’s Karin Pouw that was even smearier (if that’s a word). Leah responded with letters from her lawyer demanding $1.5 million in compensation for defaming her. It was a pretty fun shot across Scientology’s bow, and you saw it here first.
Then, just for fun, before Leah’s show premiered, we thought it might grant Scientology equal time by posting something we hadn’t seen before — a documentary about the life of L. Ron Hubbard with narration by David Miscavige himself! On November 24, we wrote our preview of Leah’s first episode, which told the story of Amy Scobee and her mother Bonny Elliott. As soon as the episode aired, Scientology posted a new website attacking the series, and it contained a video accusing Leah of stalking someone named Todd Woodruff. But Leah told us that Todd actually had a long and interesting history with her, and he was being used by the church to distort what had actually happened. And that actual story was far more interesting, because it involved Katie Holmes! Meanwhile, we circled back to the Amy Scobee episode, because we weren’t the only ones who noticed that Bonny Elliott’s husband, Mark Elliott, was pretty crucial to their story, but he hadn’t been interviewed for the show. So we interviewed him and found there was even more to the dramatic story of the family being ripped apart by Scientology.
And then, on December 5, we had the real bombshell to come out of the Amy Scobee episode. We obtained a letter from Scientology attorney Gary Soter showing that he had tried to scare the network out of airing the episode by questioning Amy’s story about being raped at 14 while she was working on staff at a Scientology mission. Soter claimed that she was 16, not 14, when it happened (which wasn’t true), and that Amy had been the “sexual aggressor” when she had sex with a man who also worked at the mission. It was a shocking way for Scientology to try and scare A&E, and it didn’t work. Meanwhile, Leah upped the stakes on the LAPD by making a records request about the police department’s claim that it had checked on Scientology leader David Miscavige’s vanished wife, Shelly, who hasn’t been seen at a Scientology event in more than a decade. The LAPD has asked for more time to respond to her request, which only makes us even more curious to see how they’re going to reply.
On December 13, we previewed the third episode in the series, featuring Mary Kahn, whose family was ripped apart by disconnection. And the next day, we posted a moving new video by Nora Crest about Scientology’s homophobia, which she made with encouragement from Leah Remini. And on December 16, we broke the news that a special extra episode of the series had been added, and it would feature Paulette Cooper. Wow, we can hardly wait to see the new episodes still coming in the new year. (And one of them just might feature your proprietor.)
A LOOK BACK AT NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2015: Leah Remini’s memoir, Troublemaker, hit bookstores. The Texas Third Court of Appeals handed Monique Rathbun a huge victory that seemed to pave the way for a world of hurt for Scientology. We began a day-by-day look at the final days of Lisa McPherson, 20 years after her tragic death. Tabatha Fauteux became Narconon’s newest victim. Legoland funded a Scientology front group on behalf of Jenna Elfman. And one of our biggest stories of the year, felony charges for Scientologists who had used students from primarily minority high schools in a suburb of LA to scam state insurance money.
A LOOK BACK AT NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2014: Leaked plans show that a new $37 million Scientology facility in Australia will serve only 87 people, on average, at any one time. Some great nuggets about L. Ron Hubbard turned up in Robert Heinlein’s letters collection. We learned how Scientology strains to erase Hubbard’s second wife, Sara Northrup, from the historical record, while Hubbard’s first wife, Polly, filed an affidavit that Hubbard was a deadbeat dad. We went long with the surprising saga of Richie Acunto’s rise and fall. And Marty Rathbun gets ambushed again, this time with Louis Theroux.
A LOOK BACK AT NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2013: Mike Rinder and Mike Bennitt in a helicopter over the Super Power party, our exclusive interview with Jacqueline Olivier, the principal at Will and Jada’s Scientology school, and we marked the actual 60th anniversary of the first ‘Church of Scientology.’
And now, a word from our tipsters
All year, we’ve once again benefited hugely from our network of secret correspondents around the world. They hunt down documents for us, alert us to breaking stories, and search social media for glimpses inside the lives of Scientologists. A handful of our tipsters provide the lion’s share of such material, and we really can’t thank them enough, in part because they eschew recognition in order to remain anonymous. So, to recognize the good work they do, we thought we’d at least show some of their work. We asked the chief searcher for our “Bonus items” section to come up with the most memorable five items our helpers tracked down this year. This is what they came up with, and with the original captions.
THE FIVE BEST ‘BONUS ITEMS FROM OUR TIPSTERS’ OF 2016…
Um, Narconon Mexico, this is not a good look.
Another Scientology sieg heil, this time in Taiwan…
“I’m 17, I’m staff, and I’m celebrating my birthday at the Fort Harrison Hotel. Thanks, mom.”
Hey, girl. Let me pick you up in my ambulance for a touch assist and tea at the Fort Harrison.
Um, W. T. F….
The most-read stories of 2016
Here they are, the 25 most-read Underground Bunker stories of 2016…
1. ‘Horrifying’ autism ‘cure’ exposed by BBC turns out to be Scientology: Now, the inventor speaks (Sep 27)
2. How Lisa Marie Presley became Scientology leader David Miscavige’s worst nightmare (Apr 21)
3. THE BILLBOARD IS UP: Scientology’s ‘disconnection’ on view in Los Angeles (Apr 4)
4. Lucia Ribisi ditches Scientology and says of famous dad Giovanni: ‘He’s questioned it’ (April 6)
5. Special episode added: Leah Remini series adds Monday hour featuring Paulette Cooper (Dec 16)
6. Yes, that was a Scientology ad you saw during the Super Bowl. Here’s what’s in it. (Feb 7)
7. Leah Remini: Scientology’s new attack has a Katie Holmes angle they aren’t talking about (Dec 1)
8. What the first trailer for Leah Remini’s Scientology series tells us about her show (Nov 2)
9. Ron Miscavige book out in May: ‘Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me’ (Mar 16)
10. With Jason Lee out, what does it mean for Scientology’s tightest celebrity clique? (Sep 17)
11. EXCLUSIVE: See the letter Scientology sent to scare A&E out of airing Leah Remini’s series (Nov 19)
12. Leah Remini demands $1.5 million from Scientology for interfering with her A&E series (Nov 22)
13. Scientology’s Space Man: The newest defector from church management opens up (Feb 12)
14. Tonight on ‘Leah Remini’: Marc & Claire Headley on forced abortions and Sea Org escapes (Dec 27)
15. Scientology leader David Miscavige threatens to sue father over book (Apr 26)
16. Ron Miscavige’s ‘Ruthless’ includes Lisa Marie Presley’s wild defection scene in Florida (May 2)
17. Leah Remini is shooting a TV series about Scientology (June 27)
18. Stalked in a New Orleans cemetery: Scientology’s secretive defectors getting more open (Jan 18)
19. Ron Miscavige, his book ‘Ruthless’ his nervous son, and Scientology Watching’s new reality (Apr 29)
20. Astra Woodcraft, ex-Scientology kid, wants you to read a short essay (Apr 12)
21. ‘Call Me’ says their billboard — and their daughter in Scientology did just that (July 19)
22. On the 8th anniversary of the Anonymous protests, more signs of Scientology’s desperation (Feb 10)
23. A STAR IS BORN: Scientology attorney Monique Yingling steals the spotlight on ’20/20′ (Apr 30)
24. It’s a miracle! Scientology put ‘more than 10,000’ people in these 1,000 chairs! (May 29)
25. David Bowie, 1947-2016 (Jan 11)
Leaving the lair: Your proprietor in the wild in 2016
We have evidence of some places where your correspondent was spotted outside of the confines of the Underground Bunker this year.
In March, we had the pleasure of attending the party Dan Perkins, better known as Tom Tomorrow, threw for the people who had backed his Kickstarter that produced his well-deserved 25-year double-volume retrospective of This Modern World. Your proprietor got to meet Dan’s friends, director John Sayles and producer Maggie Renzi.
In April, we went to L.A. to cover a hearing in the Laura DeCrescenzo lawsuit, and we also hung out with our LipTV friends, including the superb Allison Hope Weiner, seen here on the set of her shows, Media Mayhem and Crime Time. Later in the year, we learned that Michael Lustig, the man behind LipTV, had decided to pull the plug on the startup. We’re glad we got to spend a year working with the talented young television journalists who worked there. And while we were in town, we made sure to check out the “Call Me” billboard put up by Phil and Willie Jones.
In June, this little website had its very own convention, and it was in, of all places, Cleveland. HowdyCon was a great experience, and we sure hope you’ll decide to join us in Denver this year.
At the end of June, we visited Dani and Tami Lemberger at their independent Scientology mission in Haifa, Israel. Here we’re hefting the trophies that Tami was awarded by David Miscavige when she was named one of the top auditors on the planet. Now they’re nice paperweights.
In July, we made our first trip to Ireland, and naturally we got together with some of the local Bunker correspondents, including Pete Griffiths.
At the end of the month, Scientology opened its newest “Ideal Org” in Harlem and we tried to attend. We even brought out attorney Scott Pilutik with us to fend off any attacks by church goons.
In August, we recorded the audiobook version of The Unbreakable Miss Lovely in a Manhattan studio.
In September, we pow-wowed with Kate Bornstein in order to fix the problems of the world.
In October, we jetted out to Los Angeles for a brief visit with some nefarious individuals, and in a couple of weeks we’ll finally get to tell you what happened there!
BEST OF THE BUNKER, 2016
We’re grateful that some of our stories got a huge amount of readership this year. But traffic isn’t the only way to measure what goes on here. We decided to put together a list of our personal choices for most significant pieces we did in 2016. Some of them were scoops, others were investigative features, and some of them we just really enjoyed writing. So here goes.
20. Scientology’s 20 biggest celebrities in order of those most likely to defect
Sure, you get lists of Scientology celebrities all the time. But we put this one together after Jason Lee bolted from the church because we wanted to know, from our Hollywood Celebrity Centre source, who he thought might be the next to walk. This list kicked up a lot of disagreement, and that’s what it was designed to do.
19. A Scientology spy comes forward — now he’s ready for war with David Miscavige
Skip Young had a small but significant place in Scientology history as a San Diego cop who provided a footnote to the Snow White Program. But we found out that today he’s been abandoned by his two daughters, who have “disconnected” from him in the Scientology way. From Scientology spy operative to grieving dad. His was one of the most unexpected stories we covered this year.
18. How Liz Gale came to disconnect from her own mother, Scientology style
Mark Ebner had done an amazing job telling the story of Philip Gale, a young genius who had grown up in Scientology and then had thrown himself off a building on the MIT campus on L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday in 1998. But Philip’s younger sister, Liz Gale, had a journey out of Scientology that deserved a telling of its own.
17. VIDEO: David Miscavige’s entire speech at Scientology’s Atlanta ‘Ideal Org’ opening
What a coup this was. If you know how hard it’s been just to get a decent photo of David Miscavige at his appearances opening new Scientology buildings, you know that our correspondents had finally squared the circle with this one. From a perch across the street, they managed to video the Scientology leader’s entire speech at the Atlanta ceremony in April. Sure, there’s traffic noise, but the quality of this video is really pretty good considering how difficult it was even to obtain it.
16. What you didn’t see on ‘I Am Cait’: Kate Bornstein and Caitlyn Jenner at Scientology HQ
Kate Bornstein and Caitlyn Jenner, walking into the Los Angeles Org and asking to see Kate’s long-lost Sea Org daughter? And cameras weren’t rolling? We’re just fortunate that Kate told us all about it. What a scene.
15. Appeals court strikes Scientology’s $1 million judgment against Ken Dandar
This may have been the biggest surprise of the year. Scientology appeared to have attorney Ken Dandar dead to rights after winning a ruinous $1 million judgment against him. How he got there was incredibly complex, but a retired judge seemed determine to make Dandar pay for suing Scientology. Ken was appealing, but they looked like long shots. How wrong we were.
14. What’s the worst that can happen when you sue Scientology? Here’s one frightening example.
Karla Taylor believed that Scientology had misused the trademarks of her company, the National Association of Forensic Counselors, in order to hide the problems of its drug rehab network, Narconon. But after filing her lawsuit against 82 defendants, alleging a widespread conspiracy run by David Miscavige, she then found herself in the crosshairs. Eventually, a magistrate judge ordered Karla to turn over her private laptop to attorneys representing Narconon, which our legal observers told us was beyond the pale. What is it about Scientology and the courts?
13. For Scientology’s most infamous dirty trickster, retirement has a happy ending
If you study the dirty tricks played by Scientology on its perceived enemies, one name comes up as much as anyone’s: Eugene Ingram, disgraced former Los Angeles cop and chief private eye for Scientology in the 1980s and 1990s. What a treat it was, with the help of our researchers, to find Gene today, “el Jefe” of his own Mexican cantina.
12. THE BILLBOARD IS UP: Scientology’s disconnection policy on view in Los Angeles
What a day this was in the Bunker, whose readers had helped raise the lion’s share of the money Phil and Willie Jones used to post their own billboard in Los Angeles bringing attention to Scientology’s policy of “Disconnection.” After, that is, two previous billboard companies had turned them down in the face of Scientology intimidation.
11. Is Scientology using Tommy Davis to get Aussie billionaire James Packer back in the fold?
Former Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis continues to be a favorite around here at the Bunker, and so we like to keep tabs on him. And did that pay off this year. Tommy has a cool new job in Hollywood, but our experts tell us he’s still likely to be trying to get James Packer back into the Scientology fold. We’re still looking for evidence of that.
10. Scientology’s Space Man: The newest defector from church management opens up
Paul Burkhart was another key defection from Scientology’s upper ranks. He was in a unique position to watch what was happening at both Int Base and then at the Hollywood Guaranty Building in Los Angeles. And having left in August 2013, his information was years fresher than anything else we’d seen. And most shocking? His estimate, based on access he had to enrollment documents, that Scientology’s active membership worldwide has now fallen under 20,000.
9. Some churches take care of the old — Scientology instead works them to death
The story of Claire Reppen was not an easy one to read. In her late 60s and suffering the effects of advanced cancer, she was still a Sea Org member and was expected to work like one. Her son provided for us a handwritten letter Claire wrote, asking for relief from her work, and her supervisors own complaint about her tendency to slack off. The details are gruesome, and point to a larger problem: Scientology has no idea what to do with the many older members it has now, except work them to death.
8. Disconnection, neglect, and suicide: Scientology, it’s even worse than you think
More than a disconnection story, this is a saga about a Scientology family that is so disturbing, we can’t look at that photo, above, without feeling astonished that it exists. Share this story with your friends, and tell them that Scientology is always worse than you thought.
7. CLAIM: Frail looking Shelly Miscavige spotted near Scientology compound in California
After years of writing about Shelly Miscavige, the wife that Scientology leader David Miscavige made disappear more than a decade ago, we were stunned to learn that there’s a good chance she’s been spotted — and exactly where we’d been telling readers to look for her. We’ve vetted the couple that reported these sightings, and we’re taking their claim seriously. And because of that, we’re more concerned than ever about the state that Shelly is in. Much more on this is coming soon.
6. Lucia Ribisi ditches Scientology and says of famous dad Giovanni, he’s questioned it
We spent months checking our facts before revealing that Lucia Ribisi had talked publicly about ditching Scientology on a Los Angeles radio show, but under an assumed name. Her defection puts enormous pressure on her famous dad, Giovanni, who, she claims, has had his own doubts about the church. This is huge: The Ribisi clan is one of the most prominent in the church, and Giovanni’s divorced parents are among the most dedicated Scientologists still left in the organization.
5. Tom Cruise penthouse in Scientology’s spiritual mecca? We have the plans
It’s so fun to beat the celebrity-obsessed bigs to a story like this. Tom Cruise is having a $3 million, double-level penthouse with a private, 9-car garage with car elevator built out in a former bank building smack in the middle of Scientology’s “Flag Land Base” in Clearwater, Florida. Mom lives nearby, and son Connor is also in town, so maybe it makes sense to Tom to have a place in Clearwater. But the location at the center of Scientology’s “spiritual mecca” also says a lot, doesn’t it?
4. The fight over the secrets on a Scientology spy’s seized laptop that no one is talking about
Years of detailed information that spells out Scientology’s elaborate and possibly illegal spying operations is sitting in the evidence room of a Wisconsin town, and someone has gone to extraordinary lengths to get their hands on it. Can journalists get there first? We obtained a couple of court documents that spelled out this extraordinary situation, but then we made a call out to our fellow journalists — someone needs to get their hands on that crucial information before David Miscavige does.
3. Scientology’s secret sites: The Bunker premieres drone footage never before seen of Int Base
We never knew him. We only know that he showed up out of nowhere and gave us the links to a set of the some of the most vivid footage we’ve ever seen. Our mystery man had flown a drone equipped with a 4K camera over Scientology’s super secret compounds in California and New Mexico, giving us unprecedented looks at them, with knockout clarity. Twin Peaks, where Shelly Miscavige is most likely being held? This footage not only shows you the compound, but we pinpointed the house where Shelly probably lives, and the building where she works. Other flyovers included Int Base where David Miscavige lives, the Creston ranch were L. Ron Hubbard died, the spaceship-looking vault site on the Northern California coast, and the famous Trementina base in New Mexico.
2. How Lisa Marie Presley became Scientology leader David Miscavige’s worst nightmare
This was a two-part series in April that had taken us more than a year to put together, and coincided with the publication of Ron Miscavige’s memoir, Ruthless. Ron’s escape from Int Base and his memoir were part of an ongoing destruction of his family, orchestrated by his son, David, Scientology’s iron-fisted ruler. But what no one knew until we revealed it was that one person who was intimately involved with the Miscavige family saga was Lisa Marie Presley. She became so incensed with how Ron was being treated by his own children, she went to the Flag Land Base in Clearwater in October 2014 to have a showdown with David Miscavige. He sent his sisters in his stead to scream at Lisa Marie in what has to be the single weirdest scene we’ve written about in several years.
1. Spying, intimidation, and ruin: Two lives caught up in Scientology’s notorious ‘Fair Game’
We will probably fail at trying to impart how much this story meant to us. We knew, when Rob Ramsay first brought us his dead brother’s private papers, that we had a unique opportunity. Rob’s brother, Peter, had been a dedicated Scientologist, and he had also been a spy for the church who helped Scientology carry out its ‘Fair Game’ campaigns. And on one person in particular, a guy named Gregg Hagglund whose own history was odd and wonderful. Telling the tale of how the lives of these two men were intertwined because of Scientology’s vicious thirst for revenge was one of the most challenging and fulfilling experiences of our career.
Happy New Year, Scientology watchers.
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