Our man Rod Keller is back, keeping an eye on Scientology’s sneaky moves to rope in unsuspecting new recruits…
The Church of Scientology issued a press release for an Interfaith Coalition event held at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater Florida on January 21. The opening prayer was given by Father Bob Swick, who we spoke to in August 2016 when he participated in a Purple Heart event held at the same location. Scientologists Pat Harney of Scientology’s secret police, the Office of Special Affairs, Alex Melgarejo of the Scientology tutoring school Community Learning Center, Christian Vargas of the Scientology front group United for Human Rights, and Anna Harbour all attended.
The headline speaker was Terry Hitchcock, author of A Father’s Odyssey, an account of his journey by foot from Minnesota to the Olympic Games in Atlanta Georgia in 1996. Hitchcock ran the equivalent of 75 marathons in 75 days, and has been called a real life Forrest Gump because of the similarity to the cross-country running of the Tom Hanks character in that 1994 film. Hitchcock’s book was made into an award-winning documentary, My Run by director Billy Bob Thornton.
I spoke with Terry Hitchcock and asked him how he became involved in the event. “I just moved from Minnesota to Clearwater, and I was introduced to some people, and heard of a group called Criminon.” Criminon is a Scientology study program that includes bringing the L. Ron Hubbard pamphlet The Way to Happiness to prisoners. “I have been involved in visiting prisons before, and so I was very interested in that.”
Hitchcock is a motivational speaker, and believes that “anything is possible.” After losing his wife to breast cancer he started a number of successful companies that allowed him the time to train and prepare for his run. “I was not an experienced runner, I was 57 years old, I was recovering from a heart attack, but I’m a dreamer, I thought I could tell the story of what I’m doing and help raise awareness for single parents and their children.”
I asked him if he had any reservations about speaking at an event sponsored by the Church of Scientology. “None. The people there were all so friendly and I had no idea what I was going to talk about but I spoke about doing the impossible, and what I believe in.” He says he has heard some negative things about the church. “Some things in the ’70s, or ’80s, or maybe the ’90s. I don’t really remember what.”
I asked if he had seen any episodes of the A&E series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath or heard of the process of disconnection, where members of Scientology are not allowed to speak to their family members who leave the church, and he said he has not. “I haven’t seen the program. I went there [the event], and there were no red flags at all.”
Hitchcock’s story is in the early stages of being made into a feature film. “They were getting Philip Seymour Hoffman to play me before his death.” Ironically, Hoffman played Lancaster Dodd in the 2012 film The Master, which appears to be closely modeled on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. Hoffman died in 2014. I asked if the studio has cast a replacement actor. “Yes, they told me they are trying to get John Travolta.”
Host Pat Harney spoke at the event on the topic of New Year’s resolutions.
Reverend Bob Swick gave the opening prayer.
The Flag Land Base choir provided musical entertainment for guests.
Guests enjoyed brunch in the Crystal Ballroom, prepared by Fort Harrison staff.
— Rod Keller
Thanks, Rod. And we have to say, Travolta in that role? The mind reels…
Bonus items from our tipsters
The Way to Happiness Foundation is taking your car as a donation!
Hey, it’s that EMT we saw last year, back for more tea at the Fort Harrison Hotel. He must really like Scientology tea!
Your proprietor had some fun with another curious podcaster, recording a show back on Election Day. It’s just been released, and so keep in mind this was before Hurricane Leah…
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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.
The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)
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