Tony Ortega is the executive editor of The Raw Story (RawStory.com, @RawStory), and was formerly the editor of The Village Voice. He has written about Scientology since 1995. He’s currently working on a book about the church, and while he toils away on it he continues to monitor breaking developments around the world from an undisclosed location in an underground bunker he shares with four cats and one of them wrinkly Shar Pei dogs. Despite his super-secret security protections, you can still reach him pretty easily by sending him a message at tonyo94 AT gmail.com (Drop him a line if you’d like to get an e-mail whenever a new story is posted.) Or check in at his Facebook author page. Or follow him at Twitter: @TonyOrtega94
Here are some of the questions we tend to get from readers…
Why is this site called “The Underground Bunker?”
When we wrote about Scientology at The Village Voice, we jokingly began referring to writing from an underground bunker. It proved to be a popular running gag, so when we left the Voice and started an independent site, we thought it would be a familiar name for our regular readers.
Why do you use “we” to refer to yourself?
It’s a columnist’s conceit we use out of habit and for no good reason except that it amuses us.
Why do you write about Scientology?
Because it interests us. We started writing about Scientology with our first cover story for the Phoenix New Times in November, 1995, and that experience only whetted our appetite for more. Some people cover Congress, other people cover the mafia, we cover Scientology. It’s a fascinating story that is only getting more interesting with time, and we enjoy being on the front row as this adventure unfolds.
Were you ever involved with Scientology?
Does Scientology hassle you?
The church, through its private investigators, has tried to make reporting on it difficult for many journalists. It’s an occupational hazard.
You’re very critical of Scientology? Why?
We don’t like bullies.
Is Scientology a cult?
We find “cult” to be a completely meaningless word. At other websites, discussions about Scientology end up devolving into endless argument about words like “cult” or “religion.” At the Bunker, we call Scientology a church because that’s what Scientologists call it and because we’re more interested in what Scientology does than what it says about itself.
Was the 2005 South Park episode about Xenu really what Scientologists believe?
Yes and no. An important point to keep in mind is that Scientology is a system of increasingly expensive courses, and only a minority of church members reach the highest levels of advancement. A church spokeswoman once told us that only about 10 percent of Scientologists reach the “OT” levels, which include the story of Xenu the galactic overlord (in “OT III”) that South Park had fun with. And even for those Scientologists who do reach OT III and higher, they spend only a very short time considering the Xenu material, and for the most part it has almost nothing to do with their overall experience in the church. (The Xenu story leads to church members then exorcising “body thetans” — disembodied alien souls which are attached to each one of us — and spend years and huge amounts of money to do so. Body Thetans are much more a part of the upper-level Scientology experience than Xenu, which is dealt with only briefly.) So while the Xenu material is undoubtedly a striking part of Scientology’s esoteric system, and one that rightly does cast doubt on everything else L. Ron Hubbard came up with, when Scientologists tell you that Xenu has nothing to do with their experience in the church, they’re probably telling the truth.
When did Scientology, as a church, first begin?
L. Ron Hubbard created the first Scientology church corporation in Camden, New Jersey in December, 1953. A few months later, in February 1954, he had followers create a Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. Most newspapers refer to 1954 as the church’s founding, but 1953 is more accurate, so that’s what we use.
How many wives and children did L. Ron Hubbard have?
L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) was married three times and had seven children, four of whom are alive today. Hubbard married Margaret “Polly” Grubb (1907-1963) in 1933 and they were divorced in 1947. They had a son, L. Ron Hubbard Jr. or “Nibs,” (1934-1991), and a daughter, Katherine, known as Katie or Kay (1936-2010). Hubbard married Sara Elizabeth “Betty” Northrup (1924-1997) in 1946 (while still married to Polly Grubb) and they were divorced in 1951. They had a daughter, Alexis, born 1950. Hubbard married Mary Sue Whipp (1931-2002) in 1952. They had two sons and two daughters — Diana, b. 1952, Quentin (1954-1976), Suzette, b. 1955, and Arthur, b. 1958.
Did L. Ron Hubbard really say before he started Scientology that the only way to get rich is to start a religion?
Yes, and here’s our story about it.
Did the FBI really investigate Scientology for human trafficking and nearly raid Scientology’s International Base in 2010?
Yes, it did. We talked to numerous informants who worked with the FBI, and who said they were asked if they would ride along with agents on the raid to help them identify locations and people.
Why did the FBI give up on that idea and drop the investigation?
We have a theory about that.
After the FBI dropped its investigation, is it true that Homeland Security then begin an investigation?
Yes, we broke that story, but all indications are that it has also dropped its investigation.
Did you really break the story that Leah Remini left Scientology?
Yes, we printed our story about that on Monday, July 8, 2013, and the rest of the media caught up to the news when the New York Post put Leah on its front page on Thursday, July 11.
Have you actually read Dianetics, L. Ron Hubbard’s 1950 book that started his movement?
Cover to cover. We blogged that experience with former Scientologist and author Vance Woodward.
What is your book about?
We haven’t announced the subject yet, on advice from our literary agent. But we hope to reveal that soon.