Hey, that’s us in Alex Gibney’s film, ‘Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,’ which you might have seen in the theater or on HBO. The movie was based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book with a similar title, and it features eight former Scientologists telling their stories as Gibney puts together an impressive narrative about the entire history of the church.
We were fortunate to be included as well, and we’re grateful to Alex and Larry for the opportunity to help fill in some details about the fascinating stories we cover here about Scientology at the Underground Bunker.
So we thought we’d provide a landing page of links to get you going on further reading to satisfy your curiosity about all things Scientology that might have captured your interest in Going Clear.
L. Ron Hubbard, the man. Alex Gibney found amazing new material from Sara Northrup, Hubbard’s second wife, about what it was like to be the object of his affection (and his mania). You’ll find some of it in Lawrence Wright’s book around page 46 and following. Here at the Bunker, recently we’ve been looking at the character of L. Ron Hubbard as reflected in his academic record, what his friends thought of him, and how he was seen by his literary agent, a former lover, and his former medical officer.
L. Ron Hubbard and the occult. Gibney’s movie does a great job reviewing Hubbard’s post-war fascination with Aleister Crowley, Jack Parsons, and the Ordo Templi Orientis. (Gibney found some wild footage of Marjorie Cameron getting up to some eerie stuff on film.) Lawrence Wright handles the sex magick experiments by Hubbard and Parsons really well in his book. We talked to Jon Atack about it, and Ohio State University professor Hugh Urban made sure we were aware of his really great work showing how much Scientology owes to Hubbard’s post-war occult hijinks.
Dianetics. If someone tells you they picked up L. Ron Hubbard’s 1950 masterpiece Dianetics and couldn’t put it down, don’t believe them. Hubbard’s book is a turgid mess that is filled with midcentury madness, and we slogged through every page of it with the help of former Scientologist Vance Woodward, whose good humor kept us from shoving knitting needles into our eyes. This is a very, very bad book, and if you really want to know what’s in it, you may find our series a lot more useful and fun than the old man’s painful prose and preposterous “science.” For bonus Hubbard book fun, check out the time we read his strangest work of all time, “History of Man,” with the help of biologist blogger PZ Myers.
Jason Beghe. Jason was the first Scientology celebrity to defect and then go public, posting a damning condemnation of Scientology on YouTube in 2008, three years before another celebrity, Paul Haggis, was profiled in the New Yorker. We got to know Jason in 2008 when he made his very public exit from the church, and we explained in a recent piece how Beghe’s subsequent cross-country search to find other former members led directly to the wave of exposes which subsequently showed up in the press.
Tom DeVocht. Tom’s role in the Sea Org was to oversee building and renovation projects at Scientology’s headquarters in California and Florida. During that time, he became very close to Scientology leader David Miscavige, and watched as Miscavige had Tom Cruise’s most private information from confessional auditing sessions delivered to him every day. He tells us even more about the relationship between Miscavige and Cruise than he revealed in the film.
Sara Goldberg. Sara was introduced to readers by the great Joe Childs of the Tampa Bay Times, who told her full story. But for our countdown to the movie’s airing, Sara shared with us previously unpublished documents and other details that helped fill in the background to what you see on the screen.
Paul Haggis. Paul was the subject of Lawrence Wright’s New Yorker profile as well as his book, Going Clear. But for us, Paul wrote one of the clearest expressions of what the Scientology experience is like and how difficult it is to read. If you haven’t seen it, you really must.
Mark “Marty” Rathbun. We’ve denuded entire forests writing about Marty Rathbun over the years. But in our countdown to the airing of Going Clear on HBO, we asked him about how far he’s come from the days he first started his blog in 2009 and over time re-examined his relationship with the ideas of L. Ron Hubbard. His answer may really stun you.
Mike Rinder. We’ve written extensively about Rinder, the former top spokesman for the church. We have a piece about his background which includes a series of videos we took about his experience in The Hole and escaping Scientology. He also helped us decipher a bizarre memo written by Scientology leader David Miscavige just before Rinder walked away in 2007.
Sylvia “Spanky” Taylor. We’ve known Spanky a long time, and we were thrilled to see her featured in Lawrence Wright’s book and Alex Gibney’s film. She agreed to talk to us to fill in additional details about her life story and experience in Scientology, and she saved for us some really fascinating new facts.
Hana Eltringham Whitfield. Hana was the Deputy Commodore, the woman who L. Ron Hubbard trusted to captain his vessels as he ran Scientology from sea from 1967 to 1975. As we revealed in a story about her, she plans a new book to discuss the “family cult” she was in before Scientology, and then her experiences as an interventionist (1987-2004) helping others escape the church.
David Miscavige and Tom Cruise. One person whose knowledge is key to many of the things in Going Clear, but who doesn’t appear in it and isn’t even mentioned, is the last person to escape from the secretive Hemet base and speak publicly. His name is John Brousseau, and he worked closely with Cruise and was at one time Miscavige’s brother-in-law. No one knows more about the relationship of those two enigmatic men, and he told us the entire, dramatic saga in a two-part piece we did for the Voice in 2012. Please give it a look: Part 1, Part 2. You might also look at our story about how Miscavige spied on Tom Cruise, as well as our open letter to Tom. Also, in Going Clear, you’ll see your proprietor talk about a full 35-minute celebration of Tom Cruise from the 2004 IAS gala which includes the notorious 9-minute black turtleneck interview of Tom. You can see the full Cruise hoopla in this post at the Voice.
Child labor. We hear it all the time. If Scientology is taking advantage of children, why doesn’t someone do something about it? You got us. All we’ve been doing is investigating cases like the one that’s been going on for years in Los Angeles: Laura DeCrescenzo is suing Scientology for the way she was treated as a child in the church’s “Sea Org.” At 12 years old, after signing the Sea Org’s billion-year contract (yes, you read that right), she was working 98-hour weeks. At 13, she moved up to an adult schedule of 112-hour weeks. Her take home pay was standard Sea Org — about 50 dollars a week. Documents in her lawsuit (which Scientology went to the US Supreme Court to keep out of the case, but failed) show that she was punished for missing her family — at twelve years old. At 17, while still technically a child, Laura got pregnant, and claims that she was coerced into having an abortion (having children is against the rules in the Sea Org). Laura’s trial starts on December 7, 2015, and we hope at that point we’re not the only news organization in America following the ups and downs of her case.
Disconnection. One of the most emotional stories in Going Clear is the story of Sara Goldberg and the choice forced on her by the Church of Scientology regarding her two children. Please read the original telling of that story by Joe Childs in the Tampa Bay Times. It’s one of his best. For our stories about Scientology’s toxic policy of “disconnection,” check out our piece about then-spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded as he pressures a church member about never seeing his mother again if he doesn’t quit his job and disconnect from his boss. We had a round-up of other examples of disconnection that we’ve covered over the years. And a great story when a family defeats disconnection, and another family defies it.
The FBI investigation. Going Clear presents a theory that the 2009-2010 FBI investigation into Scientology human trafficking was upended when the lawsuit brought against the church by Marc and Claire Headley was dismissed on appeal. We understand why Lawrence Wright explains things that way, but we have an alternative theory to what actually caused a problem for the FBI that prompted higher ups at the Justice Department to end the probe. We think it has to do with an FBI special agent trying to serve justice in a way that ran afoul of the rules. Here, read our story and see if you agree with us.
Oh wow, there’s so much more. Don’t hesitate to ask, in the comments at our blog, your questions about Scientology and this film. Our readers are super knowledgeable and love to answer questions.