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Scientology in 2012: John Sweeney, Paulette Cooper, and More Look Back on a Year of Crisis for the Church

SweeneyChurchOfFearWith the year winding down, we thought we’d ask several fellow Scientology watchers to give us their thoughts on how the church fared in 2012. Here are their responses, and we’re looking forward to reading your reflections about 2012 in the comments. Tell us what were your highlights, and how you think 2012 fits in the 60-year history of the church.

First up, BBC journalist John Sweeney, who has a book coming out on January 7, The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology.

John Sweeney: Five years on since I lost my temper so spectacularly with the Church, the world’s take on Scientology seems to have changed beyond recognition. Back in 2007, the Church’s power to intimidate people was strong and I felt, if not alone, then there were not very many people who would take it on, openly. By 2012, that has changed. The Church’s apostles, Tom Cruise and John Travolta, are under pressure as never before to explain their support for Leader David Miscavige. The number of people leaving has become a flood. In 2013, three books on the Church will come out, but Lawrence Wright’s publisher in the UK has pulled out — proof that the Church, though wounded, remains powerful. My book, The Church Of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology, will be published, come hell or high water. The Church says that I am psychotic, etc, etc, etc…
[Ed. note: We confirmed that, indeed, Wright’s UK publisher has decided not to publish the book there.]



Paulette Cooper:

In twenty-twelve the org was eroding
L Ron’s faith is now finally imploding
Adherents are fleeing
At last we are seeing
A cult in the midst of exploding!

Tom Cruise is playing Jack Reacher
He failed as the Church’s main preacher
Katie, Suri are free
They no longer are three
Even Miscavige can no longer reach her

Ortega has blogged all the dirt
He’s keeping the masses alert
His blogs are exciting
And others are writing
Soon everyone left will desert!

— By Paulette Cooper & (hubby) Paul Noble
[Cooper needs no introduction for readers of this blog. For those who need a refresher, there’s this.]


Mark Bunker: I really think this has been the tipping point year for corporate Scientology. Debbie Cook’s e-mail blast sent shock waves that are still reverberating through the group’s membership. More and more people are standing up and saying they won’t support the organization. Marty Rathbun deserves a lot of credit for giving a safe space for these believers to come forward. Those of us on the outside of the group can’t reach those believers but he can. We critics have made it nearly impossible for Scientology to recruit new members. Now the true believers are starting to look at the many disturbing outpoints and finding it possible to look at “entheta” and walk away from the organization. And a number of people I have interviewed in the past two years have since contacted me to say, “Look, I’ve been reading more and seeing that it isn’t just Miscavige that is the problem. Hubbard set these abuses in motion.” The onion layers are peeling away. And so are Slappy’s options for the future.
[Bunker, dubbed “Wise Beard Man” by the Anonymous movement, is working on a documentary about Scientology, “Knowledge Report.”]


Mark Ebner: 2012 sent Scientology into rudderless free-fall. The cultic dreams of digital expansion are stuff of Anonymous fodder. There are too many secrets out, too many vocal “apostates” and too much blood on the hands of adherents and remaining executives for the cult to be recognizable in the next five years.
[Longtime Scientology journalist Mark Ebner writes at Hollywood Interrupted.]


Jonny Jacobsen: For me, the most significant development of 2012 is not any one story, but who’s covering it. This year, the British press finally got its act together. Granted, they still do the usual celebrity trivia. But now they also report on the abusive conditions at the Int Base in California; harrowing tales from former members; and deaths at the Narconon centres that use Hubbard’s quack treatment programme for addicts. They may not be at the cutting edge of coverage: a lot of what they run is recycled from earlier US stories. And they may have arrived late to the battle. But at least they have finally arrived. It’s a measure of Scientology’s dwindling powers that despite Britain’s still-draconian libel laws they can no longer intimidate journalists there.
[Jacobsen writes about Scientology from Paris, where he operates the Infinite Complacency blog.]


Steve Cannane: 2012 has been a downstat year for the Church of Scientology in Australia. Census figures show only 2,163 Australians now identify as Scientologists. The ‘world’s fastest growing religion’ is now outranked by Jedis and Wiccans. While Pantheism increased by 35 percent and Rastafarianism rose by 30 percent in the latest Census, Scientology dropped by 13.7 percent. Believers are jumping ship, and recruitment has dried up. You could now safely fit all the practising Scientologists in Australia into your local scout hall.
[Cannane reports on Scientology for the Australian ABC network.]


Dave Touretzky: This year has been so full of surprises, it’s hard to predict which will prove most significant in the long run. People tend to forget the many crises Scientology has overcome in the past. Paulette Cooper’s 1971 book The Scandal of Scientology was a crisis. The 1977 federal raid was a crisis. The 1990 LA Times series was a crisis. The Lisa McPherson death in 1995 was a crisis. Marty Rathbun setting up his own brainwashing shop in 2009 was a crisis. Yet DM is still on his throne, opening new Ideal Orgs around the globe. So while I’m tremendously grateful to see Narconon finally getting some attention from law enforcement in 2012, anyone expecting to see more Narconons closed down isn’t properly crediting Scientology’s persistence and ample resources. One thing is clear though: no one is afraid of Scientology any longer. Its own PI’s turned around and sued them. The press publishes whatever it likes, both about the church and its launghingstock celebrities Cruise, Travolta, and Alley. Meanwhile, Jason Beghe and Nazanin Boniadi are healthy and still working — and Milton Katselis is still dead. I think the most sigificant thing in 2012 will turn out to be something we can’t observe directly today: the accelerated decline in ordinary membership. Staff who have left or been offloaded; publics who simply stopped showing up for events or responding to fundraising drives, or who have died off and not been replaced. With no ability to recruit quality members, Scientology’s time is inexorably running out. Tick tock, tick tock. DM may yet die on his throne, but his palace is becoming a very lonely place.
[Carnegie Mellon University professor Dave Touretzky hosts voluminous web pages of Scientology information at his website.]


Jamie DeWolf: With high level defections, scandals, dirty revelations and a mass exodus of members, the “Church” has been hammered with a non stop barrage of bad press, and the media has declared open season. The world can smell blood in the water and the wizard behind the curtain is running out of smoke. All across the world, the opposition is strengthening, refusing to get punked and shoved around by this billionaire bully. When you have no more secrets to sell, then it just becomes a VIP club for the L. Ron book club. In the last ten years, if someone was going to write a story about the church, the reporter had to damn near wear a bulletproof vest and prepare for the worst. Now the Church is being relegated to the dustbin of pop culture mockery, with every dark corner catching a blast of spotlight. People ask me if the Church will ever go away, I tell them they have too much money to ever vanish, but you can only pimp the promises of a ghost for so long before people prefer a different mirage. The king is dead, the high court has disbanded but the bulldog is still barking back. I’m not stupid enough not to respect how dangerous they are, but this will be the year that we all heard the first rumbles of an avalanche.
[DeWolf is L. Ron Hubbard’s great-grandson. Read about his performance art career at]


Mary McConnell: 2012 has been the worst year on record for the Church of Scientology and its front groups like Narconon. It can’t erase the Internet, the incriminating court records, the fervent media attention and reporting, nor the enmity it’s created by its practices. 2012 was first of many more years of ‘Truth Revealed.’
[McConnell keeps an eagle-eyed watch on Narconon with others at the Reaching for the Tipping Point forum.]


Scott Pilutik: Scientology endured an astounding amount of erosion and humiliation this past year. Perhaps Narconon lost the most ground for Scientology in 2012 though, thanks largely to David Love. Where it once slithered under the radar of city/state/county officials, Narconon suddenly finds itself on the wrong end of embarrassingly public wrongful death lawsuits. Katie Holmes popped Tom Cruise’s balloon of invincibility, and David Miscavige’s with it, by employing some pretty awesome divorce-fu, and making Scientology central to the dispute. Ex-Mrs Cruise-auditioner Nazanin Boniadi told and rapped all to complete the emasculation of Scientology’s most visible celebrity. Debbie Cook had herself a magnificent day in court at David Miscavige’s great expense, and two former Church PIs emerged from the shadows to tell us what they’ve been up to for the last few decades, namely earning millions to stalk would-be LRH successor Pat Broeker. Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun coming to Ken Dandar’s rescue in Florida shone an ugly light on the integrity of the entire Pinellas County judicial system, which continues to reek of Scientology’s taint. Finally, The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s thinly veiled take on LRH’s early years, was not only a great, Oscar-worthy film, but its very existence signaled a sea change to other filmmakers that the topic of Scientology is now fair game (pun completely intended).
[Manhattan lawyer Scott Pilutik has been a Scientology watcher for nearly 20 years.]


John P.: 2012 goes down as the epic year in the decline of the cult, not because of all the bad stuff that happened (though there was plenty of that, starting with Debbie Cook’s e-mail on the very first day of the year), but because Scientology’s world turned inside out: virtually everything the cult did to try to deal with reality in 2012 not only failed to work, but backfired spectacularly. In other words, the cult is left without a clue in how to function in the changed reality of the outside world going forward. My predictions for 2013: I doubt there will be as many epic headlines as in 2012. But I think the decline of the cult will become even more readily apparent in the stupid decisions coming out of Int Base. We will probably also see some economically-related news with evidence that the financial condition of the cult is weaker than we have previously thought. I doubt there will be a landmark event like a coup overthrowing Miscavige or a revocation of the tax exemption, but I think there will be plenty of time to sit back and enjoy some popcorn. And caek.
[Underground Bunker commenter John P. sent in his thoughts from a private jet.]


Richard Behar: I’d say 2012 was the year that Scientology’s odious leaders had to swallow the painful fact that an investigative reporter is now tracking them on a daily basis. Keep it up, Tony.
[Behar wrote the 1991 TIME magazine cover story, “Scientology: The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power.”]

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