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Scientology’s 2012 In Review: Debbie Cook Starts January Off With a BANG!

Right at midnight on New Year's Eve, we posted a primer on Scientology, starring LRH

Right at midnight on New Year’s Eve, we posted a primer on Scientology, starring LRH

It’s time to look back at this amazing year for Scientology watchers, and over the next several days we’re going to refresh your memory about what got our attention in 2012.

Of course, one of the things that made this year so memorable was the level of involvement of our commenting community, and we hope you have plenty to say as we look back at the stories that mattered in the past twelve months.

January sure started with a bang this year. At midnight, we put up a primer about Scientology that we’d been working on for weeks, then sat back to sip a bit of champagne to bring in the new year. Minutes later, our e-mail inbox started going crazy. Our regular tipsters were peppering us with messages — had we seen the mindblowing letter that just went out to thousands of Scientologists from a former executive named Debbie Cook?

As tempted as we were to write about it at that moment, we figured most of our readers were, like us, half in the bag after a night of celebrating. We decided to wait for the morning to come.

At a little before noon the next day, we put up the first press story about Cook and the fuss that was being kicked up by her e-mail. That was followed by much more as we took a closer look at her career in the church, and provided lengthy annotation to her complex message (which turned out to be one of our favorite pieces all year).

For seventeen years, Cook had run Scientology’s mecca, its spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, known as the “Flag Land Base” or simply “Flag.” Then she had left her job and had moved to Texas. Now, suddenly, she was speaking out in a lengthy message about how David Miscavige was leading the church away from the intentions of founder L. Ron Hubbard. Her complaint was shocking to many church members who held her in high respect, and found her arguments to be persuasive. We’re still running into people who have left the church because they read her e-mail and stopped to think about the way Miscavige is running things.


But January was about much more than Debbie Cook. It was also the month when we revealed the mindblowing renderings and architectural drawings for what’s being put inside Scientology’s “Super Power Building” in Clearwater, Florida. The church has raised well over $100 million for the edifice and broke ground for it in 1998 and it’s still not open. But what is going inside such an elaborate project? In a number of stories, we provided what is still the only detailed look at plans for all floors of the building, including such bizarre contraptions as the “oiliness table” and “smell wall” and “pain table,” which quickly became favorites among our readers. We also revealed some secrets of the Super Power process itself. One routine has an auditor asking a Scientologist, over and over and over, for hours: “Where would you be safe?” That’s all there is to it, and a church member will pay a thousand dollars an hour for the privilege.

Another big story from January: We learned from former church executives Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder, and Claire Headley that Scientology leader David Miscavige had used Tom Cruise’s own personal assistant to spy on the actor for more than ten years!

Also in January:

— We learned about Australian Scientology spokeswoman Virginia Stewart’s sad obfuscations about the church and disconnection (publicly, she said it didn’t exist; privately, she’d disconnected from her own father for more than 22 years).

— We looked into questions about the bizarre death of Flo Barnett, mother-in-law to church leader David Miscavige, and interviewed the coroner’s investigator and sheriff’s detective, neither of whom had ever been asked about it by the press before.

— We wrote about the death of Ann Tidman — also known as Annie Broeker — who had been one of the last people to be with L. Ron Hubbard when he died. Despite her enduring fame inside the Scientology world, her death was kept secret for six months, even from her own family.

And finally, on the last day of the month, we learned that Debbie Cook was being sued by the church for that e-mail she’d sent out on New Year’s Eve. It was a sign that things were only starting to heat up for the church in this wild, wild year.


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