Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


Scientology's Worst Week Ever Finishes In Style



Oh, those wacky Taiwanese animators have really given us a treat this time. Their latest offering is this send-up of the launch of Lawrence Wright’s book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief. (And now in English!)

We can’t get enough of the tiny Tom Cruise jumping up and down on the couch.

And that’s not the only thing rounding out this amazing week of Scientology news. After the break, we have some other interesting nuggets to share with you.



OKLAHOMA STRIKES BACK Thanks to Odd Oklahoma, we learned today that State Senator Tom Ivester, who we interviewed back in August, has done what he promised and introduced legislation that will increase the regulation of Scientology’s drug rehab center, Narconon Arrowhead, which is in the eastern part of that state.

Perhaps the most important part of the bill is that it requires a facility like Narconon Arrowhead to be licensed through the state’s Board of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. As Bob Lobsinger explained to us last year, Narconon got around the Board by obtaining private licensing in questionable ways. Former Narconon Arrowhead president Luke Catton had told us that ever since, leaders of the facility were worried that the state would take a harder look at that licensing. Now, that day may finally be here.

We’re still waiting to hear the results of local and state investigations of the facility, which were launched in July after three patients died in a ninth-month period. All three deaths resulted in lawsuits.

OSA IN OVERDRIVE Scientology leader David Miscavige was no doubt aware of what a disaster Larry Wright’s book would be for the church (not to mention the broadcast of Nancy Many’s docudrama, which also added to this week’s woes for the church), but his attempts to disrupt the news cycle have almost completely backfired on him.

For public consumption, Miscavige apparently hoped that some propaganda on Monday about his “Ideal Org” program would gain some credibility by appearing at Atlantic magazine. Instead, it turned into a media meltdown that is still producing stories.

After that disaster, on Wednesday, Miscavige tried to get another advertorial into the Huffington Post. Instead, HuffPo writer Michael Calderone wrote about it.

But the church also works behind the scenes, and Samantha Domingo forwarded to us this e-mail that was recently sent to Scientologists. Note the distinct whiff of desperation…

We’ve been wondering lately about Marty Rathbun’s flair for self-promotion and whether the so-called “guru” of Bulverde, Texas is more content indulging in showmanship than he is in guiding his clients on the path to self-knowledge.

A look at Rathbun’s blog shows a couple of vanity books he has authored, a self-idolizing photo of himself – dressed in his classic Southern “good old boy” look – and a page from a magazine in which he appeared.

We’re curious if Rathbun uses these images as marketing tools to sell books or to attract media notoriety since he obviously likes the attention of hostile Scientology media outlets.

Or, perhaps he feels that they give him a stamp of approval – a measure of gravitas – among his clients, a group that is characterized by infighting, backbiting and whose loyalties seem to shift with the tide.

At any rate, Rathbun is a busy man these days – penning a new book, taking calls from the press and attacking L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology by linking to his sometime pals Tony Ortega and John Sweeney.

It does appear, however, that Rathbun has been trying to chill out of late as he discusses philosophy and literature in his blog postings, rambling entries that often run far afield from the altered tech that used to be at the core of his counseling.

Maybe he and wife Monique “Mosey” Rathbun, who many call Marty’s accomplice in his delivery of altered tech, are still getting used to their land-locked Texas compound, no doubt pining for the balmy breezes wafting off the Gulf outside their previous home where they could easily throw a line in the water or take a boat out on the bay.

Those seaside surroundings also served as a little bonus for counseling clients who, after an altered tech session, could unwind by joining their “guru” on a little fishing expedition.

Recreation wise, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to do in Bulverde. Then again, there’s always New Orleans, Rathbun’s favorite “steam valve release” destination and, after all, Mardi Gras is just around the corner.

But the Crescent City might just engender some bad memories for the couple.

While we don’t see any point in dredging up the past, we are reminded that the Big Easy was where they spent their honeymoon, a tawdry and embarrassing episode in which Rathbun wound up getting cuffed in an alley for drunk and disorderly conduct while Mosey drunkenly danced the night away in a Bourbon St. hole in the wall, getting groped by fellow patrons.

At any rate, even a “guru” deserves a break, and maybe that’s what Rathbun and Mosey are doing these days, just chilling. We can only imagine the domestic bliss in the Rathbun household as Mosey cooks the meals and does the dishes while her “hubby” pecks away on the computer, working on his next vanity publication masterpiece.

Where this leaves Rathbun’s clients is anyone’s guess.

Counseling wise, maybe they’ve gone off to find greener pastures and another “guru,” one who doesn’t seem so dispersed and who doesn’t require the fawning adulation that Marty Rathbun has come to expect. Rathbun always thought highly of himself – so highly that he often tends to look down on people.

It’s a phenomenon that some call “Going Hollywood,” when someone is so impressed with themselves it goes right to their heads.

In rural Texas it would probably be called “getting too big for your britches.”

It’s an attitude that’s easy to detect, and it could definitely be an impediment to attracting new or repeat counseling clients.

Even for OSA, that’s weak. But we liked being lumped in with John Sweeney, we have to admit.

OPPENHEIMER ENDANGERING JOURNALISTS? New York Times religion columnist Mark Oppenheimer has come a good distance, and he’s no longer writing flat-out apologia for Scientology like he was a few years ago. The piece he published today in The New Republic acknowledges Scientology’s reputation for abuse, and he even links to a couple of our pieces. For that we are grateful, and we do genuinely believe that Mark is trying to get things right.

He didn’t like Larry Wright’s book very much, but that’s not really important. What alarms us, however, is that he continues to push the idea that there’s some slice of happy suburban Scientologists whose stories never get told.

And even worse, Oppenheimer urges young college reporters to try and get that story by infiltrating Scientology, which Oppenheimer seems to think has never been done before.

Sigh. First of all, while it’s true that Wright’s book does focus a lot on Scientology’s celebrities, it’s astonishing that Oppenheimer claims that no one has focused on the lives of church members who are not celebrities. In fact, from the beginning of Scientology journalism, writers have taken pains to explain the everyday experience of church members, and we ourselves have focused more on publics and staff than we ever have on celebrities.

Oppenheimer wants to know what life is like for non-famous church members? Has he really somehow missed the stories (and not only by us) about people like Lori Hodgson, Meshell Little, Mareka James, Laura DeCrescenzo, Derek Bloch, Keith Relkin, the Headleys, Amy Scobee, Debbie Cook, Steve Poore, Karen de la Carriere, Astra Woodcraft, Jenna Miscavige Hill, John Brousseau, Simi Valley, Vance Woodward, and many more?

And we hear not only from people who have left Scientology, but we also hear from current church members — more and more all the time — who, at great risk to themselves, reach out to tell us about their own frightening experiences with interrogation, regging, and the prospect of disconnection. This is the reality of Scientologists today, that they are under incredible pressure to finance David Miscavige’s pet projects, which is producing deep disillusionment throughout the ranks.

But Oppenheimer is convinced — because he happens to know a couple of Scientologists in New Haven, apparently — that there is a great untold story about happy suburban church members. Well, perhaps he should actually do that story instead of the irresponsible thing he proposes.

He suggests that reporters — specifically those without much support, such as college reporters — go undercover to find out what is really happening in Scientology, a project he says has never been done.

Here’s the problem with that, Mark: First, it has already been done. Although Oppenheimer mentions both Paulette Cooper (in a link) and Janet Reitman, he fails to point out (or just doesn’t remember) that both of these writers began their investigations by attending Scientology courses without revealing their real identities.

And is Oppenheimer really ignorant of the amazing job of infiltration that Mark Ebner pulled off for Spy magazine in 1996? In one of the best stories ever written about Scientology, Ebner joined the religion in order to write about it, and no, Mark, he didn’t find a happy group of suburban religionists whose existence was being ignored by the press.

Also, Oppenheimer may not realize that every year, at least three or four college students around the country do exactly what he suggests, and they go down to their local Scientology org in order to take the free personality test or stress test, and then come away, invariably freaked out by the spooky pressure to purchase courses. It’s stunt journalism, it always ends the same way, and it’s never really very helpful.

But the most alarming thing about Oppenheimer’s suggestion is that it might actually put a young journalist, who doesn’t have the support of a major news organization, in harm’s way. Reporting on Scientology still contains risks. It’s easy for Oppenheimer to suggest that a young reporter put him or herself in the crosshairs of Scientology’s private investigators and dirty-tricks operatives. But we don’t recommend it.

UPDATE: We just talked to Mark Oppenheimer, who assures us that he has no relationship of any kind with Scientology official John Carmichael. In this post, one of our commenters suggested that Carmichael and Oppenheimer were college classmates or had some other close relationship which put into question Oppenheimer’s coverage of Scientology. (Oppenheimer is the leading religion columnist at the New York Times.) Carmichael is in his 60s and Oppenheimer is only 38, and we doubted that this was true. Today, Oppenheimer called us to confirm that he had talked to Carmichael for a story some five years ago, but otherwise he was nothing but a story source. We hope this note will help end the rumor that they had some other connection. Although we had some criticisms of Oppenheimer’s recent New Republic story, we have much respect for the work he does.

PS: Oppenheimer also was very gracious about our criticisms (always the sign of a real pro), and he explained that he still feels, from a social science perspective, that what’s missing is the kind of immersive embedding that a scholar or reporter could do by hanging out for a year or so with average, non-high-ranking Scientologists to really soak up their experience. We can see how that would be valuable, but we still think it’s important for someone with that aim to have the backing of a major organization rather than a college newspaper or a zine. We may disagree on some points, but it was a very fruitful discussion.

Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email