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John Joseph, 1955-2014: A Scientologist, and a friend to the Underground Bunker


We knew him only as “Plain Old Thetan.”

He began communicating with us during our Village Voice days, and quickly became one of our most productive and most trusted sources about what was happening inside the Church of Scientology.

On Thursday, Plain Old Thetan — whose real name was John Joseph — died after suffering complications from appendicitis. He was 59.

We spoke last night to his sister, Mary Palazzo, and one of his best friends in Tucson, and they helped us learn more about a man we had found so helpful and fun to communicate with.


John Joseph was born on June 1, 1955 in St. Louis, Missouri, the oldest of six children to a surgeon and his wife who in 1960 took their growing family to Tucson, Arizona.

“We lived out in the country. My mom used to shoo wild burros out of our front yard,” Mary remembers. And with only dirt roads, when it rained it became impassable. “Dad would sometimes have to stay the night at the hospital.”

Like his siblings, John was raised Catholic, and went to parochial elementary and high schools. He then was awarded a scholarship in computer science that took him to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

After graduating, he landed a job with Honeywell and moved to Southern California. It was while living there that he first got involved with Scientology.

“He would bring books home at the holidays and share them with us,” Mary says. “We knew he was a Scientologist, and everyone was pretty much OK with it. Although our parents were a little awkward with it.”

At some point, he moved from Honeywell to Executive Software International, Inc., the company owned by Scientologist Craig Jensen that became Diskeeper and today is known as Condusiv Technologies. An online database suggests that John steadily made progress on Scientology’s “Bridge,” and had completed most, if not all, of the “Operating Thetan” levels by the early 2000s.

By 2004 or 2005, Mary says, John was back in Tucson and was no longer working for Jensen. Then, in 2006, her brother was drinking an “energy” drink at a hardware store when he had a stroke.

He recovered rapidly, leaving him with only a slight limp, but Mary says it was a sign that John’s health was poor and he didn’t take very good care of himself. He did, however, purchase a house around that time, and part of it was dedicated to his passion for Scientology.

It was also around this time that TJ first met John, at Scientology’s Tucson mission. (TJ asked us not to include his last name in this story.) We’ve heard that at most Scientology missions or orgs, the “Sunday Service” is put on mostly for public relations purposes, but in Tucson John put a lot of effort into them, with plenty of interesting detail. And that only got him in trouble, eventually.

“Some of the members decided that what he was doing was out-tech. And with no warning they came in one Sunday and decided that the service was cancelled. They wrote up a report about what he was about to do. He was given a copy of the report and was told to meet with someone in California. It was very vague. I did get to read it,” TJ says.

Like other longtime Scientologists who had joined during a different era, John was still passionate about the subject while he had increasing criticisms about how leader David Miscavige was changing things.

By 2010, John was ready to begin speaking out. In February of that year, he made his first post at Steve Hall’s website and called himself “Plain Old Thetan.”

“Plain Old Thetan, the author of this condition assignment, is a Scientologist nearing the end of his body’s lifespan,” he wrote to introduce the piece, in which he assigned Miscavige to the condition of “treason.”

It was a very popular post with Hall’s readers.

John had become an “Independent Scientologist,” and at some point was declared a “suppressive person” by the church. In other words, he still found value in the ideas of L. Ron Hubbard, but he’d made a break with the official organization run by Miscavige. After making his debut at Steve Hall’s site, Plain Old Thetan became a regular contributor at the Independent Scientology site, Possibly Helpful Advice.

And he still had enough contacts inside the church that he was a valuable source for us, alerting us to fascinating stories and providing loads of information from 2012 to early this year.

He was always helpful, pleasant, and complimentary, and we knew that anything he told us we could take to the bank.

“He was an asshole, but I liked him,” TJ tells us with a laugh. “He was very straightforward, and he’d tell you the way he saw it.” If he could be acerbic, TJ says, John could surprise him with his kindness. “I left my keys at work one time, and I wasn’t sure where they were. He dropped everything, picked me up, and drove me around to find my keys, like he had nothing else to do,” he says. “He took my dog in when I had to get rid of it or be evicted.”

At one point, TJ says, he was pulled aside at the Tucson mission and told that John had been declared an SP. “I had to report to the church that I was going to disconnect from him. I didn’t even answer them. And I haven’t communicated with them since then,” he says.

We told TJ that it was rotten luck that John had trouble with his appendix.

“His health was crap when I met him. He’d had diabetes and a stroke. His blood sugar was always high. When the appendicitis hit, the tissue was very thin. They tried to remove it, and it ruptured.”

Mary describes multiple hospital stays as John’s conditioned worsened. It was TJ, she says, who called her after John’s initial surgery to tell her that something wasn’t right and that she needed to come over. Multiple infections after his surgeries overwhelmed John’s system as his organs shut down. He died on Thursday at a little after 3 pm, Mary says.

We asked her if there’s going to be a memorial service of some kind.

“I don’t think he’d want a Catholic ceremony,” she says. “John had told me, before this happened, that he wanted his ashes shot up into space. I don’t know how that’s going to be done, but we’re going to do it. His ashes are going into space somehow.”

We hope she finds a way.


Jeff Harris answers Scientology in the Georgia class-action lawsuit

As you’ll recall, Jeff Harris, the Atlanta attorney who handled the Patrick Desmond wrongful death lawsuit for the Desmond family, followed up that lawsuit (which settled) with a class-action involving several other former patients of Scientology’s drug rehab facility in the area, Narconon Georgia.

That rehab center closed down in a deal with the state amid allegations of insurance and credit card fraud, and it looked like a sitting duck for Harris’s lawsuit. But the class-action lawsuit was dismissed in February by federal district judge Steve C. Jones.

Harris appealed, Scientology answered the appeal, and now Harris has filed a response to Scientology’s answer. Give it a look and let us know if you think he’s got a shot of resurrecting this suit in the federal courts.

In other legal news, the Tampa Bay Times reported Thursday that a federal appeals court has called for a new damages trial in the case of the Narconon facility that is trying to expand in Hernando County, Florida. A jury had decided that the county had discriminated against the facility when it refused to allow it to expand, but then only awarded the Narconon $74,000 in damages instead of the $6.2 million it asked for. Now that amount will be the subject of a retrial.

The Narconon facility is on land owned by Toucan Partners, who was also a party in the dispute. But for some reason, the Tampa Bay Times never mentions that Toucan is really Kurt Feshbach, a prominent and longtime Scientologist who is fascinating for several reasons, which we’ve written about in the past.

And one additional legal note, regarding Monique Rathbun’s harassment lawsuit against Scientology in Texas: Monique requested additional time to file her response to Scientology’s anti-SLAPP appeal. Her request was granted by the Texas Third Court of Appeals, and she’ll now be filing her response by July 31.


Marc Headley describes rancid tacos!

Another fun podcast brought to you by Jeffrey Augustine…



Posted by Tony Ortega on July 5, 2014 at 07:30

E-mail your tips and story ideas to or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43

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