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Q&A with Mike Rinder: Understanding the sudden changes at Scientology’s LA complex

Mike_Rinder_2ALSO, SEE BELOW: Jonny Jacobsen gives us a full report on the European Court of Human Rights decision regarding Scientology in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Mike Rinder was once Scientology’s top spokesman and oversaw the organization’s legal affairs. He left Scientology in 2007 after being held for about a year in its notorious internal prison for executives, “The Hole.” Now he writes about Scientology at his own website, and his long involvement in the organization ensures him a steady stream of insider accounts of what’s happening in the church.

And none seemed bigger than the reports he’s been getting over the last few days regarding some sudden changes in LA. We’ve also been receiving reports, and we thought it would be a good idea to talk with Rinder and try to break down what’s happened in a way that is not only comprehensible to longtime Scientologists.

Here was our exchange…

THE BUNKER: Mike, over the last couple of days at your blog, you’ve been reporting some pretty interesting changes that were announced at Scientology’s headquarters in Los Angeles. We want to make sure a general audience can get a grasp on what has happened.

Let’s get some terms down. The “Big Blue” complex in Los Angeles — known overall as “PAC Base” for Pacific Area Command — is actually made up of several different units. There’s a regular “Class V org” known as LA Org, which went “Ideal” some years ago. This is the kind of “Ideal Org” that you find in other cities — such as Portland, Phoenix, and the Twin Cities.


But PAC also has more high-level entities. The American Saint Hill Organization (ASHO) is run by the Sea Org and is supposed to deliver the vaunted “Saint Hill Special Briefing Course” which was an important step to “going Clear.” And then there’s the Advanced Org (AOLA), another entity run by Sea Org workers, where wealthy Scientoloigists pay the big bucks for the Operating Thetan levels, at least the ones they can do before they have to go to Clearwater, Florida and then the cruise ship Freewinds for the really top secret stuff. And recently, the entire complex was undergoing an upgrade to become the “Ideal Pacifica Bridge.” What else should we know before the changes happened?


Our quick and crude map of PAC base, showing the relative positions of LA Org, ASHO, and AOLA. Sunset Boulevard is on top, Fountain Avenue at the bottom, and the north-south street in the middle is "L. Ron Hubbard Way."

Our quick and crude map of PAC base, showing the relative positions of LA Org, ASHO, and AOLA. Sunset Boulevard is on top, Fountain Avenue at the bottom, and the north-south street in the middle is “L. Ron Hubbard Way.”

MIKE RINDER: The important thing to know is that LA Org and ASHO have been struggling to keep their lights on. As the campaign to upgrade things to the Ideal Pacifica Bridge was stumbling on, it was becoming apparent to anyone that the place was in trouble. Something drastic had to change. Miscavige knew that after the big announcement of the “Ideal PAC” there are too many people in LA seeing the place increasingly resemble a morgue.

THE BUNKER: So Miscavige has made a dramatic move, seemingly out of nohwere?

MIKE: A message had to be sent. He dismissed the Commanding Officers of AOLA and ASHO and had them sent to Flag (the complex in Clearwater, Florida) to get them out of sight. No doubt they’ll be pulling weeds at the Hacienda, the apartment complex where Miscavige himself has an apartment that he uses when he’s in town.

But he’s also moved in 230 Sea Org workers to take over LA Org, the “Ideal Org” which was formerly run by non-Sea Org staff.

So now all three entities — AOLA, ASHO, and LA Org, are “Sea Org Orgs.”

Also, ASHO and LA Org used to be on split schedules, known in Scientology parlance as “Day” for the day crew, and “Foundation” for the night crew. While replacing the workers at both places, Miscavige has got rid of the double-shift setup, so now only one long shift will run each of those places.

THE BUNKER: Where did all of these new Sea Org workers come from? And do we know the names of any of the new commanders?

MIKE: FSO — the Flag Service Organization, which runs the Clearwater complex in Florida — is way overstaffed for the small trickle of people arriving there for services. It wasn’t hard for Miscavige to round up 230 people and ship them to Los Angeles. So far, I’ve heard a few names of who’s running things. The commanding officer of ASHO is now Sandra Colon. The new LA Org commander is Heather Wolfe. And they report to a new PAC commanding officer, Jason Hemphill.

THE BUNKER: What about the non-Sea Org staff members who were on 2.5- or 5-year contracts who were running LA Org. Where will they end up?

MIKE: I’m hearing that some of them will get jobs at the “Hollywood Life Improvement Center” — the old Hollywood Test Center on Hollywood Boulevard about a block from Hollywood & Highland, which has never opened up after its renovation.

THE BUNKER: So Miscavige is firing a lot of people at a couple of LA entities that were failing, and he’s replaced them with hand-picked people from Florida. And he’s combining shifts — all of which looks like proof positive that Scientology is dying right in the heart of Los Angeles, one of its supposed world strongholds.

MIKE: Behind the scenes he’ll be telling people that this is the way to take charge and make things work. I’m hearing that he’s even telling people to say that LA Org is now “Saint Hill Size.”

THE BUNKER: Wait a minute. You mean, instead of admitting that he’s dealing with a dying organization, he’s saying the opposite — that LA Org has suddenly zoomed with expansion to reach that mythical yardstick, that it’s booming as much as L. Ron Hubbard’s home in England, Saint Hill Manor, back in the roaring 1960s? Do you think anyone will believe him?

MIKE: Here’s the really big problem he faces in Los Angeles. In other cities, say in Portland, a local person can see with their own eyes that no one is coming into the “Ideal Org” there. But they always assume that Scientology is booming in other places, and it’s only their org that is underperforming. But in Los Angeles, that doesn’t work. People at AOLA can see that ASHO is empty. People at ASHO can see that LA Org is empty, and the publics in the area aren’t stupid — they see that PAC is a ghost town. So Miscavige has a real problem on his hands. So he does what he always does. He tells people to stop believing their lying eyes.


Meir Ezra

Meir Ezra

New lawsuits against Scientology, some odder than others

A couple of new lawsuits regarding Scientology popped up yesterday, and our commenters were all over them. First, in the morning, we heard that a woman in the Bay Area, Victoria Comfort, is complaining that she paid $92,000 for “business coaching” from a man, JT Foxx, she says never came through on his promises. One thing Foxx did, she alleges, is palm her off on a guy named Meir Ezra, who turned out to be a business coach selling Scientology.

We quickly confirmed that slick Ezra is a Scientologist in Clearwater, and he’s selling L. Ron Hubbard’s “admin tech” as the secret to business success. But after Comfort complained about being pitched Scientology, Ezra and Foxx apparently had a falling out. Ezra’s not even named as a defendant in Comfort’s lawsuit.

And as fun as it is to read about the business acumen of someone who turned over tens of thousands of dollars to a guy named “JT Foxx” for business “coaching” and also contributed 10 grand to a supposed Trump family charity with hopes of getting to see a taping of Celebrity Apprentice, we don’t expect to spend much more time on this one.

If the lawsuit itself doesn’t really have any connection to Scientology, seeing Meir Ezra’s website reminds us that we’re overdue for a nice piece on WISE and the way its operators target the gullible in the name of Hubbard. We’ve been working on such a story, but we’ll need more time to nail it all down.

Anyway, later in the day we heard about another lawsuit, and this one was much more relevant and interesting. The Oregonian reported that Robert Dietz is suing the Portland church for the money he has on account, a little over $30,000. Dietz has now left Scientology, and will never use the money he banked for future courses. But he says the Portland org refuses to give it back to him.

A lot of people are in Dietz’s shoes, and we’re sure they’ll be interested to see what happens. We expect that Scientology’s attorneys will do what they have in other cases — like with the Garcia federal fraud lawsuit, which is for a much larger amount — and file a motion to compel Dietz to use Scientology’s internal arbitration and dismiss the lawsuit.

We asked Mike Rinder why we haven’t seen more lawsuits like this recently — more modest than the Garcia suit, and aimed at local orgs rather than the church’s controlling entities. He agreed with us that a motion to compel arbitration is probably coming, and he also said the number one problem former members run into when they want to sue for money on account is finding lawyers willing to take on Scientology.

Dietz is being represented by Loren Andrew Gramson, and we’ve dropped him a line. We’d like to find out more about this lawsuit.

And finally, if the Dietz lawsuit is on a smaller scale than some of the others we’ve been reporting on, we know of an even smaller case that was recently filed.

Ex-church member Janet Akpobome let us know recently that in order to get back the money she left on account, she’s suing Scientology’s Flag Service Organization in small claims court in Los Angeles. The amount? $3,125.

She’s doing it all herself, and we’ll be interested to see how she does. Maybe the small suits will end up pestering Scientology as much as the big ones.


Scientology St. Petersburg vs Russia decision

Jonny Jacobsen recently suggested to us that a questionable raid by Russian authorities of the Scientology org in St. Petersburg might be a sign that the country knew it was about to lose a decision in the European Court of Human Rights.

This morning, Jonny let us know that the ECHR did, in fact, rule that the St. Petersburg Scientologists who made the complaint were denied their rights when the country refused to recognize the legal status of the church there. The ECHR found that Russia had violated Article 9 (Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The ECHR awarded the Scientologists 7,500 euros in damages (they had asked for 20,000).

Jonny is going to write up a full report about the decision…And here it is!

Europe’s top court on Thursday condemned Russia for refusing to let Scientologists register as a religious group – almost five years to the day after handing down a similar judgment against them.

The European Court of Human Rights agreed with a complaint filed by several Scientologists in St Petersburg that the city authorities had unfairly refused their group religious recognition.

It ruled that Russia had denied the Scientologists their rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion — under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights — and awarded them 7,500 euros.

That fell short of the already modest 20,000 euros that the applicants had requested — and since the applicants had made no requests for costs or expenses, none was given.

But it is the second time that the Russian authorities have been condemned by the Strasbourg court – in particular over a rule stipulating that new religious groups have to be able to prove they have been active for 15 years before applying for religious status.

This latest case arose out of a complaint filed in November 2006 by six Russian Scientologists from the St Petersburg group: Galina Shurinova, Nadezhda Shchemeleva, Anastasiya Terentyeva, Ivan Matsitskiy, Yuliya Bryntseva, and Galina Frolova. The seventh applicant was the group at the centre of the dispute: the Church of Scientology of St Petersburg.

This informal group, led by Shurinova since the late 1980s, had been formed for the “collective study of Scientology”, but the Russian authorities had refused to let them register Scientology as a legal entity.

Between March 1995 and August 2003, they tried six times to register their group: the authorities repeatedly rejected their applications, citing a different reason each time.

The details of their complaint presented a pattern of repeated delays: their papers passed from one official body to another; rejections based on a procedural technicalities that changed from one decision to the next — a litany of bureaucratic bad faith.

On April 3, 2002, for example, the city’s justice department told the applicants it had delayed consideration of their case because it was waiting for a report from a state religious expert.

When the next refusal of their application was handed down that September however, it cited a list of technical reasons — and no mention of the report.

Only when the applicants persisted with a fresh submission were they told that in addition to the previous technical objections, “…an unspecified expert religious study had concluded that the applicant group was non-religious in nature.”

They asked for but were initially refused a copy of the study and had to go to the Ombudsman to get the justice department to hand it over.

The Ombudsman went further, informing the justice department that it had not even followed government-approved procedure for carrying out such studies: since it had not been approved by a panel of experts it represented nothing more than one individual’s opinion.

The final administrative refusal cited the alleged unreliability of a document confirming that the group had existed for 15 years, a legal requirement under Russian law for any new religious group seeking to be registered.

In October 2003 the Scientologists challenged these refusals, but the St Petersburg District Court ruled against them in December 2005.

The court cited what it said were defects in the documents supplied to demonstrate the group’s 15 years of existence, a ruling confirmed in a Russian court on appeal in May 2006.

Curiously, the Russian authorities, in its arguments to the European court, acknowledged that the refusal to register the Scientology group interfered with its members’ freedom of religion.

But it justified this as “…having been necessary in a democratic society for suppressing manifestations of religious discord.” (It also argued that other countries, such as Austria, Latvia and Romania, imposed similar waiting periods.)

The Strasbourg court was not convinced.

“The Court observes that the grounds for refusing the registration of the applicant group were not consistent throughout the time the applicants were attempting to obtain registration…

“They submitted six registration applications and the registration authority rejected all of them, each time citing some new grounds that it had not previously relied upon.

“The most recent refusal referred to the absence of a document confirming the group’s fifteen-year existence, the allegedly non-religious nature of the group, and some technical defects in its articles of association.”

The court pointed out that it had already ruled on the fairness of this 15-year rule in an earlier ruling, Kimlya and Others v. Russia, handed down on October 1, 2009 — almost five years ago to the day.

In that judgment, the Court ruled in favour of two Scientologists denied permission by other Russian cities to register Scientology as a religious group. It said that the “15-year rule” unfairly discriminated against new religious movements.

(It noted too, that the Russian Ombudsman had said as much on more than one occasion, warning that it meant Moscow was violating its international human rights obligations.)

In Thursday’s ruling, the court noted: “The Court need not determine whether or not Scientology is a religion because it can defer to the judgment of the Russian authorities on that matter.”

But it added: “What is decisive for the Court, however, is that the reason for refusing the registration of the applicant group — which had ultimately been endorsed by the Russian courts — was the legal provision establishing a special fifteen-year waiting period that applies only to religious organisations.”

And since it had ruled against Russia on this point in the Kimlya case, the same ruling applied here.

Of the Russian court rulings, it remarked, “…none of the grounds invoked by the domestic courts for rejecting the confirmation document was based on an accessible and foreseeable interpretation of domestic law.”

But the real stumbling block for the Russian defence was the “15-year rule,” it stressed.

“In so far as the fifteen-year waiting period under Russia’s Religions Act affected only newly emerging religious groups that did not form part of a hierarchical church structure, there was no justification for such differential treatment.”

Its ruling on the Article 9 violation, it added, was interpreted in the light of Article 11, which covers the right to freedom of assembly and association. The court dismissed claims based on other articles of the convention.

— Jonny Jacobsen


Posted by Tony Ortega on October 2, 2014 at 07:00

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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, 48

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, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
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