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How Scientologists are dealing with the popularity of Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear’

On Sunday morning, we published a compilation of entries written by many former Church of Scientology members, journalists, and others as they expressed their thoughts about the airing of Alex Gibney’s documentary, Going Clear.

Many of our contributors expressed some hope that Scientologists still in the church — but perhaps on the “fence” — would watch the documentary and be motivated to leave the organization.

But is that happening? On Tuesday, HBO revealed that Sunday’s broadcast had brought in nearly 1.7 million viewers, the most for the premiere of a documentary since 2006 and Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Going Clear is now repeating on HBO, and can be seen at any time on demand. So what are Scientologists doing about it?

We checked in with one of our sources inside the church, who spends time with a group of church members who are “OT.” In other words, they’re longtime members who have reached the “Operating Thetan” levels, which cost tens of thousands of dollars each.

Our source tells us that in his group at least, “there has not been one mention of the documentary.”


He is certain that they’ve all heard about it and may have read some of the press. But church officials are “handling” curious members by sending them to the Freedom magazine website, which contains videos and articles intended to hurt the credibility of the people who appear in the film.

Our source explains why this is keeping members from talking about Going Clear, at least in the near term…

“OSA is telling people the movie is nothing new and it’s the same worn out lies. And Scientologists are indoctrinated not to spread entheta [negative information], so everyone is wary of bringing up a subject like this, as one could be written up or at the minimum be directed to talk to an OSA or ethics terminal.”

As we described in great detail on Monday, Scientology is a snitching culture. Members are encouraged to turn in others — even members of their own family — by writing “Knowledge Reports” or “KRs” to the ethics division. That can result in a member being pulled in for a “sec check,” a brutal interrogation with an “E-meter.” The subject of the interrogation has to pay for the privilege, and depending on what they reveal, they may be subject to being “declared” a “suppressive person” and kicked out of the organization. All other Scientologists then have to cut off contact with the “SP,” even if it means ripping apart a family.

With that threat hanging over them, it’s really no wonder why Scientologists might be careful about mentioning the documentary to anyone, even their closest friends or family members.

“To keep people occupied, the orgs are sending out three to six or more emails every day with examples of wins from the SRD or student hat,” our source says. He’s referring to the recent push by Scientology leader David Miscavige to encourage high-level Scientologists, who may have already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into their coursework, to start over with lower level courses, including “objective processes” which make up the new Survival Rundown (SRD). These are also known as “book and bottle” routines, which involves a Scientologist walking back and forth between a book and a bottle, picking them up and answering questions about them from an auditor. “Almost every OT I know and all other Scientologists are on the SRD,” our source says.

“The church is trying to play the HBO documentary down, and for celebs they have special officials who will go and talk to them,” he says. “This is the most played-down serious event in the history of Scientology. Normally, they would rally everyone together to fight the enemy. But in this case I assume Miscavige doesn’t want anyone watching the film.”

Our source did see the movie and told us, “I found it very accurate.”

We’ve noticed that at places like Facebook, some members are actively talking about the documentary, mostly to recommend that other Scientologist go to the Freedom magazine site for all of the anti-documentary material. But even if they’re studiously avoiding the subject of Going Clear, you can bet that they’re seeing something about it from the massive publicity this week.

We told former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder what our source said, about OTs remaining silent for fear of being swept into ethics violations.

Rinder said he agreed with us that people in the church itself will probably do their best to ignore the movie. “But Miscavige has a tougher job in the long run,” he added. “I think what’s going to happen is a process of osmosis. These people are going to hear from people they know, who maybe aren’t in the church, or are different parts of their family, and eventually their curiosity will get the better of them and they’ll watch it.”

If you’ve heard from a Scientologist about how they’re reacting to Gibney’s movie, please let us hear about it in the comments.


Creation_Human_AbilitySteven L. “Captain Howdy” Cox, 1957-2015

We learned yesterday that a longtime and popular member of the Underground Bunker known as “Captain Howdy” died on March 6 after a battle with illness. We confirmed with a neighbor in Revere, Massachusetts the date of his passing, and learned that Steven L. Cox was born on November 9, 1957.

Before he lived in Massachusetts, Cox was a longtime resident of San Francisco, where he was part of a punk rock band that had a song in the well known Alternative Tentacles 1982 compilation, Not So Quiet on the Western Front. Cox reportedly sang lead on the song, “Shrunken Heads” by Ghost Dance.

Some of the members of our commenting community got to know Howdy well in real life. Bury the Nuts tells us, “He had a sister in Scientology and complained that he never got to meet his nieces and nephews, which were his only family. He was sad about that.”

He was apparently also divorced and was fond of his cats. When one died recently, Nuts told us, Howdy went into a funk that he never really recovered from.

“He leaned to the macabre as I do,” Nuts says. “He had an actual shrunken head, which was his favorite possession. We were both fascinated by true crime, serial and mass murderers and anything creepy (hello, Scientology) and that is how we bonded back at the Village Voice,” she says. “He absolutely adored sharks. And he was a die-hard socialist who loved guns.”

Nuts points out that many of us immediately recognized Howdy by his avatar, which was the cover of L. Ron Hubbard’s 1954 book, The Creation of Human Ability.

“To me, Captain Howdy will always be the “Chick in the bear suit eating a chicken leg.” And he would always correct me, “It’s a turkey leg FFS!”

We’d love to hear your memories about conversations you had with Captain Howdy here at the Bunker.


Posted by Tony Ortega on April 3, 2015 at 07:00

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 cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward

UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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