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Wise Beard Man visits Scientology’s new Fantasyland in Clearwater


We asked Mark Bunker to mosey on down to Fort Harrison Avenue yesterday to get a gander at the new storefronts Scientology opened up this week.

They’re a series of cute little shops extending north of the Clearwater Bank building, an area that’s always been of some interest in Scientology’s “mecca” of downtown Clearwater. It was in the Clearwater Bank building that church executives Mark “Marty” Rathbun and Mike Rinder spent four years plotting strategy as the organization dealt with the legal fallout after the 1995 death of Lisa McPherson. Meanwhile, at 33 N. Fort Harrison, a little north of the bank, the church critics who operated the Lisa McPherson Trust kept her name in the press and gave Scientology leader David Miscavige heartburn. More recently, we’ve seen lots of footage as Alex Hageli (“Darth Xander”) made a specialty of filming Sea Org workers coming and going in the alley behind the building from their mess hall to their course rooms or quarters.

But then more recently, the entire block was put under wraps and fumigated as it went through a facelift. And finally, this week, we got to see what Scientology is doing with the property: It’s opened up its own version of Disneyland Main Street!

At least that was the impression that Bunker got as he walked down the street in the intense Florida sunshine yesterday. Each storefront features a different Scientology “social betterment” front group, some of which try to pretend that they have only minimal connection to Scientology itself. Well, that will be a bit more difficult to maintain after this.


Bunker says he was eagerly met by a young man who invited him into the storefront established for Criminon, Scientology’s prison program.

“I asked him if he was in the Sea Org, and he said he was,” Bunker said. “He asked me if I knew about Criminon, and I said sure, I knew about all of the groups. About that time, I could see a security officer across the street was racing over. ‘Come here,’ he said, grabbed him by the arm, and took him into the building.”


Well, so much for the inviting welcome. But Bunker said he wasn’t about to go into any of the storefronts anyway. There’s still an old court injunction left over from the LMT days that carries serious penalties if Bunker violates its terms. He knew that if he stepped onto church property, he might be arrested.

But he tempted fate enough to get a closer look through the windows into the storefront dedicated to The Way to Happiness, the anodyne booklet of life advice attributed to L. Ron Hubbard that Scientology hands out by the bajillion.

“It was the old LMT. I could see where my old office was through the window,” Bunker said, showing us where he worked in 2000 and 2001. Mark explained to us that after Scientology got Bob Minton by the short hairs, the wealthy businessman was forced to sign over ownership of the LMT building. “It’s pretty much stayed locked up until now. It’s to be expected. Scientology pretty much owns the entire downtown, they might as well own the LMT.”


[Bunker looks through the window at what was the LMT. His desk was not far from where this woman sits at the storefront for The Way to Happiness.]

We asked him about the new storefronts and how they look. “It’s all too much like an amusement park. And just like in an amusement park, the workers inside were smiling by decree, and trying to get me to come in. I think they were thrilled to see anyone walking by, because it is dead down there.

“I would have enjoyed going inside to talk with them. My conversation with the Criminon guy was pleasant, I didn’t say anything to upset him. But I know the rules I live by here. They’d make a case out of anything.”

Why does he think they’ve gone to the trouble to put up these tacky fake businesses? “I think this is Scientology’s way to say to the city government they they’re doing something about city development. But who’s going to visit these places? It just seems like a PR push to make Scienotology look good and to pretend that something is happening downtown.”


Today we’re in Hartford!


We hope we get a chance to see you today at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, with our appearance at 7 pm. We’ll be joined onstage by Dan Perkins — better known as cartoonist Tom Tomorrow — who will ask us about our book The Unbreakable Miss Lovely and we’ll ask him about his exciting Kickstarter.


Bonus photos from our tipsters

Tatyana Malchikova, OT 8, Freedom medal, ready for Target Two.


Hey, girl. You think I look scary? You should read this guy Hubbard.


The Denver team is back from GAT II training! Come get your Survival Rundown, people!


Speak of the devil! Actual caption: “Jerry A. On Wednesday night came to to the registrar and said ” oh, I forgot — I want to pay for my Survival Rundown!” Imagine that?!”


“No, he actually left his body voluntarily and he’s now up there at Target Two. See?”


Yes, Scientology has sent a Volunteer Ministers riverboat up the Amazon. Isn’t life grand?



We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.

Our upcoming appearances (and check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour)…

July 14: Hartford, MARK TWAIN HOUSE, 7 pm (with Tom Tomorrow)

July 17: Denver, The Secular Hub, 7 pm (with Chris Shelton)

July 20: Dallas, Times Ten Cellars, 7 pm (with Robert Wilonsky)

July 22: Houston, Fox and Hound, 11470 Westheimer Road, sponsored by Humanists of Houston

July 24: San Antonio, Folc Restaurant/Park Social, 6 pm

July 25: Austin, Cafe Express, 3 pm, Center for Inquiry

July 29: Paris, Le Bistrot Landais, 19:00 (with Jonny Jacobsen)

August 4: London, Conway Hall, (with John Sweeney)

August 24: Boston, Boston Skeptics in the Pub, 7 pm (with Gregg Housh)

Sept 15: Arizona State University

Sept 23: Cleveland

Sept 24: Minneapolis

Sept 27: Portland

Sept 28: Seattle

Sept 29: Vancouver, BC


Posted by Tony Ortega on July 14, 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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