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Strange scenes from the Moscow hearing that banned Scientology yesterday


Yesterday, some of our commenters seemed confused that your proprietor wasn’t celebrating the news coming out of Russia that a Moscow city court had called for Scientology to be banned and its Ideal Org in that city to be shut down within six months. (Scientology vowed to appeal.)

An Ideal Org, vaporized? What an affront to Scientology leader David Miscavige, right? So what gives with the grumpy reaction, Ortega?

Let us spell out a little more clearly why we greet any news from Vlad Putin’s dystopic fief with extreme skepticism and dread. It’s because Russia, and its news media in particular, is a Bizarro World where up is down, and nothing is as it seems.

We have personal experience with this. A year ago or so, we had our one and only interaction with a Russian media outlet. (Keep in mind, there is no independent media in Russia, there are only organizations that serve at the pleasure of Putin’s Kremlin.) They wanted to speak with us because we’re the only news outlet in the world which has actually talked to a member of Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s family about the persistent and years-old rumor that he was secretly a high-level Scientologist.


This rumor claimed that Yatsenyuk’s sister, who lived in Santa Barbara, was herself an “OT” and had extensive Scientology involvement. We not only found no evidence of this, which would be unlikely if she did have such a long involvement, but we also got her daughter, Yatsenyuk’s niece, on the phone, and she denied that the family had any involvement in Scientology, and she did it in fairly convincing fashion, we thought.

But the rumor is still very popular in Russia, where there’s a lot of bad feeling about the Ukraine, and they’d love to believe that Yatsenyuk is a Scientology puppet — and worse, that Yatsenyuk is then a puppet of the US through its glam-celebrity rockin’ church. When the Moscow news outlet interviewed us, we made it clear that this was all a pile of steaming manure, and that there was no actual evidence that the Yatsenyuk family had ever been involved in Scientology. Amazingly, when the segment aired, they made it look like the American Scientology expert completely endorsed the idea that Yatsenyuk had been indoctrinated into the church through his family. Well, we learned our lesson.

Anyway, there were similar levels of farce served up in at least one Russian media treatment of yesterday’s decision in a Moscow courtroom. We learned from the outlet Vesti that the hearing lasted some seven hours, and Scientology was represented by five lawyers. As you can see in the image from the courtroom, the Scientologists were out in force and sporting hilariously prominent jewelry in an attempt to give the idea that they were part of a bona fide religion.


But the bullpucky was evident on both sides. Vesti interviewed anti-cult professor Alexander Dvorkin, who calmly asserted that Scientology was a CIA front. (We met Dvorkin in Toronto at Jon Atack’s conference. He has also asserted in the Russian media that not only is Yatsenyuk a Scientologist, but that the CIA controls Yatsenyuk — and thus Ukraine — through Scientology.)


That led to a comical scene with the Vesti reporter asking, quite seriously, the Scientology-cross wearing dude about the “information” that Scientology was a CIA front. The dude’s laughter appeared to be quite genuine.


In other words, the scene on the ground there at the Moscow courtroom was a lot weirder than we heard about in stories by the Associated Press and the Guardian.

The thing is, the Moscow court’s decision — that because Scientology operates under a US trademark, it violates Russia’s concepts of religious freedom — is really a fascinating one, and of course it’s really interesting to see David Miscavige facing the prospect of his Ideal Org being shut down. But Russia has tried numerous times to shut down Scientology, and Scientology has found succor in the European Court of Human Rights because Russia tends to do things with a lack of due process.

The Netherlands took a similar step recently and found that the exorbitant prices Scientology charges demonstrate that it’s a business, not a religion. But rather than ban Scientology, the country stripped the church of its tax-exempt status. That should accelerate what’s already happening there as well as most places around the world — Scientology’s rapid decline.

But if there’s one place in the world where Scientology is shrinking more slowly, it’s in Russia, where we’ve seen evidence that Scientology and its WISE business front group can still put together a sizable rally of believers. We can’t help wondering if the government’s heavy-handed tactics aren’t at least in part responsible. On the other hand, our Russian-language department assures us that the Russian government really could shut down Scientology if this decision holds up, and told us, “If Putin uttered even a word publicly about it with his own mouth, Scientology would be kaput.”

So we’ll keep an open mind that Scientology really could be on the ropes in Russia. But you’ll excuse us for remaining skeptical.


Own a copy of The TomKat Project today!

Playwright Brandon Ogborn let us know that you can now own the script to his hilarious production, The TomKat Project. Available at Amazon, the book captures what some of us experienced here during an Underground Bunker field trip: Ogborn’s really original and clever take on Scientology and its celebrity culture. Here’s what we said at the time:

Ogborn not only wrote this cutting examination of tabloid news culture and celebrity worship, but he also narrates it on stage — although “narrates” doesn’t really quite capture what he’s doing up there. Perhaps a better description is that he guides, cajoles, castigates, and ultimately upends the story as it’s happening.

Now you can own a piece of that performance in book form. And just in time for Christmas!



FHCabanasBabywatch, day six: Lisa McPherson in Room 174

Around two or three in the morning on Friday, November 24, 1995, an odd scene unfolded outside of Room 174 at the Fort Harrison Hotel which is described by Janet Reitman in her book Inside Scientology.

Sam Ghiora, a Flag security staffer, was seated on a small bench outside of Lisa’s room when he heard a doorknob rattle. Slowly, the door to room 174 opened, and Lisa stood at the threshold, fully dressed.

“Hey, she said calmly, walking a few steps toward him. “You’re not CMO.”

“You’re right,” Ghiora said. He was not a member of the Commodore’s Messenger Organization but a new Flag security trainee.

“You can’t tell me what to do,” Lisa said.

“You’re right,” Ghiora said again. He knew that he’d broken protocol by speaking to her, but he was momentarily shocked: How had she just walked out of the room? Where were her minders? Ghiora gently put his hand on Lisa’s shoulder and steered her back toward her room. She stopped at the threshold. “I just don’t know what’s happening,” she said.

Ghiora said nothing.

“Could you help me?”


“I need help, she said, and slowly entering the room, shut the door.

Ghiora then talked to Janis Johnson, who had been in the room, and she said she had not expected Lisa to just walk out.

Leslie Woodcraft joined Janis Johnson on that shift, but she was just there a short time before she was relieved by another caretaker, Joan Stevens.

Joan had been in Scientology since 1975 and joined the Sea Org in 1976. She had moved to Clearwater in 1993.

When she first entered Room 174, replacing Woodcraft, she was wearing a coat with a blue emblem, and Lisa came up to her and touched it, saying “Oh, that is beautiful.”

Joan heard water running in the bathroom, and Janis told her they let Lisa run the faucet because it seemed to calm her. Janis left about a half hour after she came on, and Joan was there until about 11 in the morning.

Joan found Lisa to be incoherent and violent. At one point, Lisa tried to gouge Joan’s eyes out, which she managed to avoid, but she ended up with a black eye. Another time, Lisa tried to deck her with a potted plant.

Lisa talked and talked without making sense. On occasion, she would say, “I’m having a bad hair day.”

At one point, Lisa took off all her clothes and went to the cabana’s sliding glass window and was trying to leave. “I had to close the curtain and get her away from the window,” Joan told police later.

At 7 in the morning, Joan ordered some pancakes for Lisa, who then began shoving her breakfast into her mouth so crazily, it frightened Joan.

Near the end of Joan’s shift, Lisa was getting more violent and Joan needed help. She asked Sam to find Paul Kellerhals, a senior officer. He came into the darkened room, and saw that there was water all over the place, and broken glass. (And he confirmed that this was Friday morning, November 24.) Joan told him that Lisa had broken the light fixtures and the bulbs, which explained the glass shards, and that she’d been flooding the room with water from the bathroom. Then Lisa attacked him, hitting his face, pulling on his tie, and grabbing the pen from his shirt pocket.

Paul managed to put her down on the bed and held her there while Joan and another woman who had arrived cleaned up the water and glass. Paul held Lisa there for most of an hour.

After her shift was over, Joan wrote a report and sent it to Marcus Quirino, Director of Processing. She wanted to warn someone that Lisa McPherson needed more help than she was getting.

That report was not turned over to police, who asked Joan about it. Had she been trying to get word out that Lisa needed urgent medical care that she wasn’t getting? Joan denied that, saying by “help,” she just meant something somewhat vague.

Q. Did she need more help than she was getting?
A. I have no clue.
Q. It is your statement, I’m just trying to find out, did she need more help than was there at that time, in your opinion? Because you are the one that said, “Boy, I looked at her and she needed help.” More than was there at the time?
A. I actually don’t have any way to judge that. I don’t know.

Whatever kind of “help” Joan actually asked for in her report, it was ignored anyway, apparently. And Lisa’s confinement continued.



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 book tour is concluded for now. (But you can re-experience it through this nifty interactive map!) We’ll let you know about future appearances. Previous events: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25), Adelaide (10/28), Perth (10/30)


Posted by Tony Ortega on November 24, 2015 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com 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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