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Scientology’s 2015 in review: In March, HBO went Clear while we eavesdropped on Flag

Mike_Rinder_Paul_Haggis

 
The cats are curled tight against the chill down here in the Bunker as we dive into another winter, and they’ve become awfully vocal lately about the treats schedule. (They’re fanatical about observing the seasons properly, even if the conditions don’t really call for it. The calendar might say it’s winter, it’s true, but it’s been practically tropical in New York this December. Thanks, Obama.)

With Christmas just a couple of days away, we’re continuing our look back at 2015, and this time we’re remembering the highlights of March. The month was just a few days old when we got another fun update on Alex Gibney’s documentary: Going Clear would be scheduled to make its theatrical debut in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles on Friday, March 13 — which happened to be L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday. The movie played in theaters for a couple of weeks to make it eligible for Oscar contention. Now, nine months later, we can’t help thinking it does have a decent shot at a nomination. Fingers crossed.

A few days later, we reported that we’d heard from some of the people who appear in the film that they’d suddenly experienced a surge of harassment. It was the usual stuff — private investigator shenanigans and other silliness. But Mike Rinder had received a pretty scary threat, and another participant in the film was shaken up by a personal visit from a church operative. Meanwhile, the online smears were coming hot and heavy. Scientology was lashing out, and all it did was make people want to see the film even more.

The morning that the movie premiered, however, we were distracted by something else: federal Judge James D. Whittemore shocked observers by granting a Church of Scientology motion that forced Luis and Rocio Garcia to put their lawsuit on hold and submit instead to the church’s internal arbitration procedure. This was after the Garcias proved (and the judge acknowledged) that Scientology had no arbitration policies in place, and the whole notion was a sham. It was a stunning reversal, and made us wonder why the judge had required so many submissions and hearings when he was just going to find that allowing the lawsuit would violate Scientology’s “religious” rights. We’re still wondering about that.

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On March 17, we featured another great document find by researcher R.M. Seibert. It was a 1970 FDA interview of former Scientology member Charles Berner, and it was the second time we’d seen FDA interviews of early church members who said they were intimidated after they left Scientology with threats of the “R2-45” method. Hubbard had said the method involved “exteriorizing” someone, separating the mind from the body, with a bullet from a .45-caliber pistol. In other words, by murder or suicide. Here’s what we observed after finding more evidence that Hubbard did indeed threaten people with the R2-45 method during this period…

Until now, debates about R2-45 — Hubbard’s idea that a person could be “exteriorized” from his body with a bullet to the head — had argued on the one hand whether Scientology actually ordered murders of enemies, or whether it was all just a joke by Hubbard. These documents suggest that there was a third possibility: Hubbard’s references to separating the mind from the body with the use of a .45-caliber weapon was another form of intimidation he used against former members.

Berner took the threat very seriously, and it was pretty plain that Hubbard, at the time, meant for it to shake up people he considered enemies. So those who say that it was all just a joke by Hubbard miss what it meant at the time.

Later in March, our attention was really riveted by the nearing debut of Going Clear on HBO. To count down the days, we wrote a series of stories about the participants in the film. We gave Jason Beghe credit for his huge contribution behind the scenes to galvanize the former top church officials who had all defected in the mid-2000s. Tom Devocht told us some new tales about Tom Cruise and Scientology leader David Miscavige. Hana Whitfield gave us a sneak peek of her upcoming book on her days as an intervention specialist after Scientology. Mike Rinder helped us understand a really stunning document, written by David Miscavige and meant to be a passive-aggressive attack. Paul Haggis wrote for us a description of the Scientology experience that really knocked us out. Marty Rathbun surprised us with his answer when we asked him about his key moment in the movie. Sara Goldberg gave us some previously unpublished documents to help explain what her family has been through after being ripped apart in the name of the Scientology “disconnection” policy. And Spanky Taylor told us some previously unpublished details about her life as John Travolta’s Sea Org friend.

And then, after what seemed like a long wait, the fateful night was upon us. We still twitch remembering the technical problems we had at our own Going Clear watching party in Manhattan, but the live-blogging was brisk.

The very next day, however, we had the biggest story all month, and one that had nothing to do with Going Clear. In August 2014 a woman named Sylvia DeWall had been called down to a room wired for sound recording at the Flag Land Base. A recording of what occurred in that room made its way to us, and we posted it, so you can actually listen along as Sylvia is being informed that she’s being “declared a suppressive person” by a young Scientology ethics officer. It’s Scientology’s equivalent of excommunication, and it means that people who want to remain in good standing with the church must cut off all ties to her. She pleads with the young man, trying to explain that doing this to her will force her own husband, an ardent church member, to divorce her. But the ethics officer is adamant: She must take responsibility for her “crimes” — which include watching Leah Remini on Dancing with the Stars. Seriously. It’s super rare to get a recording made inside a Scientology base, but this one in particular is one of the most remarkable ever obtained.

We’re still amazed that we got to listen along as Sylvia DeWall was declared. And, in our story, we described what happened when she got home to tell her husband, Tim. No spoilers — go read about how he reacted.

Wow, stories like that are why we do this.

A LOOK BACK AT MARCH 2014: John Travolta mangles Idina Menzel’s name at the Oscars. We interview Russell Miller as his book, Bare-Faced Messiah is back in print after 27 years. Jillian Schlesinger tells us her gripping story of escape from the Sea Org.

A LOOK BACK AT MARCH 2013: We had fun with SMERSH Madness. We leaked Sea Org life histories. Narconon Arrowhead CEO Gary Smith lost his professional certification.

 
BEST OF 2015: Our personal picks for stories we’re most glad we got to write this year:

January: Being on the scene to write about the Going Clear Sundance premiere
February: A shocking tale of Scientology mistreatment of the mentally ill in Tennessee and Arkansas
March: Sylvia DeWall is declared and faces the loss of her family, and we get to hear it on audio

 
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Bonus photos from our tipsters

Actual caption from the Las Vegas Celebrity Centre: “Look who’s getting some Auditing this Christmas!”

 
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It’s the Golden Age of Christmas (Phase 2)!

 
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Scientology whale Jim Mathers has beached himself in Clearwater in his Maserati with Sue Minkoff as they take in the annual Say No To Drugs 5K.

 
MathersMinkoff

 
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BOOK NOTES
3D-Unbreakable

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)

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on December 23, 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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