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Scientology opened a new ‘Ideal Org’ in Harlem, and we weren’t made to feel very welcome


If you think about it, it’s kind of amazing. Eight years ago — eight years — the Church of Scientology finished purchasing two buildings on 125th Street in East Harlem as part of its “Ideal Org” program. (They had actually started buying the lots in 2003, 13 years ago, for a total of about $8.5 million). One of the buildings would be the org — Scientology’s version of a church — and the other would be a community center.

But besides the millions spent to buy the buildings, there was millions more to spend on renovating them. And then tens or hundreds of thousands more spent just on the grand opening event itself, with an elaborate but temporary event space set up on a parking lot across the street. And who knows how much spent on scores of security guards, police presence, and other costs.

But even with all of that work and all of that money spent, Scientology wanted no media or any outsiders at its event.

Just think about that. Any other organization that had spent millions of dollars and eight years putting together gleaming new facilities, especially in a place like East Harlem, would be begging for coverage in local and national media.

But Scientology is a bizarre world, and we kept that in mind as we walked down 125th Street yesterday a little before noon, carrying a couple of cameras and looking for a vantage point to see what we could of the ceremony.

As we approached 3rd Avenue from the east, we could see the big red ribbons on the buildings, and we could also see that Scientologists were being told to go north, to 126th Street. We had a feeling we’d be told to move along as well. So, we just picked up speed and walked past the corner and down 125th street until we were opposite the new Scientology org.

Between it and the community center there was a shorter building, and we could see that it was a branch of the New York City public library. But it too sported Scientology decorations — a giant banner with the word “HARLEM” on it overlayed on the symbol for Scientology. We snapped a few photos of it, wondering how the city had gone along with that bit of Scientology advertising, when we were approached by a Scientology Sea Org worker who asked us what we were doing there. We said we were there to observe the event. The woman asked us for our name, and we said we didn’t have to give her that. But then, she was joined by a member of the NYPD, who began asking us similar questions.

We told the officer that we had wanted to watch the buildings, and that we were standing on a public sidewalk and we weren’t blocking anyone’s access. She told us that Scientology had arranged to close the sidewalks to public traffic. We asked to see the permit. She didn’t seem to like that, and asked what business we had there. We said we were with the press, and had a right to stand on the public sidewalk. So she asked for our press ID.

Gosh, we must have left it in our fedora. Again, we pointed out that we were on a public sidewalk and were blocking no one’s access to the event, which was actually taking place behind a fence on the north side of the street, across from the buildings. But she insisted that the sidewalk was private property, owned by the businesses that it fronted. “If you slip, do you sue the city, or this business?” she asked me.

It was becoming hopeless, and before our temper got up any further, we turned to walk away. But then, just a few feet away, we realized that there was an auto shop open right there on the street.

Usually, we’d be two blocks away before a thought like this popped into our heads, but for once we were on the ball and we ducked into the shop. The first thing we noticed was how nicely air conditioned it was. There was a light rain falling on 125th Street, but it was still very warm and muggy. Enjoying the cool air, we could see that the auto shop was very busy. But the lobby was completely empty, and it took a few minutes before the store manager came to see what we wanted. We quickly laid out the situation.

The lobby of the auto shop had a large window that allowed for a great view of both Scientology buildings. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see what was going on with Miscavige at the event space itself down the block, but a good view of the buildings was better than nothing. Could we just stay here in the lobby and watch the event through the window?

The store manager had no problem with it, and he even muttered something about Scientology taking so long to open its buildings.

Score! Here’s the view we had from inside the auto shop…


[Ideal Org on the right, community center on the left, with the library branch in the middle festooned with the “HARLEM” banner.]

To give you a better idea of the geography, we’ve put together this map. We’ve outlined the two Scientology buildings in yellow, with the library between them. The truck lot on the north side of the street we’ve outlined in red is the area that had been cleared out and converted to an elaborate stage and seating for David Miscavige’s speech. Attendees, in that space, could see over a fence to the buildings across the street with their ribbons. We’ve marked our spot with a red star, inside the auto shop on the north side of the street and just down from the event space…


Well, we found out later that Scientology had expended all of its costly methods for keeping press and protesters away on 126th Street, because they expected that curious onlookers like your proprietor would be trying to see into the stage area from that vantage point. It was there, a block north of our location, where they had set up high hedges and portable shrubs and massive fabric walls in order to keep our prying eyes from seeing what was going on.

What they didn’t expect, apparently, is that we’d get a vantage point on 125th Street itself, and it quite obviously sent them into a panic. Within a few minutes of our entry into the auto shop lobby there were half a dozen beefy looking guys in tight-fitting suits and with earpieces, talking into their wrists and pulling over police officers.

We can tell you now what we found out after talking to several people about why they hadn’t planned for this contingency. We learned that Scientology had paid off the owners of the few businesses that were located on 125th between 2nd and 3rd Avenues so that they would remain closed on Sunday. But the owner of the auto shop — who soon showed up — had never responded to their offer. He was still open and doing plenty of business. And now that we were inside the shop, and the manager had said we could stay, there really wasn’t anything Scientology could do about it. Even the owner didn’t seem put out, and didn’t even ask us any questions (though we told the manager we’d be happy to talk to him).

Still, the scene outside was pretty comical as the Scientology operatives set up a barrier and got the police to string some tape so that no one could get any closer than our position…


To our relief, we were soon joined by our attorney and webmaster, Scott Pilutik, who had agreed to be our legal observer and to try to keep us out of trouble…


Scott snapped photos while we tried to find out what was going on at the event. At 1 pm, the official start time, we could hear some Scientology hip hop start up, and we learned later that Chill EB was, in fact, present. Gosh, we wish we could have seen him perform, if he did. After some brief music, the noise died down as the speeches began and we waited for the ribbons to come down on the buildings.

As we waited, Scott got some shots of the Scientology operatives or other hired security who were casing our position…






At one point, the Sea Org workers tried to set up an umbrella wall to block our view. But it just wasn’t very effective…


Scott was really surprised by the banner on the public library. How did a city facility agree to hang what was essentially a massive advertisement for an organization that calls itself a church?


After setting up their barrier with police tape to keep people away from us, the Scientology operatives forced people — even with small kids — to walk onto busy 125th St itself in order to go around our position…


The police presence was heavy, and must have cost Scientology a pretty penny.


With his long lens, Scott managed to capture some familiar faces. Scientology whale Tom Cummins, on the left, tried to stay dry…


And Scott managed to snag a look at Chill EB as he was walking into the community center…


And Underground Bunker favorite Jim Mathers also showed up on one photograph. But we didn’t manage to spot Grant and Elena Cardone, which was disappointing.


One slender youngster, who didn’t seem to be exactly thriving on the Sea Org diet, took a special interest in us. He also spoke to this local clergyman, who we spoke to briefly. He seemed curious when we told him that L. Ron Hubbard didn’t have the most savory record when it came to talking about people of African descent.


Just for fun, we enjoyed this attractive couple who were caught by Scott’s camera. Anyone know them?


After the ribbons had come down, and the people crossed the street to go from the empty lot to the buildings themselves, we came out of the auto shop and stood by the barrier to snap photos and see who was there. And we talked to the NYPD officer who seemed most interested in finding a way to get us out of there.

He turned out to be very affable, and even called us by our name. We asked how he knew it, and he said Scientology had warned that we’d be coming, and told him that we had disrupted Scientology events in the past. (Us? Disrupted? In fact, although we’ve been writing about Scientology since 1995, this was the first church event we’d ever attended in person.)

It really pained us to see the NYPD doing Scientology’s bidding. But it might have been worse. It turned out that one of the officers knew who we were because he’d seen Going Clear. So Alex Gibney, we owe you one.

If the police had relaxed, the Scientology operatives hadn’t. They seemed really tense, and we guessed that Miscavige was still in the area and wanted to know what we were doing. That seemed to be confirmed when a Sea Orger came over and recorded us with her smartphone. We didn’t mind being photographed — after all, we were doing plenty of it ourselves — but we said to her, “Why bother? You already know who we are.” She didn’t flinch. Earlier, we’d tried to ask her how old she had been when she signed her Sea Org contract, and how long it had been since she’d phoned home. We got the 1000-yard stare.

Finally, before we left, we did walk around to 126th Street to see what the scene there had looked like. And that’s when we saw the portable shrubs and high hedges and other elaborate barriers meant to keep us from seeing into their event. Now, it all seemed so ridiculous. As far as we could see, there had been no other reporters on the scene, and no protesters. They had set up maybe tens of thousands of dollars of barriers to keep out one website proprietor and his camera-happy legal counselor.

The same Sea Orger who had photographed us earlier made sure we didn’t try to walk onto the event space itself, and Scott captured her in the photo you see at the top of the story. What a scene. All that money for 40 minutes of Scientology hip hop and a few speeches and some confetti.

Still stunned by the experience, we sent a message to Mike Rinder asking him why David Miscavige would expend so much in resources to keep us away, when if he’d let us come inside, we would have been happy to stand at the back, quietly taking photos.

“It’s their fear of SP’s,” Mike told us, referring to “suppressive persons,” what Scientology labels the people it considers enemies. “Miscavige cannot deal with the idea that SP’s might be in his vicinity or have the opportunity to put him on the spot. And all his underlings know they would be toast if such a thing happened. So they go overboard. Why spend $10,000 a week following Ron Miscavige? Or whatever it cost for the Squirrel Busters? It’s paranoia.”

Well, that certainly described what we saw. And we thank the Church of Scientology for all the laughs.


Cathy Schenkelberg in the Daily Mail

Chris White has a fun profile of Cathy Schenkelberg today, and that should really get the word out about her one-woman play, “Squeeze My Cans,” as she takes it to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh.

We love the story about her going off on Tom Cruise when she was going to be “auditioned” for him back in 2004. That’s totally Cathy, who is, as Chris says, lovely and talented. But we have a feeling Tom wouldn’t have been interested anyway, given his proclivities, since they’re both around the same age. What was his rule? Jettison them at 33?


Paulette Cooper in London

Paul Noble calls it “HowdyCon Europe.” We don’t know if the Brexit voters would agree with that!



3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on August 1, 2016 at 07:00

E-mail 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. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated 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 L.A. 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

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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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    DON’T F5

    • gif for Obs and Vaquera

    • Franklin Adams

      Y’know, I saw something where Cardone was using a registered and valid Florida plate to promote his business. And I’m not entirely sure that’s legal since its state property. Not that DHSMV would do anything, but its interesting anyway.

    • JaxNGold

      Christ…that smile on Mathers is the stuff of nightmares. I couldn’t figure out what it reminded me of. Now I got it. The scene from Men In Black where the alien (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) has taken over a human body and pulls the skin on his face all the way back — that’s totally Jim Mathers.

      • daisy

        Yeesss I knew I had seen it before.

      • 5 Feet Long and Luminous

        I recently watched a documentary on voice actors called “I Know That Voice.” Mathers was interviewed for it. And it was interesting comparing him to the real talents like Billy West or John Dimaggio. He was…junior varsity, let’s say. And also, way too intense and over the top, but no surprise there.

        • Intergalactic Walrus

          I think you mean Jim Meskimen, not Jim Mathers πŸ˜‰

          • 5 Feet Long and Luminous

            Yes! You’re right–Jim Meskimen. Why do I always get them confused?

      • Douglas D. Douglas

        Trust me, you are not the first to notice this:

        • JaxNGold

          LOL! Dying…

    • Harpoona Frittata

      Would you buy a car from either of those two characters?

      Btw, are those two silver $cn medals that Jimbo’s prominently displaying there representative of his IAS donation status level or what do they signify?

    • Hamtaro

      I really like this joke, Nat. It’s classic. I can’t stop laughing.

      • Vaquera found the photo, Observer came up with the line πŸ™‚ I just supplied the gif writing

  • Sid (Phil Jones)

    Paulette Cooper with a ‘Call Me’ sign. There’s something almost surreal about this. It’s like one of those Kung Fu movies where the protagonist can pick up and use anything, even a newspaper, for a weapon, deftly beating their opponent.

    • jazzlover

      I dunno, Phil. When I was a kid watching “Enter the Dragon”, there was nothing more surreal than watching Chuck Norris throw down with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar πŸ™‚

    • noseinabk

      The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it. -Wendell Berry

      You and Paulette have both succeeded in adding something better despite the criminal behavior of scientology.

    • It’s perfect πŸ™‚ he he!

    • madame duran

      That’s the beauty of the Internet. It makes instant connections and draws people together in the most unlikeliest ways. The photo is fantastic. I’d get it framed.

  • randomity

    Good scientography, tikk.

  • YellowSubmarine

    Re: HowdyCon Europe. The UK didn’t vote to leave the continent Europe, just the European Union πŸ˜‰

    • Andrew Robertson

      β€œDense fog in the Channel: Continent isolated”


      • YellowSubmarine

        Had to look that one up πŸ™‚

    • Robert Eckert

      Britain is no longer part of the continent of Europe. Instead the International Geographers’ Union has officially designated it a “dwarf continent”.

  • Paulette Cooper, what can you say? First she had the courage to write a book about an evil cult and their leader. Next she had to endure the most horrendous personal attacks and false criminal charges as the cult went into overdrive to “destroy” her. She has come through the adversity and tribulations and now is one of the most amazing women I have ever had the pleasure to meet, know and call a friend. Life is good. Thank you Paulette!

  • 9001

    Fantastic evening! Thank you Paulette…a pleasure to meet you! Great to see everyone last night.
    Love the Bunker πŸ™‚

  • Newiga

    It was so amazing to meet the Unbreakable Miss Lovely. A pleasure and an honor, truly! Also, Bunkeroos are awesome! It was great to meet you all. Thank you so much!

    • Eivol Ekdal

      Good morning Newiga. Paulette is so inspirational, I am so glad I finally got to meet her. I hope you and Mum enjoy the rest of your visit.

      • Newiga

        Thank you! Last night was so much fun!

        • Eivol Ekdal

          I got a good pic of you and Johnny Tank. If you like I can post it here.

          • Newiga

            Yes, I’d like that. 😊

    • Ella Raitch

      So lovely to see you Newi (photo). How did your mum enjoy the gathering?

      • Newiga

        Thanks 😊 She actually did! I’m happy!

  • Abracadab

    Not sure why this Harlem story is my favorite Underground Bunker story ever! Maybe it’s because the photos do such a great job of showing how the Scientologists overreact to even the tiniest things.

    • Missionary Kid

      To be the subject of $cientology’s “security” is, indeed a bizarre experience. It has no relation to reality. They are responding to some mythological threat out of a fear of ideas, so they lie and utilize whatever legal means available, no matter what the cost, to shield themselves from scrutiny.

      It is like dropping a nuclear device to prevent the spread of Zika.

      • lol

      • ExCult.Jan

        More like jumping up and down on a sofa to prevent the spread of Zika.

        • Missionary Kid

          That’s a good one. However, I was trying to indicate their overreaction.

  • richelieu jr

    Paulette? In London?

    If she and her consort feel like a brief hop across the Channel, I would love tot reat them to a lovely meal and a tour of by Parisian places tickle her fancy.

    She really does seem to stand for so much of what is worth standing for, doesn’t she? And she does it from “the height of three apples”, as we say in French, and with what seems effortless elegance.

    And she seems to be not only more honest, admirable and admired than Miscavigw, but seems clearly taller as fat as I can see.

  • aegerprimo

    It’s time to check out Co$ bad press for July. Click on your favorite/preferred ex-Scientology chat forum to view the list…


    Church of Scientology Negative Publicity Collection – 2016

    ESMB – Ex-Scientology Message Board

    WWP – Why We Protest

    OCMB – Operation Clambake Message Board

    RFTTP – Reaching For The Tipping Point,12976.msg36944.html#msg36944

    ESK – Ex-Scientology Kids

  • Jgg2012

    13 years? That’s faster than the Valley Org.

  • Edward Whalley

    That sour-looking woman sure looks familiar….

    I’m putting in my weekly two hours on the picketless line, giving out flyers, kosher and Heath Bars candy, white roses (with attached story of the White Rose, it’s a Jewish neighborhood), and the other guys go off to get sodas and/or go to the bathroom. OK, I can handle it, and usethe lul(l) by sitting down. It’s a nice warm day, with a fine wind right off the water, mild sunstroke and fatigue toxins have turned me into an endorphinized Asian deity, smiling benignly at the funny thing called the universe. It’s a good day.

    All of a sudden, this woman comes storming out of the Scn building.
    “What are you doing here?”
    “Protesting. How ’bout you?” I give her a smile that expresses my warm regard. “Have a chat?” I patted the low wall beside me.
    “You know you’re …fat.” She remained standing.
    “Some people have said that, yes.”
    “You know…you could lose that if you went to…a gym, or something.” Her face was going all vertical wrinkly, and a little reddish.
    “This is strenuous enough, I assure you. More so than cowering in an office, holding some cans. Tell me, if Scientology is so good at solving everything, why is Kirstie Allie still…and why did LRH smoke so much? No one ever explains anything to me.” I added, a little sadly. “Really, you should be out enjoying this.”
    “Well, can’t you think of anything better to do?”
    The wind smelled of salt and summertime. The day was warm. The Goddess smiled within me. In a voice that channeled simultaneously Timothy Leary and President Clinton in what I imagine was full Serenity of Beingness (tone scale 40) I said. “No. I can’t think of anything that I would be better off doing right now.”
    I don’t know what she said next, because it didn’t even register. It must have been some insult because I found it terribly funny.
    “Is that what they call ‘bull-baiting’? Please, don’t do it. It’s very off-putting.”
    She gave me a furious look, and turned to leave.
    “Don’t leave! Really! What’s wrong?” I said.
    She was halfway across the street by the time I got out
    “Is it something that I said?”