Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


Scientology wastes no time taking over Florida sign after ‘disconnection’ billboard expires


[Photo by Mark Bunker]

When Phil and Willie Jones took their idea to Florida for a billboard about Scientology’s toxic ‘disconnection’ policy — an idea that had garnered them a huge amount of press in Los Angeles — they were able to crowdfund enough money to post their sign just off E Bay Drive in Largo, only a few miles from Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater.

There was less press at their Florida dedication party than there had been in Los Angeles, but the appearance of so many people familiar to readers of the Underground Bunker — including Jamie DeWolf, Nora Crest, Meshell Little, Brian Sheen, Skip Young, and Valeska Paris — was still pretty impressive.

This time, however, Phil and Willie weren’t able to raise as much money as they had for their first billboard, in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, so they were only able to pay for their Florida sign to remain up for a single month.

And as soon as it came down a few days ago, it was replaced by a message from a Scientology front group. (And thank you to Mark Bunker for getting over there and taking a photo of it for us.)


[Phil and Willie, with their Florida sign in July]

United for Human Rights, a Scientology front, has taken over the billboard off E Bay Drive with a message that advertises its website,

We’ve written in the past about United for Human Rights — another name for Youth for Human Rights, which was founded in 2001 by South African Scientologist Mary Shuttleworth.

The “human rights” front groups promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a 1948 document put out by the United Nations as an effort by Eleanor Roosevelt (a detail that Scientology rarely points out, for some reason). As we’ve noted before, the UN document is a fine one, calling for basic human rights in countries around the world. But many of the rights it lists are pretty uncontroversial in developed countries like the United States. (The right to relocate to a different city if you want to, for example.)

For Scientology, the human rights program is another of its front operations that are designed to distract from the abuses that Scientology has been accused of. For decades, the church has been accused of abusing the human rights of its members, particularly the children it signs up with billion-year contracts for its “Sea Organization.” It’s pretty rich for a group that relies on nearly unpaid child labor to go around talking about “human rights” with fancy brochures printed in a state-of-the-art facility that pays its workers pennies an hour.

But now, that front operation has its own billboard in Largo.

“I spoke to the billboard company last week and they were getting a lot of pressure from Scientology,” Phil tells us. “I asked them whether it was financial, legal, or other and they said, ‘pretty much all of what you said.’ They said that if we want to continue with our billboard that we’d have to go through the whole approval process again, which I took to mean that they probably wouldn’t approve us. I’m not sure if Scientology bought up other billboard properties in the area.”

Phil tells us that he’s paid up for the Los Angeles billboard through September 11.


Brian Sheen’s slick new video slamming Scientology

You remember Brian Sheen, the Florida man who has been trying to find a way to interest the state in intervening over the Church of Scientology forcing his daughter, who lives in California, to disconnect from him.

We wrote the first lengthy story about Brian and his Scientology background, and we expect that you’ll be hearing a lot more about him in coming weeks.

Brian wanted us to share with you a slick new video he’s put together explaining how Scientology lies to its own members about its practices and ethics. Give it a look and spread it around. We think you’ll find that it makes some good points.



Finally, Los Angeles publications are showing interest in Scientology again


[Back when LA Weekly and the L.A. Times were on top of things, in 1986]

We want to thank Hillel Aron for talking with us and quoting us in his LA Weekly piece taking a look at Scientology’s new television and radio studio complex in Los Angeles, Scientology Media Productions. He also interviewed Tom Devocht, got some fun quotes from Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw, and dug up some nice background on the studio’s previous life under KCET as well as some good stuff on Scientology’s background in L.A.

Aron used a quote from us to raise the question about what Scientology is doing with a new, very expensive studio complex in Hollywood when it’s had a state-of-the-art film and video center out at at its Gold Base near Hemet, California for many years. He has some good answers from Tom DeVocht, Jeffrey Augustine, and Karen de la Carriere, and some fun denials from Pouw. DeVocht suggested that building an unneeded studio complex has to do with keeping up appearances for the IRS. We think it’s a combination of things, not only pleasing the IRS but trying to convince Hollywood that Scientology is still a power in town (it isn’t), and also, we think Scientology leader David Miscavige is de-emphasizing Gold Base ever since revelations of “The Hole” came to light.

Keep in mind, in the summer of 2010 the FBI came this close to raiding Gold Base, also called “Int Base.” We’ve talked to ex-Scientologists who were helping FBI agents prepare for a raid — one of them told us he was even asked if he’d ride in a van during the raid so he could help identify people once the FBI got inside.

Although the FBI changed its mind (and for disputed reasons), the almost-raid had to have spooked Miscavige, and we think he’s been decreasing the workforce at the base ever since. Now, he’s even set up another studio so audiovisual work can be done in town.

Not that we’ve seen any activity at all coming out of the SMP. Earlier this week, as Aron’s piece was showing up, Mike Rinder posted a telling new flier from Scientology showing that not only was SMP a cash cow for donations as it was being built, it’s still being used for the same purpose now that it’s been completed. After being told that the studio would enable Scientology to flood its message to every nation on earth, now Scientologists are being hit up for cash once again, so some programming might actually get put together. Suckers!


[This week’s cover]

But besides the fascinating subject of Aron’s story, we also wanted to say something about it because it’s so refreshing to see a Los Angeles publication take the subject of Scientology seriously. LA Weekly has had a golden opportunity to take the lead on Scientology reporting in one of the few places in the world where there’s actually a (slight) chance of running into a Scientologist on the street.

The Los Angeles Times long ago ceded its position as premier Scientology watchdog to the Tampa Bay Times. The L.A. Times had done legendary work in the 1980s, and the 1990 multipart series by Joel Sappell and Robert Welkos is still one of the greatest exposes of the church of all time. In 2005, the L.A. Times also did great reporting on David Miscavige and Tom Cruise, including a detailed look at Gold Base.

But after that, for some reason, the L.A. Times seemed to lose nearly all interest in the subject while, on the other coast, the Tampa Bay Times (known previously as the St. Petersburg Times, which won a Pulitzer for Scientology coverage in 1980) kept cranking out great investigations, namely the epic 2009 series, “The Truth Rundown” by Joe Childs and Tom Tobin.

It got so bad in L.A., we felt compelled to say something when the paper was reduced to writing credulous pap about an organization it once kept in check.

Last year, the L.A. Times showed some life when it landed a huge scoop about David Miscavige hiring private investigators to follow his own father, Ron Miscavige, after Ron escaped from Gold Base in 2012. The private eyes had been arrested in Wisconsin in 2013, and, facing a weapons charge, spilled their guts in taped police interviews. And then this past April we revealed that the story of the private eyes had actually been dropped in the newspaper’s lap by none other than Lisa Marie Presley. The savvy singer, through an attorney, had handed the scoop not only to the L.A. Times but to another news organization that had been suspiciously friendly to Scientology, Harvey Levin’s TMZ.

Presley must have known that the documents were so juicy, and the story so black and white, that even the L.A. Times and TMZ couldn’t ignore it. Her plan was a stroke of genius.

Meanwhile, LA Weekly seemed to consider writing about Scientology something of a joke, even as we tried to show both the L.A. Times and LA Weekly that they were overlooking some amazing material in their own backyards.

But now, we have reason to hope. Not only did Hillel Aron do his homework and produce a good piece, but we hear that the L.A. Times will be uncorking another investigative story soon, and we’re anxiously awaiting it.

Come on, L.A. journalists: You’re in the belly of the beast!

PS: Late last night we got word that parking has been shut down in the streets near the Scientology Media Productions studios for an event today. What can Scientology be up to this time?



3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on August 27, 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


Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email