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The Underground Bunker’s 2016 Scientology year-in-review starts today!


[Illustration by Bruno Moraes]

Oh, this awful year. From the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, to the senseless violence of the Orlando shooting and the horrific Bastille Day in Nice, to a grinding presidential election that put everyone at each other’s throats, this has been a year to forget and one we’re happy to turn our backs on.

As for the Underground Bunker, it’s been another year of hard work that paid off in stories about Scientology you could get nowhere else. And 2016 is really finishing strong now that Leah Remini has turned everything upside down. Wow, are we glad we’re along for the ride. Her A&E series Scientology and the Aftermath has changed everything, and it makes us very bullish on 2017.

In our usual tradition, we’re going to be looking back at 2016 by looking at a different month each day through New Year’s Eve. Today, we’re looking back at the stories we published in January.

At the beginning of the month, we sounded a note of caution that after the wild success of 2015, there might be some bumps in the road for Scientology watching. Specifically, we were not looking forward to Scientology apologist Reza Aslan getting a major platform on CNN to fluff the Scientology indie community. But his show was put on hold once CNN realized how much cash there was to be made putting Donald Trump on the air 24 hours a day. As far as we know, Reza’s show is still coming, and it will be interesting to see the reaction it gets in contrast to Leah Remini’s program.

When Bowie died, we noted that he’d had the good sense to knock Scientology. We’re still recovering from his loss.


Despite the Church of Scientology’s continuing struggles, leader David Miscavige fired up his front groups to be more aggressive than ever. On January 12, we looked into how one local police official in Minnesota got caught up by one of these fronts and became a bragging point for the church. He later spurned Scientology after we pointed out how he’d been duped.

The next day, we revealed the results of a records request by researcher R.M. Seibert which put real numbers on a situation that we’d heard anecdotally for years — that Scientology imports large numbers of foreign workers under “religious worker” visas. She found that in a six year period from 2009 to 2015, Scientology had applied for 3,447 religious worker visas, and that workers had come from places like Russia, Italy, Mexico, Hungary, and Canada. Why, we asked the church, if Scientology was the “fastest growing religion in the world,” did it have to import so many people to work at places like its Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida? We’re still waiting for an answer to that one.

A few days later, Seibert had another great find, notes from FDA inspectors who interviewed some of L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction peers during its 1960s investigation of Scientology. Author A.E. Van Vogt, for example, a devoted early adopter of Dianetics, was never tempted by Scientology and its past-lives stuff. “Hubbard may have many followers, but he does not have any friends,” Van Vogt told the FDA men.

On January 21, Seibert yet again came through, this time helping us settle a minor dispute over just how well L. Ron Hubbard was raking in cash in his early years. She found a letter written by Hubbard in 1957 when he wanted to impress the local Better Business Bureau, which was hearing complaints about his “Founding” church in Washington DC. To convince the BBB that his was a going concern, Hubbard was unusually forthcoming, and sent over financials that showed in 1956, for example, he had taken in the equivalent of about $900,000 today.

A couple of days later, we posted what has become an annual tradition, our 2016 look at Scientology’s biggest whales. The previous October, at the annual IAS event, the church’s top donors were awarded, and news of who gave the highest amounts gets published in Impact magazine in January. Once again, billionaire couple Bob and Trish Duggan came in as the top givers, and we now estimate that they have given the IAS about $70 million — and that’s a conservative estimate, and it’s only one of many projects the Duggans are expected to underwrite.

On January 24, we observed the 30th anniversary of L. Ron Hubbard leaving his body to pursue OT research in an exterior state (actually, he died of a stroke, but hush). Once again, Seibert had our backs, and delivered to us an obit of Hubbard written by his old friend and literary agent Forrest Ackerman which had not previously been put online. (And, as an aside, whenever we think of Ackerman now, we can’t help remembering the incredible 1949 letter Hubbard sent him which is still rarely talked about, even though Hubbard pretty much gave away the entire game in it. Saying that he was going to send him a copy of his forthcoming book on the “science of the mind,” Hubbard told Ackerman, “Then you can rape women without their knowing it, communicate suicide messages to your enemies as they sleep, sell the Arroyo Seco parkway to the mayor for cash, evolve the best way of protecting or destroying communism, and other handy house hold hints. If you go crazy, remember you were warned….[I] have not decided whether to destroy the Catholic church or merely start a new one.”)

And on the last day of the month, Karen de la Carriere asked us to laugh with her. Scientology attorney Bert Deixler had sent her a letter accusing her of being the mastermind behind a television series being shot in Los Angeles at the time, and which featured a couple, Phil and Willie Jones, who were trying to get information about their grown kids, Mike and Emily, who work in Scientology’s Sea Org in L.A. and had disconnected from them. This was the second time in two years that Scientology had accused Karen of being behind plots against the church, and in both cases they were simply mistaken.

A LOOK BACK AT JANUARY 2015: Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, and we were there. Scientology had taken out full-page ads in major newspapers attacking Gibney before the film debuted. And it made predictable attacks afterwards. And in a new release of old documents, John McMaster, the world’s first true “Clear,” revealed that L. Ron Hubbard expected to come back as his daughter Diana’s child.

A LOOK BACK AT JANUARY 2014: We posted the Tommy Davis deposition from the Monique Rathbun lawsuit. Scientology’s own attorney discussed David Miscavige’s “black heart” in open court. Barbara Cordova Oliver went missing. Jefferson Hawkins wrapped up his series on Scientology “ethics.”

A LOOK BACK AT JANUARY 2013: Lawrence Wright’s epic book Going Clear debuted, as did John Sweeney’s book, Luis and Rocio Garcia filed their federal fraud lawsuit, and Atlantic magazine screwed up big time.

A Programming Note: Our veterans know this, but for our newer readers, as we continue this series, we won’t stop reporting new stories. In fact, on Friday we have another gut-punch for you. So please make sure and check back in every day.


Jeffrey Augustine talks to Ron Miscavige



3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on December 21, 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, Kindle, and audiobook versions. 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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