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HowdyCon: Aussie journalist Steve Cannane’s response to Marty Rathbun

[Steve Cannane and your proprietor in Denver]

Saturday night in Denver, those of us who were there had the privilege of hearing London-based Australian journalist Steve Cannane address the crowd at our annual gathering, HowdyCon. He had prepared remarks for his talk, and we obtained his permission to publish those notes here on the blog today. Here’s what Steve told us that night…

I was one of a number of journalists who got a mention in Marty Rathbun’s surprisingly well shot video diary and I asked Tony if he wanted a response for the Bunker.

I told him I’d wait until Marty finished, because in one of his earlier posts he said he had more to say about Lawrence Wright’s analysis of the Australian inquiry and I thought I better wait and see what else he had to offer.

I didn’t realise at time that Marty’s page by page analysis of Wright’s book Going Clear could end up taking longer to complete than Robert Caro’s five volume biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Because I’m worried I might actually be dead before Marty finishes up his video series, which I have now fallen asleep in front of three times, I’ve decided to issue an interim response, here at Howdycon.


I’m not going to address the rubbish Marty spouts about Tony, about Mike Rinder, about Hubbard curing himself of his non-existent war wounds, or his strange defense of Fletcher Prouty. To start with I wanted to deal with the 90 seconds where he mentions me and the inquiry in Australia.

He says the following:

“Page 91, he talks about the Australian government’s inquiry and I note I went through with him in some detail, Ewen Cameron being involved in this and I’ll talk about the significance of that about the prosecutor Dax and the fact that it was really a Kangaroo Court.”

Marty’s talking about how he was telling Larry Wright about the inquiry into Scientology in Australia in the 1960s. The first of its kind anywhere in the world.

In just four lines Marty says four things that are either inaccurate or lack the evidence to back them up – not a great strike rate for someone who is criticising other people’s work line by line.

1) It was not an Australian government inquiry. It was an inquiry set up by the state government of Victoria in 1963.

2) How was Ewen Cameron involved in this inquiry? And which Ewen Cameron is Marty talking about? Is it the Scottish born psychiatrist and former President of the American Psychiatric Association involved in the MK Ultra program who has featured in Scientology’s Freedom magazine a number of times? If so where’s the evidence he had anything to do with the Australian inquiry? Is he referring to Ewen Cameron who was previously a Minister for Health in Victoria, and was in favour of an inquiry, but his advice was ignored by the Premier Sir Henry Bolte which means he was hardly influential?

3) He talks about “prosecutor Dax” referring to Cunningham Dax, who was a psychiatrist not a prosecutor, which underlines how little Marty knows about the inquiry. The Scientologists believe Dax was the man behind the inquiry – my research suggests there were other far more influential figures. If Marty did give information to Larry Wright about the Australian inquiry, Wright was wise to ignore it.

4) He refers to the inquiry as a “kangaroo court.” It wasn’t. A “kangaroo court” normally refers to a sham set of legal proceedings, where the judge is owned and the verdict is set up in advance, something that tends to happen in dictatorships not democracies. In my book I’m critical of elements of the inquiry – and some of the moralising of Kevin Anderson QC who ran the inquiry – but it was hardly some kind of star chamber as Marty is suggesting.

The fact that Marty has used the term “kangaroo court” is interesting in itself. It’s straight out of the Hubbard playbook. In fact it was the name of book published by the Hubbard College of Scientology in 1967 that was issued as a riposte to the inquiry’s findings. Bound in black and gold featuring a kangaroo resplendent in a judge’s wig on the cover, it took a very patronising attitude to Australia and the state that dared to set up an inquiry about Scientology and issue such a scathing assessment of both the organisation and Hubbard.

Among the pearls of wisdom in Kangaroo Court:

“Only a society founded by criminals, organised by criminals and devoted to making people criminals could come to such a conclusion. A criminal society would applaud brutality, regard leucotomy, lobotomy and other major operations depriving a being of the use of his brain, as necessary to relieve a desperate situation.”

Another of my favourites quotes from is this:

“The Foundation of Victoria consists of the riff-raff of London’s slums – robbers, murderers, prostitutes, fences, thieves – the scourings of Newgate and Bedlam.”


Of course Hubbard was happy to make money off the riff-raff of Victoria when about 100 of them moved to Saint Hill around the same time Kangaroo Court was written.

So it’s very interesting that Marty uses the term “kangaroo court” – straight from the title of Scientology’s rebuttal of the Anderson Inquiry.

After Marty labels the inquiry a “kangaroo court,” he moves onto criticising my book, saying “the guy’s like a terrible writer.”

As he says it, he’s sighing and his eyes are rolling so much, it’s almost as if he’s just popped some of the “pinks and greys” Hubbard was on when he wrote OT III in Tangiers.

Now Marty might be right about this. I may well be a terrible writer, but he provides no context like a good literary critic should. I mean, I’d like to know exactly how bad my book really is.

Is it worse than Battlefield Earth?

As impenetrable as Dianetics?

Even more substandard than some of the book-shaped objects that Marty had released in recent years?

As he continues his rant, Marty accuses me of “piling on” on Scientology:

“As much as the guy Cannane tried to pile on, because he’s playing the pile on game now because it’s easy to go after Scientology and so he’s just regurgitating these things that have been said, even Cannane who is not, who wasn’t trying to come to this conclusion, the description he gave of the Australian inquiry and that whole episode to which he went into some depth because his book is in Australia, describes a kangaroo court and a witch hunt to the tee.”

Where to start? Which one is it Marty? Am I part of a pile on or have I uncovered material which helps you argue there were flaws in the inquiry in Australia? Am I just some regurgitator of old material? Or have I uncovered new material that you now want to regurgitate ––in a way that suits your agenda?

Marty’s line “he wasn’t trying to come to this conclusion” says it all about how distorted his thinking is. I didn’t start my book trying to come to any form of conclusion. I wanted to find out the truth. To get to the bottom of the story of Scientology and how it related to Australia. You only want to come to conclusions after you have weighed up the evidence that you have gathered.

Mark Colvin, a good friend of mine who died recently and was one of the best journalists of his generation, used to liken journalism to looking at a sculpture or painting at an art gallery – walking around it and looking at it from each and every angle. That’s what I tried to do with my book.

I quote Scientologists who thought the inquiry in Australia was unfair, but I also spoke to people who participated in the inquiry and thought it was perfectly reasonable. I outline the key role Scientologists played in exposing psychiatric abuses in a private hospital in Sydney and the heroic efforts of a Scientologist nurse who went in undercover and accessed medical files and gathered evidence of malpractice.


I quote Marty talking about how James Packer benefited from Scientology.

I make the case that the ban on Scientology in three states in Australia was wrong and defend the right of people to believe in whatever they want to believe in.

How is any of this part of a “pile on”? To quote Marty’s own words about Larry Wright back at him, “the facts don’t suit his narrative.”

In his videos, he takes morsels of information, distorts them and shapes them into the narrative that he wants to tell at this point in time.

I don’t know why Marty is saying what he’s saying now. I’m not going to guess at his motivations, like he likes to guess about others. But I will say I am grateful to him for the two interviews he gave to me back when he was speaking out about Scientology, and speaking out about things he had first-hand experience with. When he did, he was an excellent source, and helped me immensely with my chapters relating to Nicole Kidman and Rupert Murdoch.

Unfortunately, Marty is now engaging in the kinds of distortions and over the top language that was a hallmark of Hubbard. This is at its worst when he describes people who oppose Scientology, or who are critical of Scientology, as being in some form of cult.

Marty likes to portray himself as a deep thinker and if you have read his blog posts over the years they often refer to books he’s read and some of the ideas that have emerged from those books. But his capacity for critical thinking seems to have abandoned him of late.

By describing critics and opponents and journalists who cover Scientology as being part of what he calls the “Anti-Scientology Cult” or “ASC,” is some of the laziest thinking and analysis I’ve come across. Marty uses terms in his videos that you learn in first year philosophy like “sophistry” and “straw man arguments” and the Latin term “reductio ad absurdum.”

One fallacy he fails to mention and it applies to his argument about the Anti-Scientology Cult is the concept of false equivalence. Cults control people. They tend to have strong charismatic leaders who use discipline, punishment, mind control and threats of deprivation to their followers as a means of controlling them.

I don’t see any of the people Marty mentions in this so called ASC controlling anybody.

Do they make them wear a preposterous naval uniform?

Make them sign billion-year contracts?

Send them off the the RPF?

Enforce a policy of disconnection so they will never see their family members again?

Engage in human trafficking?

Throw children in a chain locker?

Tell them if they leaving “the ASC” that eternal life will allude them?

Ring them up and hound them for money?

Tell them they have to buy whole new sets of books now that the punctuation has been modified by the cult leader?

Tell them they can’t read negative press about “the ASC” on the internet?

It’s an absurd argument and is deeply offensive.

It diminishes and trivialises the suffering of people who have been exposed to the real trauma of a real cult. People here tonight like Bernie Headley and Phil and Willie Jones who can’t see their children because of Scientology’s policy of disconnection.

It is an outrageous false equivalence and if Marty’s going to try and shoot holes in other people’s arguments he ought to get his own arguments in order first.

The last time I spoke to Marty on the phone was in June 2015. I looked up my notes from that conversation earlier today. I was struck by the section where I was telling him some of the stories I had uncovered and I asked him to keep it to himself until publication and he said no problem.

“I’m not in the gossip circles,” he told me “I’ve been very critical of them [he’s talking about people he considers anti-scientologists] because I think it takes on the trappings of a cult in a way. So don’t worry about that.”

Notice the moderation in his tone. He says, “the trappings of a cult in a way.” That has now morphed into absolutist terms. Critics are now members of a cult.

People he once praised, he now trashes. Long term friends or journalists and film makers he was once happy to work with are now written off as liars or members of “the troll farm”. Something has changed. Only Marty, and perhaps whoever is still close to him, knows what’s driven that change.

— Steve Cannane


Chris Shelton from HowdyCon!

Wow, we didn’t know Chris was putting together a video while he was at HowdyCon. We’re humbled by everything in this very appreciated look at our annual gathering.



Aaron Smith-Levin on the claims made by Marty Rathbun

Jeffrey Augustine talks with Aaron about the recent unpleasantness.



Bonus items from our tipsters

Sacre bleu! Scientologists marching against les drogues in France…


The planned Kansas City Ideal Org sure will be responsible for a lot of territory!


Jim Meskimen and Erika Christensen and that favorite necklace of Jim’s that is totally not what you think it is.



Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,796 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,553 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,899 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,393 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,433 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,145 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 671 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,760 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,900 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,220 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,195 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 551 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,853 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 960 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,362 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,235 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 816 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,321 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,565 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,674 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on June 29, 2017 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.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

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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