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DOX: An inside look at how Scientology gets what it wants at ‘Ideal Org’ events

[David Miscavige in San Diego]

On November 19, 2016, Scientology held the grand opening for its San Diego “Ideal Org” after years of missteps and miscalculations on where to build its new gleaming cathedral there.

Scientology had been in a building on 4th Street downtown for many years, but wanted a much larger and more impressive home for its “Ideal” church. First, it considered a futuristic looking office building that a wealthy member wanted to donate. But it spurned that offer and purchased a closed college campus that was too far out of town. Eventually, Scientology decided to stick with its 4th Street location, but turn the ground level parking into an actual floor of the building in order to gain more square footage.

As usual, Scientologists from other areas were brought in to put together a decent crowd, some local figures were brought in to give some speeches, David Miscavige gave his usual brief words, and then the ribbon fell and confetti flew. It was the same show we’ve seen in so many other places around the world, most recently in Amsterdam.

But one thing was unusual about the San Diego opening. Ken Stone, a local journalist who liked some of the reporting we have done on Ideal Orgs, contacted us to let us know that he had put in a public records request for all official emails between San Diego city employees and the church regarding the event. Hey, that was smart!

We really appreciate that Ken turned over those emails to us, because it gives us a unique look into the machinations that go into putting on an Ideal Org grand opening.


After going through the many emails and eliminating a lot of repetition and mundane back and forth, we pulled out what we think are some interesting exchanges, especially to those folks who like to show up at these things and run into Scientology’s usual tricks, which include movable hedges, closed sidewalks, and a heavy police presence.

What the emails prove is what so many former Scientology officials have told us, that these things tend to be done in a big hurry. And also, that the church tries its best to lure local political figures, and with mixed results.

So here you go. Read the machinations going on up to the November 19 opening, and then we’ll look at what then actually happened on that day in San Diego…

[Sept 15] Scientology’s Australian-born Nick Banks, a spokesman for the church, writes to Venessa Jackson, assistant to San Diego Councilmember Todd Gloria, after talking with her on the phone. “As I mentioned, we will be completing renovation next month of our new Church of Scientology located downtown at 1330 Fourth Street, between A and Ash Street. I have enclosed a rendering of what it will look like to give you an idea. As a result and in preparation for our opening, we will have an international representative in town next week. We will usually meet with our city and state representatives before completion of a project of this scale and so I would love the opportunity to arrange a meeting between Councilman Gloria and our representative to tell him more about our new home and let him know our plans for the new facility including the city programs we will be implementing.”

[Sept 20] Nick Banks to Venessa Jackson: “As I mentioned we would very much like the opportunity to meet with Councilor Gloria at his first availability, whenever that may be. I will arrange for a Church Representative to come down, as he is our councilor we consider it very important. We have invested a lot into downtown with our new facility, and would very much like to know what the councilor feels would be our best next step for community investment. Also, we are planning our grand opening for November 12. We are currently expecting 4,000 constituents to turn out…”

[Sept 20] Venessa Jackson to Nick Banks: “As Councilmember Gloria’s calendar is full for the next month or so, he has asked his Director of Community Projects, Anthony Bernal, to meet with you. Anthony covers the downtown area and is very knowledgeable regarding the area…”

[Sept 20] Nick Banks to Michelle Porras, director of scheduling for San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer: “Thank you very much for accommodating us yesterday. It was great to briefly see the outreach coordinator and go over our social programs. I did want to follow up regarding meeting with the Mayor and when he may have 15-20 minutes in his schedule over the coming weeks…we usually have the Mayor in attendance as we did for recent Church openings in Phoenix, Sacramento, Orange County, Las Vegas etc.

[Sept 30] Michelle Porras to Nick Banks: “Unfortunately, the Mayor has another commitment that directly conflicts with the Church’s grand opening on November 12, and he is unable to attend.”

[Oct 4] Ken Long, of Scientology’s secret police, the Office of Special Affairs, writes to city staffers Cindy Benitez-Kodama and Brandy Shimabukuro after meeting with them. He says that he expects construction to be finished in the first week of November and hopes for a grand opening on the second or third weekend, hoping to avoid Thanksgiving. “The ceremony is a private event for Church parishioners and guests, but will be followed the next day by a public open house and the Church will thereafter always be open to interested public persons. The ceremony will be filmed by a professional crew of Church staff. Cameras will include stationary cameras on a central platform, a camera on a lift, a boom camera and one or more ambulatory camera operators with professional AV monitoring and recording. The filmed event will then be distributed to churches of Scientology internationally to share San Diego’s accomplishment with them and to inspire other churches to do the same in their areas…The ceremony will last about an hour. It will start with about 6-8 minutes of musical entertainment relevant to San Diego. It will then be followed by about 50 minutes of speeches from local officials and representatives of religious or social organizations, ending with a speech by Mr. David Miscavige, the ecclesiastical leader of Scientology, and a ribbon-pull. (In the days before the event, a large ribbon will be fastened to the front of the building as is shown in the attached renderings.) At the same time as the ribbon pull, there is a balloon release and confetti cannons fire. (You mentioned these may be problematic but I’m raising them since they are a normal part of our planning so that we can resolve any issues.)…Ideally, we would want to close the sidewalks and curb lane directly in front of the building on the Tuesday before the ceremony in order for a lift to hang the ribbon. We would want to keep them closed so that erection of the stage could then take place Wed and Thursday, with the aim of having everything in place by Friday, 24 hours before the start of the event the following day, so that all cameras and other AV equipment can be checked out in what should be close to identical lighting conditions…We will need security assistance from the SDPD and will separately provide them with details as to what is needed and why, as well as introducing them to our own security personnel…”

[Oct 14] Ken Long to Cindy Benitez-Kodama, Brett Davidson, et al. “During our meeting, there were a few references to the use of the trees as a means to allow privacy for the event that I perhaps should have addressed but I was uncertain how far to go regarding security measures…For a number of years now, we have had to deal with real security issues, not just talk. [Six paragraphs redacted.] I’m providing this information and documents to help explain our concerns and viewpoint. In every other city that we have held ceremonies such as this, we have been able to utilize movable hedges or trees both as part of the film set decor and, more importantly, to obstruct outside view as a security measure. This has been very brief at times, as little as an hour and a half starting just before the event begins and ending right after the conclusion of the event with just enough time for guests to enter and depart from the otherwise open fire lane…”

[Oct 26] Ken Long to Cindy Benitez-Kodama: “The dates are now either November 19th or December 3rd. I don’t see any conflicts on the event calendar but want to be sure the 3rd is workable.”

[Nov 3] Ken Long to Brett Davidson: “You mentioned earlier some concerns about the number of people for the event site and I believe you mentioned a figure of 7 sq. ft. per person. By our figures, it is 198′ from the stage to Ash Street and the street and sidewalks together are 81′ wide, so there should be room for about 2,300 people…We’re moving forward for the event on November 19th at 3pm now that the temporary certificate of occupancy was issued yesterday…”

[Nov 8] Mark Stephens (a San Diego Associate Planner), writes back to Ken Long: “What steps will be taken to assure proposed confetti cannon materials do not get outside the event venue, and that confetti materials are completely cleaned up and removed?…Also, the Special Event Permit application indicates hand held balloons will be involved, so steps need to be taken to assure such balloons don’t blow or drift off site.”

[Nov 8] Susan De La Pena of the SD Police Department to other city officials: “This event is scheduled for November 19. It came in late and there have been several changes to dates and times…”

[Nov 10] Ken Long to Brett Davidson: “I’ve been in touch with Roseanne Luth from Luth Marketing and they will be closing their front entrance for the time period of the event and using a side entrance on Ash Street. We are paying their costs for a security guard to monitor that entrance…”

[Nov 10] Ken Long to Susan De La Pena: “Our senior security people for the opening ceremony are arriving today and we’d like to arrange a meeting whenever possible with the SDPD Sergeant who will be in charge of security for the event to introduce everyone to him and provide him with photos and copies of restraining orders for some of the persons with whom we have concerns.

[Nov 10] Susan De La Pena to Ken Long: “I have briefed the sergeant on your concerns and have sent him the information on the persons you have concerns with. If you would like to send me the photos of the individuals also I will pass that information on to him.”

[Nov 10] Ken Long to Susan De La Pena: “Does the issuance of the special event permit by the City and its relevant departments enable us to fully close the event site to all but the event participants? In other words, if a pedestrian were to demand to walk down the street once it’s closed, we want to be sure the permit authorizes the pedestrian to be directed to take a different route….Los Angeles Municipal Codes make it a misdemeanor to interfere with a permitted special event or a permitted filming activity. Is there a San Diego ordinance or policy regarding attempts to disrupt or disturb permitted events or filming? Would anyone wanting to use amplified sound in the area around our event be required to first obtain an amplified sound permit of some sort, or to coordinate with us to ensure there would be no interference?”

[Nov 14] Ken Long to Mark Stephens: “I’ve been working with my logs guys and have located confetti cannons with biodegradable, water soluble confetti. I’m also checking to find out if we can lower the pressure in the canisters to lessen the height the confetti flies. We’ll have plastic sheets over the drains and backpack vacuum cleaners to pick up the confetti right after the ceremony.”

[Nov 16] Mark Stephens to Ken Long: “Have signed off on this event with the understanding that your organization will take all feasible measures to prevent any confetti from being left behind…”

[Nov 18] Frida Johansson of Golden Era Productions to Brandy Shimabukuro, San Diego’s Filming Program Manager: “You have worked with us and given us such good service in the last couple of years so I wanted to let you know that our Church of Scientology San Diego will have their grand opening tomorrow, Saturday, at their newly renovated and expanded premises on 1330 4th Avenue…I invite you to come in and see what we are all about and how we can contribute to a better San Diego…”

[Nov 18] Brandy Shimabukuro to Frida Johansson: “You are very kind to think of me, Frida. Congratulations on the grand opening! Thank you for the invitation, but I already have prior commitments for this weekend…”

Well, so much for those last-minute invitations. And it was a shame the mayor and city councilman couldn’t make the scene either. Here are the four speakers Scientology managed to scrounge up…


And as for the crowd, it was interesting to see Nick Banks trying to get in with the councilman by saying 4,000 people were going to show up. Later, Ken Long admits that the space will only hold about 2,300. And if this photo shows the full extent of the crowd, we think even that is a very generous estimate….


Even though they knew they couldn’t get more than 2,300 into the space, Scientology naturally claimed that many more were there — 3,500 according to the press release they put out later:

“If ever was a day when ‘California Dreaming’ assumed a whole new meaning it is now with the inauguration of this Ideal Church of Scientology,” said David Miscavige, the ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion. “And if ever was a place predestined for this moment, then it’s your San Diego. So as we dedicate this Ideal Org, we do so in the name of our Founder and in honor of this city where he once lived. And thus, we pledge our commitment to employ his technology for life—broadly, unsparingly and indiscriminately for this ‘Finest City in America!’”

The San Diego grand opening punctuates an explosive era of expansion for the Church and marks the 55th Ideal Church Organization (Ideal Org) to open its doors. Ideal Orgs now stand in cities all over the world—from Los Angeles to London, Melbourne to Milan and Tel Aviv to Tokyo. “Ideal” is the standard set by Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard so that every Church could be a perfect expression of the religion’s principles and practices.

So it was on Saturday, November 19, some 3,500 Scientologists and their guests were on hand to witness San Diego’s historic grand opening. And from the first strains of a mariachi band mixed with the uplifting tones of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA,” to dignitaries representing every political and social spectrum of San Diego City and County—the inauguration positively embodied the city’s rich culture.

And yes, this was the grand opening when David Miscavige claimed that L. Ron Hubbard had been the first to surf at Encinitas. We showed that wasn’t the case.

Most interesting to us was confirmation that Scientology meets with local police and gives them “dead agent packs” on some of us. We say “us” because that was definitely the case at the grand opening in Harlem which occurred on July 31 last year. We managed to find a vantage point that Scientology wasn’t counting on, and it obviously freaked them out a little, including the New York Police Department officers who were working with them…

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 was pretty obvious that Scientology had forewarned the police about us, telling them a lot of garbage that wasn’t true.

And now, we have evidence that they do it in other places as well, which we assumed was the case already. But it’s a shame that the city redacted what appear to be six crucial paragraphs that we would guess contain various calumnies against people the church considers enemies.

Anyway, we really appreciated this glimpse behind the scenes into what Scientology does as it works local officials before one of its events, and our thanks to Ken Stone, who thought to request these emails.


Huffington Post on quasi-Scientology schools getting state money

Really interesting piece today from Rebecca Klein at Huffington Post about the Clearwater Academy, a private school that uses Scientology’s “study tech” but claims to be secular.

We’ve been looking at the school for other reasons because of some calls we’ve been getting from foreign reporters about it, and we are expecting something interesting on that later. But for now, Klein’s piece, which includes interviews with Leah Farrow and Dave Touretzky, has some good stuff on how these private schools play with the word “secular” in order to pretend that they aren’t pushing Scientology on students.


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,960 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 106 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,169 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,943 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,717 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,063 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,557 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,597 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,309 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 835 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,924 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,064 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,384 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,359 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 715 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,017 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,123 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,526 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,399 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 980 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,485 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,729 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,838 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on December 11, 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 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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