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The Underground Bunker’s 2017 Scientology year-in-review starts today!

[Leah, Mike, and the Bunker regulars]

It’s been a crazy and uncertain news year, but one thing we know with utter certainty: 2017 has been a Scientology watching year like no other. And for that, we can thank Leah Remini and Mike Rinder.

There have been plenty of previous years when Scientology was exposed by major media, from the British press of the 1960s, to the Snow White years with 60 Minutes and Reader’s Digest, to Time magazine and the Los Angeles Times in the 1990s, to the Tampa Bay Times in the 2000s, and even more recently with HBO’s massively successful Alex Gibney film Going Clear in 2015.

But it was this year that Leah Remini made Scientology’s controversies and abuses a weekly, national, and hugely watched obsession on television in the United States and increasingly around the rest of the world. We’ve simply never experienced anything like it.

The show won an Emmy? We’re happy for Leah that it did, but what really mattered was that a whole new segment of the public now knows that Scientology is more than some silly celebrity thing in Hollywood, and that it deserves to be investigated and held up to some real standards of evidence.

It’s been quite an experience here in the Underground Bunker keeping up with what turned into a tsunami of news and new readers this year, and there were plenty of highlights. Once again, we held our small convention, this time in Denver, and besides bringing you daily reports here at the website, we managed to uncork a few real beauties, often with the help of our amazing researchers and helpers. Like always, the Bunker was a team effort, and we are grateful for everything our readers bring to this website, day after day.

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So, as in past years, we’ll be going through a daily look-back at the stories that rocked the Bunker this year, covering a different month each day until December 31, when we combine November and December’s highlights. And at that point, we’ll reveal the overall most-read stories of the year, as well as our pick for our favorite 20 stories of the year. And then, at midnight on January 1, we’ll reveal Observer’s new poster for 2018’s HowdyCon as we plunge into another revolution around the sun here on Teegeeack.

Of course, we won’t stop reporting the news over the next ten days, but we hope you enjoy our look through the archives. So here we go. First up, the stories of January 2017.

 
Leah started off the year with one of her very best episodes, with Aaron Smith-Levin telling the story of his twin, Collin, who died in a car accident after Scientology had come between the two brothers. It’s tough to watch Aaron cry his way through the episode, but then there’s such joy in the story of his dog, Goliath, who the neighbors didn’t want to disconnect from, it makes this episode one for the ages. And the next day, we marveled at how, like clockwork, Scientology put up a smear page about Aaron at its website dedicated to attacking Leah and her guests, which only reinforces everything we’ve been saying about the church.

On January 5, we were in awe at the $2.4 million Delaware beach house that Scientology attorney Monique Yingling put on the market. She has several other million-dollar properties in the Washington DC area, which tells you how lucrative it is to run interference for David Miscavige by appearing on television in his stead.

The next day, we posted our first big feature of the year, about Serge Gil, who appeared on ABC 20/20. But that television program really sort of missed the point. ABC’s Dan Harris asked Serge about sexual questions he was asked, but all Scientologists go through that. What made Serge’s story unique isn’t the questions he was asked, but what questions he was forced to ask others. We went into depth about Serge who, as a 14-year-old auditor, was tasked with interrogating older men about their sexual habits. Sometimes, he told us, that meant having to hear about the fantasies an older man was having about him. And always Serge would be forced to push for more and more detail. Talking to other former church members, we learned that this is actually a pretty common thing in Scientology, and is most likely still happening.

On January 11, there was another ‘Aftermath’ episode, and another horror story — this time about how the church treated an emotionally troubled former member, Brandon Reisdorf. And sure enough, there was soon a smear from the church at its attack site.

The next day, we reported that the LAPD had told Leah Remini it wasn’t going to turn over any of the documents she had asked for in regards to how it handled her 2013 missing-person report about Shelly Miscavige. It’s almost like they have something to hide.

On January 17, Marc Headley revealed that he was “bedsheet Jesus” in a notorious photo shoot that put Scientology above the world’s great religions. “Confucius had gas,” Headley told us, referring to Gary Lew — who went by the code name “Luigi” — dressed as Confucius, who was standing next to him. “He was farting full time, and everyone behind him was laughing and giggling while we were trying to get the shot.”

After the presidential inaugural, we noted that Scientology was wasting no time — billionaire Scientologist Trish Duggan was spotted at the party in DC pressing the flesh with the likes of Kellyanne Conway and Newt Gingrich.

On January 24, Leah Farrow told us her story, about signing a Sea Org billion-year contract and going to work on Scientology’s private cruise ship, the Freewinds, at only 15 years of age. Here’s how she described the kind of work she was subjected to as punishment: “I was made to clean the scavenger spaces in the engine room. They are small spaces in the engine itself that filters fuel. They get full of heavy fuel oil, so I cleaned it out with diesel because it’s the only thing that works, I was told. The spaces are only big enough to fit your head to your shoulders. You have to climb up a ladder that’s attached to the engine and open a hatch that hangs over the ladder. Then you just put your head in and as much of your body as you can. It’s dark and filled with fumes, and it’s really hot. I’d wear a plastic bag over my hair to try to not get the heavy fuel on my hair, but it’d get all over me. The only way to get it off was diesel sponge baths. I didn’t wear any breathing equipment or anything.”

Three days later, we posted a story that meant a lot to us, celebrating Bernie Headley for not giving up hope that he can someday see his disconnected daughter again. As Bernie and his son Marc Headley explained to us, Bernie has really defied the odds as he’s beaten one cancer diagnosis after another. Why, Scientology, are you keeping this man away from his only daughter? Bernie’s story inspired us to start a feature at the end of each day’s story, where we keep track of the days it’s been since various people we’ve written about have been separated from their parents or children or siblings by the Church of Scientology.

And on January 30, we revealed that one of our stories had prompted someone to come forward anonymously with a telephone number so Claudio and Renata Lugli could call their son, Flavio, who disconnected from them six years ago. Miraculously, although the number proved to be wrong, they managed to get Flavio on the line anyway. And then, put yourselves in their place — what do you say to your Sea Org son who is dedicated to Scientology and just as dedicated to cutting you out of their lives? It was a dramatic moment, and one that left Claudio and Renata heartbroken but hopeful.

 
MOST-READ STORIES OF JANUARY 2017:
1. Tonight on ‘Leah Remini’: Once again, Scientology’s a horror show for the mentally ill
2. Tonight on ‘Leah Remini’: Aaron Smith-Levin on how families get so screwed up in Scientology
3. Scientology’s disgusting secret: Young teens used to interrogate adults about their sex lives
4. Aaron Smith-Levin appears on ‘Leah Remini,’ hours later gets own Scientology attack site
5. Scientology wastes no time making a move on the new president, but where does Trump stand?

 
A LOOK BACK AT JANUARY 2016: A local police chief gets played by Scientology, but later thinks better of it. Researcher R.M. Seibert gets the lowdown on how Scientology is using ‘religious’ visas to bring in foreign workers. Karen de la Carriere gets a nasty letter from a Scientology attorney.

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.

 
Five of our favorites from the most-upvoted comments of January 2017

January 1: Mat Pesch
It still amazes me. Someone of Debbie Cook’s stature wrote such a precise communication that went to the thousands of solo NOTs auditors, and it didn’t have an even bigger effect. Scientology could not stand without the financial and personal support of the few thousand public who reached the upper levels. These are veteran Scientologists who are administratively and technically trained. They know exactly what Debbie was saying and they know it is true. Why would any of them keep their heads down and keep playing along? Although they aren’t being physically controlled like penniless Sea Org members, the mental and social controls are extreme. Miscavige blatantly tore apart, administratively and technically, Scientology despite all the LRH policy and warnings put in place to prevent such a thing. Sea Org members failed by allowing Miscavige to become a dictator, and by following his off policy orders. Public Scientologists who knew better and still followed along are also responsible. Scientology was always a nutty cult, but Miscavige has taken it to new levels of crazy and all for his personal greed and need to dominate others. Thank you Debbie and Wayne for your strength and personal integrity. I wish you both a fantastic 2017!

January 6: Mike Rinder
Kind of sick of the [ABC] 20/20 proclivity for giving “equal time” on anything they do on Scientology abuses. They seem to think this gives them journalistic credibility. Instead they come across as Scientology apologists — wonder if they used the same method to report on North Korea, whether they would devote equal time to propaganda videos provided by N. Korean Govt and have one of their puppet spokeswomen given “equal time”? (I do note Scientology has apparently learned not to keep sending footage of empty buildings, now they are filled with extras). I thought investigative journalism was supposed to expose things, not offer “equal time” coverage to those being exposed in order to “present their side.” The bright side of this is that at this point, I don’t think any viewers of this show are going to mistake what Muffins Yingling is doing or that this is all pursuant to Scientology’s policy of “never defend, always attack.”

January 11: Observer
Scientology: We’re not a “turn the other cheek” religion. We’re a “mug you, knock you down, and kick the crap out of you” “religion.”

January 19: Princess Poopypants
I remember when they moved a large oak tree at Flag to make way for the Super Power building. That was early on, around 1998 or 1999. They had a groundbreaking ceremony, which was just a shovel in a pile of dirt that they put a large glass like structure over as a display for … how many years before the building was built? It reminds me somehow of my first week at Flag, which was an odd whirlwind of weird things. I was assigned to the Universe Corps, which is a team of Sea Org members who train to deliver the OT Levels to the staff once the org they work in has attained Saint Hill Size. The first night at Flag, around midnight, I was ordered to go to the ballroom, which was on the 10th or 12th floor. There was a Gold shoot crew, and they were shooting a Universe Corps video, to be sent to all orgs. I spent all night doing a speech into the camera for the staff: “We are coming to get you to OT!!” I had a long speech and I had to memorize it because their teleprompter did not work. I had to start over repeatedly because of the thunderstorm outside. Finally I get a shower and go to my first day of training. And an odd day it was. Marty Rathbun was taking around a film crew (ABC or NBC I think), who were doing a documentary about Scientology. I had to sign a waiver, so I am assuming it was used somewhere, but I have never found it. Then we meet our bosses, over lunch, one of which was Ray Mithoff. My first thought about the poor guy was he needed to eat! He looked very pale and thin. And he is a tall person. Later that night, I saw a group of people riding bikes in bright colored biking outfits. One of them was bright yellow, and the man wearing it looked miserable and tired. It was Heber Jentzsch. Later I asked one of my bosses about it, and he laughed and said Heber was in trouble and they (Miscavige) made him wear that yellow outfit and ride all over Clearwater to humiliate him. He was also made to ride the bike down the stairs in the WB building. All of CMO were there watching him come down the stairs on that bike like that and smirking. These days at Flag, with some of the things I saw (including the protesters, who got me to think “who is Lisa McPherson?”) opened my eyes to what kind of a world we would have with Scientology, and I wanted no part of it.

January 31: Andrea ‘i-Betty’ Garner
Leah: “Danny Masterson.”
Joe Rogan: “I don’t know who that is.”
Andrea Garner: “Snickersnort.”

 
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Another Masterson victim comes forward

Yesterday, in a tweet, actress and model Bobette Riales, 36, identified herself as one of Danny Masterson’s victims…

Back in March, we broke the news that three women, all Scientologists, had come forward to the Los Angeles Police Department, which was looking into their allegations that Masterson had raped them. We wrote in detail about these three women we referred to as Victim A, Victim B, and Victim C.

Since our first set of stories, a fourth victim came forward, and that news was broken by Yashar Ali at the Huffington Post.

The news media is now reporting that Riales, by coming forward, is a fifth Masterson victim.

While we wait to see what decision the Los Angeles District Attorney’s makes about filing charges, we aren’t going to say more about where Riales falls in the list of victims or how many there are.

As soon as we can say more, we will.

 
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Chris Shelton on Scientology basics

Says Chris: “This is the next in my ongoing Basics of Scientology series, breaking down the basic principles and philosophy of Scientology so it can be clearly seen how it is not scientific in nature, not universally ‘workable’ and not something that people need to go pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn about. In this video, I go over the ARC Triangle, why Hubbard said it was so important and give some examples where it might not be as useful as Scientologists like to think. Enjoy!”

 

 
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Bonus items from our tipsters

Scientology whale Tom Cummins proves that if you travel to exotic locations, hunt down small and rare animals, and then wear them on your head, you can gain admittance to the Explorer’s Club in New York.

 

 
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Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,970 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 116 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,179 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,953 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,727 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,073 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,567 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,607 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,319 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 845 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,934 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,074 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,394 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,369 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 725 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,027 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,133 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,536 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,409 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 990 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,495 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,739 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,848 days.

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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on December 21, 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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