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


Thetans roasting on an open fire: It’s Christmas in the Bunker, and we’re full of cheer

Merry Christmas! We’re continuing to look back at 2017’s most significant stories here at the Underground Bunker and today it’s a flashback to May in our annual Scientology year-in-review.

One of the things we’re always grateful for here in the Underground Bunker as we look over our past stories is how often we got help from fellow journalists. Many reporters make the Bunker a regular stop, and we’re so fortunate that they care enough about this community to want to lend us support. This year in particular we’re grateful to Emma Best, Bryan Seymour, Steve Cannane, and in particular Melissa Cronin. In May, she got access to something a lot of us have wanted to see for several years — actual evidence that the FBI did investigate the Church of Scientology for trafficking in 2009-2010. Melissa pried loose the FBI’s file on that investigation, and decided to share it with us, so we could bring our readers detail from it — such as the FBI’s interview with Nazanin Boniadi about how she had been recruited by the church to be Tom Cruise’s girlfriend. (Later in the year we made the entire file public as well.) Thank you, Melissa, for thinking of the Bunker. And to any other journalists coming by, please hit us up anytime — we’re always happy to answer questions or give suggestions on getting sources for your stories.

On May 5, we presented an actual text conversation that showed how a woman managed to get herself off of Scientology’s legendarily sticky mailing list, primarily by being very aggressive. It proved to be a very popular piece with readers.

Then, later that day, we posted a story that has proved to be one we may have sent out as much as any other this year as we’ve tried to set the record straight on what was easily the most confusing reporting done on Scientology in a long, long time. It involved a facility in Tennessee that we’ve been watching for years, run by a Scientologist named Marc Vallieres, and which had a troubling past as a place where the church, we believed, sent members who had gone “Type III” — were in mental distress — for a medieval treatment known as the “Introspection Rundown.” Now, in 2017, that facility was shut down when sheriff’s deputies discovered a couple of patients being held there in cabins that were padlocked from the outside. But the press handling of the story was terribly mangled, in part because of a confusing statement put out by the local sheriff, and cries of “fake news” were heard across the land. The Underground Bunker was the only news organization that spoke to the families of the two victims and got the full story of what actually happened. So, the next time you see people talking about those confusing items about the situation in Tennessee, please direct them to our story to clear things up.


Then, what a nice surprise it was that the mystery drone pilot reappeared after he decided to take another run at Int Base, and in particular the overlook post on the hill up above. The detail in these 4K videos is just incredible. Besides the Eagle’s Nest, there are also some amazing close-up shots of Building 50, the incredibly expensive office building that was fashioned to David Miscavige’s exacting standards to house his entity, the Religious Technology Center, but that sits pretty much abandoned now.

On May 9 — Dianetics Day — we broke the news that Scientologist actor Danny Masterson had hired Michael Jackson’s former defense attorney, Tom Mesereau, as the LAPD and District Attorney’s office investigation of rape allegations against Masterson by multiple women continued. And Mesereau had put his private investigator Scott Ross on the case, even after Ross tweeted this to Leah Remini: “Watching your special. Love it. But please know, as a PI, I nor any of my scrupulous colleagues would EVER help Scientology.” Leah, hearing that Ross was working for Masterson’s defense, tweeted back: “You sure about that?” Burn.

Once again our mysterious drone operator was back, and this time he got the best look yet at the CST headquarters, the small mountain compound northeast of Los Angeles where we believe David Miscavige has kept his wife Shelly in banishment since 2005.

Others had noted that Elisabeth Moss, a Scientologist, playing Offred in a new television production of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, was hard to reconcile. But we took it a step further and compared Moss’s lines in a recent episode with actual allegations that had surfaced in newly released FBI files about an investigation into Sea Org conditions.

On May 23, we had a sad and surprising story. Earlier, we had posted some photos taken by a contributor outside the new Valley Org in Los Angeles which showed Scientology workers parking cars. One of them, however, turned out to be Irving Sorrentini, the father who had disconnected from his daughter, Jamie Sorrentini Lugli, someone well known to Bunker readers. She hadn’t seen her father in seven years, since he “disconnected” from her because she had left the church. Seeing her father was a punch to the gut. “Honestly, my heart is breaking. I feel like there’s no hope now. His eyes look so sad in that picture. That’s not the guy he was,” she told us.

A few days later, our resident newspaper archivist dug up a fun piece from the back issues of a student publication at George Washington University — it was a play written by L. Ron Hubbard in 1932, and its subject matter — intrigue in the Chinese civil war — was pretty obscure, but it was a fun glimpse into Hubbard’s early career.

On May 28, Rod Keller recounted how “Volunteer Ministers” showed up to take advantage of a bombing in Manchester that killed 22 concertgoers, including children, in order to hand out their Scientology literature. The photos they posted weren’t subtle.

The next night, Leah Remini tided us over while we waited for her second season by airing a two-hour special featuring guests such as Mark Ebner and Bryan Seymour. “But what really impressed us was the opening segment of tonight’s show, when Remini and her sidekick, former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder, once again took the time to educate viewers about Scientology concepts, in this case the iron-clad L. Ron Hubbard policies that have produced such a toxic, unrelenting organization that tries to hunt down and destroy its critics,” we wrote.

And how low would Scientology go to fight Leah Remini’s TV series? Pretty low. On May 30, we pointed out that they had convinced Leah’s biological father to go on camera and trash her over trivialities. We suspect a healthy payday was involved.

1. How to get yourself removed from Scientology’s legendary mailing list: A case study
2. She’s back! Leah Remini builds a case for Scientology aggression in tonight’s A&E special
3. To counter Leah Remini’s return to A&E, Scientology recruits her father in smear attack
4. Notorious Tennessee Scientology facility shut down when patients found held against their will
5. To whet your appetite for season 2, A&E airing 2-hour ‘Leah Remini’ special on Memorial Day

A LOOK BACK AT MAY 2016: One of Ron Miscavige’s fellow musicians sticks up for him. L. Ron Hubbard admitted he was mostly kidding. Kate Bornstein and Caitlyn Jenner raided the Los Angeles org. And Tommy Davis got a new job working for James Packer.

A LOOK BACK AT MAY 2015: Our book about Paulette Cooper, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely goes on sale and it’s featured on the front page of the Daily Beast. Paulette joins us for a talk on our book just two blocks from Scientology’s Los Angeles headquarters. At Spanky Taylor’s house we witnessed the meeting of Paulette and Leah Remini. Jamie DeWolf threw a twisted party for Paulette and your proprietor in San Francisco. And for once, Greta Van Susteren gets called out for her Scientology affiliation.

A LOOK BACK AT MAY 2014: Florida horse doctor Lee Shewmaker told us about what drove him away from Scientology. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden asked the IRS to review its policies on Scientology. We obtained the Clearwater Police report on the strange death of Russian Scientologist Evgeny Zharkin. And the National Association of Forensic Counselors files a massive lawsuit.

A LOOK BACK AT MAY 2013: Lori Hodgson makes a surprise visit to see her son in Austin, Ron Miscavige Sr. resurfaces by selling gym equipment, Wise Beard Man reports from Portland, and we review Marty Rathbun’s book Memoirs of a Scientology Warrior.

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

May 8: Jefferson Hawkins
One telling detail I always look for in these drone flyovers is the number of personal cars visible and the emptiness of the many parking spaces. IF the Base were really doing well and expanding, as they claim, and IF the people there were really free to come and go as they please, as they claim, then they would have personal cars. But the number of personal cars visible has steadily dwindled over the years. At its peak, in the 1990s, the Base had over 900 staff. By the time I left, in 2005, that had dwindled to just over 300. But even then, there were maybe 40 or 50 staff cars. These shots show almost no personal cars, and the majority of the vehicles I see are those little electric golf-cart thingies (don’t know what you call them) that are only good on the Base – not on public roads. The Base looks deserted. Which makes one wonder who all that beautiful lawn and buildings and spaces is for? They don’t have visitors or tours. It’s a big empty Potemkin village at this point. And Miscavige must be freaking out that a drone can peek down right into his holy Conference Room

May 9: DodoTheLaser
So my SP kiddo is hanging out with his old buddy right now, who was also born into Scientology. For the first time in a few years. Lots of hugs, hand shakes, pizza and talking/catching up on things. Feels like a family reunion. Take that Disconnection. It’s a good day.

May 14: Observer
To those lurkers who have disconnected from their families: Don’t waste another second. When I took this pic of my mother and sister last year I had no idea that my mother would be dead five days later. If you stay disconnected and your mother or father or any family member passes, you will be tormented for the rest of your life. Your mother loves you. Call her.


May 15: Phil Jones
When we were protesting in LA last year Scientology put up a drone that hovered right above me. There was a police officer there who ordered them to bring it down immediately. This was at the Author Services building on Hollywood Blvd. We were a couple of hundred feet from Miscavige’s residence there.

May 29: Mike Rinder
Thanks to Tony and all his Bunker commenters for your support, humor and insight. Both Leah and I appreciate you more than you know.


Harlow Shapley: A Christmas treat

Recently, we were asked about a story we wrote for Astronomy magazine 15 years ago about the American astronomer Harlow Shapley. We hadn’t thought about that story in a long time, and it’s never been online. And since we were reminded about it, and since the rights reverted to us after it was published, we decided to add it to the Bunker here among the other non-Scientology related stories we archive.

We were long a fan of Shapley and his particular discovery — that the Sun and the solar system weren’t in the center of things, but were actually far from the galaxy’s center — but we also knew that as the longtime director of the Harvard College Observatory, he was an active, and liberal, promoter of international scientific cooperation. He was famous for standing up to the House Un-American Activities Committee and to Senator Joseph McCarthy, and he was also an outspoken atheist who made a point of working on Christmas Day 1946 to bring attention to it. We assumed that J. Edgar Hoover would have had a guy like Shapley tailed. Turned out we were right. After waiting a year and a half, we received a copy of his 461-page FBI file in 2001 and then put our story together for the magazine.

We think Shapley is not remembered nearly as much as he ought to be, and we hope you find our article about him to be a fun holiday treat.


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,974 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 120 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,183 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,957 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,731 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,077 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,571 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,611 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,323 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 849 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,938 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,078 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,398 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,373 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 729 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,031 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,137 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,540 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,413 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 994 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,499 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,743 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,852 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on December 25, 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


Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email