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When the famous war protester met Scientology: A spiritual encounter in Los Angeles

Sunny Pereira, who has helped us out with so many Scientology technical issues, brought up a memory she had about a remarkable man. Once she told us about it, we asked her to write it up for the Bunker as a poignant slice of Sea Org life. We hope you’ll agree that it was a story worth telling…

For most of 2002 and into part of 2003 I was in Venezuela. I was there during protests, riots, and massive civil unrest that overtook the country. I had finally gotten myself free of Venezuela and returned to Los Angeles. Of course, as is so common in the Sea Org, I was in trouble and getting a Committee of Evidence (a story for another day).

In the middle of all of that, my stepdad Erik had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. He and my mother were Sea Org members and had been for decades. He was being seen by the doctor in Hollywood Presbyterian, very close to the main Sea Org property, locally called “Big Blue.” The doctor determined that the cancer was caused by the treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma decades earlier when my stepdad was in the Air Force. For this reason, the Sea Org would not have to pay for any of his care or treatment (Sea Org care is minimal to say the least, so this option proved to be a better one). As it turned out, sadly, his cancer was too far advanced for any treatment, and he was soon placed in a hospice facility, directly across the street from the hospital, and, conveniently, very close to PAC Base, where both my mom and I were assigned. This made it possible for us to make pretty regular visits to him and, in his last days, be with him the entire day — anyone familiar with Sea Org lifestyle knows this is not common. We don’t normally have the ability to stay with ill staff members, but in this case, just because there was nothing else pressing going on, we were able to stay with him long and often.


[Erik in happier times, with his hands extended. Sunny is directly behind him.]

Erik was in good spirits when we would visit. Soon after he arrived, he got a new roommate. This man, this so very friendly man, introduced himself as Brian to us. In the time that we were there, we did not see many people visit Brian, but he was a joy to talk to.

He asked us about ourselves and he soon found out that we were all Scientologists. He was curious about it, and we ended up explaining to him what the thetan (spirit), mind, and body are in Scientology, and its belief in past lives, and, when a body dies, the thetan will go off and find another body. Brian seemed genuinely interested in these concepts and wanted to know more about it.

Soon after these conversations, I asked Brian about himself. He told me that he had been part of some 1970s antiwar protests and that US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had actually mentioned him in one of his books. He showed me the passage that describes him doing a peaceful protest by refusing to eat until the attacks on Cambodia stopped.

The passage appears on page 514 of Kissinger’s 1979 book White House Years

Exhaustion was the hallmark for us all. I had to move from my apartment ringed by protesters into the basement of the White House to get some sleep. Despite the need to coordinate the management of the crisis, much of my own time was spent with unhappy, nearly panicky, colleagues; even more with student and colleague demonstrators. I talked at some length to Brian McDonnell and Thomas Mahoney [actually Mahany], two young pacifists who announced they would fast in Lafayette Park until all American troops had been withdrawn. I talked in the Situation Room with groups of students from various colleges and graduate schools about the root causes, as I saw them, of their despair, which I thought deeper than anxiety about the war.

Kissinger also mentioned Brian during his eulogy at Richard Nixon’s 1994 funeral: “I wish that in [Nixon’s] final hours I could have told him about Brian McDonnell, who, during the Cambodian crisis, had been fasting on a bench in Lafayette Park across from the White House until, as he said, President Nixon redeemed his pledge [to withdraw from Cambodia].”

The hunger strike by McDonnell and Mahany was pretty well known at the time. Here’s a newspaper photo — Brian is on the right…


I found him to be such an interesting person, so alive and animated. My mom thought so too. We decided we should maybe contact CC Int to see if they might want to meet him. I contacted the President’s Office at CC Int and they told me they would “get back to me.” Shortly after that, Kristina Louw, President’s Office staff member, let me know that he was not our type of public. I was surprised by this response.

Are we not here to save everyone? Is it because of hospice? Was it because he loved to help the homeless, so much so that he almost once got himself killed helping them? Was it because he let the Dalai Lama stay in his house? Why would there be some people that our religion could not help?

Despite the fact that they thought he was not someone they should be introducing to Scientology, they decided, out of politeness, to at least say hello. Kristina came by his room and spoke to him briefly. I missed the conversation, but it did not last more than five minutes.

It was therefore up to me to teach him about Scientology, which he was so interested in. I think, looking back, and seeing how much of a naturally curious person he was, he would have been interested in anything we would have offered. He was genuinely interested in any conversation with others, no matter the subject.

I tried to explain more thoroughly about thetan, mind, and body and how Scientology addresses each of these. We discussed the ARC triangle as well.

A couple weeks into these visits with Brian and my stepdad, it was becoming clear that Erik was getting worse. He was getting daily visits from his Sea Org medical person (who was, incidentally, also the staff dentist), who took us aside and told us he likely only had a day or two before he would pass.

That day, or maybe the next day, my mom and I were having a quick lunch in the lobby area when we heard some beeps coming from his room, then more and more beeps. We ran over to him, and it was clear it was time. My mom burst into tears and looked at me as if to say “what do I do?” while she said out loud “no DNR” because the staff were coming in to bring him back. I told my mom to hold his hand, to be with him.

The machines had been turned off, and Erik took his last breath. We were quiet for a moment. Right then, our sweet neighbor, Brian, asked “Is he dying?” He then yelled up above Erik’s body, presumably to the departing thetan, “Take me with you!”

We all burst into tears and laughed at the same time. There could not have been, in that moment, a more perfect thing to have said.

The memory of Brian and the beauty of his personality lives on with me. He has touched me with his charm and humor.

Sadly of course, Sea Org life did not allow me the possibility to return to visit Brian after Erik had passed.

I had recently seen his obituary and saw that it was not just me whose life he had affected so positively. From his Los Angeles Times obit…

Like the mythical Forrest Gump, he traveled in so many orbits that his circle of friends was audacious in its variety. He rapped easily with hoodlums and invited homeless people to use his shower, but he also talked about foreign policy with Kissinger and world peace with the Dalai Lama, who was once his house guest. Capable of swearing like a guttersnipe and reciting whole passages of William Blake or ancient Arabic poetry, McDonnell was an enchanting amalgam of contradictions.

That he loved life on the edge was apparent to anyone who knew him. He spent nights on skid row to help drunks, had been jailed many times for civil disobedience, and was nearly beaten to death some years ago in a drug-ridden Los Angeles neighborhood. He periodically drank to excess and was addicted to cigarettes, a habit that ultimately led to his death.

“He moved me very much,” Kissinger told the Times for its obituary. “I think Brian had a sort of spiritual quality. He served his idea of humanity. He didn’t try to turn these political conflicts into civil wars. I understood him to favor reconciliation.”

Looking back now, I’m thinking it was a good thing that Scientology couldn’t, wouldn’t, and didn’t get his hands on him. Not even for a minute.

— Sunny Pereira


Make your plans now!


Hey, we’re just a few weeks away from this year’s HowdyCon in Chicago, June 21-23. As in past years, we’re looking forward to meeting readers of the Bunker, culminating in Saturday night’s main event.

The biggest difference this year is that our Saturday night event is separate from that evening’s dinner. Chee Chalker is setting up an inexpensive pizza dinner that you don’t need to pay for ahead of time, after which we’ll walk over to the theater where our event, hosted by Chicago Fire star Christian Stolte, will take place. Because it’s a separate event, we’re asking that you pay $10 each to get into the Saturday night event, which will help us recoup what the Bunker paid for the venue. (We have never made a penny on our HowdyCon meetups, we only try to break even.)

Please email your proprietor (tonyo94 AT gmail) in order to reserve your spot for Saturday night’s main event. Seating is limited, and we’re going to have some really interesting people on stage and they may make a few announcements that you don’t want to miss.



Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,132 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,735 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 278 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 166 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,341 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,115 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,889 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,235 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 10,801 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 2,469 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,729 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,769 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,481 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,007 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,096 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,236 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,556 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,531 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 887 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,189 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,295 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,698 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,570 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,152 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,657 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,901 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,010 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on June 1, 2018 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, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), 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 | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news


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