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What it’s like on the Scientology measles ship right now, according to former crew

We had a pretty exciting afternoon yesterday, helping to figure out that the measles ship quarantined in the Caribbean country of St. Lucia was, in fact, Scientology’s floating cathedral, the 440-foot Freewinds.

The story was irresistible to major media last night, even if most of the networks didn’t mention the Scientology connection. Up to 300 people stuck in the tight quarters of a small cruise ship because a crew member had a confirmed case of measles: It was a perfect story to illustrate the comeback of infectious diseases because of years of unscientific panic over vaccinations.

The Scientology angle gave it an even crazier kick. The church purchased the ship in 1986 and then renamed it, re-launching it in 1988 as the Freewinds. The purpose of operating the ship was for wealthy Scientologists to reach the ultimate auditing level on the Bridge to Total Freedom, Operating Thetan Level Eight (OT 8), which can take years to reach — former member Marc Headley estimated that it costs a Scientologist between $500,000 and $2 million to complete the entire Bridge, including OT 8.

But the OT 8 business is not steady, and to bolster sales the church has added other courses and seminars so that less lofty church members can spend money for a cruise. (And for the record, while 300 might be the number cited by the St. Lucia government, we won’t be surprised if the actual number of passengers and crew currently aboard the Freewinds turns out to be lot less.) Also, the ship is crewed by members of Scientology’s Sea Org, extremely dedicated members who sign billion-year contracts and work 365 days a year for little or no pay. The Freewinds is also a destination for Scientology’s celebrities and for church leader David Miscavige.


In fact, former church executive Tom DeVocht tells us that in some years, Miscavige would celebrate his birthday on the Freewinds. (As did Tom Cruise in 2004 when he turned 42, caught in an infamous video of him dancing with singer Stacy Francis.)

Miscavige turned 59 on Tuesday. Was he aboard the Freewinds for a birthday party when it was quarantined in St. Lucia on Monday morning? We think the chances are somewhat low that Miscavige is aboard, but we’d love to know one way or the other.

“From a PR perspective, they’re fucked and they know it,” DeVocht told us last night by phone from Seattle.

He predicted that Miscavige, wherever he is, will be micromanaging the crisis, and Scientology will do its best to appear to be cooperating fully with the St. Lucia government. But Tom also thought of several consequences of the quarantine that will be rocking the organization.

“The worst-case scenario is how many people were in contact with that crew member who have now left the ship and went back to Flag [in Florida] or PAC Base [in Los Angeles]. This is a real close-knit community, and they have to be panicking right now,” he says.

Officially, the Church of Scientology does not advocate against vaccinations. But just a couple of weeks ago we were talking about L. Ron Hubbard’s deep-seated hatred for the American Medical Association, and that he railed against doctors in a 1954 essay. As a result, Scientologists tend to be deeply skeptical of western medicine, promote alternative therapies, and yes, many of them are anti-vaxxers. It really doesn’t surprise us that a Scientology crew member might bring measles aboard the ship.

When we brought up the timing — five weeks or so before the annual “Maiden Voyage” week when Miscavige and many of the wealthiest donors celebrate the ship’s anniversary — DeVocht said that this was a time when families with children would be invited to take lower-level courses and get the Freewinds experience.

He also brought up the tendency for Scientology to use the Freewinds as a prison. “If there are prisoner types, like when Marty [Rathbun] was on board, it would be a little more of a panic, as far as what do they say about those people when officials come on board.”

Valeska Paris claimed that she was held on the Freewinds against her will for more than eleven years. We first wrote about her back in 2011, and we asked for her thoughts on what is happening right now on the ship.

“What I can say is that the Sea Org member who got measles will be in serious trouble. She’ll be isolated from everyone around her so that no one else gets the measles. There will be ethics investigations, as it is a PR flap. When I was on the Freewinds in 2006 a Sea Org member named Angela got chickenpox. She passed it to another Sea Org member named Isabel. All crew members were asked if they were vaccinated for chickenpox and if they had had it before. There were a handful of us who had never been vaccinated and had never had chickenpox including myself. It was right before Maiden Voyage, and legally we should have been quarantined. But it was kept hidden from the authorities. We all had to have blood tests to confirm whether we were immune or not. I wasn’t immune and there were about four other Sea Org members who were not. The ship’s doctor got vaccinations for us and we were all vaccinated on the ship. Then Isabel, Angela and everyone who hadn’t had chickenpox were sent ashore to stay in a hotel. Isabel still had chickenpox when she was sent ashore. They were there the entire Maiden Voyage week and came back after Miscavige left the ship. I wasn’t so lucky, I didn’t get a holiday ashore. I was sent to L.A. to audit a Sea Org security guard who had stage 4 cancer,” she says.

Valeska’s story about the ship not saying anything to authorities about cases of chickenpox brings up how St. Lucia found out that a crew member had the measles.

According to St. Lucia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Merlene Fredericks-James, they were informed of the measles test by officials in the ship’s previous port of call, in the Dutch Caribbean. Records show the Freewinds’ previous port was Willemstad, Curaçao.

If those Dutch officials hadn’t warned St. Lucia that the Freewinds was carrying measles, would the ship’s officers have said anything about it? Valeska says she’s doubtful.

“They would have absolutely kept it a secret,” she says.


We asked her what she thought would be going on at the ship while it’s in quarantine.

“There would be investigations. They might be investigating why this crew member was sent to the doctor ashore,” she says. Scientology will be as focused on rooting out who put them in this situation as they would helping to keep it from spreading. “That person would be severely punished. There’s nothing Scientology hates more than bad publicity. Nothing.”

Ramana Dienes-Browning is another former Freewinds crew member we’ve written about in the past. She says the conditions aboard right now are likely to be hellish. “I imagine the infected crew member and anyone involved would be in serious ethics trouble and possibly put on hard labor and re-conditioning programs. The PR department and executives would be potentially sleepless as they attempt to rectify the situation. The entire crew would be under extreme pressure. This kind of situation is a crew member’s worst nightmare,” she says. “When I was onboard the types of pressure the crew would be subjected to in situations like this are shortened meal breaks, daily ‘overts and withholds’ checks, sleep deprivation, zero free time or liberty, lower ethics condition assignments, investigation and interrogation, abusive language used at the crew by executives, and possible physical abuse like pushing, shoving, screaming in faces, confinement, long hours in the engine room. And beans and rice for meals.”

That does sound awful. And for how long will it last? NBC is saying that a ship quarantine for measles would usually last about 21 days. The Freewinds is scheduled to sail at noon today for Dominica, and St. Lucia has said they can’t prevent the ship from leaving. Will they stay or will they go?

“They’ll follow the law. They won’t go if the authorities tell them not to,” Valeska says. “And it’s possible they’ll never go to St. Lucia again.”

If they are forced to stay for three weeks, that will likely put a big hurt on Maiden Voyage.

“That makes it worse. Doing anything that harms Miscavige is the worst crime possible,” Valeska says.

UPDATE, 11:15 AM: A passenger on board the ship claims that it was a passenger from the UK, not a crew member, who was infected with measles. We caution that this may be a “shore story” (in the classic Scientology tradition) that passengers have been told. This passenger says they’ve been told the illness is over but NBC is reporting that the disease has spread to other individuals.



HowdyCon 2019 in Los Angeles

THURSDAY NIGHT OPPORTUNITY: This year’s HowdyCon is in Los Angeles. People tend to come in starting on Thursday, and that evening we will have a casual get-together at a watering hole. But we also want to point out that Cathy Schenkelberg’s “Squeeze My Cans” will be running at the Hollywood Fringe, and we encourage HowdyCon attendees to see her show on Thursday night, June 20. Tickets and more dates available here.

Friday night June 21 we will be having an event in a theater (like we did on Saturday night last year in Chicago). There will not be a charge to attend this event, but if you want to attend, you need to RSVP with your proprietor at tonyo94 AT gmail.

On Saturday, we are joining forces with Janis Gillham Grady, who is having a reunion in honor of the late Bill Franks. Originally, we thought this event might take place in Riverside, but instead it’s in the Los Angeles area. If you wish to attend the reunion, you will need to RSVP with Janis (janisgrady AT gmail), and there will be a small contribution she’s asking for in order to help cover her costs.

HOTEL: Janis tells us she’s worked out a deal with Hampton Inn and Suites, at 7501 North Glenoaks Blvd, Burbank, (818) 768-1106. We have a $159 nightly rate for June 19 to 22. Note: You need to ask for the “family reunion” special rate.



Scientology’s celebrities, ‘Ideal Orgs,’ and more!

[Jenna Elfman, Giovanni Ribisi, and Greta Van Susteren]

We’ve been building landing pages about David Miscavige’s favorite playthings, including celebrities and ‘Ideal Orgs,’ and we’re hoping you’ll join in and help us gather as much information as we can about them. Head on over and help us with links and photos and comments.

Scientology’s celebrities, from A to Z! Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Scientology’s ‘Ideal Orgs,’ from one end of the planet to the other! Help us build up pages about each these worldwide locations!

Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society!

Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in our weekly series. How many have you read?



[ONE year ago] Fifty years later and post-Scientology, 60’s band People! aims for a comeback
[TWO years ago] Renovations for Scientology’s planned Mexico City ‘Advanced Org’ halted by local pols
[THREE years ago] ABC’s ’20/20′ let Scientology trash Ron Miscavige — but here’s what you didn’t get to hear
[FOUR years ago] More testimony that Scientology’s celebrities know all about Sea Org deprivations
[FIVE years ago] SCIENTOLOGY DENIED: Federal judge finds that Garcia fraud lawsuit can continue
[SIX years ago] Dianetics: Super Colon Blow For Your Mind
[SEVEN years ago] Kate Bornstein’s Amazing Voyage


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,434 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 1,563 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 2,067 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 1,547 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 607 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 498 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 3,805 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,673 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,447 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 3,221 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,567 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 11,133 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 7,053 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 3,220 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 2,801 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 3,062 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 2,101 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,813 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,339 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,428 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,568 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,888 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 7,744 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,863 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 1,219 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,521 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,627 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 2,029 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,901 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,484 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,979 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 2,233 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,342 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on May 2, 2019 at 07:00

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post 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 new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, 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, 1995-2018 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2018), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | 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 | 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

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

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 | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


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