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Even when it gets good press, Scientology reminds us that it uses slave labor

With two new lawsuits filed and more on the way, and with ‘Aftermath’ ending in a week, we know that Scientology watchers have been focused on some big news stories with a promise of more to come. But something that we received by email this week reminded us that Scientology watching is not just about the big stories or the big names.

We want to thank the reader who brought to our attention that Scientology had received some glowing press in a trade publication that covers the printing industry. In that world, Scientology’s major printing center in the Southern California city of Commerce is a real heavyweight. Called the International Dissemination and Distribution Center, the 185,000 square foot facility expends enormous resources to pump out a huge number of slick brochures, mailers, DVD packaging and more, using state-of-the-art equipment working at dizzying rates, up to 55,000 pages an hour.

It’s all operated by Sea Org members, the Scientologists so dedicated that they’ve signed billion-year contracts and work 112-hour weeks for pennies an hour, when they get paid at all. They work 365 days a year and can go years without seeing their non-Sea Org relatives, simply from their exhausting work schedules.

So much material is mailed from the Commerce plant, there is literally a US Postal Service employee who has an office in the building. And on occasion, Scientology brings in outside visitors to see just how slick the place is. The plant was also the star of its own show on Scientology TV.


And now, a trade publication was congratulating the staff at the plant for winning an award. The plant’s entry was a glossy 72-page publication about the new Advanced Org opening in South Africa, with lots of pretty photographs showing off the new org, which opened on January 1.

The reader who sent us the link to the article was unhappy that Scientology was getting such a pat on the back, but what caught our eye was the photograph accompanying the story…


When we saw the name of the Sea Org worker front and center, in a suit and tie and holding the award plaque, we knew just who to contact.

In June, one of the people we had the opportunity to meet at our HowdyCon convention in Los Angeles was an affable man by the name of Charley Updegrove. It’s always fun for us at these gatherings to meet readers we haven’t heard from before, and Charley was a real treat.

He was lured into Scientology in 1973 the usual way — a pretty girl convinced him to come into the org in St. Louis — and by 1975 he’d signed the Sea Org’s billion-year contract and was sent to Los Angeles, where he became a Flag banking officer. The following year, in the summer of 1976, he was sent to the new Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida. Charley was quickly ascending Scientology’s byzantine hierarchy, and he specialized in printing.

But like so many others, he was deemed problematic in some way (in his case, because of the way the needle moved during one of his auditing sessions) and he was sent to the Sea Org’s prison detail, the Rehabilitation Project Force, and spent more than a year on it. Eventually, he would end up doing three stints in the RPF, which added to the difficulty of trying to have a family while in the Sea Org.

Finally disillusioned by the changes he saw happening after the death of L. Ron Hubbard in 1986, Charley walked away from the Sea Org and Scientology for good in 1995. But his wife at the time and his son Toby didn’t go with him. Toby joined the Sea Org at 13 years old and at 37 remains in the Sea Org to this day.


[Charley Updegrove]

“February 1995 was when I left for the second and final time. I was in the RPF three times: January 1977, October 1977, and August 1994. I blew the RPF in my personal car in November 1977 but I came back because I had been married less than a year,” Charley tells us. “In March 2010, the International Justice Chief wanted Toby’s wife, my daughter-in-law, to try and get me ‘back in comm’ with my son. They arranged to reduce my freeloader debt to a set of LRH tapes for a discounted rate.”

In other words, some 15 years after he had left, the church considered that Charley owed Scientology for walking away from his Sea Org job. These “freeloader debts” are unenforceable in court, but many former Sea Org members don’t realize that and can spend years paying them off.

“The IJC removed my declare and I could then talk to Scientology public and staff. After that Toby and I were in and out of communication. He finally got two days off from work in December 2016 to come see us. I was elated, and spent more than $2,000 that weekend on them in Las Vegas. Then, a month later, he found out I was watching Scientology and the Aftermath. He called me ‘suppressive’ and asked, ‘Why are you trying to destroy my religion?’ We have not been in touch since,” Charley says.

Charley told us some of this story when we met him at HowdyCon, and it had stayed with us. And now, we messaged him to let him know that his son, Toby Updegrove, was the smiling Sea Org official holding an award plaque in a printing industry trade publication congratulating the Church of Scientology for pumping out its slick brochure about its new South African OT factory.

“It puts my heart in a bunch of confusion,” Charley told us when we asked him for his reaction to seeing his son in the news. “That’s my son. He’s one of the last of the Updegroves in the United States, and he can’t have any children in the Sea Org.”

Charley admitted that he had conflicting feelings. “In one way I’m proud that he’s a really good printer. That’s what I was doing when I left the Sea Org, I was a printer-in-charge. And he’s looking good, he’s looking healthy.”

Charley remembers that at the end of 2016, when Toby realized that his father was watching Aftermath, he had seemed to turn cold instantly. Since then, Charley’s only other glimpse of his son was on the Scientology TV program about the printing plant.

“That’s my only way of seeing him in the last two and a half years. I miss him, but what can I say,” he tells us. “He was 13 when I left the Sea Org. Seeing him, it reminds me of all the things I wanted to do as a father. Stuff like teach him how to drive, you know. Now I don’t hear from him at all.”

Hey, but Toby has that plaque. And probably more on the way. In a billion years, you can put out a lot of slick brochures.


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

[Alanna Masterson, Terry Jastrow, and Marisol Nichols]

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] Oh gross: Scientology Sea Org now saluting donors who give for ‘Ideal Orgs’
[TWO years ago] What Scientology itself says about the way it’s going to change how your mind works
[THREE years ago] Gawker goes dark, but its impact on Scientology — and Tom Cruise — will never be forgotten
[FOUR years ago] Why Steve Fishman — of the notorious Fishman Papers — is today serving 21 years in prison
[SIX years ago] How Does Scientology’s Cosmology Really Work? Historian Jon Atack Has a Theory
[SEVEN years ago] (2012’s) Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 21 & 22
[EIGHT years ago] The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 19: The Squirrel Busters


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,543 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 1,672 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 2,176 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 1,696 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 716 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 607 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 3,914 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,782 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,556 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 3,330 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,676 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 11,242 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 7,161 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 3,329 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 2,910 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 3,171 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 2,210 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,922 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,448 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,537 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,677 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,997 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 7,853 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,972 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 1,327 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,630 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,736 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 2,138 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 2,010 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,593 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 2,088 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 2,342 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,451 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on August 19, 2019 at 07:00

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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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