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Mike Rinder’s ‘A Billion Years’: A gripping takedown of Scientology and its leader

There are many books about Scientology now, including some put out by major publishers. If you wanted a robust history of where Scientology has been over many decades, you could turn to Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear, or the earlier, deeply researched investigations by Russell Miller (Bare-Faced Messiah) or Jon Atack (A Piece of Blue Sky).

If you wanted to know what it was like to work in the rarefied heights of Scientology’s Sea Org, you could pick up titles by Amy Scobee (Abuse at the Top) or Marc Headley (Blown for Good) or Janis Gillham Grady (Commodore’s Messenger) or Jefferson Hawkins (Counterfeit Dreams). And if you wanted to understand what it was like to go from one of Scientology’s most useful supporters to one of its biggest critics, you could read the personal stories of Leah Remini (Troublemaker) or Ron Miscavige Sr (Ruthless).

So where does the new book from former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder — A Billion Years: My Escape from a Life in the Highest Ranks of Scientology, released yesterday from Simon & Schuster — fall in that cluttered landscape of histories, tell-alls, and escape narratives?

We’d argue that not only is it a terrific and enlightening book, but it also inhabits a somewhat unique position in the literature that has come before it: Perhaps no other book has managed to put together all of those perspectives in a single volume.


A fast read and yet incredibly comprehensive, Rinder’s book covers a vast amount of material as he grew up in Australia in a family that were among the earliest adopters of L. Ron Hubbard’s snake oil, Dianetics. He then personally witnessed virtually every important development in the Church of Scientology from the mid-1960s onward.

And Rinder was not only a witness. Few people have been in a better position to observe current leader David Miscavige take over Scientology after Hubbard’s 1986 death and then mold it into his own merciless and totalitarian force, for the simple reason that, as Rinder explains in some detail, he was often the person carrying out those merciless plans for his diminutive boss.

But first, he had to negotiate growing up in a town, Adelaide, where Scientologists were not only rare but also seen with suspicion. When his family made the pilgrimage to Hubbard’s headquarters in the UK in 1967, Rinder blended in easily, getting to know Hubbard’s own children, who were about his age. In ensuing years, he continued his Zelig-like rise in the organization, being the right guy at the right time, joining Hubbard’s navy then sailing the Mediterranean and Atlantic.

On a trip we made to Florida a decade ago, Rinder told us in an interview about the infamous “rock concert” incident in Madeira, when the locals took Hubbard and his strange ship for a CIA operation and tossed rocks at them until they sailed away for safety. In the book, Rinder gives a vivid rendition of the incident, which stranded him on the island and nearly made him the target of an angry mob.

And so it went for the young Sea Org operative as he rose in the ranks: Rinder repeatedly found himself in a position where he was fending off the attacks of the outside world, while doing his best to justify and resolve himself to the madness and contradictions in Scientology itself. Rinder knows that, while he describes one insane situation after another, and as he and other dedicated Sea Org soldiers were put through humiliating punishments and endless deprivations, the reader will repeatedly wonder, what kept you in? Why did you put up with it? Why didn’t you run away? And Rinder, maybe better than anyone before him, spends considerable time not only explaining what he did in Scientology, but what was going through his mind that kept him a loyal Miscavige foot soldier for so many years.

And it didn’t come without enormous personal cost. Rinder frames his book by placing it in the context of losing his adult children Taryn and Benjamin to the organization, and never tries to excuse the way he had been an absent parent in the Sea Org way. Since his defection from the organization in 2007, Scientology has viciously attacked him using his own children, primarily Taryn, who keeps up a bogus campaign blaming Rinder for supposedly causing her mother a horrible arm injury that seems to get worse every year.

Rinder has taken pains to explain the bizarre ambush by his former wife and other Sea Org officials that took place in the parking lot of a doctor’s office while Rinder was on the phone with BBC reporter John Sweeney. (We even published the audio from that encounter here at the Bunker back in 2014.) There’s simply no question that the slight injury his ex-wife received was judged “incidental contact” by the local sheriff’s office, and that Scientology is merely following the L. Ron Hubbard playbook by calling Rinder a “wife beater.”

Rinder opens the book with a letter to his two estranged children, and that device creates a tension that hangs over the entire book. While we’re drawn through this fast-paced adventure and look forward to learning how Rinder finally escaped from the madness in Scientology, we know from the start that it’s not going to have a happy ending.

Along the way, for this longtime Scientology watcher, Rinder recites a history that we already had some familiarity with, but with new details that we found absolutely fascinating. From the reorganization of Scientology following the 1977 FBI raid which was the agency’s largest in its history at that time, to Hubbard’s final years in hiding and who was with him, to Miscavige’s moves to take over as undisputed strong man, to the years of effort to wrestle the IRS to its knees in 1993, Rinder has brilliant new personal insights that help complete the picture of this evolution.

And yes, Rinder was also a personal witness to Miscavige’s obsession with celebrities and Tom Cruise in particular. You may have seen the excerpt published last week at the Daily Beast, which contained such morsels as Rinder’s experience showing Michael Jackson around the Hubbard Life Exhibition in Hollywood, or showing Barbara Walters around the New York org as a prerequisite to her getting an interview with Cruise. Rinder also saw John Travolta kiss his male massage therapist on the mouth, and he says that a soccer field was built at Int Base in California in an attempt to lure David Beckham into the church. You’ll be hearing plenty about those things from the tabloids. But even Rinder himself, at his website, acknowledged that the celebrity stuff was not the point of his book.

More interesting to us, for example, was Rinder’s description of the operations run by the organization he oversaw, the Office of Special Affairs, Scientology’s secret police and PR wing, which went after enemies and pursued scorched-earth litigation with an army of lawyers.

When Scientology was in a particularly bad spot after the 1995 death of a parishioner named Lisa McPherson, Rinder was dispatched to Clearwater, Florida to run the lawyers who were defending the church in criminal and civil cases stemming from her demise. He then had to deal with an upstart New England businessman, Bob Minton, who had decided to spend a large part of his personal fortune leading a protest effort over McPherson’s death by opening a storefront just down the block from Scientology’s holiest spot, the Fort Harrison Hotel.

When Rinder’s efforts were successful and Minton finally cried uncle and agreed to a settlement with Scientology, Rinder says that Miscavige was upset that his wife Shelly, who was in charge of the operation, didn’t manage to get a personal payment of a half million dollars to Miscavige out of Minton, something the lawyers advised was a terrible idea. Rinder wonders if Shelly’s inability to get her husband this kickback may have helped motivate him to banish her a few years later, in 2005. (In general, however, Rinder still agrees with us that Shelly is, to this day, being held at the Church of Spiritual Technology headquarters in a small mountain compound near Lake Arrowhead, California, and his book doesn’t offer any new revelations about that.)

Despite his handling of Minton and many other matters for the church, Rinder repeatedly found that his loyalty was rewarded with increasingly harrowing punishments from Miscavige, who was always looking for ways to prove that he was top dog. This led to the creation of “The Hole” at Scientology’s secretive Int Base in early 2004, as an increasingly paranoid Miscavige created a bizarre office-as-prison for his top lieutenants, including longtime colleagues who had been among his best friends. Rinder himself ended up in The Hole, and so he can personally describe its depravations.


But he was pulled out again when Miscavige needed him for a special operation: Handling the BBC’s John Sweeney, who was proving to be too much for the young new international church spokesman, Tommy Davis, son of Oscar-nominated actress and longtime Scientologist Anne Archer. Miscavige then personally directed Rinder and Davis to harass and surveil Sweeney as he was filming his 2007 special about the church. And we know this not only because Rinder says so (and the church, of course, will put out numerous denials as this book comes out), but he has long had proof of it: Actual texts from Miscavige that were on Rinder’s Blackberry when he made his escape later that year. Those texts have been entered as evidence in court, and Scientology did not dispute their authenticity.

That’s important, because it backs up Rinder’s assertion that Miscavige is not only a ruthless micromanager and sadistic meddler in the lives of the people under him, but also that far from the “ecclesiastical leader” image the church tries to put out, Miscavige is a foul-mouthed thug. It’s right there in his texts.

When Rinder finally got out of the Sea Org and then began finding a way to make a living in a modern world he had never really been a part of before (and that in itself is a fascinating story, the details of which we had never really heard before), he gradually began coming around to the idea that he must dedicate himself to exposing Miscavige and the insane cruelty of Scientology, and he begins talking to journalists and the FBI.

It’s at that point, however, that Scientology then begins targeting him with the same cruel vindictiveness that he’s seen it aim at others, and it goes immediately for the jugular: His relationship with his mother, still a Scientologist in Australia, as well as what little connection he still has with his children.

Like it would be for so many other former Scientologists, Rinder would now have his lifelong loyalty to the idea that Scientology was based on the betterment of mankind pitted against the reality that this bullying, ruthless organization was now spending vast resources to destroy him.

We remember interviewing Rinder a few years later, and we can personally attest that at that time (March 2012), he was still somewhat protective of Hubbard and the subject of Scientology itself. In that interview, for example, he didn’t hesitate telling us his “OT” level and that he was still doing Scientology, but outside the church. Later, at his blog, Rinder obviously went through a period of rethinking Hubbard and the subject of Scientology (which, tellingly, he now insists on not capitalizing). Now, we learn that it was reading Miller’s Bare-Faced Messiah, the first, and still the best, full biography of Hubbard, that finally convinced Rinder that the founder was always selling deceptive nonsense.

This also became clear as he and Leah Remini took on the subject in their groundbreaking and Emmy-winning series for A&E, Scientology and the Aftermath. If a bit slowly at first, after the first season the duo eviscerated Hubbard and the subject of his “technology” in multiple episodes.

So, where does that leave Rinder today? Still in pain over the loss of his adult children, but grateful to have met another former Sea Org worker, Christie Collbran and her young son Shane, which resulted in a marriage that has given Shane a younger brother, Jack. With his new family, the promise of his partnership with Remini, and his new book, Rinder has found a way to turn all of the pain and insanity of his years in Sea Org, and the loss of his first family, into a fulfilling journey dedicated to exposing Miscavige and his toxic organization that deserves to be investigated by the federal government. In this, Rinder’s book succeeds brilliantly.

As much as we found this to be an enormously satisfying book with a lot of great new information, we know that there will be some readers who see it differently. While Rinder goes into rich detail about the way he and Christie were harassed and surveilled in the years after Rinder first began talking to the media in 2009, former targets of the Office of Special Affairs under Rinder may be left wondering whether there might have been a similar amount of detail in his book about their operations from OSA’s former director.

We expect that such OSA targets as Gerry Armstrong and Dennis Erlich and Jesse Prince, who are all mentioned in the book, will be left wanting more information about the specific ways that OSA made their lives miserable literally for years as they were targeted for destruction by Scientology. Yes, Rinder covers an incredible amount of information in this book and we’re fortunate that he touches on so many fascinating chapters from Scientology’s history. But expect to hear complaints from OSA’s past victims that its former boss still hasn’t come through with enough detail about the spying, the illegal tactics, and the skullduggery done against them in the name of L. Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige.

As it is, however, the general reader should not come away with anything but astonishment that such a vicious, vengeful, and dishonest organization is still doing business in the United States. And perhaps Rinder’s well written book will help convince someone in a position of authority to finally do something about it.

We can only hope.



We’re celebrating a little anniversary in the Bunker this morning. Yes, it’s been ten years since we started up this website, and we can hardly believe it’s been a decade already.

We’ve had so much fun over that time, live-blogging court cases, for example, in California, Texas, Florida, and New York. Those days are always milestones. But we’re especially fortunate to have such a great commenting community. It’s what keeps us going.

So we’d like to hear what your highlights have been over the last decade. A HowdyCon? A court day? Some wild conversation in the comments section? Let us know.

We’re starting out our eleventh year preparing to cover perhaps the biggest court case we’ve ever watched, the Danny Masterson prosecution in Los Angeles, and we are so looking forward to having you along.


Source Code

“The faults I find with Scientologists is they very often will see somebody fall on his head, get run over by a truck, and do some kind of a light touch assist and say ‘That’s that.’ And then wonder why the guy is limping. And then they sort of say, ‘Scientology doesn’t work.’ Man, I’ve got a word for you. That auditor is afraid of work. Do you see?” — L. Ron Hubbard, September 28, 1968


Avast, Ye Mateys

“ETHICS: The following are Fair Game for the current week for No Report of their stats. John Wiley, Kristina Brorson, Vicky Alpe, Janice Tidman, Geary Titus, Wayne Alkire, Robert Williamson, Ron Straus, Dekki Le.” — Lt. Jeff Walker, Ship Stats, September 28, 1970



Overheard in the FreeZone

“I was always aghast at many Scientologists’ willingness to accept verbal tech and policy or the staff’s willingness to follow illegal orders. Most ‘Scientologists’ including many ‘OTs’ are untrained morons and thus are vacuums for verbal tech and policy and false data. Most staff these days haven’t even completed Staff Status II, never mind any actual hatting. Then of course there is what they call ‘Instant Hatting’ which was supposed to be a temporary solution but has become an excuse for verbal policy and tech. Worse there is false tech and policy included like GAT and such things as ‘Message to Garcia’ and so called ‘SRAs’ and what are called ‘Seances’ which are straight out of Communist China’s Cultural Revolution and what was called Brain Washing.”


Past is Prologue

1996: The Conan O’Brian show ran a sketch introducing Johnson, the Scientology Chicken. A portion of the transcript: “Conan: I’d like to introduce a new character to the show. I’ve never met him but he’s sure to be a favorite of kids everywhere. Please welcome folks, our cartoon friend, Johnson the Chicken! Johnson: Hi Conan. Yeah, I hope you’re having a cluckarific day! Every day can be a cluckarific day if you follow the path set down by my hero, L. Ron Hubbard. Conan: What? Johnson: L. Ron Hubbard, the visionary genius who wrote Dianetics. Conan: Yeah, I know, the Scientology guy. Johnson: The CHURCH of Scientology Conan! Conan: Look Johnson, let’s change the subject all right? You’re a cartoon happy guy. Tell the kids just how are you. Johnson: Well, kids, I was depressed, ineffective at work and only using 20% of my brain capacity. But then, I took a personality test in a storefront church and read DIANETICS! Conan: Look, don’t you have a story for the kids? C’mon! Johnson: Can it be about – SCIENTOLOGY? Conan: No! It cant’ be about Scientology! C’mon! Let’s make this fun! C’mon!”


Random Howdy

“Human rights education brought to you by slave labor and the church of ironictology.”



Full Court Press: What we’re watching at the Underground Bunker

Criminal prosecutions:
Danny Masterson charged for raping three women: Trial scheduled for October 11.
‘Lafayette Ronald Hubbard’ (a/k/a Justin Craig), aggravated assault, plus drug charges: Grand jury indictments include charges from an assault while in custody. Arraigned on August 29.
Jay and Jeff Spina, Medicare fraud: Jay sentenced to 9 years in prison. Jeff scheduled to be sentenced on Oct 28.
Rizza Islam, Medi-Cal fraud: Trial scheduled for October 24 in Los Angeles
David Gentile, GPB Capital, fraud: Next pretrial conference set for September 19.
Yanti Mike Greene, Scientology private eye accused of contempt of court: Found guilty of criminal and civil contempt.

Civil litigation:
Baxter, Baxter, and Paris v. Scientology, alleging labor trafficking: Complaint filed April 28 in Tampa federal court, Scientology moving to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs filed amended complaint on August 2.
Valerie Haney v. Scientology: Forced to ‘religious arbitration.’ Selection of arbitrators underway. Next court hearing: February 2, 2023.
Chrissie Bixler et al. v. Scientology and Danny Masterson: Appellate court removes requirement of arbitration on January 19, case remanded back to Superior Court. Stay in place, next status hearing October 25. Scientology petitioning US Supreme Court over appellate ruling.
Brian Statler Sr v. City of Inglewood: Third amended complaint filed, trial set for December 6.
Author Steve Cannane defamation trial: New trial ordered after appeals court overturned prior ruling.
Chiropractors Steve Peyroux and Brent Detelich, stem cell fraud: Lawsuit filed by the FTC and state of Georgia in August, now in discovery phase.



We first broke the news of the LAPD’s investigation of Scientology celebrity Danny Masterson on rape allegations in 2017, and we’ve been covering the story every step of the way since then. At this page we’ve collected our most important links, including our four days in Los Angeles covering the preliminary hearing and its ruling, which has Danny facing trial and the potential sentence of 45 years to life in prison.


After the success of their double-Emmy-winning, three-season A&E series ‘Scientology and the Aftermath,’ Leah Remini and Mike Rinder continue the conversation on their podcast, ‘Scientology: Fair Game.’ We’ve created a landing page where you can hear all of the episodes so far.


An episode-by-episode guide to Leah Remini’s three-season, double-Emmy winning series that changed everything for Scientology watching. Originally aired from 2016 to 2019 on the A&E network, and now on Netflix.


Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Other links: SCIENTOLOGY BLACK OPS: Tom Cruise and dirty tricks. Scientology’s Ideal Orgs, from one end of the planet to the other. 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 a weekly series. How many have you read?


[ONE year ago] Scientology’s personality test is a hit on TikTok: Can David Miscavige capitalize on it?
[TWO years ago] Hip, hip hooray! Scientology success stories you weren’t meant to see
[THREE years ago] Answering Scientology’s smears with truth: Phil Jones takes a STAND
[FOUR years ago] US Government ‘adopts’ Russian Scientologist in religious rights protest
[FIVE years ago] ‘Aftermath’ fan gets into party at Scientology’s ‘Int Base,’ brings Karen Pressley’s book along
[SIX years ago] DRONE FLYOVER: First images of Scientology’s Gold Rush mine in California
[SEVEN years ago] If it’s Monday, it must be Seattle: Let’s talk Scientology!
[EIGHT years ago] Celebrating two years in the Bunker: Jonny Jacobsen on Russia, and Sunday Funnies!
[NINE years ago] Blood Relation, Blood Ritual: A Hubbard Family Occult Mystery
[TEN years ago] Talking About The Master on Public Radio
[ELEVEN years ago] The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 1: L. Ron Hubbard


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley (1952-2019) did not see his daughter Stephanie in his final 5,667 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 2,801 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 3,306 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 2,856 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 1,846 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 1,737 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 5,042 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 2,912 days.
Doug Kramer has not seen his parents Linda and Norm in 2,017 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 4,490 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 3,806 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 12,372 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 8,291 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 4,459 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 4,039 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 4,301 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 3,337 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 3,052 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 2,617 days.
Julian Wain has not seen his brother Joseph or mother Susan in 932 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 2,107 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 6,658 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 3,789 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 4,127 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 8,982 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 4,101 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 2,457 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 6,760 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 2,866 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 3,264 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 3,140 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 2,723 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 3,218 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 3,472 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 14,581 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on September 28, 2022 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, 1995-2021 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2021), 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, 15 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


Tony Ortega at The Daily Beast


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