Scientology, Cooked: Commenters of the Week!

If the rest of 2012 is going to be like this first week, the hooch reserves in the underground bunker are going to need some bolstering.

Things started off one second after midnight as 2012 began, when our pre-loaded first story of the year, "What is Scientology?" popped up on cue. We'd been working on it a few weeks, larding it with good stuff from such luminaries as Jefferson Hawkins, Larry Brennan, Dennis Erlich, and Hana Whitfield. We hope it proves a competent introduction to the subject for years to come.

Just a few minutes later, however, we started getting frantic e-mails from some of our best tipsters -- the epic saga of Debbie Cook's e-mail had begun.

Of course, we knew that most of our readers were probably sloshed at that hour, so we sensibly waited until just before noon on Sunday morning to put up our first story about Debbie's stunning call to rebellion among her fellow church members.

But we still weren't done with the first day of the new year. That evening, someone solved the puzzle we had embedded in last summer's big countdown, The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.

Monday morning, we looked ahead to what 2012 might offer by talking to Mark Bunker and Mike Rinder.

But on Tuesday, we got back on the Debbie Cook story, trying to put her e-mail into some perspective by talking to someone else who hit the church with a broadside, actor Jason Beghe.

The next day, we got into Debbie Cook's background, and wrote about the homophobic hazing ritual that marked the end of her Sea Org career.

Our usual Thursday Stats Roundup included not only more Debbie Cook mania, but also a fun item about a gossip website mixing up Tom Cruise with indie Scientologist Tiziano Lugli.

Friday morning we got back to our usual look into what it was like to sail with L. Ron Hubbard with another set of dispatches from the yacht Apollo.

And that afternoon, with the Debbie Cook e-mail finally starting to hit American television, we put together an annotated version of her e-mail to help beginners understand what all the fuss is about.

Now that's some way to start out the new year. Let's move on to the awards, shall we?

We spent some time preparing our introductory article "What is Scientology?," and we wanted to include real experts in it, people who had spent years in the church. One of those was Hana Whitfield, who had actually worked with L. Ron Hubbard and provided us with some fascinating remembrances of him. Reader Schockenawd appreciated her contribution...

Hana Whitfield's recollections are really interesting, because they give some dimension to what I otherwise think of as a cartoonish LRH, running around in his fake naval uniform, selling snake oil to the naive. Hana makes it seem understandable, rational, even inevitable that LRH should have created an empire. Whatever else he was, LRH was obviously charismatic... the mark of the most successful cult leaders. Time will tell how his successor, David Miscavige, is remembered. My money is on the version of him as the despised Napoleon who rode the gravy train right into the ground.

Professor Dave Touretzky piped up with a very clever shorthand for how a career in Scientology goes...

Scientology condensed into 5 easy steps:

1. Raw meat level: self help / personal efficiency courses to get you in the door and put you at ease with the "org" and its jargon. 2. Dianetics: you need therapy for all the bad things that happened to you in life, starting at conception. 3. Scientology: you're an immortal spiritual being, and you need therapy for all the bad things that happened in all your previous lives, too. Higher rates apply. 4. Operating Thetan levels 3-7: you're possessed by the spirits of murdered space aliens called "body thetans", and they need therapy too. Bad news: they have no money, so YOU have to pay. Secrecy and higher rates apply; magical powers are promised if you persevere. 5. Suppressive person declare: you realize you've been scammed. You have no magical powers, no one else does either, and it's time to close your checkbook and get the hell out.

I've used this formulation in a bunch of radio interviews. It's very effective.

After we posted our first story about Debbie Cook's e-mail Sunday morning, the very first person to comment on it was Barbara Graham...

This confirms muttering I have been hearing for the past year or so. Members are beginning to notice that all the fundraising going on is impeding their way up the Bridge.

Members are beginning to ask, did I join to buy buildings for a screaming midget? In most cases (the heterosexual Tom Cruise aside) the answer is "NO!"

Synthia Fagen, meanwhile, was thinking about Debbie Cooks's possible outcomes...

Well, Debbie would like to keep this out of the media but, that is impossible.

I have concern for her. What she has done is exactly what she should have done but by doing so, she has obviously made herself a target. She needs reinforcement.

I realize that she is denouncing all of the exes out here and we will let her do that but, at some point she's most likely gonna need support.

I hope she has planned this out well.

We also enjoyed this brief comment by Kate Bornstein, who was trying to put the Debbie Cook e-mail into some context...

I've been on the phone all morning with ex-Sea Org pals of mine. Nothing remotely like this has ever happened in Scientology. Not ever. We're all agreed that it's so cool.

Our second Debbie Cook story featured ex-Scientologist Jason Beghe. And it made reference to an official church response from spokeswoman Karin Pouw -- which inspired Jefferson Hawkins to send in a comment...

I love their assertion of "27 new orgs." Typical Scientology shell game. In fact, the majority of those are the same old orgs that they have had for the last 20 years, moved into big new (and empty) buildings as part of their "Ideal Orgs" real estate scam. Scientology members are pressured to contribute millions to buy a new building, then the ownership of that building transfers to the "Mother Church," not to the local organization. Meanwhile the local org is stuck with maintenance, renovation, utilities and property taxes on a huge, empty white elephant. And most are struggling to pay their bills.

Scientology used to publish address lists. They don't any more -- wonder why? One of their last address lists, published in the 1998 edition of the book "What is Scientology?" listed 143 Churches of Scientology. If you go to their website and spend several hours with their complex "Org Locator," you can see that the total now is around 140. For every "new" org that opens, another is quietly closed or merged, all under the banner of "expansion." The new "Ideal Org" in Copenhagen, for instance, is a merger of two earlier organizations. Same in London, Paris, and my city, Portland.

As for their "Mission" network -- supposedly hundreds of smaller "starter' organizations, these have all but disappeared. Those that still exist are usually two guys and a dog in someone's living room. They used to be big, going organizations with 20 or 30 staff. Now their "Ideal Orgs" aren't even that big.

Check it out yourself. Look up the address of the local "Mission of Scientology" in your city, and go there and see what you find. Probably an empty building or a dry cleaning business, or a used clothing store - as I found here in Portland.

Or visit your local "Ideal Org," get a tour, and see how many people are actually inside.

And did you notice that "thousands of Scientologists" in their press release? What happened to your "millions," Scientology?

Professor Dave Touretzky explained how the Cook e-mail put the church in a very difficult spot...

Debbie Cook's letter has put DM in a Catch-22 situation: once people read it, every time Scientology pressures them for donations they'll be reminded yet again that Debbie was right. So much for this year's big New Year's video message from COB; she's ruined it. So suppose DM backs off the heavy fundraising and just pushes people to pay for their bridge? Well, in that case people are going to want services -- and DM can't provide them. They'll discover that the number of competent auditors is way down. That the quality of "service" at FLAG is far from the level of perfection they expect. And that, more than 15 years after Scientology started raising funds for the Super Power building, they still aren't able to offer the rundown. If you can't get decent services from CoS at any price, what's the point of remaining a member in good standing? Maybe it's time to close the checkbook and wait for LRH to return.

The next installment in our Debbie Cook saga was one that looked at her background in the Sea Org. Former Sea Org member Mat Pesch spoke up to help us understand what Cook's experiences must be like.

Most Scientologists live in a bubble world where they think their church and its members are "saving the world" , that they are superior to others, can do no wrong, etc.

When confronted with the truth they immediately reject it as "too incredible to be believed". They cover their eyes and ears so as not to have their bubble world popped.

Many have already given years of work, their life savings, abandoned family and friends to have their bubble world. Confronting the truth is a hard pill to swallow. I know, I worked for almost 3 decades as a staff member in the church's Sea Organization.

Scientology is full of good, honest, trusting people. Unfortunately there are people like Miscavige who betray that trust in a BIG way.

Whistle blowers like Debbie do so at great personal risk, knowing that they will be attacked by thugs and PIs hired by Miscavige. Their only motivation is the intention to bring about reform within the "church" of Scientology and to warn/help others.

My wish for all Scientologists is that they find the strength to look and think for themselves

Staying on our Debbie Cook theme, the latest thing we published was yesterday afternoon's annotated version of her e-mail.

That brought out one comment in particular that we dug. Here's Skip Press giving an alternate take on Debbie Cook and her mission...

It's always hilarious to me when Scientology "executives" or former staff cry out about the "alteration of tech" or "bad transcriptions" or other such garbage about early books or policy letters. Anyone who's ever published a book knows you get the final look at it before publication, and Hubbard published a lot of books. He was so persnickety about detail, he instituted "white glove" cleaning inspections on the Apollo flaghsip, and that was carried out in every Scientology organization staffed by Sea Org members. The "tech" got corrupted? Balderdash! THERE IS NO TECH. It's all made up by Hubbard or stolen from other places. Dianetics is nothing more than abreaction that was developed by Freud and Breuer and abandoned. Debbie Cook is doing what ALL former high-ranking Scientologists do upon leaving. When they reach out to other Scientologists, they make sure to state their "ranking" such as what OT levels they finished, certificates they gained, ranks they held in the Sea Org. That's a way of convincing themselves that - as in Cook's case - they WASTED decades of their lives on b.s. and they're trying to make it OK in their mind. Follow LRH? You mean, the "super intellect" who died in a trailer in Creston, CA screaming at unseen disembodied space alien "body thetans" he thought were attacking him? Debbie Cook ,- this is your life.

And she's living an entertaining one, at that! Thankfully, we all benefit.

Can't wait to see what the next week brings in Debbie Cook chaos.

Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications. | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared


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