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Scientology in the Village Voice: 2011 in Review

Here at the Voice we wrote 234 stories on Scientology this year. They generated more than a million pageviews and more than 20,000 comments from our loyal readers.

Our first story of the year was posted in February, when we lauded Lawrence Wright's excellent, lengthy New Yorker profile of church defector and film director Paul Haggis.

Our last story of the year will be posted tomorrow morning, when we announce our Commenters of the Year awards.

Along the way, we covered breaking stories, interviewed fascinating people, revealed formerly secret Scientology documents, and tried to put Scientology's various difficulties into perspective.

Some of those stories brought more of you around to take a look than others. After the jump, we'll look at the most popular stories of the year...


Our 25 Most-Read Scientology Stories of 2011


25. Scientology in The New Yorker: Lawrence Wright Buries L. Ron Hubbard For Good

(February 7) Wright's 24,000-word profile of church defector and film director Paul Haggis was an early indication that this was going to be a big year for Scientology watching. (Just noticed that The New Yorker is listing Wright's story as their 2nd most-read story of 2011. Wow!)


24. Scientology Held Woman Aboard the Freewinds for 12 Years Against Her Will: Aussie TV

(November 28) This was our first story about Valeska Paris, who says church leader David Miscavige kept her on Scientology's private cruise ship from 1996 to 2007 to keep her away from her own mother in an extreme case of "disconnection."

FEBRUARY: The lavish interior of an SUV custom-tailored for Tom Cruise by Sea Org members working for less than minimum wage.
FEBRUARY: The lavish interior of an SUV custom-tailored for Tom Cruise by Sea Org members working for less than minimum wage.

23. The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 6: Anonymous

(September 19) A controversial ranking in our big summer countdown; many thought the leaderless online community and its Scientology-watching corps, Project Chanology, would finish higher on our list. At least it made for great comments!


22. Scientology Has Marty Rathbun Arrested (UPDATED: CHARGES DROPPED)

(September 20) The culimination of months of reporting on the Squirrel Busters siege at Marty Rathbun's house in little Ingleside on the Bay, Texas, this seemed a fitting final blunder for the church's misguided "fair game" operation.

MARCH: Daniel Montalvo files child-labor lawsuits against Scientology. (They've since been settled.)
MARCH: Daniel Montalvo files child-labor lawsuits against Scientology. (They've since been settled.)

21. Tommy Davis, Scientology Spokesman, Secretly Recorded Discussing 'Disconnection'

(August 30) One of our favorite investigations of the year -- It's not often that you have a high-ranking Scientology official unaware that he's being taped as he pretty openly tries to intimidate a former church member about losing all contact with his family.


20. Scientology Attacks The New Yorker. Hilarity Ensues.

(August 30) Six months after Lawrence Wright's article about Paul Haggis appeared in The New Yorker, Scientology's propaganda organ, Freedom magazine, got around to trashing Wright and Haggis in surprisingly stupid fashion.

APRIL: The Squirrel Busters goon squad shows up to intimidate Marty Rathbun in South Texas
APRIL: The Squirrel Busters goon squad shows up to intimidate Marty Rathbun in South Texas

19. The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 3: Marty Rathbun

(September 26) As we got near the top of our big countdown, our choices got more controversial. Rathbun is loathed by many in the Scientology watching world, but there's no doubt that his blog is having a big effect on the church.


18. The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 2: David Miscavige

(September 28) We chose Miscavige as our top runner-up in our countdown, but readers in our online poll chose him as their number 1.

17. Janet Reitman: An Interview with the Author of Inside Scientology

(June 24) It didn't surprise us that the author of such a fascinating book would turn out to be fascinating herself.


16. Scientology Responds in Typical Fashion to South Park Investigation Documents

(October 25) After news of Scientology's retaliatory 2006 investigation of South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone broke, spokeswoman Karin Pouw put out one of the most inept church statements of all time.

15. Scientology's Enemies List: Are You On It?

(June 23) Marty Rathbun revealed an internal Scientology document which contained a list of people in the Western U.S. the church wanted to make sure weren't invited to an upcoming event. Those of us Back East were green with envy.


14. Tom Cruise's Daughter Leaves Him Over Scientology?

(April 21) There were several reports during the year in the entertainment tabloids that all is not well in the House of Cruise as Tom's kids explore young adulthood.

JULY: Placido Domingo Jr, seen here with his famous father, leaves Scientology, calling it "scary and pathetic"
JULY: Placido Domingo Jr, seen here with his famous father, leaves Scientology, calling it "scary and pathetic"

13. The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 12: Tommy Davis

(September 5) We weren't really surprised at the popularity of Tommy, the good-looking top church spokesman who suddenly vanished early in the year. Is Tommy another victim of church leader David Miscavige's infamous fickle favoritism?


12. Scientology Scuffle Over Xenu: When a Protester is Attacked!

(December 21) A minor scuffle in San Francisco turns into an intriguing story about a woman victimized by the church, her husband's in-your-face protesting techniques, and an angry confrontation over Xenu, the galactic overlord.

11. The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology

(August 5) With this post, we launched our big summer countdown, and started things off by giving Xenu his place of honor.

 


10. The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 4: Tom Cruise

(September 23) Cruise (and his 2005 freakout) was a natural for the countdown, but what also gave this post some punch were some thoughts about Tom by that wrecking ball of journalism, our friend Mark Ebner.


9. Inside Scientology's Labor Camp That Benefits Tom Cruise: The Photos

(February 10) Sea Org members, making only $50 a week, sure fabricated some nice things for David Miscavige and Tom Cruise, including custom motorcycles, a tricked out SUV, and the decor for an airplane hangar!

SEPTEMBER: The Squirrel Busters siege reaches its ridiculous apotheosis with the arrest of Marty Rathbun
SEPTEMBER: The Squirrel Busters siege reaches its ridiculous apotheosis with the arrest of Marty Rathbun

8. Daniel Montalvo Hits Scientology With Stunning Child Labor Lawsuits

(March 5) Increasingly, Scientology is coming under scrutiny for the way it uses underaged church members for hard labor under equally hard conditions. Montalvo's suits were settled, but new questions are being asked about the Paris sisters and others.


7. Inside Scientology Promises a Lot, And Delivers: David Miscavige Has Much to Worry About

(June 13) This was our review of Janet Reitman's history of the church. Despite some early misgivings, we ended up thoroughly impressed by Reitman's attention to detail and gift for narrative storytelling.

OCTOBER: We cover a dramatic breaking story as Lori Hodgson tries to see her son Jeremy in a hospital where he was taken after a serious motorcycle accident. Jeremy and Hodgson's daughter, Jessica, and their father all try to prevent Hodgson from seeing him, because they have "disconnected" from her after her defection from the church.
OCTOBER: We cover a dramatic breaking story as Lori Hodgson tries to see her son Jeremy in a hospital where he was taken after a serious motorcycle accident. Jeremy and Hodgson's daughter, Jessica, and their father all try to prevent Hodgson from seeing him, because they have "disconnected" from her after her defection from the church.

6. The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 1: L. Ron Hubbard

(September 28) The most popular post from our countdown was its pinnacle, in which we named L. Ron Hubbard Scientology's biggest problem. In the more than 700 comments that followed, there was plenty of disagreement!


5. Michael Sandlofer, 1st Husband to X Factor's Stacy Francis, on Her Past, Her Scientology, and Her Problems With The Truth

(November 7) We beat everybody to this first interview with Sandlofer, the man Francis claimed had derailed her chances of stardom in the past. Her story only gets weirder, as she now has hitched her star to Grant Cardone.

NOVEMBER: After examining the odd career of Chill EB, Scientology's in-house hip hop artist, we end up having a late night Twitter conversation with the rapper
NOVEMBER: After examining the odd career of Chill EB, Scientology's in-house hip hop artist, we end up having a late night Twitter conversation with the rapper

4. Scientology's South Park Investigation: Orders to Send in a Young Mole

(October 24) After reacting to Marty Rathbun's leak about the South Park investigation (see below), we revealed secret documents of our own which showed that Scientology wanted to get a mole into the South Park offices.


3. Scientology Celebrities Who Partied on the Freewinds While Valeska Paris Was Held on the Ship Against Her Will

(December 1) The sharp researchers at WhyWeProtest.net and Operation Clambake came up with a list of celebrities who had taken courses on Scientology's cruise ship Freewinds during the years Valeska Paris was held on board. We took that list and turned it into a slideshow, along with strange descriptions of the courses the celebrities took -- descriptions, that is, from Scientology's own websites.

DECEMBER: We are leaked a copy of Scientology's October IAS gala in the UK, during which church leader David Miscavige explains that black people are cool
DECEMBER: We are leaked a copy of Scientology's October IAS gala in the UK, during which church leader David Miscavige explains that black people are cool

2. Scientology Targeted South Park's Parker and Stone in Investigation

(October 23) We jumped on news that Marty Rathbun had revealed at his blog a formerly secret internal church document showing that in 2006, Scientology's Office of Special Affairs was running an investigation of South Park's creators in retaliation for a 2005 episode of the cartoon, "Trapped in the Closet," which mercilessly ridiculed Scientology's secret upper-level teachings. (An episode, by the way, that Comedy Central is re-running tomorrow night at 10 pm Eastern, so don't miss it!)

And now, our most-read story of the year...

 

The Guider family: Valeska Paris, Chris Guider, and their son Declan
The Guider family: Valeska Paris, Chris Guider, and their son Declan

1. Scientology's Cruise Ship as Prison: The Voice Interviews Valeska Paris

(November 29) We are really pleased that this story turned out to be so popular. Valeska's story is heartbreaking, fascinating, and infuriating. And it led us to other great stories about her sister Melissa Paris, another former Sea Org member named Ramana Dienes-Browning, and additional stories about Valeska, who has been threatened by Scientology's attorneys for speaking out.

There's something about Australia, isn't there? With Senator Nick Xenophon pushing for investigations, hard-hitting television journalists like Steve Cannane and Bryan Seymour breaking big stories without any of the squeamishness that plagues mainstream journalists in this country, and with outspoken whistleblowers like Chris Guider, Valeska Paris, and Ramana Dienes-Browning, Scientology has taken some serious blows Down Under. And 2012 looms large in the land of Oz as Jan Eastgate's case works its way through the courts and Xenophon, no doubt, won't let the Fair Work Ombudsman's decision slow down his own efforts. Australia, you have our attention.

Well, just a couple more things to take care of here as the new year looms. Please come back to our tribute to this blog's loyal readers with our Commenters of the Year awards tomorrow. And then, on New Year's Day, bright and early, we'll have the first post of 2012 -- and it's a doozy.


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

tortega@villagevoice.com | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

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


SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE

[All recent stories] | [Top 25 People Crippling Scientology] | [Commenters of the Week] [Thursday 2pm Stats!] | [Scientology vs. South Park] | [This Week Aboard the Apollo] [Sunday Funnies]

FEATURED INVESTIGATIONS

[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing "disconnection"] [Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology] [Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?] [Scientology hates clean ice: The "Fair Game" operation that should turn your stomach] [Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon] [Paulette Cooper, Scientology's original and worst nightmare: a Thanksgiving tribute]

THE TOP 25 PEOPLE CRIPPLING SCIENTOLOGY

1. L. Ron Hubbard | 2. David Miscavige | 3. Marty Rathbun | 4. Tom Cruise | 5. Joe Childs and Tom Tobin | 6. Anonymous | 7. Mark Bunker | 8. Mike Rinder | 9. Jason Beghe | 10. Lisa McPherson | 11. Nick Xenophon | 12. Tommy Davis | 13. Janet Reitman | 14. Tory Christman | 15. Andreas Heldal-Lund | 16. Marc and Claire Headley | 17. Jefferson Hawkins | 18. Amy Scobee | 19. The Squirrel Busters | 20. Trey Parker and Matt Stone | 21. Kendrick Moxon | 22. Jamie DeWolf | 23. Ken Dandar | 24. Dave Touretzky | 25. Xenu

HELD ABOARD THE FREEWINDS: TALES OF THE SEA ORG

[Valeska Paris, held against her will from 1996 to 2007 on Scientology's cruise ship] [Ramana Dienes-Browning, marriage at 16, sexual interrogation, life in the engine room] [Melissa Paris, Valeska's sister: forced to marry at 16]

SCIENTOLOGY VS. SOUTH PARK: INVESTIGATION AS RETALIATION

[Scientology targeted South Park's Parker and Stone in an investigation] [More documents in the South Park probe: instructions to send in a young mole] [Scientology responds in typical fashion] | [Lloyd Kaufman confirms the probe] [Mark Ebner also investigated after South Park involvement] [Mark Chauppetta, private eye, explains what Scientology operatives look for]

MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS

[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties] In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview] The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun's open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun's cause] | [Squirrel Buster's claim to be making a "documentary"] | [VIDEO: "On a Boat"] | ["Anna" sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology's highest levels]

SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND "FAIR GAME"

[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley] [Scientology's West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology's enemies list: Are you on it?] Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2] [A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard's remarkable public confession] [Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine] [Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to "handle" the Voice] [Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: "No one's going to take my eternity away"]

SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES

[Hey, Scientology Celebrity, Here's Your Media Training Checksheet!] [Tom Cruise and X Factor's Stacy Francis singing together on the Freewinds] [X Factor's Stacy Francis: Her first husband, Michael Sandlofer, answers abuse claims] [Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay] ["Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | ["Tom Cruise not a kook!"] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise] [Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church] [Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his "suppressive person" declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice] [Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense] [Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis] [Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology's retaliation is "scary and pathetic"] Grant Cardone, NatGeo's "Turnaround King": [Doing Scientology's dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone's smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo] [Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips "the business that is Scientology"]

JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY

[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman's first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid] [Scientology doesn't like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post] [A roundup of Reitman's print reviews, and why isn't she on television more?]

HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY

[A review of Urban's scholarly history of the church] | [An interview with Hugh Urban]

EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT

["The Money Machine": another blockbuster St. Pete Times investigation] [Marc Headley: "Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [The Nancy Many interview] [Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman's Story] | [Jeff Hawkins' Counterfeit Dreams] [86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]

OVERSEAS NEWS

[Scientology in Israel: Arson, attempted murder, paranoia -- and a visit by the Voice!] [Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested] [All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots] [Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige "toxic" and "violent"] [Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails] [Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]

ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS

[Scientology chillin' with hip hop!] | [The curious career of Scientology rapper Chill EB] [Chill EB and me: the Voice interviews Scientology's in-house rapper] [Scientology singalong, "We Stand Tall"] | [Captain Bill Robertson and "Galactic Patrol"] [Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!] [Birmingham in the House! The "Ideal" dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam] [When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers] [Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.] [Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York "org"]

THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE

[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth] [Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family] [Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle] [Desperate Scientology fundraising caught on video]


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