For Scientology watchers, a stunning development tonight that, not so long ago, we can hardly imagine happening.
Mark Bunker, dean of the old time Scientology critics, has written a guest post on Marty Rathbun’s blog this evening — well, I would be hardly more surprised if a Michael Wolff editorial appeared in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal with a glowing preface by Rupert Murdoch.
Rathbun, who not so many years ago was charged with keeping tabs on critics like Bunker in his role as one of the highest executives in Scientology, is well aware what a surprising turn this is:
Whatever Mark Bunker’s views, and whatever I may think of them, Mark Bunker is a decent, honest guy.
Rathbun, as inspector general of the Religious Technology Center, answered only to Scientology’s ultimate leader, David Miscavige. As we’ve pointed out numerous times before, Rathbun was an enforcer, a fixer, and went after Scientology’s perceived enemies seemingly with glee. But in 2004 he left the organization and then two years ago began suddenly speaking out against Miscavige at his blog, “Moving On Up a Little Higher.”
Tonight, we learn the surprising secret that when Rathbun needed help setting up his blog, he received that help from an unlikely source: Mark Bunker.
(I am having deja vu: 12 years ago, when I wrote about Tory Christman leaving Scientology, what set her on the road to defection was in part some helpful tech advice from Operation Clambake operator Andreas Heldal-Lund. The web: its power is amazing.)
Bunker is well known as Wise Beard Man, the calm, rational, and most influential of old time Scientology critics, who famously counseled Anonymous to rein in some of its excesses.
As Rathbun points out, he encountered Bunker at protests in Florida over the death of Lisa McPherson, and even then had respect for Bunker’s professionalism. But still, it’s hard to see these two as bosom buddies.
Rathbun is reviled by many in the Anonymous movement who believe he is too tainted by his time as Scientology’s enforcer to take his anti-Scientology efforts seriously today.
And besides, Rathbun may be out of the official church, but he still considers himself a Scientologist. His blog is as much about rescuing L. Ron Hubbard from the organization he created as it is about tearing down Miscavige. Bunker and other old time critics take apart Hubbard and his “technology” as much as they do the church itself. How could these two be anything but enemies?
We’ll let Bunker explain:
I don’t agree with everything Marty writes but I enjoy reading what he has to say and I’ve learned a lot from following his posts. I’m also indebted to him for exposing a lot of newsworthy stories since this blog launched. It’s seems like virtually every day there’s some tidbit that rumbles the ground at [Scientology’s secretive California headquarters] the Int Base. Enough tremors keep happening and he might actually shatter the locks on the doors and free people like [president of the Church of Scientology International] Heber Jentzsch from captivity.
I’ve been watching Scientology for a long time, and there’s one thing I know for sure: Mark Bunker does not make a statement like that lightly. You can almost feel the locks at Int Base loosening.
But Bunker knows the criticisms of Rathbun and Mike Rinder, another former high-ranking official who defected in 2007:
There are many critics of Scientology who can’t forgive Mike and Marty for their actions while in Scientology. I’m sure there are many Scientologists who will never forgive me for speaking out against Scientology. I’d rather look past that black and white
attitude and find a way to communicate and curb the abuses that brought Bob Minton into this fight to begin with and that are now being hurled against people like Mike and Marty.
There’s much more in the statement, as well as a plug for Bunker’s documentary, which he’s making with the help of donations. Sure, posting at Rathbun’s blog is a smart move for Bunker, who could use the exposure to Rathbun’s audience and the funds that might bring. But as the two now reveal, it was Bunker who helped Rathbun two years ago to get his blog going in a way that enabled it to grow.
I called Rathbun tonight to ask him about it. “I didn’t even know what a blog was. I had a one-page web page, and a lot of people would tell me it’s a piece of shit. Then Mark Bunker contacted me and helped me turn it into a blog,” he said.
“Mark Bunker is a straight ahead guy. He’s the guy that always counsels reason and has really stayed focused on abuse in the church. And he hasn’t been trashing scripture and trashing tech. He really hasn’t been trashing LRH,” Rathbun continued. I asked him if he didn’t think people would be surprised to see that they had joined forces.
“I don’t think it should be that much of a surprise. He’s been really focused on behavior and how the cult trashes people. He’s a stand-up guy,” he answered.
I also talked to the Beard Man tonight and asked him about his big secret, that he’d helped Rathbun get his blog going. “I kept my involvement secret because I didn’t want to scare away Scientologists who might be frightened by my involvement at all,” he said.
And why did he reach out to offer Rathbun his technical expertise? “Really, I wanted to read what he had to say,” he answered.
(He did, by the way, think of Tory Christman’s interaction with Andreas Heldal-Lund, he told me. “I thought, here’s a way I can help.”)
As for those who might question his showing unity with Rathbun in tonight’s editorial, he said: “I think Marty’s struck an effective blow at Miscavige’s regime, and I think he should be applauded for telling the truth as he sees it. And if I’m to be honest with myself and say that I support people’s right to believe in Scientology, then I have to support people like Marty who are trying to make a change. I don’t believe in the tech myself, and I think Hubbard is more responsible for problems in Scientology than people like Marty will ever confront, but I think it’s a process…It could take years to peel away the levels of this organization.”
Bunker added that he’s always supported the “Free Zone,” another splinter group that adheres to Hubbard’s technology while remaining out of the official church.
“I think Marty has revealed a lot of important stuff that may not be as much as some critics like, but I’m appreciative of everything that he and Rinder and other people at the site have done already,” he added.
As always, we’ll be looking forward to reactions from our readers, who will no doubt weigh in on whether they were surprised to see this development, and what it means for Scientology watchers and Scientology itself.
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard’s organization:
The Larry Wollersheim Saga — Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud
The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story — How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself
The Jason Beghe Defection — A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue
The Paul Haggis Ultimatum — The ‘Crash’ Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape — ‘Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle’
The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation — Scientology’s former PR genius comes clean
The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross — Scientology lures a young defector into a trap
A Church Myth Debunked — Scientology and Proposition 8
Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back — Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits
When Scientologists Attack — The Marty Rathbun Intimidation
A Scientologist Excommunicated — The Michael Fairman SP Declaration
The Richard Leiby Operation — Investigating a reporter’s divorce to shut him up
The Hugh Urban Investigation — An academic takes a harsh look at Scientology’s past
Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh — A precedent for a Scientology-Branch Davidian link
Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology — A masterful telling of Scientology’s history
The Western Spy Network Revealed? — Marty Rathbun ups the ante on David Miscavige
Scientology’s Enemies List — Are You On It?
Inside Inside Scientology — An interview with author Janet Reitman
Scientology and the Nation of Islam — Holy Doctrinal Mashup, Batman!
Scientologists — How Many of Them Are There, Anyway?
Roger Weller’s Wild Ride — Scientology When it was Hip
The Marc Headley Infiltration — A Scientology Spying Operation Revealed
Placido Domingo Jr: Scientology’s Retaliation is “Scary and Pathetic”
An Interview with Nancy Many, Former Scientology Spy
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 26, 2011