We’re starting something new here at Runnin’ Scared. From our underground bunker, where we keep an eye on all things Scientology, we’ve been stunned to see how hard things have been for the venerable church lately.
From surveys which suggest membership is dwindling, to a mass exodus that is taking loyal longtime parishioners into the open arms of an independence movement, to the unceasing efforts of Scientologists themselves to paint their own efforts in the worst possible light, this is an organization seemingly in a tailspin.
Of course, our own loyal readers know that Scientology leader David Miscavige’s current headaches are nothing new and were a long time coming. From the dawn of Scientology’s e-meter fever-dreams, there has always been internal strife, external criticism, and all kinds of nasty litigation when it comes to L. Ron Hubbard’s creation. So who should get the credit — and who the blame — for the sinking morass that is Scientology today? In the coming weeks, we’re doing a countdown to reveal our picks for those most responsible. Naturally, we’re looking forward to your thoughts about our choices in our comments section.
First up, at #25, is a fellow we hope someday to meet. For now, however, he’s something of an enigma…
[Not sure who “Xenu” is? Please see the “Special Update” below.]
It’s hard to blame Xenu, the mighty celestial dictator, for infesting our planet with innumerable hungry alien souls. I mean, what would you do if you were overseeing a galactic federation of planets so overpopulated, each world had something like 150 billion sentient creatures? Obviously, 75 million years ago, contraception was not well known. Or something.
Anyway, Xenu often gets a bad rap for vaporizing billions of alien beings on Teegeeack, which we call Earth today, and then inventing concepts like “Jesus Christ” to implant in their bodiless minds.
But we think it’s time Xenu got more credit for all that he’s done. Think about it, for about 19 years, after L. Ron Hubbard dreamed the sucker up in a pill-popping and boozy haze while sailing the Atlantic and Mediterranean in the mid-1960s, until the Los Angeles Times finally made Xenu’s story public during the Larry Wollersheim trial in 1986, only high-level Scientologists even knew that the alien leader existed.
UPDATE: Ah, the beauty of a blog — instant updating! Maybe for many of us the L.A. Times was our first glimpse of our mighty galactic hero, but I’ve just been reminded that one of the giants of Scientology reporting, Richard Leiby, beat the Times by five years!
From his 1981 article in the Clearwater Sun:
That was when Xemu, the evil ruler of the Galactic Confederation, concluded that the 90 – planet confederation was overpopulated. “Finally Xemu decided to take radical measures to overcome the population problem,” says the material. “The planet Earth was designated as a place for executions. Beings were captured on other planets as well as on this planet and flown to locations near 10 volcanos or more on Earth. H-bombs (far more powerful than any in existence today) were dropped on the volcanoes destroying the bodies of the beings, who as thetans attached themselves to one another in clusters.
And so on. Leiby had that down cold. And he paid for it later, as we wrote about here recently. OK, end of update…
Thanks to numerous court cases, many key defections, and most importantly, the Internet, Xenu has gone from one of Scientology’s most well-kept secrets to one if its most well-known icons. Today, even folks who don’t know a lot about Scientology and couldn’t pick Scientology leader David Miscavige out of a lineup still have a vague idea that John Travolta and Tom Cruise worship some sort of an alien tentacled lord. (Thank you, South Park!)
But it takes more than causing some snickers and giggles to make this formidable list, and so we’ll lay out now what it is about Xenu that has given Scientology a hard time.
For this Scientology watcher, there’s almost nothing more cringe-inducing than watching a Scientology official, in a public setting or on camera, attempt to handle a question about Xenu and other secret teachings of Scientology’s upper levels. I mean, just watch Tommy Davis as he dealt with such a query from CNN’s John Roberts three years ago (fast forward to the 5:30 mark for the real fun):
Just think for a moment about Tommy’s reply: “John, does that sound silly to you?”
Well, yes, Tommy. That’s why we love the Xenu story so much. It’s Davis who looks silly, though, when he calls “unrecognizable” the concept of body thetans — Hubbard’s idea that the disembodied souls left behind by Xenu attach themselves to human beings and can only be removed through Scientology’s auditing. Time and again, Scientology officials are made to look silly when they not only deny the Xenu story but try to act like they’ve never even heard of it before.
I’ve never understood why Scientology spokespeople don’t handle the Xenu question this way:
“John, you know, there have been a lot of press reports about this space opera material, and it got made fun of on South Park, and on the Internet people discuss it like they know what they’re talking about. But honestly, there’s a reason we ask people to spend a lot of time doing sophisticated training so that our highly technical material makes sense for them. Anyone outside that process will never really understand what it is we’re talking about.”
Wouldn’t that be a smarter approach? Wouldn’t it make sense for a spokesman to at least acknowledge the existence of the Xenu story rather than to keep bluffing through interviews with total denial?
Oh, well wait. Tommy Davis did seem to acknowledge the Xenu story once, to Nathan Baca, a young reporter who was at the ABC affiliate in Palm Springs, KESQ, in 2009 and got Davis to say, “yes, I’m familiar with that material” when he started reading Hubbard’s handwritten OT III materials out loud. I found this compilation video which illustrates Tommy’s flip flop quite well:
Some of my sources have suggested to me that Tommy’s little slip, acknowledging the OT III materials and the Xenu story, even in this rather off-hand way, is what has Tommy seemingly out of favor today. The man was a ubiquitous presence for Scientology a few years ago, but today is hardly seen or heard.
Well, maybe there is no good way for Scientology to handle the Xenu story. They can’t really talk about it publicly, because they want parishioners to pay something like $350,000 to $400,000 before they are exposed to it and the rest of the OT levels, according to calculations published recently by scholar Hugh Urban. But as long as they deny it outright, they look like fools.
Xenu sort of has them by the short hairs, doesn’t he? What a devilish figure he is.
Next week, get ready for more of our countdown. Who’s at #24? Our only hint: it’s time for school.
SPECIAL UPDATE: For those who are not sure who “Xenu” is and what the heck this is all about.
In the comments, we were called out for being a bit too flip in this entry, and for assuming that our readers are all well aware of Scientology’s basic concepts and controversies. Fair enough. We don’t want to leave anyone behind, and the more folks who join us in this conversation, the better. So here’s our attempt at a primer to bring everyone up to speed…
Only those Scientologists who have been training in the organization for several years, and have spent something like $250,000 on various services and training programs, will reach an “upper level” set of materials that are known as “Operating Thetan III,” or OT III.
As numerous court cases and countless defections by high-level members has established beyond any doubt, the contents of OT III contain Scientology’s origin story of human kind — its Genesis, as it were.
In those materials, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard explains that 75 million years ago, a galactic overlord ruling a 76-planet federation had decided to deal with an overpopulation problem by having billions of alien creatures brought to the planet Teegeeack, which we call Earth today. That overlord, who Hubbard names Xenu or Xemu, then blew up the countless aliens with hydrogen bombs, and then trapped their remaining souls, indoctrinating these souls with the use of 3D movies of a sort, and then set them free to wander the planet.
75 million years later, these bodiless, invisible alien souls have attached themselves to us. You might have hundreds in and around your body, and they give you aches and pains, cause you disease, and generally hold you back from your full potential.
Scientologists who have learned this secret then set out on even more expensive therapy (called “auditing”) to clear themselves of these alien entities, which are known as “body thetans.” Larry Wollersheim, a former Scientologist who successfully sued the church for fraud, described that process to me:
“At OT III, you find out that you’re really thousands of individual beings struggling for control of your body. Aliens left over from space wars that are giving you cancer or making you crazy or making you impotent. The reason for every bad thing in your life is these alien beings,” Wollersheim says. “I went psychotic on OT III. I lost a sense of who I was.” Years can be spent removing these aliens–called “body thetans” or “BT’s” — by talking to and about these supposed hitchhiking entities while holding onto a device called an “e-meter.” “You’re talking to thousands of beings. They have histories. And anger. They’re complex personalities.” Eventually, however, Wollersheim graduated to a level where he believed he had finally eradicated all of the thetans from his body. “You think you’ve made it. You’re free of all these beings. But then Hubbard releases the second big secret [on a level called “New Era Dianetics for Operation Thetans,” also called “NED for OTs” or “NOTs.”] He tells you there are far more of these beings than anyone ever dreamed of. Inside those original thetans are clusters of other beings. Beings that are eight feet from you, floating near you all the time. Beings miles away from you that are still connected with you. Beings in the television, and you’re told that watching television will wake them up, so you’re told not to watch TV. If OT III made some people nuts, NOTs really drove them over the edge,” he says.
So to be clear, Scientologists do not “worship” Xenu. He is the big bad guy in their origin story — and it’s an origin story that only a minority of parishioners are even aware of, only those who have paid enough money to reach the upper level of OT III (the highest level is OT VIII). Beginning Scientologists are strictly kept in the dark about this material, and are told to avoid any mention of it on the Internet.
There is much more about OT III and the other upper levels that we can’t touch on in this brief overview, but this should help anyone new to Scientology’s teachings keep up with our countdown and most other posts here at Runnin’ Scared.
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
#7: Mark Bunker
#8: Mike Rinder
#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics)
#16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church’s HQ
#17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano
#18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church’s other thugs and goons)
#20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures)
#21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church
#22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members)
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
#24: David Touretzky (and other academics)
#25: Xenu, galactic overlord
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin’ Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[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?]
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]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
[“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]
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
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
[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]
[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]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 5, 2011