Scientology Sinking Like a Cruise Ship: Time for Thursday Stats!


Each Thursday at 2 pm, Scientology workers madly dash to finish up their work before turning in their weekly statistics.

We like to do the same thing here at the Voice, and on Thursday afternoons add up the wins and losses for the church around the world.

We took last week off in order to highlight our special Thanksgiving tribute to Paulette Cooper and the 40th anniversary of her book, The Scandal of Scientology.

This week is also unusual. Instead of a variety of stories from around the globe, Scientology watching this week, across several continents, was rocked by a single blast.

Its name was Valeska.

Monday morning at 5 am, I heard from our good friend Steve Cannane, a journalist at Australia’s ABC network, that he was breaking a big story — that for 12 years, Valeska Paris had been held against her will on the Scientology cruise ship, Freewinds.

Born in Switzerland to Scientologist parents, she joined the Sea Org in the UK at only 14 years of age. At the age of 17, the church demanded that she disconnect from her mother, who had changed her mind about Scientology and had denounced it on French television. In order to keep her disconnected from her mother, Valeska says, church leader David Miscavige then moved her to the Freewinds in 1996 when she was 18 years old. She was stuck there until 2007, when she was put in the RPF, Scientology’s prison detail, in Australia. There she met her husband, former Australian rugby star Chris Guider, and they now have a boy, Declan, and another child on the way. They have both left Scientology and have both appeared on television with Steve Cannane.

A few hours after Steve’s e-mail arrived, we posted our first story about Valeska, with Steve’s video report. I added a postscript — if Valeska was on the Freewinds until 2007, that means she must have been on the ship for the notorious Tom Cruise birthday party in 2004.

Steve’s story started getting picked up by numerous Australian news organizations throughout the day. And that night, a nice piece by Australia’s A Current Affair showed up, and it too made the connection between Valeska, the Freewinds, and the infamous Cruise party.

Late that night, Valeska and I connected through Skype, and we talked for about an hour and a half. There were so many questions I had for her, and she patiently explained things, including arcane Sea Org terms. I posted the lengthy story the next morning, with her memories of Tom Cruise’s visit, her family background, and what it was like to be forced to separate from her family.

Meanwhile, the story jumped another ocean. Tuesday evening, the Swiss newspaper Le Matin wrote about the Genevan-born young woman who had been held on Scientology’s ship. And since then, additional stories have showed up in Ireland and the UK.

Then, yesterday, Eric Pfeiffer at Yahoo News wrote about Valeska for its news blog The Sideshow. I notified Eric that we had done a lengthy interview with Valeska, and he kindly added a link to our story. (Oh, how I love when that happens. Journalistic cooperation!)

This morning, we added even more to the story with an interview with Valeska’s sister, Melissa Paris, who had her own story of family separation and escape from Scientology. And we expect that the Paris family saga will continue to be picked up by more news organizations.

Thursday’s Stats: Upstat or Downstat? As Synthia Fagen remarked to me, this one feels like a tsunami. This is some of the worst Downstat publicity that Scientology has had since, oh, last week when it was being ridiculed for its attempts at hip hop. Or the week before, for its greed. Or the week before that for its hapless X Factor contestant who wouldn’t talk about her connection to the church…

Well, you get the idea. It’s been a rough month for Scientology. But this story about the Freewinds? That barge has sprung a serious leak. And something tells me it’s going to be taking on water for some time.

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 (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.

@VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega


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