Scientology Capsize: Commenters of the Week!


The scene here in the underground bunker is like the quiet after a major storm. A hurricane blew up out of the Caribbean this week and hit us square on. The place is a mess. The cats are skittish. But the excitement has finally died down a bit, the lights are low, the empty bottles have been cleared out, and we’re trying to regain some composure here as we reflect on what happened…

We seem to say it every Saturday, but this time we really mean it: what a week, Scientology watchers!

Early Monday morning, we first heard from Australian journalist Steve Cannane about Valeska Paris, the woman who says she was held against her will aboard Scientology’s private cruise ship the Freewinds from 1996 to 2007.

The next day, we published our own lengthy interview with Valeska, with more on her family background, her time on the ship, and her memories of Tom Cruise’s lavish birthday party aboard the ship in 2004.

Wednesday morning, we had a special treat: a reader sent us a 1977 Scientology document about training celebrities to talk to the media, and we used it to launch into a mini-investigation, talking to various former church execs about how, in Marty Rathbun’s words, celebrities were “drilled like barking seals.”

Thursday morning, we got back to the Paris family saga with our lengthy interview of Valeska’s younger sister, Melissa, who had her own amazing story of Sea Org misery.

That afternoon, for our regular STATurday roundup, we naturally focused on how the Paris family adventure was washing over Scientology like a tsunami.

Also on Thursday afternoon, we put together a fun slideshow of Scientology celebrities that were known to have taken courses on the Freewinds from 1996 to 2007, the period when Valeska was laboring for Scientology against her will.

And finally, yesterday morning we continued our regular Friday morning feature with another excerpt from L. Ron Hubbard’s dispatches to his crew while he sailed the Caribbean. In this installment, he schools President Nixon in a 1971 “Orders of the Day.”

We have plenty more coming for you on the Paris sisters, including an interview with Ramana Dienes-Browning, who will shed more light on Valeska’s inability to leave the ship.

But for now, let’s get to this week’s awards!

After Monday’s big story about Valeska broke, people naturally had a lot of questions about the Freewinds. We were thrilled to see Mat Pesch show up with these words:

To get a better understanding of imprisonment on the Freewinds one should Google Don Jason’s story which can be found in the St Pete Times article as part of the Truth Rundown series. The person being held has no passport, no money, they are not allowed access to public and staff other than their guard, they sleep in a room with a magnetic lock on the door and they are watched on a camera inside their room. The gangway to the dock is always guarded by a security guard. If the prisoner does manage to go down one of the dock ropes (as Don did) they are chased down by multiple security guards and if they still manage to escape they are chased down to what ever country they make it to. I know of Sea Org children that were ordered (by Miscavige) to legally change their name and were sent to a foreign country just to ensure their parents could not find them. Motivation? To spite the parents for crossing Miscavige. To send a 17-year-old girl down in that engine room to work and live for 3 months is no joke. I too have been down there. You strip to your underwear and put on a boiler suit and a pair of boots as the oil and grease would ruin any clothes you would wear. The heat is extreme and you need to constantly drink water because you sweat non stop. The pounding of the engines is so loud that you have to yell to another from inches away to be heard.

Readers also reacted to the church’s denials, which were written up by Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw. And Jefferson Hawkins did us a service by putting the church’s statement in perspective:

Interesting that despite anything that happens, Scientology doesn’t change its tactics. Definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result. Over the last few years, literally thousands of former Scientologists have come forward with tales of abuse, fraud, family disconnection, violence and greed. These are real people, who have real names and identities. They are willing to appear on camera and tell their stories – and those stories are detailed, emotional and credible. Scientology’s only response? These people are “unreliable sources.” They are “apostates”
and “criminals.” They are lying, all of them. And who is saying these things? Faceless Church of Scientology sockpuppets who will not appear on camera, will not talk to reporters, will not answer direct questions. Who stands up for Scientology on this or any other forum? Faceless, nameless sockpuppets with names like “Marcotai” or “Mark Miglio.” Who are these people? No one knows. What do they look like? No one knows. Or the Church issues a statement from “Karin Pouw.” Well, there is a real Karin Pouw – I knew her. But will she appear on camera? No. Will she talk directly to reporters? No. Has she been seen in public? No. So maybe Karin is issuing these statements and maybe she isn’t. Maybe faceless Scientology bureaucrats are writing them and issuing them over her name. And where are Scientology’s former spokespeople? Heber Jentzsch? Tommy Davis? Mike Rinder has left the Church, we know, and has admitted that he lied over and over as spokesperson to protect the Church’s reputation. And where is Church leader David Miscavige? Why doesn’t he appear in public and address these allegations? Any real church leader would. But no, he hides behind nameless and faceless identities who churn out tired, pitiful explanations and excuses. “Scientology is experiencing unprecedented expansion,” we are told. They have “8000 organizations.” Really? How come their addresses cannot be found, even on your own websites? You have “millions of members.” Really? Then where are they? Sorry, but the Church of Scientology is an empty shell with a PR department – and an incompetent one at that.

On Tuesday, we printed our lengthy interview with Valeska, providing a lot more detail
about her story (and there’s even more to come, believe me). But some readers were still coming to grips with Pouw’s cookie-cutter church statement. We liked what robinlandseadel had to say:

Karin–about that “Apostate” word, it doesn’t work in the real world. You might as well be waving a picture of a rabbit with a pancake on its head while pointing at the sky and screaming about fluoride. All that the “Apostate” word tells us is that you’re nuts.

And it was great to see one well-known Scientology-escapee, Marc Headley, cheer on another:

Awesome! Thanks Valeska & Chris for standing up to these criminals. Life only gets better the further you get from these guys. Good luck with everything!

Frequent commenter Tye Solaris tried to measure the impact of Valeska’s tale…

This is the “Mother” of all Scion Stories… It’s got it all… High Seas kidnapping, slavery, torture, movie stars, exotic locations, imprisonment, work camps, celebrities, top executives, mind control, entertainment, lavish spending, …. At times reminding me of the movies ‘Mr.Roberts’… ‘Catch 22’ …. and ‘The Great Escape’… And more somberly am reminded of the phrase….’Arbeit Macht Frei’….. which is German for ‘Work Makes You Free’ ….. which were the Iron Letters above the Gates going into the Concentration Camps of World War II Germany…. many never came out again… they were disposed of “Quietly… and Without Ceremony”…. after it was clear that no more work could be squeezed out of their overworked and under-nourished bodies. And this organization created by Hubbard and written by Hubbard declaring them to be…

On Wednesday, we took time out from the Paris family saga to write about a 1977 Scientology document that a reader had sent us. It was a checksheet for training celebrities how to talk about L. Ron Hubbard to the press. We didn’t divulge our source, but then in the comments, Bob Peterson claimed rightful credit…

I am very glad you could use that checklist. I was sorting through old papers a while back and came across it. I think that somebody gave it to me while I was working at the LMT. But I never really took the time to read it and understood what it was for; I have seen so many Scientology checklists that one looks very much like another.

Several readers pointed out that a notation on the document revealed that the checksheet was just an experimental program. Nancy Many, who helped us on the story, chimed in to put that in context:

I just noticed the “pilot” on the issue. That means that this was to be tested out on individuals. It may never have worked and never have been used broadly, but all the drills and comments regarding these are all true, they were being used back then and they are being used now. Many of the celebrities I worked with were not well educated. They either did not have the attention span to sit for an entire course, or they simply could not deal with the length of this course — even if offered for free (which I am certain this course was).

Writer Skip Press also helped us on the piece, and we were happy to see him join the fray as well…

Yeoman’s work as usual, Tony, great job. Never forget this — most of the top $cientology celebrities are horribly educated. Far as I know, Travolta only went as far as the sixth grade. I don’t think Miscavige finished high school. Anne Archer was a horrible student — she told me so herself. And what few people seem to remember is that at Celebrity Centre when it moved to its current location — the former Chateau Elysee that was for years called “The Manor” because $cientologists could also live there — there was a SEPARATE courseroom for celebrities like Priscilla Presley. I asked about that once. After all, if you were “qualified” in the eyes of $cientology to take courses there (as I was, having achieved that status in the broad world post-staff, but who cares), then shouldn’t everyone use the same course rooms? Hubbard appealed CONSTANTLY to vanity with his baloney “OT powers” and that’s why many of them joined and are still there. Deluded fools.

Thursday morning, we published our lengthy interview with Melissa Paris, who had her own story of extreme deprivations in the Sea Org. That brought this response from Old Timer:

Wow. And I thought the Sea Org was fucked up when I was in!

Melissa’s story also hit home with Brian Culkin, who was recently featured in the St. Petersburg Times special project, “The Money Machine”:

I almost started crying reading this. Unreal. A family ripped apart like that. For what purpose? I can’t even begin to grasp how that is possible in a religious context. Wow. So much respect to both of them.

We were also happy to see this assessment of Melissa Paris by ChaosConsumer:

I like the cut of Melissa’s jib. I think she might even have surpassed Jason Beghe in the straight talking stakes in my eyes. I’d like to hear more from her.

On Thursday afternoon, in our usual stats roundup, we traced the evolution of the Valeska Paris story up to that point. In the meantime, some noticed that other news organizations were interested in another story: Kelly Preston’s claim that her Scientologist friend Kirstie Alley’s weight-loss outfit had helped her slim down. We appreciated the way Xenu put that in perspective:

Here’s a toast to the members of the press who think that kidnapping and enslavement are more important than losing 39 pounds.

Frequent commenter Mark Stark, meanwhile, let us know how well the story was spreading:

The Yahoo blog with Valeska’s story has over 6000 comments and Xenu knows how many people read the link to Tony’s interview with her. It’s an extremely powerful story, and the cult does not know what to do about it but crawl in a hole and hide, while issuing absurd statements which are transparent lies, even for people who know little about Scientology. Could this be the story that brings them down? In Australia, this could be a death blow. The story captures the total control this cult can exert over a young person’s life. Why? Simply because she had the misfortune to be born into a family where the parents took a strong interest in it. Self determinism? Freedom? Is that what this cult is about, that would snatch a young woman of 14 and draft her into their paramilitary Sea Org for the next billion years, keeping her away from her mother, all to salvage this sector of the galaxy?

Thursday afternoon’s slideshow of celebrities who sailed the Freewinds during the period that Valeska Paris was laboring on the ship brought out this reaction from Anonamazing:

Yeah, I did this course on the Freewinds. Like all of them, you get the evangelical high that makes it seem like something is happening, but of course has no impact lasting more than a day or two.

And Mark Stark struck again, this time with this great thought…

Wouldn’t it be just terrible — I mean the planet might collapse — if because of this article, one of these celebrities read Valeska’s story, and wanted to know more?

Finally, on Friday, we printed another excerpt from L. Ron Hubbard’s orders of the day, this time a 1971 dissertation by the Commodore about Nixon’s economic policies. We asked in the piece if Kate Bornstein could tell us whether Hubbard expected feedback for such screeds. Kate was kind enough to answer:

We never questioned any of his rants, Tony. After all, he was the one who was reading weekly economic reports from the American Institute for Economic Research and the American Institute Counselors, Inc–whatever the fuck they were, and whatever validity they had as sources of information. We were’t allowed to read that stuff–we were only allowed to read “Source,” another moniker he enjoyed. Everything and anyone else was “off Source,” or squirrel. Rants like this just made us more secure in the knowledge that he was the only one who knew what he was talking about… on any subject. I do remember that references to Nixon’s “beer hall buddies” meant his German advisors and collaborators, because Nixon (as we all know) was under the thumb of the Krauts and their psychiatrically implanted plans to enslave humanity. As to the inflation part, LRH only talked about that to stress how important it was to get our stats up now, now, now because otherwise we’d be too late to save the planet. Ah, those were the days.

Yes, those were the days. But as for Scientology watching, I don’t think I’d trade today for any other time. Imagine what great things are still to come in future weeks!

As a matter of fact, this weekend I’m going to be cooking up some nice end-of-year specials, some of which will rely on reader feedback. So get ready to help us out with some polls as we send the Scientology-watching year out in style!

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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