As we wait for the next development in the Church of Scientology’s lawsuit against its former employee, Debbie Cook, we continue to think about something the church told ABC for its recent Nightline story on the case…
“In a letter to ABC News, a lawyer for the Church of Scientology flat out denies that the ‘hole’ exists, or that there was ever a place known as the hole’.”
When this line was uttered during the Nightline program, an image of a letter was shown which indicated that it had come from church attorney Gary Soter.
Soter’s second claim is some kind of semantic gamesmanship: at least half a dozen former Scientologists have come forward to speak publicly about — or, in Debbie Cook’s case, testify under oath to — the existence of “the Hole,” a frightening office-prison where 60 to 100 out-of-favor church executives were held day and night under guard, from at least 2004 to 2010.
Soter’s first claim is more interesting. If “the Hole” no longer exists, we’ve been wondering where else such a large number of prisoners could be held at “Int Base,” Scientology’s 700-acre compound near Hemet, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles.
A few days ago, I heard from Gary Morehead — his fellow former Scientologists tend to call him “Jackson,” his codename when he was security chief at Int Base until 1997. Although it’s been 15 years since he worked there, things change slowly at the base, and he’s still very familiar with its grounds. So something new suddenly showing up there recently, he said, had him very curious.
He was talking about a visit made a couple of weeks ago by Jim Logan and Sinar Parman, two former base workers who returned to it for an emotional paying of respects to Ann Tidman.
We wrote about the death of Tidman, better known as “Annie Broeker” to Scientologists. She and Logan had been married, but were separated in 1992 when Logan was excommunicated from the church. She remained in the fold — after, that is, attempting a daring cross-country escape to be reunited with him. She died last year of cancer, but it took six months before her sisters or the outside world knew of it. She had, to the end, remained loyal to Scientology and kept news of her disease from anyone outside the base.
In a lengthy, emotional piece of writing, Logan described his feelings as he made his return to the base for the first time in almost 20 years to pay his respects to Ann. He knew that he’d be turned away at the gate by the Sea Org members working there. But he went anyway.
Along with him was Parman, a man who was once L. Ron Hubbard’s personal chef, and has his own dramatic tale of leaving Scientology.
It was Parman who told Morehead that he’d seen something unusual at the base: out by the Old Gilman House, there was some new fencing, about a hundred feet back of the actual perimeter fence of the base itself, and it featured some kind of webbing — like at a tennis court — to block the view of whatever was behind it.
Morehead conveyed the news to me, saying that the fence seemed significant, especially with the material to block the view from the roadway. Could it have something to do with church leader David Miscavige relocating the prisoners of “the Hole” now that the jig was up?
Over the next few hours, I talked at length with Morehead, Parman, and the last defector to come out of the base, John Brousseau, who left in 2010. In that conversation, I learned a lot about the base, and I also learned that Sinar Parman had some never-before-seen photos of the base taken in September from a helicopter, and that he was willing to share them with our readers.
Parman had taken the photos while he was along with Mark Bunker, who hired the helicopter to take footage for his upcoming documentary, Knowledge Report.
Because he took detailed photos of the base in September, Parman realized that the fence he saw a couple of weeks ago was new.
First, before we look at Parman’s photos and examine the different places where Miscavige could move the current residents of the Hole, let’s orient ourselves (click on images to enlarge them).
Scientology’s International Base lies about 90 miles east of Los Angeles and near the towns of Hemet and San Jacinto. (This map also shows the location of another of Scientology’s secretive headquarters, for the Church of Spiritual Technology, near Lake Arrowhead, which we wrote about last month.) Int Base’s location is a place called Gilman Hot Springs on some maps, the name of the small resort that the church purchased in 1978. Its address is 19625 Gilman Springs Road…
Int Base straddles Gilman Springs Road, and two tunnels were built at great expense so its employees could travel from one side to the other without having to deal with the road’s fast traffic (or expose themselves to the prying eyes of protesters). Here’s a satellite overview of the compound, showing structures on both sides of the highway…
Now, let’s go to the north end of the property and zoom in…
The dirt road cutting across the top of the photo is the original old canyon road here, Morehead tells me. The larger of the two blue-roofed buildings, the one on the right, is the Old Gilman House, positioned to serve the traffic on the old road. Now, let’s get down closer.
Morehead said he was intrigued about the fencing that Parman saw because this area — the Old Gilman House and other structures near it — were used for holding prisoners before the Hole came into being. Could it be used for that again? The two of us went over the structures we could see in the satellite image: A) The Old Gilman House. “It was the original place for ‘ethics particles’,” Morehead told me. “That’s where they would be held…Every room has cameras and audiovisual. Six to eight rooms upstairs, and five to eight rooms downstairs, and they all have cameras in them — and that was back in 1997,” he says. B) The Weise House. “Gary Weise was the head film and video editor. Carmen and Gary were with Hubbard out in ‘W,’ before everyone came to the base,” he says. C) “The Maintenance Man House.” If a large number of prisoners were to be held in this area, the Maintenance Man House would provide the shower. “There was a shower and a bathroom built specifically for the ethics particles. It was built there at my direction. There was a shower and a sink,” he says. Security personnel, he adds, were trained to move a lot of people through the shower if it was needed.
D&E) Two trailers that housed sensitive high-level materials for spiritual training. You wanted to do the upper levels? You had to come here, where the materials were kept under lock and key, Morehead says.
F&G) These two trailers housed base workers who were undergoing some kind of punishment. “We’d say they were ‘restricted to base’,” Morehead says. One was for men, the other for women — and Maureen Bolstad was one of the women kept here.
H&I) “These trailers were originally put there as isolation units, so the medical officer could put someone there who was sick and not get everyone else sick,” Morehead says. Later, these trailers would house some high-level executives who had fallen out of favor with Miscavige, including his own sister-in-law.
J, K & M) These are containers, used for storage.
L) Morehead and Parman say this was a greenhouse but is mostly used for landscaping storage now.
N) In the upper left, you can make out what looks like a boat sitting between some trees. Morehead and Brousseau say that this is an old Sea Org vessel that is obviously not sailing anywhere anytime soon.
Parman says the new fencing is on the west side of the Maintenance Man Building, and he saw what looks like new containers behind it. But John Brousseau disagreed with Morehead that a new version of “the Hole” might be under construction here.
“That’s got to be the most vulnerable part of the base,” Brousseau told me. They wouldn’t put anything like that out there. Maybe they’re going to bulldoze the Old Gilman House. Miscavige has been talking about that for years. There was a plan to build a warehouse out there. I don’t know. It’s always been the sort of undeveloped corner, where either stuff or staff would get put. It’s just the wrong place to do something salacious and secret. Especially with the scrutiny the base is getting now? No way.”
Brousseau says that his own experience in 2009 tells him that Miscavige won’t construct a new office-prison to replace his last one. At that time, he explains, there was panic at the base because of the St. Petersburg Times explosive series, “The Truth Rundown,” which first revealed the existence of the Hole in a major newspaper. CNN later picked up some of that material for a series by Anderson Cooper.
Brousseau says Miscavige reacted by moving some of the executives out of the Hole and back into more normal surroundings. “They were still segregated, they still had security on them,” Brousseau says. But at least they were out of the Hole itself.
Broussau assumes that Miscavige will do something similar this time, and will find a way to integrate the prisoners back into base routine, but still keep them under tight security. I asked him where that might be.
“There’s so much empty space on that base, those people could have got stuck wherever,” he says.
Morehead, after hearing Brousseau’s opinion, said he had to agree. “And the reason he has so much space, when I was there we had a staff of 800 people. Now, I think they’re down to about 200,” he says.
So where might the ethics particles of exec strata — sorry, in non-Scientology lingo that’s “political prisoners of the upper executive ranks” — be held? That’s where Parman’s photos come in handy. They give some excellent views of the base which he took in September from a helicopter, some with his annotations…
Here’s a wide shot with the buildings of the Hole in the center, the highway right behind, looking south. It’s still shocking to think what happened in those two low, squarish buildings for the past eight years. Debbie Cook, now being sued by the church for daring to send out an e-mail to her fellow church members complaining about the way Scientology is being led, was traumatized after spending only seven weeks locked up in the Hole. She and Mike Rinder say there was nowhere to sleep but on the floor. They were fed a disgusting slop for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each day they were subjected to hours of mass confessions, pitting them against longtime friends to see who could get each other admit to awful “crimes” against their dear leader, Miscavige. Cook testified that she saw one executive beaten and then forced to lick a bathroom floor for half an hour. For years such treatment went on, there just steps away from a public highway.
Here’s a view looking east that Parman has annotated. (“I could have used a better color, I guess,” he says, but I told him he did a fine job with a lot of information. Make sure you click to get the expanded view.) The two buildings of the Hole are to the right of center.
This is from the same large-scale shot, looking farther east from the previous image. It includes Bonnie View, the large home that awaits L. Ron Hubbard’s future return, the RTC building — a massive office that former Scientologists say is virtually unused — and, to the right, the three “Villas,” the farthest of which — the “Upper Villa” — is used by Miscavige when he’s staying on the base.
Now on the south side of Gilman Springs Road and still looking east, in the foreground is the large building known as “the Garage.” it contains the showers that prisoners of the Hole would use each morning after being rousted out and marched through a tunnel under the road, which you can also see marked in this photo. The large building in the center is known as “MCI” — for Massacre Canyon Inn, the dining facilities for the base — and Parman has noted where, on the right side of the building, Miscavige had a special setup made for his “captain’s table” so that he could dine with a fine view (but then almost never used it).
Still on the south side of the road, with the “Villas” on the other side. Parman has noted where Tom Cruise is set down when he visits by helicopter, and the large buildings in the center that snake slightly around a central road are “berthing” — large numbers of apartments for crew.
A magnificent view that shows the buildings of the Hole at the top, and at right the tunnel under the highway where prisoners were marched in the morning to take their showers (in the building at the extreme left), the only time of the day they were allowed outside. In the foreground, the MCI building, and a better view of the south-facing windows where Miscavige could look out from his “captain’s table.” To the left, you can make out the motorcycle parking lot that he would use.
The north end of the property, with the Old Gilman House and the Maintenance Man House, and between them, the Weise House. Behind them, the various trailers and containers that are apparently now going under some kind of new fenced-in project that is being hidden from the highway.
Parman’s impressive shot of the RTC Building, Miscavige’s grand office complex that, Brousseau says, is virtually empty. Note the carefully manicured oval lawn behind it with the low waterfall.
We’re down at the southeastern end of the property here, looking back northwest — the highway is on the right, and Parman says he just had to annotate the meadow that was, famously, in 1990 planted with wildflowers over the course of a single night by madly scrambling Sea Org members, trying to get it ready in time for Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman to run through after Cruise had said it was something the two of them dreamed of.
A clear shot at Bonnie View, the large house waiting for Hubbard’s return, and on the right, the RTC building. The blue-roofed building the foreground on the right, closest to the RTC building contains Miscavige’s laundry facilities. The building to the left of that is his “Upper Villa.”
Another view of all three Villas. Starting from the right, they are the “Lower Villa,” where some of Miscavige’s personal staff stay; the “Middle Villa,” where Tom Cruise stays when he stops by; and the “Upper Villa,” Miscavige’s home.
A final image from Parman’s photos, this one centered on “Berthing,” and looking west. Some former Scientologists are hearing that Berthing is the most likely current location of the executives who were in the Hole — there’s lots of room in the apartments with staffing levels so low, and it’s a lot easier to hold prisoners in apartments with showers and bathrooms than in a grubby office. We’ll keep an ear out for any further reports of where they might be.
We’ll finish with a few final shots from satellite images…
The island in the lake south of the MCI building that is used for “overboarding.” As much as possible, Sea Org members try to carry on customs put in place by L. Ron Hubbard when the SO was, actually, at sea. One of the methods of discipline that Hubbard installed was literally throwing a person overboard and keelhauling them. Today, Sea Org members make do by having members of the Rehabilitation Project Force prison detail or prisoners in the Hole jump into the lake on the property. One of the ironies of the Debbie Cook case is that before she was victimized as a prisoner in the Hole, she had been one of executives who would march down the detainees and have them plunge in, including former chief spokesman Mike Rinder.
The infamous Running Track is no more, but its remnant can still be seen from space. This circular patch of weeds was once a sand pit encircling a lone palm tree. Members of the RPF were forced to run around the tree in the sand for hours at a time. People who experienced it describe it as a form of torture, and it was all they could do to remain conscious as they trotted through the sand in the intense desert sun. When too much attention to the Running Program got out through defectors, the track was suddenly made to go away.
We’ll finish with one of the oldest and strangest structures put in place by Scientology after purchasing the compound in 1978. It’s a three-masted building with a prow and a pool, known as the Star of California. It was supposed to remind Hubbard of being at sea, we suppose, and it’s used today for PR.
We’ll turn it over now to our commenters, who bring an amazing depth of knowledge on the subject. Class, if you were David Miscavige, where would you stuff Yager, Jentzsch, Lesevre, and the rest to keep them out of sight? Berthing? The RTC Building? The Old Gilman House? Keep in mind, one of the things that kept the Hole in business so long was not only that it could house these disfavored executives in degrading conditions, but it was convenient enough that Miscavige could pop over at a moment’s notice to hear what had been spilled in the latest mass confession. Does the place you favor give him that kind of easy access? We’re looking forward to your conclusions.
Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, and if you ask nicely he’ll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories, which tend to come out each and every morning at 8 am, but can suddenly appear at any time of the day. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, “What is Scientology?” Another good overview is our series from last summer, “Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.” At the top of every story, you’ll see the “Scientology” category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories. As for our regular features, on Thursdays we do a roundup of world press, on Fridays we visit L. Ron Hubbard on the yacht Apollo circa 1969-1971, on Saturdays we celebrate the week’s best comments, and on Sundays we publish Scientology’s wacky and tacky advertising mailers that people send us.
As for hot subjects we’ve covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and is now being sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology’s “Mecca,” whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology’s policy of “disconnection” that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We’ve also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there’s plenty more coming.