Last summer, we put together a little list that took on a life of its own.
We counted down the 25 people and groups who had been doing the most to get word out to the wider world about the Church of Scientology’s many alleged abuses, and who have contributed to its steep recent decline. Our list included current and former church members, academics, attorneys, activists, and a couple of dead people.
This year, summer has not been languid and lazy. In the wake of the TomKat divorce, media interest in Scientology has never been greater and we’ve never been busier. But we thought it was time to update our list from last year. This time, we’ve put a premium on what’s happened in the last twelve months, so you might see some of your old favorites drop off the roster. But never fear — you can always revisit our choices from last year, or the choices of our readers.
So let’s see who’s next on the list!
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology — 2012 Edition
#22: Dani and Tami Lemberger
Last month, we brought you the startling news that an entire mission had decided to break away from the Church of Scientology. In 1992, Dani and his wife Tami started the Dror Center in Haifa, Israel, and since then it’s been a thriving center in a country that doesn’t recognize Scientology as a religion. (Scientology calls itself a “self-help” group there.) But over the years, like many other longtime, loyal members, the Lembergers had gotten fed up with Scientology leader David Miscavige, who has put the focus of the organization on unending rounds of fundraising. We detailed Dani’s long rise in the church over more than 30 years, and then the dramatic way he was tossed out for daring to meet with other people who are part of a growing “independent Scientology movement.” Unlike other “indies,” however, Dani is not going it alone — he and Tami are taking their mission with them, and about 40 Scientologists joined them in their walkout. Nothing like it has happened in at least 30 years, and the Haifa defection suggests that an exodus of longtime church members heading for the exits is turning from a trickle into a steady stream.
#21: John Brousseau
John Brousseau escaped from Scientology’s International Base in April, 2010, but it took us a couple of years to get around to asking him about his entire 32-year career as a Sea Org member. Brousseau’s tale turned out to be mesmerizing. He not only helped us refine our understanding of the notorious office-prison at Int Base, known as “The Hole,” he also took us through a history of Scientology for which he had a front-row seat. Brousseau was L. Ron Hubbard’s personal driver, he was David Miscavige’s brother-in-law, he helped maintain the secrecy around Hubbard’s move into seclusion in the 1980s, he refurbished Tom Cruise’s homes and customized his vehicles, and he even spent one Christmas in the house with Tom, Katie, and baby Suri. Brousseau saw it all, and his calm, credible recitation of strange events instantly became an important part of the Scientology historical record.
Look for the next installment of our Top 25 on Wednesday. We have things timed so that we’ll reveal this year’s number one just a few days before the opening of “The Master,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film that should explode interest in all things Scientology.
Shocking Letter Describes October Death at Scientology Rehab
The Tulsa World‘s Jarrel Wade scored a major find with a records request to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health: a letter from an unnamed former patient who witnessed the October death of Gabriel Graves.
Graves is one of three patients at Scientology’s Oklahoma drug treatment center, Narconon Arrowhead, who have died in the last nine months. Local and state officials are now investigating the facility for those deaths as well as one that happened in 2009.
The most recent death happened last month, when Stacy Murphy, 20, perished at the center. We published the first account by someone inside the facility at the time of that incident. Now, this letter obtained by the Tulsa World gives us a disturbing look inside the facility at the time that Graves died.
The letter contains the depressingly familiar complaint that a patient went to a Narconon center with promises that turned out to be false. In this case, the letter writer insisted on a certain kind of treatment and was told he’d get it. But then he learned he’d be doing Scientology training rather than drug education or individual counseling.
He then complains that Narconon’s intense sauna treatments were driving up his blood pressure and giving him intense headaches, but when he complained about it there was no physician on staff to look at him, and he was told he had to keep doing the treatment.
On Oct 25th, the headache was so intense that I called my girlfriend and my mother begging them to come get me. The night before my blood pressure was 167/108 and my head felt like it was going to explode. Both were convinced by the staff that I was ‘faking it’ or ‘making a big deal of nothing.’
The letter writer then describes what happened the next day, when records show that Gabriel Graves died at the facility…
The next day, Oct 26th, I got up and left my room around 7am to do some personal tasks before starting my day and when I returned a couple of hours later. I was in my room for a short time when I heard a commotion in the hallway and heard someone yell “I am not a doctor!”… I looked out into the hallway and noticed that it was coming from where [redacted] and his roommate had been assigned. I saw the “nurse” of the facility crying, walking out of [redacted]’s room with another staffer. I heard someone say that [redacted] had been found dead in his bed … I was told at one point, by one of the students who found [redacted] that [redacted] looked like he’d had a stroke.
As we saw in NBC’s Rock Center investigation Thursday night, the Graves death is one of the most baffling. His mother told Harry Smith that Narconon officials blamed her son’s death on a drug overdose — but an autopsy found only trace amounts of narcotics. The cause of his death is still undetermined, but this witness asks if Graves could have been harmed by the sauna treatments that form the core of Narconon’s treatment.
The letter goes on to describe the patient’s traumatic experiences as he finally gets away from the center, and then asks that state authorities investigate.
“I don’t know how this program passes your agency regulations,” he writes.
Another “Debbie Cook” Letter Making the Rounds
Yet another longtime, loyal Scientologist has sent out a lengthy e-mail in the manner of Debbie Cook, whose New Year’s Eve message started off what has turned 2012 into a year of crisis for Scientology.
Mark Shreffler’s “independence” from the Church of Scientology was announced at former church executive Marty Rathbun’s blog on July 7. And now, Shreffler’s list of grievances is hitting e-mail boxes all over the country.
In it, you’ll find a familiar list of complaints about the way David Miscavige is running the church, with his focus on new buildings, fundraising, and his obviously fudged numbers about expansion.
“We hear numbers of Scientologists ‘in the millions,’ but all I can document is less than 40,000 worldwide, including children – and shrinking,” Shreffler writes. (Hey, that agrees with what we’ve found, too.)
I’m not going to reprint Shreffler’s entire letter here. You can find it at this thread on the Ex-Scientologist Message Board.
These lengthy lists of complaints from figures who are well known in the church — Debbie Cook, Karen de la Carriere, and now Shreffler — seem to be having an effect. They reach deeper into the membership of Scientology than stories in the press do, for example. And the consistency of their specific complaints suggests that they speak for many people in the organization who are just about fed up. It doesn’t bode well for Miscavige’s continuing leadership.
Marty Rathbun Takes a Quantum Leap
Is it just me, or did Marty Rathbun just promote the idea of 2-hour staring contests by calling Albert Einstein a dumbass?
Scientology Sunday Funnies!
Just about every day, we receive the latest wacky and tacky fundraising mailers put out by Scientology orgs around the world. Thank you, tipsters, for forwarding them to us! On Sundays, we love to reveal them to you.
Last week, we first learned about the “Bowlerama” happening in the San Fernando Valley. This time, we don’t have anything so dramatic as the ladies of the CC OTC, but this followup flier should whet your appetite to join the folks down at the lanes. We checked, and tickets are only $100 each!
This next event is happening in Los Angeles, so I don’t know how much a “rocketing” image of a barge in the Caribbean is going to motivate you. But hey, dinner.
Hey, wait a minute. You mean I can go get a free dinner on the 16th in LA, and then the next night get another free dinner in Pasadena? And all I have to do is listen to this Gavin Potter guy tell me that I’ll be all kinds of rich if I just unlock my theta power? OK, now I’m hungry.
BONUS OLD SCHOOL AD!
We felt compelled to bring you this ad from a 1976 issue of Advance! magazine because 1) it is a rocking pimp of OT III. I mean, you talk about a seductive come-on. And 2) it puts to shame the crappy design of today’s advertising. You look at this thing, and you get some sense what it cost Scientology to lose people like Jefferson Hawkins.
“Tom Cruise worships David Miscavige like a god”
Scientology’s president and the death of his son: our complete coverage
What Katie is saving Suri from: Scientology interrogation of kids
Scientology’s new defections: Hubbard’s granddaughter and Miscavige’s dad
Scientology’s disgrace: our open letter to Tom Cruise
Scientology crumbling: An entire mission defects as a group
Scientology leader David Miscavige’s vanished wife: Where’s Shelly?
Neil Gaiman, 7, Interviewed About Scientology by the BBC in 1968
The Master Screenplay: Scientology History from Several Different Eras
And a post that pulls together the best of our Scientology reporting
Please check out our Facebook author page for updates and schedules.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he’ll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. 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 hot subjects we’ve covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was 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.