Mark Ebner on Scientology and South Park: Rathbun is Definitely Leaking Authentic “Intel”


Update: a private investigator describes sifting trash for the Church of Scientology.

As we continue to investigate Scientology’s retaliation campaign against South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and their friends and employees, we remembered that an old colleague of ours, journalist Mark Ebner, worked with the animator duo for their infamous 2005 episode “Trapped in the Closet.”

Ebner is important to this investigation for a couple of reasons. Not only did he work with Parker and Stone on the very episode that raised Scientology’s hackles, but Ebner has himself been the subject of a concerted Scientology harassment campaign through its “Office of Special Affairs” — and he learned about that campaign through a document leaked by former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun.

As we’ve written earlier, Mark Ebner has a long and illustrious track record reporting on the Church of Scientology. In particular, he is known for his 1996 Spy magazine adventure, for which he actually joined the church to go through its auditing and purification rundown in order to write about it.

It was that experience that the producers of South Park wanted to learn about when, In 2005, they prepared their own episode about the church. (As part of a gag, Ebner was credited along with everyone else who worked on the show as “John Smith” or “Jane Smith,” in order to parody the idea that Scientology would sue the people who worked on it.)

Documents made public by former executive Marty Rathbun at his blog (and here at the Voice) show that in the Spring of 2006, Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs hired private investigators to look into Parker and Stone’s affairs, and to investigate their friends and employees.

In that same time frame, OSA was also investigating Mark Ebner. He knows this because Rathbun gave him an internal document dated March 27, 2006 which discussed Scientology’s investigation of him. Ebner in turn gave the document to Gawker writer John Cook, who made it public this May.

“Ebner is part of a clique of low class writers/bloggers who hang out in the LA area,” the document reads, and in creepy Scientology fashion, it implies that the church had recruited close friends or colleagues to spy on Ebner: “A media source who knows Ebner is checking into what Ebner is working on and for whom and another resource he knows is being lined up to contact him to pull strings on his relation with South Park.”

Yesterday, after I asked him about his work with Parker and Stone, Ebner sent me this message:

Hey Tony — As you may or may not know, I too have been (and still am) being investigated by OSA. In fact, my OSA file is published over at Gawker — feel free to link for a comparison study to help prove that Rathbun is definitely leaking authentic Scientology “intel.” Also feel free to post this response. I know Matt and Trey personally, and always get nostalgic this time of year for their discontinued Halloween parties. They stepped up in 2004 as “the South Park Republicans” for Hollywood, Interrupted (the book I did with Breitbart) to call out Hollywood for its political correctness, and to take a delicious shot at Rob Reiner for lobbying anti-smoking legislation (Matt and Trey don’t smoke.) When I got the call from their producer (and friend) Jennifer Howell (named in the OSA doc), I was honored, if not downright giddy. I went down to South Park Studios in the evening and met with Matt, Trey, Jennifer Howell and Executive Producer Anne Garefino (also named) along with a couple of writers where they taped my monologue about how I joined Scientology for my Spy magazine story in ’96 — walking into a Personality Testing Center, etc. I was pleased that they used that template for the episode, but literally blown away by how far they took it: breaking down the super-secret OT III Xenu level into bite-sized animated chunks, with the refrain, “This is what Scientologists actually believe!” If that blew my mind, imagine the gaskets being blown at Scientology Inc., and at the heterosexual Tom Cruise’s and South Park’s parent studio, Paramount! So South Parkily subversive. And let’s face it — losing the late hot-buttered Scientologist Isaac Hayes was a small price to pay for the producing the most popular, and cult-damaging episode ever. Hell, they own the Chef’s likeness and voice, so they can (and have) resurrect the character at will. Before the episode aired, Jennifer Howell called to ask me how I felt about taking a “John Smith” credit with everyone else associated, and I gladly went with the pack with that final fuck-you to the cult.

I’ve tried to reach Jennifer Howell, leaving her a message at 20th Century Fox Television, where she now works. She was named on the OSA document we made public Monday, along with other people who worked with Parker and Stone.

As Ebner points out, the OSA document that Rathbun leaked pertaining to his own experience checked out in all of its particulars. The South Park leak itself we have confirmed in part with yesterday’s interview with Lloyd Kaufman. We will continue to look into the Scientology campaign against South Park, and in a few days, we expect to have more leaked documents from Marty Rathbun, this time dealing with a particular famous actor’s role in the church’s campaign against Parker and Stone.

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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