Scientology Story of the Year: Cast Your Vote Now!
But first, we need your help.
We're asking our many loyal readers to help us choose three major year-end awards for Best Scientology Story, Best Scientology Video, and Best Scientology Shoop (photoshopped image). After the jump, we'll reveal the URL for the poll itself...
We're going to say something here in this blog post about the candidates in our poll questions. After you've looked them over and have formed your opinions, head on over to the poll site itself and punch in your answers.
We plan to hand out several other awards that we're choosing ourselves (Commenter of the Year, for example), but we wanted your help to choose three big categories...
Scientology Story of the Year
We covered a lot of big developments this year, but we think these five rose above the rest for importance, impact, and lasting value.
1. Marty Rathbun besieged by the Squirrel Busters
In April, the sudden appearance of John Allender and his fellow Squirrel Busters, with matching sky blue T-shirts and video cameras strapped to their heads, was a powerful image that made for one of our most popular blog posts of the year. The goon squad had showed up at Marty Rathbun's front door in little Ingleside on the Bay, Texas, where the former high-level Church of Scientology executive, several years after defecting, was now involved in an independent Scientology movement and inviting people not only to leave the official church with announcements on his blog, but also by coming to his house for unsanctioned auditing. To Scientology, people who conduct such out-of-church activity are "squirrels," and the goons sent down to intimidate Rathbun called themselves the "Squirrel Busters." The Busters rented a nearby home and set up all-day surveillance of Rathbun and his wife Monique for the next five months, until they finally managed to get Rathbun arrested on what turned out to be spurious charges. Keeping an eye on this ongoing siege is what, in part, inspired us to go from occasional Scientology writing to a daily blog that covers all things Scientology around the world, so this story was important to us personally. But it also is one of the most remarkable operations of Scientology's retaliatory "fair game" that we've ever seen or heard about.
2. Janet Reitman and Hugh Urban release major books on Scientology (UPDATED)
Plenty of books have been written exposing Scientology's secrets over the years, but for one reason and another, none of them was a mainstream success, and some are downright difficult to find physical copies of. This year, that all changed with not one but two excellent histories of Scientology hitting bookshelves within weeks of each other. Ohio State religious studies professor Hugh Urban put together excellent original documents for his academic study of the church, The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion. In particular, he did a great job putting L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology in a historical context that explains a lot about the group's secrecy and paranoia. Rolling Stone writer Janet Reitman used her great journalistic skills to write a best-selling history of the church, Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion. Her book combined deep research with a snappy narrative and particularly great storytelling for several chapters on the life and death of Lisa McPherson. Both books got plenty of press -- particularly Reitman's, which continues to make news -- and both brought a sense of fairness that Scientology really couldn't complain about (but did anyway). Never has there been such an opportunity for the basics of Scientology's history to reach so many people and so easily. (Hey, there's still time to give both books to loved ones for Christmas!) ADDENDUM: I have been reminded that Lawrence Wright's excellent profile of Paul Haggis appeared in the New Yorker in February. Like Reitman and Urban, Wright presented a history of the church in a brilliant new telling, and I should have listed it with these other two narratives. Please consider it a part of this entry as you vote.
3. "The Money Machine," an investigative series from the St. Petersburg Times
Tom Tobin and Joe Childs outdid themselves this year. Their 2009 blockbuster "The Truth Rundown" forever changed the way Scientology is talked about when they revealed that high-level executives were leaving the church and complaining that Scientology leader David Miscavige got violent with them. The St. Pete Times duo then turned their attention from Scientology's upper echelons to more average members, and the incredible pressure they are under to donate money. Highlights of the new series include Hy Levy, a former "registrar" who almost never took time off while hitting his quota of talking $250,000 a week out of fellow church members; Synthia Fagen talking about the high-pressure tactics of the International Association of Scientologists; Luis Garcia talking about the money he gave and gave for Orange County, California's "Ideal Org," and the Super Power building in Clearwater, Florida, and how it was used as a fundraising cash cow for the last decade.
4. Valeska Paris held against her will on the Freewinds
Steve Cannane, an Australian journalist with the ABC network's Lateline show broke this story a few weeks ago: that a former Sea Org member named Valeska Paris says she was sent to the Scientology cruise ship Freewinds in 1996, when she was 18, so church leader David Miscavige could keep her away from her mother, who had sued Scientology. It was a way of enforcing the church's policy of "disconnection," but Paris says that in effect, she was held on the ship from 1996 to 2007 against her will. We picked up the story with a lengthy interview of Valeska, as well as interviews with her sister Melissa Paris and another Sea Org member who had known Valeska on the ship, Ramana Dienes-Browning. This story is still unfolding -- Valeska has received two threat letters from Scientology's attorneys for speaking out, in defiance of confidentiality agreements she signed when she was still in the church.
5. Scientology investigation of South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone revealed
In October, Marty Rathbun made public at his blog an internal Scientology document which showed that the church retaliated against South Park for an embarrassing 2005 episode by investigating the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. We quickly followed with documents of our own showing that the retaliatory investigation also looked at Parker and Stone's employees and friends, which included digging through their trash. The documents also suggested that filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman was hit up for information abut the South Park guys, and Kaufman confirmed to us that he had been asked about Parker and Stone. We also talked to a private eye who worked for Scientology at that time, who told us what investigators would have been looking for in the garbage of the targets. We're still hoping to publish additional documents which reveal Tom Cruise's specific role in the retaliation against the animated show.
Scientology (new or rediscovered) Video of the Year
We saw quite a few interesting and diverting videos this year. These five in particular had us watching and rewatching for the laughs.
1. Birmingham in the House
An astute Scientology researcher in the UK found that the Birmingham "org" had left its server open to the public. Of the things that were smuggled to the outside world were photos and a song from a fundraising event to convince members to donate for a new "Ideal Org" building. An enterprising member of Anonymous put the song and photos together in this video, which is something to behold.
2. We are the IAS -- Chill EB's track and the IAS members of Copenhagen
After ending his music career in 1994, Bay Area rapper Chill EB came out of retirement in 2005 as he began a relationship with Scientology. Now well known in the church as its in-house hip hop performer, Chill earlier this year produced a single for the International Association of Scientologists using its slogan as a title: "Dauntless, Defiant, Resolute." The IAS in Copenhagen then used that track with images of its own activities -- including a young member aping Chill EB's lyrics -- and the result was pure gold. This one got a lot of attention from other news organizations after we publicized it, and also eventually got us an interview with Chill EB himself.
3. We Stand Tall
This video from 1990 resurfaced in June and became an instant hit. Probably the best thing about it is the lineup of Scientology executives surrounding diminutive David Miscavige during the chorus -- some of whom, like former chief church spokesman Mike Rinder and former #2 in the church, Marty Rathbun, are now out of the organization. Others, like Miscavige's wife, Shelly, have vanished.
4. Dede from Phoenix, raising money for an Ideal Org
This one leaked in July, and may be one of the best examples of what Scientology is really like, cutting through the church's celebrity facade. Across the country (and around the world) church members are under intense pressure to raise money to build new "Ideal orgs" even though their current facilities are not full, and membership is actually low and contracting. If the real estate expansion makes no sense, rank-and-file members ask no questions, and just plow ahead, begging for donations.
5. The angels of the Melrose Mission
A late addition to the slate, this video surfaced recently after a boutique org, one on Melrose Boulevard in Los Angeles, closed its doors. Angry Gay Pope sent this over to us, telling us that he figures the small org only existed because of a celebrity donation. Well, now that it's gone, at least we have this promotional video and its leather-clad angels.
Scientology Shoop of the Year
We love the Photoshopped images that pop up at places like WhyWeProtest.net. They help put stories in context, advance memes, and generally turn outrage into healthy laughs. These five in particular kept us in stitches. (Click on them to embiggen, in some cases.)
1. A civilization without insanity
The Squirrel Busters made for lots of Photoshopping, but this one seems to have captured their importance best.
2. Y'all Busted
Someone was paying attention when we wrote that Chill EB's first single under his new Scientology tutelage was "Y'all Busted," an anti-psychiatry screed released in 2010. And we're always a sucker for Oompa Loompas.
3. Squirrel stuff
Our friends at 96.5 The Buzz in Kansas City, after one of our appearances on the Church of Lazlo show, were sent complaint letters and other materials from the local Scientology org. Accidentally left in those documents was the internal letter asking that the complaint be written, but also cautioning the church member preparing them not to actually listen to Lazlo's show, with the handwritten admonition: "Do not listen to show as its [sic] weird and has squirrel stuff on it." (Lazlo and I had been talking about secret Scientology teachings that low level grunts are not supposed to hear. Hence, the warning about squirrel -- non-church-approved -- stuff.)
4. David Miscavige, Scientology's Pope
We don't know what story prompted this, but does it really matter? A masterful shoop job that captures the diminutive leader's sense of self-importance.
5. Gur Finkelstein and the Jaffa Org
After we returned from Israel and wrote up our visit of Scientology's new but unopened "Ideal Org" in Jaffa, the Photoshoppers over at WWP got busy and threw together this image of the building with all sorts of fun faces and recent memes. Do you recognize them all?
OK, you've seen all the finalists. Now get over to the voting site and make your choices!
We'll reveal these winners -- and several more -- during the last week of the year.
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing "disconnection"]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]
[Scientology hates clean ice: The "Fair Game" operation that should turn your stomach]
[Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon]
[Paulette Cooper, Scientology's original and worst nightmare: a Thanksgiving tribute]
HELD ABOARD THE FREEWINDS: TALES OF THE SEA ORG
[Valeska Paris, held against her will from 1996 to 2007 on Scientology's cruise ship]
[Ramana Dienes-Browning, marriage at 16, sexual interrogation, life in the engine room]
[Melissa Paris, Valeska's sister: forced to marry at 16]
SCIENTOLOGY VS. SOUTH PARK: INVESTIGATION AS RETALIATION
[Scientology targeted South Park's Parker and Stone in an investigation]
[More documents in the South Park probe: instructions to send in a young mole]
[Scientology responds in typical fashion] | [Lloyd Kaufman confirms the probe]
[Mark Ebner also investigated after South Park involvement]
[Mark Chauppetta, private eye, explains what Scientology operatives look for]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun's open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun's cause] | [Squirrel Buster's claim to be making a "documentary"] | [VIDEO: "On a Boat"] | ["Anna" sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology's highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND "FAIR GAME"
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology's West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology's enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard's remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to "handle" the Voice]
[Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: "No one's going to take my eternity away"]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
[Hey, Scientology Celebrity, Here's Your Media Training Checksheet!]
[Tom Cruise and X Factor's Stacy Francis singing together on the Freewinds]
[X Factor's Stacy Francis: Her first husband, Michael Sandlofer, answers abuse claims]
[Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay]
["Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | ["Tom Cruise not a kook!"] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his "suppressive person" declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology's retaliation is "scary and pathetic"]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo's "Turnaround King": [Doing Scientology's dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone's smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]
[Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips "the business that is Scientology"]
JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman's first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn't like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman's print reviews, and why isn't she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
["The Money Machine": another blockbuster St. Pete Times investigation]
[Marc Headley: "Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman's Story] | [Jeff Hawkins' Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology in Israel: Arson, attempted murder, paranoia -- and a visit by the Voice!]
[Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested]
[All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots]
[Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige "toxic" and "violent"]
[Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails]
[Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]
ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS
[Scientology chillin' with hip hop!] | [The curious career of Scientology rapper Chill EB]
[Chill EB and me: the Voice interviews Scientology's in-house rapper]
[Scientology singalong, "We Stand Tall"] | [Captain Bill Robertson and "Galactic Patrol"]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The "Ideal" dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York "org"]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth]
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]
[Desperate Scientology fundraising caught on video]