Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise's Split Becomes an Advertisement (Also, Guide to Our Scientology Archives!)
We can't decide, however, if P&O understood just how brilliant its advertisement is, as it not only riffs on Tom Cruise's name, but it also recalls one of Scientology's biggest controversies of 2011, and a big favorite here at our blog -- the Scientology cruise that would never end!
We're talking, of course, of Valeska Paris, whose shocking story of being kept against her will from 1996 to 2007 on Scientology's private cruise ship the Freewinds was voted the best of 2011 by our readers.
We also revealed the Freewinds horror stories of another young woman who worked in the Sea Org, Ramana Dienes-Browning. And we also told the story of Valeska's sister Melissa, who says she was forced to marry at 16 while she worked as a child for the Sea Org in the UK. In four years she was paid a total of $40. We also put together a slide show of the Scientology celebrities who took courses on the Freewinds during the period that Valeska says she was being held there.
The thing is, we've uncovered a lot of surprising stories about Scientology in the last couple of years, and we keep hearing from new folks who are diving into our archives for the best stuff.
With that in mind, we thought it was time to come up with a guide to our best stories for the new people, and a reminder for our loyal commenters.
Here's most of the good stuff we've done in the past two years. How many have you read?
(For a quick primer on Scientology itself, we put out this handy guide on the first day of the new year.)
Scientology claims to have millions of members; we pulled together the real numbers, and they're a lot lower.
Placido Domingo Jr., son of the great tenor, told us that he quit Scientology because of the way it harassed him for refusing to "disconnect" from his ex-wife, Sam Domingo.
We published secret Scientology documents laying out the church's plans to spy on one of its former members, Marc Headley.
We introduced the world to Dede, Scientology's most lovable fundraiser.
Last August, we started a wildly popular series, Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.
We published a secretly-recorded conversation showing Scientology executive Tommy Davis pressuring a young church member to quit his job working for an "SP" or risk losing all contact with his family.
We showed how Scientology hunts down former members with telemarketers -- even if they haven't taken a course or bought a book in 40 years!
We interviewed Hugh Urban, an Ohio State U. professor with deep knowledge of Scientology's history.
We kept a close watch on last year's bizarre "Squirrel Busters" siege outside the home of former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun, which included his arrest.
We covered a breaking news story that involved another depressing case of "disconnection" -- when Lori Hodgson's son was seriously injured, her family tried to keep her away from his hospital room because she was no longer a church member.
We explained how a man trying to get a life-saving invention to market had been prevented from doing so because of the harassment he was getting from Scientology. His crime? He dared to hire a critic of the church. And don't miss part two.
Last October, we confirmed with filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman that he'd been hit up for information about South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone in what turned out to be a widespread investigation of the animators by Scientology. You can find our other stories about the South Park probe from that piece.
There was the strange story of Scientology retaliation against a woman who dared forward information that proved to be embarrassing to Tom Cruise and his daughter Suri.
We paid a visit to the Scientology "Ideal Org" in Jaffa, Israel, and learned its salacious history.
We can't get enough of Chill EB, Scientology's in-house rapper. After a lot of asking, we managed to get a rather interesting and strange interview with him one night.
There was the strange confrontation that protester Tommy Gorman found himself in outside the San Francisco Scientology "org." That led us to a pretty wild story about Tommy's wife, as well.
We published video of Scientology leader David Miscavige proclaiming his respect for the coolness of black people.
We had fun annotating an e-mail sent out on New Year's Eve by Debbie Cook, a popular former Scientology executive who really rocked the church with her accusations about Miscavige's leadership problems.
The Super Power Building in Clearwater, Florida -- Scientology's $100 million boondoggle that will only be accessed by its wealthiest and highest-ranking members -- is still not open, but we can tell you what's going to be inside!
One of our more explosive stories earlier this year was our investigation showing how, for years, Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise.
We reported a disturbing "disconnection" story from Missouri, which included the intimidation of a 71-year-old grandmother by Scientology officials.
We showed how Scientology's Australian spokeswoman took to the airwaves to deny that "disconnection" occurs -- but didn't tell her interviewers that she'd disconnected from her own father for 23 years.
We uncovered new information in the mysterious death of David Miscavige's mother-in-law, Flo Barnett, who somehow managed to kill herself by shooting a rifle at herself, four times.
We covered the death of Ann Tidman, a legendary Scientologist also known as Annie Broeker, who died in anonymity, 25 years after she'd been among the last to care for L. Ron Hubbard in his seclusion.
We explained the five biggest lies in that 2-minute television Scientology ad that you see pop up on Hulu all the time.
We published the most comprehensive story -- with maps -- about Scientology's most secretive organization, CST, which builds vaults for storing L. Ron Hubbard's materials to survive a nuclear holocaust.
We wrote an open letter to Tom Cruise.
Hugh Urban helped us explore the extensive connections between L. Ron Hubbard's ideas and the place he stole them from: Aleister Crowley and the occult.
We uncovered David Miscavige's secret compulsion behind the Ideal Org push.
We had the rare privilege of telling in full the history of harassment experienced by Paulette Cooper after she wrote her 1971 book, The Scandal of Scientology. We then had the amazing luck to discover facts previously unknown about her escape from the Holocaust in 1944 Belgium.
We demonstrated how even something as seemingly secular and beneficial as the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest is, in fact, tainted by Scientology's abuses.
We found out more about the FBI investigation into Scientology that Lawrence Wright's New Yorker profile of Paul Haggis had first brought notice of to the world -- and explained that it was already dead before we ever heard of it.
We showed how a flub by Scientology's spokeswoman, Karin Pouw, proved a connection between the church and slimy anonymous attack websites that former church officials always told us were actually operated by Scientology's spy network, the Office of Special Affairs.
We interviewed former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder in a series of videotaped conversations, during which he described what it was like in "The Hole," Scientology's bizarre office-prison.
We revealed portions of Scientology's amazing L. Ron Hubbard birthday event held in Clearwater this past March.
With "The Hole" revealed for what it is in numerous press accounts, we wondered where Miscavige would now put his out-of-favor executives on the International Base. We revealed lots of great photos of the base supplied to us by Sinar Parman.
We interviewed David Edgar Love after he managed to get a Scientology Narconon drug treatment center shut down in Canada.
We explained why we're pretty sure Lisa Marie Presley is no longer a Scientologist.
We looked at the homophobia in Scientology while we told the story of Derek Bloch, kicked out of his own family for daring to question the church and its policies.
We broke news of two major defections from Scientology's International Base east of Los Angeles -- L. Ron Hubbard granddaughter Roanne Horwich, and David Miscavige's own father, Ron Miscavige Sr.
We found L. Ron Hubbard's policy of "security checking" children as young as 6 years old -- Suri's age -- which helped explain why Katie might want to get her out of there.
Press interest in David Miscavige's vanished wife, Shelly, motivated us to explain what we know about it.
We broke the news that an entire Scientology mission, in Haifa, Israel, is breaking away from David Miscavige's church.
When it was reported that Tom Cruise would get visitation rights to his daughter, ex-Scientologists whose families have been ripped apart by the church's policy of "disconnection" called it hypocrisy.
Former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun published a manifesto of sorts for the "independent Scientology" movement. We gave him a lot of credit for criticizing abject Hubbard-worship, but he still wasn't really thrilled with our review.
Laura DeCrescenzo's 2009 lawsuit against Scientology over her forced abortion was mentioned in the press, so we called her up to get an update of her legal struggles.
We've tried to keep on top of the developments that are sinking Scientology's quack drug program, Narconon.
We offered an explanation for how Scientologists are able to accept L. Ron Hubbard's bizarre "OT 3" teachings, that we're all infested with invisible alien souls left here 75 million years ago by Xenu, the galactic overlord.
With the help of Paulette Cooper and Patty Moher, we uncovered a remarkable 1968 BBC interview with Neil Gaiman, who at 7 years old was the church's idea of a model young Scientologist. (Gaiman told The New Yorker in 2010 that he's no longer a member.)
We got a hold of a copy of the screenplay for The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's movie opening in October, and explained not only that it is entirely about Scientology, but even which eras of Scientology history it draws from.
We told John Brousseau's amazing story -- over his 32-year history as a Sea Org member, he seemed to be at the center of everything happening in Scientology, from driving L. Ron Hubbard to working in the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes household. Part One. Part Two.
Brousseau and Mike Rinder and Amy Scobee then helped us put together a comprehensive list of all the church executives who have spent time in Scientology concentration camp, "The Hole."
When reality TV celebrity Mimi Faust revealed on VH1's Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta that she'd been abandoned at 13 by her Scientologist mother, we tracked down information about her mother and then interviewed Mimi about her harrowing experience.
With the scandal over deaths at Scientology's flagship drug rehab center in Oklahoma deepening, we took on Narconon's claims that it isn't a part of the church itself. Oh yeah? Then why is the president of its umbrella organization in Scientology's concentration camp? Also, a former president of the Oklahoma drug center came forward to admit that Narconon is just "watered-down Scientology."
We broke the news that Isabella Cruise, Tom's daughter, was under a lot of pressure to join the Sea Org after her boyfriend, Eddie Frencher, signed the Sea Org's billion-year contract and had gone to its boot camp.
We wrote about Keith Relkin, who at one time was Scientology's token gay guy in West Hollywood. Relkin died in February, and his friends turned over to us Keith's emails and other writings which showed that privately, he was frustrated by the church's legendary homophobia.
We read and summarized Maureen Orth's great Vanity Fair story about Scientology auditioning Nazanin Boniadi to be Tom Cruise's next girlfriend back in 2004. And director Paul Haggis told us that he was speaking up for Boniadi and that Scientology was attacking her because it's a big bully.
We revealed that Scientology had asked Marc and Claire Headley to become spies for the church in return for waiving nearly $43,000 in court costs. The Headleys instead sold off an automobile and other goods in order to scrape together the money. Our readers then raised more than $42,000 to replace what the Headleys had spent.
Whew. And that brings us up to date. I need a drink.
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.