Movie Night at Scientology's New York "Org": The Village Voice Gets Proselytized!
The image you see here means a lot to us at the underground bunker, where we keep an eye on all things Scientology related. And on this lazy Sunday morning, we hope you'll indulge us as we attempt to explain what it represents.
Andreas Heldal-Lund, meet Chill EB.
Chill, meet the devil.
Back in 2001, I got to write one of my favorite all-time stories about Scientology, a story that described how a woman in Southern California who considered a man living in Norway to be the devil actually came to know him, and his kind words allowed her to admit to herself that she had grave doubts about her church.
Tory Christman's subsequent public defection from Scientology was a very dramatic moment in the pre-Anonymous world of online debate about the church. And until I wrote my story, few people really understood what part had been played by Andreas Heldal-Lund, who owned a website called "Operation Clambake."
Both Tory and Andreas ended up on last year's Top 25 People Crippling Scientology. Tory for the way she has continued to be among the most active of ex-Scientologists who bring the church's alleged abuses to light. And Andreas for how much Operation Clambake proved to be a key resource for Scientology researchers, and remained online despite the church's repeated attempts to have it pulled down.
More than a decade since that story, I finally got the chance to meet Heldal-Lund for the first time when he visited New York City last week.
He came by the offices of the Voice, where I snapped this photo...
He turned out to be as humble as I'd found him on e-mail -- he downplayed what he'd been through battling Scientology's attorneys, saying that Zenon Panoussis (in Sweden) and Karin Spaink (in the Netherlands) had been through far worse.
Heldal-Lund was in town for a brief vacation before he and his fellow delegates were heading to Montreal for a meeting of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. I asked to meet his friends, and then the five of us went for a stroll away from their Times Square Hotel.
And soon found ourselves outside Scientology's fancy org on 46th Street.
Was it planned? I can only say that Andreas and I weren't really paying much attention as his friends led us right to the place. It was just a happy accident, and so Andreas and I pulled out our cameras to take a few fun photos.
And that's when one of the workers at the org insisted on getting into the act. The African-American woman, who had been operating a table outside the building, pulled us together to take a photo of the four of us -- with Andreas, his friend, and me -- and after several tries, she managed to get the shot.
The photo taken, she then invited us inside to see a film.
Well, how could we refuse.
Heldal-Lund, his three friends, and I were ushered into the org, which I'd only been inside one time before -- when I attempted to get a comment about an Anonymous protest going on across the street, and I was immediately ushered out.
This time, I was guided upstairs, where I was surprised to see a couple of dozen people -- many of them very young, and most non-white -- as they sat at tables in a small sort of cafe setting. Others were inside a large chapel down the hall, and on most of the walls were shelf after shelf of L. Ron Hubbard books. (David Love had made his own visit to the org the same week. Talk about upstat!)
We were ushered into a small projection room that had about four rows of chairs and a large viewing screen -- I felt like I was in the front row at a movie theater, with the film right up against my face.
We then watched a film of about 20 minutes that felt far longer.
It was classic Golden Era Productions stuff, with lush visuals bringing back the late 1940s as a golden age. The movie tells the story of L. Ron Hubbard's friends trying to convince the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association that their friend Ron had discovered a foolproof way to heal everything, even all-but-severed legs. (The healing claims in this film are really foregrounded, making me think Scientology has decided the government will never give a crap.)
I only wish I could bring that film to you, so you could see Geoffrey Lewis chew up scenery as one of Ron's outraged friends, stunned that America's physicians and scientists couldn't see the value in Ron's ideas.
After an eternity, the film finally ended after doing its best to convince us that nothing in human history quite matches the monumental leap forward represented in the publishing of Dianetics.
As soon as it went dark, a friendly young Sea Org member opened the door, and pulled us into the hall, where she handed each of us a shrink-wrapped, oversized paperback copy of the book. Here was the amazing artifact itself!
And it could be ours for only $20, she said.
Twenty bucks? Aren't entire landfills stuffed with this thing?
We handed them back, and I told her I didn't need to buy a copy. I already had one.
Really? She asked.
Yeah, first edition, 1950.
"A green one?" she asked, clearly impressed.
Yep, I answered. (Expert researcher Jeff Jacobsen has loaned me his first edition copy, which I'm planning to do something with later on.)
And I then told her that there was something that I really wanted to see. I asked her if I could see Chill EB's film for the IAS.
"It's right over here," she said, and she guided us down the hall.
Let me explain what prompted me to make that request.
Last November, one of the best Scientology music videos of all time leaked to the Internet. It featured the young breakdancers of the Copenhagen advanced org performing to the song "Dauntless, Defiant, and Resolute," which was made for the International Association of Scientologists by the church's in-house rapper, Chill EB.
Take a look...
We loved that video, but it was obvious to us right away that the man who had written and performed the music, Bay Area rapper Norman Berry, who goes by Chill EB, was not involved in the making of the video itself.
And as I learned more about Chill EB, I realized that Chill had made his own video of that song for the IAS -- but it has never been leaked to the public.
The only thing that's made it outside the church are some photos of Chill on the set of his video, like this one...
In a late-night Twitter DM conversation with me, Chill confirmed that there was an "official" video of the song, but it only plays at Scientology's orgs, and it wasn't something he could share with the rest of the world.
Now, I was in the New York org, and I wanted to see the video.
"Are you a Scientologist?" the young Sea Org member asked me as she took us to our quarry. I can't blame her for asking. I'd already told her that I possessed a first edition copy of Dianetics, and I was asking to see a Chill EB video by name.
And then, we were there: a video monitor set aside just for the IAS. The woman fiddled with it to get the video started, and those first familiar keyboard notes started, and I heard Chill's familiar voice, "We're the IAS..." (For some reason, the subtitles were in Italian.)
A slick video ensued, showing Chill EB performing on a rooftop, with cutaways to happy groups of Scientologist staffs at various orgs around the world. The visuals were great, if the propaganda was thin.
While it was playing, I asked Andreas to get in the picture so I could capture the moment.
By the time it was done, most of the people on the second floor seemed to have cleared out, and no one was pushing us to give information or see anything else. Andreas figured by then we had been ID'd. We gathered his friends and left.
I saw the Sea Org woman one more time, and I told her that they should really share the Chill EB video, and the Dianetics film, with the rest of the world. But she just smiled and repeated that they only played inside the org.
What a pity.
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.
It looks like our weekly look at Scientology fliers is having an effect. Note that in this announcement of a Washington DC building dedication, the date and time are not included. It's like they don't want us to show up!
Yet another appeal for money so yet more L. Ron Hubbard books can be sent to yet more libraries that don't want them...
I'm told that "Her Royal Governor" is a reference to Nancy Cartwright, OT extraordinaire and the voice of Bart Simpson. I hope someone can help us understand how she managed to get saddled with that moniker.
BONUS E-BAY SUNDAY FUNNY
For something like five years now, someone has offered to sell a library of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology books and letters and checksheets -- 28,426 individual items -- and has been asking $3.5 million for the whole shebang at eBay...
Critics of the church have fun bidding a dollar or two, but no one seems interested in forking over three and a half mill for this treasure trove of Hubbard wisdom.
Anonymous has made some guesses as to who is "CEC," the group behind this offer. If we can confirm some of it, we'll put some more details here.
BONUS VIDEO SUNDAY FUNNY
After we published yesterday's fun look at Scientology's heyday with the 1977 "OT Symposium" that featured Chick Corea and Heber Jentzsch, Mark Bunker posted a very different kind of symposium to YouTube.
Shot in 2000, the hour-plus video features OT VIIs Peter Alexander, Greg and Debra Barnes, and Tory (Christman) Bezazian talking about this thing Scientology that had taken up so much of their lives.
It's kind of amazing to me how much what they're saying is exactly what the people leaving Scientology today are complaining about. Truly, Scientology does not evolve.
"This is not a religion. It's a legalized mafia."
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
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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. 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.