Voice Readers Raise Thousands For Couple That Refused to Spy for Scientology

We've always been suckers for the final scene of It's a Wonderful Life. No matter how many times we see it, we tear up at the sight of George Bailey's friends coming to his aid in his time of need, proving to him that he really is the richest man in town.

Over the last couple of days, we watched something remarkable happen as the readers of this blog rallied to help a family in a somewhat similar circumstance. Only this time it wasn't old man Potter providing the bullying tactics, but the attorneys of the Church of Scientology.

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The Secret to Eternal Youth! Now Available on the Cruise Ship Freewinds!

Scientology watchers, we have a treat for you this morning. This video has been making the rounds the last couple of days, and we can see why it's generating so much interest. Mike Napier, the captain of Scientology's private cruise ship, the Freewinds, stars in this film and tells us about the benefits of his "competence and leadership" course (which looks hard to distinguish from your typical Outward Bound sort of experience, but what do we know).

This is Scientology, so naturally the claims are off the charts -- for example, swabbing the decks of the church's tugboat is somehow going to teach you how not to age!

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Marty Rathbun: Scientology's Attorney "Supervised" Destruction of Records in Lisa McPherson Death

For the last year or more, Mark Bunker has been releasing short excerpts from his upcoming Scientology documentary Knowledge Report, and yesterday, he released a doozy.

Bunker had told me that he'd interviewed former church executive Marty Rathbun, and in this excerpt, we see Rathbun addressing the kinds of things many have wanted him to talk about: what happened with Lisa McPherson, a parishioner who died in a Scientology hotel in 1995? I have a feeling his responses here will cause as much skepticism as anything else, but what he has to say about Scientology attorney Elliot Abelson should cause an uproar.

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The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology -- 2012 Edition!

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Last year's winner, L. Ron Hubbard: will he repeat?
In the doldrums of August last year, 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 with August half over, 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.

Now, get yourself a cool drink there by the pool, and let's plunge in!

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Scientology's Idea of a Rollicking Sermon: Watch This Gem From 1984

Here at Scientology Watching Central, we often get asked, is Scientology really a religion? In general, we tend not to get into a debate about that -- Scientology calls itself a "church," so we do the same. We find that it only makes the organization's alleged abuses -- including ripping apart families with "disconnection," forcing women in the Sea Org to have abortions, and holding its executives in a brutal concentration camp -- even more startling, since it's a "church" that's involved.

But there are other reasons why thinking of Scientology as a religion is, well, bizarre.

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Mimi Faust's Mother, Olaiya Odufunke: Her Life in Scientology's Secret Service

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Monday night, Mimi Faust revealed on VH1's Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta that she had been abandoned at 13 by a mother who chose Scientology over her own children. By Tuesday morning, we had identified Mimi's mother, Olaiya Odufunke, who died in 2003.

And now, we have a photograph of Olaiya (on the left, above, with Joyce Earl, another Scientology employee) that was given to us by someone who worked with her and can now tell us what kind of work the woman did that was more important than holding on to Mimi.

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Scientology's Worlds Colliding: Bert Leahy and David Edgar Love Together in Oklahoma on August 25!

To even begin to explain why it's significant that a Texas man named Bert Leahy and a Montreal man named David Edgar Love are going to meet up in the godforsaken town of Canadian, Oklahoma on August 25 would probably strain most news organizations.

But we have an advantage: Bert Leahy and David Love are both stars of this blog, and our readers will know exactly why their meeting should send shivers down the spines of the executives who run Scientology's embattled drug treatment program, Narconon.

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Scientology President Heber Jentzsch Told His Brother: "I'll Never Get Out of Here Alive" ALSO: Alex Jentzsch's Last Phone Call?

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Better days: Heber Jentzsch and John Travolta
David Jentzsch, 80, tells me that the last time he spoke to his brother Heber, 76, was about three years ago. And at that time he urged his younger brother to break out of Scientology's International Base near Hemet, California.

"He said, 'I don't think I can ever get out of here.' But I told him, 'You have to try.' And the last thing he said to me was, 'I'll never get out of here alive'."

Since then, David says, the workers at the base have refused to take his call.

"They won't let me talk to him. Heber just lost his son, Alexander," David explains. "I called and told them I'd like to talk to my brother about this. They told me, 'You can't come, we don't want you here.' I told them I'd come down there and they'd have to let me see him. But they said, 'Heber is not going to be able to talk to you, so it's best that you don't come."

David didn't know that his brother had been let out of the base for a rare visit to Los Angeles and a hastily-arranged memorial for his son last week.

"I wish I'd known that, I would have been there to try to see him."

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Scientology Gets a Smooch from the L.A. Times

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Welkos, left, and Sappell
In 1990, just before he and his colleague Joel Sappell were about to publish a landmark series exposing Scientology's secrets in the Los Angeles Times, Robert Welkos found that someone had placed in a manila envelope against his home's front door a brochure from a mortuary, encouraging him to plan his own funeral.

He checked with the funeral home, but it said it would never solicit in that way. Then another brochure showed up two days later, left by a man spotted scurrying away by Welkos's wife.

I would never know if the deliveries were just a mix-up or a sinister prank. Just as I have never known who made the dozens of hang-up telephone calls to my house; what caused my partner's dog to go into seizures on the day the Times published the secret teachings of Scientology; why a bogus assault complaint was filed with the Los Angeles Police Department against Sappell by a man whose address and name proved to be phony, or why car dealers we had never dealt with were making inquiries into our personal credit reports...

Whenever journalists ask critical questions about Scientology they can expect to endure intense personal scrutiny. Over the years, various reporters have been sued, harassed, spied on, and even been subjected to dirty tricks.

The 1990 series by Sappell and Welkos proved to be one of the most significant journalistic projects ever done on Scientology, and was especially brave for the proximity of the newspaper to Scientology's Los Angeles administrative headquarters.

Which makes it all the more disappointing that yesterday, the sloppiest wet kiss I've seen Scientology receive from the mainstream press in a very long time showed up on the website of the Los Angeles Times, which long ago lost the services of Welkos and Sappell.

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SCIENTOLOGY CRUMBLING: An Entire Church Mission Defects as David Miscavige Faces Leadership Crisis

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David Miscavige with his friend Tom, in better times
For several years, we've been reporting about a crisis in Scientology as key members of the church -- including some of its highest-ranking former executives -- have left the organization and spoken out about its abuses. One by one, longtime, loyal Scientologists have announced that they are fed up and are leaving the church.

But now, for the first time in memory, an entire mission has announced that it is defecting from the church en masse.

Israel's Dror Center, in Haifa, announced in a lengthy statement that it is rejecting the leadership of David Miscavige and the official church. It now plans to become a part of the burgeoning "independent Scientology" movement. (We sent a request for comment to the Church of Scientology's media office Wednesday evening, but our message has not been answered.)

Dani Lemberger and his wife Tami founded the Dror Center in 1992 -- twice, Tami has been recognized by the church as the world's best auditor, in 2000 and 2002. The Lembergers were in the US this week to meet other members of the independence movement. The church used that opportunity to serve them in Tampa's airport with notices that they had been "declared suppressive persons" (the church's jargon for excommunication). On their way home to Israel, we sat down with Dani during a layover at Newark Airport.

"Our mission is one of the few on the planet that's actually expanding," he told me. But now, his group has notified Miscavige that it will no longer answer to him. "We have left the church."

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