Two years ago, I “fell down the rabbit hole” of the crazy world of Scientology. Most people in the world know Scientology only as the religion of Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Some have heard rumors that the top-secret beliefs revealed to high-level adherents who have paid exorbitant prices involve galactic empires and alien spaceships straight from the mind of a 1930s pulp science-fiction writer.
Long-time watchers of this dangerous organization often repeat the slogan, “Scientology: it’s always worse than it looks.” That’s because those who scratch a bit further under the surface than the average People Magazine reader learn that Scientology is driven by ravenous greed, driving its customers close to (and frequently into) financial ruin to raise money. Relatively fewer people know that Scientology is a dangerous cult that takes extraordinary measures to control members’ lives and to keep its staff working brutal hours under inhumane conditions for paltry sums, with an internal prison camp awaiting staff members who fall out of favor with the cult’s violent leader, David Miscavige.
And not many outside the network of thousands of people who sacrificed decades of their lives and their entire fortunes know just how evil this organization can be. Scientology has left a vast legacy of economic ruin, premature deaths and shattered families in its wake. And that is just the collateral damage; Scientology has also engaged in carefully orchestrated and well funded plots to destroy enemies and raise money, actions that no organization and most particularly not a self-described “religion” should ever be seen doing.
I have spent a significant chunk of my free time over the last two years researching Scientology and writing of my conclusions in various forms including anti-cult activist sites like WhyWeProtest and Ex-Scientologist Message Board. By far, the bulk of my writing about Scientology, however, has been in comments on the site of Tony Ortega, a professional journalist who has focused on Scientology news coverage for nearly two decades. You can find me writing there under the name of “John P.”
Why my own blog? Why now? The fundamental reason for me to start my own blog is that I’ve written a lot about Scientology in the last two years. A couple weeks ago, when I started to hatch the idea of doing my own blog, I did a little Linux grep-fu and counted up the number of words I had written in comments over the last two years. The actual count came to 603,000 words, which stunned me because that’s basically four or five non-fiction books worth of prose. And that has all been in reaction to what Tony and others have published; a news blog format isn’t conducive to publishing original research generated on my own time frame. I’ve been grateful for the positive feedback I have gotten from many who have read my work, and it’s time to take it to the next level, with the ability to set my own agenda and schedule for what I want to focus on.
Over the last several months, traffic on Tony Ortega’s site has exploded, and what used to be perhaps two hundred comments per day, most adding deeper perspective to the story, has now blossomed by an order of magnitude. There are a lot of interesting people and great stories told in the comments on Tony’s site, and the community is remarkably free of the vitriol, trolling and other bad behavior so common on the Internet. I’ve actually formed a number of off-line friendships as a result of participating on Tony’s blog, which is itself remarkable.
But Tony’s success has caused some problems: with ten times as many comments, it is increasingly hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. I think one-line quips and praise of others who write something of value are great, because those are important in building a large community that can have a real impact in opposing the cult. Back-and-forth dialog enables people to understand and respect each other, including those who have never met. But those “light and fluffy” comments also make it hard for many readers to keep up with the comments, particularly in trying to find and keep up with longer, well-researched opinions or raw data on life in the cult. With an average of one or two new comments per minute, it’s tough for people who can’t keep up with Tony’s site during the day to follow important news and thinking about the cult. Some readers have told me privately that they’re frustrated at how long it takes to catch up with the day’s reading when they get home from work. Sometimes it takes an hour and a half versus ten minutes in the past.
Given how hard I work researching details of what I write, I began to be frustrated that my articles would zoom out of view on the roll of comments that steadily grows longer throughout the day. Several weeks ago, I started to hatch a plan to start my own blog, to complement what existing sites do, and hopefully to contribute a new dimension in helping people to oppose this cult and what it stands for. I know others interested in doing deeper work on critiquing and analyzing the cult have felt similar frustration over the large number of comments. Fearing that your detailed work gets lost against the background of more casual commentary can be a remarkable disincentive to putting in the effort.
More perilously, there are many prominent ex Scientologists who used to be fixtures on Tony Ortega’s blog who are rarely seen there. I can’t recall when I last saw a comment on “The Underground Bunker” from Denise Brennan, Kate Bornstein, Paulette Cooper, Mat Pesch, Amy Scobee, or so many other ex’s who have earned prominent standing in the community of ex’s. I’d like to ensure that they have a platform to contribute more of their stories and experience, because they could be invaluable in helping our cause.
Last Friday, Tony announced that he’s got a new “day job,” starting today as Editor-in-Chief of a rapidly growing news site called The Raw Story. The fact that I’m launching this blog today is, surprisingly enough, a coincidence. I’ve been discussing starting my own blog with several other prominent members of the anti-Scientology activist community for a couple weeks, before I got wind of Tony’s new move.
What others do well: One of the great reasons for the success of anti-Scientology activists since the landmark global protest by Anonymous in 2008 is the emergence of successful forums to bind the community together. The prominent sites each serve different needs:
- Tony Ortega is the premier journalist covering breaking Scientology news; he also does a great job mining his network of sources to get a look at marketing documents and published writings of L. Ron Hubbard.
- Forums like ESMB and WhyWeProtest are a great place for people to express themselves, and to take the discussion in any direction that appeals to them. Each of these forums has a unique style and a unique culture.
- Prominent ex-Scientologists like Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder give their own perspective on life and their evolution since they left the cult.
It would be foolish for me to try to compete with them at what they each do so well. I need to do something of value that they can’t easily accomplish within their existing “turf.”
What I can contribute: It’s clear to me that I can leverage my career experience to build a site to deliver something that’s missing in any of the current popular anti-Scientology sites. Given my experience in analyzing companies, corporate strategy and economic data in my day job at a hedge fund that I refer to as “Global Capitalism HQ,” I want to bring the analytical skills and judgment I use in picking stocks to the process of thinking about what is going on today in Scientology and where it might lead in the future.
Insightful analysis is the basis for informed and effective action. If we as a community of anti-Scientology activists can think through what the consequences (both intended and unintended) of the cult’s actions might be, we can precisely tailor our planned actions, which significantly increases the chances that our work will have an impact. We can have increased confidence that the risks we take of harassment by the cult will be worth it because our actions might become more effective.
And equally importantly, if we are able to articulate the basis for our beliefs convincingly and logically, we will be able to convince many disparate groups all opposed to Scientology to align themselves more than in the past. This has been difficult because some who have never been in the cult proclaim loudly that it’s all nonsense, which steps on the feeling of “independent Scientologists” who believe that the Scientology “tech” is a remarkably effective self-help toolkit and that only the current Scientology management is a problem.
Well-written analysis can help bridge these two opposed points of view and help people find a common ground that will allow them to work together even if they continue to harbor major areas of disagreement. Thoughtfully articulated logical discussion can bind people together where passions and faith can tear them apart.
Building a community of like-minded folks: This is my site, and at least for the short term future, I’ll be writing most of the content. But I can’t do it all alone, even if I wanted to. I want to build a community of like minded anti-Scientology activists from across the spectrum who want to do their own research and digging to help increase the effectiveness of anti-cult activities. The cult is increasingly vulnerable, and well-aimed action can help blunt the damage it does in the world more rapidly than at any time in the past. If you like writing (and reading) insightful analysis or digging up obscure source documents and connecting the dots to help expose and oppose Scientology, I want this to be an important destination for you. I am familiar with what sociologists call “on-line production communities” such as those that build open source software, and I think I have enough wisdom to encourage people who want to help and then GTFO the way.
We are about deepening understanding of what the cult of Scientology is doing now, and about making increasingly accurate predictions of what it will do in the future to try to reverse its flagging fortunes. I’ll come up with a more reasoned “mission statement” at some point in the future.
I am not making a bid to become a leader in the anti-Scientology movement. To the extent that a leader is needed, there are many people who have already done much to deserve some form of leadership role in the increasing groundswell of outrage. I’m not that leader. I want to provide research so that people can make up their minds on what they want to do, and then get out and do it with confidence.
How it works: I’m going to start out with a couple of deliverables and expand as reader preferences dictate. I’ll link comments in other forums to this blog in general and to specific posts here where warranted. I’ll continue to comment on Tony’s blog where I have something to say, since that’s a key way to attract new readers here. If those of you active on ESMB, OCMB, WWP and other forums would like to help, please link back to this site from your posts in those sites. Key deliverables:
- First, as a service to Tony’s many readers, I plan to put out a nightly recap of the day’s Scientology-related news, coming out at 10:00 or 11:00 pm Eastern time. I’ll summarize Tony’s article(s) from the day, add some of my own thoughts where relevant, and summarize and/or repost the most interesting in-depth comments.
- Second, I’ll do longer analytical pieces answering key questions often posed by people with significant interest in the cult. Perhaps the most common question, given the inept management of Scientology, is when the whole enterprise collapses into a heap of smoldering rubble. I will publish a carefully researched scenario that looks at the estimated financial picture, the likely short-term effects of recent news and what we understand of the cult’s business strategy. From there, I’ll predict what is likely to happen over the next year or two. Such a scenario is a living document that needs to be updated periodically in the face of breaking news and new data. A lively community of people helping to come to a consensus on scenarios like that will be invaluable in guiding the movement in focusing its efforts.
- Third, I’ll attempt to give readers a sense of the analytical techniques used in the world of Wall Street, so people can participate fully in developing high-quality analysis of the cult and its weak spots. In other words, I’ll do my best to train people in what works and what doesn’t work in doing this kind of writing. It’s far different than being a news reporter, and it demands a lot more intellectual rigor than just expressing a “seat of the pants” opinion in a comment forum. I can’t guarantee that you’ll get a job at Global Capitalism HQ if you read the articles I’m planning on analytical technique, in part because it’s a miserable job, but I can work hard to help you learn something that might help you in your current job.
Over time, we can add as much formal structure as necessary to turn this into a platform for anyone who wants to do high-quality research about the cult. That could include section editors, qualified people who write about their expertise (Scientology ethics, the corporate structure, lawyering and legal affairs, etc). I’m open to a lot of ways to make it easy and fun for people to put their real world expertise to work.
This is a serious endeavor, but I don’t want to extinguish all hope of fun. I’m sure there will be more than a few references to oiliness tables, Steely Dan lyrics, that remote rural enclave in upstate New York called “Canada” and plenty of other humor. But if we can maximize the signal-to-noise ratio and unleash the armchair analysts, the long-time ex’s and others, we as a community can have an even bigger impact on the cult than we do today.
I look forward to starting a fun intellectual adventure with those of you who read this and those who join the conversation in the future! Your passion and knowledge and ideas are what will make this all work, so please click on “Add a Comment” and give me your best, starting right now…