About The Underground Bunker

Tony Ortega is a journalist who has written about Scientology since 1995. He's been a staff writer or editor at numerous publications, and was editor in chief of The Village Voice from 2007 to 2012. His book about Scientology’s most infamous campaign of terror — to destroy author Paulette Cooper — came out in May 2015. He subsequently teamed up with Paulette to write another book, Battlefield Scientology, that collects some of his best reporting.

In 2015, Tony appeared in Lawrence Wright and Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary about Scientology, Going Clear.

[Tony Ortega in HBO’s ‘Going Clear’]

After ten years of reporting daily on Scientology at his website tonyortega.org, Tony started this Substack for his daily reporting and for his podcast on Scientology.

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Group Therapy: A roundup of the week’s Scientology news with a gang of our regulars. With a new episode each Sunday afternoon.

Up the Bridge: A step by step examination of Scientology’s courses and auditing levels with technical expert Sunny Pereira. Learn what you would do in Scientology without spending millions of dollars!


Here are some of the questions we tend to get from readers…

Why is this place called “The Underground Bunker?”

When we wrote about Scientology at The Village Voice, we jokingly began referring to writing from an underground bunker. It proved to be a popular running gag, so when we left the Voice and started an independent site, we thought it would be a familiar name for our regular readers.

Why do you use “we” to refer to yourself?

It’s a columnist’s conceit we use out of habit and for no good reason except that it amuses us.

Why do you write about Scientology?

Because it interests us. We started writing about Scientology with our first cover story for the Phoenix New Times in November 1995, and that experience only whetted our appetite for more. Some people cover Congress, other people cover the mafia, we cover Scientology. It’s a fascinating story that is only getting more interesting with time, and we enjoy having a seat on the front row as this adventure unfolds.

Were you ever involved with Scientology?


Does Scientology hassle you?

The church, through its private investigators, has tried to make reporting on it difficult for many journalists. It’s an occupational hazard.

You’re very critical of Scientology. Why?

We don’t like bullies.

Is Scientology a cult?

We find “cult” to be a completely meaningless word. At other websites, discussions about Scientology end up devolving into endless argument about words like “cult” or “religion.” At the Bunker, we call Scientology a church because that’s what Scientologists call it and because we’re more interested in what Scientology does than what it says about itself.

Was the 2005 South Park episode about Xenu really what Scientologists believe?

Yes and no. An important point to keep in mind is that Scientology is a system of increasingly expensive courses, and only a minority of church members reach the highest levels of advancement. A church spokeswoman once told us that only about 10 percent of Scientologists reach the “OT” levels, which include the story of Xenu the galactic overlord (in “OT III”) that South Park had fun with. And even for those Scientologists who do reach OT III and higher, they spend only a very short time considering the Xenu material, and for the most part it has almost nothing to do with their overall experience in the church. (The Xenu story leads to church members then exorcising “body thetans” — disembodied alien souls which are attached to each one of us — and spend years and huge amounts of money to do so. Body Thetans are much more a part of the upper-level Scientology experience than Xenu, which is dealt with only briefly.) So while the Xenu material is undoubtedly a striking part of Scientology’s esoteric system, and one that rightly does cast doubt on everything else L. Ron Hubbard came up with, when Scientologists tell you that Xenu has nothing to do with their experience in the church, they’re probably telling the truth.

When did Scientology, as a church, first begin?

L. Ron Hubbard created the first Church of Scientology corporation in Camden, New Jersey in December, 1953. A few months later, in February 1954, he had followers create a Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. Most newspapers refer to 1954 as the church’s founding, but 1953 is more accurate, so that’s what we use.

How many wives and children did L. Ron Hubbard have?

L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) was married three times and had seven children, four of whom are alive today. Hubbard married Margaret “Polly” Grubb (1907-1963) in 1933 and they were divorced in 1947. They had a son, L. Ron Hubbard Jr. or “Nibs,” (1934-1991), and a daughter, Katherine, known as Katie or Kay (1936-2010). Hubbard married Sara Elizabeth Northrup (1924-1997) in 1946 (while still married to Polly Grubb) and they were divorced in 1951. They had a daughter, Alexis, born 1950. Hubbard married Mary Sue Whipp (1931-2002) in 1952. They had two sons and two daughters — Diana, b. 1952, Quentin (1954-1976), Suzette, b. 1955, and Arthur, b. 1958.

Did L. Ron Hubbard really say before he started Scientology that the only way to get rich is to start a religion?

Yes, and here’s our story about it.

Did the FBI really investigate Scientology for human trafficking and nearly raid Scientology’s International Base in 2010?

Yes, it did. We talked to numerous informants who worked with the FBI, and who said they were asked if they would ride along with agents on the raid to help them identify locations and people. (And now here’s the actual file from the FBI investigation.)

Why did the FBI give up on that idea and drop the investigation?

We have a theory about that.

Did you really break the story that Leah Remini left Scientology?

Yes, we printed our story about that on Monday, July 8, 2013, and the rest of the media caught up to the news when the New York Post put Leah on its front page on Thursday, July 11.

Have you actually read Dianetics, L. Ron Hubbard’s 1950 book that started his movement?

Cover to cover. We blogged that experience with former Scientologist and author Vance Woodward.

What are your books about?

We’ve written a book about Paulette Cooper and titled it The Unbreakable Miss Lovely. In 1971, Paulette wrote The Scandal of Scientology, the first really popular book about the organization’s secrets, and Scientology in turn subjected her to years of the worst retaliation campaign in its history. At one point, she was facing 15 years in prison for a crime Scientology framed her for, and she seriously contemplated suicide. Despite numerous covert operations run against her over several decades, she survived everything the church’s spies threw at her, and she’s thriving today. In 2018, we teamed up with Paulette to write a second book, Battlefield Scientology, that combines some of our best reporting from the Bunker with introductory essays by Paulette herself.

Do people in the Church of Scientology read your website?

Yes they do. And we hear from some of them. But others are very good at shielding themselves from anything negative about Scientology.

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New York-based journalist. Some people cover Congress, some people cover the mafia. I cover Scientology.