Wikinews interviews Mark Bunker, producer of anti-Scientology website 'XenuTV'

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Television producer and owner of the anti-Scientology website (XenuTV), Mark Bunker, also known as Wise Beard Man, chatted online with Wikinews for nearly three hours. More than 120 people followed the interview live (many from Project Chanology), which makes this exclusive Wikinews interview our most attended IRC interview to date.

Bunker started XenuTV in 1999 and began to make videos that he provided for the Lisa McPherson Trust. Bunker has been a critic of the Church of Scientology since 1997.

In 2006, he won a Regional Emmy Award after he and KUSI-TV news reporter Lena Lewis produced a documentary news video on the issues with the United States - Mexico border with San Diego, California.

The Interview

((Wikinews)) Why don't you start by telling us about yourself and what you do.

Mark Bunker: I work in TV news in San Diego and have been speaking out about Scientology's fraud and abuse since 1998. I worked "anonymously" for a year before showing my face and starting my website XENU TV.

((WN)) Tell us about your history with criticism of Scientology?

M.B.: In 1998 I was living in a house in the Hollywood Hills. The woman who lived there prior to me was a Scientologist. Probably at the Celebrity Center because I would get her issues of Celebrity magazine and other Scientology periodicals. Reading them left me bewildered. They have their own language in many ways. I was intrigued and visited the Celebrity Center at one point to check the place out with a friend -- as a skeptic, mind you. I took the personality test, played with an e-meter and got my own personal screening of Orientation before sitting down with the head of the CC. I had seen the 60 Minutes reports in the eighties but didn't have a lot of knowledge at my fingertips. I wish I knew then what I know now so I could have asked pointed questions.

((WN)) Such as?

M.B.: I did ask things like, "Do I have to buy all these books? Don't you have a library?" Of course, they want you to buy everything. After 45 minutes, I broke it to him that I wasn't interested. I went home, did a quick search on the net and found out about Xenu. Then I discovered Operation Snow White and Operation Freakout and other crimes committed by Scientology. This was more than some silly little group. I was amazed that this whole different world existed inside the U.S. and no one really paid attention to it.

((WN)) Has the Church ever been convicted of any crimes?

M.B.: It has been convicted in Canada for some of the same espionage tactics they used here in Operation Snow White. There have been more but I don't have them at the tip of my fingers. That's the nice thing about the net. You can now quickly research anytime, anywhere.

((WN)) How would you describe yourself in the context of religions, churches, and belief systems, and what you are seeking to accomplish?

M.B.: I think I stand outside the religious arena. I'm not interested in buying a ticket for the big game. People are free to believe anything they want but when it comes to fraud and abuse, I think it's important to object.

((WN)) There are other religions that practice things that are just as bad as Scientology. For example the Catholic Church, Scientology and Islam dislike/sin homosexuals. Why protest Scientology? The Catholic Church, in terms of atrocities, has likely committed more? Even Muslim extremism... Is Scientology really worth more to protest than those religions or any other?

M.B.: The Catholics standing outside the Boston churches, protesting the priest sex abuse scandals were heroes in my mind. Scientologists who stand up to David Miscavige and say stop disconnection, forced abortions, the RPF [Rehabilitation Project Force, ed.] and fraud are as well.

((WN)) That was protest the crime and cover-up? Similar to your work?

M.B.: Exactly. It says nothing about the Catholic religion to say stop the priest sex abuse. Except it does make one wonder how a religion could systematically cover up such rampant abuse.

((WN)) Other than your experiences with ex-members of Scientology, do you have any special qualification that would make you an expert on so-called "cults", i.e. do you have a degree in sociology, anthropology, psychiatry, psychology, theology, or any similar related subject area?

M.B.: None whatsoever. I took one course in world religions back in college. That's it. I am not a psychologist. I am not going to council people in need of therapy. I speak out against fraud and abuse. Anyone can do so. Nor have I studied Political Science but that does not prevent me from speaking out against the Bush administration.
Mark Bunker
Image: XENU TV.

((WN)) Would that include the fields of tax law, i.e. do you have a degree in accounting, finance, law, or any similar related subject area?

M.B.: Far from it.

((WN)) Scientology, as many members have claimed, has saved their lives. Do you think, comparing the circumstances, the good things Scientology has done, outweighs the supposed bad things it has done?

M.B.: Well, people can feel they gain benefits from a wide range of things. I am not opposed to anyone following Scientology and auditing themselves till the time they drop their bodies. But along the way, many people are getting hurt. Fix that and people would stop protesting. Although I think they may still giggle about Xenu. We have the amazing ability to convince ourselves about anything. Our government is protecting us by wiretapping our phones and getting us into a needless war while letting the real terrorists regroup. But — hey — we were scared and went along with it. Sit in a dark room and imagine there is some scary creature about to get you and you can probably raise some goosebumps. That doesn't mean that there is actually anything in the room. We easily can be tricked and trick ourselves and lead with emotion instead of intellect. So people may feel that Scientology has saved their lives but has it? Have they not also lured them into a group which takes over an increasingly large part of their lives and income, at the same time it is stripping them of their reality to replace it with Hubbard's? I spoke with Billy Sheehan last weekend at the picket and he told me is an OT3 and would talk about anything about his religion. I asked him to tell me about Xenu and Body Thetans and he couldn't. He just can't. He's not allowed to. I am free to do so. How are you becoming a better, more free individual when you have to follow such strict orders or a group that promises to teach you to "Think for yourself?"

((WN)) What will it take to get Congressional Hearings to review the Church of Scientology? Specifically, their tax-exempt status.

M.B.: It is going to take a groundswell of media interest into the abuses (of the Church) before it happens. There's a lot of work that needs to be done. On public knowledge versus Scientologist knowledge, that is troubling for me. We on the outside know what is in store for the people moving onto the bridge. I think it is bait and switch to not tell them that their real problems are they are covered with BT's [Body Thetans, ed.]. That's a major case of fraud in my mind.

((WN)) What, if any, changes or improvements have been made in Church policy and structure since Hubbard died, and more recently too, that might have already addressed, at least partially, issues such as Snow White, Lisa McPherson, disconnection, unrealistic promises of Scientology benefits, etc? On what do you base your answer to this question?

M.B.: The only major policy change I've seen from David Miscaviage is the introduction of the Lisa Clause. What Scientology learned from the tragic death of Lisa McPherson is to have all their members sign a form to say they grant Scientology the right to treat them as they did Lisa and to promise not to sue. Otherwise the group seems to be as militant as when Hubbard was still around which is astonishing in a way. A cult usually dies with its founder. I believe Scientology is a cult yet it lurches on with the help of its richest members and the ability to bleed dry the rank and file.

((WN)) I assume you mean "Lisa Clause"?

M.B.: Yes. Lisa Clause. As to Scientologists who say that I don't know what I'm talking about, why do I have documents to back up my claims and they have shore stories?

((WN)) How do you think most Church members feel about your protests? What would you say to those who would criticize your protests as misguided or the information you post and expose as untrue?

M.B.: We are seeing some indications that the Scientologists inside the group are responding to the protests. There was one insider who got a message of support out. Clearly, when materials like the Tom Cruise tape are being leaked, there are people inside who are concerned about how the group is behaving.

((WN)) We have a somewhat difficult question to put next...Is R2-45 Auditing a joke within Scientology, or is it actually real?

M.B.: I think it was probably a sick joke by Hubbard but he did actually put it in some orders. It's not anything I ever discuss. There is so much sensational material about Scientology. People find it hard to believe the actual truth. I have no knowledge of anyone being shot by Scientology and wouldn't claim otherwise. That said, I find it unbelievably odd that DM's mother-in-law supposedly committed suicide by shooting herself with a shotgun...three times. That's weird. But I won't say it's murder.

((WN)) Do they actually run camps associated with that?

M.B.: R2-45 camps? Never heard of it. DM loves guns but there's no camps for shooting.

((WN)) What is the next step we should take in raising the general public's awareness of the atrocities of the "Church" of Scientology. Also, besides, what are some other, reputable, citable sources of information on these abuses?

M.B.: There are plenty of great sites starting with the granddaddy of them all — Professor David Touretzky's various sites are well researched and important resources. Stop-Narconon and such. My favorite book on Scientology is Bare-Faced Messiah. It and many others can now be read on the web. I'd like to do audiobook versions of them for people to download. Where, oh where, is the time, however.

((WN)) Why does Scientology accuse people of crimes when they are asked questions?

M.B.: Hubbard put it into writing. "Always attack - Never defend." There are policy letters where he ordered people never to answer questions about Scientology but instead twist it around to the crimes of the critic. So when you see that happening in my videos, you are hearing Hubbard's words come through the Scientologist's mouth, which is one of the reasons I never get mad at them. This is what they are taught. They literally can't think for themselves.

((WN)) Why do you think Scientology dangerous? From a European (French) point of view there are many strange organizations in the United States (Nazi party, many religious groups). Why is Scientology your fight?

M.B.: I think Scientology is dangerous to individuals who find their realities stripped. I think it's dangerous to families when they are broken up by disconnection. I think it's dangerous to society when they write laws that our politicians back to attack psychiatry. Anytime they stop free speech, I think that's bad in general. Scientology is my fight because others were too afraid to take them on. I hate bullies. Scientology (while dangerous) acts like a big school yard bully. Now if that bully in 4th grade had a crack legal team and a gang of devoted followers who would do dirty tricks to send you to jail, a mental ward or the grave -- he would have been a real threat! Scientology also brings together my general interest in cults, sci-fi and Hollywood in a unique way. I never expected to pick a fight with a dangerous cult but someone had to stand up to them. I thought I could help.

((WN)) And that's part of the reasons you support 'Anonymous' and — apart from DDoS — their actions?

The internet VS. Scientology' used to describe the war which begun between the internet and the Church on January 19.
Image: Jason Safoutin, Cuarto and CedricBLN.
M.B.: People need to stand up and speak out. If Anonymous can do that legally and you've shown me you can, then I will happily support that.

((WN)) I've seen your response to their protest on YouTube. You almost seemed proud that a younger generation had "taken up the torch".

M.B.: People have been attempting to get Scientology to reform for close to 60 years. They have resisted all change. When I reached out to Anonymous, I thought I may well get attacked myself but I saw immediate reform in the group. Scientology could learn a lot from Anonymous. The biggest protest in the past was maybe 50 - 60 people. Anonymous got thousands of people out everywhere around the globe and did so peacefully. I am proud of them for that. We've laid the groundwork for years. Now hopefully, some of Anonymous will continue to learn more and to speak out. There will be attrition but so far there seems to be an eagerness to make a real positive impact.

((WN)) What happened to Bob Minton? He is alleged to be in favor of Scientology now. Did they give him an 'incentive' to stop his protests of the Church? In a video of yours, posted on YouTube (Scientology: Clearwater Trip - Day 3 - Pt 2), Minton says that the Church attempted to "pay him money" several times. Did they finally succeed? Or was he blackmailed into shutting up?

M.B.: I wrote about Bob on my blog last week. He is my friend and I was there through most of his struggle. Scientology launched a global assault on Bob which we came to describe as having the Terminator coming after you. Rather than type it all out again, check out the blog. []

((WN)) How many members of Scientology do you estimate are within the organization?

M.B.: Far fewer than Scientology estimates. They now say ten million but I think they are counting me for coming in and playing with the e-meter. The best source would be the census reports which put the number pretty low. More people claimed to be Jedi Knights than Scientologists in the UK for example.

((WN)) What is your opinion on Free Zone Scientologists?

M.B.: I consider them friends. I support their wish to follow Hubbard's technique. They do so without the criminal aspects of Scientology itself. People can knock themselves [out] auditing as far as I'm concerned. I'm worried about the fraud and abuse. I believe Hubbard was a conman and we have the documents to prove it. If the freezoners don't care, I can't stop them. They aren't emptying people [of their] accounts and breaking up families.

((WN)) What do you think Anonymous should do if Scientologists plant fake anons in a protest and act like idiots to show anons up?

M.B.: Scientologists pretending to be Anonymous at your pickets, that's bound to happen. That's what Hubbard ordered. Adopt a "suitable guise" and infiltrate an organization to collect intelligence. They also are logging this channel and watching every word here and anywhere else we speak about them. As for the dopey comments, I understand completely that that is the power of being Anonymous on the net. It allows you to say outrageous things with no repercussions. It happens everywhere on the net and I am not offended. People say things they would never say to your face.

((WN)) Are you going to upload the old XenuTV movies (RealVideo) to Google Video or something similar?

M.B.: Will my old RealVideos be uploaded to Google? Yes. I have been working on it but I have a full time job and tons of things going one which has only gotten worse since this thing started. I was talking to Tory yesterday and she is overwhelmed by the emails she's getting. I look at them and have panic attacks that I haven't even been able to read all of mine yet let alone respond.

Questions from IRC users

((DA-freakshow)) As you know now, the Anonymous Protests was extremely huge, but we are planning a second round the 15th of March. And I — a 12-year-old WILL attend, is that a good sign that so young a person wants to be involved, or is it a bad sign?

M.B.: Well, it's good if you understand what you're getting yourself into and your parents or guardians are aware as well. Scientology is serious. They won't harm you but they don't play games either. 12-year-old kids get swept into Scientology's Cadet Org and moved into the Sea Org shortly after. That is far more dangerous to a 12-year-old than picketing fraud and abuse.

((Carbonflux)) Can you put any of this in a historical context? Have you studied the history of Scientology in relation to its "parent" organizations (cults praying on the elite) in the 18th - 20th centuries ? (Many of L. Ron Hubbard's ideas were taken directly from OTO which he was a member of in his early life for example).

M.B.: Hubbard did call Crowley his good friend but I doubt that he was seriously deep into it. I think he stumbled into a situation at Jack Parson mansion in which he could live high off the rich guys cash and steal his hot girlfriend. I think he probably enjoyed a good laugh at the satanic rituals he engaged in but it certainly informed his understanding of how to run such a group and how people can buy into any wacky belief system.

((toresbe)) By sheer virtue of numbers, we have become very hard to harass, to the point of the personal risk to ourselves being almost negligible. There have been others before us with far more courage who have spoken up against far greater odds. What do you think the effect of our actions have been on these "pioneers"? (yourself included) Do you personally feel that we anons have revitalized the more "serious" efforts of those in the past who have come out with full names - and have probably gotten into problems over this? And do you believe it serves to ease the process for those Scientologists who were already considering leaving?

M.B.: To deny Hubbard's connection to OTO is impossible but it also one of the most bizarre aspects of his life and many people would think it impossible and over the top criticism. That was one of the many flaws of the movie, The Profit. Ultimately Anonymous' rise will be beneficial. It can cause people inside to rethink their beliefs and draw media attention to Scientology's fraud and abuse. All very good. The way they rose however is a double edge sword because when I do interviews, I have to respond to white powder mailings and bomb threats. The anonymous nature and early attacks on Scientology make it easier for Scientology to blame these more serious charges on the group. People in the vast unwashed public aren't looking into it very deep and can believe Scientology's distortions. There is also the fear that we old timers can be lumped in with those abuses. I'm sure Scientology is going to accuse me of being a leader of terrorists. That is a huge risk I run, but in helping reshape Anonymous to a peaceful league group, I believe I am doing a great service to Scientology. Not that they'll thank me. Especially if their tax exempt status is revoked.

((jennam)) I was just wondering if you were aware of the many other abuses of other religions such as The Watchtower organization of Jehovah's Witnesses.. They do things strikingly similar to Scientology with regards to killing and abusing members and disconnection policies - now, I'm in no way in favor of the management of Scientology but it does look a little blind to me when these other so-called religions get off scot-free. Have you heard of any such allegations before? My concern is that while a step forward is good against one religion, there are others out there just biding by without no real exposure essentially letting them get away with their abuses. I was also wondering if you knew if The Profit would ever be released for viewing?

M.B.: There are some horrible abuses in other churches. I interviewed a couple people in a Christian cult in Wisconsin with horrific stories to tell. I feel I have my hands full fighting Scientology and hope others speak out for what they feel needs to be redressed. I stumbled upon a great site awhile back from former members of the Children of God. This group's founder promoted sex with kids and sent women out to recruit new members by sleeping with them. Watch some of [their] videos and your jaw will drop. This kind of thing happens every day and we are unaware of it.

((themandotcom)) What do you say to those people that say that Anonymous and the similar groups are religious bigots?

M.B.: Just say no. People can believe what they want. Just stop the fraud and abuse and if you speak out against my god Zeus, I will call you a bigot, too!

((StevenFruitsmaak)) Isn't it strange that some countries are recognizing Scientology as an official religion while other countries pursue the Church? What would you say to lawmakers in the former country? Perhaps a short three things you need to know about the Church?

M.B.: While there is a shared humanity, there are differences in laws and customs, too. Religion is such a taboo here in the U.S. that cloaking themselves with that was the smartest think Hubbard ever did. Germany has a unique perspective since it is in their charter that they will never again allow an extremist political group to rise again. That is an important thing to point out. They are not just a church. Hubbard wrote about how they should take over the government and be the ones to say what is legal BEFORE Scientology is stopped. Another important thing to know is that Scientology lies. If they are talking to you, they are lying to you. Look for the documented proof. The third thing, DM is a snappy dresser. Sorry couldn't come up with a third thing right now.

((Kakama)) What do you think of the fact that Anonymous' motivations are not a moral outrage and are in fact based on the desire to destroy something and get laughs, aka lulz? What about the fact that Anonymous regularly uses illegal activity for its purposes (though we have suspended most in this raid) and is often risque and perverted in nature?

M.B.: The thousands in Anonymous who have reached out to me have moved beyond the lulz. There are going to be many who drop out but there are more who will learn and continue. Just this morning a member sent me a link to a Portuguese version of the Anonymous message to get people involved in his country. And a 14-year-old girl in Finland said she gave a class report on Scientology because of this and got an A+ . She also told me she baked a cake for her mom and dad -- and put my name on it. I told her she's done something no one else on the planet has ever done. So the word gets out at the positive succeeds.

((Neglacio)) How do you feel about the several nicknames given to you, like Wise Beard Man (WBM), and the several slogans accompanying it? And, by the way, what music do you like?

M.B.: WBM is great. The people at work love it. I suspect many of the ladies are wearing Wise Beard Man thongs — but won't admit it. And possibly some of the guys. As for my taste in music, I have to admit I was never in my era at anytime in my life. I never listened to the radio growing up so I became a fan of people in old movies like Bing Crosby from the Hope and Crosby films. Don't hate me for it. My taste runs more to Mel Torme and Rosemary Clooney in their later jazz period and can be heard in some of my videos.

((planetstar)) There was a bomb (hoax?) threat video on YouTube by an "elite anonymous" as he himself called himself. What would be the implications of such an attack? Could this be another plant by Scientology, and could they actually go through with it?

M.B.: The bomb threat, this is what comes from being anonymous and starting off on the wrong foot. There will be those who believe it is Anonymous. I sure hope it isn't. It may well be Scientology creating a phony threat. They have that history. However it should be prosecuted because it is terrorism.

((Sfan00)) So you would urge Anonymous to report any such threats to the authorities?

M.B.: Yes, Anonymous should report these things and make it clear that it condemns such actions.

((WN)) Anything you would like to add Mr. Bunker?

M.B.: Yes. I hate to lose any credibility by saying I love Rosemary Clooney. :-)


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.