It's like the opening of the Stasi files after the Berlin Wall fell: Yesterday, Scientology defector Marty Rathbun published the cult's surveillance file on Washington Post reporter Richard Leiby. Today, we're publishing a glimpse into its spying operation against Mark Ebner, one of Scientology's most persistent critics.
Ebner, a longtime Gawker pal and freelance reporter who has spent a career exploring (and indulging in) the seedier side of Hollywood, is like the Patti Smith of Scientology-bashing—he was doing it before it was cool and inspired legions. That includes a memorable 1996 story for Spy documenting his undercover entrance into the cult's indoctrination machinery; his role three years ago in helping unearth the legendary video of Tom Cruise extolling his supernatural Scientology mojo; and his service as a consultant on the "Trapped in the Closet" episode of South Park depicting the intergalactic travels of the dark Scientology lord Xenu in animated form.
So it's not surprising that the church would sic its surveillance assets on him. And sure enough, according to a 2006 memo that Ebner obtained from Rathbun and provided to us, Scientology goons staked out his house and watched him walk his dog and get the mail. The memo, which dates to just a few months after the devastating South Park episode aired, calls Ebner "part of a clique of low class writers/bloggers who hang out in the LA area," lays out where he was living and what car he was driving, and identifies his sources of freelance income as a "key point of vulnerability."
Here is the full memo, which we confirmed directly with Rathbun, followed by some commentary from Ebner. The names of three individuals have been redacted at Ebner's request.
ATTORNEY CLIENT PRIVILEGED
March 27, 2006
RE: MARK EBNER
Mark Ebner does not show up in any of the PI databases or on Nexis with a current residence. The last place that we knew he had been was with a woman by the name [REDACTED], however, checks of her apartment showed that he has not been living there.
Through a media source we learned that Ebner is currently living at [REDACTED]'s house - which is located on North New Hampshire about five or six blocks north of the complex, near Los Feliz. Ebner's van was not at [REDACTED]'s house late last night but was found there this morning. He was there all day, in and out of the house either letting his dogs outside or talking with Derrick. Ebner also received a delivery of a large envelope and was seen carrying around various documents when he came outside the house.
[REDACTED] is a friend of Ebner's who picketed with him around the time period of 1997/1998 (but has not done anything since). She used to work at New Times – which is not in business anymore. As of 2002, [REDACTED] was married to [REDACTED], a character actor, and the house on New Hampshire is in his name. Per Nexis search, he appears to also still be living there at the house – so [REDACTED] appears to still be married and Ebner is just a friend who is living at the house. This will be verified.
The special collections at this location will be done, which will give us further information on Ebner and [REDACTED] and what he is currently doing [Note: "special collections" is a euphemism for searching through trash]. He is still driving the old 1972 VW van which he used to have plastered with anti-Scientology posters and bumper stickers but these have now been stripped off.
In putting together the data on his connections and a time track, Ebner is part of a clique of low class writers/bloggers who hang out in the LA area. For example, he is friends with Peter Collum, a writer for the LA Weekly and Hollywood Reporter with whom he co-authored a book. Ebner and Collum went to "Porndance 99" about six years ago to cover / review porn movies. He is friends with Luke Ford (a writer / blogger) who also covers porn. Both Ebner and Ford have written attack pieces on the "velvet mafia" the powerful gays (like Geffen) in Hollywood.
While we are getting the current scene on Ebner, his files are being gone through for his past connections that he may still be associated with. He listed some of these out when he had the Drastic Media website ([REDACTED], Peter Collum and [REDACTED] are all listed on this site as part of Drastic Media).
A media source who knows Ebner is checking into what Ebner is working on and for whom and another resource he knows is being lined up to contact him to pull strings on his relation with South Park.
Ebner usually does freelance jobs for different media outlets, one of which is currently Star Magazine, any others will be found out. Ebner has been very protective of his writing jobs and this is a key point of vulnerability that we need to work on - as he does not appear to value much else. (When we have used his own postings and actions against him to show that he is totally biased against us, this has caused him problems with the outlets that he has been writing for i.e. he got let go at Rolling Stone and he was caused problems at Radar and made threats of suing Karin for "black PRing" him).
One or more "media sources" were clearly providing the church with information on Ebner, including his current living arrangements and what projects he was working on. As Rathbun has previously revealed, Scientology made a practice of using reporters—including Vanity Fair contributor John Connolly—as spies. It's unclear who the "media source" was in Ebner's case.
Ebner says he's underwhelmed by the memo's lack of dirt—Scientology's spies would have done well to read the lead to his 1996 undercover story, which preemptively disclosed Ebner's history as an "ex-drug addict who has solicited prostitutes, masturbated and inhaled at the same time," and "owe[s] the IRS roughly six thousand dollars" in anticipation of the usual blowback from the church.
"They were never a threat to me with their surveillance and scare tactics," Ebner says. "These are stupid, ineffective games."
Some notes: Ebner says that woman in the first paragraph whose apartment was "checked" for Ebner's presence lived in a gated community at the time, meaning that if Scientology private eyes entered the development to look for him, they were likely trespassing. He and journalist Paul Cullum (whose name is misspelled in the memo) attended Slamdance, not Porndance, in 1999. Drastic Media was a "failed early internet experiment that never realized itself." And as for Rolling Stone "letting him go," Ebner says he was working on a Scientology-related assignment for the magazine in 1999 when the church sent his editor a "dead agent packet" showing photographs of him with unnamed "criminals" and calling him untrustworthy. When Ebner refused to defend himself against the smear, he says, Rolling Stone killed the story. But, Ebner says, it paid him his full fee, so that "key point of vulnerability" wasn't compromised.