Jan 24, 2008

Author goes inside Scientology

Bill Brownstein
Montreal Gazette

January 24, 2008

The telephone hasn't stopped ringing in days. "This is just crazy," says Ian Halperin. "They're all calling now."

Crazy is good when you are promoting a book. Even better when the callers are CBS, CNN and NBC. No surprise, though.

The callers are all in search of insights from Halperin on his incendiary Hollywood Undercover (Random House), for which the Montreal author/filmmaker posed as a gay actor to infiltrate the Church of Scientology, long rumoured to promise a "cure" for homosexuality. The book was just released on Tuesday.

With the recent release of Andrew Morton's unauthorized bio of Tom Cruise and his involvement with the church, Scientology is now on the front burner. Halperin reveals some info on Cruise's place in the church hierarchy but goes where even Morton would not dare to go.

No one will accuse Halperin, 43, of shying away from the high and mighty. His exposé on the fashion biz, Bad and Beautiful, ruffled feathers but also made it on the New York Times bestseller list five years back. He directed the doc The Cobain Case, and co-wrote (with fellow Montrealer Max Wallace) Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain, the bestselling follow-up to their book Who Killed Kurt Cobain?

It is Halperin's contention that Cobain couldn't have possibly killed himself - hence the titles of the books.

Halperin has made a career of locking horns with the well-lawyered, who can and do bite back. "That's okay, because I can be nasty and bite back myself," he cracks. "I knew Hollywood Undercover would be controversial, but the truth will prevail."

Halperin is in the fortunate position of being able to back up allegations with video he shot at the Hollywood church. "I videoed everything I did. That's why this is the first Youtube-compatible book on the market," he insists, pointing out that while readers peruse the book they can also find notations taking them to the actual footage on Youtube.

Halperin also asserts he is the first ever to shoot inside the church. "They let me in because I told them I had a rich family member who was going to invest between $10 and $100 million in Scientology if he was convinced the church was viable."

He told church officials that he was a member of the Israeli royal family. Had they checked, they would have learned there is no Israeli royal family.

"But I got what I was after. I am the first to have evidence on video that the church admits to curing people of homosexuality," saysHalperin, who is in the midst of completing a documentary on the same subject, set for release this year. "Many stars associated with the church are scared to defect, because they are afraid of being outed."

Halperin claims John Travolta underwent the "auditing" process, a sort of personal counselling which can cost as much as $500,000. Like several others, Halperin, too, states the church sets up arranged marriages in an effort to cure gay members. "Two days after a male porn star had received $100,000 from the National Enquirer for an account of his supposed two-year affair with Travolta, he announced his engagement to Kelly Preston," Halperin alleges.

But Halperin concludes that the church has been less preoccupied with "sexual reparation" than with hard, cold cash. He interviews former Scientologist Michael Pattinson, who says he spent $500,000 over 18 years in search of a cure for his homosexuality. "Pattinson accuses the church of being fraudulent and has sued them," says Halperin.

"I pretty much found that everything about the church is about making as much money as possible, which doesn't really make them much different from most other religions. I have to be honest and admit I also met some nice people in the church. It's just that I have a huge problem with their discriminatory attitude toward gays."

Halperin also takes issue with Morton's claim that Tom Cruise is second in command at the church. "I discovered he's really the No. 1 man on the pole," says Halperin. "No matter what anyone says, he runs the place."

Halperin came from humble beginnings. A trained jazz saxophonist, he began as a busker outside some of this city's finest métrostations. (Nor has he forgotten those who wrote, favourably or otherwise, about his beginnings, by acknowledging them, this scribe included, in Hollywood Undercover. )

Among his books is also the wholly unauthorized Céline Dion: Behind the Fairytale.

He was the writer and composer of 27 Heaven, a satirical rock musical that played off-Broadway before heading on a cross-country tour of the U.S. last year. The play centres on a conversation in heaven between Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and the most recent arrival of the bunch, Kurt Cobain - all of who passed away at 27 and hence this title.

Halperin now plans to concentrate on investigative projects in print and film. "I'm already doing undercover work on another project," says Halperin, who splits his time between Montreal, New York and L.A. "I'd love to say more about it, but I would blow my cover, which could lead to disastrous consequences."

Not that he hasn't been down that road before.


Jan 14, 2008

3 years after Butler man vanishes, hope, mystery remain

Abbott Koloff 
Daily Record (NJ)
January 14, 2008

Family seeks answers

Timothy Carney left his Butler apartment early in the morning, the way he always did, but failed to attend a church prayer meeting that was part of his usual routine. He called work and said he'd be a little late because of the rain.

His car was found days later, abandoned at a Newark construction site on Route 21.

More than three years later, his parents say they still believe he's alive and are trying to rekindle interest in the case.

They used to argue with their son about his membership in the Pequannock-based Gospel Outreach Church, saying he had been donating a large chunk of his salary to the church and sometimes was so broke that he borrowed money from co-workers for lunch and even to pay tolls on the way home. They said he wanted to leave the church and may have disappeared to accomplish that goal.

But those who know him also say he was close to his parents, and his failure to call them deepens the mystery. Carney's parents say they can't be sure whether their son disappeared on his own, as they said police told them was the most likely scenario, or whether he was the victim of a random crime.

"We thought he would be back after a week," said Phyllis Carney of Edison, Timothy's mother.

Officials with the Kristen Foundation, a nonprofit group from North Carolina that specializes in helping to find missing adults, heard about the case last year. The foundation paid $500 to put up a billboard visible from the northbound lanes on Route 23 in the Butler area.

The sign, which includes a picture of Carney, went up last month and will remain until the end of January. The Carneys said they hope someone will see the billboard and recognize him.

"I want to know, is he well? Does he have amnesia? Is he in the state?" Phyllis Carney said.

Law enforcement officials have labeled Carney a missing person and say the case remains open. The 25-year-old left his apartment on Sept. 28, 2004, and was last seen by his roommate at 5 a.m., according to a police report. He failed to show up at a 7 a.m. prayer meeting, according to the report, and the last time anyone heard from him was 8:20 a.m., when he called work, a state unemployment office in Elizabeth.

Days later, $1,000 was withdrawn from his bank account.

Phyllis Carney said she recognized her son in a bank video surveillance tape of the withdrawal even though his face was obscured and he was wearing a baseball cap -- and he was never known to wear baseball caps. She said $100 was left in the bank account.

"I still get bank statements in the mail every month," she said.

Timothy Carney spent more than four years before his disappearance as a member of the Gospel Outreach Church, which met at various locations.

Some of the church's practices had been compared to a cult in a lawsuit filed in Passaic County three years ago by a former member. The suit claimed church members were pressured to give large donations -- as much as 25 percent of their salaries -- that members were berated, and that some gave up careers and worked for companies connected to the church, according to a published report at the time.

Gospel Outreach officials filed a federal lawsuit in 2005 -- since dismissed -- against some of their detractors claiming, among other things, that the church had been harmed by those who wrongly compared it to a cult. They also said in the suit that they had been unfairly implicated in Carney's disappearance. Church officials did not respond to messages last week.

Ronald Rhodes, 40, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Gospel Outreach, said he can't talk about the church because of an out-of-court settlement. He did talk about his friend, Carney, last week, describing him as a likeable, quiet young man who loved to read and who was especially fond of Tolkien. An English major at Montclair State University, Carney used to write short stories, according to his parents.

Carney talked about leaving the church more than a year before he disappeared, Rhodes said, but was dissuaded. Rhodes said Carney always talked about his family, his parents and two sisters, even though visits home weren't encouraged.

"He would sneak home to see his parents," said Rhodes, who lives in Pompton Lakes. "That was a no-no."

Rhodes added that he would have expected Carney to call his family at some point, had he simply gone away on his own.

"He loved his family," Rhodes said.

Carney also was fond of his church and its pastor, James Lethbridge, his parents said last week. Carney lived for a time in a house rented for the men of the church while women lived in separate quarters. He later moved into an apartment with another church member. And his girlfriend was a church member, his parents and others who knew him said, although they broke up at some point, possibly because Carney had college loans.

"The group doesn't believe in having debt," said Beth Davies, who used to run a cult support group at a Passaic County church and is friendly with several former Gospel Outreach members.

Davies said Carney was considered a "weaker brother" at the church because he was quiet and reserved. The church had about 35 members at the time, she said. It's unclear how many still belong, or where it meets, although the church does have a voice mail message at a local phone number.

No one responded to messages left by the Daily Record at that number last week. Lethbridge, the pastor, did not return messages left on his home phone.

Gospel Outreach filed a federal lawsuit in 2005 against various people, including Rhodes and Davies, who allegedly disparaged it. Church officials said in court papers that Butler police were given information by church critics and had questioned members about the pastor's finances as part of their investigation into Carney's disappearance. They claimed that police harassed one member and eventually offered an apology.

Butler Police referred all questions last week to officials in the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, who said they didn't have enough details about the investigation conducted more than three years ago to comment.

Church officials also claimed in the lawsuit that defendants knew the whereabouts of Timothy Carney, and had conspired to keep it a secret. Church officials said they believed Carney had been sent to a cult deprogramming center in Ohio called Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center.

"It was absurd," Davies said of the claim, adding that she had referred some people to Wellspring, which offers a two-week program

The suit was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Harold Ackerman, who said the charges didn't belong in a federal court. The judge also said in his written decision that the church seemed to be using the lawsuit to gain publicity and to "intimidate and harass defendants" because of the lawsuit filed against it by Rhodes.

Abbott Koloff can be reached at (973) 428-6636 or akoloff@gannett.com.


Author of Tom Cruise biography dispels rumours about Scientology actor

Lee-Anne Goodman
Canadian Press

January 14, 2008 

TORONTO - Andrew Morton is on the line from his Manhattan hotel suite munching on a sandwich, and if he's wounded about the negative reviews his controversial Tom Cruise biography is getting, there's no sign of it.

The book, the advance reviews suggest, unearths nothing new, terribly interesting or particularly salacious about the erratic movie star and devoted Scientologist who's been under Morton's magnifying glass for the past two years.

Morton, famous for his 1992 biography "Diana: Her True Story," about the late Princess of Wales, shrugs off the criticism on Monday by saying it's all tediously familiar.

"It follows the same trajectory as the Diana book - there was this hysteria beforehand, and reviewers wanted to react to the hysteria by saying: 'Well, it's not worthy of all this hysteria,"' says the 54-year-old Morton, who's in New York to promote the book.

"But after a while people calm down and look at it more objectively."

Even if "Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography," arriving in bookstores on Tuesday, doesn't reveal any seedy secrets about Cruise, Morton says, it's still worthwhile.

"It's an important book because it deals with somebody who's an influential character on the world stage who creates debate about whatever he does. He's surrounded by myth and legend, and he often creates the myth and legend himself."

Cutting right to the chase, the British author has some startling answers for the celebrity junkies among us who have believed there was some truth to the many Cruise rumours circulating over the past 10 years.

Is Cruise secretly gay?

"Quite the opposite; he's actually a real ladies' man. He's always had women around," Morton says.

Did Nicole Kidman sign a 10-year contract to participate in a sham marriage? No, Morton insists - they were in love for many years, but Kidman's increasing chilliness towards her husband and Scientology eventually put the boots to their union.

"He was very much in love with her and pursued her, pursued her, pursued her, but she was always elusive. She wanted the caviar and all the trimmings, and then when the toys were taken out of the pram, she was the one who's sitting there crying her eyes out and talking about giving up her Hollywood career and thinking about becoming a nun."

Is Katie Holmes a Scientology prisoner, someone who willingly agreed to a loveless marriage and an immersion in Scientology in exchange for a life of fame and fortune?

No again, says Morton, although he adds Cruise was certainly on the hunt for a replacement bride in the aftermath of his divorce from Kidman.

Holmes fit the bill after Penelope Cruz and Sofia Vergera failed to work out due to their aversion to Scientology.

"I don't want to push it too strongly because I am kind of the Diana biographer," Morton says of the whirlwind romance between Cruise and Holmes.

"But there is a dimension to their story that reminded me very much of Charles and Diana - the older man, the younger girl who, as a schoolgirl, always dreamed of marrying Prince Charming and then meets Prince Charming, duly falls in love, and then doesn't just have to digest Tom Cruise, but has to digest the family and the wider family of Scientology."

And there's yet another falsehood Morton wishes to dispel, one the Scientologists have leapt upon with particular ferocity in an attempt to discount the book in the weeks leading up to its release: little Suri Cruise is not the result of Holmes being impregnated by the frozen sperm of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

All his biography says, in fact, is that some of the nuttier Scientologists in the fold hoped Suri might represent the second coming of Hubbard.

"It's been useful for his side to use that to attack me, but it's false.

I don't say it and I don't say a lot of things, but that doesn't mean that they're not twisted and distorted to discredit me," says Morton, who ran up against endless Scientology roadblocks as he researched the book.

Publishers have faced such pressure from the Church of Scientology in Britain, New Zealand and Australia - countries with tougher libel laws than the U.S. and Canada - that the book will not be sold there.

Scientologists play serious hardball when it comes to guarding their secrets and protecting their image, Morton says, and the most surprising thing he learned about Cruise while writing the book was just how deeply enmeshed the actor is in what many consider a religious cult. Morton says Cruise is now the No. 2 Scientologist in the world.

"I just thought the Scientology was just like an add-on to his life and he just paid lip service to it," Morton says.

"What I didn't realize was how absolutely to the bone this is in him, and in a way it helps to explain why he's so suspicious of the outside world. Scientology is controlling, it's dominating, it's their way or the highway. They believe that only they have the answers to all the problems in the world, and in a way it kind of meshes quite nicely with his own fairly authoritarian character. It's a good fit."

Cruise is, in fact, a control freak who likes to manage every aspect of not only his personal and professional lives, but also of the lives of his wives - current and former - and children, Morton says.

"Scientology is quite technical, and it seems sort of pseudo-scientific at first and the early courses are quite accessible. It teaches you that you can actually leave your past behind and reinvent yourself, you can remake the script if you like, you can take control of your life - and Tom Cruise is very much about control."

He's also a world-renowned celebrity whose power and influence say something profound about the puzzling role of celebrities in the world we live in, Morton adds.

"The longer I got into it, the more I realized this guy really represents the spirit of the age, an age where celebrities have global reach and influence. He can go and meet presidents and prime ministers because of who he is, not because of what he knows.

"This book is a necessary corrective to a man who's lived his life by assertion as opposed to argument. He's never been tested. With this biography, I am testing what he has to say against what he does."


Jan 11, 2008

A pinch of politics in parties' programs

Susan Walker, Dance Writer
Toronto Star
January 11, 2008

For those with an awareness of the Chinese government hostility to the Falun Gong movement, the Chinese New Year Spectacular is not just a pretty pageant.

Coming to the Sony Centre next Friday for five performances over the weekend, the music and dance show is billed by the presenter as a showcase of "the true traditional Chinese culture devoid of any elements of the (culture of) Chinese communism."

The show contains references to Dafa, a concept associated with the meditative practices of Falun Gong adherents. One scene reportedly depicts the oppression of Falun Gong members in China by prison guards wielding clubs and wearing uniforms emblazoned with hammers and sickles.

Joe Wang, president of New Tang Dynasty Television Canada, presenter of the show in Toronto, says the production "depicts the values of traditional Chinese society (with) stories from history and from today's China. In today's China, the Falun Gong issue is very significant." But, says marketing co-ordinator Carolyn Jin, "the show has nothing to do with teaching Falun Gong."

The Chinese government regards the Falun Gong movement as a cult. But before it was condemned in China, says Wang, Falun Gong spiritual exercises were "practised by one-tenth of the population.... Many people one way or the other are connected to the persecution."

The New Year Spectacular has been in Toronto four times before, but in the smaller Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York. This year's event engages more than 50 performers – including a live orchestra in some venues (not Toronto) – from the New York-based Divine Performing Arts company, most of them born and trained outside mainland China.

But the Spectacular will not be the only Chinese New Year game in town. On Feb. 5, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York's Mel Lastman Square, 85 artists from China will be involved in a one-time performance of Dream of Red Chamber, a dance production based on a famous novel regarded as a work of classical Chinese literature.

The show, performed two days before the start of the Chinese New Year proper on Feb. 7, is touted as the product of historical research into Chinese philosophy, culture and social customs. Dream of Red Chamber is coming to Canada with the full support of the Chinese government.

In the Spectacular, much of the production is dedicated to depicting Chinese legends, through dance, music, singing and martial arts. Dancing and dramatic scenes are played out against a sophisticated, video-enhanced backdrop, says Wang.

The celebration of "human dignity and time-honoured traditions" is what makes the show so popular, says Ying Chen, a production manager speaking on the phone from Boston. That's one of more than 50 cities on this year's tour for Spectacular, which has been growing in size and popularity ever since it began in 2004. The Toronto Star is one of the sponsors of this year's Toronto production.

The marketing of the New Year production takes a grassroots approach. Volunteers recruited by New Tang from Toronto's Chinese community have been pamphleting people attending big stage shows in Toronto since early November. The presenters have also promoted the show with a video excerpt screening in shopping malls, downtown business buildings and the St. Lawrence Market.

New Tang Dynasty Television is an independent Chinese-language network based in New York, and its president, Zhong Lee, has denied any links to Falun Gong. But some of the network's reporters, he told the Boston Globe, "like millions of Chinese, practise Falun Gong's meditation and exercises."

So, too, do a number of performers in the Spectacular, according to Ying Chen. But "it's not something we necessarily keep track of or discuss too much."

New Tang representatives charge that the Chinese government, through its consulates in various cities, has put pressure on local officials to dissociate themselves from the New Year show by withholding notices of welcome or recognition. A letter from the consulate in Los Angeles, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, was sent to the Orange County Board of Supervisors. The letter maintained that behind the Spectacular was intent to "defame China's image in the international community and undermine the development of U.S.-China relations."

No such efforts have been reported in Toronto.


Jan 5, 2008

911 calls show terror of church shooting

Erin Emery 
Denver Post
January 5, 2008

COLORADO SPRINGS — Police on Friday released tapes of 911 calls made after Matthew Murray opened fire at New Life Church.

Dispatchers received 28 calls from terrified victims, including a call from Laurie Works, 16, whose two sisters Stephanie, 18, and Rachel Works were shot to death Dec. 9.

The eight-minute call from Laurie Works began with her telling a 911 dispatcher:: "There's someone shooting at us. I have three sisters, two of them have been shot."

Laurie Works later relayed that her father, David Works, had been shot in the stomach. The dispatcher, who remained steady and calm, advised Laurie to apply direct pressure to her sisters' wounds.

At one point, Laurie Works told the dispatcher she could not tell whether her twin sister, Rachel, was breathing because there was so much blood coming from her nose and throat.

About 12 hours before he arrived at New Life Church, Murray shot and killed two people, Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, at a Youth With A Mission facility in Arvada. At New Life Church, he shot himself in the head with a 9 mm pistol after an undercover church security officer, Jeanne Assam, 42, shot him three times.

In all, Colorado Springs police released six hours of recordings, including radio traffic made between police officers as they searched the vast building for the suspect and rescued victims who were hiding in the building. Initially, police believed a second gunmen may have been in the building.

Some of the 911 callers whispered as they spoke to dispatchers, afraid they would be shot if discovered.

The calls came from people who were holed up in classrooms where religious education is taught to children and from under the stage in the sanctuary of the church. One caller reported a gunman on the roof; another reported that the shooter was dressed as a police officer, in an all-black police uniform.

Colorado law required the release of the tapes at the conclusion of the investigation, but Colorado Springs Police Lt. Skip Arms said a team of investigators who spent numerous hours with witnesses, victims and family members of victims "have expressed a serious concern about re-traumatizing those already impacted by this incident.

"The Colorado Springs Police Department is asking the media to use discretion in weighing the newsworthiness of these tapes with the sensitivity to the community and the families."

Erin Emery: 719-522-1360 or eemery@denverpost.com