Mar 31, 2015

Rogue Catholic bishops plan to grow schismatic challenge to Rome

Mon Mar 30, 2015


Rogue Catholic bishops plan to grow schismatic challenge to Rome




(Reuters) - Two renegade Catholic bishops plan to consecrate a new generation of bishops to spread their ultra-traditionalist movement called "The Resistance" in defiance of the Vatican, one of them said at a remote monastery in Brazil.

French Bishop Jean-Michel Faure, himself consecrated only two weeks ago by the Holocaust-denying British Bishop Richard Williamson, said the new group rejected Pope Francis and what it called his "new religion" and would not engage in a dialogue with Rome until the Vatican turned back the clock.

Williamson and Faure, who were both excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church when the former made the latter a bishop without Vatican approval, are ex-members of a larger dissenting group that has been a thorn in Rome's side for years.

Their splinter movement is tiny - Faure did not give an estimate of followers - but the fact they plan to consecrate bishops is important because it means their schism can continue as a rebel form of Catholicism.

"We follow the popes of the past, not the current one," Faure, 73, told reporters on Saturday at Santa Cruz Monastery in Nova Friburgo, in the mountain jungle 140 km (87 miles) inland from Rio de Janeiro.

"It is likely that in maybe one or two years we will have more consecrations," he said, adding there were already two candidates to be promoted to bishop's rank.

The monastery had said Williamson would ordain a priest there at the weekend but he was not seen by reporters, and clergy said it was impossible to talk to him. Faure ordained the priest himself.

Asked what the new group called itself, Faure said: "I think we can call ourselves Roman Catholic first, secondly St Pius X, and now ... the Resistance."


The Society of St Pius X (SSPX) is a larger ultra-traditionalist group that was excommunicated in 1988 when its founder consecrated four new bishops, including Williamson, despite warnings from the Vatican not to do so.

It rejected the modernizing reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council and stuck with Catholicism's old Latin Mass after the Church switched to simpler liturgy in local languages.

Former Pope Benedict readmitted the four SSPX bishops to the Catholic fold in 2009, but the SSPX soon expelled Williamson because of an uproar over his Holocaust denial.

In contrast to Benedict, Pope Francis pays little attention to the SSPX ultra-traditionalists, who claim to have a million followers around the world and a growing number of new priests at a time that Rome faces priest shortages. Their remaining three bishops have no official status in the Catholic Church.

Faure said the Resistance group would not engage in dialogue with Rome, as the SSPX has done. "We resist capitulation, we resist conciliation of St Pius X with Rome," he said.

Faure said he was not sure what it would take for Rome to return to its old traditions but conflict could be a catalyst.

"If there is another World War ... maybe the Church will go back to the way it was before," he said.

The prior of the monastery, Thomas Aquinas, explained the split simply: "The Pope is less Catholic than us."

Under Catholic law, Williamson and Faure are excommunicated from the Church but remain validly consecrated bishops. That means they can ordain priests into their schismatic group and claim to be Catholic, albeit without Vatican approval.

By contrast, women supposedly made priests by dissident Catholic bishops are not validly ordained because Catholic law reserves the priesthood only for men.

(Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Richard Chang)



Ex-Twelve Tribes leader warns Winnipeg authorities about religious group

Ex-Twelve Tribes leader warns Winnipeg authorities about religious group

Fear the mind abuse, not the physical abuse, says former leader with religious group

By By Donna Carreiro, CBC News

Mar 24, 2015

A former leader in the Twelve Tribes religious group said it wasn't the threat of beatings that kept him in his place. It was the threat of death if he didn't.

And it's that kind of mind control that Winnipeg authorities need to investigate, he said.

"I used to go sleepwalking through the house screaming bloody murder because I thought I was going to spin off and fall into the flames of a lake of fire if I ate a cookie or something,"  said the former leader, who asked not to be identified. "It's [no] wonder I had so many nightmares growing up."

He was born and raised in the controversial religious community back in the southeastern U-S, where it first started. A close relative is one of the highest-ranking leaders of the Twelve Tribes and in fact, helped to launch the community in Winnipeg back in 1993.

But while the former member said the original founders who started the community "had very good intentions", he also said in hindsight he knows it was "a cult. Definitely."

"I was taught to think a certain way about everything," he said. "And so I didn't realize the level of mind control I was under until I left. But in my heart, I knew that something wasn't right."

Winnipeg's child welfare officials are investigating allegations of corporal punishment against the children who live in the communal setting. But while the former member said "spanking" with wooden sticks was a common occurrence, authorities pay too much attention to that.

"To me, if a Christian person wants to spank with a balloon stick, without anger, with leaving any marks, whatever, I believe that's their religious right," he said. "I'm just trying to say in regards to spanking … what's happened in the past is that media outlets do a story and it gets sensationalized … and then nothing happens because the Twelve Tribes just dismisses it as religious persecution."

Instead, authorities need to worry about the mind control that goes on, and the techniques used to achieve it — in effect, creating rules that inform all aspects of their daily life like the current ban on using shampoo, playing the piano and reading books (unless it's The Bible).

Even their washroom needs are strictly regimented. But the biggest danger to one's sense of self? The ban on education. Children are only home-schooled and only until their teen years.

"They want to give an image that they're this peace-loving community and they want to bring Jesus back to the Earth, and end selfishness through love. So people go, 'you know, wow, these are nice people,'" he said.

"But what people don't understand is that this group does not properly educate their children and that's a big deal. That's a huge deal. That's the main reason that I left."

But this sense of enlightenment didn't come easy and didn't come quickly for the former member, who only began to doubt the Twelve Tribes in 2008, after a stunning revelation that their leaders were mere mortals. A sex scandal involving one of the leader's wives was revealed.

"It was like a light bulb went off. (The leader) wasn't God. He was just a man," he said. "That's when my doubts began."

Through the years that followed, as the rules grew more strict, his own doubts grew too.

He finally walked away, but it took months of intensive therapy to "deprogram" himself and trust that he could survive on his own.

Today, he considers himself one of the lucky ones. His wife, also a former member of the Twelve Tribes, joined him in the outside world.

His kids, for the first time in their lives, are in a public school and thriving. His small business is keeping food on the table.

And someday, he said, if other relatives want to leave the Twelve Tribes, he'll open his home and take them in.

As for authorities in Winnipeg still monitoring the community, the biggest favour they can do is to make sure the kids get access to education, he said.

"That's one of the things the government should be investigating, is their education, because I looked at all my friends who had older children, who were so bitter at their parents for not providing them with an education," he said.

"So here you got this burden on society because these kids are not educated."


Judge partially grants, partially denies Jehovah's Witnesses' motion to dismiss

Judge partially grants, partially denies Jehovah's Witnesses' motion to dismiss

Judge dismisses several claims in Jehovah's Witnesses case

Brattleboro Reformer

By Domenic Poli @dpoli_reformer on Twitter



BELLOWS FALLS >> The attorney representing the Bellows Falls congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and the New York-based headquarters of the Jehovah's Witness faith in a case of alleged sexual abuse said a judge's partial granting of a motion to dismiss makes him confident the entire case will get dismissed.

Pietro Lynn, of Lynn, Lynn & Blackman in Burlington, told the Reformer that U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha decided it was appropriate to dismiss certain legal theories raised by Annessa Lewis, who is suing the Bellows Falls congregation and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., which she claims ignored reports that she and her sister were sexually abused by a congregation member more than 20 years ago.

"We are very pleased with the court's ruling," Lynn said on March 26. "We expect that once the facts of the case are known that the court will dismiss the rest of the case."

Murtha dismissed claims for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, ratification, and fraud by omission.

Lynn said the case is based on unsubstantiated allegations only.

"We will vigorously defend my clients in this case," he said. "We believe the evidence will support the defense and, ultimately, we will prevail."

The Congregation and Watchtower's motion for a more definite statement was also denied by Murtha.

Annessa Lewis and her younger sister, Miranda, say they were members of the Jehovah's Witness congregation in Bellows Falls in the early 1990s and allege they were sexually abused by Norton True, who at the time was a "ministerial servant," which was previously described as the equivalent of a Catholic deacon by attorney Irwin M. Zalkin, of The Zalkin Law Firm in San Diego, Calif. He and Jerome O'Neill, of Gravel & Shea in Burlington, represent Lewis. Zalkin has told the Reformer the girls' mother approached the church about a year after Miranda was allegedly molested and "was basically told to keep her mouth shut."

In January, Zalkin and O'Neill filed an opposition to the defendant's motion to dismiss. Zalkin and O'Neill argued that the court must construe the complaint in "the light most favorable to the plaintiff" and that the complaint must be construed on the assumption that "all of its allegations are true, even if doubtful in fact."

Zalkin and O'Neill also wrote that courts must assume all general allegations embrace whatever specific facts might be necessary to support them. The motion they filed stated the defendants were aware of True's molestation of a different minor prior to the alleged molestation of his clients. The congregation took no action against True, did not warn anyone and did not contact law enforcement, according to the motion. True was therefore allowed to come into contact with the plaintiffs. Also, the defendants did nothing when the alleged abuse was reported.

Lewis' attorneys wrote that it was the congregation's responsibility to warn parents of the threat posed by True, whom the defendants knew was a pedophile. The motion also stated the alleged molestation of the Bellows Falls sisters was predictable and "resulted from the defendants' actions and inactions."

Neither Zalkin nor O'Neill could be reached for comment by press time.

True is represented by attorney Tom Costello, of Costello, Valente and Gentry in Brattleboro. Costello told the Reformer Murtha's ruling has "no real consequence for us," though True's motions to dismiss and for a more definite statement were denied.

Costello said he is now waiting for the plaintiff's date of birth. He explained people have six years following their 18th birthday to file charges against someone for something that happened to them when they were children. Costello said once he receives the necessary information, he plans to file a motion to dismiss the case.

Contact Domenic Poli at 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


Mar 30, 2015

Scientology, 'Going Clear,' and the Church's Long War With the IRS

Scientology, 'Going Clear,' and the Church's Long War With the IRS


By Justin Rohrlich

March 30, 2015

Shortly after 6am on the morning of July 8, 1977, Special Agent Elmer "Lindy" Linberg stood at the gate in front of 4833 Fountain Avenue and pushed the call button. The night caretaker of the Los Angeles building came out, walked about 10 feet toward the gate, and then stopped. He refused to come any closer.

"We are with the FBI, and we are here to serve a federal search warrant," Linberg shouted.

The imposing 500,000 square-foot building that once housed the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital had been purchased the year before by the Church of Scientology for $5 million. The church had then painted it blue and made it their international headquarters.

As Linberg, then the head of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office, later wrote in his official report of the incident (it was eventually made available to the public along with thousands of related documents via the Freedom of Information Act), "a large German Shepherd dog was noticed roaming free inside the fenced area." Linberg ordered his agents to cut the lock and move in. The dog left them alone.

Agents entered the building and fanned out to begin their search. Many of the offices they needed to enter were locked, and church officials either couldn't or wouldn't give agents the keys. Linberg, a seasoned investigator who had worked the Patty Hearst kidnapping case a few years before, gave church members an hour to open the doors; they assured him the keys were on their way. In the meantime, a group of 40 Scientologists showed up with push brooms and "milled among the Agents and started to sweep the area."

"SAC Linberg immediately advised [name redacted] and [name redacted] that the continued operation of the sweepers would interfere with the search, and SAC Linberg ordered all but one broom sweeper to clear the area," reads the report. A few minutes later, "numerous individuals carrying clipboards, cameras, and tape recorders" appeared. They identified themselves as church "affiliates" and said they were on hand to "observe and record the Agents' conduct."

At 7:30am, the keys still hadn't arrived. Linberg was told that the church's "legal advisor" was en route, and that he'd have the keys there in 10 minutes. At 8am, Linberg instructed his men to open the locked doors and cabinets by force. No one identifying themselves as a legal advisor ever showed up with keys.

While all this was going on, the FBI was executing simultaneous search warrants at two other church locations: Scientology's so-called Celebrity Centre two miles away, and the church's offices near Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. At both locations, church members followed agents with cameras, clipboards, and tape recorders. According to FBI reports, church members at the Celebrity Centre shut off the water so agents couldn't go to the bathroom.

At 9:40am, the Los Angeles agents reported that they had "struck gold." About 90 minutes later, they informed supervisors that they had "got everything they were looking for and then some." Agents in DC reported to headquarters at 1:03pm with "a cryptic message that 'it looks like we scored.' SAC Stames could not elaborate on this message at this time." The FBI seized so many documents from church files that it took teams of three agents working 24 hours a day for 10 straight work days to Xerox them all. The Bureau had to rent 10 additional copiers to handle the load.

The purpose of the raid? To disrupt a dirty tricks campaign the church called "Operation Snow White."

As Lawrence Wright explained in his 2013 book Going Clear — the book upon which the HBO documentary of the same name is based — the Church of Scientology has had a long, contentious history with the IRS. "Nothing in American history," he wrote, "can compare with the scale of the domestic espionage of Operation Snow White."

* * *

The seeds for Operation Snow White were sown in 1967, when the IRS revoked the Church of Scientology's tax-exempt status. The church's activities were "commercial," the ruling said, and their findings "proved conclusively that the Church was operated for the benefit of L. Ron Hubbard and his family." The church refused to recognize the decision or pay taxes. The US government didn't take kindly to that, and the IRS began monitoring the church as a "dissident group."

The church then launched Operation Snow White in 1973.

"Snow White was originally a litigation strategy to purge the government's files of all the quote/unquote 'false reports' about Scientology," said Marty Rathbun, once the No. 2 official in the Church of Scientology, who is also featured in Going Clear. "The original intent was to get all these documents legally through FOIA, but the litigation process wasn't going fast enough to satisfy Hubbard's demands. So they decide to flank the whole legal route, like, 'Let's get in there and see what the government is withholding.' Their impatience with the process trumped everything else, which is what always happens with Scientology."

Rathbun, who ran Scientology's intelligence wing known as the Office of Special Affairs, told VICE News that part of the plan involved Cold War-era cloak-and-dagger tactics. In one instance, church officials planted a bug in an IRS conference room in which a meeting to discuss litigation involving Scientology was going to take place. Scientology operatives sat outside the building in a car, transcribing what they heard taking place in the conference room.

The other part of the plan involved installing "undercover" Scientologists in jobs within the US government — including the IRS — where the moles would have access to files related to the church. One of these moles, a Scientologist named Gerald Bennett Wolfe, got a job in November 1974 as a typist at the IRS in Washington. Over the next 18 months, he stole thousands of documents that had been withheld from the church when they requested their files via FOIA requests, and sent them to Scientology headquarters in LA.

In 1976, Operation Snow White was uncovered. An FBI teletype sent on June 20 explains that Wolfe "used fraudulent identification to enter the United States Courthouse in Washington DC and Xerox unknown records contained in that Courthouse."

He was arrested by the FBI. The light sentence handed down to Bennett suggests some degree of cooperation with the government; he pled guilty to one count of "Fraudulent Use of a Government Seal," and in June 1977, he was sentenced to two years probation and 100 hours of community service. In October 1979, eleven Scientologists were convicted of charges including burglary, obstruction of justice, and theft of government property. One of them was L. Ron Hubbard's wife, Mary Sue, who was given a conditional sentence of five years and fined $10,000. She served one year.

* * *

After the Snow White fiasco, the church underwent a corporate restructuring of sorts, breaking up the central entity into many separate individual parts. Karin Pouw, the director of public affairs for Church of Scientology International, told VICE News that the criminal activity was "undertaken by individuals who were part of an autonomous rogue unit" who were "promptly dismissed."

"The term Snow White referred to the name of a program written by L. Ron Hubbard in 1972 designed to locate and expunge by legal means false reports in government files," Pouw said. "The name of the program was taken from the fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — appropriate because in the fairy tale, the plot against Snow White was carried out by secret means, and in the case of the spreading of false reports about Scientology, the governments concerned were spreading a fairy tale with no basis in fact."

The church changed the name of its intelligence-gathering arm from the Guardian's Office (GO) to the Office of Special Affairs. It also created a fearsome legal machine. Rathbun was largely responsible for this new beginning; he now likens it to Michael Corleone seeking to "legitimize" the business.

"The '2.0' on the Church's tactics after Snow White was really about ending all the infiltration, covert ops-type of activity for several years," Rathbun said. "Our brief from Hubbard was like Inspector Renault from Casablanca, the whole, 'I'm shocked there's gambling going on in this cafe,' sort of thing. So, that's when just about everything started being done through attorneys and licensed private investigators."

However, Rathbun added that after "a year or so of playing by the Marquess of Queensberry rules," an edict came down from Hubbard in the form of a memo.

"I'll always remember the exact words: 'We need to make them afraid of us again,'" Rathbun said, explaining that the church kept things "literally legal" but took them as close to the edge of legality as possible. "We were still trying to retain some sort of aggressive effect on resistance, but it was a kinder, gentler, more socially acceptable form of harassment."

Jeffrey Augustine, a one-time Scientologist who now runs the Scientology Money Project, a website devoted to investigating the church's finances, said there is a mindset within Scientology deriving from Hubbard's belief that the church should determine laws. Thus, stealing files from an IRS office isn't really a transgression.

"The church truly believed they were equal to the US government," Augustine told VICE News. "They thought they had the right to break into the IRS offices, and tried to trivialize it, like, 'Hey, we're just trying to correct the records.' It was just shocking."

* * *

Before he left the church in 2005, Jefferson Hawkins was a top official in the church's elite private navy, the Sea Org. He now describes it as "Scientology's inner, fanatical, paramilitary group." Hawkins, who created the iconic Volcano commercial for Dianetics in the 1980s, told VICE News one of the first things he learned upon joining the church was the importance of throwing the first punch.

"Hubbard used to say, 'Never defend, always attack,'" Hawkins said. "This was gospel."

A prescient FBI teletype circulated internally about a week before the LA and DC Snow White raids reminded agents of "the extreme sensitivity of this matter," adding that "nationwide publicity will possibly result from execution of above described search warrants."

Less than a month after the raids, the church filed a motion in US District Court demanding their documents back. They also filed a $7.5 million suit against the FBI and two US Attorneys alleging excessive force and civil rights violations. At the same time, they went on a PR offensive, claiming the Snow White raids went done in response to an "exposé" the church had released a few weeks prior about a drug trafficking ring allegedly being run jointly by the FBI and Interpol.

Articles excoriating the Bureau for its callousness and "gestapo-like" brutality were published in several major newspapers; agents from the LA Field Office sent a memo to FBI Director Clarence Kelley refuting the allegations.

Some things the agents felt they had to clarify to Kelley in the document, dated July 20, 1977:

No agents went into rooms occupied by unclothed occupants or burst into shower stalls where people were bathing.

No agent struck anyone over the head with a clipboard.

Agents did not chant 'We have a search warrant.' However, from the time of entry and periodically upon inquiry throughout the day, Church members were advised that the agents were on the property as a result of a federal search warrant, which was exhibited to anyone requesting to examine same.

All agents were properly attired in business dress throughout the entire period of the search even though working conditions were sometimes warm and in unventilated areas.

Since the documents seized by the FBI were part of an active investigation, officials couldn't reveal the extent of what they had discovered. Meanwhile, letters started pouring into the Oval Office.

"Dear Mr. President," read one, written in a looping cursive from a sender whose name was redacted. "I am writing to register my opinion in the incident involving the FBI's storming of the Church of Scientology offices in Washington and Los Angeles. I feel that everything in our power should be done to immediately halt this outrageous infraction of the 1st Amendment. It is the first step in the suppression of basic rights granted to individuals in this country. More importantly, I feel that if the FBI and Interpol are involved in drug trafficing [sic] then for god's sake let us thank the Church of Scientology for daring to expose it. To do anything else is to condone the FBI and Interpol's behavior."

* * *

In the fall of 1993, more than 25 years after the IRS first revoked the church's tax-exempt status, the IRS unexpectedly reconferred it.

There has never been an official explanation from the IRS, which said that the terms of the agreement constituted confidential taxpayer information. The agency rejected a FOIA request by the New York Times, and Fred Goldberg Jr., the IRS commissioner who made the decision, said privacy laws prohibited him from discussing any of it. In 1997, the Times pointed out that this stood "in stark contrast to the agency's handling of some other church organizations," noting that other high-profile tax settlements — televangelist Jimmy Swaggart's being one — came with a requirement by the IRS to disclose that they had paid all their back taxes as part of the deal.

The Times also found that the exemption "followed a series of unusual internal IRS actions that came after an extraordinary campaign orchestrated by Scientology against the agency and people who work there." Specifically, the Times alleged private investigators hired by the church dug into the private lives of IRS officials and conducted covert surveillance to "uncover potential vulnerabilities." They learned that Goldberg had instructed IRS tax analysts to "ignore the substantive issues" when reviewing the agreement.

Pouw paints a different picture: "By lawful means, the church demonstrated that it was entitled to charitable recognition by conclusively demonstrating that it met all the criteria, namely that its churches are organized and operated exclusively for charitable religious purposes," she told VICE News.

On October 8, 1993, Scientologists gathered at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena to celebrate their hard-won victory over the IRS.

"The war is over," church leader David Miscavige told the crowd. "We have brought to an end 40 years of suppression of Scientology and Scientologists. Any discrimination or biased or unfair treatment of Scientologists by the IRS is over…. Our road to infinite expansion is now wide open."

Augustine's analysis of Scientology's publicly available tax data recently showed about $1.7billion in assets. Augustine and his wife — a former high-ranking Scientologist herself — just spent $10,000 to fight off a legal challenge from the church, which alleged his wife posted copyrighted material to her YouTube account.

"The church now has to deal with a piece of art they don't know how to respond to," Augustine said. "So they're spending a lot of tax-exempt dollars to slander, defame, and attack. Tell me, how is that for the public benefit?"

Follow Justin Rohrlich on Twitter: @justinrohrlich


Mar 29, 2015

Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar receives threats from ISIS

Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar receives threats from Isis

Mind control experts monitor Twelve Tribes

Mind control experts monitor Twelve Tribes


Experts warn extreme beliefs should not warrant extreme behaviour

By Donna Carreiro, CBC News

Mar 23, 2015


Child welfare officials are not the only ones who are monitoring the actions of a controversial religious group here in Winnipeg.


One of North America's leading experts on cults and mind control is also paying close attention to the community known as the Twelve Tribes. And he doesn't like what he sees.


"One of the things that I am arguing ... is that freedom to believe does not mean freedom to behave in [a certain way]," said Steven Hassan, of both the Freedom of Mind Information Resource Centre Inc and the International Cultic Studies Association.


"And so I am calling on officials to step into this area and see clearly behaviours that are very concerning."


Hassan talked to CBC News about Twelve Tribes, which has communities throughout the world, in light of allegations that have recently surfaced about the Winnipeg group. Specifically, members are being accused of practising corporal punishment and disciplining their children with wooden sticks; as a member himself told CBC Information Radio last fall.


Officials are also investigating allegations that the Winnipeg group hosted a man convicted of possessing child pornography, and let him interact with children.


These kinds of allegations have dogged the self-described "Christian" group throughout the world; in fact, just last year German officials raided their communities and seized dozens of children from their care.


But Hassan, who's written several books about cults and mind control, say they succeed, in part, because of both their recruitment and public relations efforts.


"The appeal is that Armageddon is coming at any moment, and when Judgment Day comes, 'are you going to be with god? Or are you going to be suffering for eternity'?" Hassan said. "But there's also the love bombing feature: 'we're super friendly, we're brothers and sisters, we're living the true Christian life. '


It's an alluring ideology, he said, especially when someone's in need of direction.


"You give up everything," he said. "You give up your money, you give up your career, you give up your education ... they give you a new name and there's no stress of 'what do I do for a career?' or, 'how do I find a wife or a husband?' because one is pretty much picked for you."


Things get sour, he said, when once inside the group, members find themselves taking part in behaviours that go against their own morals and judgments — and feel the wrath of disapproval if they openly show dissent.


"And that's what my work is all about," said Hassan, who, in the past two decades, has helped ex-Twelve Tribes members and leaders transition out of the group. "(I help) people step back and re-evaluate. Is this really what you think it is? Or is this just a fantasy of what they told you to believe it is?'"


That approach also drives the advice Hassan gives to those in the general public who interact with members of the Twelve Tribes. "We think it's very important that the community adopt a very respectful, kind attitude to the members," he said.


"The last thing I recommend is for people to treat members poorly or call them names or to say that 'you're in a cult.'"


Instead, he said, urge them to reach out to former members, who now live on the outside, and have a better perspective on the inside.


"Ask them directly: 'what do you think about former members who have been speaking out about what has really been going on inside? Would you consider taking a time-out and exiting the group and ... communicating with people?'" Hassan said. "'Because there are people out there who would really like to help you.""

It's Not Easy Being Scientology

It's Not Easy Being Scientology


Since its founding in the 1950s, L. Ron Hubbard’s organization has put a premium on controlling the flow of information—an increasingly impossible enterprise in the Internet age.


The Atlantic


Last year, the BBC reported that a building owned by the Church of Scientology in northeast England was drawing the ire of local residents. The property in Gateshead—purchased in 2007 for £1.5 million—is depicted on a U.K. Scientology website as an immaculately tended estate with a wide, sloping lawn. In the center of the image, an Arthurian sword, lodged in a stone, catches the rays of the sun. “Northumbria is the area where an entire revival of the United Kingdom's spiritual and cultural fabric emanated from in the 7th Century,” reads the accompanying text, “and now, from where it will shine once again.”

The Scientology site fails to mention that the building has never been occupied since it was purchased, or that it was damaged by a 2011 fire and never repaired. But the BBC article—the first Google search result for the words “Scientology” and “Gateshead”—describes it as a derelict building filled with squatters, its empty parking lot littered with “old sofas, rubbish, and used needles.” Nearby business owners and council members describe it as an eyesore.

Scientology, the movement established by L. Ron Hubbard in the ’50s, has long been known for its efforts to manipulate information about it in the public sphere. The group carefully crafts its image through widespread publicity campaigns (including a native advertisement published on this site in 2013) while suing and attacking those who portray it unfavorably. Over the past 25 years, the Church has filed lawsuits against high-profile publications such as Time and The Washington Post, as well as ex-employees who criticize the Church publicly. Hubbard himself encouraged aggressive legal action toward people who revealed secret information about the Church. According to a 1997 New York Times article, Hubbard once told his followers, “The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than win … If possible, of course, ruin [the opponent] utterly.”

But the Church is losing control of its public image—in large part because the flow of information in the digital age is irrepressible. “It’s the Internet that has changed everything,” says Tony Ortega, the former editor of The Village Voice and founder of a website, The Underground Bunker, that’s dedicated to criticizing Scientology.

For example, in 2013, a Scientology spokesperson told the BBC that 27,000 people had attended its services in northeast England during the past decade. But those curious about the true number of members in the region can easily find the results of a 2011 census, which found only 2,418 self-identified Scientologists in England and Wales. (In contrast, 176,632 respondents identified as Jedi Knights.) The same census also found that in Northumbria, the number of Scientologists was 62.

Worldwide, too, the group’s membership claims appear to be dramatically inflated. The Church’s official media center states that Scientology has “more than 11,000 Churches, Missions, and affiliated groups across 167 nations." Karin Pouw, the group's spokesperson, says there are millions of Scientologists worldwide and that the Church has grown more in the past 10 years than in the previous 50 years combined.

But according to the new documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, directed by Alex Gibney and based on the Pulitzer-winning journalist Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name, the Church has fewer than 50,000 members. The movie, which airs on HBO March 29 and 30, is a portrait of an institution in flux, bewildered by the ubiquity of information.

“The genie’s out of the bottle,” Gibney says. “They can’t keep information bottled up, and their attempts to do so show them in the worst possible light. It’s like that moment in The Wizard of Oz where Toto pulls back the curtain and you see the wizened old man say, ‘Pay no attention!’ It’s too late. The curtain’s been pulled back."

* * *

Journalists have been reporting on the Church's practices for decades, from The St. Petersburg Times' Pulitzer-winning report in 1980 to Janet Reitman's 2006 feature for Rolling Stone, Inside Scientology.” Historically, Scientology's default crisis-management mode has involved a combination of aggressive legal action and powerful counter-narrative. In 1991, when Time published a cover story titled “Scientology: The Cult of Greed,” the Church critiqued the story in a 48-page advertising supplement in USA Today. At the same time, it sued the magazine for $416 million. By the time the suit was dismissed in 1996, Time Warner had spent an estimated $3.7 million on legal fees.

In the early days of the Internet, the organization made efforts to restrict online information about its activities and core tenets. During the mid-1990s, it went after users for posting unauthorized information on newsgroups, tracking them down through their Internet service providers and even sending police to seize their hard drives. “They had a guy prosecuted for simply joking on the Internet about sending a ‘Tom Cruise missile’ to the secret headquarters compound,” Ortega says.

But censoring content online is a different proposition now that media can reach millions of people within seconds. The 2011 census reported that 71.7 percent of American households access the Internet at home, compared with 18 percent in 1997, while the Internet services company Netcraft estimated that there were 644 million active websites online in 2012, compared with 1.1 million in 1997. Policing information on the web is increasingly difficult, to the point of being nearly impossible: By the time content is taken down, screenshots of it have frequently been shared all over the Internet.

While the Church doesn’t sue news organizations with the same enthusiasm it once did, it still tries to counter criticism as loudly as possible. In 2011, after The New Yorker published “The Apostate”—a story by Wright detailing the director Paul Haggis’ disillusionment with Scientology—the organization printed a 51-page publication titled “The New Yorker: What a Load of Balderdash,” and distributed it outside the Conde Nast headquarters. In January, the Church placed an ad in The New York Times attacking the sources in Gibney's film. But these efforts reached just a tiny fraction of the people who read Wright’s story online, or saw any of the numerous articles discussing Going Clear.

Despite its shrinking size, Scientology is undeniably powerful, with holdings estimated at several billion dollars. Wright’s book was never published in the U.K. due to strict libel laws, and HBO reportedly hired 160 lawyers during the making of the documentary.

But some of the group's most outspoken online critics are former leaders, including Mike Rinder, who was the group’s international spokesperson before he left in 2007. Rinder still maintains that Scientology “can help guide one to fundamental truths about existence, happiness and one’s true nature and identity.” But he criticizes what he calls a “culture of violence and abuse” encouraged by the organization’s current leader, David Miscavige. Rinder recently posted a threatening email he’d received through his personal blog:

what DOES LRH think? Would he side with you if he was here? Reinstate you? No, Rinder. He’d cut your fuckin balls off and hang them from a tree. Something I would LOVE to do. And I mean, actually do. Unfortunately, its illegal in this country. Shut the fuck up Rinder. Shut up you fucking SP. Just shut your fucking mouth. You are being watched, 24-7. TWENTY FOUR SEVEN RINDER. TWENTY FOUR SEVEN.

When asked to respond to Rinder's accusation, Pouw, the Church's spokesperson, wrote in an email, "Mike Rinder has been making false, over-the-top claims about the Church since he left in disgrace eight years ago. We are confident he made this claim up from whole cloth, as he has countless others. And to be clear, the Church had nothing to do with any threatening message."

Pouw was equally dismissive of the claims of another high-profile former leader, Marty Rathbun—a lieutenant of Miscavige’s who has been credited with getting the group its tax-exempt IRS status in 1993. Like Rinder, Rathbun runs a website devoted to criticizing Scientology. Last year, his wife, Monique Rathbun, sued Miscavige and other Church leaders for harassment. The suit cited “numerous aggressive attempts to intimidate” Monique and stated that she had been “harassed, insulted, surveilled, photographed, videotaped, defamed, and humiliated.”

Tactics like these are heavily featured in Going Clear, which alleges that the Church exploits and abuses its members. Among other things, the film claims that one member was punished by being forced to clean a bathroom floor with his tongue, and that another, the actress Nazanin Boniadi, was made to clean toilets with a toothbrush after she displeased her former boyfriend Tom Cruise.

The organization denies the movie's allegations. During recent weeks, Scientology representatives have emailed critics who’ve written positive reviews of the film to state that it’s filled with “bald-faced lies,” and to chastise them for not reaching out to the Church for comment. The Church has also paid for sponsored tweets alleging that Gibney is “HBO’s resident propagandist,” that Rathbun "beat 'best buddy' Rinder to pulp," and that Rinder (who, like Rathbun, appears onscreen) “‘vice-gripped’ his wife of 36 years during assault” and “tore chunks of flesh” from her arm. The tweets link to the website for Freedom magazine, a Scientology publication—specifically, a special report about Going Clear that alleges the film glorifies “bitter, vengeful apostates expelled as long as thirty years ago from the Church.”

These claims—that two of its formerly high-ranking members are severely flawed individuals, and even psychopathic spousal abusers—might seem to reflect poorly on the organization itself. When Pouw was asked to comment on this, she gave an intriguing answer. "Unlike other churches, ours cleans ranks," she wrote in an email. "These individuals are a small few like the pedophile priests and we got rid of them. Our ecclesiastical justice system located their crimes and they were removed from their positions with authority." Pouw also appeared to acknowledge that Scientology expresses its displeasure with members by forcing them to do menial labor, adding, "Rathbun’s position for his final year in the Church was as a janitor in a woodworking mill."

* * *

For all its efforts to manage the media, Scientology’s leaders are strikingly reticent about speaking to the press. Leader David Miscavige, whose official title is Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center (known informally as COB), almost never speaks to the non-Scientology press, and Going Clear alleges that he’s deliberately curtailed Church higher-ups whose public profiles threatened to eclipse his. The organization’s longtime spokesman and public face, Tommy Davis (the son of the actress Anne Archer), has left that role to work for a private equity firm in Austin, Texas.

Instead, the group has overwhelmingly entrusted its public-relations work to celebrities. Wright’s book focuses in large part on the close relationship between Miscavige and Cruise, the Church’s last remaining superstar congregant. Wright quotes Marty Rathbun as saying, “Miscavige convinced Cruise that he and Tom were two of only a handful of truly ‘big beings’ on the planet. He instructed Cruise that [L. Ron Hubbard] was relying upon them to unite with the few others of their ilk on Earth to make it onto ‘Target Two’—some unspecified galactic locale where they would meet up with Hubbard in the afterlife.” Rathbun also alleges in Going Clear that he carried out orders to wiretap Cruise's then-wife Nicole Kidman’s phone in an effort to drive the couple apart. (Pouw calls this accusation "false and defamatory.")

But Cruise’s association with the Church hasn’t always been advantageous to either the actor or Scientology. In 2004, Cruise spurred widespread rebuke when he stated that he thought psychiatry should be made illegal. (Scientology is vehemently opposed to psychiatry and teaches that mental illnesses do not exist). In 2008, a widely mocked video surfaced showing Cruise praising Scientologists as “the authorities on getting people off drugs, the authorities on the mind,” with the ability to "bring peace and unite cultures.” Then, in 2013, Cruise admitted in a deposition that his wife Katie Holmes had divorced him to prevent their child from being raised as a Scientologist.

Cruise’s career has arguably survived these controversies (his most recent film,Edge of Tomorrow, grossed over $350 million worldwide), but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be able to avoid addressing Going Clear’s allegations. The film accuses the actor of benefiting personally from the labor of Sea Org employees—the Church’s most committed members, who live in communal housing on Scientology bases and work full-time for the organization. Gibney alleges that Sea Org Scientologists, who are paid less than $50 a week and punished for infractions by being confined to a set of bug-infested, double-wide trailers (sometimes for years at a time), have worked on Cruise’s cars and motorcycles and outfitted his aircraft hangar, because of his significance to the Church and his friendship with Miscavige. Wright’s book calls Cruise the second highest-ranking person in Scientology and states that Miscavige has entrusted him with special tasks—for instance, lobbying President Bill Clinton to ask former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to reconsider the Church’s tax status in the U.K.

Fellow actor and Scientologist John Travolta has already been damaged by his association with the Church, particularly following the box-office catastrophe Battlefield Earth, which was based on a 1982 novel by Hubbard. And Gibney’s movie makes the case that Travolta has known about abuses in the organization for many years. Travolta’s former Scientology liaison, Yvonne “Spanky” Taylor, describes on-camera how, after she fell out of favor with the Church, she was forced to do physical labor while pregnant, and her child was taken from her before she managed to escape with the baby. The movie alleges that Travolta knew about the way his friend was being treated. “He had the opportunity to affect the behavior of the Church, and he decided not to,” says Wright in the film. (When asked about Taylor's claims, Pouw responded, "The child was well taken care of. In addition, it should be noted ... that Taylor remained an active Scientologist for six years after her alleged 'escape.'")

In recent years, Cruise and Travolta have been less outspoken about their affiliation with Scientology. “You haven’t heard a lot from Tom Cruise or John Travolta extolling the virtues of the Church,” says Gibney. But he believes the actors should be publicly addressing the allegations against the group. “People are entitled to believe what they want to believe,” he says, “but when they’re the poster children for an organization that has a documented history of abuse, people should be asking them questions.”

Beyond Cruise and Travolta, Scientology’s celebrity advocates are mostly limited to Kirstie Alley, who had a high-profile feud with the actress Leah Remini after Remini left the Church in 2013; the Fox News host Greta van Susteren; the actress Laura Prepon (Orange is the New Black); and the musician Beck, who, like the Mad Men actress Elisabeth Moss, was raised as a Scientologist from childhood. According to Wright, Miscavige has pushed Cruise to “recruit famous people,” including David and Victoria Beckham, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Steven Spielberg, but these attempts failed, and other efforts to enlist new celebrity advocates for the Church have largely been unsuccessful.

Without credible high-profile spokespeople, Scientology has mostly been limited to doing damage control. Its efforts to wrestle back control of the narrative remain strong, but its ability to fight on a million different fronts—responding to accusations of everything from extortion to human trafficking—is clearly limited, while the voices making the accusations are growing louder. Whether or not the Church’s members demand institutional reform will depend largely on how much longer the Church can prevent them from being influenced by negative publicity, and to what extent Cruise and Travolta can continue to decline to answer questions about the more egregious allegations leveled at the organization.

Many of Scientology’s critics believe the Church is inevitably doomed on both counts. “They can’t stop the flow of information, and it’s destroying them,” says Ortega. “Scientology only worked when it could use secrecy to keep people controlled. That doesn’t work anymore.”

Pouw denies that Scientology is struggling to maintain control in the information age. "Like everyone else, Scientologists use the Internet," said Pouw. "We don’t advise Scientologists on what to read and what not to read online because we believe in free speech and expression. That said, we believe it is more than obvious to anyone reviewing the stale rants and lies churned out by Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder and their tiny failed Texas cult that they are all obsessed zealots with no credibility."

The group's takedowns of people involved with the film don’t seem likely to sway curious moviegoers. But that might not be the point. “Those attacks really aren’t meant for people in the outside world,” says Gibney. “They’re meant for the current adherents of the Church.” As Gibney sees it, “Scientology is trying to put a kind of mask over its membership so they don’t ever see the real stuff. But what they’re finding, and one of the reasons for the declining membership of the church, is the Internet. The Internet has made information so available, and while it’s the vehicle for a lot of hate speech and viciousness, it’s also the vehicle for a tremendous amount of information that’s so easy to get. If you want to find critical stories about Scientology, it’s one click away.”