Feb 22, 2024

'There's a war going on': L.A. anti-Scientology protests bring arrests, attack allegations

Los Angeles Times
February 21, 2024

Until about a year ago, William Gude had no issues with the Church of Scientology.

The self-proclaimed cop watcher and activist better known by his social media handle @FilmThePoliceLA did not understand why the L.A.-based religion started by L. Ron Hubbard got so much flak.

That was until Gude tried to record video of police making an arrest outside one of Scientology’s buildings last year. Gude alleges he was harassed by Scientology security guards who told him he could not shoot video on the public sidewalk. Although the allegation pales in comparison with others against the church, it set Gude off.

“I told them, ‘I’m going to end your religion,’” Gude said in an interview.

Now, Gude and his gaggle of anti-Scientology protesters are brawling publicly with the organization. They’ve demonstrated outside its major facilities as well as those of businesses perceived to be cozy with Scientology. Sometimes a hundred or more people show up at the protests, Gude said. They say the church has tried to stop them — called the police on them and sent people out to harass them.

The tactics of the protesters can be aggravating to their targets: They approach Scientology properties and yell at and record people, though they do so on public property, which is legal.

“There is a war going on,” Gude said.


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Gude’s group is just the latest of many to protest against the church, which has been dogged by controversy for decades, and his complaints will sound familiar to former members and other critics who’ve tangled with it publicly.

The church disputes everything Gude and his group say, and alleges the “hate group” is not made up of protesters but agitators and bigoted harassers of religious people.

“Scientologists have been harassed and attacked. The Church and Scientologists have dealt with these religious hate-crimes in accordance with the law. We have filed police reports and have alerted the appropriate federal authorities to these threats and hate crimes,” Karin Pouw, the religion’s spokesperson, said in an email.

Pouw also said the group has called in bomb and fire threats, “costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money, denying important public services for real needs in our community, disturbing the peace and disturbing places of worship.”

“Why is anti-religious discrimination and hate with the stated goal of closing churches and causing harm to parishioners new and old alike tolerable? Not even the Los Angeles Times would consider these actions acceptable if aimed at a synagogue or a mosque,” she said.

The battle most recently culminated in the arrest Friday of three anti-Scientology protesters outside La Poubelle, a cafe and bar on Franklin Avenue across from the Scientology Celebrity Centre, after they clashed with people who were not even Scientologists.

Protesters had targeted the watering hole because its owner, Francoise Koster, penned a letter to a judge in support of actor and Scientologist Danny Masterson after his conviction on multiple counts of rape.


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The letter was especially galling to anti-Scientology activists because one of Masterson’s victims alleged that she lost consciousness after Masterson gave her a drink at La Poubelle. She regained consciousness the next morning in pain and Masterson told her they had had sex, according to her testimony at trial. Koster did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Protesters gathered outside La Poubelle on Friday, telling potential patrons not to go into the bar and suggesting that people’s drinks might be spiked with drugs.

Details from the Los Angeles Police Department about the three arrests Feb. 16 are scarce and shrouded in bureaucratic cop-speak.

Police said that two people came to the Hollywood station around 10:30 p.m. and reported a battery to officers. Police followed up on the report to the 5900 block of Franklin Avenue, which is where La Poubelle is located.

There, officers arrested two suspects, a police news release said.

But while they were making those arrests, police were alerted to “a second physical altercation at the location” and made a third arrest of another battery suspect.

The three people arrested — Daniel Villeda Gonzalez, Kamrin Ivone and Scott Hochstetter — were booked on suspicion of conspiracy and suspicion of unlawfully using tear gas.


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For the record:

12:10 p.m. Feb. 21, 2024An earlier version of this article said that, according to other protesters, Daniel Villeda Gonzalez used tear gas. The protesters said he used pepper spray, not tear gas.

But other protesters said that only one of the three, Gonzalez, used a spray, which they say was pepper spray, not tear gas. Gonzalez could not immediately be reached for comment. It was not clear whether he remained in police custody as of Tuesday.

One of the others, Ivone, said he was shoved by a man outside the restaurant and has no idea why he was arrested.

“I don’t raise my voice at anybody. I’m the most peaceful protester. I don’t assault anybody,” Ivone said in an interview with The Times. “I honestly don’t know why I was arrested. My head was spinning. Why am I being arrested when I didn’t put my hands on anybody?”

Video recorded at the scene shows a patron of La Poubelle slapping Ivone’s phone out of his hand after Ivone referred to the man as “Motley Crue.” Ivone said the man then pushed his chest and pinned him against a car before security guards separated the two.

Video later shows some of the protesters yelling at police, referring to them as “dirty” and using profanity against them.

Ivone says he did not assault anybody and did not have tear gas on him. All police found in his pockets was chapstick, a vape pen and AirPods, he said.

Hochstetter could not immediately be reached for comment. Public records show he is in LAPD custody.

The LAPD did not respond to a request for additional information on the three arrests.

The situation at La Poubelle is the latest in the simmering Hollywood feud. Gude alleges that protesters have been attacked since they started showing up at Scientology’s Hollywood information center in September.

Chris Nava said he was assaulted on Feb. 4 after protesting in Hollywood outside Scientology’s blue building on Fountain Avenue. A man followed him to his car and beat him up, leaving him hospitalized and requiring stitches to the back of his head. He also lost a tooth. The man took his phone, Nava said. He reported the incident to police, but no arrests have been made.


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Besides Nava, protesters said they have had their tires slashed while protesting; others allege they have been attacked by a man with a dog, and still others say they were spat on, had snot thrown on them or even had knives pulled on them. None of the attacks have been directly tied to the church, though protesters hold it responsible.

“Scientology has been sending people out to physically intimidate the protesters,” said Aaron Smith-Levin, a Florida-based former Scientologist who has attended some of the recent protests in Los Angeles.

Smith-Levin said he and Patrick Perry, 52, were both detained by police on Jan. 19. He alleges Perry attacked him. Arrest records show Perry was booked on suspicion of battery, but the department did not provide further details. The LAPD declined to arrest Smith-Levin.

“After much consideration, only one individual was arrested for battery,” the LAPD said in a statement at the time. “The individual arrested has no known association with the Church of Scientology.”

Perry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Pouw, the Scientology spokesperson, did not respond to a question about claims of retaliation against protesters.

“It’s a constant thing,” said Gude, who said that he instructs protesters to turn the other cheek. “We’ve preached, ‘Guys you just have to take it.’ This is not about me. It’s about us, the movement.”

Noah Goldberg covers breaking news for the Los Angeles Times. He worked previously in New York City as the Brooklyn courts reporter for the New York Daily News, covering major criminal trials as well as working on enterprise stories. Before that, he was the criminal justice reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle.


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