The New Yorker on Scientology

Today’s issue of The New Yorker includes an extensive article by Lawrence Wright about the Church of Scientology, focusing on the recent defection of one of the organization’s most prominent celebrities, movie director Paul Haggis.

Those who have become disaffected by the behavior of this cult are placing high hopes on this exposé, especially alongside news that the FBI has been investigating the organization over the past year.

I spent some time investigating the concerns of ex-members of Scientology when I was living in Los Angeles, especially in 2008 when the group Anonymous began holding protests outside the church’s headquarters. I attended one of the protests and did some amateur reporting / podcasting of the event.

My previous blog posts and podcast on Scientology are available here.

I imagine the current story is set to coincide with the birthday of Lisa McPherson (February 10), as those who have left the organization want to draw attention to her death as one illustration  of what is wrong with the conduct of this quasi-religion.

Please keep all of those affected by this cult in your prayers. In particular, if you wish to join me in praying for Tom Cruise, consider joining the Facebook group I set up a few years back for this purpose.

Anonymous holds a successful, peaceful demonstration

I attended the Los Angeles protest organized by Anonymous today in Hollywood. It was a peaceful demonstration of several hundred people. No official spokesperson from the Church of Scientology appeared. Only one person on site self-identified as a current Scientologist, a bass player by the name of Billy Sheehan, who used to play for David Lee Roth after Van Halen broke up. Mark Bunker of XenuTV was interviewing him when I arrived, and I spoke with Billy a couple of times later during the day. As it turns out, Billy grew up Catholic out in Buffalo, NY, so I had a chance to ask him about what drew him to Scientology, what he thought of the Catholic Church, etc. Other highlights that I captured in audio were:

  • Ken and Grace Aaron, former members of Scientology and founders of The Committee on Religious Shunning, as they were being interviewed by E! News about the church’s policy of “disconnection” which has left them without contact with their son Zachary for almost eight years
  • conversations with a few members of Anonymous about their creed — “We will not forgive; We will not forget”
  • a conversation with Tommy Gorman, who grew up in the Church of Scientology and who volunteered in the office of special affairs in Mountain View, about his experiences and how he and his family managed to escape the cult, after his 16-year-old girlfriend was raped by a member of the church.

All of this audio has been edited together and is available here if you want to listen online, or here if you want to subscribe to my podcast in iTunes.

LA Times coverage on their blog here. Other people on site who covered the event were staff from the E! network, as well as a guy named JungleBoy who posted his video on LiveVideo.com.

UPDATE: The Church of Scientology released this statement to organizations in the mainstream press:

‘Anonymous’ is perpetrating religious hate crimes against Churches of Scientology and individual Scientologists for no reason other than religious bigotry.

And Anonymous has responded with a new message:

Ladies and gentlemen of the public and the press,

Today, working in concert with concerned citizens from all over the world, Anonymous has staged a large number of simultaneous public demonstrations at Church of Scientology centers around the globe. Now that we have made evident the sincerity of our intentions and the strength of our dedication, we would like to take this opportunity to clarify our objectives to the press and to the public. There have been a number of myths and misconceptions surrounding the nature of our means and intentions. Among these is the idea that our declaration of war is to be interpreted as a threat of physical harm against individuals affiliated with the Church of Scientology.

Allegations that Anonymous wishes to physically harm any human being as a part of our campaign against the cult of Scientology are patently untrue. As stated in one of our productions, the intention of Anonymous is to ‘systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form’. Our struggle is directed against the toxic ideals and behavior of the corrupt, violent, and abusive leadership of the Church of Scientology, not against the lives of those who have become entangled with it. Know this: though we oppose all that they stand for, even the highest officers of this cult will not be harmed physically by Anonymous. Our battle is one of ideas. As we speak, it is being fought and won in the hearts and minds of the worlds honest citizenry and their leaders. The ideological nature of our struggle brings us to another common misconception regarding the objectives of Anonymous in this campaign.

Although many of us are put off by L. Ron Hubbard’s religious doctrine, we do not oppose the right of individuals to follow beliefs of their choice. As set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. Anonymous, as a whole, honors the spirit of this declaration. We fight against the atrocities – not the beliefs – of the brainwashing cult known as the Church of Scientology. The acts of defamation, intimidation and murder perpetrated by this criminal organization galvanize our resolve to fight against it. Our righteous indignation is directed against the hypocrisy of this institution, not against the faith of its members. As an illustrative example of our stance, we would like to draw your attention toward a group of individuals who practice L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings, but have disaffiliated themselves from the Church of Scientology. They are known as the Freezone. Anonymous bears no animosity toward an organization such as this one.

Many of you may wonder how Anonymous plans on launching into the task of dissolving the Church of Scientology. As a fundamentalist, totalitarian organization that seeks control of information and manipulation through fear, the Church of Scientology possesses inherent flaws. Anonymous is studying these flaws, and has made them the basis of a long-term strategy.

Our first major objective is the revocation of this cult’s tax-exempt status wherever it has managed to obtain one. Indeed, the privileges awarded to the Church of Scientology under US law are significantly more generous than those enjoyed by major religions. As set out by the appellants in Sklar v. Commissioner, training offered through the Church of Scientology is tax deductible, while that obtained through legitimate religious institutions is not. The status of the Church of Scientology as a tax exempt religion is an affront to honest religious organizations. However, its special status with the US IRS which places it above and beyond other religions is not merely an affront, but a slap in the face.

Other objectives set out by Anonymous at the present time include – but are not limited to – exposing the criminal practices of the Church to public scrutiny, neutralization of its fraudulently obtained assets and corresponding operations, the liberation of members coerced and blackmailed to work for the Church in illegitimate ways, declaration of the Church and its shell corporations as prohibited criminal organizations and the criminal prosecution of the persons responsible for particularly heinous acts performed in the name of this Church.

Throughout our struggle, we maintain the following thesis: that the Church of Scientology was founded for purposes incompatible with a society holding dear a respect for human rights and the rule of law. These nefarious purposes can only be achieved through criminal enterprise, and remain objectives of the Church to this day. We further maintain that this criminal enterprise is operated by its leaders knowingly and willingly, and that the true extent and tone of the Church’s activity is outrageous and sickening. These statements are not contrived, but based on conclusions derived from extensive study of Church history. Our sources include its own documents, the testimonies of its victims, the words of those who have escaped it and educational materials that the Church would keep secret for fear of exposure. We therefore consider the Church of Scientology a despicable criminal organization which, through the indoctrination of its members, predation upon those in need, the dissemination of lies regarding its nature, by way of sadistic retaliatory practices against its critics and through its cynical abuse of civil liberties has forfeit any right it had to exist.

On several occasions, figures within the media have casually dismissed Anonymous as nothing more than a gaggle of restless youth. We remain entirely undeterred by their remarks. Virtually all age groups, creeds and professions are represented within our ranks. Many who are not affiliated with Anonymous have expressed support for our campaign. Their words serve to further underscore the broad demographic base of our initiative. If you remain doubtful of our strength and resolve, we invite you to observe them for yourselves.

Actions speak louder than words. In the name of those who have been silenced by the criminal organization that is the Church of Scientology, Anonymous will be heard. Our cause is just. We shall prevail.

We are Anonymous.
We have Awoken.
We stand as One.

today’s protests against Scientology

Today (February 10, 2008) has been marked as a day for international protest against the Church of Scientology. For background on this event, you can read the information/watch the videos here.

Logistics of today’s event in Los Angeles are posted here.

I have no idea what this will look like, or how large it will be. There may be some traffic delays in the Hollywood area. Let’s at least pray for a peaceful protest, and for all those trapped in the cult of Scientology.

internet vigilantes in war against Scientology

As you’ve probably heard by now, in the wake of the Tom Cruise Scientology video leaked on the internet, a group of cybergeeks have launched all-out war on the Church of Scientology this week. Under the name of “Anonymous”, they have posted a YouTube video with their mission statement:

Hello, Scientology. We are Anonymous.

Over the years, we have been watching you. Your campaigns of misinformation; suppression of dissent; your litigious nature, all of these things have caught our eye. With the leakage of your latest propaganda video into mainstream circulation, the extent of your malign influence over those who trust you, who call you leader, has been made clear to us. Anonymous has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed. For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind–for the laughs–we shall expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form. We acknowledge you as a serious opponent, and we are prepared for a long, long campaign. You will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic. Your methods, hypocrisy, and the artlessness of your organization have sounded its death knell.

You cannot hide; we are everywhere.

We cannot die; we are forever. We’re getting bigger every day–and solely by the force of our ideas, malicious and hostile as they often are. If you want another name for your opponent, then call us Legion, for we are many.

Yet for all that we are not as monstrous as you are; still our methods are a parallel to your own. Doubtless you will use the Anon’s actions as an example of the persecution you have so long warned your followers would come; this is acceptable. In fact, it is encouraged. We are your SPs.

Gradually as we merge our pulse with that of your “Church”, the suppression of your followers will become increasingly difficult to maintain. Believers will wake, and see that salvation has no price. They will know that the stress, the frustration that they feel is not something that may be blamed upon Anonymous. No–they will see that it stems from a source far closer to each. Yes, we are SPs. But the sum of suppression we could ever muster is eclipsed by that of the RTC.

Knowledge is free. We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. WE DO NOT FORGET. Expect us.

To which the Church of Scientology responded as follows:

As the Church previously announced, the pirated and edited excerpts of Mr. Cruise were contained in an official Church event in 2004, an event attended by 5,000 Scientologists and their guests and further available for viewing in any Church of Scientology world over. Having presented these selective and out-of-context excerpts with the intent of creating both controversy and ridicule, nevertheless resulted in people searching for and visiting Church of Scientology Web sites as evidenced by “most searched for” lists of various search engines. Those wishing to find out the Church of Scientology’s views and to gain context of the video have the right to search official Church Web sites if they so desire.

And the Anonymous group posted a second YouTube video on Sunday in reply:

It has come to the attention of Anonymous that there are a number of you out there who do not clearly understand what we are or why we have undertaken our present course of action. Contrary to the assumptions of the media, Anonymous is not “a group of super hackers”. Anonymous is a collective of individuals united by an awareness that someone must do the right thing, that someone must bring light to the darkness, that someone must open the eyes of a public that has slumbered for far too long. Among our numbers you will find individuals from all walks of life – lawyers, parents, IT professionals, members of law enforcement, college students, veterinary technicians and more. Anonymous is everyone and everywhere. We have no leaders, no single entity directing us – only the collective outrage of individuals, guiding our hand in the current efforts to bring awareness.We want you to be aware of the very real dangers of Scientology. We want you to know about the gross human rights violations committed by this cult. We want you to know about Lisa McPhearson. We want you to know about former members of Scientology’s private navy, SeaOrg, who were forced to have abortions so that they could continue in service to the church. We want you to know about Scientology’s use of child labor and their gulags. We want you to know about Operation Freakout and Paulette Cooper. We want you to know about Operation Snow White and Scientology’s efforts to infiltrate the government of the United States of America.We want you to know about all of these things that have been swept under the rug for far too long. The information is out there. It is yours for the taking. Arm yourself with knowledge. Be very wary of the 10th of February. Anonymous invites you to join us in an act of solidarity. Anonymous invites you to take up the banner of free speech, of human rights, of family and freedom. Join us in protest outside of Scientology centers world wide.

We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. We will be heard. Expect us.

In a separate e-mail to CNET, Anonymous said it is planning action on February 10 in the following cities, although the message did not elaborate on any specific details.

New York
Boston
Montreal
Houston
London
Dublin
Melbourne
LA
North Cali
South Cali
Sydney
Toronto
Orlando

UPDATE 1/29/08: A complete description of the February 10 gatherings may be found on the Project Chanology site; the event description is divided into the following sections:
1 CALLING THE DISAFFECTED MASSES
2 Lulz and Motivation
3 Locations And Times
4 Planning and Execution
4.1 Demands
4.2 PR & Media
4.3 Recruitment
4.4 Planning
4.5 Preparation
4.6 Assembly
4.6.1 CHECKLIST

Among other things, we learn the reason for the February 10 date:

February 10 marks Lisa McPherson’s birthday, so she is an ideal symbol of CoS abuses while remaining neutral about the faith itself.

UPDATE (1/29/08): Just discovered that the resistance movement has an Obi-Won-Kenobi figure — Mark Bunker from Xenu TV — who has been researching/documenting Scientology for years and has been posting YouTube videos this week like there’s no tomorrow. Mark cautions Anonymous about their methodology. I think he makes some good points. If you’re going to confront demonic powers, you can’t use demonic tactics to do so, unless you’re interested in lending the demons your support…

UPDATE (2/3/08): Anonymous has posted a third video, detailing the rules for the February 10 demonstrations.

Rule #0: Rules #1 and #2 of the internet still apply. Your memes are not, at this juncture, something that the real world can appreciate. Although meme speak between fellow Anonymous is acceptable, focus on the target and keep it to a minimum.

Rule #1: Stay cool.

Rule #2: Stay cool, especially when harassed. You are an ambassador of Anonymous. Although individuals trying to disrupt your demonstration will get on your nerves, you must not lose your temper. Doing so will harm the protest and tarnish the reputation of Anonymous.

Rule #3: Comply with the orders of law enforcement officers above all else. Doing otherwise is harmful to the demonstration as a whole and may compromise your performance as a human being. Do not request badge numbers unless you are being treated in a very abusive manner, as doing so will anger officers.

Rule #4: Notify city officials. Most jurisdictions either have rules about public protests, or would prefer to be notified that they are taking place. Know the rules for your jurisdiction and abide by them.

Rule #5: Always be across the street from the object being protested.

Rule #6: In the absence of a road, find another natural barrier between yourself and the target of protest. Doing so will make it more difficult for individuals hostile to your cause to come and harass you.

Rule #7: Stay on public property. You may be charged for trespassing if you do not.

Rule #8: No violence.

Rule #9: No weapons. The demonstration is a peaceful event. Your weapons. You will not need them.

Rule #10: No alcohol or pre-drinking. Violating this rule may easily precipitate a violation of rules 1 and 2.

Rule #11: No graffiti, destruction, or vandalism.

Rule #12: If you want to do something stupid, pick another day. These should be self explanatory. Violation of these rules during a demonstration will tarnish the reputation of Anonymous, harm the demonstration itself and leave you vulnerable to attention from law enforcement.

Rule #13: Anonymous is legion. Never be alone. Isolation during a protest marks you as a target for handlers who wish to provoke an angry reaction from you and other hostiles. In keeping with this principle…

Rule #14: Organize in squads of 10 to 15 people.

Rule #15: One or two megaphones per squad. A megaphone is helpful for maintaining the overall cohesion of a demonstration and spreading your message. However, too many will confuse the public and render you hearing impaired.

Rule #16: Know the dress code. Forming a loose yet reasonable dress code for protest members will help to maintain cohesion and get the public to take you seriously.

Rule #17: Cover your face. This will prevent your identification from videos taken by hostiles, other protesters or security. Use scarves, hats and sunglasses. Masks are not necessary, and donning them in the context of a public demonstration is forbidden in some jurisdictions.

Rule #18: Bring water. A dehydrated, thirsty Anonymous is not a useful Anonymous.

Rule #19: Wear good shoes. Following these rules will assure your comfort during the demonstration. Keep in mind that demonstrations may often be quite lengthy.

Rule #20: Signs, fliers, and phrases. Have yours ready. Make sure that signs are large enough to read. Also ensure that the text on your signs and your phrases are pertinent to the target of the protest.

Rule #21: Prepare legible, uncomplicated and accurate flyers to hand out to those who wish to know more regarding the motivations behind your actions.

Rule #22: Document the demonstration. Videos and pictures of the event may be used to corroborate your side of the story if law enforcement get involved. Furthermore, posting images and videos of your heroic actions all over the internet is bound to generate win, exhorting other Anonymous to follow your glorious example.

Finally, I’m still inviting people to join the Facebook group to pray for Tom Cruise… — maybe you could take it up as a positive Lenten discipline, if God so inclines your heart.