Saturday, March 04, 2006

Scientology sampler

That's a picture of me on September 9, 1995 in front of the Church of Scientology in Mesa, Arizona, picketing about the "Cancel poodle" (better known as the "Cancel Bunny"). This was about two years into Scientology's war on the Internet, which, despite a few Pyrrhic victories in court, was characterized by huge losses on the part of Scientology in the court of public opinion.

Shortly after this, Jeff Jacobsen and I published an article on the subject in Skeptic magazine, titled "Scientology v. the Internet," for which I received the Skeptics Society's Martin Gardner award for "Best Skeptical Critic" in 1996. This article was one of the few published that went into detail about the Tom Klemesrud/"Miss Blood" affair and its relation to why Scientology was so insistent to compromise the anonymity of a user of Julf Helsingius' Penet anonymizing remailer service in Finland. Some of these facts which are still not widely known, as seen by the Wikipedia entry on Penet. Scientology's search for the user seemed to have stopped at Caltech, but they did find that the account holder was a Caltech alumnus who had been working for Scientology, and had accurately leaked Scientology internal documents in his own attempt to support Scientology's position on the Klemesrud case.

This article was responded to in the pages of Skeptic by Leisa Goodman, which the Skeptics Society decided was a good place to stop the discussion. My response to Goodman, available only on my website, updates the story to early 1996. This article is much less known than the original. Skeptic also published a letter from Linda Woolard.

In May 1995, I put up a web page about Scientology's private investigators. Initially this was to document photos of private investigators which Scientology had hired and sent from Los Angeles to Phoenix to take photographs of those of us who were picketing the Mesa Church of Scientology. It later was expanded to document some of the activities of former LAPD officer Eugene Ingram, who was a very active and sleazy PI for Scientology at the time. He was kicked off the force after allegations of his involvement with drug dealers and a prostitution ring, and was compensated very well by Scientology to intimidate critics. Jeff Jacobsen dug up some outstanding warrants for his arrest in Florida and Oklahoma (for impersonating a police officer and carrying a concealed weapon, respectively) which led to his Arizona PI license not being renewed. He doesn't seem to have been active in recent years. I then added some photos of some California PIs who were hired to follow a German TV producer who was doing a program critical of Scientology.

In 1999, I received two Digital Millenium Copyright Act notices from Scientology--one was regarding a customer of Frontier GlobalCenter, the company I worked for at the time, and the other was regarding my own website. The first was a website run by "xenubat" (Susan Mullaney) which contained some great audio file samples of L. Ron Hubbard speeches, saying absurd things. Under the DMCA we disabled public access to those files, but she filed a counter-notice, and we re-enabled access. I don't believe Scientology ever sued her, but I don't think the files are still online. This event led to a story about DMCA abuse in Salon in July 1999. My own DMCA notice was regarding the fact that I had configured my home web server to proxy an image of Scientology head David Miscavige from their website, as a proof of concept to demonstrate that their attempts to prevent people from inline links to that image were ineffective. I submitted my own counter-notice, but because I didn't really want to be sued, I modified my web server configuration so that the link pointed to part of the text of Scientology's OT III (Operating Thetan III) document in Hubbard's own handwriting (hosted on Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Dave Touretzky's web page).

In those days I gave quite a few public talks about Scientology, including one for the Phoenix Skeptics which the local Church of Scientology kindly provided an OT VIII to give a mild rebuttal. (I don't remember his last name, but his first name was also Jim and he was a Scientology "public" member, meaning one who has paid his way through the courses without actually working for a Scientology organization. He seemed like a nice guy, he remained calm and non-confrontational.)

I never really received any noticeable harassment from Scientology, unlike other locals such as Jeff Jacobsen and Bruce Pettycrew. Jeff was harassed and picketed at his work place claiming he was a pornographer, Gene Ingram showed up at his house and his sister's house, PIs went through his garbage, he was deposed by Kendrick Moxon in one of the Scientology lawsuits, and was loudly threatened at that deposition that he would also be sued (which I was privileged to witness). Bruce had a temporary restraining order filed against him by Scientology Office of Special Affairs (OSA) Director Leslie Francis Duhrman, who falsely claimed that he was shouting and "disrupting church services." The judge was fooled by her testimony into thinking that Scientology actually has Sunday services, but the TRO on Bruce's picketing was lifted except for a restriction on making noise. Bruce also ended up having flyers attacking him distributed in his neighborhood by Scientology.

For my part, I was invited to lunch in March 1996 with OSA Director Ginny Leason (Scientology paid), where I was asked what could be done to stop my criticism and picketing. My response was that they could stop attacking and lying about Internet critics. Ginny Leason, who seemed like a nice woman caught up in a bad organization, ended up being replaced as OSA Director shortly thereafter by Leslie Duhrman, who was a nasty piece of work.

Here's a photo of her on February 28, 1998, pointing and shouting at me that I can't stop in the driveway (I didn't), right after taking my picture.

Another Scientology-related piece I wrote was a very brief web page pointing out the presence of a Scientologist on Libertarian candidate for president Harry Browne's finance committee, as well as L. Ron Hubbard-inspired nonsense being touted in Liberty magazine by another Browne election campaigner and prominent libertarian, investment newsletter publisher Douglas Casey (apparently a Scientologist himself).

The only continuing interest from Scientology that I've seen in me is that they still visit my website periodically from Scientology-owned IP blocks (most recently from 205.227.165.11 on January 1, 2006). On May 14, 2005, they hit my page after doing a search on "The Onion Scientology"--no doubt they were looking for this story on "Scientology Losing Ground to New Fictionology."

I was never a member of Scientology, but I've had an interest in the subject since reading Eugene Methvin's October 1981 Reader's Digest article, and after taking their test in Los Angeles and reading Norman Spinrad's "The Mind Game" in 1992. During my editorship of the Arizona Skeptic (July 1991-March 1993) I published several articles by Jeff Jacobsen on Scientology. I took notice when the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup was first created in 1991 (and was a home for the "Free Zone"), and then started reading and participating regularly in 1994 when Dennis Erlich started posting there and Scientology decided to respond by trying to remove the entire newsgroup.

For more information on Scientology, a great place to start is Operation Clambake. I've got a fairly extensive list of Scientology-related links on my Skeptical Information site, and the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup is still quite active.

Got questions or comments about Scientology? Ask here, and I'll answer or point you in the right direction...

4 comments:

kojak said...

That's awsome.

Check out my blog. I've just recently published an article on Scientology, which is both entertaining and factual. I think you'll find it a good read. Don't forget to leave a comment if you want.

Einzige said...

"Lebatron" even sounds like a spam-bot--but one that's cool enough that you can't bring yourself to hate him.

Jim Lippard said...

His blog bio quotes from "Fight Club," and the content of the blog looks entertaining.

Jim Lippard said...

The "Stupidity ought to be painful" subtitle on his Scientology piece comes from a statement by Anton LaVey... great quote.