For more information about Scientology, please see The Lippard Blog and the sequel to this article, "Scientology v. the Internet: An Update and Response to Leisa Goodman."
From Skeptic vol. 3, no. 3, 1995, pp. 35-41.
The following article is copyright © 1995 by Jim Lippard and Jeff Jacobsen. Permission has been granted for noncommercial electronic circulation of this article in its entirety, including this notice. Subscribe to Skeptic. For more information, contact Jim Lippard (lippard-web at discord.org).
The Internet, a global network of interlinked computers, has given individuals the power to obtain information on virtually any subject from all over the world. It has also put into their hands the ability to communicate any message, almost instantly and at extremely low cost, to a potential audience of millions. Further, the technology exists and is used today to allow these communications to be anonymous or private and readable only by the intended recipients. The possible consequences of the technology of computer networking that worry many people. Anonymous and private communication can be used by terrorists, drug smugglers, and child pornographers, which the U.S. government offers as argument in attempting to justify restrictions on the use and export of encryption technology. Businesses that exist by controlling the distribution of music, film, and books rightly fear obsolescence as individuals are able to transmit these works to each other directly in digital form. Many organizations may rightly fear having their innermost secrets broadcast over the Internet.
Falling into the last category is the Church of Scientology (COS),
which has seen texts of secret Scientology teachings, affidavits and
declarations from court cases, and even entire books by Scientology
critics, made publicly (and anonymously) available on both the
Internet and the Usenet, a collection of thousands of public
discussion forums known as newsgroups. Rather than answering the
criticism, Scientologists have responded in their standard manner-by
attacking their critics with confrontation and litigation. This
article is a summary of recent events in what began as the battle
between Scientology and its critics and, because of these tactics, is
now the battle between Scientology and the Internet.
The alt.religion.scientology Newsgroup
The main forum for discussion of Scientology on the Internet is a
Usenet newsgroup known as alt.religion.scientology (a.r.s). This
newsgroup was created on July 17, 1991, with a forged "newgroup"
message from the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory posted under
the name of "David Miscaviage" (the misspelled name of the head of the
COS). In early 1992, three additional (non-forged) newgroup messages
for the group were posted from the Lockheed Corporation, New York
University, and the University of Maine in an attempt to increase the
propagation of the newsgroup throughout the Usenet. At first, the
newsgroup was mainly a forum used by members of the "Free Zone" (a
group founded by ex-Scientologists to promote L. Ron Hubbard's ideas
independent of the COS). As time went on, however, critics of both
Scientology's doctrines and techniques ("tech") as well as the
organization itself came to dominate the discussion on a.r.s, and the
Free Zoners formed a separate newsgroup-alt.clearing.technology.
Although there were the usual Usenet "flame wars" on a.r.s. between Scientologists, Free Zoners, and critics, there was apparently no coordinated action taken by the COS against its electronic critics until 1994. In the summer of 1994, a disgruntled Scientologist forwarded a copy of an electronic memo to an a.r.s critic. Elaine Siegel of Scientology's Office of Special Affairs (OSA) had apparently sent the memo to several Scientologists on the Internet and America Online as a plan to handle electronic criticism of Scientology. The memo was promptly reposted to a.r.s. It read:"As you know, there has been quite a bit of false and derogatory information going out over the Internet by a few detractors, squirrels [relapsed Scientologists], etc....We have a plan of action that we are taking, to simply outcreate the entheta on these newsgroups (alt.religion.scientology and alt.clearing.technology)...." Ms. Siegel went on to explain that critics should not be engaged in debate, but 40 to 50 Scientologists should post pro-Scientology materials every few days so that "we'll just run the SP's [suppressive persons] right off the system. It will be quite simple, actually."
On September 14, an anonymous poster claiming to be a concerned Scientologist also posted a plan to handle the Internet critics, allegedly originating from the COS and filled with citations to Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letters (HCOPLs), which are organizational and administrative policies authored by L. Ron Hubbard. This plan was more elaborate, with individuals assigned to Legal, Security, Success Posting, and even Humor assignments. The goal was to have "no less than 50 posts per day for the next month."
If these posts were genuine, it was clear that the church had begun
to take great interest in the a.r.s newsgroup. But while some signs
began to surface that some of these plans were being put in operation,
nothing particularly out of the ordinary occurred on a.r.s until
November 10, 1994, when
two men came to the door of former
Scientologist Arnie Lerma, who had been posting court documents
pertaining to Scientology on a.r.s., with a document for him to
sign. It was a yet unsigned affidavit in his name which declared that
he recanted his attacks on Scientology and that he had "left the
Church entirely because I could not maintain a high enough ethical
standard and wished to protect the organization from my destructive
behavior." Lerma refused to sign. Within an hour after the men left,
he received a fax accusing him of posting illicit materials to the
network and stating that "THE COS IS WILLING TO SETTLE THIS MATTER OUT
OF COURT AND WITHHOLD ANY FURTHER LEGAL OR INVESTIGATIVE ACTION IF YOU
WILL AGREE TO CEASE AND DESIST ALL YOUR ACTIVITY AGAINST THE CHURCH
AND ANSWER SOME OF OUR QUESTIONS TO CLARIFY THIS MATTER." Lerma
reported these events to the FBI and to the
Washington Post, which
reported them on December 25, 1994, as did the
Associated Press on January
The "Cancelpoodle" Arrives
Scientology teachings are sharply divided into two sections. First, a
member attains the state of "clear" by practicing the publicly
available psychological counseling techniques of Dianetics. This
supposedly involves the elimination of the "reactive mind," which is
responsible for all automatic, stimulus-response behavior. After one
becomes "clear," however, the next levels of training are secret and
their content is jealously guarded from the uninitiated. Of these
Operating Thetan (OT) levels, numbering I-VIII, only OTIII had been
publicly exposed after a court case included the teachings of this
level in court exhibits. On December 24, however, someone using an
anonymous remailer in the Netherlands posted OTI, OTII, and "New OT"
(NOTs) issues 34, 35, and 36 to a.r.s. These documents included such
things as a description of how "Teegeeack" (Earth) came to be
populated 75 million years ago by "thetans" (souls) when the evil
ruler Xenu of the Galactic Federation cast them into Hawaiian volcanos
and blew them up with a hydrogen bomb to solve his local
overpopulation problems. Former Scientologist Dennis Erlich, a regular
contributor to the a.r.s newsgroup since August 1994, posted articles
commenting on some of the material and pronounced it genuine.
Suddenly the material Scientology reveals only after the investment of
considerable time and money was accessible to a potential audience of
30 million Internet users.
On December 27, the COS contacted the Netherlands remailer operator, who promptly announced to a.r.s that he had disabled the anonymous account of the user responsible. On the same day, an event took place which focused the attention of free speech activists on a.r.s. A person using the name "Harry Jones" issued a cancellation for an article posted by Dennis Erlich commenting on the OT materials. The cancellation, issued from an account with Netcom, a San Jose-based national Internet service provider, was easily traceable to its origin but was soon followed by more sophisticated cancellation messages. These later messages were all directed at postings by Scientology critics, but now were done in such a way that they could not easily be traced to the account which originated them. The unknown person responsible for these cancellations was dubbed the "Cancelpoodle," a variant on the name of the "Cancelmoose." (The Cancelmoose, an anonymous individual who cancels indiscriminate mass postings of articles known as "spam," is generally accepted by the Usenet community. This is because the Cancelmoose does not cancel articles on the basis of content, but only removes articles which are widely duplicated and waste disk space and the time of Usenet readers. He also makes reports on what is cancelled, including a full copy of the original article, and performs the cancellations in such a way that site administrators can refuse to accept them at their own sites. The Cancelpoodle, by contrast, targets specific content in its decision to cancel.)
Dozens of postings by a.r.s critics have been cancelled by the Cancelpoodle, in many cases with a cancellation message that claims the posting is "CANCELLED BECAUSE OF COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT." Many of the articles by Scientology critics which have been cancelled, however, contained either no copyrighted material whatsoever or only brief quotations falling within the bounds of "fair use" for commentary and criticism. One of the authors of this article (Jacobsen) saw several of his critical postings which he considered fell well within the bounds of "fair use,"cancelled. One of the earliest articles cancelled by the Cancelpoodle was a "decree of the commencement of oral trial," a court document from Spain dated December 12, 1994, describing criminal proceedings initiated against COS president Heber Jentzch, and leading Spanish Scientologists, for "felonies of illicit association, threats, coercion, usurpation of functions, false accusation, simulation of felony, illegal arrest, crimes against the Tax Administration, crimes against freedom and safety in the workplace, intrusion, crimes against the public health, injuries, damages, abuse, slander and inducement to suicide."
After several weeks of cancellations, Netcom modified its Usenet
software to make it easier to trace the origin of bogus cancellation
messages. The result was that when Netcom cancelled the accounts of
several abusers, cancellations began to surface from accounts at other
Internet service providers. A series of cancellations posted from
Deltanet, a provider based in Orange County, California were issued
from an account obtained by
two persons who showed up late one night
at the Deltanet office shortly before it closed. They had told
Deltanet that they needed immediate access, and paid in cash. The true
identity-or identities-of the Cancelpoodle has yet to become public
knowledge. The COS denies any knowledge or connection with these
Regular participants on a.r.s have responded to the Cancelpoodle by
simply reposting whatever is cancelled. One regular even wrote a
program which automatically posts a public notice to a.r.s about any
articles which are cancelled from the newsgroup. Anonymous posters
have also responded by reposting the secret church materials to a wide
variety of other newsgroups on the Usenet, a tactic which has been
condemned by many Scientology critics for its violation of accepted
standards of "netiquette."
Enter the Attorneys
While the Cancelpoodle was deleting specific postings on a.r.s, church
attorneys initiated action against the newsgroup itself. On January
3, Thomas Small, an attorney for the Religious Technology Center (RTC,
the corporate entity that holds the copyrights and trademarks of
Scientology) sent notice to the operators of anonymous remailers
stating that two newsgroups were being used to violate the COS's
copyrights. "The spread of infringements and misappropriations by the
users will be lessened if you lock out from your systems the two
newsgroups involved, alt.religion.scientology and
alt.technology.clearing [sic], limiting the potential for reposting
and downloading." Small's notice spoke of impending action against
individual copyright infringers and suggested that remailer operators
might also be the subjects of litigation. He concluded by asking that
remailers "confirm that you have blocked access to these newsgroups
through your remailer. If you are unwilling to do so, we ask that you
inform us as to the reasons for your position." A number of remailers
responded by limiting their ability to be used to post to newsgroups.
On January 10, RTC attorney Helena K. Kobrin issued
(remove group) control message for the alt.religion.scientology
newsgroup. In the text of the message, Kobrin offered the following
justification for the removal of the newsgroup: "(1) it was started
with a forged message; (2) [it was] not discussed on alt.config; (3)
it has the name 'scientology' in its title which is a trademark and is
misleading, as a.r.s is mainly used for flamers to attack the
Scientology religion; (4) it has been and continues to be heavily
abused with copyright and trade secret violations and serves no
purpose other than condoning these illegal practices." Since most
Usenet sites don't automatically honor rmgroup commands and since
several prominent Usenetters immediately issued
control messages for the newsgroup, there was no negative effect on
alt.religion.scientology's distribution. In fact, the attempt had the
opposite effect, as it attracted the attention of site administrators
and free speech activists. Many responded to Kobrin's arguments,
pointing out that discussion on alt.config is not a necessity for alt
newsgroups; that the forged "newgroup" was followed by non-forged
"newgroup" messages; and that it is unacceptable practice to "rmgroup"
a newsgroup that is receiving heavy use. Perhaps realizing this tactic
to be a mistake, the church has made no further attempts to remove the
newsgroup. Instead, it has followed through on its threats of
litigation against individual posters mentioned in Thomas Small's
notice to the anonymous remailers.
The Dennis Erlich Case
At 7:30 a.m. on the morning of February 13, 1995, a group of people
showed up at the home of ex-Scientologist Dennis Erlich with a
of seizure." Erlich refused to answer the doorbell and called the
police, but the 911 operator informed him that he had to let his
morning visitors into his home because they had a warrant. Over the
next 7.5 hours, Erlich's personal papers and correspondence, financial
records, and computer were examined. Photocopies were made, and over
300 floppy diskettes and two 120 MB tape backups were
confiscated. Numerous files were deleted from his computer, leaving it
in an inoperable condition. Erlich was also served with papers
declaring him the subject of a
lawsuit for copyright infringement,
also naming Tom Klemesrud, system operator of the L.A. Valley College
Bulletin Board System (BBS) which Erlich used, and Netcom, the
Internet provider for that BBS, as defendants. Klemesrud and Netcom
were named on the grounds that they should have taken action to
prevent Erlich's alleged copyright violations from being posted to the
temporary restraining order was issued against Erlich,
Klemesrud, and Netcom prohibiting the publication of Scientology
materials on the net.
As early as August 1994, Erlich had exchanged correspondence with RTC attorney Small about some of his postings to a.r.s. Up until the raid, Erlich had been an active critic of the church on a.r.s, often using information from his own experiences of many years in a high position in the church, posting followup articles to anonymously posted articles containing church scriptures along with his own commentary. Erlich's follow-ups contained quotations from the anonymously posted articles to which he was responding. Small accused Erlich of violating church copyrights by posting these church scriptures without permission. Erlich responded in a September 7, 1994, letter that "I'll be happy to retract but you must first provide me with the materials whose copyrights I supposedly violated." RTC then persuaded Northern California District Judge Ron Whyte to approve the writ of seizure used to raid Erlich's home.
In a posting to a.r.s on February 14, 1995, Helena Kobrin justified the raid on the grounds that "Erlich has repeatedly posted published and unpublished materials on the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup which are subject to copyrights registered with the United States Copyright Office. Attempts by my clients to engage Mr. Erlich in any meaningful dialogue have met with an absolute refusal to communicate-he would not even speak with my clients' representatives." Other Scientologists on the net began a campaign to discredit Erlich, posting allegations that he had abused his wife and children and even killed his pets.
After initial hearings, Klemesrud and Netcom were dropped from the
temporary restraining order, and Judge Whyte made it clear that Dennis
Erlich still had the right to post to a.r.s and comment on Scientology
materials so long as he stays within the bounds of "fair use." After
Erlich posted some additional Scientology materials to the net, the
church filed a motion to have him declared in contempt of court. The
San Francisco law firm of Morrison and Foerster took on Erlich's case,
and through their efforts Judge Whyte suspended further motions in the
case until a hearing scheduled for June 23, 1995. The Electronic
Frontier Foundation has set up a
Dennis Erlich Defense Fund to assist Erlich in paying his court costs.
The Penet Raid
Finland is a country known for its respect for independence,
individuality, and privacy. It is fitting, then, that the most used
and best known anonymous remailer, known as anon.penet.fi, is in
Finland. Johan (Julf) Helsingius' Internet remailer handles an
estimated 7,000 postings per day.
On February 2, 1995, Helsingius was contacted by an American representative of the Church of Scientology, informing him that his remailer had been used to publicly post information stolen from a private Scientology computer and requesting the identity of the poster. When Helsingius responded that he could not reveal that information, he was told that Interpol would be making a request to the Finnish police for the information. The next day, Finnish police contacted Helsingius requesting the same information, and informed him that a warrant would be obtained if necessary.
On February 8, Finnish police arrived at Helsingius' home with a warrant entitling them to seize information about all users of his service, but he persuaded them to settle for the identity of the single requested poster. This marked the first time that any public authority has required a remailer to divulge the identity of a user. But what is perhaps more startling (because of their respect for privacy) is that the Finnish police almost immediately gave this information to the Church of Scientology. Helsingius reports that his legal representative received acknowledgment of receipt of the information by Scientology within an hour of divulging it to the authorities.
The Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, reported on February 18
that someone had broken into a Scientology computer system and stolen
information that was publicly posted on the Internet via Helsingius'
remailer on January 23. This date led to speculation about what
information taken from the church would cause the Scientologists to
take such drastic measures in response. The speculation has focused
around an article posted to a.r.s via anon.penet.fi on that date by
someone using the name "-AB-" which has subsequently been confirmed to
be the user whose identity was sought and obtained by the Church of
Scientology. Oddly, this article had nothing to do with secret church
teachings, but was about an incident nine days previously involving
Tom Klemesrud, the system operator of the BBS used by Dennis Erlich.
The "Miss Blood" Incident
On January 14, Tom Klemesrud visited a Los Angeles bar after returning
from a convention of BBS sysops in Denver. According to Klemesrud, a
woman came up to him at the bar, they began conversing, and then they
went to another bar. At the second bar the woman allegedly told him
that she was an IRS agent, showing him a laminated ID card with the
letters "IRS" in blue. The subject of Scientology came up, and she
mentioned the names of IRS agents who had been involved with the
investigation of Scientology's tax-exempt status in the
1980s. Eventually, says Klemesrud, they ended up at his home where he
says she asked to see his BBS because she was supposedly investigating
Scientology's tax-exempt status. After asking a few questions about
users of the L.A. Valley College BBS, the woman excused herself to use
the bathroom. When she did not return immediately, Klemesrud says he
went to check on her and saw blood on the floor through the partially
opened doorway. The woman spread blood around Klemesrud's bathroom,
carpets, chairs, and bed, and police were called to the
scene. According to the police report, the apartment was quiet, there
were bloody jeans on the hall floor, and blood was smeared in the
bathroom and on the bed. Klemesrud was sitting in a chair and the
woman was sitting on the bed. Klemesrud told the officers that his
shotgun was in the kitchen, and they retrieved it from a closet in the
kitchen area. The police report states that Klemesrud said he let her
into his apartment because she claimed to be an IRS agent, and that
she went into the bathroom and began cutting herself. He also reported
that she was trying to frame him in an attempt to silence Church of
Scientology critic Dennis Erlich (the police report confusedly states
that Klemesrud was a "critic for" Scientology). The woman's account in
the police report, on the other hand, stated that they had met in a
bar the previous week and she came to his apartment that evening. She
stated that he loaded his shotgun when she entered the bedroom,
pointed it at her, and stated, "How do you like that, I can kill
anybody I want." She explained the blood as the result of a medical
problem with rectal bleeding and hemorrhoids aggravated by alcohol and
stress, and denied any involvement with Scientology or acquaintance
with anyone in Scientology. Klemesrud says that while he originally
was under the impression that she was cutting herself in the bathroom,
he is now convinced that she was cutting open "a bag, bladder, or
balloon nestled in her crotch" which was filled with blood and which
he both saw and poked when she turned to sit on his bed and spread
blood on it. He maintains that "if this is a medical problem, then she
has an intestine or artery running outside her body filled with cold
almost coagulated blood."
Klemesrud was arrested on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon and released on $30,000 bail the next morning, while the woman was allowed to leave the scene without any examination. A police detective was subsequently unable to contact her. The District Attorney rejected the charges, refusing to prosecute.
Dennis Erlich posted a short account of the incident to a.r.s on January 15, 1995, while another version of what happened was anonymously posted on January 23 by "-AB-." The latter posting claimed that its author "called in a very big favor owed me" to obtain the name and telephone number of the woman involved in the incident with Klemesrud, and sent "a trusted friend (aspiring investigative reporter)" to interview her. This version of the story agreed with Klemesrud's account that they had only met the evening of the incident, rather than the week before. It then goes on to claim that Klemesrud had accused her of being in the CIA, threatened her with a shotgun, demanded that she have sex with him, and repeatedly telephoned the Church of Scientology until she called 911. Klemesrud says that he called the FBI and 911 as she single-mindedly moved repeatedly between the bathroom and the bedroom and spread blood around. He grabbed his shotgun from the corner of his bedroom and placed it in the kitchen, then hid it in the closet. He says that he never mentioned the CIA, and believed her to be an IRS agent until he first saw the blood.
On January 24, the Los Angeles Times contacted Scientology for comment on the story, but the request was declined. That evening, however, the Church of Scientology's OSA faxed what was apparently a signed declaration by the woman involved to the Times. This declaration gives an account of the incident which is virtually identical to that posted by "-AB-," including the erroneous detail that Klemesrud had a 10-gauge shotgun (it was a 12-gauge, as described in the police report). No newspaper article on the incident was published.
This incident raises numerous unanswered questions: Who is "-AB-"?
Where did he obtain his information? Why did the Church of Scientology
later fax almost exactly the same information to the Los Angeles
Times? Why did the Church of Scientology take such extreme measures to
obtain "-AB-"s identity? Why would a woman with no connections to
Scientology give her declaration to the Church of Scientology rather
than the police?
Protesting the Church of Scientology
On March 13, the authors of this article along with three others
picketed the Scientology building in Mesa, Arizona to protest the
church's treatment of alt.religion.scientology. The Scientologists
called the police, but since picketing is legal in the U.S. provided
it is done in an orderly manner, the policeman advised the picketers
not to cause any disruptions and left. The picketing was quiet and no
disruptions or arguments occurred. Just before the protest ended, the
Scientologists photographed each of the picketers. As the picketers
left the scene, a man with a camera waited to take photographs of
their cars as they drove by, perhaps to obtain license plate
numbers. The protest was relatively uneventful, and prompted one
article in the Religion section of the
Scottsdale Tribune on March 18.
On March 24, however, Eugene Ingram, Scientology's principal private investigator, showed up at the place of employment of one of the authors (Jacobsen) and began taking photographs. Recognizing Ingram, Jacobsen immediately asked him, "Do you have a warrant for your arrest in Tampa, Florida?" Ingram replied, "Not anymore." Jacobsen then checked and confirmed that the Tampa warrant for Ingram's arrest for allegedly impersonating a police officer was still valid, but Ingram had left. The next evening, Ingram visited Jacobsen's sister's home and asked about Jacobsen's financial status. He was told to leave and did so. Ingram was next seen driving through Jacobsen's neighborhood in such an unusual and frequent manner that neighbors called the police. At one point, Ingram questioned a 13-year-old neighbor, asking him if he knew Jacobsen, and showing him one of the photographs taken on March 24. Ingram did not question any of the adults who were present outside the home at the same time as the young teen.
On March 28, Jacobsen was served with a subpoena ordering him to be
deposed by Scientology's in-house attorneys regarding a case filed by
the director of the Cult Awareness Network against a cult front
group. On April 4, Jacobsen received a telephone call from his local
phone company, reporting that someone claiming to be him had made
three attempts to access computer data from his phone bill. These
attempts were unsuccessful only because he had previously placed a
pass code on his phone accounts on the advice of another church critic
who had been subjected to the same intelligence-gathering
technique. These events suggest that the Church of Scientology took
the protest more seriously than an outsider might imagine.
"Ruin Him Utterly"
Why does the Church of Scientology use such an "iron fist" approach to
criticism? Consider what L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the church, taught
was the proper method of handling any perceived outside threat. For
"The DEFENSE of anything is UNTENABLE. The only way to defend anything is to ATTACK, and if you ever forget that, then you will lose every battle you are ever engaged in, whether it is in terms of personal conversation, public debate, or a court of law. NEVER BE INTERESTED IN CHARGES. DO, yourself, much MORE CHARGING, and you will win." (Emphasis in original. L. Ron Hubbard, Magazine Articles on Level 0 Checksheet, p. 54.)
"The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody is simply on the thin edge anyway...will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly" (ibid, p. 55).
"ENEMY - SP [suppressive person] Order. Fair game. May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed" (HCOPL, 18 October 1967, Issue IV).
"This P/L does not cancel any policy on the treatment or handling of an SP" (HCOPL, 21 October 1968, the supposed "Cancel" of Fair Game, which really just abolishes use of the name "fair game.")
These passages are sacred scripture to a Scientologist, as are all
of Hubbard's writings on Dianetics and Scientology. So, to do other
than attack a perceived enemy would be to contradict church doctrine.
More Recent Events
For several weeks, a group of pro-Scientology posters seemed intent on
overwhelming a.r.s with off-topic posts, single paragraph posts of
questionable interest, and single sentence follow-ups to long articles
which requote the entire posting being replied to. Between March 26
and March 30, 1995, for example, just two of these mass posters placed
139 articles on a.r.s between them, for an average of 28 per day. This
tactic was reminiscent not only of the Scientology plans for handling
the group mentioned above, but of a plan suggested by Scientologist
Russell Shaw, who on January 28 posted that the way to stop critics
was to out-post them. "Now, I'm not talking about a paltry 100-200
posts a day. I'm talking about ENOUGH of the success stories to really
'paint over' all of the graffiti. If a particular newsgroup had 100
negative posts a day going to it, then we would need to post at least
2000-3000 success stories a day to that newsgroup." Recently, however,
this technique has been all but abandoned, probably because it is very
simple to "killfile" particular posters so that you don't see their
articles at all.
More extreme responses have also occurred. Church attorneys have sent letters suggesting potential legal actions for copyright violations against at least four other critics. Another a.r.s critic, Grady Ward, received an unannounced visit on April 14 from two Scientologists at his Arcata, California, home. One of the Scientologists, Jeff Quiros of the San Francisco Church of Scientology's OSA, drove five hours to Arcata only to leave and return to San Francisco after Ward phoned police without speaking to him.
One of the most recent tactics adopted by Scientologists on a.r.s
has been to criticize anonymous posters or those using pseudonyms, as
well as investigate them and reveal their real names. In one case, a
user posting under the name
TarlaStar was shocked to find her real
name posted to a.r.s by Scientologist Andrew Milne after receiving a
strange phone call from someone named "Judy" claiming to be an
employee of Internet Oklahoma, her network access provider. (Internet
Oklahoma employs no one named Judy.) She was further surprised and
angered when Scientologist "Vera Wallace" (a pseudonym) reposted not
only her real name, but her home address and telephone number.
Wallace wrote to a.r.s on April 11 that "It is Andrew's right, as it
is mine, to post the name of anyone who is hiding behind a phony name
while spewing forth lies...No one is telling you to stop your tirades,
but at the same time, no one can tell me not to find out who you
really are and publish your name for all to see." Other Scientologists
on a.r.s have made similar condemnations of anonymous posting,
contradicting a statement by Los Angeles church spokeswoman Karin Pouw
in a February 28 AP story that "We have nothing against anonymous
posters...It's a great freedom and the right of everyone to
communicate as long as anonymity is not used to cover up a crime."
It remains to be seen what the long-term consequences of the Internet
conflict are for the Church of Scientology or its critics. Court
documents, declarations, and secret teachings of the church continue
to appear on a.r.s. The church appears to be willing and able to
engage in further litigation against critics on the basis of copyright
infringement. At the same time, however, Scientology itself faces
legal battles as several high-ranking Scientologists are about to go
on trial in Spain. According to Lawrence Wollersheim, RTC chairman
David Miscavige continues to avoid subpoenas as Wollersheim attempts
to collect the multimillion dollar judgment he was awarded in his case
against the church which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
One thing seems clear, and that is that the critics have the upper
hand on the Internet. The Church of Scientology's usual strategies for
handling critics backfire when harassment is reported on the network
whenever it happens, almost as soon as it happens, potentially to
millions all over the world.
The best source of information about Scientology's activities on the
Internet is, of course, the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup. Ron
Newman's web pages give a well organized account of recent events with
hyperlinks to supporting documentation:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's web site has documents pertaining to the Dennis Erlich case (http://www.eff.org/pub/Censorship/CoS_v_the_Net/). FACTNet (Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network) archives are available on the web (http://www.xs4all.nl/~fonss/) and via FTP (ftp://ftp.rmii.com/pub2/factnet/). Other recent articles about Scientology and the Internet have appeared in Time (January 16, March 6), the Los Angeles Times (January 25, February 14, February 22), the Washington Post (February 2), the St. Petersburg Times (August 3, 1994) and Internet World (April 1995). Books on Scientology include A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics, and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed, 1990, by Jon Atack, Carol Publishing Group; and Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard, 1987, by Russell Miller, H. Holt.
The latest updates on the legal battles between Scientology and FACTNet (the Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network) may be found at http://www.lightlink.com/factnet1.
Skeptic published a news update to this article in
Vol. 3, No. 4. For
current news, see Ron Newman's web page, cited above.
The "Science" in Scientology
"Ideas and not battles mark the forward progress of mankind."
A Note From the Publisher to Scientologists Reading This Article
-L. Ron Hubbard, posted on the board room at the Religious Technology Center in Los Angeles.
It is the policy of Skeptic to offer individuals and groups the opportunity to respond in a subsequent issue to anything written about them or their claims. A quick glance through the Forum sections of our back issues will reveal that we are more generous in space and open to responses of any kind than any other magazine we know. We will extend The Church of Scientology the same courtesy. The Church of Scientology may submit a single response to the above article that will be published in the next issue of Skeptic, up to 2,000 words in length.
Stories of how Scientologists often respond to articles about the church are legion and legendary. Perhaps they are even exaggerated (one hopes). Our interest in publishing this article is strictly in the free speech aspects of communication and debate on the Internet, not in Scientology or its claims. Skeptic has made no public statement about the church or its claims, and indeed, if a court decides that some of what has been posted on the Internet is a violation of copyright or trade secrets, or surpasses the fair use guidelines, then we certainly would not endorse such postings (any more than we would want people republishing our copyrighted articles without permission). On the other hand, neither do we endorse the tactics alleged to have been used by Scientologists to silence actual or potential critics, especially those who have not violated any copyright or trade secret laws and who merely wish to report on the activities of the Church, which is perfectly moral and legal. Let me try to convince you why it is to your benefit not to silence critics:
An interesting philosophical question that is raised in this debate is whether religious doctrines received through some form of revelation, or scientific doctrines discovered in nature, can be copyrighted, protected, and held in secret. Certainly books, videos, CDs, magazines, and other forms of communication and publication can and should be copyrighted. But religious principles and scientific discoveries themselves? Some say yes, though most scientists and theologians would say no. The reason is simple. In order to determine the truth about some claim, the best procedure is to broadcast to as many people as possible, the claim, the evidence for the claim, and the theory that best explains the claim (this is called publishing), in order to get critical feedback. Darwin was a genius at this. He literally wrote thousands of letters to experts all over the world asking for criticisms of his theory before he published it. In this way he defused most criticisms before his book was even published. Since you have adopted the name "science" in the title of your church, perhaps you would be interested in receiving critical feedback on your claims in a scientific manner. If so, perhaps an experimental protocol could be established to test your claims. If not, we have no interest in engaging in any hostile exchanges with the church. If you wish to keep your claims and doctrines secret that is your business and we will respect this. But this is not how either science or religion is normally done in the quest for truth. I look forward to receiving your response. -Michael Shermer, Publisher