Willamette Week (Portland, Oregon)
Aug. 16, 1995

"We've always had trouble with magazines being stolen and the box getting jammed up. We don't have any proof, but we know it's them."
-- Frank Flatch, publisher, Exotic magazine

The X Files

The publisher of a Portland sex-industry magazine says Scientologists are stealing copies to suppress an article critical of the cult

By Matt Buckingham

The August issue of Exotic magazine was disappearing fast--a little too fast, says publisher Frank Flatch. In fact, somebody was walking into nude-dancing clubs and adult bookstores that carry the magazine and walking out with stacks of 50 to 100 copies.

The thieves apparently weren't interested in the magazine's lurid ads featuring nude models. They were trying to eradicate an article by contributor Doc Wainwright on the Church of Scientology, Flatch says.

Journalistically speaking, the 800-word piece contains no new or particularly startling revelations about the cult. Wainwright merely pokes fun at Scientology's belief in a 75-million-year-old space-alien proto-god named Xemu and talks about secret passageways in the church's Portland headquarters at Southwest 4th Avenue and Washington Street.

But clerks at a half-dozen stores say thieves posing as distributors told them they were "recalling" the magazine because an article in it was going to be the subject of a lawsuit. The men told the clerks they would replace the magazines with corrected copies, but they never returned.

"They have so many different guys delivering magazines, I don't know who works for who," says Tim Daws, owner of Tim's Hideaway at 4299 SE 82nd Ave. "As far as I knew, the guy worked for Exotic magazine."

In addition to the stores where clerks witnessed the thefts, Flatch says thieves probably struck at more than a half-dozen other outlets while no one was looking. In all, Flatch estimates about 1,000 issues were taken out of the magazine's 25,000-copy run.

"Six to 10 stores have gone through a lot more copies than they should have for this time of month," he says.

Two suspects are described by witnesses as white men, one in his 50s with short gray hair, slightly overweight but neatly dressed in a shirt and tie. The other man is in his mid- to late 30s. The men may have been driving a maroon Jaguar with an oxidized paint job. Flatch is offering a $200 reward to anyone who catches them stealing magazines and can hold them until police arrive.

Flatch says his company has had a history of problems with the coin-operated box used to distribute Exotic magazine in front of the Church of Scientology at 4th and Washington. "We've always had trouble with magazines being stolen and the box getting jammed up," he says. "We don't have any proof, but we know it's them."

When the August issue containing the Scientology story first appeared earlier this month, a distributor told Flatch he saw someone walk out of the church, deposit 50 cents in the box and then carry the box's entire stack of magazines back inside.

Church representatives deny any knowledge of the thefts, but it wouldn't be the first time that Scientologists have taken drastic measures to suppress news coverage critical of their church's practices.

In May 1985, Scientologists snapped up an estimated 3,500 copies of Willamette Week because it contained a cover story on a $39 million court judgment against the church ("Scientology on Trial," WW, May 30, 1985). Believers who identified themselves as Scientologists cleared 25 newspaper racks and boxes in the downtown area alone.

A spokesman for the church later apologized for the thefts on a local television news program and promised the newspapers' return. Willamette Week printed an extra press run to make up for the missing copies but could find no evidence that Scientologists had returned any newspapers.

Copyright © 1995 City of Roses Newspaper Co.