[Expanded version of article originally published in de Groene Amsterdammer; translation by Patricia Savenije.]
ACTUALLY, THE TESTIMONY of Scientology-member Gerry Scarff is much more horrifying. Scarf was questioned under oath in 1993, and elaborated on the behaviour of Scientology’s lawyers (of the Bowles & Moxon-firm, who are of course members of the cult too).
The complete declaration covers hundreds of pages that make your flesh creep. For the sake of good taste, I’ll just quote the summary that the defendant’s lawyer, Mr. Berry, gave to the court: “In his deposition, Mr. Scarff testified about various criminal and wrongful activities directed by or discussed in the presence of attorney’s from the law offices of Bowles & Moxon, including: death threats, Scientology’s Fair Game doctrine, plans to kill Cult Awareness Network president Cynthia Kisser and attorney Ford Greene, threats against witnesses, instructions to commit suicide, misdirecting and misleading investigations and prosecutions of Scientology, the filing of frivolous lawsuits, financial scams, lies and fraud by Scientology and similar activities.”
This list is far from exceptional. Because of similar crimes as mentioned above, Scientolgy is involved in a big Spanish trial. In it, the cult was forced to pay 160,000,000 peseta’s (over 2,000,000 guilders) to guarantee the financial responsibilities that could be declared pertinent.
THE CULT WAS established by sf-author L. Ron Hubbard. In 1950 he published ‘Dianetics’, a so-called psychotherapeutic manual. Hubbard managed to gather a group of people around him and changed the Dianetics-movement into ‘Church of Scientology’ when his organization got into legal trouble. Thanks to the religious status, the cult furthermore doesn’t have to pay any taxes. It’s a very hierarchically structured organization. CoS aims at total world control and has its own intelligence agency, the ‘Office of Special Affairs’ – a secret service that, according to many people, could well be a source of envy for many a middle-sized country. The cult’s renegades are systematically intimidated and CoS tries to eliminate them by ‘dead agenting’ (spreading gossip and doubt).
Articles, books and television programs in which CoS is criticized, are frequently attacked by the cult. Library books are stolen, full editions of magazines bought and pages of the copies that reside in public libraries are cut out with a razor blade by members of CoS. Usually, critics are considered to be ‘fair game’ to the cult – i.e. the hunt is on. CoS has a habit of sueing magazines and network-stations. ‘Time’, ‘The Washington Post’, Reader’s Digest’ and CBS have already been ‘honoured’ by such attention. This month, both a British and an Australian television-program won the trial in which CoS tried to prohibit them to put the program on air. The Dutch televison company ‘EO’ still remembers how they had to leave the studio under police-protection a few years ago, just because they wanted to braodcast a BBC-documentary about the cult.
CURRENTLY, THE CULT is fighting the accessibility of another testimony, which has been available to the general public for some time: The Fishman Affidavit. This testimony was given by former cult-member Steven Fishman. He was arrested in 1988 and convicted for fraud; once imprisoned, he turned his back on the cult, with the help of psychiatrist Dr. Geertz. In 1991, when the two of them were interviewed by ‘Time Magazine’, they made highly negative statements about CoS – whereupon the cult immediately sued them. In his defense, Fishman stated that the cult was guilty of ‘illegal and criminal practices’ and had ordered him to commit these frauds. He delivered documents to prove that CoS had manipulated, intimidated and brainwashed him.
Before his arrest, Fishman was a relatively prominent cultist. According to the discipline of the cult, each member has to follow courses to reach a higher level. These courses are very expensive, and there are quite a number of them. Before having ‘cleared’ yourself and having attained some position in the internal hierarchy, you can easily lose tens of thousands of dollars. Reaching OT IX will cost you an estimated $350,000. Fishman had paid his dues and studied hard, and had thus acquired a great many of these OT-levels. People who have succeeded in mastering all OT-levels, have (in Scientology-terms) ‘crossed the bridge’ and are thereby part of the most elevated people in the world.
Fishman brought the OT-material into his trial and thereby made them officially public. His declaration could be asked for at the court’s library. Upon request, the court provided people with photocopies of his statement, that has become known as the ‘Fishman Affidavit’.
The OT-levels Fishman provided look like a mixture of a bad sf-novel and exhausting cross-interrogations. The condensed version: millions of years ago, the planet Earth was used as a dump by Xenu, the head of the Galactic Federation. All cosmic criminals were banished to our planet. When the planet got overpopulated with this band of disorderly rogues, Xenu arranged some nuclear explosions. All criminals died, but their particles remained in the Earth’s atmosphere. These ‘body thetans’ still exist and cause humans to be sick, miserable, psychically unstable or otherwise not quite in their right mind. Scientology teaches its members how to ‘clear’ themselves of these ‘thetans’ – and that is what is described in these OTs, the ‘Operating Thetans’.
The prescribed procedures consist of classical techniques to render people numb. An example taken from OT II: under the supervision of a so-called ‘auditor’, the zealous student has to repeat contradictory concepts and drum them into his head – a certified way to drive somebody crazy: ‘You should survive. You shouldn’t survive. You Can Survive. You Can’t Survive. He Must Survive. He Mustn’t Survive. He Should Survive. He Shouldn’t Survive.’
Once you’ve made it to OT VII, you’ll get assignments like these:
- Find some plants, trees, etc., and communicate to them individually until you know they received your communication.
- Go to a zoo or a place with many types of life and communicate with each of them until you know the communication is received and, if possible, returned.
– From OT7-48
EVEN THOUGH THESE OT’s were already known outside Scientology, the mere fact that they were now officially available, tickled people’s curiosity. Many wanted to know what these high-level courses amounted to. But at all costs, the cult wanted to prevent outsiders or its lower-level members from seeing the documents. It took their measures. Helena Kobrin, RTC’s (a sort of umbrella organization for CoS) lawyer, explained me in an e-mail how this was done: “These materials are of such significance to my clients that they had people at the court checking out the files every day before they were sealed, so that others could not obtain access to them.” The cult claimed copright to the quoted OT’s, and also stated that publishing the material was an infringement upon their trade secrets and thereby damage CoS’s revenues (after all, the OTs are sold at high prices). CoS demanded that court would seal the files. After years of legal battle, the Fishman Affidavit was temporarily sealed on August 15, 1995, pending a new investigation. The judge also ruled that no new copies were to be distributed.
BUT BY THEN, the document was already widely available outside the court’s library. After all: for only half a dollar administration fee per page, the record office had sent it to all those interested. The complete affidavit had been scanned and was available on Internet, could be read on bulletin boards and had been posted almost daily in alt.religion.scientology (a.r.s), a newsgroup dedicated to discussion of the cult. Consequently, Scientology decided to wage a war against Internet; an exhausting battle ensued. Messages that reported the whereabouts of the document were cancelled by forged cancel-messages; CoS tried to remove the newsgroup a.r.s as a whole by sending a special cancel-command; providers were bombarded with letters of law-firms. An anonymous remailer (a system that removes the name and adress of the sender) that many critics used as a precaution when posting in a.r.s, was raided. A number of people who had made the document available and whose name could be discovered, were faced with law suits.
For instance, the cult had the computer-system of FactNet (‘Fight Against Coercive Tactics’, an on-line archive about the cult) seized. Last week the judge pronounced the seizure illegitimate and he ordered CoS to return the material. But according to Hubbard, it’s no big deal that CoS has lost this trial: “The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway [..] will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If posible, of course, ruin him utterly.”
NOW IT IS Holland’s turn. On September 5 an usher, a locksmith and two American CoS-computer-experts that had been flown in, entered the XS4ALL-office and took possession of their computers. The reason: one of the provider’s users had the Fishman Affadavit on his homepage. (By the way, the real reason probably was that a former XS4ALL-based remailer had been used to post anonymously in a.r.s) The cult demanded removal of the document by XS4ALL, but they refused. They see themselves as a service-provider: what the users do, isn’t XS4ALL’s responsibility. The user involved, Fonss, removed Fishman from his homepage when his provider informed him about the situation.
These events caused a giant commotion in Holland. XS4ALL received a tidal wave of support messages and startled reactions. And what’s more: another user, Johanw, in no time put the document on his homepage. After he received an e-mailed warning by CoS, he removed it and told so in several newsgroups. In protest, other users started putting the same document on their homepage at other providers and made an announcement: D’VanGeely at DDS, myself at Planet Internet, Newkid at Cistron. All did so because they were adamant that public documents should indeed be publicly accessible. Nobody contested that parts of the published texts could be copyrighted, but all were convinced that this copyright was not violated when the court document was published as a whole.
When member of parliament Oussama Cherribi (VVD) also put the document on his homepage on September 22, the snowball started growing rapidly. His decision generated much publicity for the case. And a.r.s was baffled: a politician who dared to put Fishman on his homepage? More people followed, amongst them Marcel Moring, a laureated Dutch writer, and later that week ‘TROS-online’, a television network’s homepage. Ever since, dozens of people have joined: the Fishman Affidavit appeared on one Dutch homepage after the other. At the start of October, there were almost sixty of them.
WE NOW AWAIT CoS’s response. A number of people and providers have received e-mail from Kobrin in which she threatens with legal action. A few smaller providers – Cistron, Luna and Dataweb – have by now received letters from the law-firm Nauta Dutilh, that represents Scientology in the Netherlands. They demand that all participating homepages be removed; rumour has it that even Euronet has received such a letter. XS4ALL already received the letter some time ago.
A number of people is determined to continue, and face a law suit. They are convinced that they have the right to publish his legal document, and what’s more: that it is necessary to do so. Partly because Scientology’s misconduct on Internet is unacceptable, with all these cancel-messages and their pursuit of critics on the Net. But there are other reasons too. How can a text that has been public for quite some time – the OTs having been public for years already – be removed from the Affidavit? What is this religion, that doesn’t want to be spread and that prohibits its adepts to know what’s in store for them? That regards her rites as ‘trade secrets’ and asks exorbitant prices for them? Participant Marcel Möring: “All major world-religions are transparent. Their source-materials can be studied by anyone and may be freely quoted. If a movement claims to be ‘clerical’ or ‘religious’, why shouldn’t we have the right to demand that anyone should have the opportunity to gain insight in the texts that this movement and its convictions are based upon? That all scriptures regarding rituals, conduct etc. are accessible to anyone?”
Meanwhile, the newsgroup a.r.s is watching breathlessly. If this case is taken to court, and if Scientology loses, Fishman will finally be free on the Net. For it doesn’t matter in which country you can find the document. When you’re on Internet, you can download it from anywhere on the globe.
- Der Spiegel, september 25, 1995;
- L. Ron Hubbard: The dissemination of material (part of the Fishman Affidavit);
- Court of Madrid / Previas 2663/84, December 1994;
- Steven Fishman: Statement, april 29, 1994;
- Fishman Affidavit: Central District Court of California, Case no. 91-6426 HLH (Tx), April 4, 1994;
- Scarff’s declaration: Central District Court of California, Case No. CV 91 6426 HLH (Tx), May 3;
- Helena Kobrin’s e-mail to me, dated September 29, 1995;