The Church of Scientology vs. FACTnet

This page created by Ron Newman.
Last revised on February 18, 1996.

For more FACTnet information visit the FACTnet Home Page and the FACTnet 3 Defense Fund Page

FACTnet: an electronic bulletin board about cults

FACTnet began as a bulletin-board system containing a huge library of information about Scientology and other religious cults. FACTnet first had an official Web page for a short period of time in early 1995, but was forced to remove it after Scientology threatened FACTnet with numerous lawsuits. Anticipating an eventual raid and seizure by Scientology, FACTnet issued a general appeal to netizens on March 26, 1995, asking that you download their files free of charge while they were still available. FACTnet issued another statement on August 15 after the raid on Arnie Lerma, one of FACTnet's directors. Another FACTnet director, Lawrence Wollersheim, actually invited Scientology to sue him when interviewed by the free newspaper Boulder Weekly on August 10.

Scientology invades 2 houses, seizes FACTnet BBS & much else

Sure enough, on August 22, 1995, Scientology representatives accompanied by Federal marshals raided the homes of two FACTnet organizers, Bob Penny and Lawrence Wollersheim, both in Boulder County, Colorado. They took the FACTnet BBS computer as well as backup tapes, CDs, floppies, and a large amount of other computer equipment and printed material from both houses. The marshals left no inventory of the materials seized at Wollersheim's house.

The Church of Scientology issued this press release minutes after the raids started. It contains many accusations that may be libelous and defamatory. I posted refutation of one such accusation, namely the claim that Wollersheim had hired thugs to intimidate a Federal judge. Looks far more likely that the Church did all the intimidation.

FACTnet may have been temporarily down, but it was not knocked out. Just a day after the raid, FACTnet's newest board member, Kim Baker of South Africa, began posting a series of feisty and defiant messages on behalf of FACTnet to the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup. She started with a draft press release that Bob and Lawrence had been preparing in support of Arnie Lerma before they themselves were raided. She then followed with two more messages on August 23 and three more on August 24.

(Kim Baker later left FACTnet and largely disengaged herself from the fight against Scientology, but her statements are still well worth reading. Her full story is archived on Tilman Hausherr's web site. I especially recommend her messages "Keep calm" and "How they manufacture hate in you", sent just after the FACTnet raids.)

FACTnet went back on the air, in a very limited form, on Friday, August 25, 1995, with the FACTnet 3 Defense Fund web page.

What was the Church searching for on those disks?

Two days after the raid, the Church's local Colorado law firm, Sheridan Ross & Macintosh, turned over to FACTnet's lawyers a list of the keywords that they were using to search the seized computer files. The list contains many words unrelated to any copyright issue, including names of prominent ex-Scientologists ("Armstrong", "Whitfield", "Young", "Atack"), lawyers who have opposed Scientology in court ("Abrams", "Berry", "Leipold", "Greene", "O'Reilly"), organizations and other individuals that have opposed Scientology ("Cult Awareness Network", "Coates", "Kisser", "Caberta"), news reporters who had covered Scientology ("Behar", "Leiby"), various Internet users who have posted to alt.religion.scientology ("Rogue Agent", "Vega", "Kim Baker", "Damon Chetson", "Ward", "Jacobson"[sic], "Capricorn", "UNIXer"), and even a deceased judge ("Swearinger") who had presided over another case involving Wollersheim.

Raid attracts extensive Colorado media coverage

These raids were extensively covered in Colorado news media, including both Denver dalies, the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post. (The Post ran the better first-day article, but the News seems to have done much more follow-up so far, including an interview with Wollersheim the following Sunday.) The raids also received considerable attention in two local Boulder County papers: the Longmont Times-Call (an evening newspaper that scooped all other print media with a same-day story), and the Boulder Daily Camera. The Camera's August 23 article was especially thorough, and included several quotes from American Civil Liberties Union lawyer David Lane, who called the raids "appalling" and "as far from due process as you can get".

Colorado television and radio stations, especially KTLK AM-760 radio and KUSA TV-9 (an ABC affiliate), also featured the story heavily. Helena Kobrin tried, but failed, to intimidate both KTLK and KUSA with legal threats Here is a sketchy description of KTLK's August 24 morning show, which interviewed both Wollersheim and several representatives from the Church. A Colorado resident also posted this summary of local coverage as of August 25.

The first court hearing: September 1995

Wollersheim faced Scientology representatives in court hearings on September 8, 11, and 12; here are reports from Denver's Rocky Mountain News of September 9 and September 12.

FACTnet won a substantial victory in court on Tuesday, September 12: Judge Kane ordered Scientology to return everything that they seized from Wollersheim's home. You can now read Judge Kane's ruling, from the web site of Faegre & Benson, the law firm representing FACTnet. The Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Judge Kane's ruling temporarily in order to review it, but on September 18 it declined to extend the stay, leaving Kane's ruling in force. Scientology then appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, but Justice Stephen Breyer rejected the appeal on September 20. Scientology openly refused to comply with Judge Kane's order, by deleting files from Wollersheim's disk before returning it. See the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post of September 26 for details.

After a couple more days of court hearings, Judge Kane issued a new order on October 3, ordering that all seized items be handed over to a "special master", University of Colorado computer science professor Gary Nutt, for analysis. The court is still awaiting Professor Nutt's report. See the Rocky Mountain News stories from October 3 and October 4 for more on these hearings.

Meanwhile, the Church filed an amended complaint against FACTnet on October 2. The complaint contains some truly amazing language, comparing FACTnet to "a terrorist organization boasting of their acts", which engaged in "copyright terrorism", issued a "terrorist manifesto", and "fill[ed] the Internet" with "the equivalent of computer hate graffiti". For more legal papers in this case, including FACTnet's reply to this complaint, please visit Maureen Garde's web site.

The December 12 ruling

On Tuesday, December 12, Judge Kane issued a new ruling ordering the return of all seized papers, and most seized computer data, to Bob Penny and Larry Wollersheim. He excluded the disputed "secret scriptures" from the order. Here's a rather confusing Rocky Mountain News article from December 13.

More media coverage, local and national

All of these legal proceedings have been extensively covered in local Colorado media such as the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Boulder Daily Camera, and the University of Colorado's Colorado Daily. The story also got the attention of the New York Times on September 14. In addition, look for updates to the FACTnet web page.

The FACTnet story was also picked up both by Cable News Network, which put the story into frequent rotation on August 26 and 27, and by ABC News, which ran a report on Peter Jennings' ABC World News Tonight program of August 29. CNN even created a special web page on Scientology, containing a transcript and still pictures from their report, plus links to other web sites, including this one.

Some old (but still good) sources of FACTnet data

In early May 1995, FACTnet put all of its text files, in .zip format, onto its FTP site, These files had been scheduled to disappear at the end of April 1995, but seem to have been given a reprieve. Still, they could vanish at any time.

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Ron Newman <>