Scientology Admits Connection to Slimy Anonymous Attack Websites
We've pointed out in the past that Karin Pouw, the Church of Scientology's spokeswoman, appears to be struggling, having been thrust into the role of chief mouthpiece since Tommy Davis vanished sometime last year.
But her latest gaffe is more than simply an embarrassing moment for her and the church. This time, she seems to have really stepped in it.
Last weekend, Guy Adams at The Independent published a lengthy and thorough profile on Marty Rathbun, who was once the second-highest ranking official in the Church of Scientology and who today is helping lead an independence movement of disaffected former church members.
When Adams approached Pouw for the church's side of things, she made a stunning admission, which Adams was good enough to share with us.
Karin Pouw has confirmed that a video attacking Rathbun -- made up of footage taken by the "Squirrel Busters" -- was a product of the Church of Scientology, and she also appears to confirm that the vicious attack website where the video appears is also connected to Scientology itself.
For weeks now, we've been looking at these anonymous attack websites, examining them for evidence that connects them to the church, and now, suddenly, Pouw has made that connection for us.
1. Minerva And Vince
For as long as the Internet has been a thorn in Scientology's side, the church has tried to hit back using its own online strategies. In the mid to late 1990s, for example, Scientology's chief adversary was a Usenet group, alt.religion.scientology. Church attorneys attacked the newsgroup directly, trying to get it shut down, but there were also online approaches as well. In 2001, I wrote a profile of Tory Christman who, when she was still named Tory Bezazian, made anonymous attacks on the posters at a.r.s. on behalf of the church using the screen name "Magoo." (Her plan backfired: after actually reading the criticisms of Scientology at the newsgroup, she eventually realized that they had a point; she made a famous and public defection from the church at a.r.s. itself.)
Also about that time, 2001, a website calling itself "Religious Freedom Watch" sprang up which featured unflattering photographs of Scientology critics and slanted and misleading articles about them. (It still exists, but seems somewhat frozen in time, still railing at a.r.s. critics from back in the day.)
Since Marty Rathbun left Scientology in 2004 and then, five years later, started up a blog that is highly critical of church leader David Miscavige, several anonymous attack websites have appeared, largely focused on him and other high-ranking officials who have left the church in recent years. (Several of these executives all appeared in the blockbuster 2009 investigative expose by the Tampa Bay Times, "The Truth Rundown," which seems to have been a prime motivator behind the sites appearing.)
At "Who is Marty Rathbun" (whoismartyrathbun.com) for example, you can find not only various attacks on Rathbun, but also a series of similar websites for the other executives who appeared in "The Truth Rundown": Mike Rinder (whoismikerinder.com), Amy Scobee (whoisamyscobee.com, etc.), Tom DeVocht, Jeff Hawkins, Steve Hall, Marc and Claire Headley, as well as the actor Jason Beghe and also one for director Paul Haggis, who appeared in a lengthy New Yorker profile a little more than a year ago.
In the websites, Rathbun is called a "militia cult leader." Haggis is a "status-driven screenwriter." The exaggerated, context-less attacks made against the two of them in these websites sound an awful lot like Freedom magazine's similar attacks last year. (Freedom is the church's official propaganda organ.)
Another website, "Mark 'Marty' Rathbun Blog" (martyrathbunblog.com) is more vicious. Since 2009, the website has published hundreds of attacks on Rathbun of the vilest sort, making sexual allegations about him and his wife Monique, and also taking aim at other independent Scientologists who visit the Rathbuns in Texas. It was operated for more than a year by someone who called herself "Minerva." Then, in 2011 the posts were suddenly re-bylined "By Vince Fletcher" (you can still find some older posts that contain both bylines).
All of these attack websites make use of protections which prevent a "whois" search from identifying their owners. The whoismartyrathbun websites are hosted by GoDaddy.com and shielded by DomainsByProxy.com. The martyrathbunblog site is hosted by Namecheap.com and is protected by its domain hider, WhoIsGuard.
I asked Mike Rinder, the man who formerly oversaw the Office of Special Affairs, Scientology's intelligence wing, if he had any doubt that the websites were part of a church retaliation operation.
"I can assure you these websites are orchestrated or ordered or directed by OSA. There's no question about it," says Rinder, who was OSA's executive director until he left the church in 2007.
"There's always some kind of plausible deniability set up, like with the Squirrel Busters, who said they were individuals acting on their own. But that veneer doesn't really hold up very well. Eventually it always comes out," he says.
2. Pursuing Lori
In December of 2010, Lori Hodgson made her first trip to see Marty Rathbun in South Texas.
Hodgson was an independent Scientologist -- someone who has dropped out of the official church but still adheres to the philosophies of L. Ron Hubbard -- and was going to see Rathbun, who had not only been a powerful executive in the church but also one of its most respected "auditors." Now that Rathbun was also out, he was offering auditing -- spiritual counseling -- outside of the church's control.
Hodgson says that when she returned to San Jose, California, she was confronted by John Allender, a local Scientologist whose wife had been Lori's "case supervisor" when she was still in the church. He accused her of "squirreling," and frightened her by saying "Do you enjoy beatings?" She reported the incident to San Jose police. (I briefly got Allender on the phone Wednesday at his business, Sterling General Construction in Campbell, California, but he refused to be interviewed and said he'd send an e-mail, which never came.)
Scientologists use the epithet "squirrel" to refer to a heretic -- someone who is improperly using Hubbard's tech. It's just about the worst thing one Scientologist can call another. Lori says Allender somehow knew that she'd been to Rathbun's house for the unsanctioned counseling.
On Saturday, April 16, 2011, Lori returned to Rathbun's house for another visit. On Monday the 18th, she started counseling sessions with Rathbun, and then took a break for lunch. That's when there was a knock at the door, and Rathbun found this bizarre scene unfold on his porch...
That's Allender doing the talking. Another of the men is also from the Los Gatos, California "org." Calling themselves "Squirrel Busters," they had arrived to question Rathbun about his counseling of Lori Hodgson. (We started our reporting of the Squirrel Busters two days later, on the 20th, and characterized them as a "goon squad" whose only purpose was intimidation.) Over the next five months, a rotating crew of camera-wielding Scientologists planted themselves in his cul-de-sac, following Rathbun and his wife around town, claiming to the local press to be a film crew making a documentary.
On May 3, 2011, the attack site martyrathbunblog posted a story written by Minerva which was told as if it were a diary entry by Rathbun himself. (The post still exists, but its byline has been changed.)
Lori Hodgson had traveled to Texas to get spiritual training from Rathbun, using Hubbard's principles and an "e-meter" -- the same kind of auditing the church itself uses and bases its tax-exempt status on. Minerva's post, however, turns Hodgson's visit into a screed filled with sexual innuendo, with references in the diary entry and in the comments by other anonymous posters to Lori Hodgson's breast augmentation surgery, and her limp, the result of a congenital condition.
None of that information is obvious to people who don't know her well, Lori tells me, and she says she has no doubt exactly where the website got its information about her -- from her confidential "pc file" that was compiled while she was a church member.
"Allender's wife knew that information," she says, referring to the "case supervision" that would have been done of her supposedly confidential auditing sessions in the church. "I told no one that information but my auditor. About my breast surgery and that I was born with one leg shorter than the other, which caused my limp. They used that information against me because I went to see Marty Rathbun," she says.
"I think it's just gross. It's just very cruel. It's very private and you trust these people. You're told that it's completely private. You never imagine that it's out there for the public to see," she says.
The entry by Minerva included a photo of Lori Hodgson and Marty Rathbun taken during her visit to his house, further suggesting the link between Allender's camera-carrying Squirrel Busters and the Minerva site...
Monique Rathbun was also victimized in the post with juvenile innuendo. She attempted to do something about it that June, sending a notice to WhoIsGuard that the site was impersonating her husband and attacking people in ways that violated Namecheap.com's terms of service. She attached the URLs of 25 websites, all of which had "martyrathbun" in their names and were putting out similar anonymous attacks.
Monique tells me that for about a day, the websites were down as Namecheap investigated, but they were soon back up, and she was told that she'd have to take legal action if she wanted anything further to be done. It was after this that, for some reason, the martyrathbunblog site suddenly changed the bylines on all of its posts from Minerva to Vince Fletcher. (I attempted recently to convince "Fletcher" to e-mail me through the site's comments section, but he didn't do so.)
Then, in August 2011, a direct link between the Squirrel Busters and the church emerged.
In a skillful piece of reporting by Mark Collette of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, we learned that the Squirrel Busters had hired a freelance videographer named Bert Leahy who quit the job after a week, disgusted when he found out the real purpose of the project. A man named David Statter was running the Squirrel Busters, Leahy told Collette, and the job had less to do with making a documentary than simply harassing the Rathbuns...
"Dave flat-out said our goal is to make Marty's life a living hell," Leahy said. "That's a quote. He never said 'stalk,' but he said make Marty's life a living hell with every means possible of impeding his everyday living, and make it so miserable for him and his neighbors that his neighbors will want him to move."
Rathbun then questioned Leahy further, and learned that David Statter was actually Dave Lubow, a private investigator long in the employ of the Church of Scientology. Leahy had witnessed Lubow running the Squirrel Busters from a hotel room, taking instructions from callers in Los Angeles, one of the church's headquarters.
Rinder and Rathbun -- who both oversaw campaigns against defectors and critics while they worked at the highest levels of Scientology -- say that this information didn't surprise them at all. Of course the Squirrel Busters was a tightly controlled church operation, they say, and an expensive one at that: for five months, a rotating crew of Scientologists was flown in to harass the Rathbuns. They were housed and equipped, and other locals were also hired, including a former law enforcement official and several local attorneys. This was not a cheap operation.
Gradually, the idea that the Church of Scientology engaged in a bizarre form of spiritual warfare, using a group of aging church members who were instructed to harass Marty Rathbun while wearing sky blue "Squirrel Busters" T-shirts and with cameras strapped to their heads, is getting out to a larger audience. The Voice covered it as it was happening, including Rathbun's arrest and then the dropping of charges against him. Major media gradually seems to be waking up that this was an astounding and freakish story and perhaps one of the most unwise things the Church of Scientology has engaged in for many years.
And now, Karin Pouw has doubled the dumb.
3. Karin's Letter
Besides their daily harassment of the Rathbuns, the Squirrel Busters were making short films about them (one hesitates to call them "documentaries," however).
They were unintentionally comical, and tended to be pure propaganda. But then, in January, a film nearly 10 minutes long suddenly showed up that made use of footage shot by the Squirrel Busters that had been edited into a more slick presentation, including the kind of titles and re-enactments that those of us familiar with products of Golden Era Productions are used to seeing.
Golden Era is the name of Scientology's audiovisual studios at its international headquarters which lies about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. At "Int Base," church films are produced for many different reasons.
This new film was titled "Marty Rathbun: A Violent Psychopath" and, like in the Freedom magazine attacks of the previous year, Rathbun is portrayed as a "cult leader" who is bent on violence. (The voiceover also seems to be done by the same person in the earlier Freedom magazine videos.)
The video is featured at both the whoismartyrathbun and martyrathbunblog websites, suggesting once again that this is all one concerted campaign of the church, but hidden behind domain name privacy protection and anonymous operators.
Rathbun and Rinder assure us that the church itself is behind the video and the websites and the slimy, anonymous attacks. They're in a position to know, since they oversaw their own campaigns against critics and defectors in the past.
Then, a surprising new confirmation came from the church itself, in the form of a letter from Karin Pouw.
Guy Adams sent us a copy of the letter he had received from Pouw after he sent her a series of questions about Rathbun for his recent profile. We're going to quote the relevant paragraph in that letter here, but we'll make her entire response available further down.
Here, in part, is what Pouw said of Rathbun to the reporter from The Independent, a major daily newspaper in the UK...
I further wish to point out that the Church has put out videos which show Rathbun lying in his own words, based on his own statements. To that end I further invite you to watch the video at this link showing Rathbun's nature: http://www.whoismartyrathbun.com/
Let me make sure readers understand the significance of Pouw's words.
The chief spokeswoman of the Church of Scientology makes clear that the video "Marty Rathbun: A Violent Psychopath," posted to YouTube by the account "whoismartyrathbun" -- the same name as the attack website -- is a product of the church itself. She recommends that a reporter watch the video at the attack website, which she says shows "Rathbun's nature."
The video itself contains footage taken by the Squirrel Busters -- an expensive operation that was run by a longtime private investigator in the church's employ. And the video appears at two anonymous attack websites, one of which slimed Lori Hodgson using information she says could only have been gathered during her confidential counseling sessions while she was a member of the church.
I don't think there has ever been quite so much information which all points to the coordinated nature of the attack websites, the field operation, and the videos, all linking to the Church of Scientology.
Scientology has been known for operating this way for decades, of course, and we shouldn't forget that this is the same organization that was raided by the FBI in 1977 for what is still the largest infiltration of the federal government in this country's history.
Since 1993, however, Scientology has operated with tax-exempt status, and because of that insists that it is a church. But does a church deal with criticism by coordinating retaliation through slimy anonymous operators with attack websites and misleading videos?
Earlier this week, I sent Karin Pouw a request for a statement. I doubt that I'll get a reply. But this, at least, is what I sent...
I found this paragraph in the letter you recently sent to Guy Adams to be simply astounding:
"I further wish to point out that the Church has put out videos which show Rathbun lying in his own words, based on his own statements. To that end I further invite you to watch the video at this link showing Rathbun's nature: http://www.whoismartyrathbun.com/"
With this paragraph, you are admitting that the church is behind that video (of which there was really never any doubt) but you also imply that the church is behind that attack website itself. At the minimum, you are saying that you consider that website a source of information the church endorses.
It just so happens that I've been looking into that website and another very like it which also features that church video, http://martyrathbunblog.com/. This site recently included reprehensible attacks on Lori Hodgson which, she informs me, contained material that only could have come from her pc folder.
I'd like a statement from you: Please respond to what appears to be a concerted effort, probably by OSA, to produce attack websites on behalf of the church, which hides behind anonymous operators in order to criticize former members, in some cases with information divulged only under confidential settings.
I'd really appreciate a reply.
I'll let you know if I hear anything.
Scientology on the High Seas
In November the Voice obtained hundreds of copies of L. Ron Hubbard's previously unpublished "Orders of the Day," which he gave to crew members as he sailed the Atlantic and the Mediterranean on the yacht Apollo. Our documents cover the period from late 1968 through 1971, and this time we're looking at what was happening the week of April 8 through 14 during those years.
This week, the Commodore finally has SMERSH on the ropes...
April 9: Another flap means the Commodore has to comm ev the hell out of everyone and once again, do things himself. For crissakes, can't people just keep their hats on and do their dangblasted jobs?
Out of the confusion of yesterday came a peaceful beautiful port scene today.
It took me no less than 7 hours of hammer and pound to find out enough data to get it handled. The agent had asked (correctly) for an advance, he had been told (by whom a Comm Ev is deciding) that "no money was available." Thinking he would not be paid all sorts of "sinister signs" showed up.
Several people knew this. Instead of handling it themselves or passing it on to CS-3 or myself at once so it could be handled, the whole situation went bad and gave the appearance of a "hostile port."
Now today, smoothly, LT. WALLY BURGESS, an old hand at routine port actions, paid over the ordinary advance, smoothed it all out on fuel, lub oil, radar, what have you and all is serene and well.
Even the local radio station has a tape, made aboard, friendly about the "school ship" going over the local air the evening of the 9th.
So it's all like glass and we have a radar fixed, got to the bottom of a lub oil situation in the E/R (they were pirating the Main Engine's lub oil tanks for the gennies) and will be able to use the port or not as we choose.
Now somebody on board may tell you "Even in the wog world this situation _________".
Listen, kiddies, in the wog world had it happened it wouldn't have been solved at all and we'd be outside the port with no lub oil and low fuel!
The ship will run to whatever perfection its people create.
False reports are an aberrated environment.
One has a Sea Org to the degree he or she contributes to its perfection by showing initiative and handling what comes up. Individual Initiative not orders make a true group.
April 13: SMERSH is just about toast.
Indications are that we will have won the war with Smersh in a year or two.
They have lost further "prominent leaders".
We have directly traced and documented their origin to East Germany and have found the crimes they sought to hide.
Lesser lights in their ranks are turning to us for guidance.
Their network is collapsing under the various stresses to which they have been subjected.
They may fight more skirmishes through men they control in govts but it is obvious that we will win the war.
Those who recall the infamous effort to hit us in ports by spreading tales of "dope traffic" and "mystery ship" will be interested to know that the instigator, Jack Lundin, has turned up (or been turned up to be more factual) at WW shaking with terror. He has told all and has promised to be good hereafter.
The instigator and paymaster was a "George Anderson", a British Consul in the major city of this country. More recently British Consuls have explained they have nothing against us. They and American Consuls are pleading innocent.
Our standard tactic of killing rumors with truth documented (called the "dead agent routine" because when they find the rumor monger is lying they kill him) worked very well at the time.
Now here's a rumor monger scared spotless and damning his former employers.
The moral is, the enemy is few. If we're alert, on the ball and use our PR tech right, he hasn't got a prayer.
IMPORTANT: R6EW -- The following people have LRH approval to do the R6EW Solo Course: Des Popham, Lyle Power, Rheva Spence, John Allcock, Sven Petersen, Connie White, Nancy Tidman, David James, Arthur Hubbard, Janis Gillham, Fred Blessing, Al Bornstein, Pat McCullough. I am your terminal for this. Come see me within 24 hours. Come in and finish. Look at it: isn't it optimum for you to be clear? DO IT. NOW.
Love, Robin Hubbard Basic Courses Super
How was that solo love, Kate?
Bonus 1970s Awesomeness
While L. Ron Hubbard plied the seas, back on dry land Advance! magazine was thrilling Scientologists with its tales of "OT Phenomena." Those church members who had reached the higher levels of spiritual training shared their stories of superhuman powers with fellow dupes -- er, enthusiasts. This excerpt is from Issue 28, January 1975...
Ever since I heard Peer Gynt's Suite I wanted to listen to it in my favorite place. Unfortunately this place is down by a river far from anywhere, in Scotland.
So as I haven't got a tape recorder, and taking a record player down was out of the question, I'd given the idea up.
Until I finished OT III Expanded that is. Now I can put on the music at home, set my body down, then go off to the river and enjoy the music. It's great. -- Cherry Collins, OT
Well thank goodness my smartphone and some earbuds have solved that problem and I won't need to go through several years of Scientology indoctrination and a third of a million dollars just to hear my favorite music down by the river. However, if I want to listen to some tunes, make some branches wiggle, and move some clouds around, I guess I'm going to have to get started on my TRs.
If you liked this collection of Scientology fun, please check our Facebook author page for schedules, updates, and behind-the-scenes notes. And don't forget to send us your latest story tips!
********** Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and is now being sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.
- Seventeen Millennials Arrested as Police Bust Elaborate Credit Card Scheme
- Video: Brooklyn Flag-Burning Protest Erupts in a Few Almost-Fights
- The NYPD Has Installed Cameras Across the City So You Won't Be Tempted to Set Off...