Scientology Has Marty Rathbun Arrested (UPDATED: CHARGES DROPPED)
Update: After the jump, more detail on Rathbun's arrest from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. AND NOW, CHARGES HAVE BEEN DROPPED. SEE BELOW.
This story was originally posted on Saturday, Sept. 17.
Well, it looks like we were premature to say that the siege in South Texas had ended. Apparently, it's just taken a new form.
Yesterday (Friday, Sept. 16) at about 5:30 pm, a San Patricio County deputy sheriff showed up at Marty Rathbun's house and took him into custody for a Class A misdemeanor arrest warrant. Four hours later, he was released. And now, we're trying to put together how Scientology managed to get Rathbun thrown in the slammer for something that happened two weeks ago.
At his blog, Rathbun describes the background to the incident, and I also discussed it with him today in a phone call.
If you've followed along with the coverage of the Squirrel Busters saga here at the Voice you know that since April, a Scientology goon squad of private investigators and Office of Special Affairs volunteers has had Rathbun's house under siege. They rented property near him and until recently were planting themselves in front of his house all day, every day, for almost five months.
Why are they doing this? Well, until 2004, Rathbun was the second-highest-ranking executive in the church of Scientology. He left the organization, and then in 2009 began harshly criticizing current church leader David Miscavige at his blog, where Rathbun made it known that he still adheres to the philosophies of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Over the last two years, many longtime Scientologists have abandoned the official church with the encouragement of Rathbun -- many of them have been announcing their own independence on his blog.
This drain of longtime, high-paying members is a crucial threat to Scientology at a time when it is experiencing dwindling membership -- membership that it relies on to pay exorbitant prices for services. Rathbun is a serious threat to that business model. And traditionally, Scientology goes after people it considers enemies with vicious personal and legal attacks.
Scientology calls people "squirrels" who dare to practice its rituals and philosophies outside the official church. So its attack on Rathbun took the form of a goon squad that called itself the "Squirrel Busters." They wore T-shirts with a picture of Rathbun's head on the body of a squirrel, and with a slash through him. A freelance videographer admitted to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that the Scientology private investigator running the operation, David Lubow, had informed them that although they were telling the town they were a film crew making a documentary, their real goal was simply to make Rathbun's life "a living hell."
Rathbun says that one of the Squirrel Busters is a tall man whose name is apparently Jim Moore. I'm going through old videos and will post a photo of him later when I find a clear shot.
For months now, the Scientologists have been following Rathbun and filming him at his house. Rathbun has maintained that it was a classic operation that was intended to rile him up and get him to provoke an assault. He knows this because in his former post at the highest levels of Scientology, he put together such operations himself. "I helped create Frankenstein's monster, and now it's haunting me," he admitted to me recently.
Rathbun is well aware of what the squad is trying to do, so he's been hitting back at them with methods like setting sprinklers to rain on them, knowing that it doesn't reach the level of a legal assualt.
So when he was arrested last night, as you can see in the video, he seems completely dumbfounded. What am I being arrested for? he asks the deputy. When he's told it's a Class A misdemeanor assault which includes bodily injury, he asks his wife Monique, who is standing nearby, "Mosey, did you ever see me hurt anybody?"
We're still piecing together how this arrest happened. Here's what we know so far.
On September 1, Rathbun says the Squirrel Busters were on the apron of his driveway, making another of their innumerable forays to film and question him. Moore, Rathbun says, was leering at his wife, and he told the man to stop.
"He's the guy they kept sending in on my wife," he says, claiming that Moore would show up to question Monique when the Busters squad knew that Rathbun was away from the house. "He'd always manage to get out of there before the sheriff's deputies showed up."
But on that day two weeks ago, Rathbun said he was angry to see Moore looking at Monique, and he got aggressive.
"There was a scuffle, but all I did was grab his sunglasses and threw them down on the street. Then I asked him, 'Do you hear me?' Tony, they stood around for another hour before they left," Rathbun says, an indication to him that Moore was not hurt in the scuffle.
For weeks, he adds, Scientology has worked with four local law firms and has been trying to get local law enforcement agencies to look into Rathbun. But months ago Rathbun went public locally with what was going on, and both the Caller-Times and the San Antonio Express-News covered the story -- there may have been few people in little Ingleside on the Bay, Texas or in Corpus Christi who didn't understand at least something about Scientology's attempt to intimidate Rathbun.
So Scientology apparently went out of town to find a friendly judge.
There's a Justice of the Peace in Aransas Pass, which is much closer to Ingleside. Instead, Scientologists went to the more distant town of Sinton to find Yolanda Guerrero
Rathbun learned that his arrest warrant was sworn out by Yolanda Guerrero, a Justice of the Peace in Sinton, Texas. Looking at a map, it's clear that there's a much closer Justice of the Peace in nearby Aransas Pass (Charlene Lewis), but Scientology's operatives went to Guerrero, who apparently hadn't read the Caller-Times story and knew nothing about Scientology's involvement.
Rathbun didn't know about any of that when he arrived at the jail. He says a jail officer laughed when they brought him in. "What are you doing here?" the officer asked him. "The guy had read all the stories and knew all about what was going on," Rathbun says.
A couple of hours later, Guerrero arrived. "She had to come in and magistrate me out. I guess it's the equivalent of an arraignment, to set the bail. I tried to argue the case. I told her I'm already in prison, these guys are on me 24/7. She reduced it from $2,000 to $1,000," Rathbun says.
He tried to explain to her what was really going on, but she apparently didn't know the background. "There's a lot behind this whole thing, I told her. She said that all she knows is that he came in and swore to this. She didn't know anything about them being outside my house for 150 days," Rathbun says. He says she mentioned something about a "media reporter," which tells him that she had apparently bought the Squirrel Busters' story that they were a film crew.
I left a message with Guerrero's office, but may not hear back until at least Monday.
I also called David Aken, the San Patricio County attorney who would handle the prosecution of the misdemeanor assault if it were to come to court.
"I have received none of the statements of facts or anything at all," Aken told me. "What I can tell you is that my office will weigh the totality of the circumstances when we're deciding whether or not there should be a prosecution."
Aken said he should receive information on the case on Monday and will know by the end of the week if there is going to be a prosecution.
Rathbun says that when he was being taken away by the deputy, he could see the Squirrel Busters keeping watch in cars nearby. They haven't left after all, but have apparently now simply shifted their strategy.
"The whole thing was a setup to get me in the can on a Friday night for the weekend," he says. That plan didn't work. He was out of the jail by about 9:30 last night, four hours after he was taken into custody.
No doubt, Scientology's attorneys are now working hard to lobby Aken's office that Rathbun be sent to prison for "roughing up" Moore.
"America's got some problems that people don't know about. The system is so eminently gameable, all you need is money," Rathbun says.
UPDATE: Mark Collette of The Corpus Christi Caller-Times has a story today (Tuesday) that brings us more details.
It sounds like Rathbun wasn't far off when he described the incident to us. In a sworn statement, the victim, Jim Moore, said his sunglasses were pulled off and his forehead was scratched:
In a sworn statement, Moore said that on Sept. 2, Rathbun approached him "in an angry and violent manner, and with his hand grabbing, jerking and pulling off my glasses (off my face), causing pain and injury, scratches to my forehead."
Rathbun said Moore had been pestering his wife, Monique Rathbun, and he asked Moore to stop, but Moore ignored him. Rathbun said he grabbed Moore's sunglasses out of frustration.
Collette also corroborates what we had reported earlier, that the Squirrel Busters had gone to Judge Guerrero in Sinton, and that she was unfamiliar with the background of the case.
It will be up to county attorney David Aken to decide whether the case is worth prosecuting. He earlier refused to prosecute when the Squirrel Busters complained about Rathbun tearing a microphone out of the hands of one the squad members. Aken decided that a jury would feel that Rathbun had been provoked. No doubt that will also be a consideration when Aken considers Moore's complaint.
We had previously reported that Bert Leahy, a freelance videographer who briefly worked for the Squirrel Busters, identified its ringleader as David Lubow, a private investigator who has worked for Scientology for many years.
Collette adds another connection between official Scientology and the Squirrel Buster operation:
The church denies any affiliation with the Squirrel Busters. But in July, Corpus Christi attorney Richard Rogers sent a letter to Aken identifying himself as the attorney representing the film crews. The letter was copied to Allan Cartwright, the church's legal director.
Rathbun, and former Office of Special Affairs executive director Mike Rinder, both former high-level Scientology executives who for many years worked directly with church leader David Miscavige, say that there's no doubt the Squirrel Busters goon squad is an OSA operation that is being directed by Miscavige himself.
Aken told us earlier that by Friday, he should know whether he will prosecute Rathbun based on Moore's complaint. We'll report what we hear from him.
UPDATE: CHARGES DROPPED. Now, another article from Mark Collette, indicating that David Aken, county attorney, only needed a day to decide the charges against Rathbun would not be prosecuted:
An assault case against former Scientology official Mark "Marty" Rathbun was rejected by the San Patricio County Attorney's office Tuesday, less than four days after Rathbun's arrest.
County Attorney David Aken said his office determined no jury would convict Rathbun after seeing the way in which the complainant and his film crew had been videotaping Rathbun's life for the last 155 days...
"We took a totality of the circumstances," Aken said. "We examined the level of provocation and the extent of the injury, which was literally a scratch."
As Collette points out, this is twice the Squirrel Busters and their attorneys have tried to have Rathbun prosecuted, and twice they have struck out.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THIS INCIDENT: Let's not forget what Scientology tried to do here. There was a lot of discussion in our comments section and elsewhere about whether Marty Rathbun "deserved" to be hauled away and prosecuted based on what he did in the past with the Church of Scientology.
But let's keep an eye on what really happened here: Although the "Squirrel Busters" pretended to be a film crew made up of Scientologists who had no connection with the official church, it was established in two different ways that this was a goon squad sent by and directed by the official Church of Scientology and its longtime private investigator.
As a result of that operation, Scientology got a man taken to jail over "literally a scratch," as the prosecutor put it, and likely would have had Rathbun locked up over a weekend if not for the quick action of a jail officer who knew what was going on. How did a church accomplish the arrest and this cynical manipulation of the local justice system? Through a classic Scientology tactic of shopping for a judge who was ignorant of the nearly unbelievable background -- that a religious organization, for the last 5 MONTHS has besieged a man's house because he dares practice his own religion in his own way. Twice now, that church has, through the use of private investigators and attorneys, tried to get the man arrested and prosecuted over trivial reactions to their daily provocations, in what are psychological operations intended to engender those kinds of reactions.
Only because of reporters like Mark Collette and because of Rathbun's own efforts in his blog are some key locals -- including sheriff's deputies and county attorney David Aken -- aware of what's really going on, preventing Scientology from the kinds of similar operations it has pulled elsewhere.
You can be sure that David Miscavige and Scientology are not going to stop their cynical tactics in South Texas. Rathbun, by simply professing his own brand of independent Scientology and reaching deep into the official church to entice longtime members to come out, is too much of a threat to Miscavige for him to give up after only two tries to get Rathbun prosecuted.
But never, I think, have Scientology's legal tactics been so nakedly exposed as they are happening. Why this isn't a national story, with a CNN crew hanging around to film the Squirrel Busters, is a complete mystery to me. -- Tony O.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology #5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin #6: Anonymous #7: Mark Bunker #8: Mike Rinder #9: Jason Beghe #10: Lisa McPherson #11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants) #12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives) #13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists) #14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists) #15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics) #16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church's HQ #17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano #18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive #19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons) #20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures) #21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church #22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members) #23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church) #24: David Touretzky (and other academics) #25: Xenu, galactic overlord
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
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MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
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JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
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HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
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THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
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