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Scientology Petition Meets Its Goal: Will Obama Wiggle Out of It? (UPDATED)

Looking for a loophole?
Looking for a loophole?

Just three days ago, we pointed out that a White House petition regarding Scientology had a long way to go to meet its Monday deadline of 5,000 signatures.

But a big surge in signatures pushed the petition past 5,000 last night.

And now, the Obama administration will apparently have to address the petition's message: why did the FBI stop looking into Scientology's reported abuse of its staff members?

Obama's crew will make a statement, that is, if it doesn't try to worm out of it by saying nothing at all. After the jump, we'll explain what we mean.

In September, the White House launched an online petition process that had long been promised. According to the Wall Street Journal, the system at WhiteHouse.gov has been swamped with 10,000 petitions.

Currently, the petition with the most signatures (70,354) is "Legalize and Regulate Marijuana Similar to Alcohol." In second place, with 50,349 signatures, is an appeal to look into "misconduct" in the prosecution of Brooklyn kosher meat king Sholom Rubashkin (a story we covered in depth three years ago).

As of this writing, the Scientology petition, which was started on September 24 by Graham Berry, has 5,390 signatures, more than enough to meet the threshold of 5,000 votes which the White House set when it started the program.

But, as the WSJ article points out, the online system was hit with so many petitions that easily and quickly met the 5,000-signature threshold, the White House recently moved the goalposts: now petitions will need to gather 25,000 signatures to meet their goal and merit an official response from the Obama administration.

"The White House double crosses us!" Berry wrote at his Facebook account when he realized that the threshold had been changed.

But he calmed down when word went around that petitions that had already started under the 5,000 threshold would continue to have that goal. The Scientology petition, in other words, was grandfathered and didn't need to meet the 25,000-signature minimum.

"Thresholds are subject to change, but changes will not be applied retroactively," is how the White House site puts it.

Still, there's been no official word on how the Scientology petition will be reckoned, and while we're trying to get through to someone at the White House about it, we'll just have to wait and see what sorts of responses other petitions get -- Obama's people are supposed to begin putting out responses next week to the first petitions that made their threshold.


Skip Press goes a-hunting

Meanwhile, another story popped up today that we found very intriguing. At the Morton Report, screenwriting coach and former Scientologist Skip Press noticed that something odd is happening in the world of self-publishing.

A company that calls itself "Author Solutions" has been buying up vanity publishers like XLibris and AuthorHouse and is quickly becoming the place that most self-publishers will need to go to when they want to get a book out. "Author Solutions," Press points out, sounds a lot like Scientology's entity, Author Services Inc., which publishes all of L. Ron Hubbard's work at massive in-house publishing plants. Besides the echo in the name, Press found that some of the people involved have very interesting ties to Scientology.

Could the church be trying to take over the world of self-publishing?

As Press points out, we here at the Voice have noted that a big headache for church leader David Miscavige has been the flurry of books self-published by former members. Books by Amy Scobee, Jefferson Hawkins, Marc Headley, Nancy Many and others have changed the way Scientology is viewed, and has put a new focus on allegations that staff members, in particular, suffer startling levels of abuse.

Skip admits that he's only begun to peel back the layers on this story, and we hope he keeps digging. This is interesting stuff.


Rights, Wrongs, and the Church of Scientology

From Marty Rathbun's blog, meanwhile, comes another fascinating development for Scientology watchers.

Rathbun reveals that in Seattle, Scientology will be sponsoring a talk by Kareem W. Shora, a senior policy advisor at the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which is part of Homeland Security.

Scientology's flyer suggests that the event, to be held next Wednesday, will feature Scientology's own "human rights" campaign.

As we wrote earlier, the Scientology campaign promotes the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt had a hand in developing back in 1948. It's an excellent document, but Scientology's ad campaign promotes it with vague references to problems overseas. It's a slick way to change the focus from rights questions right here at home -- which include allegations that Sea Org members, for example, have been forced to have abortions, that both children and adults work insane hours for pennies an hour in ways that tend to benefit the church and its leaders, and that families are routinely split up under Scientology's policies of "disconnection."

Apparently, Scientology is doing so well at distracting the government with its slick ad campaign, Homeland Security has decided to lend a hand directly.

If any of our faithful correspondents are able to attend the event next week, we'd be grateful to hear how it goes.

UPDATE: Gawker's John Cook is on the case, and finds that the feds won't be taking part in this "rights" event after all.

Writes Cook:

When we contacted DHS to confirm the engagement, and inquire as to why it would be dispatching a federal employee to address an event sponsored by an organization that's the current target of an FBI human trafficking investigation, a spokesman told us in a statement that Shora would not, in fact, be attending.

In fact, Cook writes, it appears that the feds may have realized they'd been invited under misleading circumstances. The request for Shora to speak had been extended by something called "Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster," and it may not have been obvious that it was part of Scientology:

So how did DHS confuse a Scientology invite with a WVOAD invite? Maybe because the president of WVOAD is one David Scattergood of "Church of Scientology Disaster Response." The Washington Church of Scientology did not return phone messages.

Scientology and its front groups. It's like the church was actually trying to confuse people.


The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology #1: L. Ron Hubbard #2: David Miscavige #3: Marty Rathbun #4: Tom Cruise #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.

tortega@villagevoice.com | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared


SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE

[All recent stories] | [Top 25 People Crippling Scientology] | [Commenters of the Week] [Thursday 2pm Stats!]

FEATURED INVESTIGATIONS

[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing "disconnection"] [Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology] [Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?] [Scientology hates clean ice: The "Fair Game" operation that should turn your stomach] [Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon]

MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS

[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties] In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview] The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun's open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun's cause] | [Squirrel Buster's claim to be making a "documentary"] | [VIDEO: "On a Boat"] | ["Anna" sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology's highest levels]

SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND "FAIR GAME"

[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley] [Scientology's West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology's enemies list: Are you on it?] Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2] [A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard's remarkable public confession] [Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine] [Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to "handle" the Voice] [Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: "No one's going to take my eternity away"]

SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES

["Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | ["Tom Cruise not a kook!"] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise] [Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church] [Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his "suppressive person" declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice] [Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense] [Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis] [Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology's retaliation is "scary and pathetic"] Grant Cardone, NatGeo's "Turnaround King": [Doing Scientology's dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone's smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo] [Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips "the business that is Scientology"]

JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY

[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman's first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid] [Scientology doesn't like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post] [A roundup of Reitman's print reviews, and why isn't she on television more?]

HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY

[A review of Urban's scholarly history of the church] | [An interview with Hugh Urban]

EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT

[Marc Headley: "Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [The Nancy Many interview] [Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman's Story] | [Jeff Hawkins' Counterfeit Dreams] [86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]

OVERSEAS NEWS

[Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested] [All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots] [Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige "toxic" and "violent"] [Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails]

ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS

[Scientology singalong, "We Stand Tall"] | [Captain Bill Robertson and "Galactic Patrol"] [Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!] [Birmingham in the House! The "Ideal" dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam] [When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers] [Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.] [Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York "org"]

THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE

[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth] [Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family] [Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle] [Scientology High School, Dating and Super Powers!]


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