The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 19: The Squirrel Busters
On August 5, we started a countdown that will give credit -- or blame -- to the people who have contributed most to the sad current state of Scientology. From its greatest expansion in the 1980s, the church is a shell of what it once was and is mired in countless controversies around the world. Some of that was self-inflicted, and some of it has come from outside. Join us now as we continue on our investigation of those people most responsible...
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons)
"Hi, I'm Rich, and these are the Squirrel Busters."
The "Squirrel Busters" came on the scene only recently, but the persistent goon squad has quickly made a big impact on Scientology watching.
We first wrote about the Busters when they showed up at the doorstep of Marty Rathbun's house with cameras strapped to their heads. They were also wearing sky blue T-shirts with an emblem of a squirrel with the head of Rathbun, crossed out. Since then, they've provided us with one bizarre episode after another as they've turned a cul-de-sac in south Texas into a battle zone, besieging Rathbun, his wife, and their neighbors.
Rathbun, formerly the Inspector General of Scientology's Religious Technology Center -- which made him more or less the second-most powerful person in the entire organization -- defected in 2004, and then in 2009 began publicly criticizing church leader David Miscavige on his blog, "Moving On Up a Little Higher." He also made it clear that he was continuing to practice Scientology's auditing methods, and was welcoming a steady stream of other longtime members who were leaving the church and were now calling themselves "independent" Scientologists. Traditionally, Scientology has used the derogatory term "squirrel" to refer to people who use L. Ron Hubbard's ideas outside the official church.
And very quickly, Rathbun has become the king of the squirrels. Inside Scientology author Janet Reitman has likened Rathbun to a sort of Martin Luther of Scientology as he attracts a growing independence movement. Despite his remote location -- in a Corpus Christi-area town called Ingleside on the Bay -- Rathbun and his blog rapidly have become a serious challenge to Miscavige's official rule over Scientology.
And so the Squirrel Busters were dispatched to his house.
It was pretty plain right from the start that the Busters were there for one main reason: intimidation. As I wrote then...
To me, the creepiest part of [the Squirrel Busters' own] video comes near the beginning, and is not seen or heard on Rathbun's version. You hear [John] Allender telling Rathbun that the reason the group is there is to check his equipment. It's a taunt, meant to rattle Rathbun about the fact that he is not allowed by official Scientology rules to deliver Scientology auditing using Scientology equipment (an e-meter) outside of the purview of the church.
That was in April. Now, in late August, the Squirrel Busters are still there, sitting outside Rathbun's house every day in a golf cart, filming him and filming themselves, hoping to get a rise out of Rathbun or goad him into assaulting them.
Squirrel Busters like John Allender -- a Scientologist who traveled all the way from San Jose, California, to stake out Rathbun's house -- have claimed to the local south Texas media that they are volunteers and are working on a "documentary" about Rathbun. They said they are not working for the church, but had taken it upon themselves to get out the word that Rathbun is not using Scientology technology correctly. Or something. They hired a local ex-cop to help them rent local property and get the lay of the land. No matter where Rathbun goes in town, the Busters hover around him and get in his face.
Mark Collette, a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times exposed the Squirrel Busters' real agenda. A videographer named Bert Leahy worked only a few days for the goon squad, and then told his story to Collette and to Rathbun: the Busters are the creation of longtime Scientology private investigator David Lubow, who runs a "war room" in a nearby hotel, keeping in close contact with people in Los Angeles, one of the main hubs of Scientology.
"Dave Lubow is a rimless zero without the rim. He is living proof that you can soak money out of the church of Scientology forever by 'investigating' things forever and never coming to any conclusion," says Mike Rinder, who until 2007 was Scientology's chief spokesman and also oversaw the Office of Special Affairs, its intelligence and covert operations wing. "He is engaged in underhanded, sleazy stuff and manages to convince people that he actually does investigations. And he gets paid a lot to do it, and just keeps sucking the money out of them."
According to Leahy, Lubow told the Busters that they really only had one aim: to make Rathbun's life "a living hell" and rile up his neighbors so much, he will be forced to leave the community -- and then to follow him wherever he goes.
Once again, Scientology is revealed to be running a pure intimidation racket, using its thugs and goons to push its perceived enemies into nightmarish legal sinkholes.
That pattern and practice goes back a long, long way.
Before the Squirrel Busters, some of the church's nastiest harassment campaigns made use of a disgraced Los Angeles cop who for years was Scientology's go-to private investigator.
Eugene Ingram was fired from the LAPD in 1981, the same year he was indicted for tipping off drug dealers to raids and running a prostitution racket.
In other words, a helluva guy.
The next year, he was hired by Marty Rathbun to work for Scientology.
Multiple times over his many years as Scientology's chief thug, Ingram ran into accusations that he was impersonating a cop as he tried to intimidate people the church was suing, or that Scientology wanted information from. There are cases of this across the country. I am most familiar with the time he strong-armed a man name Robert Cipriano, who lived in New York, by giving Cipriano the impression that he was an LAPD detective. Using Cipriano's own legal troubles as leverage, Ingram intimidated him into signing a false affidavit about Graham Berry, a man Scientology wanted to destroy.
"Eugene Ingram is a caricature of a private investigator. He's like what he thinks a private investigator in Central Casting should be like," says Rinder. "You know, he wears loud suits, slicked-back hair, an expensive car. Everything about him is loud and obnoxious. And he's about as subtle as a brick."
There's no doubt that Ingram and Lubow are giving Scientology what it wants -- strong-arm tactics by ruthless operators. But as in the case of its attorneys, which we brought up earlier in the countdown, the inevitable result is that Scientology only builds on its reputation as a retaliation machine that will pervert any rule or law to get what it wants.
See you Monday with No. 18. -- but check back tomorrow for our regular weekend feature, Commenters of the Week. There's still time to make the final cut, so hit us with those pithy or pointed or poignant missives!
BIZARRO UPDATE: The story of the Squirrel Busters is an ongoing one, and today, well, you just have to see this. Earlier in the week, we noticed that Rathbun had taken a hose to the Squirrel Busters, who continue to do video stand-ups in front of his house. Now, he's taken things a step further, setting up sprinklers to make the cul-de-sac in front of his house a constant downpour. In the following video, take in the bizarre scene of ponchos and umbrellas under the south Texas sun:
What does this all signify? Isn't Marty getting a bit mean? Are the Squirrel Busters becoming martyrs to the cause?
Look, no one said Marty Rathbun is making official Scientology look any better than the Squirrel Busters are. That's why the Busters are on this list. Their bizarre intimidation attempts are irrational, annoying, and lame. And all evidence suggests that they're being funded by the church directly. As the king of the squirrels and his tormentors do battle in Ingleside on the Bay, official Scientology's image continues to sour and rot.
Update: Rathbun tells me the sprinklers are actually his neighbors', who came up with the idea of trying to drive away the Squirrel Busters with artificial rain.
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.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[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?]
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]
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]
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
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]
[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]
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.
- New York City's Food Pantries Are Struggling to Keep Up With a Growing Demand For Meals
Sat., Nov. 28, 12:00am
Sat., Nov. 28, 12:00pm
Sat., Nov. 28, 1:30pm
Sat., Nov. 28, 7:30pm
- As Islamophobic Rhetoric Gets Louder, NYC Muslims Fear for Their Mosques
- Forget Big Chain Theaters — Watch Movies at These Cool NYC Spots Instead