Some updates and news nuggets from around the world of Scientology watching this Tuesday morning:
— Last night, Janet Reitman made her second appearance to support her book, Inside Scientology, reading to a packed crowd at Half King in Chelsea. One of the people in attendance was ex-Scientologist Larry Brennan, who Reitman acknowledged as one of the people who was an invaluable source for the book. For me, the most interesting moment of the night was when someone in the audience brought up Paulette Cooper, the last a journalist who wrote a book about Scientology, in 1971. [Oops. Forgot about Russell Miller, “Bare-Faced Messiah,” 1987.]
Cooper was targeted for extreme retaliation by Scientology that was intended to either drive her insane or get her imprisoned for life. Was Reitman concerned that she’d suffer the same fate, she was asked. It was something to see Reitman make a steely glare and say she wasn’t afraid in the least. There was no question that she meant it.
— Roger Friedman has an interesting scoop about how the Jett Travolta Foundation is spending its money. You remember the tragic story of Jett, the son of John and Travolta and Kelly Preston who died in 2009 after having a seizure and hitting his head while the family was in the Bahamas. Some controversy followed because for years the family had attributed Jett’s seizure problems to a little-known condition called “Kawasaki Syndrome.” But to Bahamian police, Travolta admitted that Jett actually suffered from autism — a slap to Scientology, which insists that autism doesn’t exist and is a fantasy of the evil psychiatric profession. In the wake of Jett’s death, Travolta created a foundation in his son’s name. Friedman checked the foundation’s most recent tax records to see how it was giving to charity. Would money in Jett’s name go to Kawasaki Syndrome research? Autism charities? No. Sadly, and predictably, some of the money is instead going to Scientology itself. Out of the $27,850 the foundation gave in 2010, $2,500 went to a Scientology detox charity in Ocala, Florida, Friedman reports.
— Over the weekend, the Australian newspaper The Age reported that the church of Scientology is threatening to sue an anti-cult group there for defamation. The church doesn’t like various things said about it in a brochure the “Cult Information and Family Support” organization put out to advertise a national conference in Brisbane. The brochure claimed that Scientology “psychologically manipulates persons under coercive controlling circumstances and runs a ‘labour camp.'” Perhaps one of our readers could fill us in on Australian libel law. In the U.S., there is no chance that such a lawsuit could gain much traction — everything in the brochure could be backed up with plenty of evidence from court cases, let alone press reports. But what we found more interesting than the possibility of a defamation lawsuit in Australia was the fascinating response from a church spokeswoman, Virginia Stewart, who said that Scientology “shares none of the characteristics of a cult”:
”We do not have a messianic leader, we do not predict the end of the world, our members are urged to think for themselves and are not subject to ‘coercive persuasion or mind control’. And we most certainly do not promote suicide or murder as solutions to human unhappiness. Quite the opposite,” she said.
You may or may not have noticed it, but here at Runnin’ Scared, we try not to use the “c” word. We’ll quote someone using the word, but to us, “cult” is an overused label fraught with contradictory meanings, and ultimately a useless way to describe something as complex and interesting as Scientology.
However, it is notable to see a spokeswoman from Scientology explaining why her church is not a cult. We’ll leave it to our readers to go through her individual points and examine whether they are convincing or not.
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard’s organization:
The Larry Wollersheim Saga — Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud
The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story — How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself
The Jason Beghe Defection — A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue
The Paul Haggis Ultimatum — The ‘Crash’ Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape — ‘Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle’
The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation — Scientology’s former PR genius comes clean
The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross — Scientology lures a young defector into a trap
A Church Myth Debunked — Scientology and Proposition 8
Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back — Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits
When Scientologists Attack — The Marty Rathbun Intimidation
A Scientologist Excommunicated — The Michael Fairman SP Declaration
The Richard Leiby Operation — Investigating a reporter’s divorce to shut him up
The Hugh Urban Investigation — An academic takes a harsh look at Scientology’s past
Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh — A precedent for a Scientology-Branch Davidian link
Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology — A masterful telling of Scientology’s history
The Western Spy Network Revealed? — Marty Rathbun ups the ante on David Miscavige
Scientology’s Enemies List — Are You On It?
Inside Inside Scientology — An interview with author Janet Reitman
Scientology and the Nation of Islam — Holy Doctrinal Mashup, Batman!
Scientologists — How Many of Them Are There, Anyway?
Roger Weller’s Wild Ride — Scientology When it was Hip
The Marc Headley Infiltration — A Scientology Spying Operation Revealed
Placido Domingo Jr: Scientology’s Retaliation is “Scary and Pathetic”