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…
Andreas Heldal-Lund was not the first person to provide information critical of Scientology on the Internet, and he was not the only one who fought attempts by the church to have his website taken down. But for many years, Heldal-Lund’s “Operation Clambake” has been among Scientology’s biggest Internet headaches around the world. A Norwegian computer engineer who became interested in a local Scientology court case in 1996, Heldal-Lund quickly came to symbolize the free-speech fight that was galvanizing Internet activism against Scientology and its heavy-handed methods. As his website grew to be an enormously comprehensive depository of information about the church, Scientology targeted it and Heldal-Lund with retaliation. In liberal Norway, however, they found it tough slogging.
I first wrote about Heldal-Lund in 2001, describing how he was thought of as “the devil” by Scientologists like Tory Christman, who couldn’t imagine why Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs hadn’t been able to take down Operation Clambake and all of its “entheta” — negative information about the church. In that story, I described how it wasn’t only his website that finally broke down Christman’s objections, but it was the way he reached out to her, took her seriously, spoke to her in a rational and calm way about his concerns with Scientology, and ultimately helped her leave the church after she had been in for 30 years. When I asked him about it, about how he had reached across the planet and helped a hardcore Scientologist break out of the thinking that had kept her in its grips for three decades, he was so humble, I have never forgotten his words: “I was just there at the right time, maybe saying the right things,” he said.
Heldal-Lund has been entirely consistent over the last 15 years. He never criticizes an individual for getting involved in Scientology; it’s the church itself and its management that he objects to, and he maintains that the best approach is to provide information and support to anyone who wants to see that information. I’ve found that the best of the old time critics tend to share that point of view. And the rest of this entry will look at others who fit that description. Some are no longer with us, but their efforts have not been forgotten.
It was Jeff Jacobsen who, searching for information on Clearwater, Florida before organizing a picket of Scientology facilities there, stumbled on a notice by the town’s police department that it needed the public’s help regarding an unusual death. Although Jacobsen was in Arizona at the time, he recognized right away the address on the police notice: Scientology’s Fort Harrison Hotel. He quickly notified other critics and a Tampa reporter, and soon, the rest of the world became aware of the strange details of Lisa McPherson’s life and demise under the care of the church. Before long, the McPherson matter became one of Scientology’s worst public relations nightmares in its history. I wrote about Jeff in 1999, first giving him credit for that discovery. He later moved to Florida to be a part of the Lisa McPherson Trust (he now lives in his native South Dakota). To this day, he maintains one of the best sources for information on McPherson’s life and death.
Bob Minton (1946-2010): As this excellent article in the St. Pete Times explains, Bob Minton seemed to come out of nowhere in 1997, and soon became the biggest thing in Scientology watching. Sprinkling his millions all over the place, he seemed like the angel investor critics never knew they needed. I had only one conversation with him — in 2001, when the Lisa McPherson Trust he funded welcomed Tory Christman with open arms as she fled Scientology. He said he was thrilled to help, and it just seemed normal by then that when there was a problem involving ex-Scientologists, Minton was there to make everything right. Of course, just a year later, everything had gone upside down, and Minton, under intense pressure from Scientology’s legal onslaught, was testifying in court that attorney Ken Dandar was a “lying thief.” There were a lot of hurt feelings in those days, but after the defection of some of the people who put that pressure on him, and then Minton’s untimely death last year, it feels like it’s time to remember the man who once inspired many people to take up picket signs against an organization’s abuses.
Ida Camburn (1923-2010) lost a son to Scientology, and she began fighting the organization so long ago, references to her were found in church documents seized in the 1977 FBI raids. I came to know her because, back in the day, you couldn’t write about Scientology without hearing from Ida Camburn. Living right in the shadow of Scientology’s secretive desert headquarters, she would send encouraging e-mails and pass on tips, and nothing ever seemed to discourage her. As I said earlier this year, when documents became public that showed Ida had been duped by a Scientology mole to gather information about journalist Richard Leiby, that revelation made me very angry: “No one, in the 16 years I’ve been reporting on Scientology, was more pleasant and helpful than Ida Camburn,” I wrote. She is missed.
Kristi Wachter has very quietly run two of the most useful websites imaginable — Scientology-lies.com, and TruthAboutScientology.com. They include databases built on Scientology’s own records, which are helpful if you want to know an individual Scientologist’s “completion records” — how many courses or levels a member has accomplished. For a journalist, it’s an amazing tool that helps confirm that a person actually is a Scientologist, for how long, and to what degree. Wachter has had to defend the sites from numerous attacks, mostly from people who didn’t like seeing their names there and some from Scientology itself.
When Rick Ross ran into a DDOS attack of his website (not Scientology-related), he wanted me to know that it was Zenon Panoussis who had the genius to fend off the attack and get him back online. Panoussis is better known for dealing with hellacious litigation in Sweden after he posted some of Scientology’s high-level secret material. Though he eventually lost the case, Zenon had a knack for turning Scientology’s litigation tactics against them, most memorably when he successfully invoked the Swedish constitution to make available to the general public Scientology’s NOTs documents, drawing significant publicity. It took years for Scientology to successfully lobby to amend Swedish law so that the documents could be sealed.
Like Zenon, Dutch writer Karin Spaink [homepage] also withstood years of the Scientology litigation gauntlet in the name of free speech. Spaink had posted the infamous Fishman Affidavit to her website, which contained nearly all of Scientology’s OT level materials, along with her analysis of Hubbard’s work. Ten years after Spaink posted them, a Dutch court found that even if Spaink may have violated copyright law, her quotation of material served a higher goal in exposing Scientology as a group that undermines democracy.
Chris Owen is a British historian best known for Ron the War Hero, published in 1999, a thorough refutation of Scientology’s official account Hubbard’s World War II years. Owen has been quietly working behind the scenes on many of Wikipedia’s pages on Scientology. In Germany, Tilman Hausherr has hosted an anti-Scientology website about as long as Heldal-Lund has in Norway, and his Scientology Celebrity FAQ remains an invaluable resource for getting the lowdown on which celebrities got sucked into the church. David Gerard stopped his involvement in 2000, but he was the most influential Australian critic of his day, and his website is still a major resource.
Here in the U.S., Ron Newman was one of the earliest net-based critics, and focused on the church’s battle with the Internet. Rod Keller was renowned for publishing ARS Week in Review — a summary of the most important posts to the Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology — and also worked for the Lisa McPherson Trust. Speaking of ARS, the history of Scientology criticism would be incomplete without mentioning Scott Goehring, who in 1991 created the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup that would go on to become the bane of Scientology’s existence for the next 15 years. “Modemac,” a Church of the Subgenius member, built the first one of the first anti-Scientology website (founded June 30, 1995), which remains intact and invaluable today. (Ron Newman points out that he and Modemac were beaten to the ‘net by a site built by Bob ‘Da Sloth’ Bingham. It’s no longer online, but you can still see it archived at the Wayback Machine.) Grady Ward and Keith Henson both withstood years as defendants — often pro se — in suits against the Church of Scientology, Henson for copyright infringement and “interference with a religion,” and Ward for copyright infringement and trade secret violations. Ward’s victory on the trade secret claim put an end to Scientology’s dubious argument that their supposedly religious documents were also trade secrets.
Finally, we want to recognize Xenubarb for going full tilt since the 90s, picketing with both OG and Anonymous, writing letters to officials, writing about Scientology at her Daily Kos diary, and even writing a book, a fiction based on her experiences criticizing Scientology.
Others have of course worked to get the word out about Scientology–more than a few galleries and who’s who lists remain, documenting those contributors. But it takes a special kind of dedication to make this much of a contribution, over such a period of time, in the face of such opposition — especially for people who were never in Scientology themselves. [And special thanks to Scott Pilutik for his invaluable help with this entry in our countdown.]
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
#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.
@VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[All recent stories] | [Top 25 People Crippling Scientology] | [Commenters of the Week]
[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
[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]
[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]
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]