A wail was heard across the land tonight.
Just as we were leaving the office for the evening, we were notified that thousands of people who recently signed a White House petition about Scientology had received e-mail notices that the Obama administration would not, in fact, respond to the petition.
The petition, started by attorney Graham Berry, did meet its minimum required number of signatures. But you can see here why the White House says it can’t respond:
Thank you for signing the petition “EXAMINE THE GOVERNMENT’S FAILURE TO INVESTIGATE AND PROSECUTE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY CRIME, FRAUD AND ABUSE.” We appreciate your participation in the We the People platform on WhiteHouse.gov.
The We the People Terms of Participation explain that “the White House may decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government.” The Department of Justice is charged with investigating federal crimes and enforcing federal criminal laws. Accordingly, the White House declines to comment on the specific law enforcement matter raised in this petition.
We understand why signers of the petition are disappointed. But after the jump, we’ll explain why we’re actually encouraged — at least a little — by Obama’s response.
The public first heard that the FBI was investigating the way Scientology was treating its workers in February, in Lawrence Wright’s excellent profile of director Paul Haggis in The New Yorker. Since then, some sources — particularly former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun — have spoken about being interviewed by federal agents, seeming to confirm that the government was looking into Scientology in a big way.
More recently, Rathbun has complained on his blog that Scientology leader David Miscavige managed to squelch the FBI investigation by using influence at the Justice Department. This is what prompted Berry to write his petition, asking Obama to speak publicly about how and why the FBI investigation was stopped in its tracks.
That was a bold question, and it was exciting to see more than 6,000 people put their names on it.
But if you know how federal investigations work, you know that there’s little chance Obama could discuss this topic, even if he wanted to. Federal agencies and their investigators tend to be very selective about what they say about completed, successful cases. But uncompleted ones, or closed investigations? They tend to say nothing.
Could the President, however, open an official investigation of his own Justice Department, and ask why a probe of Scientology never came to anything? Sure he could. But never in a million years based only on a petition signed by 6,000 people.
If, in fact, David Miscavige managed to fend off an FBI investigation by having someone with influence at the Justice Department apply pressure, that’s something I’d like to know more about myself — and hopefully, far better journalists than your narrator, with solid sources at Justice, can root it out. And of course, there’s another possibility: if the FBI investigation is not, in fact, dead, we’d get the same response from the White House.
In the meantime, I do take some solace in the White House response. I had predicted, when the petition had just got going, that the Obama administration would dismiss it by saying it doesn’t get involved in conflicts of a religious nature. I was wrong. Look again at the language of the response.
It’s the Justice Department’s job to enforce federal crime, the White House writes. And Obama can’t speak about this law enforcement matter.
At least, in this regard, Obama correctly places this matter in its proper context. This was not a question of religion. It was a matter of whether Scientology is committing federal crimes which should be treated as a law enforcement matter.
If Obama can’t comment on such an investigation, at least he is not trying to pass it off as something less than what it is: reports of federal crime.
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.
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing “disconnection”]
[Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay]
[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
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]
[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]
[Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]
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!]