UPDATE: After the jump, Anonymous provides a poignant reminder that this is the end of an era.
The siege in South Texas is apparently finally over. Marty Rathbun has returned from his trip to Germany, and he tells me that only one member of the Squirrel Busters goon squad that was previously planted outside his house — a former cop, and not a Scientologist — has been seen hanging around.
“Everyone else is gone,” Rathbun said this afternoon. “Some clumsy private eye cased us out at dinner yesterday. I don’t know if that’s the new strategy.”
Regular readers know that we’ve been reporting on the Squirrel Busters siege since April. That’s when an intimidation squad sent by Scientology arrived at Rathbun’s Corpus Christi-area home with cameras strapped to their heads demanding to know if Rathbun was auditing people outside of church authority.
Until 2004 when he defected, Rathbun was the second-highest ranked executive in Scientology. In 2009, he started a blog that is highly critical of Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige. In retaliation, Scientology sent the “Squirrel Busters” to harass Rathbun and make his life “a living hell.”
(Scientology traditionally calls people who practice Scientology outside of the church itself “squirrels.” So the goon squad was sent to “bust” Rathbun, who is still an adherent of L. Ron Hubbard’s philosophies, even as he criticizes the church itself.)
As we reported the weekend before last, the Squirrel Busters squad had briefly left Rathbun’s neighborhood, moving out of a house it had rented, but then returned to case his house when they learned that Rathbun was about to travel to Germany at the invitation of Ursula Caberta, a German government official who has worked to curb Scientology’s influence in that country since 1992. Rathbun confronted the Squirrel Busters about his goals in Germany, and we noted that Scientology’s intimidation squad was looking like it had some doubts. Now, they’ve apparently finally given up their daily siege of Rathbun’s house after nearly 5 months.
Rathbun’s visit was big news in Germany, and got him on a prime time television talk show. One thing he said on TV in particular was noted in Europe and the UK: that Rathbun personally witnessed actor Tom Cruise call Bill Clinton and ask him to influence Tony Blair about giving tax breaks to Scientology.
That news was reported here at Runnin’ Scared and in the UK. But nowhere else in the U.S. press.
“I knew what happened over there wasn’t going to be talked about here at all. Except for the Village Voice,” Rathbun said. “It’s just the way it is here. Believe me, there’s a lot of stuff I told Tom [Tobin] and Joe [Childs at the St. Petersburg Times] that they never printed. Stuff with CNN, too. But the U.S. media has no balls.”
I asked Rathbun if he realized his statements about Cruise and Clinton would generate such buzz (in Europe, at least). He said he couldn’t have known — everything he said in the press conference was completely unplanned. After Caberta picked up Rathbun and his wife Monique at the airport, they had little time together before the press conference last Wednesday.
When I asked Rathbun what he thought Caberta got out of his visit, he said she found it valuable in particular for the people who came forward to talk to them both.
“Ursula told me how she got into the whole Scientology thing to begin with. It had to do with some real estate scams in the 1990s that she looked into that involved the church. OSA [the Office of Special Affairs, Scientology’s intelligence and covert operations wing] slammed her for it, so she got more interested. And when I got there, someone came forward who knew about those real estate scams, to give her more information. So the visit helped break loose some interesting stuff,” he says. “There’s this whole group of silent people — they’re not affiliated with the church, but they’re scared of Ursula and the German government. But now they’re willing to talk. They have some interesting cases there that should be investigated.”
Also, Rathbun says, Caberta “hopes she’s going to get some headway with the federal German government that has been maybe too respectful of the bullshit they’re getting from the American government.” (The U.S. State Department has regularly chided Germany for its efforts to curb Scientology.)
I asked Rathbun about something in the press conference I found interesting — that when he told the tale of assaulting his friend Mike Rinder, which was in part what led him to leave Scientology — that he appeared to get emotional. I told him Rinder said he was surprised to see Rathbun get choked up, since he’s told that tale so many times already.
“I really haven’t,” Rathbun said. He’s only told it a few times, he said, and there was something about gesturing with his hands, reenacting grabbing Rinder’s lapels, that hit him hard.
“When you’re doing something that you know is against your own beliefs and your own integrity, it just all came home to me at that moment,” he says. “I was surprised that it hit me like that, too.”
I also asked him about Markus Lanz, the German TV host, who asked him tough questions about his own role in Scientology’s attack strategies.
“It’s true. I had a hand in the creation of the monster and now it’s come back to haunt me,” he says.
Gerry Armstrong, an ex-Scientologist, has announced that he’s going to be talking about Rathbun and Rinder in Berlin — Armstrong appears to want to set the record straight about how much Rathbun, for example, was behind Armstrong’s terrible treatment by Scientology’s legal team. I asked Rathbun if he’s tried to reconcile with Armstrong now that he’s left the church.
“When you give me a straight communication that doesn’t just attack me as the devil, we’ll talk about that. But apparently he’s incapable of that. Maybe when he gets on a grip on himself, I’ll sort it all out with him,” Rathbun answered.
He pointed that another man who had been through rough treatment by OSA, attorney Graham Berry, was in Hamburg with him and Caberta at all times.
“I think she heard some rumors about my incredible persuasive abilities, so she had him there to keep me in check,” he says with a laugh. “He was there the whole time.” Berry, unlike Armstrong, has said positive things about Rathbun’s current efforts to counter his earlier role in the church.
Really, it’s no surprise that Rathbun’s trip to Germany has kicked up a lot of positive and negative feelings on both sides of the Atlantic. But even with such differences of opinion, it’s hard to imagine that there was anything positive about Rathbun’s excursion for church leader Miscavige to take away.
UPDATE: Jesus H. Christ — Thank you Anonymous (and Sponge in particular) for this exclamation point marking the end of an era…
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#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
See all of our recent Scientology coverage at the Voice
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”
An Interview with Nancy Many, Former Scientology Spy
The Paulien Lombard Confession — A Scientology Spy Comes Clean
The Deputy Benjamin Ring Hard Sell — Scientology wants your 401K
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology — the whole series!
The Squirrel Busters Busted — Unmasking the Scientology PI in Charge
Tommy Davis, Scientology spokesman, secretly recorded discussing ‘disconnection’
Scientology internal document says its Office of Special Affairs will ‘handle’ the Village Voice