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Inside Scientology: Scientology versus the Merchants of Chaos

Throughout its nearly 30 years of existence, the Church of Scientology has had problems with its image in the media.

Newspaper articles have called it a "bizarre brain-washing cult" founded by a former science fiction writer. Television coverage of recent hearings in Clearwater, Florida — home of the Church's U.S. headquarters — emphasized testimony that the group's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, is in hiding and, according to his son, might even be dead. And the Reader's Digest recently printed two controversial stories, which, according to one source, have slowed the Church's growth.

Scientology literature, on the other hand, is replete with numerous newspaper and magazine stories which portray the group in a favorable light. These stories cite the Scientology drug control program, Narconon; the countless "Success Stories" written by people who say they have benefitted from Scientology; and endorsements by celebrities such as John Tavolta, John Brodie, and Cathy Lee Crosby.

Hubbard himself claims that much of the bad publicity haunting Scientology is generated by "Merchants of Chaos," whom he describes as "the politician, the reporter, the psychiatrist with his electric shock machine, the drug manufacturer, the militarist and arms manufacturer, the police and the undertaker, to name the leaders of the list. . .even individuals and family members can be Merchants of Chaos.

"As truth goes forward, lies die," Hubbard says in Scientology: A New Slant on Life. "The slaughter of lies is an act that takes bread from the mouth of a Chaos Merchant. Unless he can lie with wild abandon about 'how bad it all is,' he thinks he will starve. The world simply must not be a better place, according to the Chaos Merchant. If people were less disturbed, less beaten down by their environment, there would be no new appropriations for police and armies and big rockets, and there'd be not even pennies for a screaming, sensational press."

To help counter its increasingly negative image in the media, Scientology established its "Guardian's Office" in 1966. Although critics of the organization claim the Guardian's Office acts as a secret-police force, the Church simply calls it "the administrative bureau for the Church. It handles public relations, finances, legal and social matters and is active in defending and seeing to the viability of the Church."

Some of the first policies of the Guardian's Office were extremely controversial, as related in the accompanying story. These policies have been discontinued, say current Scientologists.

Representatives of the Guardian's Office in San Francisco have supplied the News-Herald with a great deal of written information about the Church, but so far they have refused numerous requests to be interviewed on the record. Representatives of the Scientology mission in Santa Rosa also have indicated they do not wish to be interviewed by the News-Herald.

In other cases, nevertheless, the Guardian's Office has been extremely aggressive in its dealings with the media. Following is a brief look at some of those cases.

* In 1977, the San Diego Union was hit by a Scientology lawsuit asking $10,000 in damages for invasion of privacy when a Union reporter signed up for a Scientology course, intending to write a story about it. Church officials offered to drop the suit if the article wasn't published, but when it ran anyway, the damage claim was increased to $900,000, and charges of fraud and deceit were added.

The case, however, was dismissed on summary judgment.

* A book, called The Scandal of Scientology and written by Paulette Cooper, a freelance writer from New York, drew a powerful response from Scientologists.

Even before the book's release in 1971, Cooper says she was harassed by Scientologists who knew she was researching their organization. And following publication, she claims Church agents stole her stationery, sent themselves a bomb threat, reported it to the FBI, and had her indicted by a federal grand jury on criminal charges. Two years later, after she'd spent more than $20,000 in legal fees and $6,000 for psychiatric treatment of a nervous breakdown, Cooper was cleared of the charges by undergoing a court-supervised, sodium pentothal "truth serum" test.

And it wasn't until 1977 that documents uncovered in FBI raids on Scientology offices revealed an "Operation Freakout" which concerned "getting PC incarcerated in a mental institution or jail, or at least to hit her so hard that she drops her attacks."

Operation Freakout also called for sending a bomb threat to an Arab embassy after getting Cooper's fingerprints on the notepaper used for the threat. Cooper says there's evidence the Church assigned members "to date me to try to get information about me"; she also says smear letters have been sent to the other tenants in her apartment building, alleging she's a prostitute and has venereal disease.

Scientology literature calls the allegations in Cooper's book "outrageous and susceptible to exposure as falsehood." Cooper's publishers were sued, and agreed to withdraw the book from the market. Included in the settlement, according to Scientology literature, was "a full, signed retraction of a very large number of false statements made by the author."

But the battle between Cooper and Scientology continues. The writer, now 40, claims that since publication of her book she's been served with 18 lawsuits filed against her by the Church, and that she currently has two suits pending against the Church and one countersuit charging Scientology with harassment. A Scientology press release received by the News-Herald last September says the Department of Justice is investigating allegations that Cooper "compromised the security of Grand Jury proceedings by suborning federal agents, illegally obtained secret government information, perjured herself in legal deposition, and engaged in the use of sex to gain favors from government employees."

* Articles on Scientology in the Clearwater Sun and the St. Petersburg Times in Florida prompted a $1 million suit against the Sun, and threats of a suit against the Times in 1976.

The Scientologists had asked the Times to balance its coverage with positive aspects of the Church "rather than focus on isolated instances from the past."

The Sun, however, countersued and the Times sued for an injunction barring the alleged harassment of its reporters. Scientology thereupon dropped its suit against the Sun and didn't follow through on its threat to sue the Times; the Times went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation of the Church.

Both papers successfully sought the release of more than 48,000 documents seized in the 1977 FBI raids. According to the Times, these documents show that Scientologists anonymously sought to defame the husband of a Times reporter by falsely implying he was guilty of financial misconduct as director of the local Easter Seal Society; that a Church agent obtained a job in the Sun's newsroom for the primary purpose of surveying the paper's activities; that Scientologists spread rumors linking Times officials with the FBI, the CIA, and the Communist party; and that Scientologists harassed its reporters.

* Two of the few books sold in Scientology bookstores that are not products of the Church's own publications department are The Hidden Story of Scientology and Playing Dirty: The Secret War Against Beliefs, both by freelance journalist Omar Garrison.

Hidden Story is touted as "the first full-length presentation of the investigation into Scientology by a distinguished non-Scientologist writer." The book investigates charges that there exists a worldwide secret alliance with interlocking national organizations whose common goal is the establishment of a strictly controlled, one-world society. Scientologists, according to the book, claim they're being "subjected to relentless attack by this 'global conspiracy' because the Church has challenged their aims and exposed their methods." Playing Dirty focuses more on the Scientology burglaries of federal offices and plots to bug Internal Revenue Service offices in the mid-'70s — all of which Garrison calls a "caper" — and the 1977 FBI raids.

Hidden Story is available in the Sonoma County Central Library in downtown Santa Rosa; both books are sold at the Scientology mission at 721 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa.

* In 1980 Scientology allegedly launched a global campaign to prevent publication of a Reader's Digest story entitled "Scientology: Anatomy of a Frightening Cult" which eventually appeared in the magazine's May, 1980, issue.

According to the writer, Digest Senior Editor Eugene Methvin, the Church hired a detective agency to investigate him. Reader's Digest offices in six countries were picketed or bombarded with nuisance phone calls. And in Denmark, South Africa, and Australia the Church unsuccessfully sued to prevent publication. The first article was followed by "Scientology: The Sickness Spreads" in the Digest issue of September, 1981. In the second story, Methvin quotes one of Hubbard's standing orders, referring to people who criticize Scientology: "Find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace. Originate a black PR campaign to destroy the person's repute and to discredit them so thoroughly they will be ostracized. Be very alert to sue for slander at the slightest chance so as to discourage the public presses from mentioning Scientology. The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win."

Next week: An interview with L. Ron Hubbard, Jr. (son of the founder of Scientology) plus an interview with a husband and wife who worked as deprogrammers in the San Francisco Bay Area while actually serving as "double agents" for the Church of Scientology.

[Picture / Caption: L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology and writer of many of its controversial policies.]