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Scientology surrounded by secrecy, controversy

Title: Scientology surrounded by secrecy, controversy
Date: Wednesday, 13 October 1993
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: David Barstow
Main source: link (245 KiB)

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In 1975, the Church of Scientology used a front company to secretly buy the historic Fort Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater for $2.3-million.

There has been controversy ever since.

Shortly after making the hotel its worldwide spiritual headquarters, Scientologists issued an internal directive outlining a plan to "fully investigate the Clearwater city and county area so we can distinguish our friends from our enemies and handle as needed." It called for protecting "ourselves against any potential threat by taking control of key points in the Clearwater area."

Scientology documents seized by the FBI in the late 1970s showed that Scientologists had staged a phony hit-and-run accident with former Mayor Gabe Cazares in an attempt to discredit him. Cazares had criticized the group.

The Scientologists also attempted to discredit local reporters and their relatives, obtained private correspondence from the St. Petersburg Times and its lawyers and infiltrated the Clearwater Sun. (The Times won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for its reporting on the Church of Scientology.)

Concerned about complaints that the church was a cult, the City Commission held hearings in 1982 about the Scientologists. The speakers included Ron DeWolf, the son of Scientology founder and former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. DeWolf said his father created a religion called Scientology to solve tax and legal problems.

"My father only knew how to do one thing and that was destroy people," he told the city commissioners.

Scientologists called the hearings a witch hunt, and in the years since Scientologists have survived and prospered.

The Scientologists now own 14 properties in Pinellas County, assessed at more than $21-million. They employ more than 600 staff members, most of whom wear white or navy uniforms that make them a visible presence on downtown streets.

On Cleveland Street, historically Clearwater's central downtown shopping district, many businesses now cater to Scientologists. And Scientology brochures boast that Clearwater has the "largest community of Scientologists in the world."

The bedrock of the Scientology movement is a book written by Hubbard in 1950 called Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.

In it, Hubbard describes a new kind of counseling, which he said could help people increase their IQ, cure themselves of arthritis, allergies, asthma and migraine headaches, and reduce their chances of having a car wreck.

Scientologists believe that by using their methods, people will learn to know themselves better and become better able to accomplish their goals.

Critics say Scientology relies on deception to lure members and keep them loyal. Some call it a cult. Others say it's a scam.

Dianetics holds that people have an analytic mind, which is infallible, like a computer. But people also have a reactive mind, which contains the source of irrational behavior.

The reactive mind is made up of "engrams," which are the legacies of painful experiences. People free themselves of their engrams by recalling the experiences that caused them. This occurs in a Scientology counseling process called "auditing." In auditing, people may attempt to recall events, that occurred before their birth — as earl as three days after conception.

A person being audited generally is hooked up to a device called an "E-meter," similar to a lie detector. The auditor reads the meter on the device to evaluate the subject's responses to questions.

Scientologists also believe that man is an immortal being called a "thetan."

An unusual aspect of Scientology is that it keeps many of its teachings secret, even from its members. Students proceed from one level to the next, and learning the higher levels too early is forbidden.

One of these secret, higher levels is called "OT III," for "operating thetan three." On that level, Scientologists learn that 75-million years ago, Xemu, ruler of the galactic confederation, flew selected beings to volcanoes on a planet called Teegeeach, now known as Earth.

Another unusual aspect is the price. Auditing can cost $800 an hour. To complete Hubbard's progression of courses, a Scientologist could conceivably spend more than $400,000.

According to court records, the organization pays annual operating expenses in Clearwater of $26-million and sends about $200,000 per week to the mother organization in Los Angeles.

According to a Los Angeles Times story, the governing financial policy behind the Church of Scientology, as written by Hubbard, is simple and direct: "MAKE MONEY, MAKE MORE MONEY, MAKE OTHERS PRODUCE SO AS TO MAKE MONEY."

— Times librarian Barbara Hijek and researcher Debbie Wolfe contributed to this report.