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Scientology foes' data seized // Homes in Boulder, Niwot raided by U.S. marshals

Title: Scientology foes' data seized // Homes in Boulder, Niwot raided by U.S. marshals
Date: Wednesday, 23 August 1995
Publisher: Denver Post
Main source:

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BOULDER — A computerized attack on the Church of Scientology was halted yesterday when U.S. marshals raided the homes of two church detractors.

The marshals turned over the computers and documents to officials of the church.

"Marshals just hauled out all kinds of public records," said detractor Lawrence Wollersheim of Boulder. " . . . attorney-client privilege documents, books legally purchased at any B Dalton bookstore. This was a Scientology cult raid to seize the confidential records of FACTNet."

FACTNet is a nonprofit, Internet computer library established by the two men.

The second raid was at the Niwot home of Bob Penny. "They've taken two computers, hundreds of diskettes, enormous piles of papers, CDs, backup tapes from the computer," he said. "And, the marshals let the Scientology people take them."

To get the court order allowing the raids, lawyer Todd Blakely charged that Wollersheim and Penny were violating federal copyright laws by posting confidential and copyrighted material on the Internet.

Until their computers were unplugged and removed yesterday, Wollersheim and Penny used their FACTNet (Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network) to "educate" subscribers about the evils of Scientology and computer cults.

In an article published in the Boulder Weekly earlier this month, Wollersheim challenged the church and invited Scientologists to sue if they felt what he was doing was libelous or false.

Attorneys for the church apparently took Wollersheim at his word. On Monday, they went to U.S. District Court in Denver, obtained a temporary restraining order against Wollersheim and Penny and obtained an order from Judge Lewis Babcock that authorized the raids.

"The courts take these matters very seriously," Blakely said in a statement released shortly after the raids started at about 9 a.m. "The law is clear — if you are going to violate copyrights, you will have to answer for it in court. Here, the evidence was just clear — they violated the copyrights, they had infringing copies on computer and they threatened future violations. The judge enforced the law."

Wollersheim, who said he has tried to collect a $5 million judgment from The Church of Scientology since 1986 and Penny were excommunicated from the church long before they started their computerized attacks according to church officials.

"Wollersheim has been trying to con the church and the general public for 20 years," said church spokeswoman Karin Pouw. "We recognized him for what he is and expelled him from the church. Now the law has finally caught up with him."

Blakely said that while the church considers what Wollersheim and Penny were doing to be illegal, this is not a criminal case and won't involve arrests. "This is a simple copyright, trade-secrets case," he said. "We are taking his computer because we don' t know what's on the hard drive. We offered him a replacement that we brought with us, but he refused. Yes he's unplugged."

Blakely also admitted he now has the items seized by the marshals.

"This is a library," Wollersheim said as the marshals were wrapping up their operation yesterday. "This group, Scientology, has an FBI history of planting false evidence. And, what the government did is just gave these guys all of this information and walked out the door.

"I have no inventory," he said. "The marshals said I would have an inventory. They just hauled the stuff out the door. I have no idea of what just walked out of here. They took thousands and thousands of pages maybe 100,000 pages or 50,000 pages.

"This information is mailing list and records from 8,500 victims of cults," Wollersheim added. "Their confidential stories of how their lives were ruined by cults are now in the hands of Scientology. This is absolutely insane. There was no due process."

Among the materials confiscated are reports of hundreds-of suicides and attempted suicides of kids going psychotic during secret cult initiations
that have been described on the Internet. He said he and Penny were putting together that information for a possible grand jury investigation into why these people are attempting suicide or committing suicide.

A court order similar to the one obtained by Scientology in Denver was obtained from a federal court in Virginia earlier this month and U.S. marshals seized the same kind of alleged anti-Scientology materials and computer hardware and software from the ho me of Arnaldo Lerma.

In recent months, Lerma, like Wollersheim and Penny, had placed dozens of these documents on the Internet, in a discussion group called alt.religion.scientology, a busy place in cyberspace, where Scientology critics and adherents gather to trade arguments, insults and threats.

For a long time, the church treated its Internet critics as bothersome pests, sometimes answering their critiques, sometimes ignoring them. But in the past week, Scientology has revved up its legal machinery, launching a fierce campaign to protect its mos t closely guarded scripture.

On the same night Lerma's home was raided, church officials also paid a surprise visit to the home of a Washington Post reporter, seeking the return of documents Lerma had sent him. And in Los Angeles, the church has persuaded a judge to seal the court file containing the disputed Scientology documents.

It is from these court files that Wollersheim said he legally obtained some of the documents he placed on the Internet.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.


Scientology is a religious movement founded in 1952 by L. Ron Hubbard, U.S. science-fiction writer and author of the best-selling book Dianetics (1950). The book launched a popular self-enhancement movement out of which Scientology emerged. The basic postulate of dianetics is that experience in this or previous lives, is recorded in the brain as 'engrams,' later re stimulated by similar but not identical situations to cause inappropriate and self-defeating behavior. Through processed exposure of the engrams one can erase them, 'go clear,' and be 'at cause' of one's behavior.

Scientology has ministers who perform some religious rites and sacraments, and who also often have been involved in social work. But their most time-consuming function is generally individual counseling, for which a financial contribution is expected.

Scientology is tightly organized from the top down, with a close-knit inner circle and many highly committed adherents. It has been the topic of considerable controversy and several encounters with government agencies in the United States and the British Commonwealth. In the 1970s it had several hundred thousand followers, at least, and impressive property holdings.