Why is the battle between Scientology and the Internet being waged so fiercely? Why the Internet? This article from Skeptic magazine will answer your questions; it shows what happened on the Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology in the early days of late 1994 and early 1995, why so many people are opposing Scientology, and what the organization did to provoke the wrath of the Net.
This piece, published in the Colorado free newspaper Westword, tells the story of the August 1995 raid on Arnie Lerma, Larry Wollersheim, and the FACTNet BBS. It also tells the story of the Fishman Affidavit, its appearance on the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, and Scientology's efforts to try to stop it from being spread across the Internet.
After a team of Scientologists attempted to seize the computers of XS4ALL in the Netherlands,
a Dutch reporter decided to find out just what was going on between Scientology
and the Internet. This story from the European magazine
Though somewhat sensationalistic, this article from the December 1995 issue of Wired magazine is noteworthy because it offers a good history of the battle between Scientology and the Internet for beginners. Wired is the most famous and popular of the various Net-related magazines, and thus when it covered the alt.religion.scientology wars it spread the news of the ongoing battle to a great many people who had never heard of it before. Scientology responded to the article, of course, and reportedly Wired will not be publishing anything else about Scientology as a result of this response.
The March 1996 issue of The American Lawyer focuses on the legal battles between Scientology and its Internet opponents. It's a good history of the appearance of the allegedly copyrighted "secret scriptures" of Scientology on the Net, their actual status (despite the Church's claims, three court rulings have declared that they are not "trade secrets"), and the legal steps Scientology has taken to keep them out of the public eye. However, the article doesn't mention the significant legal actions that have recently taken place in the Netherlands. The fact that Karen Spaink's legally authorized Web site containing most of the contents of the Fishman Affidavit (including the Operating Thetan materials) can be accessed from the United States only muddies the water even more, and it makes the "copyright violation" claims of Scientology even more suspect.
The summer of 1996 saw a new tactic in Scientology's attack against the Internet: spam. Thousands and thousands of messages taken directly from the official Scientology web pages were posted to alt.religion.scientology, in an apparent effort to smother all criticism on the newsgroup. The spammed articles consisted of endless reprints of the same few articles, from dozens of bogus user accounts. This article from the June 1996 issue of Toronto's popular Now magazine looks at the tactic of spamming on the net, describing the spamming of alt.religion.scientology as "the largest-ever sabotage of the Internet."
And the war continues. Throughout the tumultuous year 1997 and into 1998, victories were won and lost by both sides. Yet another new Scientology tactic was revealed in March of 1998, when it was revealed that Scientology had announced a campaign to place 116,000 new Scientology Web sites on line for 116,000 individual Scientologists. Each of those pages would be nearly identical in content, and they would contain nothing but links to the official Scientology Web site. Critics of Scientology charged that this was an attempt to spam the Web search engines. This article in the daily Los Angeles newspaper describes the "web spam plan," offering a good summary of the later developments in the war. As for the 116,000 "spam pages" themselves, they are catalogued at Deana Holmes' Scientology Spam Web Pages site.
If you must visit only one Web site to learn about Scientology, this is the one. The webmaster of Operation Clambake, Andreas Heldal-Lund, appeared on alt.religion.scientology from out of nowhere in 1996, at the height of the online war over the distribution of the secret "upper level" writings of Scientology over the Internet. He had read about Scientology and wanted to take part in the exposure of the organization, but no one had heard of him before and he had no personal relationships with any of the major players in the organizations battles at that time, either online and offline. But since its inception, Operation Clambake has been unsurpassed in its efforts to present the truth to about Scientology to the world. This Web site, www.xenu.net, has been repeatedly referenced by newspapers, magazines, and TV shows, and Andreas has repeatedly thumbed his nose at Scientology. His guest book is especially interesting: He invites everyone to write their comments on his site, and he has been praised by critics and Free Zoners alike. Andreas has been subject to numerous legal threats from Scientology over the years, and the organization has tried repeatedly to have his Web site shut down...but Andreas keeps on going. It's a mystery why he hasn't been sued yet, though in late 2000 he announced that Scientology has indeed begun a "noisy investigation" of him, in attempt to discover his "crimes" and expose them. His Web site is still active as of this writing.
If you haven't read this page yet, go there immediately. My good friend Ron Newman has built an extensively researched page containing a amazing amount of research material on the war being waged by Scientology against the Internet, as well as a tremendous archive of newspaper and magazine articles covering the debacle. Anyone doing research into Scientology's background will find this site invaluable.
The event that truly brought battle between Scientology and the Internet into the mainstream happened on February 13, 1995, when Scientology lawyers entered the home of Dennis Erlich (accompanied by armed Federal marshals). They then proceeded to search his entire home. This video file is one of many files at Roland's multimedia archive. Roland has made the video of the raid available for you to watch, though you will need the RealVideo player software to access it. It took over four years (and massive amounts of litigation) before Erlich was finally able to reach a settlement with Scientology over this issue, a short time before the case would finally have come to trial in the middle of 1999. Every delaying tactic conceivable was used to stall the case in the courts. Dennis Erlich was represented pro bono by the law firm of Morrison and Forrester, and he stated that if not for the firm's generosity, his legal costs would easily have been more than $1 million. A settlement was finally reached with Scientology in order to keep his case from coming to trial (Erlich was ready to subpoena Mary Sue Hubbard, among others), but details of the settlement are sketchy because the agreement apparently included a non-disclosure agreement -- something that is almost always required when Scientology finally agrees to settle any of its endless court cases. Dennis Erlich now has his own Web site: Informer Ministries at http://www.informer.org.
Karin Spaink is a journalist who lives in The Netherlands. She became interested in the battle between Scientology and the Internet when it erupted into a full-scale war, and she was not pleased when Scientology took steps to prevent the Fishman Affidavit from being distributed from World Wide Web pages. In her view, this document been filed in court, and as such it was legally in the public domain and could be distributed freely. So she put a copy of the Fishmman Affidavit onto her home page and invited people to look at it. Scientology promptly filed a lawsuit against her, claiming that the contents of the Fishman Affidavit -- including the Operating Thetan materials contained in the document -- were "copyrighted trade secrets." However, repeated requests for Scientology to prove this copyright were denied, and as a result of this a Dutch court legally authorized Karin to display the OT materials on her home page. (OT I and OT III have been declared by the court as copyrighted by Scientology, and Karin has removed these documents from her Web site; however, she does include synopses of these levels for anyone who wishes to know what they are.) As of this writing, Scientology is still trying to get the Fishman affidavit removed from her home page -- and the one hundred other Web pages in Holland that have mirror copies of the affidavit, in support of Karin.
The FACTNet BBS was founded in late 1993, so that its members could distribute useful information about Scientology via modem to those who needed it. FACTNet's founder, Larry Wollersheim, was an ex-member of Scientology who successfully sued the organization and was awarded a judgement of $30 million in damages...but Scientology never paid the money. Instead, since the 1980s the organization has successfully kept Wollersheim's case tied up in the courts, and the damage award was later reduced to $2 million (after two separate appeals to the United States Supreme Court). FACTNet was raided and sued by Scientology, in 1995 after declaring their support for Arnie Lerma (Arnie Lerma's Web site can be found here), but again they managed to successfully defend themselves in court. These two court cases have a plethora of documented evidence to back themselves up...but unfortunately, FACTNet has also made a number of allegations about Scientology that seem as far-fetched as the claims of the organization itself. The latest brouhaha involving FACTNet and Scientology involves the claim that "subliminal messages" have been placed into John Travolta's movie adaptation of Battlefield Earth (the absurdly long novel by L. Ron Hubbard). Prior to the film's release in early 2000, FACTNet sent a number of press releases to various movie-gossip Web sites and organizations about the so-called "subliminal messages" in the movie, and a number of these sites took the bait. Unfortunately, there is no actual evidence on FACTNet's Web site to back up these claims (just as there is little actual evidence to back up the existence of "subliminal messages" in general).
One of the most active participants in the online battle is Grady Ward, a free speech activist from California. His actions enraged Scientology to the point where the organization filed a lawsuit against him, claiming that Grady is the mysterious anonymous SCAMIZDAT, who has posted dozens of copyrighted, confidential, and allegedly "secret" Scientology documents to the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology. Grady's home page contains details of what Scientology has done to try to uncover all of his "crimes." Allegedly, Scientology has spent over $2 million since 1996 in their investigation of him. Grady Ward reached a settlement with Scientology in the middle of 1999 (shortly after Dennis Erlich settled his case)...but his settlement did not include a non-disclosure agreement, and Grady Ward continues to participate on alt.religion.scientology.
Many different tactics have been used by both sides in the war between Scientology and the Internet. The Internet participants believe that their best hope is to bring the news of the battle beyond the bounds of the Net and into the real world. Over the past couple of years, they've discovered that one of the best ways to do this is to organize pickets and protests to draw attention and media coverage to the online conflict. The pickets have been amazingly successful, as they've drawn worldwide media coverage and even re-ignited the controversy surrounding Scientology in Clearwater, Florida, the home of the Scientology Mecca known as "The Flag Base." This site, hosted by Ted Mayett, offers summaries and reports of the various pickets held in many different cities (and several different countries) since 1995.
A few Netizens have made Scientology criticism into a hobby, but few have done so in a manner that is as amazingly entertaining (and infuriating to Scientology) as Mark Bunker's efforts to build Xenu TV. He has videotaped a number of protests against Scientology and made the videos available at his multimedia archive, presenting first-hand proof of what Scientology's actions against its critics are really like. (After all, if it's on TV it must be true!) The purpose of this Web site is to inspire more people to becmome activists, by showing what Scientology pickets are like and attempting to dispel much of the fear that the name "Scientology" invokes. Mark's media work has led him to join Robert Minton's group as the official videographer and media producer for the Lisa McPherson Trust.
Pro-Scientology Web Sites
A few Web sites have been established to counter the arguments and evidence provided on the critical Web sites. Scientology hosts its own Frequently Asked Questions Web site in which it attempts to minimize the efforts of its critics. The statements at this site are vague and unsupported by evidence, however. Other pro-Scientology Web sites that focus on the Internet war include:Welcome to ARS
The maintainer of this Web site, "Bernie," is a former Scientologist who used to work for the Guardian's Office (the organization that was responsible for Scientology's "dirty tricks" campaigns through the late 1970s). His Web site claims that the Web sites critical of Scientology contain little more than propaganda, and he accuses the online critics of hypocrisy, stating that the critics often forward vague evidence and unfounded theories as "proof" of Scientology's attacks.Intolerance Online
A more direct attack against the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, which essentially accuses the participants on the newsgroup of providing nothing but lies, hatred, and "bigotry." This Web site displays some of the most heated postings from the newsgroup's flame wars as an example of the "hatred" on the newsgroup, and it includes links to sites such as CESNUR (viewed by many as a "cult apologist" organization) and the "new" Scientology-operated Cult Awareness Network.
Very few Scientology-affiliated Web sites offer information other than links to the official Scientology site. These Web sites are promoted regularly on alt.religion.scientology by various pro-Scientology posters, and they are certainly worthwhile reading for anyone interested in learning the views and opinions of Scientology towards its critics and perceived enemies. These page never mentions a direct connection to Scientology, but the only people mentioned on the page at all are participants in the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup. Both of these Web sites have been carefully edited so that they makes a number of vicious personal attacks on a number of critics of the organization, that fall just short of libel. Feel free to browse these sites, and notice how the the site claims that there is an "organization behind ARS" -- in other words, a vast conspiracy! (Evidently the founders of parishioners.org weren't satisfied with a Web site that attacks all of Scientology's enemies. Another Web site has been founded, called Bigot Watch, which is especially dedicated to attacking Robert Minton and the Lisa McPherson Trust.