On March the 29th a documentary film by Alex Gibney entitled “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” will be broadcast in the US by HBO. It promises to transform public perception of the Church of Scientology.
The Church has launched a furious propaganda war against this film. Among other things, they have written strange letters to film critics, created a website and published articles in their ‘in-house’ magazine “Freedom“. If you follow this link, please bear in mind that, when it was written, the Church of Scientology had not seen the film.
These attacks resemble North Korean propaganda, in that they are so unbalanced as to be totally unconvincing. This has proved counter-productive, because it has created considerable public interest – so much, that HBO recently moved the première to a prime timeslot.
This behaviour is nothing new. When faced with criticism the Church of Scientology has always worked to suppress its expression and persecute the critics by any means necessary. What’s more, this has almost always backfired on them. It is, in fact doctrine to (in the words or L Ron Hubbard) always “attack the attacker“.
After the break, there is a video which provides an early example of this. In the 1990’s the Church of Scientology took extraordinary measures to suppress discussion of its doctrines and behaviour on grounds of copyright (yes – Scientology’s ‘religious doctrine’ is subject to copyright). The law enabled Scientologists (with a police escort) to raid a private home and seize a US citizen’s computers and search and seize his possessions for information about the people he had been communication with online.
Denis Erlich settled with the Church of Scientology, and withdrew from the field – but not before a scurrilous attack was made upon him by by “Freedom” magazine (which is no longer available from from official sources). This attempted to link Erlich with notorious ‘hackers’ of the time and characterised him as a “Copyright Terrorist”. View online | Download as .pdf For Scientology, this was a victory.
Of course, the Church’s heavy-handed suppression of free (online) speech seriously backfired when it attracted the opposition of a loose association of activists known as “Anonymous”. The activities of this collective has proved infinitely more effective in spreading the truth about Scientology’s doctrines and practices than the obscure discussion which the Church originally tried to suppress.
The copyright doctrines that the Church of Scientology sought to keep secret are now common knowledge. For example, this programme made a brief reference to the Xenu story (part of the third level of advanced teachings known as OT3) and this has subsequently been taken up (and mocked) by the likes of South Park.
This BBC programme was ahead of its time, in that it understood what was at stake in during this pioneering period. The court case (which was still pending at the time of broadcast) found that Service providers were no more responsible for the activities of ‘net users than telephone companies were responsible for slanderous remarks made by subscribers during ‘phone conversations.
If the Church of Scientology had won…
The crucial early history of Scientology’s battle against online free speech is further documented in the 1997 book by Wendy M Grossman entitled net.wars and this Wikepedia page supplies an excellent overview.