Johnny Get Your Modem – Scientology’s War with the Internet

    Johnny Get Your Modem – Scientology’s War with the Internet


    Johnny Get Your Modem – Scientology’s War with the Internet

    I wrote this article, and it was published a few days ago here in Arizona in a publication called Java. They even ran some of the photos of the private investigators who were filming us at our May 6th protest. At least now some of the local caffiene fiends will know what’s going on here.


    Johnny Get Your Modem – Scientology’s War with the Internet

    by Stephen E. Marinick

    “This is a criminal organization day in and day out. It makes Jim and Tammy (Baker) look like kindergarten.” Vicki Aznaran, former Scientology top executive.

    I’m not a confrontational person by nature. Actually, that’s a pretty big understatement – my xenophobia makes Howard Hughes look like a social butterfly. I only venture outside the house when I need to stock up on Cocoa Puffs or prove to one of my clients that I’m still alive. The rest of the time I screen my calls, write a little email, and leave the rest of the world to run its course. So what controversy raised my reptilian blood pressure enough to make me engage in heated public argument, and even attend an organized protest? This is the story of my ongoing battle with the Church of Scientology, and its attacks on free speech on the Internet.

    Since I first plugged myself into the Net I’ve spent several hours a day playing Jack Kerouac on the Infobahn. I’m like a 16-year-old kid with the keys to the station wagon. At last a medium where I can instantly exchange information on any topic imaginable with a global audience. And thanks to anonymous remailers and public-key cryptography, my communication is largely free from the prying eyes and censor-happy hands of the government. It’s a degree of freedom that grows on you quickly; I soon became reluctant, and finally unwilling to give back those station wagon keys.

    So how does Scientology fit into all this – isn’t it just a slightly wacky religion with a few celebrity members? That’s what I would’ve told you last year, before I had witnessed first-hand the church’s penchant for crushing its critics into silence. There was a Scientology office near my high school years ago. The big sign said “Free Personality Testing” and we always used to jokingly add “And Removal.” Little did I know that this attempt at humor was more accurate than funny.

    Scientology is a pseudo-science based on L. Ron Hubbard’s writings, primarily the book _Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health_. This combination of amateur psychiatry and unsupported scientific theories suggests that humans are the victims of a “reactive mind” which is a collection of “mental image pictures” or “engrams” of past traumas which effect our actions. Only by clearing out these “engrams” (a Dianetic process called auditing, using a device called an E-meter) can we regain control of our actions, and eliminate “illnesses, unwanted sensations, misemotions, somatics, pain, etc.” The basic Scientology sell goes something like this: “Here’s a free personality test. Uh oh, this test indicates that you have some serious problems. Guess what, Scientology can help you with that.” Oh yeah, auditing can cost anywhere from $50 to $500/hour and the E-meter, which you can make yourself for $20 worth of radio Shack parts, can go for as much $3000. Looks like anyone interested in the Scientology path to enlightenment had better have a bankroll comparable to Thurston Howell III’s.

    I got involved with this skirmish when I heard that an anonymous remailer in Finland had been raided by local police, at the request of Interpol and the Church of Scientology. Anonymous remailers provide a way to communicate without revealing your identity. You send a message to the remailer, and it strips off all the identifying information, then forwards it to the final destination. This provides an invaluable service to victims of abuse, for example, who can share their experiences without embarrassment. Of course there are other uses too. Want blow the lid on the sexual harassment where you work, but still keep your job? Want to share your recipe for LSD, or solicit spankings from deviant debutantes? The anonymous remailer is just the ticket.

    I learned that for the first time in the history of the Net an anonymous remailer had been forced to expose the identity of one of its users. The Church of Scientology claimed that someone had broken into its computers in Los Angeles and stolen some documents, which were then posted to the Internet via an anonymous remailer in Finland. The trail from Interpol and the LA police to Scientology is very murky however, and details about the “investigation” are scarce, raising strong suspicions about the true motives for the raid. When was the last time a church had to get Interpol involved because of a computer break-in anyway? I can see the headlines: “INTERPOL HELPS NUNS TRACK DOWN STOLEN BINGO SCHEDULE.” Determined to learn more about this confusing tale, I gravitated towards the eye of the hurricane: alt.religion.scientology.

    Usenet is a collection of “newsgroups” within the Internet, where individuals can leave messages relating to any of hundreds of topics ranging from bestiality to biomechanics. One of these newsgroups is called “alt.religion.scientology” or a.r.s. Readership of this group, which was started in 1991, consists largely of church critics (called SPs or Suppressive Persons) and ex-members.

    The church’s reaction to all this criticism was to try to shut down a.r.s. One of their lawyers, Helena Kobrin, issued a control message on January 10, 1994 in a desperate attempt to remove the newsgroup. She went so far as to claim that the name “alt.religion.scientology” was a copyright violation because it contained the word “scientology.” The Net’s reaction to this incredible stretch of logic was swift and certain – the cancel message was ignored, and concerned readers came running to a.r.s. to tell the church what they thought of these strong-arm tactics. A short time later, a number of Scientology-critical posts were mysteriously cancelled using forged messages. Each cancel contained the explanation “CANCELLED DUE TO COPYRIGHT VIOLATIONS.” It was becoming increasingly clear that the church was determined to take the law into its own less-than-steady hands.

    One outspoken critic of Scientology, an ex-minister named Dennis Erlich, had his home raided early one morning by Scientologists and rent-a-cops bearing a writ of seizure (the civil-suit equivalent of a search warrant.) They spent six hours copying and deleting files on his computer, and packing up his books and other materials. His crime? He has posted excerpts of some of Scientology’s teachings and policies along with his commentary. This practice, known as “fair use” of copyrighted materials, rarely brings such drastic consequences. But if the subject of the commentary is the Church of the Iron Fist, watch out.

    Since electing to speak out against the church, Dennis has also been deposed in two Scientology-related legal cases which he knows nothing about. There have also been number of other mysterious acts directed at him which, though not connected directly to the church, seem highly coincidental to say the least. While acting as a guardian of his niece and nephew, a strange couple attempted to coax the children into their car. His employer lost a large account which happened to have the Church of Scientology as a client, just after the raid. His mail has been delivered opened, and his street number has been sanded off his curb by some unknown party. Dennis’ case is currently pending litigation, and the Electronic Freedom Foundation (the ACLU of the Net) has set up a fund to help cover his legal costs.

    So what do the Scientologists have to say about all this? That’s what I went to a.r.s. to find out. The first task, figuring out who was a Scientologist and who wasn’t, proved easier than I had imagined. Scientologists on a.r.s. seem to exhibit distinct personality traits, an annoying mix of arrogance and immaturity, tempered with a generous dose of illiteracy. It is usually very difficult to get Scientologists to engage in a real conversation. They have been trained so hard to manipulate people that they are usually far too deeply entrenched in their personal agendas to listen to what you have to say. They are also very fond of one-line answers which don’t address the original question. Things like “Scientology continues to expand around the world and help people, while you create only hate.” A single Scientologist may post 20 or 30 of these literary masterpieces in a single day. It has been suggested that they are forbidden to read a.r.s. but can post there – this would explain a great many of their non sequitur responses.

    Another popular tactic was to post 30-40 anonymous “wins” each day, in an attempt to “drown out” the critics. These “wins” are vague, unsigned testimonials expounding on the merits of various Scientology courses and services, and are a required part of completion. I think even the Scientologists got tired of reading this drivel, and eventually stopped “robo-posting” it.

    The exact number of Scientologists posting on a.r.s. is hard to determine, especially since they often use multiple names and share accounts. On more than one occasion a Scientologist has accidentally signed a different name to his message than the one on the account he was using. At least one pro-Scientology poster is or has been a public relations employee of the church, despite his statements to the contrary, and was identified as such in Scientology literature.

    Despite claims that Scientology can improve one’s IQ, the posts from Scientologists more often resemble 3rd-grade schoolyard taunts than exchanges between adults (no offense to 3rd graders.) Check out these gems from Scientology Nobel laureates (typos & grammar from original):

    “Only people with something to hide have anything to fear.” (Scientologist when asked why a church needs a private investigator.)

    “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth – the rest of us will get something better.” (Scientologist’s version of popular bible verse.)

    “You take a great risk of honesty and integrity when you deal with Factnet.” (Scientologist attempting to criticize FACTnet, a cult-awareness information archive.)

    “I don’t think you would understand L. Ron Hubbard.

    He didn’t sit around getting his information from papers and books.” (Scientologist response to question about Hubbard’s research.)

    “This is RICH!!

    The people that barbecued six million Jews have decided Scientology is not a religion.” (Scientologist reply to a report that Germany has declared Scientology a business, not a religion.)

    “Whatever you say. The expert of the toilet has spoken.” (Scientologist’s reply to a question about his beliefs.)

    One of the most telling exchanges on a.r.s. was between an ex-Scientologist (M.Hunt) and an active Scientologist who was a newcomer to a.r.s. (Jet.) Through private email (disguising his true identity) M.Hunt convinced Jet that he was a high-ranking Scientology officer who was on a covert mission to discredit critics of the church, and needed Jet to go “undercover” to help him. Note how Jet refers to non-Scientologists as “raw public” and admits to hiding Scientology-critical books at his local library!


    If you get replies from other (public) Scientologists, you are to tell them you are working for OSA on an Internet Project which is confidential and cannot be discussed. It is your Responsibility to inform the Field of your position.


    I’ll do my best, but I’ll have to check anyone out before I tell them. I’ll liase w/ you.


    Be aware that not everyone on ARS is informed of the Internet Project; over the last two years, thousands of Public Scientologists have posted to ARS!


    That is one of the reasons I wanted to handle this newsgroup. But the NUMBER ONE reason is RAW PUBLIC shouldn’t get the kind of first impression of Scientology that they are getting from ars.


    I will have a study assignment for you soon; this concerns proofreading certain Anti-Scientology books, and finding flaws and errors and omissions in them to post to ARS. Reading this material will also help you on post, as you will be better able to get in Comm with the critics, and can quote them passages out of these texts to establish confidence and trust.


    I’ve actually gone to the State Library and browsed through some of the books, I must say I liked all the photographs of LRH and his friends. I didn’t bother reading too much of it, it was like listening to someone telling me bad things about one of my best friends.

    I’d like to see those books removed from the public libraries.

    One time I took them all and hid them behind and under bookshelves, and when I checked a year later, they were still hidden & dusty 🙂 haha

    Eventually, M.Hunt was well on the way to getting Scientologist Jet to read anti-Scientology books as his “study assignment.” Unfortunately, after writing to other critics “under cover” for a while Jet got suspicious and broke off. But not before getting wrapped up in a phony “web of intrigue” that kept readers rolling on the floor laughing for weeks. It’s actually a little bit scary how eager Jet was to become involved in covert activities for his church – as I’ve said in the past, “Scientology ethics” appears to be an oxymoron.

    One of the things that makes talking to Scientologists so difficult is their special language, comprised of hundreds of words which have meaning only within the context of the church. This is an idea which is explained in George Orwell’s _1984_. In this book Orwell describes “newspeak”, a language designed to help make seemingly illogical ideas easier to swallow. Once you get the subject to start using this whole different language, he can no longer put ideas in common-sense terms (a practice which would discredit the ideas instantly.) Here’s a sample of some Scieno-speak and the what it means:

    I lost ARC with my husband who is an SP and full of entheta. If he doesn’t get his ethics in, I’m going to disconnect.

    (I’m arguing with my husband because he thinks Scientology is full of shit, and he tells me so. Unless he changes his mind, I’m leaving him.)

    Today in session I had a cognition about an engram from my wholetrack which was the why for my somatic; this led to a huge cluster blow from my forehead and lots of VGIs and case gain!

    (During auditing I realized that I got clubbed on the head in a past life; this realization cured the headaches I have been having and now I appear to be improving spiritually.)

    The root of most Scientologists’ behavior can be found in a concept called “cognitive dissonance.”

    It simply means the inability to fit two disparate concepts into one’s mind.

    For example, a dichotomy like “I spent $300,000 dollars and ten years on Scientology” and “Scientology is a bunch of garbage” can’t exist in the average Scientologist’s mind. They spend most of their waking hours trying to justify the actions of their church to themselves and others.

    To someone who isn’t caught in this mental maze the actions of the church have more in common with organized crime than they do with religion. Although to my knowledge no critic has found a severed horse head in his bed, there are some other disturbing events. Just ask Jeff Jacobsen, another long-time church critic who participated in the two most recent pickets of the Mesa Scientology headquarters. The church sent its private investigator, Eugene Ingram, around to Jeff’s work to take a few pictures and later to talk to the neighbors. Ingram is an ex-cop who was kicked off the force in 198X following an investigation into prostitution and drug connections. Following Ingam’s visits “someone” tried to get access to Jeff’s protected phone records.

    Another critic in California had a surprise visit from two representative of the church, who wanted to “talk things over.” Next the church’s hired thug Ingram called the critic’s employer, suggesting that he had been involved in a variety of illegal activities. Accounts of this kind of harassment have been coming in from a.r.s. readers all over the country, and documentation suggests this sort of thing has been going on for years.

    So on May 6th, the anniversary of the release of L.Ron Hubbard’s book _Dianetics_ I joined a group of other cyber-rights activists outside the Mesa Arizona headquarters of Scientology to protest its activities. We all wore bright yellow T-shirts with a big “SP” (suppressive person) on the back, an carried signs with messages like “Hands Off Internet” and “Scientology Harasses Critics.” I was tempted to bring one that said “An Engram’s for a Lifetime, Not Just for Christmas” but thought better of it.

    Last time we protested, on March 12th (Hubbard’s birthday) the Scientologists called the cops on us. We had already registered with them though, so they spent most of their time explaining to the churchies why they couldn’t drag us off to jail. Then the Scienos lied to the Tribune newspapers, claiming that we had been “yelling at cars.” And on our way out, they took pictures of all of us and our license plates. This does little to dispel the rumor that the church’s ruthless intelligence branch, the innocent-sounding Office of Special Affairs, keeps detailed dossiers on all critics.

    At our May 6th protest things were even more interesting. First the employees at the local org subjected us to a repeated playing of one of Hubbard’s tunes from the 1970’s (imagine Barry White doing the theme from “Who’s the Boss”) via a boom box placed on their front doorstep. While this was indeed an inhumane and effective tactic, it did not deter us from our cause. Shortly thereafter, a rental car with no license plates parked across the street, and the two husky male occupants began to photograph and videotape us. An observer reported that when he asked them what they were doing, they told him they were from the _Arizona Republic_. Some new cutting-edge journalistic technique, perhaps?

    I guess as long as the church keeps up its unethical activities, we will have a good reason to continue to read a.r.s. and march up and down the sidewalk outside their headquarters. Who knows, at the present rate, I may even get something resembling a sun tan. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to their own ideas about what religion is – no matter how unconventional. But criticism is a fact of life. Bullying dissenting voices into silence is a practice that will never produce support, especially among the idealists who populate the Internet. Some disgruntled hacker already posted hundreds of messages to the newsgroups with the line “Free Phone Sex” followed by the Scientology 800 number. But if the Church of Scientology can learn to deal patiently and truthfully with critics, it may one day find an open-minded and receptive audience on the Net.

    For more information about Scientology on the Internet visit

    on Usenet. If you don’t have Net access you can write to this address for more info: PO Box 3541 Scottsdale AZ 85271.


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    Stephen E. Marinick


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