Copyright © 1996 by the Boston Phoenix, Inc. All rights reserved.
by Dan Kennedy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(Converted to HTML, and hyperlinks added, by Ron
links last revised Friday, April 26, 1996)
It was last August 12, a Saturday morning, and Earle Cooley did not seem happy.
Cooley was among several lawyers for the Church of Scientology who, accompanied by federal agents, had just raided the Arlington, Virginia, home of Arnaldo Lerma, a former church member who'd become a harsh critic. The lawyers took quite a haul: Lerma's computer, disks, a scanner, and other materials they thought he may have used to post secret, copyrighted Scientology documents on the Internet.
The success of the operation, though, was not reflected in Cooley's demeanor. "When he was sitting on my couch at the beginning of the raid, he did not look pleased," says Lerma. "He knew there was going to be trouble."
For one thing, as soon as the raid began, Lerma called two friends to have them videotape the proceedings. For another, Lerma told Cooley that he'd just been named to the board of FACTNet, a Golden, Colorado-based anti-cult organization with the legal resources to defend its members.
Soon afterward, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that the raid on Lerma's home -- which Cooley supervised -- had grossly exceeded the scope of the seizure order she had granted. She ordered many of Lerma's materials returned. "It was not the court's intention," she declared, "to give wholesale license to go through Mr. Lerma's possessions willy-nilly."
But Cooley was undaunted. What the judge saw as overzealousness, Cooley told her, was necessary to make sure that all copyrighted materials had been seized. Indeed, when the Washington Post wrote a story about the incident, Cooley sued on behalf of the church. The suit claimed that the story, which included a 46-word excerpt from Lerma's archives, had violated the church's copyright. Again, Judge Brinkema had unusually harsh words for the lawyers' efforts. "Reprehensible," she said of what she saw as an effort aimed at "the stifling of criticism and dissent of the religious practices of Scientology and the destruction of its opponents."
The church did win one significant victory: earlier this year Brinkema ruled that Lerma had violated copyright law.
For those who know the Church of Scientology, these hardball tactics are not surprising. In 1967, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard promulgated what is known as the "fair game" policy: that "enemies" could be "deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist" and "tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed." (Church officials claim the policy was revoked a year later.)
The modern version of this scorched-earth policy is a virtual war on church critics who, like Lerma, post copyrighted church documents on the Net in an effort to expose it. (See "Scientology's Tangled Web," below.) The manner in which the church has pursued its legal claims often appears to reflect another Hubbard saying: "The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win."
What is interesting is that Cooley, one of the leading strategists for a church denounced by critics as a dangerous mind-control cult, is also the chairman of the board of trustees of Boston University. What's also interesting is that, based on his past statements, he appears to be a Scientologist himself.
Cooley, of course, should be free to join whatever religion he likes, and as a lawyer he is free to represent whatever clients he likes. But it's ironic that a leading official of a major university, with a traditional mission to defend freedom of intellectual inquiry, is also a top strategist for an organization that's accused by its critics of of fighting to suppress free expression.
The most notorious incident in the church's controversial history occurred in the late 1970s, when 11 top church leaders, including Hubbard's then-wife, went to prison for burglarizing the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, and other government offices. Hubbard himself was named an "unindicted co-conspirator."
At the heart of Scientology's current legal battle are documents, written by Hubbard, that cannot be shown to members until after they have completed a long series of steps. One of the most sensitive of these secrets is the revelation that much of humanity's misery is caused by the souls, or "body thetans," of space aliens who were transported to Earth 75 million years ago, chained to a volcano, and exploded with hydrogen bombs. (See "The Secrets of Scientology," below.) Indeed, church doctrine holds that a person exposed to such knowledge without sufficient preparation could become sick or even die.
Surely these assertions sound odd, yet from an objective point of view they're no odder than the tenets of, say, Christianity. The problem, according to critics such as Steven Hassan, the author of "Combatting Cult Mind Control" (Park Street Press, 1988) and an internationally recognized expert on cults who's appeared on CBS's "60 Minutes" and ABC's "Nightline," is that the organization is a dangerous cult. Scientology controls its members, Hassan contends, through such techniques as hypnotic trances in which they're taught to reject the anti-Scientologist entreaties of family and friends. Hassan, an alumnus of BU, is appalled that the chairman of its board appears to be a Scientologist.
"I don't think people understand how pernicious Scientology is. They should be horrified that somebody so high up at BU is involved," says Hassan, who became a pioneering exit counselor after leaving the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church in the mid 1970s.
Before ex-members started posting Scientology's documents on the Internet, Scientologists had to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of enlightenment. That, they say, is why the church has pursued its foes with such vigor.
The Lerma case is only the best known example of the church's -- and of Cooley's -- very aggressive tactics. In 1986, for instance, ex-Scientologist Larry Wollersheim sued the church in California, claiming that "fair game" harassment and coercive religious practices worsened his mental illness. In the July/August 1992 issue of the American Lawyer, California Superior Court Judge Ronald Swearinger, who presided at the trial, was quoted as saying that Cooley and his co-counsel made numerous attempts to stop the trial, including filing a motion for Swearinger's disqualification based on "some secret conversation I'd had with someone I'd never heard of." They also tried to claim that Swearinger had attempted to deny the church its civil rights by allowing the case to go forward.
While Cooley was engaged in what Swearinger believed were stalling tactics inside the courtroom, the judge said that weird things were happening outside. "I was followed [at various times] throughout the trial . . . and during the motions for a new trial," the judge told the magazine. "All kinds of things were done to intimidate me, and there were a number of unusual occurrences during that trial. My car tires were slashed. My collie drowned in my pool."
A church official characterized Swearinger's implication as "completely outrageous." And in a letter to the editor published that October, Cooley wrote: "In the eight years that I have represented the Church of Scientology, I have been impressed with its dedication to the highest ethical standards and to the rule of law." Wollersheim was awarded $30 million, an amount later reduced to $2.5 million. (The church has never paid Wollersheim, but Cooley blames Wollersheim himself, claiming he never took any steps to enforce the court order.)
Another incident reported by the American Lawyer took place in Los Angeles in April 1992, when a federal-court master, James Kolts, criticized Cooley and several other church lawyers for refusing to comply with orders to turn over materials as part of a trade-secrets-and-copyright-infringement suit the church had filed. In dismissing the suit, Kolts, who'd been appointed to make findings of fact, cited the church's willingness to "literally flout court orders and defy the authority of the courts," which he said amounted to a "cynical and unfair use of the judicial system."
Cooley replies that contrary to the article, Kolts's remarks were aimed strictly at the church, not at the lawyers, and that in any case Kolts's criticism was unjustified.
"The Scientology church litigates hard, and I'm not ashamed of being a part of that," Cooley says. "That goes with the territory. But I have never abused the legal system on behalf of the Church of Scientology or any other client."
"He's considered a good, tough lawyer. He loves being in the public eye," says Jerome Facher, a senior litigator for Hale and Dorr, who shared an office with Cooley from 1959 to '62. Facher remembers Cooley's wit and sarcasm, and says that Cooley used to perform a standup routine that was the highlight of Hale and Dorr picnics.
But Hale and Dorr couldn't give Cooley everything he wanted, Facher recalls: the firm wouldn't make Cooley's friend Harry Manion a partner, and it had a policy against hiring members' children, which meant Cooley wouldn't be able to take his son under his wing. So in the mid 1980s Cooley struck out on his own, starting the firm of Cooley, Manion, Moore & Jones. One of his earliest clients was his alma mater. He took on some of BU's toughest cases, and he's proud of it. The university's successful bid to prevent the faculty from unionizing. Its highly publicized battle to prevent Coretta Scott King from reclaiming Martin Luther King Jr.'s papers, a legal victory if not exactly a public-relations triumph.
It's a little past noon in Cooley's sixth-floor office, a couple of blocks from the Custom House. Although he's got to catch a plane to Alabama in a few hours to meet with a client in an asbestos case, he seems relaxed as he leans back in his black leather chair. He's a burly guy with a booming voice, an effect that's accentuated by his expressive blue eyes, which are behind wire-rimmed glasses.
To hear Cooley tell it, the Church of Scientology has been the victim of vicious discrimination and misunderstanding.
Yes, church leaders went to prison in the late 1970s, he says, but the current management has purged the organization and cleaned it up.
Yes, Hubbard made "hyperbolic" statements about "fair game" and the purpose of lawsuits, but those were meant to apply to internal church matters only. And besides, the "fair game" policy was revoked a year after it was announced. ("It is in force, and it is used with the same zeal with which it was used when it was first written," asserts Herbert Rosedale, a New York lawyer and president of the American Family Foundation, an organization that studies Scientology and other cults.)
No, Cooley says, the church doesn't practice "mind control," but it certainly does engage in "behavior modification."
"If there were a religion that didn't try to modify behavior, it wouldn't be doing its job," he says.
No, the church hasn't been sending out forged "cancel" messages, a possible violation of federal law, to erase copyrighted materials from alt.religion.scientology, an interactive discussion group that's part of the Internet's Usenet conferencing system. (Although the church did persuade Interpol last year to raid a Finnish "anonymous remailer" so that it could learn the identity of one of those posters. Some critics fear the church is planning more such raids in the near future.)
"I love Boston University, and I've worked very hard as a trustee for almost 22 years now," Cooley says. "My role as an attorney for the Church of Scientology has never once entered into the performance of my duties as a trustee, and now, as chairman of the board. I'm very sensitive to Boston University being a place of free exchange. I would never try to stifle anybody."
Cooley refuses to discuss whether he is himself a Scientologist, and his gruff, avuncular bluster assumes a harsher edge when he's asked about it.
"I have taken the position that I'm not going to answer that question at any time," he says, "because I've come to view it as a vicious question that one would not ask of anyone else."
But the evidence is pretty strong. A 1985 Washington Post story quoted Cooley as saying that he joined some months after being retained to defend the church because "I found it to be exactly what they had said it was, an applied religious philosophy that works in day-to-day life." And the July/August 1992 American Lawyer story on the church's legal tactics flatly stated that Cooley was a Scientologist. Although Cooley criticized the article in his letter to the editor, he did not dispute the claim that he was a member. Cooley now says he doesn't remember discussing his church membership with either publication. But the reporters who interviewed him -- the Post's Jay Mathews and the American Lawyer's William Horne -- say they distinctly recall his talking about why he became a Scientologist.
Indeed, so closely has Cooley been aligned with the church that Russell Miller, in "Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard" (Holt, 1987), reported that it was Cooley who handled the arrangements for the hush- hush cremation of Hubbard's body in 1986. (True to form, church lawyers accused Miller of copyright infringement in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the book's publication.)
On the BU campus, Cooley's work for the Scientologists has caused barely a ripple of controversy. Jennifer Booth, a student who wrote a lengthy, front-page article about Cooley's Scientology work last fall for BU's student-run Daily Free Press, says the paper received virtually no reaction. "Nobody seems to really care," she says.
Marsh Chapel dean Robert Thornburg, an expert on religious cults who was instrumental in expelling Boston Church of Christ (BCC) recruiters from the campus in 1987, is a critic of Scientology. "In many cases of young people that I know, it has been destructive in terms of mind control," Thornburg says. He adds he's long heard rumors of Cooley's membership in the organization, but says he has never seen proof.
But when asked whether he was uncomfortable with the possibility that a Scientologist is chairing the university's board, Thornburg took a position seemingly at odds with his previous statements. "No, not at all," he replied. "Throughout my whole career, my main concern is freedom of religion on campus. If he were a member of the Hare Krishnas or the Boston Church of Christ, I would be opposed. But lots of people have curious and interesting religious notions and principles." (As for why the BCC was punished while Scientology was not, Thornburg says the BCC is unique in the way it takes advantage of lonely, vulnerable students -- an assertion backed up by Michael Langone, executive director of the American Family Foundation, who says BCC recruiters have been banned from a number of campuses. Both Thornburg and Langone say Scientologists rarely recruit on college campuses, most likely because of the high cost of church courses.)
One of the few BU critics of Cooley's work for Scientology is Ramon Kolb, a graduate engineering student from the Netherlands who says he first became aware of the church's tactics against its Internet critics when he was still living in Holland. Kolb has started a World-Wide Web page that links to other Scientology-related pages, and he hopes to spark a debate.
"I don't want to say this Cooley guy should go, no discussion," Kolb says. "I just want there to be a discussion." So far, though, he admits he's received "zero reaction."
That's not going to change if John Silber, the university's mercurial president, has his way. And he usually does. In a written statement to the Phoenix, Silber made it clear that he's standing behind Cooley, calling it "a blatant violation of academic freedom and open inquiry to establish a religious test for members of the Trustees." And despite being shown Cooley's comments to the Washington Post, Silber wrote that "it has not been established that Mr. Cooley is a member of the Church of Scientology."
Still, Boyle is critical of the church's motives. "In general, I think that using copyright in order to withhold ideas and cut down on debate clearly runs against the goals of the system. I think it's clear that the Church of Scientology is using its copyright and trade secrets to make the debate uninformed and to silence its critics, and I think that's unfortunate."
Ron Newman, a Boston-area on-line activist, has put together a massive archive of materials related to the Scientologists' legal cases on the World- Wide Web. Newman has not violated the church's copyright himself. But he essentially refuses to recognize that Scientology is entitled to any copyright protection. Although he doesn't use the phrase, a defense lawyer might call it a "necessity defense" -- the notion that the law must sometimes be broken because of the necessity of preventing a greater harm.
"To me, it's not ethical to use copyright law to keep things secret," Newman says. "If it's illegal, then the law should be changed. Because they're abusing it to keep secrets. That's not what it's designed for."
Despite its victory on copyright grounds in the Lerma case and in other cases, the church has been considerably less successful in protecting what it has been calling its "trade secrets." Trade-secret protection is potentially more sweeping than copyright protection, since it can be invoked to prevent dissemination of an idea; copyright protects only a specific expression of that idea. Scientologists are required to sign nondisclosure agreements when they are shown confidential documents, which has led the church to sue ex- members who talk about what they learned. But increasingly the courts have ruled that because church critics have succeeded in making those ideas public, then Scientology no longer has any basis for claiming them as protected secrets. Cooley argues that such rulings are a "terrible precedent" that reward "lawlessness."
And cyberlibertarian organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are fighting hard to make sure the church fails to establish another precedent it's pushing for: holding Internet-service providers liable for any copyright violations committed by their subscribers. The church sued the Internet services used by Arnie Lerma and by Dennis Erlich, a church critic based in California, claiming they had been warned of their members' activities. Mike Godwin, on-line counsel for the EFF, is hopeful that, ultimately, the courts will agree that Internet services should be held accountable only to the extent that phone companies are.
Back in Alexandria, Virginia, Arnie Lerma is still steaming. The materials he posted were taken from documents entered into the public record as part of a lawsuit brought by the church against a former member. "I was just putting the court record up there," he says. Yet earlier this year Judge Brinkema ruled that Lerma did, indeed, violate Scientology's copyright when he posted the documents on alt.religion.scientology. Lerma's legal defense cost FACTNet some $1 million.
Lerma also claims, in a letter written to Judge Brinkema, that shortly after Cooley left his home, one or more Scientologists doused his toothbrush with LSD. Lerma says he suffered only mild hallucinations because of his habit of thoroughly rinsing off his toothbrush before using it. The alleged motive: destroying Lerma's credibility at a videotaped deposition that was to be conducted several days after the raid. (Lerma provided a copy of his letter to the Phoenix. An official in the court clerk's office confirmed that Brinkema received it and that it has been made part of the public court record.) "Absolute nonsense," says Cooley: "a lie," "a fantasy," "crazy."
Whatever happened, Lerma believes he's involved in a religious war of his own -- a war to save other people from an organization that he says stole 10 years of his life.
"Once you agree to the Hubbardian cosmology, you become almost by magic a fascist," he says. "Hubbard is the only source of information in the entire universe, and everyone else is wrong. Your only rational choice is to destroy the enemies of Scientology. You become willing to die for the cause. I'm frankly willing to die for my cause, too."
Lerma, who says he's suffered for years from chronic-fatigue syndrome, admits to being deeply shaken by the raid, and says matter-of-factly that he's hardly worked during the past year and is probably going to have to sell his home. Nevertheless, he says, he derives considerable satisfaction from what he sees as his effort to expose Scientology for what it is, and he believes he and other critics will triumph in the long run.
"It's over," he says. "They can't stop it. These are just desperate actions. You can say, 'But you lost,' but we're making new law here. We're in uncharted territory. They might win a case. But they're not going to win against the Net. The truth will prevail."
-- alt.religion.scientology is the most active cyberstation. Church critics and supporters post several hundred messages a day, and anonymous critics such as the notorious "Scamizdat" upload copyrighted Scientology documents they have obtained. Church critics charge that Scientologists have illegally forged "cancel" messages to erase these postings. Church lawyer Earle Cooley denies the allegation, although he says it's possible that a few Scientologists, acting on their own, are responsible. The downside: this Usenet group is chaotic and almost impossible to follow for those not intimately familiar with the issues and personalities involved.
-- The BU Scientology controversy is the topic of a Web page put together by Ramon Kolb, a Boston University graduate engineering student: http://eng.bu.edu/~ramonk/pers/scientology/bu/index.html.
-- The copyright battle, and the Church of Scientology's questionable tactics in it, is the subject of Boston-area Internet activist Ron Newman's comprehensive Web site. Although Newman believes the church should not be entitled to the protection of copyright laws, he has scrupulously avoided violating church copyrights himself. His guide, updated frequently, can be found at http://www.cybercom.net/~rnewman/scientology/home.html.
-- "The Real Steven Fishman Home Page," located on a hard drive somewhere in the Netherlands, contains Fishman's "declaration," which is, by most accounts, an excellent summation of what's contained in the copyrighted documents that the church is trying to protect. Fishman, an ex-member and convicted felon, charges among other things that the church ordered him to kill his psychiatrist and then to commit suicide before he finally left the organization. The church denies those allegations. Check out http://www.xs4all.nl/~fishman.
-- Cult expert Steven Hassan has a Web site devoted to fighting mind control in all its permutations, including Scientology. Hassan has put together a substantial number of useful links: http://www.virtumall.com/mindcontrol.
-- Scientology has a major Web presence of its own. Among other things, it contains a Q&A with the Reverend Heber Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, where you'll find the official church response to issues such as mind control, the church's legal problems, and its "fair game" policy: http://www.scientology.org.
Evaluating Fishman's credibility is difficult, to say the least. He's an ex-convict who served a prison term for financial crimes that he claims he was ordered to commit. Church officials deny there was any such order, and they deny just about everything else Fishman has said about his old organization -- including his allegation that they ordered Fishman to murder his psychiatrist and commit suicide.
In 1991, the church sued Fishman for defamation in connection with comments he made to Time magazine for a cover story on Scientology. (The church also sued Time, and the case has yet to be resolved.) In response, Fishman introduced into the court records a number of secret, copyrighted church documents pertaining to top-level, "Operating Thetan" ( or OT) teachings. It was these documents that Arnaldo Lerma excerpted and uploaded to alt.religion.scientology in 1995.
Church critics say Fishman's "declaration" -- portions of which appear below -- is an excellent summary of those documents. The full text of the declaration can be found on "The Real Steve Fishman Home Page" (http://www.xs4all.nl/~fishman).
Was he really the biological father of Jesus Christ?
The Church of Scientology said he was. His auditors, Nancy Witkowski, Catherine Fox, Leah Abady, Ann Glushakow, Margaret Supak, Richard Reese, John Eastment, Hans Stahli, and Ray Mithoff all checked Steven Fishman on the e- meter over a period of years and told him over and over again that he was the biological father of Jesus Christ, and that it was Steve Fishman's responsibility to de-Christianize the planet by exposing the lie and the myth of the immaculate conception, and thereafter bring all of Christianity into Scientology as the largest FSM (Field Staff member), or conversion movement, of planet earth.
You see, the Church of Scientology is an anti-Christian religion. On Saint Hill Special Briefing Course Tape #112, L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Dianetics and Scientology who died a fugitive from justice in 1986, said, "Christ died for his own sins." In a confidential student briefing in 1980, Hubbard described Christ as a "pedophile" and as "lover of young boys." [Note: church officials have denied that Hubbard ever called Jesus a pedophile.]
I was told by Fred Hare, the Organizational Executive Secretary (OES) of the Mission of Fort Lauderdale, in 1987, that Christ was a later life cycle of the evil Emperor "Xenu," who, according to Hubbard, freeze-dried clusters of thetans or souls and transported them from an alien planet, Helatrobus, to Earth, which Hubbard called "Teegeeack." The word "Teegeeack," according to Russell Means, the leader of the American Indian Movement, is the name of a tribe of American Indians who settled and lived in Oregon in the early nineteenth century. The word "Teegeeack" means "tribe." Yet, Hubbard tried to pass off false definitions and concepts in his poorly written, illogically contrived "Advanced Technology," known also as the "Upper Level Materials," to unsuspecting Scientologists. In the "Advanced Technology," Hubbard talked about Xenu exploding clusters or freeze-dried packages of thetans inside volcanoes located in Las Palmas and Hawaii. Scientific evidence refutes completely that there was any explosion seventy-five million years ago in Las Palmas, because there was no volcanic activity present there at that point in time.
Scientology is a Satanic cult which has its origins in the work of Aleister Crowley, a well-known Satanist. Hubbard was a disciple and student of Crowley between 1947 and 1949.
The "Advanced Technology" refers to "Body Thetans," or "BTs." After the purported volcanic explosions, and all of the thetans were released into the atmosphere, some attached themselves to and occupied the bodies of "genetic entities," and these were the bodies of animals, plants, and fish. Hubbard's cosmology does not quarrel with evolution, but rather supports it. According to the "Advanced Technology," each living thing, or "genetic entity," is occupied and controlled by a thetan, and since there are far more thetans in the atmosphere than live organisms on earth, there are many unattached thetans, and some of these, in their attempt to occupy a body, attach themselves instead to a body part, such as a nose hair or a toe nail, and these are called "Body Thetans" by the Church.
The scam of the "Advanced Technology" involves the removal of the Body Thetans one by one, at great expense, because the exorcism of each body thetan requires certain precise actions on the e-meter, which in turn has to be checked by a course supervisor.
The process of "intending away body thetans" is identical to the Satanic ritual of demonic exorcism. There is no difference, other than the Church's use of an e-meter, a rudimentary galvanic skin-response device which is a crude imitation of a lie detector....
[E]ven if a Scientologist doing the OT levels is told by his Case Supervisor that he has to get rid of a trillion body thetans, and he has managed to beg, borrow, or steal the "donations" needed to audit out the body thetans and to have his auditing supervised (at that point the Scientologist is "self-auditing" on the e-meter or auditing himself by holding the two soup cans together in one hand and writing down the readings of the e-meter needle with the other), he has the logistical question to deal with: "What if the body thetans I have sent away ever come back?"
After all, what guarantee is there that after you "intend away" a body thetan (still assuming for the ease of understanding that the body thetans are like "germs"), it will not come back to re-attach itself to you?
What this causes is the most destructive kind of paranoia imaginable. A fear so devastating to the human mind that it has resulted in countless people going insane; or in Scientology's own words, "spinning in." Scientology even has named a condition for it: PTS Type III, where a person goes totally out of control in an induced paranoid psychosis.
It is for that reason why it is so vital and important for the upper levels be free and available on the Internet. Everyone, Scientologists and non-Scientologists alike, should have the right to "informed consent in spiritual matters," which is a religious freedom and basic religious right which is just as important as free speech on the Internet.