"Spot who is attacking us. Start feeding lurid, blood, sex, crime, actual evidence on the attackers to the press. Don't ever submit. Make it rough, rough on the attackers all the way."
-- L. Ron Hubbard, Founder The Church of Scientology
The passive response by the Church of Scientology to the so-called global protest launched against it over the weekend -- with 200 (mostly) masked pickets gathering Sunday outside the religious movement's Toronto headquarters on Yonge St. -- suggests one of two possibilities.
Either the church has become tame with its celebrity-drenched fame, or it is gone into strategic withdrawal in hopes that its latest critics, the Internet collective called Anonymous, will soon enough fade away.
For it is not the game it used to play when L. Ron Hubbard called the shots, and figuratively sent out the attack dogs on anyone with a disparaging word.
When Scientology first began to appear large on the horizon here back in the mid-70s, cult-like and secretive, I wrote a nine-part series on the controversial movement, with the many miles logged including the infiltration of a Scientology convention in California where L. Ron Hubbard, still very much alive but out of public view, turned down an interview request via a hand-written note.
STARTED IN FLORIDA
The series began its documentation in Clearwater, Fla., where the church has used a front organization to purchase, as its East Coast headquarters, the city's then 50-year-old, 272-room landmark, the majestic Fort Harrison Hotel, for $2.3 million in cash money.
In the early months, the church even posted guards dressed in black at virtually every turn -- each armed with Mace and a billy club.
As Clearwater's mayor, Gabe Casares, told me at the time, "My city has been invaded by aliens involved in psycho-terrorism.
"They can sue me to hell and back," he said. "I don't know of any religion that sanctions lying, cheating, and intimidation as part of its doctrinal tenets, (and so) I question them being recognized as a religion.
"And why would an organization that professes to be a religious organization based on love and trust require so many guards?
"It's an armed camp."
In the lead-up to the series, and in the wake of its publication, a number of strange things happened, and that's besides the church attempting to get a court injunction to stop publication, as well as the resulting lawsuits which had the church predictably suing the Sun for libel, and me suing the church for invasion of privacy.
The extensive Scientology file in the Sun's library suddenly went missing from its lock up, and so too did the Scientology file and Scientology-related documents at the Sun's law firm, Goodmans.
Then, a letter I had written to a reporter at the Clearwater Sun, who was also writing on Scientology, was intercepted by a Scientologist working as a plant in the Florida newspaper's mail room.
That letter would surface years later following raids by the FBI on offices of the Church of Scientology which were specifically carried out to search for evidence of conspiracies by the church to steal government documents and obstruct justice.
The intercepted letter, in fact, was part of evidence presented to a U.S. District Court in Washington in 1980, and quoted in a state's brief regarding an "eyes only" Scientology report giving props to one of its operatives for securing the letter from the Clearwater Sun's mail room.
"This was a letter incriminating of Canadian entheta (meaning critical) reporter Mark Bonokoski," the Scientology memo stated, noting that their operative at the Clearwater Sun had since been "pulled out" of the newspaper, and sent to lay low in Los Angeles in the event of a U.S. postal investigation into the theft.
It was the theft of that letter, in fact, that was the foundation of my invasion of privacy counter suit against Scientology -- the final result being, and this is after hours of discovery testimony, that they drop their libel suit against the Sun, and I drop my suit against them.
And that's just the short-form version of events.In Toronto over the weekend, it was a love-in by comparison.
The protesters -- many wearing the Guy Fawkes masks popularized in the movie, V for Vendetta -- were aggravated by Scientology's supposedly aggressive efforts to rid the Internet of a video of their most celebrated adherent, actor Tom Cruise, laughing like a an addled banshee while extolling the virtues of Scientology, although he was no more arrogant and self-righteous than some florid TV evangelist threatening hell and damnation to a captive audience of elderly shut-ins glued to his mail-me-the-money ministry.
Still, Cruise is the church's marquee player, while other Hollywood stars like John Travolta and Kelly Preston have tended to prefer a lower profile, remaining "somewhere in the vicinity of (their) body," as one of my favourite Scientology T-shirts used to read, and therefore away from the fray of public postulation.
The Scientology response to the trashing of Cruise, and the weekend protest itself, was surprisingly low key. The protesters carried their pickets, and shouted out their slogans -- all as the Scientologists peered passively out their window of the Yonge St. HQ.
Rev. Yvette Shank, identified as Scientology's Canadian president, could only get herself worked up enough to call the protesters "bigots," and to accuse the Anonymous collective of engaging in "hate mongering" and "religious hate crimes."
"We do what we do and they do what they do," she said, indicating there was no point stepping outside to talk to the throng.
Why? "Because I don't think it is affecting anyone at all," said Shank.
L. Ron Hubbard's mortal body, but supposedly not his thetan or immortal spirit, cashed in its chips on Jan. 24, 1986. It was 74.
Back in Hubbard's day, however, the response to global protesters would not have been so muted, not if done by his book.
"I can make Capt. Bligh look like a Sunday school teacher," Hubbard once wrote to his adherents. "There is probably no limit on what I would do to safeguard Man's only road to freedom against persons who seek to stop Scientology.
"The world's ours. Own it."