We have to admit, this really took us by surprise.
Earlier tonight, Marty Rathbun posted what appears to be an announcement that he and his wife Monique are pulling up stakes and leaving Ingleside on the Bay, Texas.
For those of you who have followed along our reporting for more than a year on the kind of harassment the couple has been through at the hands of the Church of Scientology, this is a startling development.
We’re trying to get Rathbun on the phone to find out where he’s headed.
On April 18, 2011, the Rathbun home in the small fishing town across the bay from Corpus Christi became the site of a bizarre siege that would last five months. On that day, several Scientologists carrying cameras in their hands or strapped to their heads showed up at Rathbun’s door in what was clearly an attempt at intimidation.
At least four independent lines of evidence left no doubt that the goon squad and subsequent camera surveillance of Rathbun’s home was an operation of the Church of Scientology itself.
Rathbun was once the second-highest ranking official in the church until his defection in 2004. In 2009 he resurfaced and began blogging critically about Scientology leader David Miscavige. It has become very clear in the time since that his blog has become a serious challenge to the very existence of Miscavige’s church.
Bert Leahy, a freelance videographer who briefly worked for the goon squad said he was told in no uncertain terms that the squad’s aim was to “make Marty’s life a living hell.” Their antics were intended to make Rathbun unpopular with his neighbors, and convince him to leave town — where the harassment would continue at the new location.
As we reported just yesterday, Paul Marrick and Greg Arnold, detectives who worked for the church, were told that the intimidation squad was intended to make Rathbun “implode.”
After the harassment started, Rathbun responded by putting out an open letter to his neighbors, explaining why he was being targeted by such a strange attempt at intimidation. That plan worked as his neighbors rallied to his side. The town even passed a local ordinance in an attempt to chase away the harassers.
Meanwhile, we tried to make the public understand why the harassment was so beyond the pale in a country that prizes religious freedom…
The Scientologists preface their video with a scene of Rathbun jawboning with employees at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, a Scientology headquarters. The point here is to suggest that if Rathbun can show up and demand information at the doorstep of a major Scientology installation, then Scientology is in its rights to do the same to him. But that hardly explains why a church would send a goon squad to intimidate a former member at his home as a way to disrupt his private religious practices.
This invasion of a small Texas town by such a concerted effort of harassment has to be one of the strangest chapters in American religious history. But it has been frustrating to see such little interest shown by the country’s major news outlets. That hasn’t been the case outside of the U.S., however, where Rathbun has been the subject of major stories in the UK and Australia, and is the focus of at least two British television and film projects.
Meanwhile, in this country, except for a short treatment on NBC’s Rock Center, the siege in south Texas has never been mentioned in the New York Times or on CNN, for example.
If the clownish “Squirrel Busters” faded away in November 2011, the surveillance of the Rathbuns did not. As Rathbun showed conclusively at his blog, a house across the street from his was set up as a foreboding fortress of mirrored windows and remote-controlled cameras. He learned that it’s been leased for the next three years by a Dallas private investigator who has worked for the church for decades.
In the past, Rathbun has tried to use this constant spying to his advantage. For Scientologists who are considering leaving the church but worry about making it happen, Rathbun said that coming to visit him — and being spotted on church cameras — results in immediate excommunication, a clean and instant break that Rathbun tried to convince his readers was preferable to the way that defections have tended to play out.
But now, apparently, the constant surveillance has simply become too much to bear for Marty and Monique.
We’ll update this post as soon as we learn more about where the Rathbuns are headed.
Update: We’re still trying to reach Rathbun, but with all the speculation going on in the comments, we want to put our own guess on the record.
Considering what the Rathbuns have been going through, we’re going to guess that he’s found a sprawling place, maybe a ranch property, that has no neighbors with prying eyes close by. And a tipster points out to us that it would make a lot of sense to keep bulldog attorney Ray Jeffrey nearby. We won’t be surprised, then, if the Rathbuns show up on an isolated place not too far from San Antonio.
What’s your guess?
Update: Rathbun has now posted photos of his new house, which is near San Antonio (and attorney Ray Jeffrey, whose cases have produced huge headaches for the Church of Scientology) and appears to be very secluded: