First, this really is a remarkable legal strategy by the church, which now admits that it was behind outrageous behavior aimed at Monique and her husband, Mark “Marty” Rathbun, who was once a top Scientology official. But that behavior, the church asserts, was a form of legitimate religious expression that should not be silenced by Monique’s lawsuit. To that end, the church has filed an anti-SLAPP motion, which we explained previously is traditionally used by an outgunned opponent trying to derail a nuisance lawsuit.
In order to convince Comal County, Texas Judge Dib Waldrip that its free speech rights are being trampled by Monique’s lawsuit, the church is now admitting that it did, in fact, target the Rathbuns in an extensive program of surveillance and disruption. In particular, the church is admitting to sending and funding the nutty “Squirrel Busters,” an intimidation squad that, over a span of 199 days, set up bizarre protests in front of the Rathbuns’ south Texas home. The Squirrel Busters followed the Rathbuns wherever they went, disrupting their lives on a daily basis. On Friday, the church submitted declarations from some of the Squirrel Busters themselves, who admitted to being sent by the church, but claimed that they had put on their weird spectacle out of a sense of religious outrage. Marty Rathbun started the fight, they claim, by saying such critical things about their religion.
Naturally, that got our attention, and it will continue to be a big focus of this lawsuit: We’re simply amazed that the Church of Scientology has admitted to sending the Squirrel Busters, one of the oddest goon squads in the history of American religion, surely.
But Scientology has a problem. It wasn’t actually the Squirrel Busters — which ended their activities in September 2011 — that prompted Monique Rathbun to file this lawsuit. As she made clear in her original complaint, after Monique had moved to Bulverde, Texas in the San Antonio area to a more secluded home, she had hoped the surveillance and harassment would die down, and if it did, she planned to go on with her life.
But then Scientology started a new form of snooping this year that in some ways was even stranger and more unsettling than what had come before. It was the furtive behavior of a man named Steven Gregory Sloat, and a camera he posted on a tree aimed at the Rathbun property, that sparked this lawsuit.
And Sloat’s declaration doesn’t fit with the rest.
We’re still stunned that Scientology’s chief private investigator, David Lubow, who has been conducting “noisy” investigations for the church for many years, now suddenly claims to be a Scientologist rather than just a hired gun. It was because he was so personally offended by Marty Rathbun’s criticisms of the Church of Scientology and its leader David Miscavige that Lubow decided to help run the Squirrel Busters operation, he claims. Scientology, in other words, wants us to believe that even its legendary network of private eyes are religious warriors.
Well, good luck with that. But how does that explain Sloat?
Steve Sloat is not a Scientologist. He wasn’t hired by a Scientologist. He’s not a licensed private investigator.
And by his own admission, he did not go to Bulverde, Texas in order to protest the Rathbuns or in other ways express his own religious views.
According to his own on-line biographies, Sloat has lived a pretty remarkable life. He was briefly a Houston police officer before he became a deputy federal marshal in 1977. Then, in 1989, he started racing cars professionally, and he claims to have won some sort of national championship in 1994. Also that year, he started a company that provided “drug and alcohol testing for domestic and international aviation clients at 81 sites around the world.” Then, in 1996, he got to help out with the recovery efforts of the La Belle, a 1686 shipwreck discovered in Matagorda Bay in 1995.
That experience was the inspiration for a self-published novel that he released last year, A Day to Die, which spins a yarn about a worldwide epidemic that gets its start from a worker at the excavation of the La Belle. At his website, “Steve Sloat Productions,” you can read the opening chapters of the book for free. (The book is supposed to be the first in a forthcoming trilogy.)
Sloat even produced a video trailer for his book, which you can see here…
Early this year, according to his declaration, Sloat was approached by a private investigator he identifies as “J.R. Skaggs.”
We checked the Texas state private security database, and found that this appears to refer to John R. Skaggs, who has a Houston agency named Skaggs & Associates, Inc.
Sloat himself is not in the database. He’s not a licensed private investigator, but he says Skaggs hired him “because of my investigative and law enforcement background.” Sloat explains in his declaration…
Mr. Skaggs told me Rathbun was a former Scientologist who was trying to divert people away from the Church of Scientology. Mr. Skaggs told me that Rathbun was engaged in some sort of practice similar to Scientology of his own creation at that location and was seeing clients there.
So for several months, Sloat plotted a way to get close to the Rathbuns, who had rented a house at the end of a long, snaking gravel driveway set well back from a road. To the north and south, the Rathbuns had neighbors — people they had met and had no reason to believe were involved with Scientology. To their east was an undeveloped piece of land that was thick with forest. They seemed to be well-insulated against snooping.
Sloat, however, leased the forested land next to their house, and then worked up a cover story for why he’d be clearing brush and putting a trailer on it. In his cover story, he’s been “packaging” thrillers for years, somehow selling book ideas to other authors, or something. That makes him a valuable commodity, and his publisher had leased the land for him so he could have the seclusion necessary to finish his next book.
As preposterous as that story is, Sloat went to the trouble to change his name slightly — to “Greg Sloat” — and in July put up a website, “Greg Sloat Publications,” which included his odd excuse for being in the area: “Mr. Sloat will be in-residence in the Bulverde, Texas area, the site of a majority of the scenes, while completing ‘The Children Whispered’.”
In his declaration, Sloat admits that he was really there to gather information about the Rathbuns, and one way he was going to do that was by mounting three cameras aimed at the Rathbun property. Marty Rathbun eventually discovered one of them, and as we revealed on Friday, that camera captured an image of Marty as he went to disable the camera by covering it with tape…
We determined from the information on the image that the device is a Reconyx PC900 HyperFire Professional High Output Covert IR camera, and it’s capable of storing about 40,000 HD images, taken day or night on a set schedule or when tripped by motion, at a rate of up to two images a second.
The camera Marty found was very close to his property, aimed at his driveway…
By the time Marty disabled the camera, workers had already arrived to operate a backhoe, clearing brush on the property for Sloat’s trailer to be installed.
And that’s where Sloat’s operation really becomes a problem for the church and its anti-SLAPP motion.
In their declarations, the Squirrel Busters assert repeatedly that they never aimed their cameras into the windows of the Rathbun home, and never tapped their phones or their Internet service — they were there, they claim, strictly as peaceful protesters who were standing up for their religion.
But what was Sloat’s mission? Here’s how he describes it…
I was to attempt to see who was going to the premises where he was undertaking this activity, get pictures if possible of persons associating with him, and to meet Rathbun and to get to know him and, if possible, so he would tell me more about what his activities were at that location.
Sloat was there to snoop on the Rathbuns and use his worldly charm (author, race car driver, amateur archeologist, former lawman) to insinuate himself into their lives — which implies that he’d get an invitation into their home. He was no religious protester. He was a spy.
And it was his ultimately ham-fisted activities that actually motivated Monique Rathbun to file this lawsuit.
How, we wonder, can her lawsuit possibly infringe on Sloat ‘s free speech rights, when he’s admitted that he was there for espionage?
Keep that in mind as Scientology continues to promote the idea that the Squirrel Busters were religious soldiers on a legitimate mission to fight the “squirrel” Marty Rathbun, and that Monique herself is a public person bent on ruining David Miscavige’s church.
If that’s the case, why send a half-assed James Bond to snoop on them after the Rathbuns had retreated to seclusion?
Posted by Tony Ortega on October 21, 2013 at 09:15
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