In order to prove that Scientology must have a great deal of evidence after surveilling the Rathbuns for several years, Monique submitted a stunning collection of evidence from a previous case of Scientology spying. When BBC reporter John Sweeney came to the US to make a documentary about Scientology in 2007, he was followed and harassed by the church. A striking set of text messages documented that harassment operation, and we expect that evidence to be a key subject of discussion in court today. For more about those texts, we’re fortunate to have a piece written for us by John Sweeney himself. As for the hearing, we have Nick Rogers and Mike Bennitt delivering us accounts and photos of the action. Live updates will appear at the bottom of the post.
In Texas, battle royal is taking place in a courtroom between lawyers representing the ‘Pope’ of the Church of Scientology, David Miscavige, and Monique Rathbun, the wife of Marty Rathbun, the former Inspector-General of the Church and now one of the pope’s most feared critics.
At issue is whether Miscavige personally was involved in the harassment of Marty by private detectives working for the Church — and to get to the bottom of that, Marty’s old colleague, Mike Rinder, has turned over an extraordinary cache of BlackBerry messages dating back to 2007.
The texts go to and fro between the pope’s office, Rinder, and Tommy Davis, son of film actress Anne Archer, and reveal a black operation by the Church against our BBC Panorama investigation back then -– with me as the principal target. The texts are foully abusive, often absurd and show Pope Miscavige in a bleak light as a potty-mouthed psychopath.
Lamont Jefferson, the lawyer for the Pope and the Church, has informed the court that the texts are ‘purported’, adding: “even if authentic (again, a proposition that is hardly established) the most that these texts show is that someone gave instructions to Rinder and Davis in 2007 regarding activities in London England.”
Oh no they don’t. The texts cover events our Panorama team lived through in March 2007 in Florida and California. Lamont Jefferson’s response is oddly feeble — that the authenticity of the messages has hardly been established. My view, as the person at the centre of the texts, is that they are credible and authentic.
They appear to record in real-time a three-way conversation between Davis and Rinder and the Leader’s Communicator, Lou Stuckenbrock, about handling BBC Panorama. Taken together, they paint an extraordinarily weird picture of the Church.
On Saturday, March 17th, 2007, producer Sarah Mole, camera Bill Brown and I had dinner with husband and wife ‘heretics’ Donna Shannon and Mike Henderson, the evening concluding with Tommy and Mike waiting for us at our hotel at midnight. The first message is from Tommy to Lou on Sunday, March 18th, 2007 and is headed “Hotel debrief”: “Last night Mike [Rinder, looking gaunt and hollow-cheeked] and I went to Sweeney’s hotel around 10pm and called him and told him I was at his hotel and wanted to see him immediately. He hung up on me. I checked their rooms and found out that they were not at the hotel. We had Jesse Radstrom” — a black-clad cameraman — “with us from Gold to shoot it. Sweeney, Mole and their camera man showed up around 12:30am.
“He [Sweeney] said that he had never told me what hotel he was staying in and that means that we are spying on the BBC and that he thinks that is very weird. I said that is ridiculous and that this is a small town and Englishman with TV cameras stand out like mad and we saw them interviewing the Shannons and walking around flag with them so that is utterly nuts.
“I then started tearing into him (not swearing as the cameras were rolling) and the hotel manager asked us to step outside. We continued out there.
“I told him that I was shocked at the unprofessional and juvenile way in which he was conducting himself and this program… I then said that he had come all the way here to Clearwater and was offered a tour of our facilities, the largest most significant Church facilities in the world and yet declined an offer to see or tour those facilities and instead was spending his entire day with Donna Shannon and Mike Henderson, two ex-Scientologists with a clear axe to grind.
“During the confrontation in front of Sweeney’s hotel Sweeney said to me that Donna had told him that she did hard labor together with me when she was in the Sea Org and that she witnessed me get my hair pulled, my ears pulled and my face ripped off. This did not faze me at all and I calmly told him that I have no idea what she is talking about and that it is a complete and total lie and I could easily produce multiple witnesses to attest to that fact. He seemed somewhat shocked at hearing this.”
I do remember being taken aback — shocked seems to be over-egging the pud somewhat — at the force of Tommy’s denial that his hair and ears had been pulled and his immediate upgrading of the stakes, that he could provide multiple witnesses for his version of events against Donna’s. The striking thing is that this is a fine detail I would not have recalled had I not seen the messages.
“I kept at him about how disingenuous and disgusting this all was…”
Tommy referred back to our meetings in England and the dispute over whether they had set three conditions or not: “I told him that is not what I said and that he is again twisting what occurred in the meeting and that I would be happy to provide him with a transcript of what occurred as he may recall we recorded all of it. This seemed to shut him up.”
Neither Tommy nor the Church of Scientology ever did provide a transcript of the meetings in England. I remain un-shut up.
“At this point a CW [Clearwater] Police car showed up having been called by the hotel manager (she overreacted to our dueling cameras and heated discussion).”
The hotel manager was doing her job.
“The cop asked who we were. Sweeney said he was from the BBC and we never got a chance to say who we were… The officer came back out and said that the hotel would prefer that we disperse and not continue. I thanked him and said that is not a problem and that we work and live around here and certainly don’t want to disturb anyone. I turned to Sweeney and said ‘we are done’ and walked away. He called after me repeating out loud the demands that he has mocked up we made of him ‘that we won’t refer to you as a cult,’ ‘that we won’t interview critics’ and that was all.
“We continued surveilling them and saw that they did not leave for Vegas this morning.”
On the face of it, Tommy’s repeated denials of the Church of Scientology spying on the BBC were not true. He was lying.
“However it was so down to the wire with so limited flights that we did not want to take the chance of them flying out later in the day and getting to Vegas ahead of us. For this reason Mike [Rinder] and Kevin Caetano went ahead to Vegas and will be landing there in the next few hours. Kirsten and I are still here in CW and are actually now at Plant City where the new Test Center in opening. Sweeney is here.”
All of the messages from the Leader’s Office come from Lou, the Communicator, but in an extremely masculine tone that suggests they are the direct word of the Leader. The Communicator is always addressed as ‘Sir’ but this is standard policy, set down by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, that all higher ranks are addressed as ‘Sir’ even if they are female.
Why does the Church’s leader have his own personal Communicator, Lou Stuckenbrock? Why can’t he communicate himself? In 1977 the FBI raided the Church of Scientology and the investigation got very close to Mr Hubbard. His wife, Mary Sue Hubbard, ended up going to prison, so ex-members of the Church say that the role of the Communicator is a deliberately constructed cut-out. The messages read as if Miscavige says something, his word is recorded and transcribed and put into the third person, so there is always a measure of deniability. This use of a private office cut-out so that politicians, for example, can have plausible deniability is common practice in Westminster and Washington DC.
The rest of the conversation was posted in this blog recently, and can also be read in my book, The Church of Fear.
The evidence from the messages seems compelling, describing in detail, in real-time, an elaborate spying operation by the Church of Scientology against the BBC, tracking us across the United States, from our hotel in Clearwater to identifying an important ex-Scientologist source we interviewed in San Francisco to LA.
On Wednesday, March 21st, we spent the day as Tommy’s guest interviewing the stars at the Church’s Celebrity Centre. An anxious message came from the Communicator in the evening: ‘We are in LA now, are there any areas we should avoid? And is this guy’s body now many new (torn worn to wall) assholes?”
This is, some say, the word of the Church of Scientology.
John Sweeney is the author of Church Of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology and North Korea Undercover: Inside the World’s Most Secret State.
Posted by Tony Ortega on January 22, 2014 at 07:00
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(Live updates will appear below this line)
We’ve heard from Nick Rogers and Mike Bennitt, who are in the courtroom and ready to go. Nick tells us it looks like there’s going to be another morning of waiting as Judge Waldrip clears his docket of other matters first.
Mike Bennitt: “Still haven’t started yet. This is going to be a long day. We’re not going to start for another half hour. A hearing is starting now and the judge asked the lawyers to vacate the tables.”
Nick says that a hearing on a child support case is wrapping up, and he thinks Monique’s suit may be up soon.
A reminder of what’s happening today. We believe that Judge Waldrip will take up Monique’s motion for sanctions, during which there may be some interesting argument about Mike Rinder’s 2007 texts (which John Sweeney discussed above). Scientology will also be fighting over Judge Waldrip’s order that Monique could depose Scientology leader David Miscavige for jurisdictional issues. (Miscavige filed a ‘special appearance’ and asked to be released from the lawsuit because he says he’s never done any business in Texas.) Monique filed notice to depose Miscavige on January 29, but then Scientology filed a motion to quash it. Scientology also filed a motion to reconsider, asking Judge Waldrip to rethink his order allowing Monique to depose Miscavige.
What won’t be discussed today is Scientology’s anti-SLAPP motion. Scientology presented its argument for that motion on January 8, and Monique has been granted a continuance to gather more evidence for her response. Scientology has until Monday to turn over the evidence she’s asking for. Then, on February 3 and 4, Monique will present her answer to the anti-SLAPP motion, and Judge Waldrip will decide whether this lawsuit can continue. Those will be big days in court.
HERE WE GO…
NICK ROGERS: Ray Jeffrey now giving his opening argument for sanctions.
Nick says they’re out on lunch break after an initial session that mostly featured arguing about statutes and case law.
“It’s really detailed stuff,” Nick says.
Ray Jeffrey, Monique Rathbun’s attorney, is seeking sanctions against Scientology for not producing any records. But Scientology is arguing that Monique’s team didn’t follow the proper procedures.
The Scientology team tried to convince Judge Dib Waldrip that Jeffrey had to file a motion to compel (to force them to turn over documents) before he could file a motion for sanctions.
Jeffrey said that the rules were clear — he could have filed either a motion to compel or a motion for sanctions.
Waldrip looked through the rules, and said he would do a more complete study of that point during the lunch break.
Nick says one of the best lines of the morning belonged to Scientology attorney Ricardo Cedillo, who complained about the media attention to the lawsuit.
“He accused Ray of trying to create a media circus so the rules of law would be ignored,” Nick says.
Um, yeah. Media circus.
He points out that besides himself and Mike Bennitt, ESMB’s “Lone Star” is present, as well as San Antonio reporter John McCormack, who has a photographer with him.
And that’s it.
Some media circus.
But then, Nick said, Cedillo outdid himself with yet another great observation…
We’re wondering what kind of intestinal fortitude it required of Cedillo to say this with a straight face, but Nick tells us at one point the Scientology attorney made this complaint about Monique’s legal team…
“Every time it’s going against them, they want to try something else.”
Oh no he didn’t.
Cedillo really must think Judge Waldrip is a drooling, mouth-breathing moron.
We told Nick that is sounds like to us that Ray is complaining that the church hasn’t turned over any evidence, but the church is saying they haven’t been asked properly.
Yep, that’s about it, Nick said.
He tells us that Lamont Jefferson, lawyer for David Miscavige, also made a complaint about the way Ray Jeffrey is handling things, saying that Ray’s requests for evidence have been overbroad and improperly asked for, and Ray also ‘broke the lawyer’s code’ by asking for sanctions.
But Nick says that Scientology’s main complaint — that Ray could not file a motion for sanctions without first filing a motion to compel — didn’t seem to be gaining traction with Judge Waldrip.
“He said he couldn’t find anything in the case law the church had brought up that said Jeffrey couldn’t do this. But he said he’s going to look at it more thoroughly,” Nick said. “Almost the whole first 30 minutes was arguing over statutes and case law.”
Finally, Nick pointed out one other rather strange occurrence from the morning session.
He said that Jonathan Hull, who represents hired would-be spy Steven Gregory Sloat and Squirrel Buster Ed Bryan, filed his own motion to quash the deposition of Scientology leader David Miscavige.
Nick said he found it curious that Sloat (who claimed he never talked to anyone in Scientology) and Bryan (who the Church of Scientology International admits to sending to protest at the home of the Rathbuns) would try to quash the deposition of a person who is supposedly not in charge of them.
A short video from Mike Bennitt of Ray Jeffrey making his opening statement.
Sorry for the lack of updates. If you remember, last time, Waldrip kept everyone in the courtroom until about 5:30 pm Texas time, and without allowing electronic communications.
We may be in for a lengthy wait.
They’re out! Bennitt says Nick is getting a clarification from Ray Jeffrey on today’s outcome…
DEPOSITION NOT QUASHED
JUDGE WALDRIP SUGGESTS MISCAVIGE DEPOSITION TAKE PLACE IN COURTROOM
Not sure yet if that was just a suggestion or an order, still getting info…
Miscavige deposition date still to be set. Waldrip wants evidence matters settled first. Could be months before deposition is taken…
OK, off the phone with Nick. As we said, Judge Waldrip, after listening to the arguments of David Miscavige’s attorney, Lamont Jefferson, did not quash Miscavige’s deposition.
Nick says that Waldrip told Jefferson that he was not persuaded, though he appreciated all his hard work.
Lamont kept arguing, saying that all Monique’s team wants is Miscavige’s deposition, and there would be nothing gained from it.
But Waldrip was firm: He said the evidence in the lawsuit is contradictory, so he doesn’t see anything wrong with deposing Miscavige for his version of events.
Lamont then complained about Jeffrey asking Miscavige open-ended questions.
Waldrip said he understood there would be objections, maybe to every question Miscavige would be asked, so maybe the deposition should take place in the courtroom in Waldrip’s presence.
Oh my. We’re not sure if he was just thinking out loud again, but we’ll check later with Ray Jeffrey on that.
We asked Nick about Monique’s motion for sanctions. “He didn’t go with sanctions yet,” Nick told us. Nick said that Waldrip told Ray Jeffrey that he needed to clarify his motion, that there were levels of sanctions.
Waldrip suggested that they could confer over the next seven days, and if Scientology didn’t cough up documents that he’s already ordered them to turn over, then Ray could come back with a more detailed motion for sanctions or a motion to compel.
Nick says that Lamont Jefferson kept asking for a hearing on Miscavige’s “special appearance” — saying that it should happen before Miscavige is deposed.
(Sneaky. If Waldrip were to grant the special appearance, then Miscavige is out of the case and no deposition.)
But Walddrip said they need evidence before a hearing can be held. That’s the point of the deposition.
Nice try, Lamont.
Waldrip deflected Jefferson’s arguments by pointing out that there were contradictions in the evidence so far, which a deposition of Miscavige might clear up. Specifically, he pointed to the testimony of RTC employee Warren McShane.
In a declaration, McShane testified that 25 years of travel records showed that except for one trip to Dallas to open an “Ideal Org,” David Miscavige had spent no time in Texas. But when he was deposed, under questioning by Ray Jeffrey, McShane admitted that he hadn’t actually gone through any of Miscavige’s travel records himself.
Waldrip pointed out that it suggested McShane was just saying what Miscavige told him — so what’s wrong with asking Miscavige directly?
Also, Waldrip brought up the 2009 issue of Freedom magazine which had described Miscavige as being in control of “external affairs” for the church. Well, wouldn’t that put him in control of surveillance operations in Texas? Again, it was something that could be clarified in a deposition.
Lamont Jefferson then took another argument. (He must have known the 2009 Freedom article was bad.) He tried to argue that any CEO would take control of any threat against his company. But Miscavige taking an interest in a threat is not proof that he ordered the investigation in Texas.
But Waldrip again pointed to the Freedom article, saying that it suggested there was a question about Miscavige’s role that it brought up. So again, another reason why Miscavige could speak for himself.
At that point, Jefferson tried to make a religious argument, about Miscavige being a religious leader, but it didn’t seem to go anywhere.
A couple more Lamont Jefferson gems…
Nick says Jefferson was making the argument that the depositions made in the case so far were made under oath, so they have to be treated as the truth.
But then Waldrip pointed out that McShane changed his story under questioning, so that wasn’t necessarily the case.
At another point, Lamont was apparently trying to ridicule Monique’s assertion that Miscavige was actually behind the Texas surveillance by saying that the church leader couldn’t, for example, have made a secret trip to Texas — he’d be recognized by millions.
But Waldrip said, until you showed a picture of him to me, I’d never heard of him.
Oh, that Judge Waldrip.
Nick says that at one point, Lamont Jefferson showed a page with pictures of all the 16 people who have filed declarations in favor of Monique’s case arguing that Miscavige is in control of everything in Scientology.
Nick could see that the title on the page was “Rathbun’s Posse”
Ray Jeffrey objected to the use of the word. But Waldrip said it was no different than him using “Captain” or “Pope.” Jeffrey pointed out, however, that those were Scientology’s own words.
Nick said he had to keep from laughing.
Nick also pointed out that at one point Lamont Jefferson referred to John Brousseau as a maintenance man.
That “maintenance man,” Jeffrey pointed out, was at one time L. Ron Hubbard’s personal driver. (And, we’ll add, he was also David Miscavige’s brother-in-law for 16 years!)
Finally, we asked Nick if the 2007 Mike Rinder texts ever came up, and he said Ray Jeffrey only mentioned them briefly.
Now talking to Lone Star, more in a minute…
We met Lone Star when we attended the first court hearing in Monique’s case.
He had a few more observations to make after looking at what Nick told us.
He said that when Lamont Jefferson was going on about how David Miscavige was like the CEO of a major international business, he actually said that like other CEO’s, it was his job to “crush the competition,” because that’s what CEOs do.
And yet, not much longer after that, Lamont was on again about how Miscavige was an ecclesiastical leader with more rarefied tasks.
Lone Star made it sound like Lamont didn’t seem to understand what a nonsensical contrast that was.
And here’s one of the best.
Lone Star says that at another point when Lamont was talking about Miscavige the CEO, he actually said that as part of his job, Miscavige “smashes squirrels.”
“Lamont will be briliant, and then he’ll fire a few foot-bullets that are just unbelievable,” Lone Star says.
Lone Star adds that Jefferson was repeatedly warning Judge Waldrip about “setting a dangerous precedent.” He suggested that subjecting a major CEO and religious leader to a deposition would be something that would have grave consequences or something.
“The whole world is watching” Lone Star said Jefferson said, “and you don’t want to set a dangerous precedent.”
And there was another strategy Lamont Jefferson used, Lone Star added. He kept referring to the special appearance (Miscavige’s attempt to get out of the lawsuit) and the idea of bringing in a CEO from another state to testify, and he said it was all part of “evolving law.”
He said there were several recent cases that applied, and which showed that the law was changing, Lone Star said.
“I think he was taking things out of context, and I think Ray Jeffrey did a good job knocking that down.”
Finally, and most ominously, Lone Star said at one point about Waldrip ordering Miscavige’s deposition to be taken, Lamont said, “I think a Texas appeals court will take a different view of that.”
Lone Star said the unstated second half of that utterance was, “My brother is right here behind me taking notes to make sure of that.”
“That’s what he does, is take notes. Constantly,” Lone Star said about Wallace Jefferson.
Nick Rogers called back with a couple of additional notes: Judge Waldrip was really starting to get visibly angry when they were arguing about sanctions. Cedillo was talking about getting the motion tossed, and Waldrip was trying to get everyone on the same page about the seven days limit.
Cedillo motored on, and Waldrip actually whistled to get Cedillo to shut up. He called Cedillo “obstructive.” And when Cedillo said he was arguing so vociferously because Jeffrey had raised the issue of criminal perjury charges in the sanctions motion, Waldrip said, “No one’s asking you to defend that today, Mr. Cedillo.” He was very perturbed, Nick says.
Waldrip had also wondered out loud about so much money being spent on a simple thing like MIscavige’s deposition.
We want to thank Nick Rogers, Mike Bennitt, and Lone Star for being our eyes and ears today.
We’re going to have a bite to eat and then interview Ray Jeffery. If we do another story, it will be a new post. Thanks, everyone!
BONUS VIDEO from Mike Bennitt: Scientology lawyer Ricardo Cedillo complains about the “media circus” that he blames on Ray Jeffrey.
Looks like Ray Jeffrey wanted the night off. I’ll try and get an update from him tomorrow.
Thanks again to our great correspondents. And the comments were particularly clever and fun today. Glad everyone had a great time.
Tomorrow morning we’ve got another really good conversation with Jefferson Hawkins, and we also got an update from Arlene Cordova that you’re going to want to see.
Next big dates in Monique’s case: By January 27, Scientology is supposed to have turned over evidence required for Monique’s anti-SLAPP response. Then on February 3 and 4, she’ll present her argument, and Waldrip will need to make a decision about that motion.