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What Scientologists at War Left Out: Some Annotations on Channel 4’s Documentary

Marty_Rathbun3Before Scientologists at War aired last night on Channel 4, the documentary’s director, Joe Martin, told us he was looking forward to our review of the film. But we told him that since we had helped with the making of the movie and appeared in it, “reviewing” it would be bad form.

Instead, we’re fortunate that so many of our readers contributed their opinions about the documentary. Those comments tell us that Martin and his producers — Danielle Clark and Michael Simkin — put together a film that is creating an interesting debate about independent Scientology, Marty Rathbun’s role in it, and the future of the church.

We wanted to add just a few factual asides about the film and the response it’s getting.

Marty Rathbun Not a Church Executive?

Scientology is usually tone-deaf when it comes to the statements it puts out to the press, and this time was no different. The film painstakingly describes Marty Rathbun’s long rise to power in Scientology to become the Inspector General of Ethics for the Religious Technology Center — essentially the number two person in the entire organization — and then his subsequent defection. There’s just no doubt that Rathbun wielded great power in the church, as is reflected by Scientology’s own publications. He was also a highly respected auditor and worked personally with Tom Cruise. But when the church was asked for a response to the film, this was the first thing that was put on the screen at the end of the documentary: “The Church of Scientology states that Marty Rathbun has never been a part of its ecclesiastical management…”


Say what? Just last month, Scientology argued in a federal fraud lawsuit brought by former members Luis and Rocio Garcia that the attorneys for the Garcias were improperly relying on Marty Rathbun for the very reason that he was a former high official of the church. Says the church’s legal briefing…

For approximately 20 years, Marty Rathbun was a senior official involved with various entities related to the Church of Scientology. Rathbun left Church staff in 2004…Rathbun…served as Inspector General of the “Religious Technology Center (RTC) the senior-most body of the Church of Scientology’s corporate and ecclesiastical hierarchy.” For most of his career, Rathbun was also responsible for handling major legal actions.

One wonders if the church will ever learn about this thing called the Internet, which preserves the church’s various statements so they can be compared to one another. We can’t help thinking about a fellow journalist, who told us that his publication had decided that getting a response from the church had become pretty much superfluous. “We decided that the Church of Scientology is simply not a reliable source of information about itself,” he said.

Ch4ResponseThe Church Responds!

Just as it did with Lawrence Wright’s book, Going Clear, Scientology has responded to “Scientologists at War” with a website claiming that yet another set of reporters got the story completely wrong. It features a 15-minute film that calls Marty Rathbun names and then goes on and on about all the new buildings that the church has opened in its “Ideal Org” program. Despite plenty of solid evidence that the church is actually shrinking in membership, David Miscavige has put his followers under intense pressure to raise money for these new buildings. Why? For exactly the reason you see here: to try his best to give the impression that Scientology is expanding, when there’s no real evidence that it is.

Joanne_WheatonSquirrel Buster Joanne Wheaton

Certainly one of the surprise stars of “Scientologists at War” turned out to be the unhinged, cackling Joanne Wheaton, one of the Squirrel Busters who besieged Rathbun’s home for five months in 2011. But we want to correct a notion that came up in our comments yesterday.

Joanne Wheaton is a longtime member of Scientology who took part in the Squirrel Busters siege. However, there is another woman with the same name in the church, and who briefly became known for her unusual donations.

The other Joanne was married to Larry Wheaton, the Air Florida pilot in the Flight 90 crash that killed 78 people in Washington DC on January 13, 1982. Two years later, it came out that the day after Joanne Wheaton received $300,000 in workers’ compensation benefits for her husband’s death, she spent nearly every dime on Scientology or a Scientologist-owned business. She also gave $75,000 from her husband’s insurance policy to the church.

We have spoken to someone who knew both Joanne Wheatons, and our source says there’s no doubt that the Joanne Wheaton who donated her Flight 90 money and the Joanne Wheaton who worked as a Squirrel Buster are two different women.


Bert Leahy

Bert Leahy

The Squirrel Busters and the Church

Probably for reasons of time, the film did not go into the interesting evidence that emerged linking the Squirrel Busters and the Church of Scientology itself. (At the end of the documentary, a church statement denied a connection between the two.) Last year, on the anniversary of the first day that the Squirrel Busters showed up, we wrote a story summarizing the role of Bert Leahy and how his eyewitness account helped prove that the five-month siege was a production of the church’s Office of Special Affairs. Leahy was a freelance videographer who was hired by the Squirrel Busters for a short while. He confirmed to Rathbun and us that the man running the operation was Dave Lubow, a private investigator long in the employ of the church. Also, former church private eyes Paul Marrick and Greg Arnold told us that church executive Linda Hamel told them that the Squirrel Busters was a church scheme to get Rathbun to “implode.”


Electronic Frontier Foundation Finally States the Obvious

The Church of Scientology’s virulent attacks on Internet freedom in the 1990s literally helped shape the rules that govern ‘net liberty today, but it’s only now that the church has made the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Takedown Hall of Shame.”

As we pointed out the other day, Scientology managed to get a parody website, “Cheer Up Will Smith” nuked. And the EFF goes into delicious detail over what Scientology complained about to make that happen, including a rich whine about “impersonating a human person online.”

The EFF goes into each complaint and explains how wrongheaded they are, and chides GoDaddy for falling for them. It’s a good read.


Posted by Tony Ortega on June 18, 2013 at 13:30

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