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Trump is drawing comparisons to L. Ron, but will Hillary favor Scientology as much as Bill did?


[Image by DonkeyHotey]

We hear it all the time. Doesn’t Donald Trump remind you of L. Ron Hubbard?

The Daily Beast was one of the first to be overt about it with a fun article and illustration in April. But we’ve heard it dozens, maybe hundreds of times since then: Trump is like Hubbard. His organization is like Scientology. His followers are bullies just like Scientology’s goons.

And yes, all of that may be true. But being “like” Scientology is not the same as having a connection to Scientology. That hasn’t prevented many people, some of them our regular readers, from straining mightily to find something solid putting together Trump and David Miscavige’s wacky church.

Three things are usually cited: 1) In 2006, Trump donated a paltry $1,000 to the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Fund, a Scientology front set up by Tom Cruise to deliver L. Ron Hubbard’s quack sauna-and-vitamins “detoxification” cure for first responders to the 9/11 attacks. 2) That Trump is friendly with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who went easy on Trump University and declined to prosecute it for fraud, while Bondi has also been friendly with Scientologists, who have hosted fundraising parties for her. And 3), that Trump’s chief fundraiser, Hollywood producer Steve Mnuchin, is involved with a film funding company owned in part by James Packer, who was involved in Scientology from about 2002 to 2006.

While interesting, those ties are pretty tenuous.


So, while we completely understand why Trump’s antics are making so many people think of L. Ron Hubbard, we figure it’s actually a lot more important that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, is looking more and more like she’s going to win easily in November, and if she does she’ll bring with her a vanload of Scientology baggage that few people seem to be talking about.

As in, Scientology has never had a friend in the White House like it did in Bill Clinton.

Several weeks ago, we sent detailed messages to both campaigns, asking for comment on how the two candidates view the Church of Scientology, including its acquisition of tax-exempt status in 1993. We have heard nothing back from either camp.

And we not only didn’t hear back from Hillary Clinton’s representatives, we will admit up front that it’s a mistake to assume that her presidency will be like her husband’s. Hillary is her own person, and if she wins in November as looks likely, she’ll be her own commander in chief. We just don’t know, at this point, what kind of influence the “First Gentleman,” her husband Bill, will have on her policies, or whether they will resemble his at all.

That said, her husband’s shilling for Scientology was pretty shameless.

And the most important thing to consider, of course, is that nine months into his first administration, in October 1993, Bill Clinton signed off on the IRS granting Scientology tax exempt status. But that distinction comes with a huge caveat.

It was two years earlier, in October 1991, when Fred Goldberg, the IRS commissioner under President George Herbert Walker Bush, made the decision, after a meeting with Scientology leader David Miscavige and his lieutenant Marty Rathbun, to initiate the process that would eventually result in granting tax exemption. Tax experts we consulted several years ago, including a former IRS commissioner, told us that once Goldberg made that decision (and set some very favorable parameters to benefit Scientology) the eventual outcome of that study to grant tax exempt status was all but assured — even though it came to its conclusion under another president.

But Marty Rathbun has written that Clinton did get personally involved in pushing that process over the goal line. In 2011, at his blog, the former Scientology executive said that the IRS study had stalled late in 1992 as Bush senior, Rathbun claimed, began to worry about winning re-election if he granted Scientology church status. (We wonder if Bush had bigger concerns about being re-elected, but whatever.) Rathbun says it took a concerted push by Clinton to get the study finished and the documents signed that granted the tax exemption the following October.

Rathbun added that when the actress and Scientologist Anne Archer subsequently went on a White House tour, she was pulled aside to meet the president, who told her he’d been motivated to help Scientology because he had met a Scientologist during his time at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship who had made a positive impression on him.

The story sounds apocryphal, but there’s no doubt that Clinton did go out of his way to help the Church of Scientology, particularly when, soon after the IRS decision, Scientology began having serious problems overseas with a German government crackdown.

By the early 1990s, writes University of Alberta professor Stephen Kent, the preeminent academic studying Scientology, German officials had become alarmed about press revelations that described Scientology’s “Rehabilitation Project Force” — the Sea Org’s prison detail that could cut off workers from the outside world for years at a time in what Kent said was clearly abusive control under brainwashing. German officials couldn’t help drawing parallels between Scientology’s frightening labor camps and Germany’s past experience with totalitarianism. In Hamburg, where Scientology had been particularly active, a government official, Ursula Caberta, was put in charge of an office that kept an eye on Scientology, and she regularly made reports about the church that alarmed the country.

Scientology struck back in 1996 and 1997, spending “almost $725,000” with Federal Legislative Associates and its managing partner, David H. Miller, to lobby Congress about Scientology and the rough treatment it was receiving in Germany.

The church also encouraged the publication of a 1997 “open letter” to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, complaining that Scientologists were being abused the way Jews had been under Germany’s Nazi regime.

Published as a full page ad in the International Herald Tribune, thirty-four Hollywood personalities signed it, including actors Dustin Hoffman, Goldie Hawn, director Oliver Stone, writer Mario Puzo, and CNN talk show host Larry King…It turned out that many of the signatories had close ties to prominent Scientology actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

The ad turned out to be hugely offensive, and the US State Department put out a statement saying, “This is an outrageous charge against the German government by an American group. It bears no resemblance to the facts of what is going on there.”


[Travolta as Jack Stanton in 1998’s Primary Colors]

German officials, meanwhile, were mystified why America’s celebrities and leaders didn’t pay more attention to revelations about Scientology’s abuses that were being dug up primarily by America’s own press corps. Referring to the offensive “open letter,” Bavarian State Minister of Interior Dr. Gunther Beckstein quipped, “Wouldn’t it be great if Mario Puzo wrote a script to a film directed by Oliver Stone, in which Dustin Hoffman and Goldie Hawn starred as two inmates in a Scientology penal colony attempting to escape from their heavily-armed keepers?”

With the lobbying of Congress producing little and the open letter backfiring, Scientology had better luck turning for help to Bill Clinton, this time with the aid of actor John Travolta.

In April 1997, Travolta flew his Gulfstream II private jet from Los Angeles to Philadelphia for a conference on volunteerism, and gave a presentation on L. Ron Hubbard’s “study tech” — a bedrock concept in Scientology which argues that to really learn a subject takes intense use of dictionaries and making shapes with clay. One of the attendees to that presentation was the president of the United States.

“The next day, I met with Clinton. He told me, ‘Your program sounds great’,” Travolta later said in an interview. “More than that [the president said] I’d really love to help you with your issue over in Germany with Scientology.”

At the time, Travolta was on a break in shooting for the film Primary Colors, in which he was playing the part of Jack Stanton, a presidential candidate that was quite obviously based on Clinton himself. Joe Klein’s novel had been the read of the summer of 1996, and director Mike Nichols had won the bidding for film rights that August. He chose Travolta after his first choice, Tom Hanks, turned out to have a scheduling conflict.

Travolta said he’d been told by a nephew that he had a natural resemblance to Clinton, and the actor admitted that if he ever had a chance to play a president, he could only believably pretend to be Bill. He looked forward to meeting the president but he wondered, he told an interviewer, how Clinton would “seduce” him the way he was so famous for doing. And at that 1997 meeting in Philadelphia, Travolta was stunned when Clinton told him the one thing he really wanted to hear — that he could help Scientology.

“I was waiting for the seduction that I had heard so much about…I thought, Bingo! He did it. Scientology is the one issue that really matters to me,” Travolta said.

Clinton turned out to be as good as his word, as George magazine explained in 1998…

He went to the extraordinary length of assigning his national security advisor, Sandy Berger, to be the administration’s Scientology point person. Then, last September [1997], he had White House political affairs director, Craig Smith, arrange a meeting between Berger, Travolta, and jazzman Chick Corea, also an avid Scientologist. According to a senior administration official, the straight-shooting Berger briefed Travolta on the administration’s efforts in the same manner he would a senior senator. “Sandy was just great to us,” Travolta raves.

When news got out about how much the White House was helping Travolta, some accused Clinton of trying to influence his portrayal in the Mike Nichols film. The Klein novel had actually been harsh, but the Nichols version of Primary Colors, which came out in March 1998, was seen as a “valentine” put together by Clinton admirers.

Lauch Faircloth, the Republican senator from North Carolina, wanted “to haul John Travolta before Congress to find out whether the actor toned down his portrayal of a philandering, Clintonlike presidential candidate…in exchange for Mr. Clinton’s promise to help the Church of Scientology fight with the German government,” Kent noted.

And the professor also pointed out that Travolta was trying to influence a president who had already gone to bat for Scientology numerous times. “The section of the State Department’s 1996 human rights report that was harshly critical of Germany’s actions towards Scientology ‘was written by the White House…’ Its condemnation was so strong that Secretary of State Madeline Albright apologized to the German government because of it.”

Clinton had also personally written an essay against drug abuse that had been translated into French and appeared in a December 1996 Scientology magazine published in France. (Fighting drug abuse with a quack sauna program is one of Scientology’s claims to social betterment.)


[Tom Cruise hit up Clinton to help Scientology even after Bill had left office]

At the end of 1999, to celebrate the coming new millennium, Scientology held its annual New Year’s Eve party at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, and David Miscavige told the thousands in attendance that President Clinton had sent a personal congratulations as Scientology neared the 50th anniversary of what started it all, L. Ron Hubbard’s 1950 book, Dianetics.

“It’s a fitting moment to reflect on the importance of religious freedom and the profound role that religion continues to play in the lives of people around the world,” Clinton wrote. He also thanked the church for its work to promote religious tolerance and to “build just communities.” —

With the century’s close, big changes were to come for both Clinton, whose presidency was coming to an end while mired in the Lewinsky scandal, and also for Travolta. In 2000, Travolta’s disastrous adaptation of Hubbard’s 1982 novel, Battlefield Earth, become a box office laughingstock. Former Scientology officials Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder have described how much church leader David Miscavige was counting on the film, and Travolta, to produce a wave of new interest in Hubbard and Scientology. But after the movie bombed, Miscavige suddenly pretended he’d had nothing to do with it, and Travolta permanently lost favor with him.

But then, Miscavige suddenly had a new project: Getting actor Tom Cruise back in the fold. Because of his relationship to Nicole Kidman, Cruise had moved away from Scientology from about 1992 to 2001, when they broke up. Miscavige then made it Marty Rathbun’s job to get Cruise active in Scientology again, and over the next few years, that became Rathbun’s primary task. By 2003, Cruise was going through extensive auditing with Rathbun, and the actor was being told he needed to accomplish so much for the church that he might even obtain its highest award for service, the “Freedom Medal.”

Once again, Scientology turned to Bill Clinton, even though he had now been out of office for more than two years. Lawrence Wright explains, in his epic history of the church, Going Clear

Cruise repeatedly consulted with President Clinton, lobbying him to get Prime Minister Tony Blair’s help in getting the Church of Scientology declared a tax-deductible charitable organization in the U.K. Rathbun was present for one telephone call in which Clinton advised Cruise he would be better served by contacting Blair’s wife, Cherie, rather than the prime minister because she was a lawyer and “would understand the details.” Later, Cruise went to London, where he met with a couple of Blair’s representatives, though nothing came of those efforts.

Even if Cruise’s attempts to influence Blair didn’t bear fruit, he did eventually get his reward. In 2004, Miscavige declared the actor “the most dedicated Scientologist I know,” and bestowed on him a special, larger, “Freedom Medal of Valor.” (And see our story earlier this week remembering how much that blew up in their faces.)

One of the legacies of Bill Clinton’s support for Scientology is that ever since his time at the White House, the US State Department has continued to decry the treatment of the organization in countries around the world. As a result of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, signed by Clinton, the State Department puts out an annual report that describes examples of religious persecution overseas. Scientology is always featured multiple times in each year’s report, which began in 1999. Here’s just a sample paragraph from the 2011 report on Germany, which was completed when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State…

Federal and some state authorities described Scientology as a potential threat to democratic order, which resulted in discrimination against Scientologists in both the public and private sectors. Several states published pamphlets detailing the church’s ideology and practice, warning of the “dangers” the religion allegedly poses to democracy, the legal system, and human rights. In addition, government agencies at the federal and state levels and some organizations in the private sector established rules and procedures that discriminated against Scientology as an organization and against its members.

While there has been some variance in the amount of concern over Scientology shown in these annual reports, it’s not significant enough to say whether that concern was more pronounced during Hillary’s tenure at State. Here’s a paragraph from the most recent report on Germany (from 2015), put out under Secretary John Kerry, to show that it’s not really too much different:

Scientologists continued to report instances of governmental discrimination. “Sect filters,” which were signed statements asking potential government employees and contractors to confirm they had no contact with Scientologists and rejected their doctrines, remained in use in the public and private sectors, although courts at the state and federal level had ruled it was improper to use them to deny employment or contracts to Scientologists. In May the Baden-Wuerttemberg government narrowed its policy to require signed “sect filters” only from external subcontractors providing promotional materials, job training, and IT and business consulting. The subcontractors had to indicate they would not apply Scientology’s methods in providing services to the state.

If the annual reports under Hillary’s tenure don’t really stand out, the conservative website The Daily Caller tried to make a case that Scientology had spent considerable money lobbying her State Department. But research by R.M. Seibert and others shows that Scientology’s spending on lobbying is actually way down from what it was in the 1990s.


[Cruise celebrated Hillary’s 53rd birthday in October, 2000. Photo: David Hume Kennerly]

So we’re left with this: There’s simply no doubt that Bill Clinton proved to be a reliable friend to Scientology when he was in power, and even provided aid to Tom Cruise after he’d left office. He also left behind a legacy of lending the State Department’s help to keep an eye on how Scientology is being treated around the world which continues to the present day.

However, despite that State Department helping hand, under President Barack Obama federal investigations of Scientology were launched by both the FBI and by Homeland Security — although both investigations ultimately went nowhere.

Under President Hillary Clinton, what are the chances that the IRS or FBI will launch probes into a now much weakened Church of Scientology? We just don’t know at this point whether she will be the friend to David Miscavige’s organization that her husband was.

We tried to ask her campaign where she stands on a controversial group that has been exposed for using child labor, forcing abortions, and keeping Americans in prison-like conditions under the name of religion. We got no response. We hope other reporters may have better luck.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on August 22, 2016 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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