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The Battle of Portland, part 2: Pressuring a court by surrounding it with Scientologists and celebs

Yesterday, historian Chris Owen set up the backstory for what became known as the “Battle of Portland” in Scientology history. When we left off, an Oregon lawsuit had resulted in a $39 million judgment, with $20 million of it against Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. At that point, an emergency meeting was called by church executives…

The $39 million judgment in the 1985 retrial of the Titchbourne case was a disaster for Scientology. Church attorney Earle Cooley managed to secure a slender lifeline by persuading Judge Donald Londer to delay recording the verdict for a few days, ensuring that further representations could be made before the verdict was finalized.

On the evening of May 17, David Miscavige and other senior Scientology executives and lawyers held an emergency strategy meeting.


Miscavige, according to Marty Rathbun, was “distraught and desperate” and talked of moving L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology’s management to somewhere in South America to keep them out of reach of their enemies. He angrily ranted about “how a mighty institution like Scientology could be brought to its knees by a group of degraded wogs from a cow town.” Cooley vowed “to see that Julie Titchbourne never collects a dime. She’s not going to collect the money. Not in this lifetime.” One senior executive reportedly declared that he would kill Titchbourne to prevent her getting the money: “I don’t care if she thinks she won. That bitch is never going to see one single cent. I’ll kill her first. I don’t care if I get the chair – it’s worth it. It’s just one lifetime.” Dan Garvin, another attendee at the meeting, recalls:

I froze solid. I didn’t want to breathe. I forgot all about our immediate problems. My CO had just said he was going to murder Julie Titchbourne. He was absolutely serious. I was in shock. Sure, she deserved to die – all SPs did. But you can’t actually do that that sort of thing. My thoughts raced. Please, I thought, please, somebody say something that will make this stop. I was trying to think what I could say. If I said the wrong thing, or said it the wrong way, I’d be out of there that night and getting sec checked the next day. But this was madness!

Miscavige rejected this idea in fairly mild terms [Wright, Going Clear, p. 180]. (Garvin says that the executive who proposed to murder Titchbourne was not reprimanded or corrected by anyone at the time and was promoted a few months later. He observes that “murdering a plaintiff was apparently just another option, one that [Miscavige] ultimately rejected in favor of a better one, but one he seemed to have no fundamental objections to.”)

Instead, Miscavige proposed the plan that became what Scientology later called the “Portland Crusade” or the “Battle of Portland.” According to Rathbun, Miscavige declared: “We’ll take over this shit-hole town. I’ll bring in one hundred thousand Scientologists from around the world and we’ll surround the courthouse and make this town comply. We’ll overwhelm them. We’ll overwhelm not only the judge but every other criminal judge he talks to in this town” [Rathbun, p. 273].

The PR operation in Portland was directed by John Carmichael, who subsequently became the President of the Church of Scientology of New York. Another veteran Scientologist, Ken Hoden, was brought in to front the campaign. He was a former Guardian’s Office staff member who had been in charge of public relations in Portland during the original Christofferson case in 1979. Miscavige had purged him in the belief that he had mishandled the case. However, Hoden had invaluable experience and contacts with public officials and local churches in the Portland area. He was recalled from exile in Los Angeles, told to wear a dog collar and a clergyman’s jacket at all times and took up the position of church spokesman in Portland [Rathbun, p. 273].

Scientologists across the world were urged to converge on Portland and demonstrate. Within 48 hours of the verdict, some 2,000 Scientologists had arrived in the city. This was far short of the 500,000 Scientologists that a Scientology spokesman said would arrive in Portland within 36 hours to protest the court decision – the entire world membership of Scientology was around 100,000 at the time – but the numbers that arrived were still substantial. Around 12,000 Scientologists are said to have participated in the round-the-clock demonstrations, numbering up to 4,000 at a time [Wright, Going Clear, p. 180].


Over the following weeks, the Scientologists held daily marches around the courthouse and mass rallies in nearby parks. They lined the courthouse halls and surrounded the building, singing “We Shall Overcome,” while the Church’s lawyers argued that the jury’s verdict should be overturned. They also tried to pack the courtroom itself to affect the outcome: When Scientologist Karen Pressley sprained an ankle during a march, Ken Hoden had her sit in the courtroom in a wheelchair in an attempt to gain sympathy [Pressley, Escaping Scientology, p. 83]. Other “OT” Scientologists were told to attend the hearings and focus their mental powers on the judge to affect his thinking.

They were also supported by visiting Scientologist celebrities: Chick Corea flew in from Japan to give a free concert that also featured Al Jarreau, Stanley Clarke, Edgar Winter, Karen Black, Nicky Hopkins, and Frank Stallone. John Travolta made a high-profile visit, flying his private jet to Portland to give a midnight press conference.

The Church also convinced some prominent non-Scientologists to participate. Stevie Wonder phoned in a rendition of “I Just Called to Say I Love You” to the protesting crowd. Other celebrity Scientologists gave more low-key support. When Skip Press, then a writer for Scientology’s Freedom magazine, was sent to Portland, he traveled “on a shoestring budget – no funds supplied by Freedom or Scientology – and when he found out I had no place to stay, Paul Haggis let me sleep on the couch in his hotel room.”

The strategy was a high-risk one, as it drew attention to the extremely unfavorable testimony heard by the court. The local Willamette Week newspaper ran a cover article in its May 30-June 5 edition in which it highlighted some of the most damaging parts of the testimony. The Scientologists responded by removing hundreds of copies of the newspaper from racks around Portland. The mass theft attracted criticism from the Willamette Week and other local media outlets. A spokesman for the Church admitted that its members were responsible and pledged that the stolen papers would be returned – though as the newspaper’s editor noted the following day, “We have no evidence that the Scientologists have returned any newspapers.”


Behind the scenes, according to Rathbun, the Church sought to pull strings with Judge Londer. One of Cooley’s protegés, a man named Harry Manion, “proved crucial to the case,” as Rathbun put it. Manion had been a college and minor league baseball player, and this, combined with his friendly demeanor, endeared him to the judge, a former boxer. He was also a dedicated Scientologist. Rathbun says that each day during the hearings, Manion cultivated the judge “gradually by arriving a little early to court, and thus ‘bumping into’ the judge regularly. The latter always wanted to hear jock war stories from Harry” [Rathbun, p. 267].

Following the verdict, Rathbun says that Miscavige ordered that Manion was to be deployed to make a personal appeal to the judge, “to tell him outright that Londer needed to do this for Harry.” Cooley and Rathbun were uncertain, fearing the consequences of an impropriety that could come back to haunt Scientology, but Miscavige ordered the pitch to go ahead: “What is your hesitance? It’s a no-brainer. Of course he sees Londer, and he does whatever he has to do to get the product.” Manion duly went to the judge’s home to meet Londer and his wife, and reported back positively. Cooley told Rathbun: “Tell Dave to relax” [Rathbun, pp. 275-6].

Ultimately, the strategy succeeded. On July 16, 1985, Judge Londer overturned the jury’s verdict, saying that it had been based on improper, prejudicial and “abusive” statements made by Titchbourne’s lawyer. Her attorney had called the Church a terrorist group and characterized Hubbard as a sociopath. Judge Londer said that he had erred in not striking those comments and other erroneous instructions to the jury. He declared a mistrial, a decision that was applauded by approximately 150 Scientologists who had packed into the courtroom.

Miscavige was delighted; soon afterwards, the Church’s lead attorney, Cooley, was promoted to be its national trial counsel. Hubbard too expressed his appreciation, sending Cooley what Rathbun says was “perhaps the last handwritten despatch ever written by L. Ron Hubbard. In large sweeping script it read simply:

Earle Cooley



Miscavige and Rathbun were both rewarded by Hubbard a few months later with the award of a special medal that had never been issued before [Rathbun, p. 277]. Manion later wrote in Scientology’s Impact magazine:

I had a cognition that these SPs have to be stopped once and for all. And I don’t think legal is the answer. Because the courts are only a stage. They’ll move on to other stages after we exterminate them there. They’ll move on and on. The only answer is the International Association of Scientologists. So I became a Lifetime Member and I proudly wear my pin!

Despite her loss in court, Titchbourne continued to press her case, aiming for a third jury trial. In December 1986 the Church settled for what its attorney Earle Cooley later called “a derisory amount” of only $100,000, probably covering only Titchbourne’s legal costs and her refund. The reason for the settlement is unclear, but Hubbard’s death in January that year probably gave Miscavige an opening to settle the lawsuit and get it out of the way at last.

By this time, according to Rathbun, Scientology had spent more than $100 million of its members’ money in defending against cases brought by Titchbourne and a number of others, even though it could have settled them years before for a fraction of the cost. By any conventional calculation, this was a terrible rate of return. However, as church spokesmen commented at the time, the outcome sent a message that nobody could expect to profit by suing Scientology. Spending $100 million to deter any future compensation lawsuits was thus a good investment as far as Miscavige was concerned.

— Chris Owen


Chris Shelton on joining Scientology

Says Chris: “On social media and my channel, I’ve seen a question asked more often than any other, one which drives some people a little crazy and which most of us ex’s just sort of roll our eyes and remind ourselves to be patient and kind and do our best to answer. I finally decided to make a video about it so I can just link to this video instead of going through all the motions of answering again and again and again. I think when you watch it, you’ll get exactly what I’m talking about. Enjoy!”



Make your plans now!



Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,005 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,608 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 151 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,214 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,988 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,762 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,108 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,602 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,642 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,354 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 880 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,969 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,109 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,429 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,404 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 760 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,062 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,168 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,571 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,443 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,025 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,530 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,774 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,883 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on January 25, 2018 at 07:00

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The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

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 | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ


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