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Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Internet in 2019: Spookily similar to Scientology in 1994

[Scientology heavy Helena Kobrin and Watchtower mercenary Philip Brumley]

We’re still playing catch-up here at our new Jehovah’s Witnesses blog, and yes, we keep running across parallels to what we’ve seen over at our Scientology watch.

For example, getting to know Mark O’Donnell (a/k/a John Redwood) and his fine work made us realize that the Watchtower organization right now is acting just like Scientology did about 25 years ago, when Scientology was in an all-out war with the Internet.

For a good backgrounder on that, this 2015 article from the Daily Dot is quite good (full disclosure, your proprietor is mentioned in it).

A relevant passage:


The early days of the Internet were much different from today; one of the main means of group communication was through Usenet newsgroups, collections of distributed message boards. ARS [alt.religion.scientology] was one of these; created in 1991, it soon became a place for critics to share their views on the church. It wasn’t exactly a hotbed of intrigue, but on Christmas Eve 1994, someone anonymously posted Scientology documents, including the “Xenu story” — the creation myth later made famous by South Park. Scientology lawyers reacted quickly, trying to remove what they argued was copyrighted material and asking for the newsgroup to be shut down. Raids and lawsuits followed; as Wired recounted at the time, the legal wrangling only drew more attention. (No one had yet coined the term “Streisand effect,” but here was a perfect example.)

Ah yes, the ARS “remove newsgroup” maneuver, attempted by Scientology lawyer Helena Kobrin in January 1995, infamous in the annals of Scientology and the Internet. And for years after, anyone who posted as much as a small Fair Use look at Scientology materials was sure to get an “Avagram” from fellow Scientology lawyer Ava Paquette threatening legal action. Also, for a short while, Scientology convinced some judges and US marshals to go along with their attempts to go after people like Dennis Erlich for posting material online.

But already by then former Scientology spokesman Robert Vaughn Young had predicted that the Internet was going to be “Scientology’s Vietnam,” and eventually, the church itself seemed to figure that out. After winning some battles but losing many more others, Scientology stopped trying to police the ‘net so closely, and realized it wasn’t going to stop the flow of information — especially after the arrival of Anonymous in 2008.

That all came back to us after we talked to Mark O’Donnell and looked at his excellent two pieces at JWSurvey and realized that the Watchtower organization today is acting just like Scientology in the mid-1990s. If you haven’t already, set aside some time and soak up the great work at these two pieces by Mark…

1. Watch Tower Sues Facebook & Mark Zuckerberg for Contempt of Court, Demands Daily Fine
2. Facebook Yields to Watch Tower Subpoena; Jehovah’s Witnesses Issue 6 More to YouTube

“This all happened beginning last year when multiple JW internal videos (including Pillowgate) began getting leaked to the Internet,” Mark tells us. “Watchtower knew they had a big leak problem and they decided to use a very specific tool to chase down these individuals. The tool is called the DMCA Subpoena.”

So, beyond simply using the DMCA takedown protocol to get YouTube or Facebook to take down videos Watchtower believes is their own copyrighted material, they are enlisting judges to issue subpoenas in order to get identifying information about the people who have posted the clips.

“They are claiming that the purpose is only to protect their copyrighted works. But of course we know that this is a data-gathering process,” Mark says.

The Helena Kobrin of the Jehovah’s Witnesses appears to be Philip Brumley, lead attorney for the Watchtower, who has been sending out some nasty Avagrams of his own.

We have an example of one that will show you what it’s like to get such a letter.


That sure looks familiar, if you remember Scientology’s wars of the 90s.

How long will Watchtower enlist judges to keep up an all-out war on Internet leaks? And how long will those judges let them? If Scientology is any guide, eventually the Watchtower will discover that you just can’t stop the free flow of information.


Posted by Tony Ortega on March 23, 2019 at 12:00

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.

Tony Ortega is a journalist who was formerly the editor of The Village Voice. He’s written about Scientology since 1995, and in May 2015 released a book about Scientology’s harassment of Paulette Cooper titled ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely,’ and more recently a compilation of his stories, ‘Battlefield Scientology.’ He continues to monitor breaking developments in the Scientology world, as well as other subjects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. You can reach him by sending him a message at tonyo94 AT (Drop him a line if you’d like to get an e-mail whenever a new story is posted.)


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