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Jehovah’s Witnesses in Scientology’s ‘Mecca’: Is this the Armageddon we were promised?

We want to thank regular reader Jeb Burton for taking the photo you see here during his adventures yesterday in downtown Clearwater. He snapped this outside the infamous “Scientology Starbucks” at the corner of Fort Harrison Boulevard and Cleveland Street, the crossroads at the very center of Scientology’s “spiritual Mecca,” the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida.

This is actually a public Starbucks sitting on a public intersection, but it’s smack dab in the heart of the Flag Land Base, surrounded by some of the most important buildings in the Scientology world. Scientology watchers know that they can see uniformed Sea Org workers passing by or in buses at this location all day, and some of them do stop in for a cup of coffee. (But how they can afford a $4 cup of java when they’re making about 40 cents an hour is a bit of a mystery.)

Could there be any less promising place to set up a literature stand and offer people the good news about Jehovah? One of the most important things about Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they are convinced of the idea that Armageddon is imminent. But we figured the ultimate battle of good and evil prophesied in the Bible would have some more fireworks than a showdown between JWs and Scientology Sea Org workers in the dead downtown of Clearwater, Florida. On the other hand, perhaps that is maybe the best ever comment on both of these groups, who knows?

We decided to seek guidance from ex-JW activist Lloyd Evans to help us understand this bizarre sight.


The Bunker: Lloyd, this location is pretty much in exactly the center of Scientology’s Flag Land Base. To the south is the Fort Harrison Hotel and Flag Building, across the corner is the Clearwater Bank complex. To the west a block is Tom Cruise’s new condo. And to the north is the Sandcastle hotel, where the upper levels are delivered. In other words, this is Ground Zero in the Scientology world, even if it is a public street and a public Starbucks. It seems pretty unusual that these Jehovah’s Witnesses would set up right in that location. Talk about a sign of desperation. What are the chances a JW pitch is going to work with Scientologists, who are taught that Jehovah is a figment of the imagination and doesn’t actually exist?

Lloyd: Interesting photo! Probably for them to be there in the first place they will be almost completely in the dark about Scientology, its beliefs and policies. The more you know about Scientology as a JW, the more you will be able to see parallels, so these ladies look like they’ve wandered into the lion’s den fairly clueless.

The Bunker: So they might not have done any research before setting up there? Or could it be they know about the Scientologists in the area (and there are non-Scientologists as well), and simply considered it a good challenge?

Lloyd: Without knowing their congregation that well, it’s hard to say. It’s possible the local congregation is more aware of Scientology and knows some basics that they can use if they start a conversation, but if you’re a believing JW, knowing too much about Scientology is going to be very problematic for maintaining your indoctrination. The similarities are just too eerie.

The Bunker: In general, when we’ve walked past these literature stands in the subway here in New York, we almost never see the JWs talking to anyone. Do they go into it knowing it’s mostly fruitless?

Lloyd: No, they’ve learned to almost entirely redefine what constitutes success. Before cart witnessing was introduced in 2012, a successful day’s preaching might have involved several long doorstep conversations and multiple literature placements. In the cart witnessing era, simply being visible to members of the public for a sustained period is deemed to be “giving a witness.” The very fact that JW numbers have started leveling off since the arrangement was introduced (only 1.4 percent growth for the past two years) says a lot, but I think the leadership is just happy that they have a new way of keeping their followers busy, whether it’s bringing in new recruits or not.

The Bunker: Scientologists are trained not to get in discussions with outsiders about what actually happens in Scientology processing or to discuss the content of L. Ron Hubbard’s wild ideas. They are taught to tell people to buy a book and check it out on their own. Any public outreach, like a table on the sidewalk outside an org, is strictly controlled by the org itself. But for JWs, if they’re being encouraged to go door to door or use a cart in a public place, they do have to be somewhat prepared to discuss the beliefs that separate Jehovah’s Witnesses from other Christian denominations, right? Are they encouraged to get into an actual debate with someone they run across, and do they have to be prepared to cite some scriptures and answer some questions about Jehovah?

Lloyd: Jehovah’s Witnesses are not as prepared for debates as they used to be. They used to have a book, “Reasoning From the Scriptures” (now out of print) with tips on how to get into conversations and defend certain beliefs, including controversial teachings such as the prohibition of blood. Modern Witnesses still receive weekly training at their meetings on how to navigate conversations with members of the public, but these assume the other person is largely agreeable with what they have to say. Witnesses selected for cart witnessing are specifically dissuaded from getting into debates. Their main task is to point people to the official website,

The Bunker: Now that does sound Scientological. And we have to think the public is just as anxious to visit the JW website as they are to switch on Scientology TV. Thank you again, Lloyd!


Posted by Tony Ortega on March 31, 2019 at 12:00

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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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