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|Being a first-person account of a picket against the Church of Scientology held on 8 March 1997, and a candlelight vigil held in memory of Scientologist Lisa McPherson, who died while supposedly being cared for in Scientology's Clearwater spiritual centre.|
Well, we had a great deal of fun today. It was a long and eventful picket; following are the highlights of my day. (As I don't know if all of the picketers want to be referred to by name, I won't identify all of them in this message.)
We were joined by some locals and a few women from NOW, which brought our numbers to somewhere between 25 and 30.
Xenu, the Galactic Overlord
I volunteered for the position as Xenu's bodyguard. Yes, the Galactic Overlord was there in all of his splendour -- bug-eyes, raygun and all -- and I stuck to him like a Body Thetan. His presence really enturbulated the Scientologists; everywhere he went, he was surrounded by a cluster of sign-waving culties.
Xenu tried to wave to passing cars; they stuck signs in front of him so passers-by couldn't see him. He tried to stand behind Jeff Jacobsen and mug for the TV cameras; they built a wall of signs to shield him from view. He walked close to the road; a car driven by people in Sea Org uniforms zoomed in to hit a puddle and soak him (and the Scientologists clustered around him) with water. They shouted in his direction, "What a kook. I don't know what they think that'll accomplish." (Well, that's obvious. People driving by, seeing an alien, will probably be more likely to watch the news to see what it's about than if they just saw a plain old picket. Duh.)
But what really infuriated them was the fact that he chose not to speak. At some point early on, we picked up the official Xenu Handler, a man named Joe Neal, who I've been informed is the OSA International East US Programs Chief. Every time Xenu passed, he'd thrust his videocamera in the Galactic Overlord's face and barrage him with questions: "What's your name? Why don't you take the mask off? Who are you?" He attempted to guess Xenu's identity a few times; his first guess was "Rogue Agent", his second was "Lawrence Wollersheim" (who was picketing not twenty feet away, his bare face hanging out for all to see), and his third guess was "Dennis Erlich". I told him to keep trying; eventually he'd hit it just due to the process of elimination. Fortunately, he gave up after that.
Their counterpicketing of Xenu was great; just one more manoeuvre in "Operation Foot Bullet". To the wog public driving by, the intermingling of signs meant that rather than two separate groups, there was just one large group of people picketing the Church of Scientology. Many of the signs were rather ambiguous, and others could easily be read as a condemnation of the Church of Scientology if one didn't know too much about their beliefs. (For example, "Police, get rid of druggies" in front of Scientology's building could very well leave the impression that the Fort Harrison is a den of substance abuse.) "Left foot: Ready! Aim! FIRE! Ow ow ow ow ow!"
Another one of their methods of making things difficult for us was to wash the Fort Harrison and the sidewalk in front of it. I must admit, I've never seen anyone try to clean the stone part of a building with a squirt bottle and rag before, as several Scientologists were trying to do today. And, as another critic mentioned, they must have been dumping dirt on the sidewalk, because the people with the hoses kept going over the same areas again and again. Well, either that, or they were horribly inefficient...
Of course, counterpicketers weren't the only diversion they had. They were also swearing in a whole bunch of Drug-Free Marshals, but the woman on the PA system had to order the children several times to pay attention to her. (It didn't strike me as particularly bright to get a whole lot of children -- who are inquisitive by nature -- and try to keep their attention on "theta" activities when there's a big commotion nearby.)
Joe Neal, OSA INT E US PGMS CHF
At one point, Xenu decided it was time to visit the WC. Feeling that the nearby police station would be a good place to go (polite intergalactic rulers don't use the facilities in restaurants without paying for food, after all), he and I set off. As we were later to discover, leaving the main picket site was like stirring up a hornets' nest. We were immediately glommed onto by our friend, Mr. Neal. He started up his usual line: "Who are you? Are you looking for publicity? Why don't you take your mask off and I'll give your real face all the publicity you can stand. Come on, why won't you talk to me? Did they order you not to talk to me? Are you afraid to talk to me? What's your real name?" About halfway down to where we had to cut across to the police station, he gave up and went back to the picket site. Awwww. However, I did get to tell him why I was picketing: because I strenuously object to the overproduction of marshmallows in the Nevada desert by the Zimbabwean government, and figured what the hell, this was close enough. He didn't seem to believe me; I wonder why. :-)
When we arrived at the police station, the receptionist was quite ... surprised by who walked in. In her words, "We've never had any of those come in here before!"
Rejoining the picket, we were immediately surrounded again. I must say, for people who claim to support free speech, they certainly had a propensity for blocking our signs with theirs, and for trying to shield the rest of the world from Xenu. He'd wave at a car, they'd thrust the sign in front of his face and hand. He'd bend down to wave under the sign, they'd move the sign down. Up. Down. Up. Down. So Xenu waved one hand high and one hand low. Oops, couldn't get the sign into two places at once! So from then on, they had two people in front, and two in back (as Xenu changed directions frequently). Yeah, free speech is okay as long as it's not about them, I guess.
And he attracted his share of verbal abuse. One woman came up to him and said, "You know what your problem is? You need a life." I looked at her sadly and replied, "So does Lisa McPherson." She practically ran away.
I got my own attention, too; however, as a person who was clearly subordinate to Xenu, he got the lion's share of it. Sylvia Stanard asked me my name; I told her it was L. Ron Hubbard. She didn't believe me either; these Scientologists sure aren't a trusting bunch! (Tsk, tsk, tsk -- and they're the ones saying we should all trust each other!)
Once Xenu beamed back up to the mother ship, I picked up a sign and held it way up high. Immediately, I was a Very Important [to hide] Person. Boom! I got five or six followers before I could walk half the block. It was odd, though, because none of them could hold their signs in front of mine for very long. Perhaps that was because mine was made from very light materials, while theirs were rather heavy-looking. Tsk, tsk, tsk! Poor planning on their part.
Building on some of Xenu's fancy footwork, I faked them out a few times by turning around as though I were going the other way, then going back in my original directions. One of them (my chief handler) even grudgingly complimented me. "You've got some pretty smooth moves there." Well, yeah -- I'm a fencer. Tiring of their presence, I saw another group of critics waiting to cross the street to my side. I waited across from them, and walked into the middle of them as my handlers split around the sides. They kept going, I walked backwards to my original side. Oh well, they were replaced almost immediately by a new group.
Eventually, I went up onto the landing of one of the county buildings (which the cops had said was okay to be on) to distribute water and apples to the critics. Once the Scientologists came up there, though, the security guard for the building told us we had to all get off county property. (Interesting. Very interesting.)
They had told the police they would have five hundred picketers to surround us with, but our estimates ranged from 75 to 150. Not a terribly great turnout if they were expecting 500.
At one point, "Bill Winfield" and I went off into the shade and listened to the OSA frequencies on Bill's scanner. It was pretty edifying; every time someone left the main picket area, there was a flurry of communications giving their positions, heading, and so forth. They were also taking down licence plate numbers.
When another critic arrived, we decided it was time to have some fun, and we set off for the former Clearwater Bank building. Immediate response: "We've got two guys in yellow shirts with big red SPs on the back, going towards the Coachman building. Is that all right?" (What, was the attractive lady with us merely chopped liver?)
Once we'd reached the former bank building, we decided to walk on down to the Sandcastle, the building to which a woman had (just one week ago) run from the Fort Harrison Hotel, and then after entering the Sandcastle had apparently continued on through, jumped down a six-foot sea wall, and was found wandering in the foot-deep water. We had a great time listening to them follow our progress, and they eventually recognised that our third member existed.
At one point, our shadow said "I think they have scanners." Bill shouted, "They do!" and he weakly reported, "They said they do." So we decided to have some more fun. We went up to a little glade in Coachman Park that has rather interesting metal sculptures of bipedal lizards, then split off into three different directions. The scanner turned into the audio equivalent of chickens running around with their heads cut off.
We also heard them reporting their progress as they followed cars out of the area, and little gems like "I've got one of your men here who's really slacking off!"
We eventually tired of playing with them, so we went back to our cars. When we were almost there, they finally figured out who I was. It was quite a delight to hear OSA calling me by name on the radio; it made me feel like I'd finally become an effective enough critic to attract their notice.
We went back to the hotel.
Returning later in the evening for the candlelight vigil, we arrived in a rather staggered order, as our cars had taken different routes. Almost immediately, we were set upon by an OSA pair who tried to bullbait us and dead-agent the ones who hadn't arrived yet. Some of the critics started reading OT III off Steve Fishman's shirt, in unison, and the OSA chaps went away.
We had made an offer that we would conduct a silent march for just a few minutes, on one side of the street, and then leave -- if they left us alone. They didn't go for it, and swarmed the sidewalks with us, making it look like a huge vigil march for Lisa McPherson. They had many more people there than they'd had that afternoon. Had they all gone away, leaving us to walk around in an empty lot, we probably would have looked rather pathetic. With their assistance, however, we got a great show of support for our cause. "Right foot... Ready! Aim! Fire! Ow ow ow ow ow!"
And they showed their true face. I was walking with a blind woman who had a guide dog. At least five times, one particular man stood still directly in her path. Uttering a very insincere "sorry", he moved a couple of feet to the left, so that he ended up between her and the dog. He wasn't the only one who apparently found delight in harassing a blind woman; another woman took great delight in walking very slowly in front of us; when we turned around, she would scoot around us to be in front again, and slow down to her original pace. As the vigil was ending, a cop confronted her and practically tore her a new one. "I've been watching you walk slowly in front of this blind woman, then run around so you can be in front of her again. You ought to be ashamed of yourself! She's a blind woman, for Christ's sake! Do it again and I'll arrest you."
I also had several people who were hatted to handle me. They tried all the usual buttons: "Did you know Lisa? Did you care about Lisa when you were alive?" "Well, no," I said, "I didn't know her. But did a person in the forties have to know the Jews dying in Germany in order to care about them?" The girl who tried this one stopped in astonishment. "You're comparing us to the JEWS?" she exclaimed. I said, "Why not? You do..." Another critic behind me heard her discussing it with her friends afterwards: "That's ridiculous. The Jews were a race of victims. We're not." Yeah, girls, that's a lovely sentiment. But tell it to your public relations officers; they're trying very hard to paint a picture of Scientologists as victims.
We also had many people performing the highly mature act of blowing out our candles. "Just like you did to Lisa's life," one critic commented. It's really a pity that they thought so little of Lisa that they'd disturb a vigil held in her memory.
Gabe Cazares was there -- and was frequently the centre of attention for the television crews -- and we were also joined by some local people.
A really funny occurrence: two women were walking behind Steve Fishman, whose OT III shirt was printed on both sides. One woman asked her friend, "Is that really OT III?" "Don't read it!" commanded her companion. "It's copyrighted."
"Don't read it, it's copyrighted." Wow, that's just hilarious. Hell, all of the books on my bookshelves are copyrighted -- does that mean I can't read any of them?
When we finished the vigil, after walking away, they gave a big rousing cheer at having "driven away the suppressives." We actually picketed a few minutes longer than we'd originally planned to, so I guess their postulates weren't very effective.
As we reached the cars, we saw an OSA vehicle drive around and park to keep us under surveillance. A whole contingent of suppressive photographers surrounded the van and snapped away, flashbulbs a-popping. What fun!
After going back to the hotel, I took some critics out to see some of the Tampa night life. As I dropped them off at the hotel at 1 AM, we saw two OSA goons walking around in the parking lot -- including our old friend, OSA INT E US PGMS CHF Neal. We waved at him, he waved back. As I left the hotel, I drove by and called out, "Good night, Joe!"
Pity it was too dark to see his face.
Xenu: According to the "secret" Scientology scripture known as OT III, Xenu was the galactic overlord who, 76 million years ago, tried to solve the galaxy's overpopulation problem by bringing the surplus beings to Earth, chaining them to volcanoes, killing them with nuclear bombs, then capturing them and reincarnating some of them as humans.
Body Thetans: According to OT III, the beings not reincarnated as humans stick to our bodies, and their psychic influence causes us to have mental problems.
enturbulate: A Scientology term meaning to stir up or disturb. One of Hubbard's theories was that the only barrier to learning was the M/U, or misunderstood word. It's odd, then, that he spent so much time making up new words and redefining existing words to mean other things, which causes a lot more "misunderstood words" than using the existing meanings of existing words.
Jeff Jacobsen: Organiser of this year's picket; known on the Internet as cultxpt.
Sea Org: Scientology's "inner cadre", consisting of members who have signed a billion-year contract to serve the church. They wear pseudo-naval uniforms and have a rigid militaristic structure.
OSA: (OH-sah) The Office of Special Affairs, Scientology's intelligence and espionage branch. Formerly known as the Guardian's Office, it was renamed primarily so that the church could claim that the GO no longer existed. Why a purportedly legitimate church needs an intelligence division is still a mystery.
Rogue Agent: Formerly one of Scientology's most effective critics on the Internet. Because he posted anonymously, Scientology expended a great deal of effort to discover his true identity. When they came close, Rogue ceased posting; his absence is greatly missed.
Lawrence Wollersheim: Former Scientologist, who won a substantial judgement against the Church of Scientology. The Church of Scientology has so far refused to pay, and due to interest, they now owe him over $20 million. Needless to say, he is not one of Scientology's favourite people.
Dennis Erlich: Former Chief Cramming Officer at Scientology's Clearwater-based Flag Service Org, who was once held against his will in the basement of the Fort Harrison Hotel. Erlich was present at the 1996 Clearwater picket, and a Scientologist got a Temporary Restraining Order against him, in an effort to keep him away from the picket. (The effort failed.)
Operation Foot Bullet: Humourous name for Scientology's propensity to keep shooting itself in the foot; coined by critics to follow the GO/OSA tradition of naming each covert operation.
wog: Hubbard's term for non-Scientologists. Note that "wog" was originally a British racial slur, used to refer primarily to blacks and natives of India. Hubbard attempted to justify it in his "Tech Dictionary" by claiming that it stood for "Worthy Oriental Gentleman". Yeah, right.
Fort Harrison Hotel: Landmark purchased by Scientology under an assumed name in 1975. Lisa McPherson was placed in isolation in one of the hotel's "cabañas" for seventeen days, and according to the physical evidence, went without water for the last 5-10 days of her life. Clearwater Scientology Vice President Brian Anderson has claimed that there is no basement in the Fort Harrison Hotel (in order to "prove" that Dennis Erlich could not have been held captive there), though building plans and tax records indicate otherwise.
Drug-Free Marshals: A Scientology front group. Other front groups are Narconon, Criminon, Citizens Commission on Human Rights (an anti-psychiatry group), Citizens for an Alternate Tax System, and many others.
theta: A Scientology word meaning, among other things, conducive to Scientology's mindset. "Big Wins", or stories about successes attributed to Scientology's teachings, are "theta", whereas any kind of criticism about Scientology is "entheta" (an abbreviation of "enturbulated theta").
Sylvia Stanard: An OSA operative based in Washington, DC. During the 1996 picket's press conference, she obtained entry by producing credentials as a reporter for the Scientology publication Freedom Magazine, then proceeded to disrupt the conference by interrupting and arguing with the speakers.
Steve Fishman: A former Scientologist who has sued the Church of Scientology. Fishman entered many secret Scientology documents into his court case; before Scientology was able to get them sealed, the Washington Post was able to get a copy. Scientology sued the Post for copyright violations and trade secret misappropriation when the Post printed a grand total of seventeen words from OT III. The judge dismissed the claims, calling Scientology's suit "reprehensible".