Scientology Crime Syndicate

From the Clearwater Sun, Sunday, January 30, 1983:

National image of Suncoast clouded by sect

Editors' note: Regular readers of the Clearwater Sun will find scarcely anything new in this Associated Press article. The Sun reproduces it here so its readers may know what is being read in newspapers throughout the United States that carry this AP story.

By John-Thor Dahlburg
Associated Press Writer

Clad in white button-down shirts and royal-blue pants, they have fast become Clearwater's most famous and identifiable residents - the same ones Mayor Charles LeCher mocks as "the mental cripples" and "the cretins."

Scientologists have brought their jargon-laden faith, missionary drive and money-making zeal to the decaying downtown of this tranquil Gulf of Mexico resort seven and one-half years ago. In secrecy, they bought an aging stucco-faced landmark, the Fort Harrison Hotel, and snapped up other downtown real estate.

Since then, the mayor has toted a .38-caliber handgun and donned a bullet-proof vest, make-believe Nazi storm troopers have goose-stepped under the palms, thousands of demonstrators have choked the streets and sun-washed Clearwater has found itself ripped apart by a 20th century American war of religion.

This month, the Clearwater City Commission tenatatively passed 4-1 a law purportedly regulating all charitable solicitation inside city limits, but in reality targeting alleged misrepresentation and misuse of donations by Scientologists.

Church lawyer Paul Johnson, who had accused Clearwater officials of running roughshod over the Scientologists' constitutional rights, said he would sue the city over the ordinance imposing a six-month jail term for people knowingly giving false information to the city attorney and up to $5,000 in fines for anyone convicted of deceiving a donor.

The lawsuit would be only the latest in a long string of legal skirmishes triggered when the Scientologists, believers in a space-age creed dictated by former pulp fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, converted the 10-story Fort Harrison into their "Flag Land Base," - a shrine, mission and retreat for the 2.5 million worldwide said to adhere to Scientology.

Some of the religion's top bras and clergy once lodged at the chandelier - festooned Fort Harrison have been convicted or accused of illegal acts, ranging from the theft of government documents and the planting of undercover "moles" inside hostile newspapers and businesses to smear campaigns mounted against vocal opponents.

Eleven church leaders, including founder's wife Mary Sue Hubbard, were found guilty three and one-half years ago of plotting to infiltrate federal agencies and purloin government documents. The Scientologists "were involved in a widespread conspiracy to subvert not only the government but the judiciary as well," claimed a Justice Department brief.

Clearwater erupted in anger and panic when documents seized in Los Angeles by the FBI indicated some top Scientologists had drafted plans "for taking control of the key points in the Clearwater area," including the chamber of commerce, lawyers' offices, medical societies, hospitals, police and the state attorney's office.

Then-Mayor Gabriel Cazares was also targeted, the documents show, in "Operation Speedy Gonzalez" - a staged hit-and-run accident designed to bankrupt him politically.

Church spokesman Hugh Wilhere says the days of illegal actions by top Scientologists are "ancient history" and never were more than the abuses of a few devout minds pushed to criminality by the fear of religious persecution.

But in many households in this 100,000-resident resort, the Church of Scientology and 1,500 disciples of L. Ron Hubbard said to live here still inspire widespread apprehension, distrust and even fear.

"When you think of Rome, you think of the Pope. When you think of Salt Lake City, you think of the Mormons. Now, when people hear 'Clearwater,' they're starting to think of Scientology," LeCher declares. "But that's only natural - they've bought up 11 percent of our downtown. And they're still buying."

"I believe the Scientologists are a group that is trying to take over our city," echoes City Commissioner Rita Garvey. "The impression I get is that whenever they have bad publicity, they just mount a whole public relations campaign saying they've changed."

Have the Scientologists changed? The U.S. government is wary. In 1980, a U.S. attorney in Washington accused church leaders of learning nothing from the successful prosecution of its officers, and of pursuing plots to destroy or intimidate "anyone who is critical of them - anyone who says: 'Government, investigate this group because we're concerned.'"

Neither do many who have fled the church - included L. Ron Hubbard's eldest son, 47-year-old Ron Dewolf, once executive secretary for the U.S. church and now an apartment manager in Carson City, Nev.

"My father only knew how to do one thing and that was to destroy people," said Dewolf, who changed his name because of its associations with Scientology. His father, Dewolf claims, is "paranoid, schizophrenic, magalomaniac - if it's physically possible to be all of those."

But at the coffee-hued Fort Harrison and throughout Clearwater, the accent is on change. Billboards, newspaper ads and radio spots plug the Hubbard creation called "Dianetics," billed as "the modern science of mental health."

The news messages make little, or no, mention of the religion of Scientology.

There are "open houses," free courses and Sunday worship sessions inside the same hotel where Scientology dissidents claim they were once billeted in a subterranean garage, scrubbed floors and stomped down garbage 18 hours a day under guard, on a diet of cookies and table scraps.

"We're just a quiet, law-abiding group going about our business," says Wilhere. "If there was anything illegal going on here, believe me, people would know."

But City Hall remains unbelieving. "Every time we send a building inspector or a health inspector to the Fort Harrison, not to mention the police, they seem to know beforehand," LeCher says. "Like they were being tipped off."

To take the pulse of Scientology, the Clearwater City Commission held a $110,000 series of public hearings last year that were lambasted by church spokesmen as "an inquisition."

"The issue is whether a city commission should get into investigating a religious organization for activities conducted by a handful of its members," said Tampa attorney Mike Hayes, one of a bevy of lawyers retained by the Clearwater church.

"It was a witch hunt, with no guidelines whatsoever," Hayes said. Scientologists, offered four days to present their side of the story, boycotted the sessions.

LeCher justified the hearings by insisting on "the public's right to know" and the need to lay legislative groundwork to justify the need for new city ordinances.

"We've had rumors of unreported eaths, unreported marriages and a secret hepatitis epidemic inside the hotel. We wanted to find out what goes on inside," the mayor said.

LeCher's avowed goal is to "boot the Scientologists out of here." Failing that, he wants to tax and regulate the church like a business and enact consumer-protection laws to alert donors and believers alike that their religion has never substantiated some of its claims.

Beamed into Pinellas County homes by cable television and reported by local newspapers and TV stations, the five days of legislative fact-finding electrified this seaside town north of St. Petersburg.

Defectors from Scientology painted a lurid tableau of a multinational racket disguised in the vestments of a religion, a paranoid leadership and a spiritual sachem - L. Ron Hubbard - who vanished years ago but whose typewritten dispatches are still obeyed as gospel truth.

"If Hubbard decides to leave this planet, he'll take the others with him - they'll take the Kool-Aid," testified Edward Walters, 44, referring to the self-genocide in Guyana of 913 members of Jim Jones' People's Temple.

Walters, the former "Operating Thetan Class 8," or member of Scientology's elite, said he quit the church in disillusionment after discovering "the people at the top were more psychotic than the people coming in."

"I think the worst part of the Church of Scientology is the feeling that you can't leave," said another witness Rose Pace. Other ex-Scientologists called the environment inside the Fort Harrison "a horror" and evoked the church's "Fair-Game doctrine," stating that any enemy "may be tricked, sued, lied to or destroyed."

Although LeCher says he doesn't care "if they believe in L. Ron Hubbard or in a rock," city consultant Michael Flynn, a Boston lawyer engaged in 27 anti-Scientology lawsuits, entered sworn statements by former church mbmers on the religion's teachings.

After hundreds of hours of psychoanalysis on the "E-meter," a primitive lie detector-like device, the Operating Thetan reportedly is revealed the innermost secrets of the "Star Trek"-like religion.

He is told "he is a special person with superhuman powers who came to Earth after surviving a galactic explosion engineered by Xemu, the evil ruler of Helatrobus, 40 trillion years ago," Flynn claims.

Operating Thetans "think they can do it all - see through walls, leave their bodies and fly to other countries, travel to distant starts," adds Hubbard's son Dewolf. "You should see their reaction when they come into a casino and try to make the roulette wheel do what they want. They get wiped out. It crushes them."

Officially, Scientology maintains its counseling called "auditing" frees believers from harmful subconscious mental imprints called "engrams." Anyone divested of these illogical thoughts, some of which may extend back along the "time track" into past lives, is a "clear."

"No one has ever told me I came from the planet Helatrobus," counters Brian Reso, a 42-year-old Los Angeles decorator and Operating Thetan Level 6. "Likewise, Scientology doesn't feed you any beliefs about God."

The sensational accusations aired at City Hall were categorically denied by church officialdom. Opposition also came from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Council of Churches, the latter protesting Clearwater's "vendetta" against the sect. Opinion-makes like The Clearwater Sun and the St. Petersburg Times also blasted the hearings for delivering a paucity of fresh information.

Speakers from local Episcopal, Seventh-day Adventist and Presbyterian churches also appeared at the podium to oppose the draft of Clearwater's charitable-solicitation law.

Wilhere claims the city commission's campaign has "worked to our advantage" by "turning off a lot of people" to Scientology's enemies. At the Fort Harrison, "we're undergoing tremendous expansion," as the faithful jet in from around the world for religious instruction that can be paid for with a Visa or Master-Card credit card.

Some of Scientology's stars, like jazz musician Chick Corea, have through benefits, and Scientology-backed groups say they are working with the elderly and for a "sparkling," and reborn, downtown.

"I find it shameful that the people of this city are attacking us," says Joeva Good, 34, mother of two and Operating Thetan from Sandy, Utah. "scientology is what started the revival of downtown Clearwater."

"We've learned not to get into firefights with the government," Wilhere adds. "We've returned to what we do best; that's being a church." Gone are the days when Scientologists dressed up like Nazis and paraded through the streets in an attempt to like bigotry in Clearwater to Hitler's Germany.

But the undeclared war continues, and plans in City Attorney Thomas Bustin's office include ordinances to regulate the number of inhabitants living in group housing and a ban on further purchases of downtown property by non-profit groups like the Scientologists.

"I think great damage has been done to their business-making capabilities," says LeCher. "I would hope that they may leave to save face."

Last November, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge B.J. Driver oredered the church to pay $325,578 in back property taxes it owes on more than $9.5 million in real estate. The church's 1982 application for tax exemption is being probed by the state attorney's office for possible false information.

In "Scientology: A New Slant on Life," L. Ron Hubbard wrote: "On the day when we can fully trust each other, there will be peace on earth."

Since Hubbard's disciples arrived seven and one-half years ago, there has been little peace in Clearwater.

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