24 Special -- Stephan Strothe
US Millionaire Fights Sect --
Crusade against Scientology
Any visitor to the former pirate haven of Clearwater on Florida's west coast quickly realizes who is fighting for power today. Scientologists have taken over the street scene, predominantly in the downtown area. In Clearwater they are a great deal closer to their dream of having their own Scientology city. Of the 100,000 inhabitants today, 6,000 are said to belong to the sect. On top of that, Scientology tourists come here from all over the world.
They make the pilgrimage to this former luxury hotel and pay thousands of dollars for courses which promise them a higher level of enlightenment. Fort Harrison is their religious center. Whoever approaches it is under observation. The sect's security service accompanies our team step by step. Scientology sheriffs report every enemy movement by radio to their center.
On this particular morning the lookouts would be even more nervous if they knew who was en route to Clearwater: the man whom the Scientology management probably fears the most today. Bob Minton is a millionaire banker, who does not want to stand by idly while the sect tries to intimidate their critics.
Bob Minton (driving his car):
It's a little bit like going into the lion's den. Former sect members have warned me, "no matter what you do, don't go into the Fort Harrison Hotel. The Scientologists could arrange for something to happen there." My friends tell me, "You're not paranoid. The Scientologists are out to get you."
Mr. Minton is driving to Clearwater because he believes in the democratic saying, "If you want something done, don't wait for the government. Do it yourself."
"Scientology wants your money and your life," warns the home-made picket sign. As the sect mobilizes against its critics on the internet, the 51 year old computer fan begins his own crusade.
As you can see, the Scientologists are mobilizing quite a few people. Apparently our little protest operation is upsetting them.
The speaker for the Scientologists in Clearwater, Brian Anderson, launches his counter-attack.
Bob Minton's attack on us, that is as if a Nazi was supporting an anti-Jewish organization. Giving money to someone so that he can attack a religious minority, that is, that is simply EVIL.
The evil, Bob Minton believes, lies on the other side of the street.
So many people must suffer terribly, only because they were once Scientologists. I think it's especially bad that the church seeks to destroy former members who express themselves in a critical manner. These ex-members are financially ruined, or overwhelmed with endless lawsuits. I want to use my money to even up the playing field, so that former members can defend themselves.
To the annoyance of the Scientologists, Minton is quite well off.
How much have you given so far?
About $1.4 million so far. And I still have a couple of hundred thousand I haven't given yet. If I have to, I'll give more.
4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) from Clearwater, Bob Minton bought two sect ex-members an island house, because Scientology demonstrators regularly appeared in their former neighborhood.
A safe haven for a half a million marks ($350,000). Stacy Young does not feel safe here any more. A short time ago, her neighbors received anonymous warnings, "The cats in the Youngs' animal refuge are infected with dangerous, contagious diseases." This came as no surprise for the former sect member.
Where we used to live, it was becoming unbearable. One evening two employees from the mental institution stood at our front door. Anonymous callers had told them that I was crazy. Both of them were surprised when they found out who I was, and I told them that the whole thing was an operation by the Scientologists. Bob Minton heard about our problem, simply called us up and said, "I'll help you." The man saved our lives when we were at a loss as to what to do.
In American commercials, Scientology advertises itself as a "religious philosophy." Expensive, newly generated courses promise life assistance and a better world. Stars such as John Travolta openly admit to Scientology and do what they can to drum up business for the sect. His message is, "Look how far I've gotten with Scientology!"
Most people just don't understand what Scientology is all about,
says the superstar at a book party.
Scientology has given me answers to so many questions. I have waited for a long time for this help.
Each Scientologist is supposed to believe in the pure teachings which come from L. Ron Hubbard. The deceased science fiction author took elements of traditional religions and mixed them with a generous dose of psycho-analysis and space fantasy into a new ideology.
German courts have decided that the sect in involved, for the most part, in making money. In the USA, however, Scientology is recognized as a religion. Because of this, Sabine Haag has moved to Clearwater, with her four children, from a village outside of Stuttgart.
We were not permitted to film a Scientology church service. What was permitted was an interview in the administrative center.
I used to live in a small village with about 1,500 inhabitants. Whenever I came into a building, people fell all over themselves trying to leave because they knew that I was a Scientologist. It was as if I had leprosy. My children were beaten up every day on their way back from school. They were afraid to go to school. Every morning I had to bring them to the classroom door, then pick them up there in the afternoon or evening. They never went out by themselves. My children didn't have any more friends. We have our Sunday services here. We have marriages here. When someone dies, we have the funeral here. We have baptisms here. We have all the normal serv... all the normal things which a normal church has. Only... we ... have ... much more enjoyment in them.
Apparently Sabine does not know that ex-Scientologists from her sect have been put under undue pressure.
I am 100 percent positive that if they wanted out of the church, no one would hold them back. Because, we are taught, or, Scientology is a teaching which they learn... teaches them to be free. And freedom means that they are self-determined, so ... that would be the exact opposite to the teachings, if they were to hold someone back.
But that is exactly what happened in the Fort Harrison hotel, according to the reports of ex-Scientologists. This is why Bob Minton demonstrates in front of the so-called religious headquarters. After speaking with former sect member from many parts of the USA, Minton is convinced:
There is a long list of former cult victims who have come to great harm in this hotel.
What has been confirmed is that in Fort Harrison a 36 year old woman spent the last days of her life. The police have been working on Lisa McPherson's case for over two years. In 1994, the Scientologist had given half of her income for sect courses. One year later, she celebrated her "clear" status. This is a Scientology level of enlightenment which promises particular happiness. Only two months later, she pulled off all her clothes after a minor auto accident and said, "I need help." An ambulance brought her to the emergency room. Then several Scientologists showed up. Lisa went with them back to Fort Harrison. What happened there has still not been explained.
However, Scientologists did note down, in detail, how her condition was rapidly deteriorating.
From Scientology notes:
"Tried to feed her. She ate nothing. Needs two liters of liquid, when she wakes up. Has scratches and sores all over her body."
On the seventeenth day, the Scientologists finally decided to bring Lisa McPherson to the hospital. However, they drove her past a nearby hospital. They did not stop at the next one, or the hospital after that. They brought her on a 45 minute ride to the New Port Ritchie Hospital, because that is where a Scientology doctor was working. Too late for Lisa McPherson. She died emaciated and almost without liquid in her body. The next step is for the district attorney in Clearwater to decide whether any charges will be brought against the Scientologists. The medical examiner has confirmed the existence of bleeding and skin wounds which look like insect bites. The autopsy report named the cause of death as a blood clot in the lung, combined with excessive bed rest and severe dehydration.
Lisa's Aunt Dell Liebreich is the next of kin of the deceased. She is suing Scientology for 144 million marks ($100 million) damages. This is not about money, she says. She wants to obtain a judgment against those who, in her opinion, are responsible for Lisa McPherson's death.
I think it's terrible. How could they just sit there and watch somebody die? They didn't help her. They watched Lisa die.
On the second anniversary of Lisa McPherson's death, Scientology critics held a memorial service in front of Fort Harrison. Bob Minton was there, too.
Three thousand counter-demonstrators accused Clearwater's police chief of conducting a witch hunt against the church. What does Sandy Weinberg, Scientology attorney, say to the medical examiner's conclusion that Lisa died of dehydration?
That is what the medical examiner said in her autopsy report, but this woman is mistaken, and she has a strong prejudice against Scientology.
Would you say that the test results were tainted?
The blood clot that caused the embolism in the lungs was not caused by severe dehydration, but came, quite certainly, from an earlier injury.
Attorney Ken Dandar is suing Scientology on behalf of Lisa's aunt. His fee is being paid by the millionaire, Bob Minton.
The Scientologists have absolutely no medical proof of their blood clot theory. Everything indicates that Lisa died a slow, painful death. The clot let blood flow through. Without water you're dead. Lisa had to die because she did not want to be subject to the laws of the Scientologists. She wanted to leave the church. There are several witnesses to that. She did not want to give in, and the Scientologists let her die.
For the sake of caution, many residents of Clearwater would rather not say anything about the Scientologists. But this man told us:
When I grew up, Clearwater was a nice little town. When you go downtown today, you see Scientologists all over the place. (imitates robot) Like zombies!
Oh, they don't bother me. They are nice young people. I don't understand why they are there, but they are just nice-looking, young people.
All I know is that Ron Hubbard wrote this book. For me that is a religious cult. And I know that a lot of land here belongs to them.
Most of the Scientologists of Clearwater live in this well-guarded compound. The appearance of our camera team was immediately reported. As was the fact that Gabe Cazares accompanied us. He was mayor when the sect came to Clearwater in the 1970's.
I don't know if this fence is supposed to keep people out, or keep the Scientologists in. Nobody goes in or out without the OK of the guards.
In the middle of the interview, the former mayor suddenly stops talking. Brian Anderson, the Scientology speaker, has appeared, and Gabe Cazares, after a legal battle, does not want to say another word.
Journalist to Anderson:
Did you just want to say hello to us?
German television shows up here and brings a few demonstrators with them.
Are we bothering you?
Exactly. With your puppets that are demonstrating here.
The former mayor would rather hold our interview a few kilometers away, in Clearwater's downtown. As we get there, Scientologist Brian Anderson is there waiting for us.
- Sabine Haag is listed as a "German Patron Meritorious" of Scientology by Martin Ott in a post to alt.religion.scientology of 11 Jan 1997 00:00:00 GMT [Return]