L'Express International - No.2307 - September 1996

Scientology: the Battle of the Internet The dissidents of the Church have divulged the "Secrets of the Universe" by using the information highway. The scientologists are crying its a "copyright violation." They are counter-attacking in court.

--Philippe Coste and Yves Stavrides-- =====================================

At the age of 17, Arnaldo Pagliarini Lerma was a servant of the Church of Scientology. In 1978, Arnaldo quit the Sea Organization and returned home to live with his mother. Today, at the age of 44, this engineer/installer from Arlington, Virginia is considered a cyber-terrorist by Scientologists. Why? Because he has placed the "secrets of the Universe", the sacred scriptures of Lafayette Ron Hubbard, founder in 1954 of the Church, based in Los Angeles (who died in 1986) onto the Internet. Mr. Lerma sent ultra confidential Church documents worth tens of thousands of dollars through Digital Gateway Systems' server onto the Internet and out to the rest of the world. "It's a dangerous cult." he says. He wanted to inform the public about the Church. Helena Kobrin, lawyer for the Church does not appreciate his efforts: "Freedom of expression is not the freedom to steal. He is in violation of our copyrights." The Scientologists assert that the law has been broken.

The Church has filed suit against Mr. Lerma, who signs off of the alt.religion.scientology Internet forum, (where he posted the documents) using his old Church-assigned regimental number 3502, with the phrase "Ex-slave of the Sea Organization." The church has also filed against the alt.religion.scientology Internet forum; the Washington Post which published excerpts of the Church's documents; and against Digital Gateway Systems. DGS Lawyers Robert Hager and Michael Brown commented on the Church's efforts to repress DGS: "A server permits a subscriber to access an immense resource of computer connections. What a subscriber posts in such a nebulous environment is uncontrollable. If an offense is committed in a public place, do you punish that public place?" Shari Steele, attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an anti-censorship pressure group, echoes DGS: "There is no law that has been adapted to fit this new medium. The future is the Internet, and it is coming into play now." The whole world may find itself in court by the start of 1996.

Make that court, plural. Courts. Because, in 1995, Lerma isn't the only celebrated dissident among the "netizens" (the citizens of the Net), with the family secrets of Scientology. Dennis Erlich, of Glendale, California, fired the first shot. Lawrence Wollersheim and Bob Penny, of Boulder, Colorado, have taken the fight to another level. The scenario is identical each time: a lawsuit, and then police search and seizure at the residence. Accompanied by Federal Marshals, the Scientologist have confiscated computers, scanners, and hundreds of diskettes. "They even took my mouse and my modem" lamented Arnaldo.

"If these documents have gotten out of Church hands," Helena Kobrin says, "its because somebody stole them." Lerma, Erlich & Co. Refute this accusation: "They have been passed from hand to hand for a long time. Moreover, up until this past August, you could get the documents from Los Angeles court records." The consequences for a magazine go back to 1991. That year, Time magazine, published "Scientology: The Cult of Greed." The Church sued Time, and demanded that the news weekly pay a total of $416 million in damages and interest -- the lawsuit is still in progress. The Church also attacked a dissident cited by the journal, Steven Fishman. In 1994, the lawsuit against Fishman was abandoned. If you want to check the archives -- you'll swear an oath -- because your efforts will be frustrated by five scientologists on permanent guard of the court documents. It was there, with the authority of the law, that a journalist from the Washington Post collected 103 pages with the "secrets of the Universe." The what?

The "secrets of the Universe" resemble the Sylvester Stallone film "Demolition Man" a little bit. Seventy-five million years ago, the admirable Xenu, chief of the Galactic Federation fixed an overpopulation problem. He froze humans in alcohol and glycol, put them in a space vessel and sent them to a planet ringed by volcanoes called Teegeeack (the earth). The humans were blown up by hydrogen bombs, and their dead souls "thetans" are the origin of human misery. Great. Today, the Church conducts courses recreating this galactic genocide called "OT" ("operation thetan"). The Washington Post published some extracts of "OT" documents. A lawyer for the Church, Erle Cooley, responded with a summons: "All these years, millions of articles have been written about Coca-Cola. The future of intellectual property has become an issue in this matter." His argument has made no impression on judge Leonie Brikema, who ruled that the Post's citations do not violate copyright law and that the charges are unacceptable; the Scientologists used up their appeals. In revenge, there is copious loud talk about the text of four pages of the Fishman papers, mentioned by the Washington Post, and thrust by Lerma out onto the Internet. Dated 1980, this "Confidential Briefing" (included in "OT-VIII") says this: "The authentic Jesus is far from the saintly and successful figure we recognize him to be. He had a sexual penchant for men and little boys, and he had uncontrollable fits of anger and hatred." And this is signed: "L. Ron Hubbard, founder." When told of the document, Director of international affairs within the Church, Kurt Weiland exploded: "Its a fake!"

All these events, all the brouhaha, have been fueled in particular by the electronic forum alt.religion.scientology, where, in New York, and Peking, Berlin and Timbuktu, those anti, and those pro-Scientology rage, insult and menace each other. National borders are nonexistent to this intra-planetary melee. Scientology has been compared to a cult here and there; but it is a sect in the eyes of Germany. And what will a copyright really be worth when "anonymous remailers" distribute documents in Finland or Singapore - assuring total anonymity to the sender?

Science fiction author Ron Hubbard saw the future of technology blossoming in a human manner. With a little reading within the forum of the Internet: What a great return of spirit!