Sympathy for the DevilSeptember 9, 2001
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Last year, Church of Scientology operatives received an alarming tip: During the upcoming 2000 MTV Movie Awards scheduled for June 8, a short South Park film parodying Battlefield Earth would feature the character Cartman wiping his ass with a copy of L. Ron Hubbard's sacred text, Dianetics.
The tip was erroneous. Cartman would actually be wiping his ass with a Scientology personality test.
But agents of the church's shadowy Office of Special Affairs didn't know that. They only knew they had a public relations nightmare on their hands.
Battlefield Earth had already turned out to be a colossal embarrassment for the church. Its star, celebrity Scientologist John Travolta, had denied there was any connection between the movie, which was based on a 1980 science fiction novel by Hubbard, and the controversial religion, which was based on Dianetics, Hubbard's 1950 self-help book. Despite Travolta's denials, however, ordinary Scientologists had anxiously awaited the film, hoping it would improve the image of their founder and his faith. Instead, it was panned as the worst film of 2000 and one of the worst science-fiction films of all time. The New York Times suggested that although it was a bit early to be making such judgments, Battlefield Earth could turn out to be the worst movie of the new century.
The last thing the church needed was more piling on by the acerbic kids of South Park.
So it turned to Burbank resident Tory Bezazian.
Bezazian headed something called the Scientology Parishioners League, a new organization that Office of Special Affairs vice president Janet Weiland had asked volunteers like Bezazian to form for just such emergencies. In the few months the parishioners' league had been operating, Bezazian and her cohorts had followed up on OSA tips by pressuring television networks, radio stations and newspapers to drop negative content about the church.
Bezazian never knew how OSA agents got their information. She only knew that once she was given a tip, the church relied on her to harangue editors and TV producers until the offending material was removed. During Bezazian's short association with the parishioners' league, the organization managed to convince a few editors to pull material. But in general, the group had little effect. Scientology had suffered so much negative press for so many years that Bezazian and her small cadre could do little to stem the tide.
But she tried mightily. Bezazian called MTV's New York office incessantly. She told anyone who would listen that the South Park piece was a form of religious bigotry and if it was shown it would deeply offend her and her co-religionists and cause them great harm.
The show ran anyway. In it, Cartman drops a load in his shorts when Russell Crowe as his Gladiator character Maximus impales Kenny on his sword ("Russell Crowe killed Kenny!"). But before Crowe can do in the rest of the South Park regulars, John Travolta as planet Psychlo meanie Terl arrives in a Battlefield Earth spaceship to save the day (Cartman: "It's John Travolta and the Church of Scientology!"). Travolta's cartoon persona then asks the South Park boys to take personality tests, handing them the familiar sheets of paper which are many future members' first encounter with the church. Travolta then asks Maximus to join Scientology. The gladiator says he'd rather die first, so Travolta vaporizes him. Meanwhile, still burdened by the mess in his drawers, Cartman finds another use for his personality test.
It was another dim moment for Hubbard's beleaguered outfit. But Bezazian felt her lobbying campaign had been successful. She was under the impression that the original piece had called for Cartman to soil Hubbard's book, Scientology's most revered text. Bezazian believed her calls had convinced South Park's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, to alter the show. (New Times' calls to Stone and Parker were not returned.)
In the parlance of Scientology, Bezazian believed she had a big win. And it motivated her to take on even bigger game. A 30-year veteran of the church, she would also be entrusted by the OSA after her supposed MTV victory to take on the church's most nagging foe: Internet critics.
Bezazian threw herself into the effort, doing battle first on a Warner Bros. bulletin board dedicated to Battlefield Earth and then on the mother of all Hubbard-related Internet newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology, a community of detractors that works constantly to publicize the church's oddities and excesses.
Within weeks, Bezazian's dive-bombing of alt.religion.scientology under the screen name "Magoo" had become relentless. Every few minutes, day and night, Magoo swooped in to drop incendiary messages attacking church critics. Newsgroup regulars say they had seen few defenders of Scientology take on critics with such unremitting force. By July Magoo had become the single most frequent poster at a.r.s. -- not a small feat in such a heavily used newsgroup.
Several theories sprang up about Magoo's identity. Some believed Magoo was actually a team of church agents working around the clock to attack foes. Others wondered whether Magoo was the handle of Scientology's reclusive leader, David Miscavige.
No one guessed the truth. Magoo's identity was finally revealed in a stunning message:
To all of you at ARS, and to you all reading this from my Church, as of this date, July 20, 2000, I have officially left the Church. Please do not call me, or come over to my house. Any friends who care (and only those who do, please) e-mail me. To the rest, good bye. In the future, listen to Andreas. What he said last night...is what is true.
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