Sympathy for the Devil- part 4
September 9, 2001
"I bought the PR hook, line and sinker," she says. Instructed to ignore outside sources of information, Bezazian says, she and her fellow parishioners were clueless about what was happening not only to Scientology but in the rest of the world as well.
"I was in a cult," she says. "Scientology promotes not watching the news. It keeps you inside a Truman Show where you're totally unaware of things. It's like your own thinking gets shut down and you get used to not considering anything that might be critical of Scientology."
Bezazian says she and her fellow religionists were trained, if they did happen to stumble across negative references to their church, to simply ignore them.
But the church was taking no chances. In 1998, Scientology announced a program to give every parishioner who desired one his or her very own Website. CD-ROMs were mailed out to church members, who were told they could use software on the discs to create personal sites linked to the church's main Internet location, www.scientology.org. What parishioners weren't told, however, was that the CDs also contained a censorship program that would block sites critical of the religion. Church critics, likening the program to "net nannies" that parents rely on to keep their kids out of porn sites, have dubbed the program the "Scieno Sitter."
Janet Weiland, vice president of the OSA, wrote in a letter to New Times that church members make a personal choice whether to use the computer filtering program. "Many Scientologists use filters on their computers just as Jews and Catholics do, to protect their families and people they care about against hate, degradation or harassment."
Scieno Sitter functions by keeping Scientologists from visiting Websites that contain certain keywords. For example, since the OT III genesis story is a secret that adherents must pay thousands of dollars to learn, the church jealously guards those materials and forbids Scientologists to mention the name Xenu publicly or even to acknowledge that the galactic overlord figures in their cosmology. Church detractors, in turn, use the name freely, in part to irritate Scientology officials. The church's Internet censorship program automatically keeps members from visiting Websites where the name Xenu appears.
But the OSA wanted Bezazian to keep an eye on such sites and to report back about what she found. Three years ago, she says, OSA operatives removed the Scieno Sitter from her home computer. She was asked to surf the Internet to find out what sorts of damaging things were being said about the church.
And the first place she looked alarmed her the most.
The Website she stumbled upon, www.xenu.net, is notorious internationally for its comprehensive attack on Scientology in all its forms. Also known as Operation Clambake, it is maintained by a man named Andreas Heldal-Lund, an information technology manager in Stavanger, Norway. (Operation Clambake refers to statements made by Hubbard in an obscure book in which he explains that human beings today suffer ills because their inner thetans were once traumatized while they inhabited the bodies of clams during the evolution of life on Earth. Hubbard asserted that this ancient trauma re-exerts itself when people find their jaws locked in imitation of the ancient clams' shell-hinge. Hubbard claimed to be knowledgeable in many fields of science, and even said he was a nuclear scientist, but records show that he maintained a D average at George Washington University, took only a single course in nuclear physics, and left without a degree.)
To Bezazian, Operation Clambake seemed like the most hateful creation imaginable, a popular Website bearing a litany of charges against her religion that she couldn't imagine to be true. She admits that she hated Heldal-Lund, a man she had never met, spoken to, or even knew much about.
Although Scientologists don't believe in Satan, Bezazian says, that's exactly what Heldal-Lund became in her mind. He was the archnemesis of everything she believed in, Lucifer to her godlike Hubbard.
She formed these opinions without even reading any of the material at his Website. She says she could barely bring herself to visit it, scan what was listed in its table of contents, and then report back to the OSA. "Why haven't you gotten rid of this guy?" she remembers asking her OSA contacts, who responded that they had been trying to do just that, without luck.
The next thing the OSA asked her to do was to join the Scientology Parishioners League and focus her efforts on combating bad publicity in print, radio and TV -- what Scientologists call "entheta press."
Bezazian says she felt a twinge of guilt over her work. The '60s hippie who loved freedom of speech was still inside her, she says, and it made her uncomfortable to practice what she knew, even then, was a form of censorship.
"The work was actually hard for me because of my free-speech background. I was becoming the queen of OSA volunteers, but I wasn't enjoying it," she says.
Despite the parishioners league's modest success -- Bezazian claims the group convinced a few newspaper editors to make slight changes to articles -- the OSA liked the work she was doing. It then asked Bezazian to do battle with the church's Internet opponents
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