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Sympathy for the Devil- part 6

September 9, 2001

"I try to treat everyone nicely, and I start a relationship based on trust. I hope that if people see that I can be trusted, then they will have one less reason not to honestly check out our side of things," he says.

photo of Janet Weiland, Scientology's Office of Special Affairs
Janet Weiland of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs
Heldal-Lund says he has been under the constant threat of lawsuits by church attorneys since he established Operation Clambake in 1995. Initially those threats were aimed at him personally, but lately, he says, the church has been threatening his Internet service providers. So far, the church hasn't been able to force the Website off-line.

Bezazian and Heldal-Lund agreed to turn over their private e-mail messages to New Times, which document the frenetic activity in their correspondence in the days before her July 20 public defection.

Writing in the first person plural as if she were a group of Scientologists, Bezazian asked Heldal-Lund on July 14 to explain how he could maintain such a horrific Website. "What is your actual goal?" she asked.

"This is like asking for my meaning of life," the Norwegian responded. "I care when I see injustices. I don't like lies and fraud. I'm especially sensitive to lies and deceit that few oppose because there is a threat connected to doing so. I saw this when I investigated [the Church of Scientology.] I'm not saying...that all scientologists are bad...I believe they are good people with the best intentions....But they are (in my opinion) misguided and wasting their good efforts and time..."

Bezazian realized that everything Heldal-Lund was saying in this and several other early messages in their correspondence -- about his belief in openness, free speech and the search for truth -- were the tenets that she believed had always been at the core of her own being. Instead, Bezazian says, she admitted to herself that she'd been living very differently, encouraged by Scientology to lie continually. To lie to others about how well Hubbard's tech was helping her life, to lie about how much she was enjoying herself on OT VII, to ignore the truth about the excesses and inconsistencies of an organization she'd belonged to for so long.

She knows now that spending weeks debating critics on a.r.s. had prepared her for this moment. The arguments she encountered there -- about the Lisa McPherson case, the raids in Europe, about the high price of reaching OT levels and dozens of other topics -- had increasingly rung true for her. "It was like the critics were beginning to poke holes in the walls of my Truman Show," she says. "Sunshine was starting to pour inside."

She uses another analogy: For 30 years she had constructed her life like a skyscraper made of playing cards. Participating on a.r.s. had yanked away so many cards that only one remained holding up her entire belief system.

And then Andreas Heldal-Lund gave that card a pull.

"In the long run I believe that my ethical acts towards [Scientologists] might have some small positive effect," Heldal-Lund wrote on July 17, responding to Magoo's query about why he seemed so much more polite than some other church critics. "I don't believe in single acts saving anybody, it's the sum of many that do the trick," he added, writing that he had occasionally received e-mails from former church members who thanked him for his efforts to provide well-researched information critical of the church.

Heldal-Lund also wrote about the philosophical underpinnings of his own actions, giving Bezazian a brief primer on Immanuel Kant, the 18th-century German thinker. In a calm, self-effacing tone, Heldal-Lund explained that he tries his best to treat people with respect, whatever their beliefs. He denies, in e-mails to New Times, that his words were very profound. But he knows from Bezazian's reaction that they were what she needed to hear.

"I was just there at the right time, maybe saying the right things," Heldal-Lund says.

The next day, July 18, he received a note from a very different-sounding Magoo.

"Thank you so much for communicating to me," Magoo wrote. "Notice I said "me'? This is the very first time I have said that since I started on ARS five weeks ago...I am just one person.

"Andy, I cannot tell you how devastated I am. I am sitting here crying. I cannot stop crying. No one will meet with me, Andy...I have been a Scientologist since I was 19 years old....I am not sure what to do. All of my friends, everyone I know -- everyone -- is a Scientologist...So the minute I say I am out of the church, my life is over...I love my friends, and the very thought that tomorrow they cannot speak to me, ever again, is just too much for my soul."

It was obvious to them both: As soon as Bezazian admitted her doubts, the Church of Scientology would instruct parishioners to "disconnect" from her. Heldal-Lund knew it would be a devastating experience. He tried to give her encouragement.


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