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Sympathy for the Devil- part 8

September 9, 2001

LMT executive director Stacey Brooks, herself a former high-ranking Scientologist and OSA employee, says it was a surreal scene. Waiting for Bezazian to walk off the plane were two groups: Scientologists and LMT members. Brooks notified security guards that things could get ugly, and they in turn called in two Tampa police officers.

The situation got tense, Bezazian says, when she stepped off the plane and a
photo of Lisa McPherson
Debates over Scientologist Lisa McPherson. s controversial 1995 death added to Bezazian. s doubts.
woman Scientologist ran up to her. "What could you be thinking?" the woman asked her. The others swarmed around her.

Brooks asked the police to intervene, but the cops replied that they needed to hear from Bezazian herself: Whom did she want to go with?

Bezazian gestured toward Brooks and Minton. "I pick them," she said.

The police officers then went into high gear. Brooks says the anti-Scientologists were given an escort through the airport. When the Scientologists tried to follow, the officers stopped them. Police stayed with Bezazian all the way to her hotel, where she checked in under an assumed name.

The next morning, however, the Scientologists were knocking at her door.

Before too long, Bezazian says, they left her alone. It was plain she had no intention of going back.

"The experience of being in Scientology is so incredible, it's just very hard for people to believe," Brooks says. "Tory has a long road ahead of her to recover from her 30 years in."

The church didn't take long to react, Brooks say. "They turned on her on a dime. They're doing everything they can to label her a criminal. This is a lot for a person to take in who hasn't been out [very long.]"

Encouraged by what she learned at the LMT, Bezazian began taking part in protests of the church within months of leaving it. She was stunned when church officials asked police in Clearwater to cite her for violating the anti-picketing injunction.

Accusations between church officials and critics had grown so intense after repeated demonstrations that a Clearwater judge was persuaded to lay down complex rules last November about how and when critics could picket Scientology headquarters. Bezazian was one of several critics who were hauled into court for violating those rules. Church officials accused her of holding a sign in an area where picketing was not allowed, and sitting in a Santa's chair set up as part of a church holiday display.

On February 21, after hearing arguments by Scientology attorneys that Bezazian and others had willfully disregarded the injunction, Judge Thomas E. Penick dismissed nearly all of the case, criticizing both sides for clogging the courts with nonsense. He fined Minton and Bezazian -- she was charged $100 -- but also criticized the church for how much it surveils critics. "I'm missing the point here," the judge was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times. "I hope someone will let us know when the great invasion is coming."

The experience, Bezazian says, only made her more determined to tell what she knows about the church.

Today, Bezazian still goes through swings of emotion about her defection and her new life. She called New Times from Clearwater late one night during her trial, devastated that her former church could label her a criminal.

Other times she called asking that this article be cancelled, saying she couldn't go through with it. Then days later she would call with a steely resolve, looking forward to how the piece might be received.

She also wavered over how to characterize her former church. She wanted it said that Scientology was not all bad; it had done good things for people, she said. But she also wanted it stressed that the organization deserves all of the scandals it's ensnared in around the world.

About the only thing that remains constant about Bezazian is her chatty, bright disposition. And her regard for people like Brooks and Minton.

And a man she once considered the devil.

"Andreas telling me to believe in myself -- that's what changed my life," she says.


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