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LEO AWARD WINNER RICHARD BEHAR at CAN CONFERENCE 1992
RICHARD BEHAR, 1992 LEO J. RYAN award recipient speaks at the 1992 CAN Conference in Los Angeles
To say that this was just another investigative assignment would be the understatement of my career. (laughter) This acceptance speech had to be reviewed by a team of TIME lawyers and executives (laughter, applause)
That should give you some idea of the kind of group that Scientology is and the environment of fear that this litigation happy cult has instilled in the media. It also means I had better stick to my script. (laughter)
Since the TIME story was published, I have turned down at least 90 percent of requests for interviews, speaking engagements, talk show appearances. One big reason is that TIME magazine, while standing solidly behind the story I wrote, did not want me to do or say anything that could trigger an unnecessary lawsuit from the "church". (laughter) which had us recognized for one for more than a year.
Despite my relative silence, the church sued anyway last spring. They seek more than $400 million in a libel action, and understandably, TIME's leadership has encouraged me not to comment while the suit is pending. (laughter) So when do I get to talk? (laughter)
Don't get me wrong. I don't blame TIME magazine at all. Very few publications had the guts to publish such a story. (applause) And anything that my magazine can do to avoid or limit runaway legal costs is to be appreciated. But I raise this catch 22 just to show you how successful Scientology is in chilling the Press and preventing discourse on subjects that cry out for publication. That deep and persistent fear of lawsuits prevents many journalists and book publishers from touching the subject with a ten foot pole.
As for myself, I was forced this year to curtail my full time reporting career, in order to prepare for all the litigation. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the impact of Scientology.
Scientology, as you know, calls itself a religion and hides behind the First Amendment right to religious freedom. Yet, somehow they have taken this to mean that they can exploit, terrorize and abuse members or critics with relative impunity. In short, tread on the rights of others. When the Press exercises its own First Amendment rights to draw attention to the "church", Scientology responds in ways that should make any American tremble.
How can they do it? How can they continue to get away it? When the LA Times ran their excellent series on the cult in 1990, its reporters, Joel Sappell and Robert Welkos claim that they were subjected to endless harassment ........from friends, to a lawsuit to subpoenas to gain access to their research, even to the use of private eyes.
When [ charles stafford and betty orsini ] of the St. Petersburg Times did his great series on Scientology, he says he faced similar harassment. And nobody is a better example of this abuse than Paulette Cooper, a pioneer reporter on the subject of Scientology in the 1970's. who was the victim of a church plot called, PC FREAKOUT. The purpose of the plot, which nearly succeeded was to get Paulette incarcerated in jail or a mental institution. They nearly succeeded. Among other things, she was indited for making bomb threats against the church an inditement that was ultimately thrown out when an FBI raid revealed that the whole plot and scheme was just a setup.
Fortunately I have not suffered that kind of harassment. But Scientology's contacts with me have been relentless and very unpleasant. In one incident, an investigator, working for the cult, used a sham company in California to illegally obtain a copy of my personal credit report.
Friends, former college classmates, and neighbors have been contacted by Scientologists and other agents, inquiring about my relations with the IRS, my health, and more recently,whether I have ever used drugs. Private eyes also telephone me as part of a sting operation, making believe they are a friend or relative of a cult member, in order to elicit and tape record negative statements from me regarding Scientology.
Moreover it was not until last December, seven months after the story was published, that Scientology's spooks stopped following me, on an ordinary basis. Not surprisingly on several occasions, I felt the need to hire a bodyguard.
Let me give you some additional examples of their tactics. As part of an assertive campaign of harassment, Scientology had individuals make telephone calls to me and other TIME personnel working on the story posing as TIME employees and seeking confidential information of the publication of the article. Cute, huh?
Scientology operatives also obtained a copy of or access to the bill of the hotel room I used in Los Angeles. The bill, of course, contained telephone numbers of people who I had called during my stay. That's an investigative reporter's worst nightmare. I also have information that long after the story was published, Scientology entities have continued to obtain copies or gain access to my telephone bills and TIME's telephone bills.
I want you all to know that I am not standing still while Scientology engages in such conduct. With TIME's backing and support, last month I filed a countersuit against the church for harassment and for violating the federal fair trade reporting act. (cheers, applause) We will vigorously pursue these claims against the church. Their tactics can not and will not be tolerated in a free society. (applause)
Can you imagine living through months at a time with teams of private eyes following you from your home to your office and back again? (laughter) I guess everybody can. (laughter) This is blatant and obscene harassment and there's not terribly much you can do about it. Just try and maintain your sanity and your humor.
For months prior to publication, Scientology would refuse to speak or cooperate with me at all. After the story was published, they seem to want every minute of my time. (laughter)
One day I was so fed up with these investigators, I charged after them with a camera clicking and I yelled, "Smile, you bastards. How does it feel? I have these great photographs of these spooks trying to shield their faces. (laughter)
In addition, I don't think Scientology was aware that I am a great roller skater. (laughter, applause) One day I donned my skates and zoomed up Second Avenue against the traffic (laughter) and there was no way they could keep up with me. (laughter, applause)
Still another time, I jumped into a taxi in midtown and asked the driver if he could take me to the TIME and LIFE Building .....but to please go up and down every side street in a zigzag pattern because I wanted to know if I was being followed.
Well, this is New York, and this old crabby cab driver with a cigar drooping from his mouth, turned around and gave me a New York look and said, "I'm too old for this shit." (laughter, applause)
But then, his foot hit the gas pedal and we went whizzing down that street as fast as we could and he was laughing and cackling the whole way. (laughter, applause) Well being followed was never more fun, at least at that moment.
At one point, we hired our own camera surveillance to try to find out what detective agency these spooks worked for..........So now we had spy vs spy. (laughter)
One Sunday I had to drive to a colleague's funeral and I had three cars behind me. Two of them worked for Scientology and the THIRD, all the way at the rear, was working for us. (laughter)
And then I got this craving for a bagel with cream cheese, (laughter) so I made a sharp right turn and almost caused a major pileup, just like the Keystone Kops. (laughter) Well that is what happens to your life when you report about Scientology.
Scientology certainly is business. They spend millions and millions in litigation every year against critics and perceived enemies. They spent more than $3 million attacking us in ads in USA TODAY with advertising copy that was so far removed reality that many people were shocked that the newspaper would even accept their money.
The cult has accused me publicly of kidnapping....of course and of being linked to the IRS and to drugmaker, Eli Lily. All of it pure science fiction. (laughter).
The cult has also had teams of private eyes visit or contact most of the sources named in my story and many of these people have been sued. I cannot begin to tell you how much this upsets me.........I have the resources of a wealthy corporation behind me, but where cam these people turn who are sued.
So why did I write this story? Why do I need the aggravation? Reporters and others have asked me that question a lot. Well, after investigating Scientology and examining its forty year history, I wondered. "How can reporters NOT cover it?" (applause)
How can we allow a situation like this in our country not to receive constant attention? Why isn't the doings of Scientology in newspapers every single week? The TIME story was one of the biggest selling issues of 1991 for us and was No. 2 in terms of total letters received. Despite campaigns by Scientology to stop them, I have been recognized by my peers with several important honors..........one of which got me a handshake from the President of the United States last May.
Obviously people want and need to know about this subject and yet most of the media continue to keep their heads buried in the sand......they are afraid......and they don't need the aggravation.
I have read and reread hundreds upon hundreds of letters that TIME has received from victims or families of victims. These letters also remind me of why I wrote the story. So many of these people are too afraid or ashamed to come forward or even have their names used. Let me share some excerpts from a few letters.
This is from a woman in New York City: "Most Scientologists have the fantasy that life with Hubbard would be the most ecstatic experience anyone could ever have. Well I can tell you that it's anything but.
"Discipline was very harsh and anyone objecting in any way was punished by being put on the Rehabilitative Project Force which was essentially a prison where members were subjected to confessionals and having to do the dirtiest jobs and other humiliations, such as not being allowed to speak and having to eat scraps. I know because I was put in RPF twice.
"Of course, celebrities, such as Kirstie Alley and John Travolta are NEVER subjected to such treatment. It's time the celebrities in Scientology start facing up to how the other half lives." (applause)
Another letter is from a former member in Colorado: "The pressure increases with the prices. Your article might seem biased to newcomers who only see friendly and sincere people.
"The runway into this trap is a social millau which gradually seduces good people into believing, among themselves, on self deceptions. So they come to believe themselves an elite, in unique possession of all the right answers. The deeper a person goes.....the more he participates in his own exploitation and that of others.
"If those of us, who have been there, would speak out in spite of shame and fear, people might be spared enormous pain and waste."
Here's what a Brooklyn man writes: "I hope the article saves some people from the suffering I went through. I spent all my savings. I worked morning until midnight for Scientology, SEVEN days a week. If you didn't show up for work on time, they sent guards to your room to get you.
"I escaped and had to change my phone number at home. I had a complete nervous breakdown by the time I got home."
Another from Michigan writes: "The church had brainwashed me into turning over nearly every dollar I had and talked me into borrowing $10,000 and still wanted more. I am currently out over $30,000 and I am going through the court system to get this money back.
"If it were not for a persistent friend, who research the group and showed me the facts behind this cult, that convinced me to leave, I would very likely have ended up like Noah."
And that's a reference to Noah Lottick, who was featured in the TIME story and committed suicide. And his parents, Ed and Sallly, are here tonight. (applause)
Finally, here's my favorite letter. It has moved me the most. It's from a young man in Utah: "While reading about Behar's award, a chill came all over my body. I thought to myself, 'This man helped save my life'.
"I had gotten out of Scientology physically in November of 1990. The TIME story made it possible for me to get the kind of help I needed mentally. If I hadn't found the information about CAN and from CAN, it most likely have ended in suicide." (applause)
I tell you when I receive letters like these, it gives me the strength and the power to face a group like Scientology.
I want to thank the Cult Awareness Network for honoring me tonight with the prestigious Leo J. Ryan award. I stand here before you in absolute awe of the fact that Congressman Ryan, Patricia's father, gave his life in an attempt to rescue victims from another dangerous cult. Looking at the politicians who serve in our Congress today, should make everyone realize what a rare man Leo Ryan was. I greatly admire him.
I also greatly admire CAN and the work that this organization does to help victims despite RELENTLESS ATTEMPTS by Scientology to destroy it. The people at CAN are truly the unsung heroes. I often wonder if CAN were to ever go out of business, where would the victims go for help?
In closing, I would like to accept this award on behalf of those victims, as well as the other journalists who have been harassed by this GLOBAL MENACE.
My thanks also to my family and especially my wife, Sarah, for encouraging me and for helping me to keep my sense of humor alive at those times when things got very, very bizarre. She is a remarkable woman to put up with all this abuse.
Finally I want to thank my editors and lawyers at TIME, who firmly believed in the importance of this story and who stand SOLIDLY behind it today despite all efforts by the L. Ron Hubbard disinformation machine. My story was accurate and we will prove it in court, if that day ever comes. (applause, standing ovation)
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