Religion News Report
Archived News items about religious cults, sects, and alternative religions
Sympathy For The Devil
Tory Bezazian was a veteran Scientologist who loved going after church critics. Until she met the darkest detractor of all.
New Times Los Angeles, Sep. 27, 2001
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.
[The move] was panned as the worst film of 2000 and one of the worst science-fiction films of all time. (...)
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.
The message was signed "Magoo/Tory Bezazian."
Today, more than a year after her very public defection -- the first in memory to occur on the Internet -- Bezazian is still adapting to her transformation. She has quickly become a highly visible foe of the church she served for three decades. In February, she was fined $100 by a judge for violating a court injunction against picketing Scientology's "spiritual headquarters" in Clearwater, Florida. But she does not seem entirely comfortable with her new role.
Although she has written about her experiences in Internet forums, Bezazian was initially hesitant to share her story with New Times. She later changed her mind, wanting to tell about her experiences helping the OSA fight its battles, and about how Scientology shields its members from negative media coverage and the Internet.
And she also wanted to talk about a man named Andreas, the most corrupt and evil human being on the planet, who one day shocked her by writing a kind letter.
Bezazian joined the church in 1969 after almost killing herself with heroin in San Francisco.
She'd become unhappy in recent years, however, partly because she could never rid herself of the space aliens in her body.
Like other advanced members of the church, Bezazian had learned about the aliens inside her only after spending years in the religion and parting with tens of thousands of dollars. In a financial arrangement which is probably unique in theology, adherents of Hubbard's faith must pay increasingly large sums of money to learn the basic tenets of their religion. Former church members and court records indicate that parishioners pay about $100,000 to learn the story of Scientology's origins, which is contained in something called OT III -- its Book of Genesis, as it were. According to a church spokeswoman, only about 10 percent of Scientology's adherents have reached this level.
Upon reaching OT III, Bezazian learned Hubbard's revelation that Xenu, an evil galactic overlord, had banished millions of space aliens to the planet Teegeack -- now Earth -- in an attempt to solve a cosmic overpopulation problem. Xenu had packed the surplus aliens into volcanoes and pulverized them with hydrogen bombs, but some 75 million years later their disembodied souls, called thetans by Scientologists, had managed to survive. Invisible and incredibly resilient, some of the aliens, which Hubbard called body thetans, had taken up residence inside unwitting human beings. Clustered inside each of us, these interstellar parasites are the source of all human misery.
After absorbing this tale, Bezazian, like other Scientologists, continued on through higher levels in a process of counseling and classes -- collectively called "the Bridge" -- which was supposed to help eradicate body thetans. Only when Bezazian had chased off the last of the critters would she attain her true potential -- the unleashing of her own true inner thetan, the alien soul that piggybacking space creatures had held back and tormented. This would in turn produce in her a superhuman state that Hubbard referred to as "clear." Clears could wield amazing powers, Hubbard claimed, including total memory recall and clairvoyance.
The trouble was, no matter how hard Bezazian tried to move across the Bridge (and no matter how much money she spent), her church counselors, called auditors, always claimed to find more body thetans clinging to her.
One of the things holding Bezazian back was the real mother of a body thetan that had taken up residence in her nervous system. She had epilepsy, which to the rest of the world is a serious, chronic illness. But to Scientologists, Bezazian's epileptic convulsions were a sure sign of a body thetan's presence.
When Bezazian stuck to a drug regimen recommended by doctors, she suffered few effects of the disease. But Scientologists viewed resorting to medication as a sign of weakness, an indication that an adherent didn't trust Hubbard's "tech" to drive away the body thetan causing her malady.
Several times, she tried to adhere to her faith by going off her medication. She suffered greatly each time. Although she was warned she would never "go clear" until she "handled" her epilepsy through the tech, Bezazian eventually went back on medication permanently.
Others chose to battle severe medical problems without help from doctors. A good friend, she says, died painfully after relying on auditing to cope with breast cancer.
Stuck at OT VII and increasingly unhappy with how her auditing was going, Bezazian became even more disillusioned with changes made under new church leader David Miscavige, who had taken over after Hubbard's 1986 death. At a mass gathering in 1997, Miscavige announced the "discovery" that higher-level Scientologists had been trained incorrectly and would need to redo some levels. Bezazian says she was told her retraining would cost $25,000.
Already $60,000 in debt and in no mood to undergo still more auditing to reach a level where she'd been stalled for years, Bezazian complained to Miscavige. She wrote him letters asking why she should have to pay so much when it was the church's product that had proved to be defective. She got no response. And that's when she decided to get off the Bridge.
Bezazian gave up trying to rid herself of body thetans. But her faith in Hubbard and Scientology was unshaken. She didn't like some of the changes occurring in her church, but it was still her church, after all. After so many years in the religion and after paying more than $100,000, Bezazian says, Scientology was nearly her entire world. The thought of leaving it never entered her mind.
And that's why she didn't give it a second thought when, in late 1999, her church asked her to come to its rescue.
Bezazian says she was asked by Janet Weiland to join the Scientology Parishioners League, which had just been founded. It was modeled after the Anti-Defamation League, which combats anti-Semitism, and would claim to battle all forms of religious bigotry. But really it was the latest attempt to handle all of the negative press that has rained down on Scientology in recent years, Bezazian says. She agreed to Weiland's request without hesitation.
There was plenty of work to do. While some news organizations shy away from stories about Scientology as a result of its reputation for litigiousness, others have reported on the church's troubles around the globe. Several European countries consider the organization more as a money-making scam than a religion and have taken official steps to curb it. The church's worldwide president, Heber Jentzsch, is currently on trial in Spain on charges of fraud. Raids on the church have occurred in Belgium and France. And in the United States, the church continues to be embarrassed by revelations in the 1995 death of Lisa McPherson, a believer who died while in church care at a Clearwater hotel.
Protesters regularly picket key church sites in Florida and Los Angeles. Bezazian had often been asked to "handle" picketers who demonstrated at L.A. Scientology facilities by conversing with and distracting them.
She had helped out the OSA as a volunteer for many years. In 1979 she aided an effort to unseat a Clearwater politician who wanted to keep Scientology from establishing its headquarters there. She and other Scientologists were instructed to attend public meetings where they were to divert attention from Scientology's imminent invasion of the town by questioning the candidate's performance in other areas. After he was defeated at the polls, the church moved in.
As a fervent member of the church, Bezazian never questioned OSA actions. She says in hindsight it's easier for her to see that the OSA was operating in questionable ways, such as when it surveilled detractors or spammed Websites critical of the church.
The Office of Special Affairs was formed to replace an earlier organization cloaked in secrecy, known as the Guardian's Office. In 1977, FBI agents raided the Church of Scientology in both Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and discovered damning evidence that, for several years, Guardian's Office operatives had been breaking into the IRS and other federal offices in Washington and stealing government documents. Eleven Scientologists, including Guardian's Office director Mary Sue Hubbard, wife of the church founder, were sentenced to prison. After the debacle, church officials insisted that the Guardian's Office had contained "rogue elements" who broke into government offices without the knowledge or permission of the rest of the organization. The G.O. was disbanded. Today, former Scientologists say, the OSA has taken its place as the church's internal security force and intelligence unit.
Bezazian says she and others had always been told that Mary Sue Hubbard and the other Guardian's Office defendants had done nothing more serious than steal photocopier paper from government offices. It was a story she accepted without question.
"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.
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.
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.
As Magoo, she obsessively posted to alt.religion.scientology. Her messages were rarely very substantive. She was just there to jab and parry, to drop off stingers and comebacks -- most of which were non sequiturs -- and more than anything else, to keep hitting the "reply" button. Day and night, Bezazian told off anti-Scientologists and managed to annoy plenty of them.
Jeff Jacobsen, another a.r.s. regular, says Magoo's posts were not only harsh but difficult to read. It seemed obvious that Magoo was someone or a group of people who had little experience in newsgroup debates, he says.
Bezazian admits that was true. She was a novice. And her lack of experience was causing her to post great amounts of extraneous and distracting material. She may have been a relentless poster, but she was a sloppy one.
And that's what prompted someone to send her an e-mail about her messy ways.
Bezazian says she was shocked to see that Lucifer himself, Andreas Heldal-Lund, the operator of Operation Clambake, the Website that Scientologists considered the world's most poisonous, had sent her an e-mail.
He had written a polite note, suggesting ways Bezazian could improve the readability of her postings on a.r.s. so that more people would read her arguments and respond to them intelligently.
Bezazian struggles for words to describe how stunned she felt after she had read the e-mail.
"The devil had not only sent me a nice message, he had offered me useful advice," Bezazian says.
Besides taking her entirely by surprise, Heldal-Lund's note had placed her in an awkward position.
"I had been raised to believe you send a thank-you note when someone helps you out. I realized that I owed the devil an e-mail message," she says.
After she had sent a thank-you and Heldal-Lund replied with another kind missive, Bezazian says she came to another startling revelation: "I realized that I could talk to this guy. This was a big shock to me," she says.
Heldal-Lund tells New Times that when he first noticed Magoo's posts, she sounded like "just another OSA goon trying to create a disturbance." But he extended a helping hand all the same. He says he didn't see the point in being rude and confirming everything that church members thought about Scientology's critics.
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."
"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.
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.
"I'm humble that you choose to tell me all this...I can hardly start grasping what you are going through," he wrote back on July 18. "I find it difficult to express my immediate emotions and I don't want to make a lot of silly advice or say something meaningless." He continued to counsel her to be cautious and take things slowly.
But on July 20, Magoo made her public announcement on a.r.s: She was Tory Bezazian, a 30-year member, and she was no longer a Scientologist.
But Heldal-Lund couldn't give her what she says she needed most desperately: company. As she began telling Scientologist friends privately about her decision and they disconnected from her, Bezazian found herself terribly alone. She asked Heldal-Lund for help: Who could she turn to who understood her situation?
He suggested a group in Clearwater whose members work full time to protest Scientology. Some are former parishioners, and realized they had known Bezazian in the church. When Bezazian told them about her predicament, they encouraged her to come to Clearwater.
So on July 21, with a.r.s. still buzzing over her turnabout, Bezazian went to Burbank Airport to begin a cross-country trip to what just days earlier she had considered the enemy camp.
And waiting for her at the Burbank terminal was the Church of Scientology.
Bezazian arrived at the airport to find that her flight had been cancelled and Janet Weiland was waiting near the counter. Weiland began trying to talk her out of going to Florida, Bezazian says.
Bezazian doesn't know how Weiland knew she would be at the airport to catch her flight. Bezazian says she can only assume the OSA vice president had tapped her phone.
When New Times requested an interview with Weiland, she responded with a letter saying that Bezazian had become an "apostate," and that such persons "have to justify having left their church and do this by lying and making up bizarre renditions about their experiences."
At the airport, Bezazian says, Weiland cited their long friendship and tried to persuade her to cancel her travel plans. But Bezazian used her cell phone to call the people at the Lisa McPherson Trust in Clearwater whom she had planned to visit. The LMT was founded last year by several former Scientologists to publicize the McPherson case and otherwise agitate against the church. It is largely funded by Robert Minton, a wealthy businessman.
Minton answered Bezazian's call, and she rapidly told him the situation. She had tried to get another flight, she told him, but Weiland had stuck by her like glue, and was even holding her luggage. Bezazian says she felt trapped.
Minton said he'd pay for a first-class ticket to Clearwater. He told Bezazian to book a seat, which would allow her to enter a special lounge that would be off-limits to Weiland. Bezazian followed his advice and rid herself of the OSA official.
But Bezazian had made the new flight arrangements in front of Weiland, so Scientologists were waiting for her both in Chicago, where she changed planes, and at the gate in Tampa, where Bezazian arrived at 1:15 a.m.
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 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 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.
Commentary: Scientology's hypocrisy
The Church of Scientology is a commercial enterprise that masquerades as a religion, and that increasingly acts like a hate group. Scientology has a long history of hate and harassment activities, which are condoned in the cult's own ''scriptures.'' (See, for example, its ''dead agenting'' and ''fair game'' policies). This is why Apologetics Index classifies the organization as a hate group. However, the cult attempts to portray itself as the victim of hate crimes. By setting up front groups the business tries piggy-back on popular causes (e.g. religious tolerance, human rights, literacy campaigns) as a way to gain publicity and pull in more paying customers. [back to text]
Commentary: Germany's view of Scientology
The publisher of Apologetics Index / Religion News Report agrees with the German government's view of Scientology:
The German government considers the Scientology organization a commercial enterprise with a history of taking advantage of vulnerable individuals and an extreme dislike of any criticism. The government is also concerned that the organization's totalitarian structure and methods may pose a risk to Germany's democratic society. Several kinds of evidence have influenced this view of Scientology, including the organization's activities in the United States.
Regarding Scientology's Questionnaires
» Church Of Scientology Secretive About Tests, KMBC, Feb 20, 2001
» Scientology - help or hindrance? Evening Standard (England), Feb. 8, 2001
» Scientology Oxford Capacity Analysis
» The Fallacy of the Oxford Capacity Analysis (OCA) [back to text]
Regarding Scientology's Hate Practices
» Scientology's growing record of hate and harassment
» More about hate groups
More about Tory Bezazian
» Tory Bezazian: 1st person account of abuse, deception and fraud in Scientology
» Latest Religion and Cult News
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