Australian Critics of Scientology
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David Gerard interview

3-CR Breakfast, 8:51am-9:02am Thu 14 Mar 1996

Announcer is David Speller. His words have been put in strong.

ANNOUNCER: Well, it's now nine minutes to nine on 3-CR, we're coming close to the end of the Breakfast Show, but we've got time just for one quick interview here ... The Information Superhighway, it's been heralded as the great access mode for information for all, anybody can have access to it, and you can put anything out there, you can take anything off ... but, as with everything else, all is not what it seems. There's currently a war going on on the Internet, especially in relation to the Church of Scientology. This morning on the line is David Gerard. Good morning, David.

DAVID: Good morning.

A: First of all, can you tell me what [laugh in voice], what the war is that's going on on the Internet?

D: Well, OK. There's a newsgroup on the Internet called alt-dot-religion-dot-scientology, ARS. For a few years, this was like one of the thousands of backwater Internet newsgroups. A newsgroup's a sort of area with a given name where anyone can put a message on, read other people's messages, that sort of thing; it's distributed world-wide, there's no central control over it, so ...

A: So it's sort of like an electronic noticeboard, where you can put up whatever you feel like.

D: Yep. Free access. And, y'know, most of them are utter garbage and there's no way anyone's interested in all thousands of them. And it was like a little backwater religion newsgroup for many years, where you have a few Church people and a few critics sniping at each other, y'know, and no-one else was really interested. But then, there was an ex-Scientologist on there, a guy called Dennis Erlich, who ... Someone put on a message saying, "is this actually part of secret Scientology scripture?" It was a particularly wacky thing about "find some plants and see if you can communicate with them and see if they receive your communication." And he verified, "yes, that's the real thing." In verifying it, he quoted it. So what the Church of Scientology then did, seeing as they have tended in dealing with critics to have the subtlety of a Mack truck, what they did was, they got a judge to write a copyright violation writ. And they went round and raided his house, and took away his computers, and went through his house, and took anything they felt like. This is a good way to piss off thirty million people in one go. And the Internet sort of rose up as one to strike back at these people. So what happened was, in their attempts to quash all discussion and quash all criticism, they earned themselves a whole lot more critics. I mean, I'm not an ex-Scientologist, I have no interest in them, except that they're trying to use legal thuggery, corporate financing, to try to quash all dissent. Thankfully they're doing it very badly. They're losing cases left, right and centre when they get them into court, and the publicity has been very damaging for them.

A: So there's obviously more than one legal case going on. How many people have they prosecuted, or how many people are they in the process of charging?

D: Well, there was Dennis Erlich in America; Lawrence Wollersheim and Bob Penny, who are also ex- Scientologists - they ran a computer bulletin-board called FACTNet, which contains information on all forms of cults and restrictive groups like those; and Arnie Lerma, who was an ex-Scientologist. And after Lerma was raided, someone in Holland put the thing which he had posted, the Fishman Affidavit, which contains quotes from the Scientology scriptures, someone in the Netherlands put it on a Web page - on a World Wide Web page, the thing you get through Netscape and so on. And in magazines where you see the Internet, they usually have a screen shot from Netscape - and what happened was, they tried raiding the Internet provider in Holland, and the Dutch people were outraged with this and promptly there were a hundred different copies of it all over Holland. And then they tried mounting a case against them, and it just came in, word came in a few days ago that they lost.

A: So is the Church of Scientology actually using the Internet to display information, or to put out information about the positive sides of the Church, or the sort of information that they would use to draw people in?

D: Yeah, they finally got their own Web server up, but the point is ... And that's fine. The more information the better. The critics have their information up, and the Church is trying to stop that, but they're having a lot of trouble, because basically, once information's out there, you can't put the genie back in the bottle, you can't squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube. They feel that if people find out about their secret scriptures, they might think that they're very silly and laugh at them and not want to be Scientologists. And also when things like the prices of these things come out, like when you discover you've paid a hundred and sixty thousand US dollars to learn that Xenu the galactic dictator took people to Earth seventy-five million years ago, strapped them to volcanoes and blew them up, and that you've paid this much money for that and you're supposed to believe it.

A: Well, you'd want to believe it after paying all that money.

D: Well, actually, that's exactly it. The further people get in, the more fanatical they seem to be. Experts on cults say that the Church of Scientology is one of the hardest cults to get people back to the real world from. And you have that cognitive dissonance between 'this is a load of rubbish' and 'I've paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and worked for years for this.'

A: Probably fits into the same philosophy that once you've paid a lot of money for a car, it's the best car there is.[laughs]

D: Something like that. Yeah. And the issue goes beyond the Church of Scientology. I mean, they're weird and vicious, and this is well-documented, and if they care to object to me making that statement I'll back it up in court if they like ...

A: Is this a fairly typical scenario on the Internet? Are there other groups who are behaving in this manner, or is it a fairly limited ...

D: Well, at first only the Scientologists tried this, but, um, the Unification Church, Reverend Moon's lot, have recently been trying this, there's another small cult called Eckankar, which is descended from a church which is descended from Scientology, have recently been trying this as well. It's quite amazing. It's not an issue of Scientology, it's not an issue of Scientology teachings, it's an issue of the corporate behaviour in the world where they attempt to silence critics by using legal bigfooting, money ... Can small people criticise big corporations or big financial interests?

A: I guess in some ways it's very similar to the McDonald's case in Britain, where they're suing two unemployed people as this huge corporation.

D: And the same thing is happening: it's backfiring on them.

A: Yeah.

D: 'Cos the thing about the Internet is, you can't stop the information going out, because if you make something restricted, suddenly everybody wants it. They've tried suing one person in Holland, a hundred more sprung up. They've tried getting their critics pulled off the Internet altogether - my University Internet account was locked for two months because of the Church of Scientology, so I then went out and got a private provider. Their behaviour is ... it's intolerable in a multicultural society, where the implicit rule is we all have to get along.

A: I understand that a similar thing has happened to the 'Liars' Club', a show put together by the Skeptics on 3-RRR.

D: Yep. The Church spent about ... a few years trying to shut down the 'Liars' Club', 'cos they dared to mention, criticise Scientology. And they finally got it taken to the Australian Broadcasting Authority, who ruled that a particular show, where they had an ex-Scientologist called Cyril Vosper ... that he went on and he talked about the Church and what he didn't like about it and what was bad about it. And he knows his stuff, he's been there, he actually knew L. Ron Hubbard, that sort of thing.

A: Is this L. Ron Hubbard the science fiction author?

D: Yes, the guru of Scientology, the source of everything in Scientology. Every word he wrote is taken by them as scripture.

A: [laugh] I've read his books and thought they were novels! [laugh]

D: Ha, well, yeah, pretty well ... But anyway, Vosper went on, and the Tribunal ruled that no word or sentence that Vosper said was religious vilification, no word or sentence that Adam Joseph, presenter, said was vilification, no word or sentence that Vanda Hamilton, the other presenter, said was vilification, but, because the presenters agreed with the guest, it was therefore vilification. Now, they didn't ask RRR to pull the show, but RRR pulled the show. They also didn't give them any due process in pulling the show; if a show's in danger of being pulled, y'know, you give them the chance to speak. Stephen Walker just killed it.

A: Fairly interesting technical point there. Anyway, it's on nine o'clock, we've actually got to finish the show here, so David, thanks very much for your time ...

D: Yep, um, the demonstration.

A: Actually, you're holding a demonstration, that's right.

D: It's a small thing, where we politely state our case and hand out leaflets, it's outside the Church, corner Russell Street and Flinders Lane, on Saturday morning at 11am.

A: So you'll be providing people who turn up with leaflets to hand out?

D: Yep. We'll have hundreds of leaflets, we'll have a few signs ... We expect it to be a very polite demonstration. We had one in September last year, we politely stated our case, the Church people had a leaflet of their own, that sort of thing. It was ...

A: [laughs] That's all very nice!

D: It's all about ... It's not to do with the local people, I mean, the individual people are fine. We're talking about management actions in America. It's a multinational organisation.

A: Anyway, we've got to go. Thanks very much for your time, David.

D: Thank you very much.

A: See you later. That was Dave Gerard talking about the war on the Internet and the way that the Church of Scientology is ... taking action against people who publish information which is negative about the Church. You've been listening to Thursday Breakfast, it's now two minutes past nine, we've gone over time, and we'll catch you again next week. It's time for 'Scheherazade'.

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