On December 5, 1995, 36 year old Lisa McPherson was taken by her Scientology caretakers from the Ft. Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater Florida bruised, battered, bug bitten and severely dehydrated to a Scientology doctor 45 minutes away in New Port Richey. She was pronounced dead on arrival after being cared for the last 18 days of her life by Scientologists in Clearwater. Police investigated and recommended prosecution. The State Attorney charged Scientology with the lowest charge he could find - abuse of a disabled person and practicing medicine without a license. Even this charge was later dropped and no legal repercussions will ever come to any person who contributed to Lisa's death. Scientology in Clearwater can hold a mentally disturbed person and maltreat them until they are dead with no repurcussions. As seen below, a critic of Scientology cannot even walk down the street without being in fear of violating some injunction or being stalked wherever he goes. There is truly discrimination in Clearwater in favor of Scientology.
Scientology owns 39 parcels in Clearwater valued at $43 million. They are building what will be the largest structure in downtown right now. Their cross will tower over downtown. Scientology staffers pour through downtown constantly, and their vans and buses are everywhere. Scientology security staffers are ever present. A recent list of letters from Clearwater residents in the St. Petersburg Times shows that Scientology is the main feature that people think of when they think of downtown Clearwater.
In 1975 Scientology snuck into Clearwater under the guise of United Churches of Florida and bought the landmark Ft. Harrison Hotel and the old bank building in the downtown area. They tried to take over the town with such secret projects as Operation Normandy. They tried to destroy then mayor Gabe Cazares with such secret projects as Project Tacoless and Speedy Gonzales. These actions came to light after the FBI raided Scientology in 1977 and confiscated thousands of documents, including these, and got convictions against Scientology's leaders for conducting the largest infiltration of the federal government in history. Since then, Scientology has continued its attempts to take control of Clearwater through overt and covert activities. In fact, Scientology magazine Source, issue 100, lists making Clearwater the first Scientology city as one of the cult's major projects.
Scientology's methods for controlling its environment are partially covert. One policy letter called "Special Zone Plan" calls for Scientologists to surreptitiously take over civic groups or even their work environment and incorporate Scientology into the organization. Their Office of Special Affairs still carries out covert projects to handle critics or anyone they perceive as being in their way. Scientology is gradually taking over Clearwater with property purchases, infiltration into community groups, and manipulation of the justice and governmental systems.
In January of 2000 the Lisa McPherson Trust was incorporated and opened an office near the bank building Scientology had purchased in 1975 in downtown Clearwater. The Trust's goal was to expose Scientology's harmful practices and to help those who have been harmed by them. In May of 2000 I came to Clearwater to work at the Trust.
I learned first hand how much control Scientology has gained in Clearwater. Below are examples that demonstrate just how much influence Scientology now has there. Perhaps this influence does not show itself very clearly when a group or person does not speak against the cult, but they are glaring to someone who dares speak out against them. The result of this influence is blatant discrimination against those who do criticize Scientology.
Downtown Clearwater is an occupied downtown. If you don't believe me let me take you on a tour. You'll see Scientology security guards (some on bikes), Scientology surveillance cameras (even in a city park!), motion sensors, a constant stream of Scientology buses and vans, and the ever-growing property accumulation of Scientology.
In court testimony a Scientology security worker said that his job is to monitor the security cameras for Scientology. There are, he said, over 100 such cameras in downtown Clearwater, some of them remote controlled with telephoto lenses (didn't notice them? Check out http://lisatrust.bogie.nl/ clearwater/cameras.htm). The new Gas Alley Park on Cleveland Street has a Scientology security camera pointing at the benches in the park. What church needs 100 security cameras and motion sensors around their properites? Why would an organization that claims to be a typical member of the community be so paranoid about the rest of the community?
Any citizen in downtown Clearwater can be watched by Scientology's security cameras and security staff. It was essentially impossible to leave or enter the Lisa McPherson Trust, for example, without being seen by either a Scientology security camera of one of their ever-present security guards. In fact, when a new person would come to the Trust, the security staff would wait outside to videotape the visitor, and write their licence plate number down. Once when I was moving some material out of the Trust, Antonio the security guy came over and videotaped the inside of my car when I went in for some more stuff. This was simply the way it was there.
BRICKS FOR THE "COMMUNITY"
In September 2000, Mark Bunker (the LMT multi-media person) and I went to a meeting of the Citizens for a Better Clearwater. At this meeting it was explained that their big project would be to beautify a city alley in downtown next to Scientology's Coachman building on Cleveland Street. They would fund this project by selling bricks where people could put messages of their choice on the bricks.
This seemed like an odd project to me because no one really seemed to use this alley except Scientologists on a smoke break. Mark and I took a copy of the park plans from the meeting and went to the alley. As we were in the alley discussing the project, a Scientology security guard came and told us we were on private property. We said that was impossible because we just came from a meeting about making this alley a city park. He then said that he saw me kick their building and came to warn me about that (I had measured off the width of the alley with my feet).
That night, I felt that the project might be silly, but I liked the idea of having bricks with messages on them. I posted about this project to alt.religion.scientology on the internet, suggesting to readers that they could have appropriate messages in a park right next to a Scientology property. In other words, I was helping sell bricks. The next day, I sent off an order for a brick to say "Remember Lisa McPherson." About a week later I sent an order in for a friend for a brick to say "In Memory of Leo Ryan." Congressman Ryan died in Jonestown, Guyana while looking in on some of his constituents' welfare.
Everything seemed fine. I got a nice letter from CBC thanking me for my brick order. But then in March I got a letter from CBC along with a check returning my money! The letter said "We have reviewed your application along with your correspondence on the matter and do not feel that we can accept donations for a brick from you and still maintain the message of community harmony that we seek." Huh? I was totally baffled. How could "remember Lisa McPherson" cause community disharmony? What community were they talking about? It turned out that they had also rejected a brick order from Trust president Stacy Brooks, who had the gall to order a brick that said "Remember Roxanne Friend," who had been a friend of Stacy's.
The St. Petersburg Times found out about this and wrote a nice article about it, quoting an ACLU lawyer who stated that this was a clear discrimination case. WFLA radio called me at 6 am one morning to interview me on the air. CBC had a hard time explaining why they had rejected our orders, except to quote my post to alt.religion.scientology in which I suggested readers of that newsgroup should buy bricks.
About a week later, after the City of Clearwater got a letter from a certain attorney explaining the situation, Stacy Brooks got a fax from CBC stating that they had changed their minds and she could order her brick after all. All 3 of the rejected bricks are now in the park. At the opening celebration for the park, it was announced that Bennetta Slaughter, a public Scientologist heavily involved in Clearwater affairs, was on the committee that rejected our bricks.
BUSINESSES OFF-LIMITS TO SCIENTOLOGY'S CRITICS
On Friday September 22, 2000, Tory Bezazian, an ex-Scientologist, came into the lobby of the Trust and asked if any of us had called Daniela's Kitchen looking for her. We said no. She said that when she walked in she heard the owner of Daniela's on the phone saying "blue top and white pants? No no one is in here like that." Tory said "that's me" as it described her, and the owner retreated into a room while still on the phone. Tory asked one of us to go back with her so she could have lunch. Karin Case went with her and I said I'd come over also if they called me. When they went back, the owner stated that she would not serve Tory because she "came from across the street" meaning the Lisa McPherson Trust. Tory said that was illegal and she'd call the police if she wasn't served. She was served.
The next business day Mark Bunker and I went to Daniela's on North Ft. Harrison Avenue to see whether we too would be discriminated against. There was a line of people at the counter being served so we got in line. The owner, Daniela, went behind us and moved some furniture around. She said "gentlemen I've set up a table for you back here." Not knowing who she was talking to, I didn't look, basically assuming she would let Mark and I know if she was talking specifically to us, but she did not mention this again to anyone. Mark and I ordered and sat down. We had a very good meal. As we were leaving a man opened the door for us. He then said that when we came in they (meaning, I assume, Daniela and he) did not realize that we worked for "that scumbag Bob Minton" and that we were not welcome to come back. Mark asked for the man's name but he hurriedly went back inside without answering.
This type of discrimination also occurrs at the One-Stop-Shoppe on Cleveland Street in downtown Clearwater. At the picket in December 1998 Bob Minton went into the store to buy a drink. The owner told him he was not allowed to shop there. So Bob went to the pop machine outside. The owner came out and unplugged the machine. In August 2000 Patricia Greenway was showing some friends around downtown Clearwater when some Scientologists began following and harassing them. The owner of the One Stop Shoppe came up and asked whether they purchased the drinks they had at his store. Patricia said that they had. The owner stated that he'd see to it that this did not happen again. On September 24, 2000 Mark Bunker went into the One Stop Shoppe to buy an ashtray. The owner told him that he was not allowed to buy anything in his store.
The owners of both Daniela's Kitchen and the One Stop Shoppe are Scientologists. They are blatantly discriminating against critics of Scientology who had done nothing in their establishments except attempt to purchase their goods. They may as well put up "no critics of Scientology allowed" signs in their windows. Perhaps they will.
Mark and I filed complaints against Daniela's Kitchen with the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights. After I made many calls to the office, finally I received a letter dated August 27, 2001 informing me that "there is no reasonable cause to believe that an unlawful act of religious discrimination has occurred as alleged," even though we had not claimed religious discrimination but discrimination based on association.
We tried to seek help from the community for these acts of discrimination and were not helped.
For the past year and a half, 2 uniformed off-duty police officers have been stationed on Watterson Street, a small side street next to Scientology's cafeteria for their staff. These officers sit from 11:30am to 7 pm or so reading, talking on their cell phones, chatting with the Scientology security guard who stays with them, or just passing the time in their own cars or their patrol car. They do absolutely nothing for their $21 per hour. Just go by and watch them at "work."
Scientology has hired these officers supposedly because there is some great
threat to their members. The city, by allowing this extra duty assignment, demonstrates
to all the Scientologist staff members who 3 times per day go on Watterson Street
to the cafeteria that 1) there is a threat big enough to require the constant
presence of 2 police officers, 2) the city is cooperating with Scientology against
this threat (thereby legitimizing the claim), and 3) the city is on the side
of Scientology. Pinellas County Judge Thomas Penick stated of this situation
that the police "are coming very dangerously close to becoming a private
security force for the Church of Scientology." [St. Petersburg Times, 2/22/01
"Judge takes Scientology,
critics, police to task"].
The horrid thing that Scientology is so afraid of is picketing. Once again,
the city has cozied up to Scientology against the critics of Scientology.
In October 1999, Bob Minton was picketing in front of the Fort Harrison Hotel. Richard Howd, a Scientologist, who had been following Bob throughout the day, was dogging Minton with a videocamera, staying constantly close to Minton. There was some sort of exchange of words or something that got Bob upset, so he started walking across the street to call the police about being harassed by Howd. Howd began to follow Bob across the street. Bob turned around and poked Howd with his foam board picket sign. Howd fell down as if shot and lay motionless. The police came. An ambulance came. Howd was sent off to the hospital for his scrape. Bob was arrested for assault. At trial Bob was found not guilty.
From this incident there grew, through skillful Scientology legal maneauvering, a permanent injunction that covers several people including myself. This third injunction from this one incident involving only 2 people (when I was in another state) requires that the named parties and anyone in concert with them (who have been served with the injunction) stay 10 feet away from any Scientologist, and that Scientologists stay 10 feet away from us. Judge Penick of Pinellas County also drew up some maps that require us to picket Scientology only in designated areas chosen by Penick. We are also enjoined from initiating any communication with any Scientologist.
This injunction makes life a little strange in dowtown Clearwater. How, for instance, can I tell if a person coming toward me on the sidewalk is a Scientologist? Some wear uniforms, but some do not. How can I cross at an intersection when there are perhaps 30 Scientologists heading my way who are oblivious to the injunction? What if I want to go into the magazine store and there's a Scientologist in there? Or eat at a restaurant? Scientology claims that 10,000 Scientologists live in Clearwater. How can these all be served with the injunction? How can I go anywhere without unknowingly running into one, or many? What do I do to let them know I'm part of the injunction if I can't talk to them?
Some very strange incidents have happened because of these injunctions. Tory Bezazian, an ex-Scientologist, was walking back from a picket in downtown Clearwater, just before Christmas. She was walking past Scientology's bank building on Cleveland Street where the Scientologists had set up a Santa's chair right in front of the bank entrance. Tory decided to sit in the chair to get her photo taken, then started walking toward the Trust. For this egregious action, she was called before Judge Penick for violating the injunction! Tory was also accused of having blocked a Scientology driveway so their vans could not get into the driveway. The videotape of the incident, however, showed a UPS truck drive right past Tory into the driveway, and a Scientology security guard go within about 3 feet of her (this video, by the way, was from one of Scientology's remote-control, zoom lense security cameras a block away). Tory was also found to have walked in transit from the Trust to the Fort Harrison Hotel to picket with her signs held upward, thus (as Judge Penick saw it) picketing in a location not designated by Penick for picketing.
In June 2000, not long after moving here, I was riding my bike downtown looking
at the sites. I suddenly started to notice that a silver Buick kept passing
me with an older chubby guy driving. He was definitely following me around.
Since then this guy has often followed me, as have others. I called the police
a few weeks later to file a report of all the examples of being stalked, and
had the license plates of those who had been following me to and from work,
to church, to a movie, and even while I was biking. The policeman politely listened
to me, watched my video of the stalkers, thanked me, left, and that's the last
I heard of that.
Another time I saw my main stalker in my apartment parking lot watching my door. I videotaped him from a hidden location as I called the police. When the policeman got there he talked to my stalker for a while, then the stalker drove off. The policeman told me the guy was a private investigator and could therefore follow me if he wanted to. The policeman gave me my stalker's name, Christopher E. Nelson, PI license C2000116. I investigated Florida statutes and I do not believe stalking by proxy is legal. This man has followed me many times since.
These stalkers are indeed under Scientology's employ. Brian Raftery, a private investigator being paid $187,000 per year, stated in Jesse Prince's criminal case that he or others followed Jesse (the vice president of the Lisa McPherson Trust) for months. Raftery also stated that he kept an eye on us other critics of Scientology. When I recently pulled into the Checker's parking lot at the north end of Watterson Street (the street the Trust is on), to see if a certain person parked where Scientology private investigators often parked was a PI, Brian Raftery jumped out of the car and ran toward me, screaming. He was threatening and close enough that my reaction was to lock my door and make sure my window was up.
Some of the most telling events in Clearwater were when we would picket at a Scientology building. Scientologists would come out en masse and taunt us, yell in our ears, harass us, and even push us. Dennis Clarke, executive of Scientology's Citizens Commission on Human Rights, punched Mike Krotz twice, shut off Mark Bunker's video camera and bumped him, put gum on the lense of my video camera, and tried to taunt Bob Minton into a fight. Despite all this physical abuse, the Clearwater police did almost nothing to protect our right of free speech. Probably the strangest night of my life was what we now call the "mad picket" in front of the Fort Harrison Hotel. Dozens of Scientologists surrounded us and did everything they could to intimidate us into leaving (you can watch this event at http://www.xenutv.com/pickets/mad.htm).
FEAR IN CLEARWATER
I talked to many citizens of Clearwater about Scientology. I cannot recall
anyone without an opinion against the cult. But what struck me the most was
the almost universal fear of speaking out against what they saw was wrong with
Scientology. Almost everyone knew of Scientology's reputation and policies of
attacking and harassing critics, and they were hesitant about becoming a target
A good definition of an occupied city is where the community is too afraid to speak out against a powerful and ruthless organization within that community. Clearwater is an occupied community.
SCIENTOLOGY'S HARASSMENT POLICIES
L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, wrote that critics of Scientology
"may be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed" (HCOPL of 18 October,
1967). He wrote many policies on how to attack anyone considered an enemy of
Scientology. For instance; "The law can be used very easily to harass,
and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway... will
generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course,
ruin him utterly." (Magazine Articles on Level 0 Checksheet, by L. Ron
Hubbard, page 55).
Followers of Scientology consider these writings to be their religious scriptures, and follow them devotedly.
It's hard to tell what Scientology is doing in Clearwater if you don't oppose
them. You may not notice the security cameras. You won't be followed. You won't
wind up in court with them. So citizens of Clearwater need to listen to those
who do criticize Scientology and see what happens to them. We are like the canary
brought into a mine. The canary is more sensitive to air conditions in the mine,
so if the canary faints or dies, the miners are pre-warned about an air problem.
I'm one of Clearwater's canaries, and I've fallen off my perch (I moved back
to Arizona where I have civil rights).
As history has shown many times, a cultic organization like Scientology must be stood up to by the community, or the community will be gradually absorbed into that organization's control. The city can let this slow takeover happen, or it can see what a future with such a takeover would be like. Other communities have also had to go through what Clearwater is going through. The Rajneeshies took over Antelope, Oregon, for example. After the Rajneeshies conducted many criminal acts including the first use of biological terrorism in the United States, the Rajneeshies finally were either sent to prison or moved out of Antelope. As former Clearwater mayor Gabe Cazares stated, "This 25th year of the presence of Scientologists in Clearwater can be celebrated as the year the occupation was completed. I don't exaggerate when I say that this is an occupation."
Clearwater still has a choice. Pretending all is well is no longer an option.
[link version of this article at http://www.lisamcpherson.org/occupied_cw.htm]