Short Primer on Nonviolent picketing of Scientology in Clearwater


"Here he [Jim Lawson, organizer of civil rights movement] was saying in effect that they could bring down the walls of segregation in the capital of the state of Tennessee, and that they could do it by their faith and their willpower, and by offering themselves up as witnesses against this degrading system." (The Children, by David Halberstam, page 61)


Picketing Scientology is probably unlike picketing any other worthy organization. This primer will be specifically about picketing the Church of Scientology, although most of the ideas come from other protests such as the civil rights movement. In light of the recent increase in Scientology physical assaults on picketers, it is important to prepare for this potential circumstance.

When a person is struck or assaulted, the natural reaction is to strike back to protect oneself. This is fine in most circumstances, but at a picket things are different. The goal of picketing Scientology is to educate the public, to show Scientology they don't own the world, to educate Scientologists, and to let Scientology show its true colors. If a Scientologist assaults a picketer, this puts Scientology in a very bad light. If the picketer hits back, then the waters become muddied and it could appear to be simply a brawl. However, if the picketer does NOT hit back, it becomes an obvious assault and battery. If the attack is witnessed and especially is on video, it most likely will bring criminal charges against the attacker. The bigger the contrast between Scientology behavior and picketer behavior, the better. In other words, the more critics act pacifist, rational, and ethical, the more the world will view the critics' side as the right side. Alternatively, the more Scientologists act in a harassing, confrontational, and even assaultive manner, the more the world will view Scientology as the wrong side.

Picketing Scientology is unlike picketing most other organizations because of their policy of "attack the attacker." Because of this, they believe that by policy they must react in some way to a picket to either stop it or discourage the picketers from continuing or returning. It is fortunate for us that we know this policy so we can prepare for such attacks.

Remember that in the United States and indeed in most countries picketing is not only a right, it has been a standard recognized method of lawfully expressing opposing ideas for many years. Scientologists will do what they can to discourage picketers from continuing even though we have this right. It would be unfortunate indeed if they succeeded in intimidating picketers into abandoning an internationally recognized form of dissent. Below are ideas to help create a safe and effective picket of Scientology.


First and foremost, it is important to design the picket to try to prevent any problems from happening in the first place. The main tool for this is witnesses - if a potential pummeler sees police, videocameras, and several witnesses around, most likely he will change his mind and not hit anyone. So, with that in mind:

* decide if you as an individual are able to peacefully protest. Consider what you would do if confronted by a Scientologist shouting at you, calling you a Nazi and a bigot, and following you wherever you go. Consider if you will be able to maintain your composure under such conditions. It may be that you choose not to picket, which is perfectly fine.

* no matter what the Scientologists do, do not harass or intimidate them. You are not there to harass, you are there to inform and protest. Again, it is the contrast between picketer behavior and Scientologist behavior that sends the strongest message.

* always stay only on the public sidewalks

* let the police know when and where you will be picketing, and about how many people. Work out with the local police how far ahead they would like to be notified. Let them know of any special circumstances that may be happening, such as a previous assault. It would be good too to give them a cell phone number if they would like to have a contact to call (in case they decide not to have an officer on scene).

* have videocameras or at least still cameras at the event. If you have more than one keep them seperated so they can cover more area. Once the event starts, you'll just have to feel out whether you need to be constantly videotaping or whether you can just have the cameras at the ready. Videographers should have a spare tape in case they need to keep evidence on the first one.

* Have a cell phone.

* stay in a group in a certain geographically small area, small enough where the camera people can keep everyone covered and picketers can keep an eye on each other. NO ONE should go outside the designated picket area without telling some other picketer where and for how long they are going. No picketer should ever go anywhere alone. The goal is for each picketer to cover the other's back and to be close enough to be a witness in case of an assault.

* do not have anything at the picket that can even be construed as a weapon. No mace, no heavily constructed picket sign, nothing.

* we are not organized as a hierarchy. There is very little authority that we picketers have over one another other than our allegience to our goals and ideals. If it is perceived that someone will be coming to a picket with potential for violence and this person cannot be persuaded against attending, inform all the other picketers of this person's inclinations, and in your conversations with the police inform them of your concerns. Keep an eye on this person during the protest. We should not tolerate any plans of violence nor violent actions amongst our own ranks. Inform the person that the picketers will be cooperating with the police against anyone who uses violence, be they picketers or Scientologists.


Here in Clearwater the police allow the Scientologists to yell at us, follow us wherever we walk, and even put gum on our videocamera lenses. None of these are considered crimes here. Since the police allow such behavior, you may as well expect it.

If you wind up in a confrontation with a Scientologist that seems to be drifting toward a physical assault or at least puts you in fear, first try to simply move away from that person. Tell another picketer what is happening so they can stay close, and if possible tell one of the camera people so they can stay nearby. If you move away and the Scientologist continues to pursue you, tell them to stay away and stop harassing you. If they STILL do not leave you alone, try informing a police offficer (if one is present). This will at least give the potential assaulter pause, since the officer will most likely be watching your potential assaulter more closely. Only speak to an officer, however, if you genuinely fear the Scientologist who is harassing you.

If the Scientologist is STILL bothering you, then you must decide whether you are comfortable enough to take the harassment. If you are not, tell a fellow picketer and leave with another picketer. If you stay, try to stay with another picketer close by.


I can't give precise legal definitions, but basically assault is "an unlawful threat or unsuccessful attempt to do physical harm to another, causing a present fear of immediate harm" (Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition). Battery is "any illegal beating or touching of another person, either directly or with an object" (ibid). Assault is basically up to the interpretation of a police officer. From my experience, the Clearwater police seem to believe that assault is not a crime. The handling of battery by the police depends on whether a policeman directly sees the battery. If the police see it, they can make an arrest right then. If they do not witness it, they must send the evidence to the state attorney for review, unless there was great enough bodily harm that the police do see and then they can make an immediate arrest.

If you are touched, pushed or actually struck by a Scientologist, and you believe this was a deliberate attempt to hurt you, first draw attention to yourself by shouting "help!" Back away from the assailant. Keep yelling until you know you have drawn the attention of other picketers or the police. Then point to your assailant and state what happened. Since it is more natural for many people to strike back than to avoid the person, it may be wise to practice such confrontations ahead of time to learn what the situation would feel like (without actual harm, of course).

If you suddenly come under a strong physical attack where you are either physically hurt or are under constant attack, again yell "help!" and try to back away. If this is not possible or you are under too much pain, fall to the ground and curl into a ball. Cover your head with your arms. Try if possible to have your back against a building or some structure. It is better to be hit in the legs or arms than in the back. Keep yelling for help.

Fortunately, if the picket has been organized correctly, there should be fellow picketers and perhaps police immediately to your aid.

If you are a fellow picketer and see your mate being physically attacked it is proper to step in between the attacker and the victim, or even to pull the attacker off, but it is NOT correct to hurt the attacker. Again, these are not bar rules but picketing rules. Picketers must always be the ones using the least possible amount of physical struggle.


Actual assault and battery have been extremely rare at pickets of Scientology. It is possible to prepare and coordinate pickets to minimize the probability of such events, and to neutralize them quickly should they occur in the most peaceful manner possible. If this is accomplished, your message will be what is remembered about the picket, not a physical confrontation.


Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope, by Judith M. Brown

The Children, by David Halberstam, about the U.S. civil rights movement

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