LA Magazine has a remarkable article by Joel Sappell, one of the two reporters who produced what was probably the first real investigative story on Scientology in the 1980s. Like all critics or reporters looking for dirt, Sappell was subjected to serious harassment, from the poisoning of his dog to physical intimidation to bogus legal threats. In this new article, he goes to meet Mark “Marty” Rathbun, the man who led Scientology’s assaults on its enemies. Rathbun defected from the church many years ago and Sappell wants to find out exactly what went on when he was the target of Rathbun’s efforts.
Bob and I were subjected to everything from spurious legal actions to plain bullying. We knew of three separate sets of private detectives who were rummaging through our lives, questioning old friends, bosses, and people we’d interviewed. Our credit reports, meanwhile, showed numerous inquiries from an assortment of car dealerships. When we contacted them, all insisted they had no idea who among their employees had made the illegal checks—or why.
Almost overnight our lives were plagued by mysterious, untraceable events. Bob and I were a team, and what happened to one felt like it was happening to both. This “patina of terror,” Rathbun tells me, was Scientology’s desired impact. “You were everywhere,” he recalls as we drink water out of jam jars. “And it was really pissing off Miscavige…. ‘Fucking weasel Sappell. Fat fuck Welkos.’ This is the way the guy talked.” The message, Rathbun says, was clear: “Crush them.”…
We weren’t the first reporters to suffer Scientology’s wrath. In the 1970s, the church’s Guardian’s Office—or GO—undertook a massive campaign of burglaries, harassment, and dirty tricks against foes in the government and the press. Nobody got it worse than Paulette Cooper, who in 1971 wrote the book The Scandal of Scientology. She was framed by GO operatives, who obtained stationery with her fingerprints on it and mailed a bomb threat to the church. Cooper was indicted but later cleared. Eleven ranking members of the church were sentenced to prison, including Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue, who oversaw GO’s many criminal acts.
In the early 1980s, the Guardian’s Office was replaced by the Office of Special Affairs, with Rathbun at the helm. Scientology executives insisted that investigations into perceived enemies, if necessary, would henceforth be handled by private detectives hired and overseen by attorneys representing the church—or so went the cover story. Rathbun says the investigators were paid through the church’s attorneys but reported directly to him and his staff. “We had to pretend like all that stuff was behind us,” Rathbun says of the church’s covert operations. “But that was total subterfuge.”…I recount the saga of our hostile interviews with the church, and Rathbun nods, as though he still appreciates a job well done by the old team. “The whole idea was to make you feel small—intimidated—and to back you off,” he says. Videotapes of our interview sessions, he says, were promptly delivered to Miscavige, who micromanaged the church’s response to our every inquiry. “He got off on seeing how uncomfortable you [were].”
Getting Rathbun to take responsibility for his own actions proves harder. Case in point: When I ask about the private investigators who dogged us, he quickly asserts, “I never hired an investigator to investigate you.” A moment later, however, he concedes that what he means to say is that he never personally hired an investigator. He says the “intel” guys under him took care of that job for him. “It goes through that machine, and I’m just getting reports,” he says so matter-of-factly that we could have been talking about the weather or holiday plans. “It’s all a blur, but I remember beaucoup intelligence reports on you guys during that entire era.” After Miscavige read those reports, Rathbun says, “I shredded all that stuff…. There could be no trace of it.”…
Rathbun says, for example, that the church obtained Bob’s and my personal phone and financial records from private detectives who bought them from sources specializing in that sort of skulduggery. “It had to be two or three steps removed,” Rathbun says, so the church would be insulated from the covert transactions. In that way, he reasons, the church did nothing illegal to us.
“What you were doing was still illegal,” I counter. “Yeah, you’re right,” he says. “You accused me, and I’m not denying it. I guess the lines got blurred over time.”
The whole thing is pretty incredible to read, and well worth the time. The “church” of Scientology is one big criminal enterprise, as far as I’m concerned.