Trouw (a major Dutch newspaper), Wednesday, September 13, 1995

Scientology-church wages war against the Internet

by Koert van der Velde AMSTERDAM - The Church of Scientology is engaged in a worldwide war with its critics. Scene of the action: the Internet. Opponents managed to publish the best-kept secrets of the cult on this international computer-network. Now, everyone can read them almost for free. The Internet war started when the cult continually infiltrated the newsgroup for critics of Scientology and destroyed the information it didn't want the public to see. The conflict escalated when the so-called Fishman-documents appeared on the Internet. Fishman, an American former cult-member, presented these documents in his defense before the court of Los Angeles, Ca. He was on trial for crimes he had supposedly been ordered by the church to commit. The accusations varied from harassing renegades by mail to attempted murder. As usual, all the documents concerning the trial were made public after the verdict. Everyone could ask for them at the court's library. But in the end, anonymous posters published them on the Internet. And as soon as Scientology destroys these electronic documents, other anonymous posters publish them again. This is a true disaster for the scientologists. Now everybody can read their most bizarre and secret myths, like the one about the battle of Prince Xenu's galactic federation, who solved overpopulation 95 million years by using an H-bomb. The documents Fishman provided, also give instructions on how to intimidate the churches' critics. There are manuals about Control through Lying' and Hating the witnesses', that describe strategies to silence all critics. One example that the church considers very useful when dealing with critics that live in the USA: take them to court in several states at the same time, in order to render them bankrupt. Lower Scientologists can now get acquainted with the higher levels of initiation through the Internet. Fromerly, they were supposed to read the material under surveillance, when they were ready for it and could afford to pay the fee. The Internet helps them to save thousands of dollars - it might even help them to decide to leave the church. In The USA and Finland, the church took Internet-providers to court because it held them responsible for making the information available. Some time ago, the church categorically denied the authenticity of the texts, but nowadays it has changed its strategy. It cries blue murder about copyright-violations. Last week, the Church of Scientology tried to right itself in Amsterdam. Under the command of two high-ranked American scientologists and aided by the Amsterdam police, the bailiff forced his way into the office of Internet-provider XS4ALL (Access for All). He seized all computer-equipment. XS4ALL-manager F. Rodriquez: "They came to the wrong adress. An Internet-provider is like a landlord: he can't check everything his tenants do, let alone be held responsible for such actions. It is impossible to screen the immense ammount of information that my 6000 tenants' offer on the Internet. Rodriquez also considers it a matter of principle. "I didn't hold anything against Scientology. That is, until they started to become a nuisance and showed their true face - that of a totalitarian organization. I strongly feel that people should have the right to know what Scientology is really like. Prohibition of such in formation not only violates the right to freely express your opinion. It also strongly violates a social interest: scientology-novites should have the chance to learn about the organization before committing themselves to it." Both parties are now waiting for a court-decision about the question whether or not to cooperate in the protection of the churches' copyright. The XS4AL-computers are still running. But will be removed if the foundation loses the trial and is sentenced to pay a compensation. There is hardly any legal precedent in this matter. Rodriquez about the raid: "While the scientology computer-experts were writing down the serial numbers of the computers they were seizing, other scientologists walked around casually. After they had left, I missed the letter of a scientology-critic I had just opened. I suspect them of having stolen it. Lawyer Bakker-Schut is considering legal action. An hour after the raid, the person who wrote the letter received a telephone-call from scientology staff-member Julia Rijnvis. She denies every connection and refers to M. Weightman from Brussels, who was present at the raid. "Of course we didn't steal that letter", Weightman says, "we are only protecting our copyrights." But in the texts of which the copyright is claimed by Scientology, can be read that annoying situations can be controlled by lying. Can someone who writes this be trusted? Weightman: "Scientologists never lie, on the contrary: we uphold high moral standards." When confronted with publications on the Internet that claim te opposite, he answers: "I am not familiar with that material. For that information, you'd better contact the USA." THE CHURCH CAN'T WIN Rodriquez: "Scientology misunderstood one thing: they can't win the war on the Internet. If a Dutch judge would rule that the texts can't be distributed on the Internet through the Netherlands, than tomorrow they will appear through China, and the next day through India. They'll have to sue the whole world, right up to the day the church itself is bankrupt. And if there is a country where a judge doesn't prohibit the distribution of their texts on the Internet, they will have lost the battle. Distance isn't important on the Internet. It's as easy to get a text from Oelanbator as it is to make a connection with the city of Groningen."