In its annual Hate Crimes Statistics Report, released November 14, 2016, the FBI reported 5,818 hate crime incidents in the United States in 2015—nearly 20 percent of them against victims because of their religion.
Religion scholar Massimo Introvigne of the Center for Studies on New Religions in Turin, Italy, voices the growing recognition of a direct link between increasing anti-religious rhetoric in the media, such as that directed at new religions, and incidents of violence directed at members of those religions.
Dr. Introvigne writes that it starts with “dehumanization,” a technique mastered by the Nazis and now used by “anti-cult” extremists. What he describes as “trying to show that you are not completely a human being” can lead to a climate where the group and its individuals are exposed to outright attacks and even violence.
Dehumanization, a technique mastered by the Nazis and now used by “anti-cult” extremists, can lead to outright attacks and even violence.
Such dehumanizing justified burning of “witches” in Salem, Massachusetts, and hangings of Baptists and Quakers—“cults” of the day—on the Boston Common. Mormons were hounded from state to state, fleeing from murder and lynchings. Christian Scientists and virtually all other religions have endured oppression.
Scientologists have also faced persecution, instigated by government-supported extremism and carried in biased media. In Germany, for example, despite the courts uniformly upholding Scientologists’ rights, federal and state officials for decades condoned a policy and practice of religious discrimination that attempted to blacklist and boycott Scientologists in every sector of German life.
In the trough of the German anti-religious campaign of the 1990s, Scientologists were dismissed from jobs, schools, political parties, and social, business and political organizations, denied the right to earn professional licenses, perform their art, open bank accounts and obtain loans, use public facilities and concert halls. Churches were vandalized and individual Scientologists beaten. Once widespread and blatantly unconstitutional “sect filters” requiring denial of Scientology affiliation to gain employment and contracts are perhaps the last vestiges of that ignoble era, now rarely rearing their ugly heads.
The Church documented more than 1,500 cases of discrimination against its parishioners in Germany and presented the evidence to international human rights agencies whose uniform censure contributed to erosion of the German campaign.
France in the 1990s was another hotbed of government-supported anti-religious hate groups targeting minority religions. With French media flanking the government campaign by spewing alarming stereotypes of religions and their members, French citizens lost jobs, businesses, and other rights and entitlements solely because they were Scientologists. A 10-year-old was denied Girl Scout membership because her parents were Scientologists (and insisting they would also have rejected a Mormon child). An orchestrated campaign against a teacher who was a Scientologist led to her dismissal. A Paris kindergarten refused to admit a child because her parents were Scientologists.
The hate-speech led to violence. In September 2001, a man was convicted and sentenced after he planted a bomb (it did not detonate) in the Church of Scientology in Angers. The man told authorities that all he knew about Scientology came from government publications, the media, and promotion from militant anti-religious groups, and that it was their propaganda that incited him to commit his potentially violent act.
The man who planted a bomb in the Angers Church told authorities that all he knew about Scientology came from government publications, the media, and promotion from militant anti-religious groups.
Violence erupted in the United States, too. In September 1996, after repeated threats against the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center in Portland, Oregon, a deranged man carried a pistol and a can of gasoline into the building, set a fire in the lobby, then shot four staff members, one a pregnant woman. Three of the injured fully recovered; the pregnant woman was left paralyzed and her child died of neurological deficiencies at 18 months of age.
In 2008, members of the cyberterrorist group Anonymous issued a chilling pronouncement directed at instigating acts of violence against members of the Church of Scientology. Subsequently extremists made numerous bomb threats, arson threats, and death threats targeting Scientology Churches and parishioners in the United States and other countries. Anonymous made more than 40 death threats, 55 bomb and arson threats and 100 threats of other violence.
In March 2008, inflamed by anti-Scientology rhetoric online, Sean Carasov posted a photo of two handguns with the caption inviting Scientologists to his house and stating he was once “advised if I shoot an intruder, make sure to kill to avoid civil suit.” Carasov also threatened to kill a Church security guard who reported him to the police. Carasov committed suicide in 2010.
Also in 2008, Omar Shane McNeely was similarly incited to start a fire at the Church’s Los Angeles Public Information Center. He poured a quart of bleach on the entryway carpet and attempted to set the carpet on fire with a lighter. When police arrived, they found a bottle of lighter fluid in his pocket.
Today’s seeds of violence come from biased media propagandists such as Lawrence Wright and Alex Gibney and their bigoted books and films. These in turn are picked up by hatemongers such as Tony Ortega, Leah Remini, Marc Headley and others, with potentially catastrophic results.
Marc Headley is an embittered former staff member expelled when it was discovered he pocketed thousands of dollars from selling Church equipment on eBay. Still burning from dismissal of dual lawsuits he and his wife Claire filed, falsely claiming clergy abuse and for which they were ordered to pay the Church $42,000 in costs, Headley funneled his ire into a self-published “memoir” filled with incendiary hate language.
An unstable individual was incited by the book to threaten to send an explosive device to the residence of the Church’s leader, to a Church and to a school, forcing an evacuation. In February 2010, the Church received the following message over the Internet:
What would you do if there was an vehicle borne IED heading towards Hemet California, and will arrive there the 26th of February, 2010? What would you do if I were to say that this “bomb” were heading towards the lower villas? And how would you react if I were to say that approximately 45 minutes after this incident, there will be another ’situation’ at Delphi [a school employing the study technology developed by L. Ron Hubbard]…
Authorities traced the threat to a U.S. Navy enlisted man who when apprehended told the Naval Criminal Investigative Service that he had been incited by reading Headley’s book. The sailor was found guilty and dismissed from the Navy in addition to other penalties.
Another unstable man, Colby Schoolcraft, after reading the rants of Marc Headley, in 2010 posted on Internet chat channels that he would “leave about 6am, go out and blow shit up with guns and explosives, then raid the fuck out of scientology at 11am.” On the Anonymous message board appeared a photo of the Scientology leader with his head and torso riddled by bullet holes and “Wear a bullet proof vest….” He posted the same photo on an Anonymous chat channel with a threat, “DM [David Miscavige] at 75 yards.” When arrested for this in October 2010, police found two AK 47s, several other rifles and many rounds of ammunition.
Erin McMurtry drove her car through the front door of the Church of Scientology of Austin, Texas, narrowly missing two Church staff and coming to a stop at the nursery.
At 9 p.m. on December 14, 2015, Erin McMurtry drove her car through the front door of the Church of Scientology of Austin, Texas, narrowly missing two Church staff in the lobby and coming to a stop at the nursery where children had been playing earlier in the day. She threw the car in reverse, gave an obscene gesture, and roared off. When arrested and charged that same night and police advised her that she had driven into the nursery but no one was injured, she replied, “That’s too bad.”
That was only the most recent hateful rant about the religion McMurtry followed obsessively and routinely reposted to her Facebook page. After watching an ABC 20/20 program touting a book by anti-Scientologist Leah Remini, McMurtry described Remini in a posting as “a true inspiration.” McMurtry also followed hate blogger Tony Ortega, once posting: “Thank you for speaking up Tony Ortega!!”
Following McMurtry’s assault, Ortega posted on his weblog: “Car turns Austin Scientology org into a drive-in… Anyway, anyone know where Larry Wright was last night?” For the past several years, Ortega has been obsessed with the Scientology religion, posting hundreds of articles that denigrate Scientology and lauding the activities of hatemongers. He expressed his desire that one of these extremists “burns it to the ground.”
Another threat of violence came in November 2015 from an unstable individual after he watched Gibney and Wright’s Going Clear. A man named Mallen, under the pseudonym “Blindersoff,” posted this threat: “David Miscavige public execution scheduled for March 13, 2016, at the Los Angeles Coliseum.”
In April 2016, a deranged young man, Brandon Reisdorf, drove to the front reception of the Church of Scientology of Los Angeles, got out of his car and threw a hammer through a large window in the front of the building, retrieved the hammer, threw it again a second time even more forcefully, and drove off. He was subsequently arrested in San Diego and held on $50,000 bond.
The day after his attack, the Church of Scientology was contacted by an official of the San Diego Mental Health Department who reported that the man expressed an intention to physically harm the Church’s leader on April 29 or April 30, telling the mental health official that was the date of the planned 20/20 show that featured Leah Remini and the man’s mother. He was convicted, served time and is now out on probation. His sentence included paying restitution and a criminal protective order to stay away from the Church’s leader and all Churches of Scientology in Southern California.
On May 3, 2016, in Los Angeles, Andre Barkanov pleaded guilty to one felony count of making a criminal threat and one count of stalking after calling the Church, threatening to kill its leader and “every single one of you.”
When police arrested Barkanov, he was found with a cache of weapons and fake police insignia. According to police records, Barkanov told police he had “seen the HBO movie” directed by Alex Gibney. When asked if he knew of anyone else involved in the Church or celebrities, Barkanov replied that he knew of the “King of Queens lady” who had left the Church and had been in the news, referring to Leah Remini. He further told police, “I remember being mad watching [these] programs.” He pleaded no contest and was found guilty of making felony criminal threats and stalking.
Acts such as these will continue as long as the media gives voice to the extremists seeking to marginalize Scientologists and others on the basis of their faith.
It is for these reasons that STAND is exposing the perpetrators of the hate and bigotry that gives rise to acts of violence.