Scientology's Cover Story for Harassment: "We're Making a Documentary!"
We've been covering Marty Rathbun's remarkable experiences in South Texas with rapt attention: there's no question that his ongoing battle with his former employer, Scientology leader David Miscavige, is becoming the biggest thing to happen to L. Ron Hubbard's controversial religion since the 2005 freakout of Tom Cruise.
Something tells us Ken Burns doesn't work this way.
Rathbun was one of the highest-ranking executives in Scientology when he left the organization in 2004. He then pretty much disappeared, eventually moving to the Corpus Christi area to fish and relax. Then, suddenly, in 2009, Rathbun began speaking out about his former employer in the form of a blog, and by speaking to reporters. Since then, he's been under almost constant surveillance by members of Scientology and others hired by the church.
As we watched Rathbun take on Scientology and pay for it by being filmed and watched, we couldn't help wonder, was it really smart for him to be living in a part of the country without major media?
Even large news organizations in big cities tend to be wary about covering Scientology. And when they do take on the church, they tend to do it in one big take-out piece and then go pretty much silent.
(I realized that Scientology actually counts on this to be the case based on something Kendrick Moxon, a Scientology attorney, once said to me. He was confused and angry that my newspaper at the time, New Times Los Angeles, kept writing investigative stories about the church. "You've already done your story about us," he said to me. I thought it was a revealing moment. And in general, he's right. The New Yorker, for example, just uncorked one of the best exposes of Scientology of all time. But you can bet that the magazine won't write about the church again in our lifetimes.)
If media in big cities can be skittish about Scientology, what sort of local media attention could Rathbun hope for in sleepy Ingleside on the Bay, Texas?
Well, we got an answer this week in a big way.
As we wrote earlier, the Ingleside Index reported this week that the small town's city council had unanimously supported Mayor Howard Gillespie to pass an ordinance that would require Scientology's goon squad to register as a film crew or pay a fine. It was largely a symbolic gesture, but one that Rathbun said he appreciated wholeheartedly.
And last night, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times showed that it wasn't going to let a big story in its backyard go unnoticed.
The Caller-Times is an E.W. Scripps daily whose previous claim to fame was breaking news of Vice President Dick Cheney shooting his friend in the face in 2006.
Caller-Times reporter Mark Collette's piece about Rathbun and the Scientologists filming him is lengthy and well-researched -- Collette even traveled to California to track down some of the goon squad members who had come from there to watch Rathbun's movements.
Collette's piece is very well done, but what we found most amusing was Scientology's constant refrain that they were renting property near Rathbun's house, filming him from a paddle boat in a canal, and getting in his face on his porch with cameras strapped to their foreheads because -- get this -- they're making a "documentary."
Well, we're certainly the first to agree that Rathbun is worthy of attention. But how much b-roll footage of the man puttering around his bayside home or munching in local eateries do you really need?
No, it's clear that Scientology is keeping an eye on Rathbun for more sinister reasons. And the best authority on that may be Rathbun himself, who for years was Miscavige's enforcer.
"I helped create the monster," he candidly told Collette. "The policy is to make life so uncomfortable that the person gives up or shuts up."
At least now, Rathbun knows that Corpus Christi's local media, as modest as it may be, is all eyes and ears.
Click here to see all recent Scientology coverage at the Voice
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard's organization:
The Larry Wollersheim Saga -- Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud
The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story -- How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself
The Jason Beghe Defection -- A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue
The Robert Cipriano Case -- A Hellacious Example of Fair Game
The Paul Haggis Ultimatum -- The 'Crash' Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape -- 'Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle'
The Aaron Saxton Accusation -- Australia turns up the heat on Scientology
The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation -- Scientology's former PR genius comes clean
The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross -- Scientology lures a young defector into a trap
A Church Myth Debunked -- Scientology and Proposition 8
Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back -- Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits
When Scientologists Attack -- The Marty Rathbun Intimidation
A Scientologist Excommunicated -- The Michael Fairman SP Declaration
The Richard Leiby Operation -- Investigating a reporter's divorce to shut him up
The Hugh Urban Investigation -- An academic takes a harsh look at Scientology's past
Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh -- A precedent for a Scientology-Branch Davidian link
Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology -- A masterful telling of Scientology's history
The Western Spy Network Revealed? -- Marty Rathbun ups the ante on David Miscavige
Scientology's Enemies List -- Are You On It?
Inside Inside Scientology -- An interview with author Janet Reitman
Scientology and the Nation of Islam -- Holy Doctrinal Mashup, Batman!