Scientology's Gag Reflex: The Church's History of Enforcing a Vow of Silence

GerryMutiny.jpg
Gerry Armstrong knew this was coming...
Tomorrow, one of the most remarkable legal hearings in the litigious history of Scientology should unfold in a Texas courtroom.

Two weeks after filing suit against Debbie Cook, the former executive who for 17 years ran its spiritual mecca in Florida, Scientology will be seeking to turn a 14-day restraining order into a temporary injunction that will keep a gag order in place as it sues Cook for a minimum of $300,000 in damages.

Scientology is suing Cook for sending out a New Year's Eve e-mail to thousands of her fellow church members in which she complained that the church, with its focus on "extreme fundraising," has wandered from the principles of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. The church claims in its lawsuit that Cook's e-mail was a violation of a non-disclosure agreement she signed in 2007, when she left her position on church staff and accepted a payment of $50,000. Cook, we believe, will attempt to introduce evidence that she signed the agreement under duress after her career in Scientology's "Sea Org" had become unbearable (we have previously written about homophobic hazing Cook was made to endure, and we hear that she is prepared to present evidence of far worse treatment).

In other words, things could get pretty ugly in Bexar County's civil court chambers tomorrow.

While we wait for the fireworks to begin, we thought back to the past, when Scientology had previously sued because someone dared to speak out about the church's unsavory secrets.

So we gave Gerry Armstrong a call.

"I'm not in touch with Debbie Cook, and I've never met her. But obviously, this is very related to the Gerry Armstrong case," he said last week when we found time to talk. (He often refers to the "Gerry Armstrong case" or the "Gerry Armstrong injunction" in conversation. It's one of his many quirks.)

Armstrong's history with Scientology is stunning in its breadth, daunting in its complexity, and maddening in its details. Even attempting to summarize it seems an impossible task, but I'll have to try...

A native of British Columbia, Armstrong joined Scientology in 1969, and a few years later found himself sailing on the yacht Apollo with L. Ron Hubbard as the church founder ran his international enterprise from the ship. By the time Hubbard moved operations back to shore in 1975, Armstrong had become very close to him and was then trusted with compiling a collection of Hubbard's personal records so that it could be turned over to a professional writer for an authorized biography. Armstrong, however, became deeply disillusioned when he realized that the documents contradicted just about everything Hubbard had been saying about his past. When he tried to get the church to correct the record, he was punished and left the organization in 1981.

As Bruce Livesey explained in an excellent profile of Armstrong in the Canadian quarterly Maisonneuve in 2008, the lengths Scientology would go to surveil, harass, and litigate Armstrong into a life of poverty and dodging enormous court penalties is almost too hard to believe. Writes Livesey...

The combined loss of Armstrong and these documents clearly panicked the church. In the spring of 1982, Scientology issued two "Suppressive Person" declarations against Armstrong, which listed charges including theft of church property and obtaining money under false pretenses. Amazingly, the church created a plan called "The Gerry Armstrong Project," which laid out its intention to hunt him down, spy on him and find out what he was saying, including inventing cover stories to pump information from friends and acquaintances.

Scientology sued Armstrong in 1984 for the return of the Hubbard biographical papers, and got its ass handed to it. Judge Paul Breckenridge's remarkably harsh ruling was one of the worst the church has ever been saddled with (we recently listed it as the second worst thing a judge has ever said about Scientology).

But later, in another lawsuit, Armstrong reluctantly signed a global settlement with several other plaintiffs which included the sort of strict gag order that Debbie Cook is now struggling with. When Scientology then continued to spread negative information about him, Armstrong believed that the church was in violation of the agreement and felt compelled to speak out. And speak out he did, again and again, which Scientology then used as ammunition in American courts, convincing judges that Armstrong was ringing up higher and higher penalties, at $50,000 an utterance. Armstrong had to hightail it out of the country, going to Germany for a while before returning to his native Canada.

Naturally, Armstrong has been keeping a close watch on the Debbie Cook saga, and was fascinated to see her gag order when it became public through the lawsuit.

"I must say, even at this point, I'm a little suspicious about their motivations and what they want to prove," he says of the church's lawsuit.

One difference in their cases is that Armstrong was out of Scientology when he was sued. Cook, on the other hand, was still reportedly a member in good standing when she sent out her New Year's Eve e-mail. I asked Armstrong if he thought that made this case somewhat unique.

"It's very odd, and therefore somewhat suspect," he answered. "It's even odd that they went to Bexar County, Texas. Why would they take a chance in that court?"

He then answered his own question: "You have a lot of lawyers guiding this. It's not just [Scientology leader David] Miscavige's madness that we're looking at here. I think we're looking at something more sinister. They're thinking of all the other people who might speak out."

Hitting Cook hard, then, is a way to remind the many other former staff workers who have vowed to remain silent. Armstrong also pointed out the agreement's schedule of penalties, which, if followed to the letter, would result in penalties in the millions of dollars.

"There's no logic to this, and I bet there was no discussion with her as to the reasonableness to the amounts of what are penalties before she signed it," Armstrong says. But even if she did, in her right mind, sign such a draconian document, that still shouldn't preclude her freedom of religion, he adds.

"The freedom of religion necessitates the right to leave a religion and change one's mind. And that would include the agreements you made in that religion. You have to have that freedom," he says. "You can no more silence someone about their religious experiences in Scientology than you could for someone in Christianity."

Armstrong notes that in the International Religious Freedom Act, passed in 1998 by Congress and used subsequently to criticize nations like France and Germany who give Scientology a hard time for its abuses, the US admonished the countries of the world to follow Article 18 of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the words, "This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief..."

"Scientology is in flagrant violation of that US code. Of course, this is supposed to apply to foreign countries, but of course the standard has to apply to the US," he says. "Scientology should be forced to give religious freedom. If someone wants to leave, that should be the end of their involvement. That's what the Armstrong case represents.

"You just cannot trump that religious freedom issue with this kind of a commercial contract," he says.


One thing we'll most be interested to learn about tomorrow's hearing has been in the back of our minds since we watched a very odd video last week.

Former church officials Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder made a very cheeky video public at Rathbun's blog, which showed them mugging in front of The Alamo, and talking about the dictatorial tendencies of Santa Anna.

The pair, I hear, were in San Antonio in case they might be called to testify at last week's temporary restraining order hearing, and will be in San Antonio again tomorrow.

What would they have to testify about? Well, based on what I've talked to them both about in the past, I have a pretty good idea.

Well before the lawsuit made Debbie Cook's gag order public, Rathbun and Rinder told me how, when they were still working for Miscavige at the highest levels of Scientology, they had helped the church leader come up with the current form of the gag orders that the church has been handing out in recent years, along with substantial cash payments, like so much candy. Those gag orders were designed to be abusive, they told me -- that was the point of them.

Will Rathbun and Rinder get a chance to say that tomorrow or Friday in a San Antonio courtroom? I guess we're about to find out.


Debbie Cook Coverage in the Village Voice...

January 1: Scientology rocked by allegations of greed in e-mail to 12,000 church members

January 3: Is Scientology imploding? Watching the panic after a former executive dares to question church management

January 4: Scientology in crisis: Debbie Cook's transformation from enforcer to whistleblower

January 6: Scientology in turmoil: Debbie Cook's e-mail, annotated

January 31: Scientology sues Debbie Cook over her New Year's Eve e-mail

February 2: Debbie Cook files to dissolve Scientology's temporary restraining order: We talk to her attorney, Ray Jeffrey

February 3: Debbie Cook's motion denied: Scientology's restraining order remains in place until Thursday hearing

February 4: Scientology wants it both ways: The church's opposite legal strategies in Florida and Texas

Also, please see our primer, "What is Scientology?"


Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.

tortega@villagevoice.com | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared


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MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS

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139 comments
donnie harold harris
donnie harold harris

Ron would write that a cleared Zulu was still but a Zulu.What Ron failed to write was a cleared OT is still only an "a viewpoint" -an that does not make anyone a god.That would be in 9-12 OT levels. 

SP 'Onage
SP 'Onage

Tony, DisQus is not working in "Deep in the heart of Texas" blog. Help! I am missing the court updates and can't post a comment!

SP 'Onage
SP 'Onage

Debbie Cook should call Tony as a witness. Remember she asked him to remove her e-mail from VV because it was only intended for internal scilons to read, and not the media.

Or, is that a bad idea? Tony probably wants to choke me right now. lol

Tye Solaris
Tye Solaris

Where the hell have the Civil Rights Groups been all these years.... OH, yeah... Scientology took them over, bought them out... or just started their own outright.

Tye Solaris
Tye Solaris

I really like Gerry Armstrong's 'Guy Fawkes' mask.... it has a kind of Haight Asbury to it.

barbara graham
barbara graham

Tomorrow's my birthday. Make it a good one, Texas!

OTVIIIisGrrr8!
OTVIIIisGrrr8!

We in RTC do not see any problem here. We see it as a simple matter of purchasing a person's silence for money. This is perfectly legal and will be even more legal when Scientology has the US Constitution rewritten to establish our version of Sharia Law in America. The two billion dollars we have set aside for this purpose will buy us all the votes we need.

Scientology is all about Human Rights. But we are also all about:

1. People obeying contracts they sign with the Church.

2. Stopping SP's from attacking the Scientology religion. "Free Speech" is not the same as terroristically attacking a religion and threatening it everyday. This is hate speech against Scientology and it will become punishable by life imprisonment once we change the US Constitution.

3. OSA having the right to arrest and detain you for sec checking and to examine your hard drives and other devices without a warrant.

4.OSA having the right to waterboard Psychiatrists and SP's in order to obtain information from them about their co-conspirators and plans to attack the Scientology religion. Sure, an e-meter is good for interrogation but waterboarding is faster. Waterboarding SP's also frees up our auditors to audit pc's at Flag rates.

5. Continuing to protect the Church of Scientology's Constitutional right to own and operate religious prisons within our RPF system. This right includes shipping people overseas and changing their names so that their families can never find them.

6. COB being able to spend money as he sees fit. This whole IRS "inurement" nonsense is suppressive drivel written by religion-hating Nazi Psych operatives in the IRS in order to impede the fourth dynamic expansion of Scientology. We in RTC seek to obliterate the IRS provisions that COB and his attorneys find inconvenient.  

Thank you for your continued support of the Church of Scientology.

Look for our upcoming television commercials in which we announce the opening of new "Ideal Book One Orgs" in Wal-Mart stores. That's right: Book One auditing is coming to Wal-Mart! With book packages starting as low as $59.95, Scientology will soon be available to Wal-Mart shoppers!

DO
DO

What's interesting is that in Cook's original letter didn't she say that she wasn't in contact, essentially, with Rathbun and Rinder?  That was presumably accurate at the time, but now she apparently is in contact with them.  While that means nothing, perhaps, in the legal arena, it definitely could mean something in terms of a Scientology PR win.

Show a photo of Marty + Ursela... then show Marty + Cook photo from this week... they don't need to even use the transitive property explicitly to make those photos something which will be effective in any DAing.

DO
DO

Oh, and zero chance that either Rinder or Marty will "take the stand" tomorrow.  Their value is to potentially undermine the viability of the agreement.  That isn't germane to tomorrow's hearing.

DO
DO

Of course the gag order will be continued.  Think about it.  This case is about violations of a non-disclosure agreement.  Does anyone really think that the judge, in a preliminary motion, will effectively negate that agreement by allowing Cook to not be gagged?

SP 'Onage
SP 'Onage

STILL CAN'T POST COMMENT ON DEBBIE'S COURT HEARING! YOU NEED TO KICK DISQUS TO THE CURB!

LightOfTruth123
LightOfTruth123

Is that before or after they bought the "Cult Awareness Network"?.....................

Jens Tingleff
Jens Tingleff

 I believe that the EFF helped Dennis Erlich out back in the good ol' days.

Shawn
Shawn

Happy birthday for tomorrow, Barb.  I'm hoping for a really special one. :)

candace6
candace6

First stop-the Jackson Hewitt booth for a "refund anticipation loan".  Next stop- the Scientology store and a little auditing.  How convenient!

Radio Paul
Radio Paul

Funny you should use the name DO. That is the name cult leader Marshall Applewhite used of the Heavens Gate cult.

Ivy Mapother
Ivy Mapother

Then a picture of Marty + Tom Cruise followed by Tom Cruise + Kevin Bacon and there you go. Are we playing the same game?

scnethics
scnethics

I think you meant "validity", not "viability".  And I think you meant "I'm hoping that neither", not "zero chance that either".  And I think this is more a fart in the wind than cogent legal analysis, but thanks for sharing!

SFF
SFF

Arguably it is about violations of a non-disparagement agreement. The CoS will have a hard time arguing that the NDA components have been violated given that they don't cover information in the public domain so they may not even try for that part.

Holmes
Holmes

If it is obvious that the gag order is unconstitutional (as this one is), it would make better sense to negate it sooner, rather than later. 

DO
DO

I'm allergic to phenobarbital.  Really.  How on earth would I know I'm allergic to something so rarely prescribed.  Because I used to be epileptic.  Emphasis on "used to be".  :)

DO
DO

No we're not.

DO
DO

Congrats on the correct pronunciation of my name!

DO
DO

Viability is an appropriate term when discussing whether or not a contract is valid.  Want to bet $313.11 as to whether or not Rinder or Marty will take the stand tomorrow?

JustCallMeMary
JustCallMeMary

They would be stupid to try.....  Their accusations of disclosure would be spelled out in court and become fodder for the media and the internet, lol. I believe they will just stick to the disparagement part. Certainly the judge is not going to side with CoS -  that Debbie could be held responsible for her email going beyond where she emailed it - if that is decided at all. I mean 'could' as in the perimeters that will be set in the case as to what constitutes a receipt point of the disparagement. Blaming Debbie because people shared it and the media picked it up and ran with it is probably not going go over well in the court. 

DO
DO

You may be right.

DO
DO

Why would a gag order issued by a court be unconstitutional?  If you are referring, instead, to the NDA, there is plenty of common law history on the side of torts due to violations of NDAs.

DO
DO

I'm probably no longer allergic to phenobarbital, but I've never had a reason to "test".

Radio Paul
Radio Paul

Scientology cured you of epilepsy but not allergies? All the same Do is the name he used too. Oh I get it, you are a troll.

DO
DO

How do you sink a submarine filled with ex-Scientologists?  Knock on the door and say you're OSA.

How do you re-sink the sub?  Knock on the window.

How do you sink it a third time?  Knock on the door, and wait till they open the window and shout out, "We're not falling for that again you dastardly OSA!"

DO
DO

Nice.  I couldn't get that site working earlier in the day.

grundoon
grundoon

oracleofbacon dot org reveals: Leni Riefenstahl has a Bacon number of 3.  She was in Das blaue Licht (1932) with Mathias Wieman who was in Die Ehe des Dr. med. Danwitz (1956) with Maximilian Schell who was in Telling Lies in America (1997) with Kevin Bacon. 

DO
DO

Oh, wait, I didn't totally read your post.  Okay, that's not bad.  But I was more meaning by actors/actresses.

DO
DO

So can you connect her to Kevin Bacon?

Ivy Mapother
Ivy Mapother

Leni Riefenstahl was friends with Joseph Goebbels, a nazi proponent of the Final Solution, including the building of Auschwitz. The Auschwitz Jewish Center is supported by the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a charity victimized by Bernard Madoff who also stole from Kevin Bacon.

DO
DO

Yes.

Guest
Guest

DO is a right proper troll, not OSA.  I think he/she is doing a good job!  We needed a good troll, not an incompetent one like Marcotai. 

DO
DO

I'm pretty sure no-one plays that, what, circa-1995 "game".  But here's one for you.  Try to connect Leni Riefenstahl to Bacon.

DO
DO

I think you've been playing with the Matthews' Air Loom a bit too long?

Ivy Mapother
Ivy Mapother

You're right. I'm playing for fun and sport and you are playing for your very existence. You've been handed the task going on the open internet and responding to anything critical of Scientology. The eyes looking over your shoulders and the reports you make are very crucial to your future. It must be very daunting. Too much time in the Wog world might call for a sec check or worse. Can you say Tory Christman? Every key stroke is monitored, every word spoken is analyzed. There's a chain of command and you know where it ends. Don't screw the pooch, salute it, but don't screw it. All kidding aside, when's the last time you went to a retirement party? You guys don't hand out gold watches. Used up shells of human beings fade away in obscurity or end up in some RPF camp. When you have nothing left to give, mentally, physically or financially what is Scientology going to do for you? Good luck.

SP 'Onage
SP 'Onage

Sixth = Six

I wonder if you're aloud to play that in the RPF?

SP 'Onage
SP 'Onage

Oh...c'mon, Sixth degrees of Kevin Bacon is a fun game.

DO
DO

Would it help if I named myself SO, MO, TO, KO, RO, etc?  That way you'd always know it's me.

Redone5623
Redone5623

You mean to never post again under this name. As we all know you cult members lie all the time.

scnethics
scnethics

Not at all!  This case is just another in a growing list of opportunities for scientologists and non-scientologists alike to learn the truth about the church and its management.  If this case fizzles out, well, there're plenty more on the horizon I'm watching, and much more coming that I don't know about yet.  Enjoy!!!  And if you can sneak away, check out the facts of the Gerry Armstrong case, a "personal" favorite of mine.

DO
DO

You seem to have an awful lot of personal investment in the outcome of this case.

scnethics
scnethics

I think you meant "channel", not "station".  And I'll feel just fine, either way.  A whole lot of dirty laundry is coming out in that courtroom tomorrow.

DO
DO

Same bat time, same bat station... tomorrow!  Let's see how you feel when nothing happens except the gag order is made permanent.  If it is not made permanent in some fashion, I hereby pledge to never post on this blog again.

scnethics
scnethics

You should go to law school instead of pretending like you know something about the law.  Enjoy the news and fallout from this case - I know I will!

Holmes
Holmes

Yes, I meant the NDA.

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