PROTEST IN CLEARWATER
by Jeff Jacobsen
"Noncooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good" - Gandhi
Just a little bit of background on me first. I was in a small Pentecostal cult from age 16 to 22. After I left I learned about and joined the Cult Awareness Network, which was a national organization designed to educate the public about cults (CAN was later taken over by Scientology). Here I met family members of sons, daughters, and parents in Scientology and heard about why it was considered a cult. Scientology seemed much worse than the tiny group I had been in, so I started to dig into it a bit.
In late 1993 I got on the fledgling Internet for the first time, and found the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, or a.r.s. Here were critics and ex-members chatting and sharing information about the cult in real time. This was an almost anarchic newsgroup where Scientologists also came on to argue with us. In December 1994, someone anonymously posted Scientology's top secret Upper Level courses to the group. These courses were for Scientologists in good standing who had worked their way up in training until they were qualified to pay for and see them. Part of their attraction was the secrecy and mystery that surrounded them. So this was not only a breach of secrecy, it was also a danger to Scientology's potential future income. Instantly the cult went into attack mode. It tried in several ways to close down the newsgroup, raided the homes and sued those it suspected of posting the courses, and threatened pretty much all the rest of us. Jim Lippard and I covered this in an article in Skeptic Magazine.
Because of the severity of Scientology's attacks, this was seen by many Internet users as an attack on free speech rather than any copyright case. If a.r.s. could be shut down, why not any group that is critical of some corporation, politician, or something else? Would the Internet be a place of free speech or would it wind up being restricted by those in power? For this reason, there was much discussion of how to react and defend against this perceived existential attack on our new social network.
People started to protest Scientology's actions out in the “real world.” In March 1995, 5 of us in Mesa, Arizona picketed the cult's building on University Drive. We had probably incomprehensible signs like “Stop the Cancelpoodle” (an anonymous person who would cancel posts on a.r.s. that were critical of Scientology), “Save the Internet,” and others. We all had yellow t-shirts with huge “SP” letters on our backs. Scientology calls people who are against them “suppressive persons” or SP's, so we went with that. We picketed about 3 hours on a warm sunny day.
There were occasional pickets in random places around the world where Scientology had a presence. On May 6 there were simultaneous protests in Houston, Boston, Mesa, and Denver. From Houston one picketer wrote "We were explaining our purposes when some 50ish guy in a shirt and tie comes out and tells us we have to leave. We kind of ignore him and I run through the reasons for our being there once again. He demands to know who our organization is. 'The internet community' we answer. He did not understand this and repeated this question several times. There is a certain amount of misunderstanding here. He and the others simply could not understand the concept of spontaneously organized action not organized by a hierarchal organization with leaders to give orders. But they had fun using their ridiculous tone 40 voices of command." We picketed once in a while in Mesa.
On August 13 I posted a “call to picket worldwide” on a.r.s., which included “tips for picketing.” Picketing seemed to be a good way to reach the public over what was going on in our newsgroup, since there were still not that many people on the Internet. The date set was for September 9, which was near Auditor's Day in Scientology. On September 9 there were worldwide protests in cities with a Scientology presence, of about 150 total, being “the first international protest of Scientology ever” and organized on the Internet. Cities and attendance; Adelaide - 2; Boston - 25; Boulder - 30; Brisbane - 2; Chicago - 4; DC -11; Helsinki - 1; Houston - 7; Las Vegas - 1; London - 20; Melbourne -13; NY - 5; Ottawa - 3; Scottsdale - 9; Sydney - 7; San Francisco – 12.
Some time after this, my friend Maggie suggested we have a unified picket in Clearwater, Florida. This seemed like a brilliant idea. It would be essentially at Scientology's headquarters. It would be in a city used to fighting Scientology already. It should have reasonably good weather. It had the Tampa International airport nearby. A large protest would garner more attention. Let's do it.
The idea was kicked around on a.r.s. and got a consensus of approval. We decided that doing it near L. Ron Hubbard's birthday (March 13) would be good as there would be more Scientologists around in Clearwater. They would gather then to celebrate their founder. In January I posted to a.r.s. about the upcoming protest; “This demonstration will be a peaceful public protest against Scientology's written and practiced policy of harassment of critics, and those it judges internally to be 'suppressive persons,' whether they are members or not. Many internet users know about the church's attacks on the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology (a.r.s.) and against church critics there, such as attempting to rmgroup (close down) a.r.s., church attorneys sending threatening mail after critics post fair use quotes from Scientology scripture, private investigators being sent out to harass and 'dead agent' (smear the reputation of) critics, and many other actions.”
There was a lot of work to do, like choosing a hotel we could all stay in, working out a press conference with handouts, how to get people from the Tampa airport, figuring out some type of security, etc. Rod Keller and I did a lot of the leg work.
We sent out a press release about 6 weeks and then about a week before the event, mostly by fax. The release concluded with “The 'Stop the Harassment' protests are not intended as criticism of the religious practices of Scientology, nor of the religious beliefs of Scientologists. The focus of these protests is to encourage Scientology to stop its harassment and to draw attention to the ongoing abuses committed by Scientology.” At the time we were simply concentrating on how Scientology was threatening free speech on the Internet and chose to avoid any other issues, but this avoidance was dropped in ensuing protests.
We chose Saturday, March 9, 1996 to picket all day, and have a press conference at our hotel the day before. Others on a.r.s. who would not be coming to Clearwater decided to picket in their home cities or the nearest Scientology property.
"...it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul and lay the foundation for that empire's fall or its regeneration." - Gandhi
Scientology appeared to be taking us seriously. Big-wigs like Kendrick Moxon (in-house Scientology attorney), Kurt Weiland (Office of Special Affairs), and others were flown in to handle us.
On Thursday, March 7 we were on a radio talk show on WMNF in Tampa. Dennis Erlich (a former highly trained Scientologist), local critic Jeff Lee and I spoke about the reasons for the picket. The host Rob Lorei asked Jeff Lee why he was protesting Scientology:
“ Well, I've been involved in the Internet for about ten years now, in one form or another, and I was made aware that the Church of Scientology was attempting to abrogate peoples' right of free speech on the Internet. Free speech is very important on the Net, and the more I learned about what Scientology was doing – illegally canceling peoples' messages, attempting to remove a discussion area where people discussed the church – the more concerned I became, and then the more I learned about the church, I became involved in other areas of protest against it.”
When the host took calls, the person on the line was Brian Anderson, the local spokesman for the cult. Notable occurrences: Anderson claimed that the 'The law may be used very easily to harass...' quote from L. Ron Hubbard had never been a part of church policy, and when the host started questioning him about Dennis being locked in the basement of the Fort Harrison Hotel, he even claimed that there *was* no basement in the hotel. Later Scientology spokesperson Leisa Goodman also told a TV interviewer that the Ft. Harrison Hotel had no basement. But then that reporter got the specs for the building and showed there indeed is a basement.
Page one in the Tampa Tribune on Friday had an article “Critics of Scientology jump into Internet fray.” Dennis Erlich explained that “they're after me for posting something that is true. If I'm not protected then there is no First Amendment.”
On Friday we had a press conference in the hotel we were staying in. We handed out a press kit which included a "Timeline of , where Dennis Erlich, ex-Scientologist Paul Grosswald, and others spoke. It was well attended by the media, including Mary Story, a well-known Scientologist who claimed she was a reporter for Scientology's Freedom Magazine so we let her attend. She asked several questions during the Q&A session. I believe this was when Kurt Weiland, Kendrick Moxon, and Brian Anderson tried to crash the event but we had hired an off-duty cop for security and he wouldn't let them in without permission. Rod went out and spoke to them but didn't let them in.
There were about 18 protesters on Saturday, including locals, Rose Paul (her daughter was a member) and Bob Minton, whom we met for the first time. Bob would found the Lisa McPherson Trust in 1999. Dennis Erlich was served with a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that ordered him to keep 50 yards from any Scientology property, so he had to just watch from afar. We first all gathered at the county courthouse nearby to organize ourselves. Mike Rinder, the Scientologist whose job was to handle critics, stopped over to check on things and wound up on one of the TV news clips later that night. It was a cold weekend in the 30s and windy. We picketed in front of the bank building (Scientology's first purchase in Clearwater) and the Ft. Harrison Hotel. It was relatively calm. We would just walk around in front of Scientology downtown properties. We didn't chant or yell or make much of any noise. We just let our signs and our presence do the talking.
After I got home to Arizona I made a compilation video of our press coverage and mailed a VHS tape copy to everybody. Remember, this was way before Youtube or anything like it. Different times.
videos from 1996:
https://vimeo.com/2821822 picket video plus media coverage
https://vimeo.com/2624975 me at press conference
https://vimeo.com/1113675 Paul Grosswald at press conference
https://youtu.be/fAuvgAyVmDs Dennis Erlich at press conference
https://youtu.be/cGvCtqDZk7s press conference Q&A
https://vimeo.com/2613392 Kendrick Moxon harassing Dennis Erlich
"... we must know even better than others that there must not be concessions made to evil, even when it is not committed directly against us." - Vaclav Havel
In late 1996 we learned about the death of 36-year-old Lisa McPherson at the Ft. Harrison Hotel. It turned out that while we were organizing our first Clearwater picket, in November and December of 1995 Lisa had been held against her will in Room 174 of the Ft. Harrison, in the back of the complex. After 18 days she was driven in a private car 45 minutes away to a hospital where a Scientology doctor was working, but she was pronounced dead upon arrival. Scientology tried to keep this death silent. There was no obituary. Her family was told she died quickly from a strep infection. The police, however, sensed that something was amiss and they began an investigation. The police told us about their web page called homicide.html, which had information about Lisa's death. In that information was 210 S. Ft. Harrison Ave., the address of the Ft. Harrison Hotel. That was where we picketed. So we began to investigate her death as well. The Tampa Tribune printed the first article about Lisa on December 15, 1996.
This changed our view of the purpose of our Clearwater protests. The cult had decided that they should apply Scientology processes to Lisa rather than take her to a hospital only blocks away. And we knew this was not the only death that could be attributed to Scientology policies. So we switched from reacting to the free speech attacks on the Internet to exposing the dangers of the cult.
Days before the protest, a woman ran from the Ft. Harrison and jumped into the bay. “A Clearwater police officer on patrol early Saturday saw the woman sprint from the former Fort Harrison Hotel building downtown, used as a residence by the church, followed by a security guard. The officer followed the woman and offered assistance, but she kept running until arriving at the Sandcastle Hotel on Osceola Avenue, another Scientology residence. She then jumped into about 1 foot of water in Clearwater Harbor, in back of the Sandcastle. The woman appeared distraught, so police admitted her to Morton Plant Hospital under the state's Baker Act, which allows for the temporary committal of those who pose a physical threat to themselves or others “ [Tampa Tribune, 3/3/97].
We didn't have a press conference. We rented the conference room but I think that was for us to work on things and organize. We made press kits that included a note from Lisa's family - “We wish to take this opportunity to express our sincere thanks for your worldwide support and kindness which we have received as we continue to cope with the tragic and preventable death of Lisa.” Along with articles and other information, the press kit had a 3.5” floppy disc that included personal stories, legal opinions, and documents seized by the FBI in a previous raid on Scientology. On the floppy disc was the note “no advanced technology materials, no trade secrets, no copyright violation.”
As with any time you go against Scientology, you must expect strangeness. This time at our protest they tried to overwhelm us by picketing WITH us, only their signs said things like “Bigots go home,” “Stop crime not religion,” “Jeff Jacobsen Porno King,” and “Druggies stay out of Clearwater.” They outnumbered us probably 4 to 1 at least. They would try to hide our signs with theirs as we walked along the sidewalk. In a strange way, this actually helped us in that it made the protest look much larger than our number of about 40. Also we had conversations with the Scientologists which would not have happened otherwise.
There were also at first cult staff who decided that right when we started picketing was the perfect time to wash their building and sidewalks. This did not last long though, but I don't remember why they quit that.
This year we invited the public to protest with us and several did. There were representatives from a women's group, who chanted “Scientology, you're a lie – you don't care if women die.” Most didn't stay very long though.
The candlelight vigil that night was held in front of the Ft. Harrison Hotel. We just thought to walk silently and slowly, holding candles and thinking of Lisa McPherson. But again, Scientologists had other ideas. They came out in force, blocking our way, yelling at us, and even blew out some of our candles. They got extremely close to pushing us around, but fortunately the police presence was strong. The next day I wrote a letter to the city thanking them for protecting us. “If the police had not been present, we are convinced that we would also have been physically assaulted. This callous abuse by the Church of Scientology against a peaceful commemoration of one of their own members is another indication of the cruelty and lack of decency found in the Church of Scientology. Our heartfelt thanks goes to the Clearwater Police for their diligence in protecting concerned citizens." The St. Petersburg Times had a little blurb about my letter.
Sunday a few people picketed on their own but this was not on our schedule.
videos from 3/97:
https://vimeo.com/3126374 picket banter
https://vimeo.com/3045279 I'm accused of being a porno king
https://vimeo.com/2624682 Leisa Goodman banter
"Love and truth must prevail over lies and hatred" - Czechoslovak slogan against the Soviet Union
We decided to change the date of our protests in honor of Lisa McPherson, so we chose to have them around December 5, the date of her death. We debated protesting along the road to Clearwater Beach, assuming there would be a lot of traffic there, but finally decided on downtown Clearwater again.
In October of 1997 Scientologists leafleted the neighborhoods of several previous protesters, including Rod Keller and myself. The flyers called us religious bigots and said of Rod “this weekend he is leading a KKK-style rally against peaceful members of a religion.” [Tampa Trib 10/15/97 “Scientology takes counterprotest to critics' homes”] My neighbors went around collecting the flyers around my neighborhood and brought them to me before I even knew about them.
In late November the cult appealed to the city of Clearwater to close the sidewalks around their properties in fear of us protesters. Ben Shaw wrote to mayor Roberto that the protesters were “violence-prone demonstrators” who “ present a clear danger to the children and families who enjoy and participate in Winter Wonderland.” [Tampa Trib 12/1/97 “Church asks Clearwater to block off protesters”] Scientology's Winter Wonderland was a way to promote local appreciation of the cult by setting up basically a winter-themed playground for kids and families. This year for the first time they were setting up on their property right across from the Ft. Harrison hotel, which was obviously where we planned to picket. We had applied for our permits in October, and had a reputation from our previous 2 protests of being law-abiding and peaceful, so the city rejected Shaw's request.
The St. Petersburg Times published an opinion piece on why the city should not allow Scientology to block our protests; "When it suits them, Scientologists claim to be the persecuted minority trying to exert their constitutional rights. In this case, it suits them to deprive other citizens their free speech. Roberto [Clearwater city manager] should not let the Church of Scientology bully him. Clearwater police are fully capable of allowing the demonstration and maintaining the peace."
We placed a display ad in the Tampa Tribune 2 days before the protest advertising both the protest and the candlelight vigil.
When the "official" protesters arrived, I gave each one a Xenu alien ring, as proof that they were protesters. This was in reaction to the previous year when we were overwhelmed by Scientologists picketing with us.
On Friday we held a press conference, where Ken Dandar (Lisa McPherson's family-appointed attorney) spoke about Lisa, then ex-members Birgitta Dagnell, Dennis Erlich, Tom Padgett and Martin Ottman spoke about their experiences while they were in Scientology. Dandar came a little late so I started to speak about Lisa, but then he arrived after a few minutes. There were at least 8 cameras at the press conference, plus radio and print journalists too. There was a German TV crew, plus CBS, and Pulitzer Prize winner Lucy Morgan. Right after our press conference in the same hotel Scientologists held their own press conference. Mike Rinder attempted to refute what Ken, Birgitta and Martin had spoken about. I don't know how well attended their press conference was.
After the press conference the police contact person spoke with us about their plans. They were quite concerned about a repeat from last time when we were co-mingling and wanted to put up barriers that would keep both sides apart. Fortunately, this turned out to be unnecessary.
About 45 people came to the sidewalk across the street from the Ft. Harrison Hotel at 6:30pm Friday night to remember Lisa McPherson. We lit candles, and Jamie the bagpiper played some songs, including "McPherson's Farewell." The hotel was empty and dark. A sign in front of the front door said "We are not here. We are out doing good in the world." There were signs on either side of the entrance that said "deadbeat dads and child molesters go home." The Winter Wonderland in the lot across from the Ft. Harrison was advertised as having a grand opening at the same time as our vigil, but the Wonderland was dark and closed.
There was quite a bit of media presence at the vigil, including CBS' Public Eye which aired a program January 7 1998 about Lisa.
After about 1/2 hour we walked across the street to the front of the Ft. Harrison Hotel. Two mourners placed a wreath next to the front door. A sign on the tripod said "We remember Lisa McPherson, 1959-1995." Some people put flowers on the wreath. As we walked past the wreath we blew out our candles and left. I told a church security man that we would pick up the wreath when we came back in the morning to picket.
In the time it took for us to get to our cars and drive by the front of the hotel, the wreath was already gone.
After we left, we noticed a hubbub around the police station nearby. We drove by to see perhaps a thousand Scientologists circling around the block that contained both the St. Petersburg Times office and the police station. They were holding signs and candles, chanting things like “Sid Klein, what's your crime?” (Klein was the chief of police at the time) and “St. Pete Times - truth not lies.” Later the city stated that they had no notice beforehand of this protest and had to quickly pull about 20 officers from other duties. The St. Petersburg Times wrote about this: "City leaders Monday said the Church of Scientology's angry protests of the Police Department over the weekend badly damaged Scientology's image in Clearwater and set back the church's efforts to become part of the city's mainstream. The church continued to blast police Chief Sid Klein on Monday with another in a series of public letters accusing him of 'orchestrating harassment' against the church and its members. Church representatives also passed out fliers at the city's downtown office complex and at police headquarters, asking for reports of corruption, abuses and discrimination in Klein's department."
Picketer Ray Randolph reported some strange things at our hotel: "I slept great right up until around 4-4:30am... Then the screaming in the parking lot woke me up. I was rooming with [ex-Scientologist Lawrence] Wollersheim, who woke up with me moving around in the room. Outside, laying face down in the parking lot, with his pants down to his knees...a man was screaming for us to come out of our rooms so that he could kick our asses. Wollersheim, being somewhat used to being op'd just said, 'yeah..call the front desk, I'm going back to bed.' I called the front desk and the man was arrested. The next morning, he returned to pick up a backpack he'd stored in the bushes the night before. When he saw me on the balcony watching him, he wished me good luck in picketing and he left via Taxi."
Ray had previously distributed black t-shirts that said "Scientology Kills" on the front with the red lettering sort of dripping blood. On the back was part of the OT 3 secret Scientology course level.
Saturday about 40 of us picketed from 9am to 12:30pm. The Ft. Harrison was still closed. Nothing was happening at the Winter Wonderland, where they had put little horses, fake snow, a kid's slide, a jumping cushion, giant snowmen, and other things, and a 3 foot high picket fence right up against the sidewalk we would be using. So we weren't hassled this year. The main Scientology presence was photographers skulking around with telephoto lenses. As you can see their tactics against us changed every year, implying that they believed, correctly, that their previous plans hadn't worked.
One protester dressed up as Xenu, the evil galactic overlord in Scientology history.
Arnie Lerma had rented a Ryder truck and posted signs on the sides with quotes from judges giving statements about bad Scientology behavior. He drove around downtown as we picketed.
One protester had a 2-way radio that had the same frequency as Scientology security dudes were using. He listened in as they reported in on where we were and what we were doing, using code names for each other. He at one point got on and messed with them; “Blue Squirrel, your code now is Smelly Fish.”
That night some of us went to Ybor City with the thought to picket the Dianetics Center there, but when we got there it too was closed. After milling around there for a while we went to the Tampa Bay Brewing Company for some food and refreshment.
Videos from 12/97:
https://vimeo.com/6145868 Scientologists picket police and SP Times
https://vimeo.com/3459212 picketing, and Ybor City
“Though there may be little profit in it, if there is much righteousness, do it.” - Hsun Tzu
This year we stressed more the case of Lisa McPherson in our press release, press conference, and protests.
On December 1 I arrived at Tampa Airport about 6pm. I got my rental car and checked into the Holiday Inn in Clearwater. About 9pm I went back to get Grady Ward, a protester from California. One of the first people off his plane was Scientologist Kendrick Moxon! I smiled at him but he didn't seem to notice me. Grady was one of the last people off the plane and I told him about Moxon. So before we got to the baggage claim area Grady got his digital camera out and took several shots of Kendrick. He said a few vile things to Grady while Grady simply pointed out that it's a good idea to smile when people take your picture.
We got to the hotel and hung out with some others already there.
On December 2 Grady, DW Pierce, Flybrat and I went to the Clearwater police dept. to look through the Emmons Report, which is a wonderful collection of documents and summary of Scientology crimes throughout the world. While the rest were doing that I visited with the police about our plans and about getting their signature on a DOT permit that Rod Keller wanted me to get for 3-6:30pm and 9-10pm on Dec. 5, and 3-7pm Dec. 6 for the west sidewalk on S. Ft. Harrison between Pierce and Court streets. This was necessary because Ft. Harrison Avenue is also a state highway. We had a city permit for the east sidewalk, but unbeknownst to Clearwater permit givers and police, the church had gotten a construction permit and fenced in and jack hammered the east sidewalk where our permit was applicable. We therefore had been debating what to do about that until Rod figured out the church had left the above gaps in time between their permits for those days.
We left the police station about 12:30. I dropped everybody off at the hotel and headed for the city engineering dept. Rod had told me by phone that they needed to sign off on the permit, but after about ½ hour they decided “this is a PR problem not an engineering problem” and sent me to the city manager's office. After the city manager talked with me about 10 minutes he called the police deputy who had signed the permit and did some “what if” conversing. Finally, after telling me the most important thing for the city is its image, he handed me the permit signed.
I rushed into Tampa to find the DOT office, about 45 minutes away. When I got there I was told it was the law that the city engineering dept. sign the permit, so Michael Jackson called Richard Baier at engineering and said I was coming back down there. I arrived at 4:45pm and waited about 10 minutes for Baier, who signed it. After getting the signature I walked over to the police station and left a copy, then went to the St. Pete Times where I left a copy and talked with reporter Tom Tobin. He then called Mike Rinder for a reaction, who was “surprised.”
Thursday morning I went back to the DOT with the signed engineeering permit. He gave me the final state permit and I went down to the Clearwater Parks and Rec. to update the city permit. We now had permits for 3-6:30pm on the 5th and 3-7pm on the 6th to picket right in front of the Ft. Harrison Hotel! We dumped the 9-10pm portion for the vigil because we got permission from Rev. Sigmon of the Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church just north of the Ft. Harrison Hotel to hold the vigil on their sidewalk.
After I went back to DOT I went to WMNF radio to sit in on the 1pm radio show with Rob Lorei as host, and former Sea Org staff Jesse Prince and Stacy Young as guests. The show went very well, with the host not taking any calls. I left almost immediately after, while Jesse and Stacy taped a 2nd hour that was to air the next Tuesday.
I went to rent a storage unit to hold our signs after the picket, called Jamie the bagpiper who was stuck in Canada (how many bagpipers are there around here?), and bought supplies like a lock for the storage unit.
We all averaged about 5 hours a night of sleep because we usually hung out until about 1am or later chatting.
There were a lot of details to work out with the new permits. For example, the permit required a minimum of 2 off-duty police to be provided by us. An “ambassador” for the event had to be on each end to direct pedestrian traffic around us if they wanted to. I met with the hotel people how to set up the ballrooms for the press conference. That night I think I just got supplies besides picking up the Rice brothers at the airport. We all went out to Bennigan's.
Friday I got to the ballroom about 9am to set up my video camera, remote mic, and the rest of the room. That room was nice and cold before people got there, and Frank and Rod set up banners and photos. The podium and mic were on the east wall, with a 6 foot table on either side for our speakers to sit. There were 5 rows of 10 chairs with an aisle down the middle for an audience. In the back was a table for the press kits and flyers, and there was a water station.
6 camera crews set up from different TV stations, plus Rod's and mine. Rod acted as host and started late because ex-members Frank Oliver and Karsten Lorenzen hadn't shown up yet. Stacy spoke first, then Jesse Prince, then Bob Minton, then Frank, then I think Rod Keller was last. Karsten got back from being deposed by Moxon, but he was too emotional to speak so Stacy said a few words for him. Most questions from the press were for Bob, who also gave Jesse a “person of the year” award from FACTnet.
Regarding the videographers – I thought they would set up behind the 5th row of chairs, but instead they moved out the 4th row and set up there. Fine by me. They seemed to want to be about 12 to 15 feet from the speakers.
Right after the press conference, the police met with us in the smaller room we had rented to go over how the protests would work, while we split the ballroom in two and had interviews going on with a German TV crew on one side, and newspaper interviews with Karsten in the other. I had to go get someone at the airport. We were supposed to have a big meeting at 2pm to work on details for the pickets, but when we got back about 2:05pm a big group was walking out of the hotel. I said “we're supposed to be having a meeting,” but Grady said “we're blowing that off and going to Hooter's.” So instead a few of us stayed and put the signs together that Frank had brought (after the picket we lost some signs to locals who had joined us and apparently thought they would make good souvenirs).
I bought some more final supplies, then at 6pm Bob, Jesse, Stacy and I went to attorney Dandar's office, then to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. There I met Del (Lisa McPherson's aunt) and her husband Anthony and Lisa's niece Kim. I sat next to Ken's secretary and ex-Scientologist Gerry Armstrong. It was a nice long dinner.
We got back to the hotel and stayed up gabbing again.
Frank Oliver had paid to put display ads on the city buses during our protest, but they were almost immediately removed after Scientology complained. They said 'Why does Scientology lie to its members?' and 'Think for Yourself. Quit Scientology,' along with the Andreas' web site www.xenu.net. This was seen as a battle between attacking a religion and free speech. Scientology won this when the city backed down for fear of a lawsuit.
On Saturday the 5th we went to the bank building and picketed from 10 to noon. It was quiet there, so I went with a few people and picketed the CMO building just to the north. Local critic Mark and I walked around the Winter Wonderland also, taking pictures. It was pretty uneventful except for Tilman - our German attendee - chasing a Scientologist to get a good pic of his face. The Scientologist yelled at Tilman and went the opposite direction.
We all got together for lunch at Bennigan's about 1pm. The service was extremely slow and it was getting close to 3pm, so I asked Mark to go down to meet the off duty cops assigned to us. We all mostly got there by 3pm and started picketing. The church had 2 forklift trucks on the sidewalk, and one four-foot square part of the sidewalk was ripped up, but otherwise we had the sidewalk to ourselves. There were about 13 police there, plus a few cop cars driving around with 4 cops in them. The church had vans constantly going in and out of the Ft. Harrison garage - most likely so they didn't have to walk past us - with the side and back windows covered with a plastic that made it impossible for passengers to see out. A crew was hanging “Happy Holidays” letters off the top floors of the hotel. It appeared to be a dangerous process. Quite a few locals joined us, asking for picket signs to use. Lots of people, including kids, asked for our “Scientology Kills” t-shirts, so I went to Frank's car and handed some out. There were no problems and I left about 5 to get the wreath and candles for the vigil (note: about 60 picketers total!).
Keith Henson brought some clear plastic tubes maybe 20 feet long with XENU.NET on their sides. He formed these as a sort of arch over the sidewalk.
I got back about 6:30 to the courthouse where I thought we were going to gather for the candlelight vigil, but hardly anyone was there. So I went to the Presbyterian church and saw lots of people there already. I moved my car to their parking lot and started unloading. Our new bagpiper – Jamie's younger sister – arrived. She was maybe 14 but did a great job. We handed out candles, some with clear cups, some with paper wax catchers. The plastic cups were to protect the flame from the wind, but they didn't really work and it was hard to make a hole in the bottom for the candle to fit right. I'd guess there were 80 people including Lisa's family, plus body guards for them. Judy Safransky of the Cult Awareness Network came too.
Almost right at 7 the bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” After the first song, our "minister," Canadian Greg Hagglund in his dog collar and megaphone said an introduction, then read a poem by a critic who couldn't make it to the event. The bagpiper then played “McPherson's Farewell,” waited a bit, then played a final song. Then Nuke (I still don't know her real name) took the wreath in her wheelchair and slowly went to the back of the Ft. Harrison hotel. People slowly followed with their candles still lit. The media concentrated on Nuke, who started crying at the corner. I think Greg brought the tripod. I was videotaping. At the wreath people would walk by and blow out their candle, some would place a flower, and move off. It was very emotional. I suddenly realized that here was Lisa's family only feet away from where Lisa had been held in room 174.
We hung around for a bit, then Deep Wog (another critic I think I never learned their real name) and I decided we'd hide out and take pictures of the church people when they threw the wreath away after everyone had left. He went one way with his telephoto lens and I made a circuitous route back to the parking garage where I had a clear view. My video camera was missing the view-piece so it was hard to see what was happening from that distance. I gave a running commentary on the 2-way radio as a guy in a white shirt came up to the wreath and was doing something to it. Another guy in dark clothes and smoking was hanging around. The white shirt guy went across the street out of my sight where 2 police cars had stopped. A few minutes later he came back and simply picked up the wreath, the sign, and the tripod and walked north around the corner. I radioed Deep Wog and we converged there. When I rounded the corner I saw the guy still walking north, which surprised me. I caught up with him and asked him why he was taking the wreath. He said he had seen the church people throw away the wreath last year, so instead he wanted to take it over to his church where it could stay for a while. So we said cool and he walked off to his church.
and I then drove to the Clearwater Beach hotel where Lisa's family was
having a gathering. It was a very fancy place so we didn't stay long.
Mark came with Grady and we instead went to Frenchy's which is right on
the beach. We ate there, then went back to the hotel.
The galactic overlord Xenu picketed this year as well as last year.
During the picket, “Vince” the Scientologist was taking our pictures. I tried to tell him that you learn nothing socially useful in Scientology. He said “you do not exist.” That bummed me out and I said “oh right, only Scientologists are human. You see, you don't even see people as human!” He walked away.
Of course Sunday night we again stayed up until 1am. I packed before going to bed after making 2 trips to the storage unit with the signs so we could use them next year.
Monday I woke up at 9:30am! I was planning to get up at 7:30 but hadn't set the alarm. Arnie, Grady, DW, Tilman and I had breakfast together. Rod came a bit later. I got my stuff and checked out, then took Tilman to the St. Petersburg courthouse (not sure what he was up to). I continued on the Pier in St. Pete where the HMS Bounty is docked. I wanted to see a Russian sub there. It's 300 feet long and cost $8 to tour. Only a guy and his Finnish wife and I took that tour.
I went back to Clearwater by the Ft. Harrison and took some last-minute photos of their giant wreath now hanging on the hotel and the barriers along the Sandcastle, then went to the Holiday Inn looking for any stragglers who might need a ride. I didn't see anyone left so I took my rental car back to the airport and waited for my plane. As I was waiting someone on the airport intercom was making hilarious quips. The only one I remember was “bring out your dead.”
All in all this was probably my favorite vacation ever. The picket required flexibility and swift response to barriers Scientology put in our way. The vigil was very emotional. Meeting Lisa's family was outstanding. The wreath spying was fun. And the quality of the results of our chaotic style was remarkable.
Fred Rice said later that he was looking over the schedule of events as I had laid them out before leaving for Clearwater, and noticed that almost nothing was fulfilled as planned. That's true, but we always needed to stay flexible for unexpected barriers thrown at us. We had about 60 picketers Saturday, 15 on Sunday, and 80 at the vigil.
Videos from 1998:
https://vimeo.com/72789807 media coverage of our picket, and an interview with Dennis Erlich
https://youtu.be/wM9-efj_SOY Frank Oliver at press conference
https://youtu.be/EhJTUeTUWZU Stacy Brooks at press conference
https://youtu.be/LZMGEzc9HRc Jesse Prince at press conference
https://youtu.be/CoQ3YhafV48 candlelight vigil
"Personally, I would like to see the loss of tax exempt status, they are a business, and should be treated like one, then people could sue them for fraud, as their business practices are fraudulent." - Anonymous protester
The Lisa McPherson Trust was forming before this protest, but it wasn't open yet.
When I got to Clearwater on Tuesday (Nov. 30) I went to the hotel immediately. After checking in I went to see the manager Sandy and go over the conference and open house.
I met some people already here, went downtown to do some recon., then picked up Rod Keller at the airport that night. I called some media too to make sure they knew of our event even though we'd already faxed out press releases.
(Dec. 1) late morning Rod, me and one other person went to look at the
downtown properties. The sidewalks on the entire border of the
Sandcastle were torn up, and barricades and an orange mesh prevented
anyone even walking on the dirt there (I was told the city permit to
“replace” their sidewalks was about $1.4 million). As last year, atop
the bushes bordering the Sandcastle, they put up fake snow cloth and
Christmas trees abutting each other the entire length of the property's
south side to protect sensitive Scientologists' eyes from seeing us. We predicted that they would try to block the view of the
sidewalk across the street by parking their buses along the curb.
The sidewalk across from the Ft. Harrison hotel was covered with scaffolding and green cloth, and with boards on top. This tunnel setup was supposed to protect pedestrians walking past the Super Power Building construction project, but it made anyone on the sidewalk essentially invisible, and the board ceiling made it impossible to lift a protest sign. There was, however, about 3 feet of space between the tunnel and the street curb. When I went down Tuesday night, there were barriers about every 3 feet connected with construction tape in that space. Wednesday morning when we went there, there were only barriers at each end. Rod later found out that the DOT told Scientology they could not put those barriers there, so they must have been removed that night.
On the hotel side, there was scaffolding over the first 2 floors of the building, again covered by green cloth. A guy was jack hammering the sidewalk right at the curb where the front door was. This was so they could do a “soil test” for the coming sky walk they were planning between the hotel and Super Power building. There was no pedestrian traffic allowed on that side, and in fact during the Sunday picket the police stopped a woman from going past the south barrier and ordered her to walk clear around the block, even though she was only a few feet from the garage entrance.
The north and west sidewalks of the Ft. Harrison Hotel were torn out. So really only the corners around the hotel were available for picketing, it seemed.
The front of the hotel gave the contradictory message Scientology was giving this year – jack hammering and an ugly green cover on the first 2 floors, then a giant lit wreath, Christmas lights, and “Happy Holidays” at the top.
I picked up a few people at the airport and bought candles and supplies.
Thursday (Dec. 2) I was interviewed on WTVT Tampa, picked up the signs from our storage unit (and closed out that account), made copies of handouts, talked to the police, and picked up a few others at the airport. The police said they didn't want us to use the 3 foot strip along the tunnel. They wanted us to picket in front of the Presbyterian Church next door, where the vigil would start. I said people weren't coming thousands of miles to picket the Presbyterian Church and I could stay home, picket the K Mart, and say I picketed Scientology with those kinds of results. I was angry.
I think it was this day that the Bob Minton hearing was at 1:30 so most of us went to that. Bob and Richard Howd had come into contact with each other at a picket a few people had done, and Richard did a swan dive when Bob's sign touched him. The judge ordered Bob to stay at least 10 feet away from Richard and he was ordered to stay 20 feet away from Bob. Scientology interpreted this ruling to mean that ALL protesters were to stay at least 10 feet away from Scientology properties. They immediately rushed out and spray painted orange dots along the sidewalk in front of their properties 10 feet from the buildings. The Chief of Police decided this was defacing public property and ordered them to scrub off the dots. Don Nots (our Aussie contingent) got the idea for picketers to wear orange dots, so they put 1 inch orange dots on their clothes and picket signs, and there is a huge photo of them in the Dec. 3 St. Petersburg Times. I played taxi some more, then some of us picketed the Ft. Harrison for about an hour.
From the St. Petersburg Times on December 4th: "The Church of Scientology has taken the liberty of showing its leading critic where he may and may not walk with a picket sign this weekend. Hundreds of bright orange dots decorated the public sidewalks and streets surrounding Scientology buildings in Clearwater on Friday, the work of church staffers with spray paint cans and measuring tapes. The painting was done in response to a judge's order Thursday that Scientology critic Robert Minton stay at least 10 feet away from 17 church buildings in Clearwater. By Friday morning the orange markings appeared like an overnight snow, showing lines of demarcation 10 feet from each property. "In some places, the dots were connected by orange chalk lines. At Hacienda Gardens, a residence for Scientology staffers, the church had installed long rows of tiny orange survey flags that told Minton he was welcome to walk on a narrow strip of grass near the curb on Saturn Avenue. "Minton's attorney, Denis deVlaming, compared the spray-painted markings to graffiti. Police Chief Sid Klein said the markings were 'defacing public property.' A short time later, Scientology officials told Klein they would remove the markings. They also gave him detailed drawings of Scientology buildings, complete with marks showing the 10-foot boundary. Scientology critics mocked the markings Friday by wearing round orange stickers on both their clothes and picket signs."
Thursday night I listened to Ft. Harrison security on their walkie talkies at 464.775. They were keeping precise track of where each of us was. We first turned the scanner on about ½ way to the Ft. Harrison. A PI (private investigator) was following us because he reported he was following a blue van with Maryland plates (Arnie's) and a white 4-door (my rental). The most despicable thing I heard was Saturday when a guy parked his pickup and walked over to ask us why we were picketing. When he drove away the security guy said “get the plate # of that white pickup.” So, just because a Clearwater citizen was curious about us, Scientology decided they needed to investigate this person. Anyway, we had so much fun listening that 3 picketers bought their own scanners.
Friday morning we had a press conference at 9am. Unfortunately 3 TV stations came at 11am stating they were told that's what time it would be.
I spoke a bit and gave our plans for the weekend, then Arnie Lerma spoke and told how Scientology is hypocritical because they are actually anti-Christian, yet they pretend to be Christian during the holidays. He played a tape of L. Ron Hubbard saying “there was no Christ.” That showed up on one news broadcast. I spoke about how the Rajneeshies took over the town of Antelope in Oregon, and some about Miracle Valley in Arizona, also taken over by a cult. I compared those to Scientology's attempt to take over Clearwater. Peter Alexander (a local businessman and former Scientologist), Gerry Armstrong, and Lisa McPherson Trust (LMT) director David Cecere also spoke, so it was a reasonably long conference.
At 10:30 I took Gerry Armstrong to WMNF radio to do an interview. Gerry had been working on L. Ron Hubbard's official biography before he left Scientology. Then we went back to the hotel and from 3 – 5:30 I was at the official meeting of the LMT, but then had to get Steve Hassan at the airport. We ate at the Mexican place nearby.
Late that night DST (a professor from Pennsylvania), Don Nots and I went downtown to check on things. While standing across from the Sandcastle, we guessed Scientology would park buses across from the Sandcastle to hide picketers from passersby and any Scientologist. DST hatched the plan to park there that night as a place holder, then rent a pickup Saturday morning and swap out with the car. They could then hold picket signs in the truck bed. So we took Andrea's rental car and parked it directly across from the Sandcastle entry, with her permission of course.
Saturday morning (Dec. 4) we started our open to the public conference at 9am, where I videotaped. There was an advertising problem because we had ordered an ad in the St. Petersburg Times and all seemed well, but then about a week out some higher-ups decided to reject our ad because it was about Scientology. So we had to scramble how to advertise to the public. We made flyers and tried to get the word out, but it was deflating to see our ad idea go up in smoke. Only a few public actually showed up, but it was all video taped and some media were there. Former Clearwater mayor Gabe Cazares spoke, then Ken Dandar, cult expert Steve Hassan (replacing Julia Bronder), then me, then ex-Scientologists Gerry Armstrong and Peter Alexander, then lunch. After lunch was ex-Scientologist Roger Gonnet, Grady Ward, and finally Steve Hassan again. We conclude at 1:45pm.
We then had “Open House” but only 2 people came. While we had the conference, others were picketing. From what I heard the picketing went well and reasonably quiet.
That night we ate at an Italian Restaurant called Otavios, north of the bank building. There were about 30 of us.
Most people picketed and had a good safe time. The truck at the Sandcastle, which we dubbed the Enthetamobile, worked great. Scientology had put Uhaul trucks, not buses, along the street, and parked so close to Andrea's car it was difficult to make the vehicle swap.
From Ethercat: "Since Lord Xenu's primary mission is to make his existence known, he sent two of his children to Clearwater with wynot and me as goodwill ambassadors. The Xenu Babies were dressed in purple felt robes with gold trim, and tied about the neck with gold cords with tassels on the ends, and I strolled them all over town in a 'Sit and Stand LX' model baby stroller. They had their own matching picket sign (purple, with gold trim) with gold letters spelling out simply XENU.NET. There was nothing negative about scientology anywhere on the Xenu Babies display, and unless the URL or the Xenu story was known to onlookers. Yet from what I heard, OSA was obsessed with us. I heard that they tracked 'the stroller' everywhere with their radios."
Greg and Don Nots trolled the Scientology security by chattering on a certain walkie talkie frequency about 2 blue buses full of picketers coming to the back of the Ft. Harrison at a certain time. When that time came Greg went in back to see what their reaction would be. There were several security dudes there all with their radios out. Just coincidentally? 2 buses did come by, and the security dudes called the cops to the back, I assume thinking this would be a violation of the injunction or something. It turned out the buses were full of church kids.
At 7pm we had the candlelight vigil at the sidewalk of the Presbyterian church next to the Ft. Harrison. About 100 people were there, including Lisa's family. I spent this one working and videotaping, so it wasn't so emotional this time for me. Jamie the bagpiper did a great job again.
From Arizona critic Bruce Pettycrew:
"I was driving for a very
determined ex-OSA SP who had created a mobile high wattage slide
projector powered by my car's battery via the cigarette lighter socket
and a 12 volt to 115 volt converter. The idea was to enhance the start
of the candlelight vigil for Lisa McPherson. We stopped at the corner of
the Ft. Harrison building that was next to the vigil site. The mad
wizard projected a 12 foot circle of light on the side of the Co$
property; the slide read 'We will never forget you, Lisa'.
Sunday (Dec. 5) about 10 of us picketed. I first went to the Enthetamobile and sat with the gang in the truck bed, drinking some pop. Then I went to the Ft. Harrison where we picketed as closely as we could to the hotel. It was pretty uneventful but fun. We ate at Emily's for lunch, then picketed 'til 4pm. The cops asked us at 3 how long we planned to picket so they could plan how many to have around.
Peter Alexander and Patricia Greenway drove around downtown Clearwater with signs saying something like “you don't have to put up with a cult.” DST caught the idea and drove around the entheta-mobile with people in the back with signs, also holding some inflatable aliens.
Sunday night we ate at Roger's Ribs on N. Belcher. This was amazing because one person came up to us to get help with a refund, one person came up to thank us, and one person came up to volunteer help! If that was representative of Clearwater, the LMT should have no problems.
Monday (Dec. 6) I went home after dropping off all the signs at a local protester's garage. This protest seemed somewhat like a carnival atmosphere on our side, while Scientology seemed to be fearful and paranoid.
Videos from 1999:
https://vimeo.com/124151149 the barriers at the Ft. Harrison, and the Entheta mobile goes by
https://vimeo.com/72751056 Entheta mobile parked, Sandcastle sidewalk torn out.
https://vimeo.com/861772 Gabe Cazares at press conference
https://youtu.be/wdHD84y7e8U Steve Hassan at press conference
https://youtu.be/wQ-dpVaE3RE Grady Ward at press conference
https://youtu.be/RfM6GmBmgXQ David Cecere at press conference
https://youtu.be/QkQXTuRafOc Peter Alexander at press conference
https://youtu.be/QkQXTuRafOc Grady Ward at press conference
https://youtu.be/u2jp-V1yGAo Ken Dandar at press conference
https://vimeo.com/141743 candlelight vigil
"Concern for the well-being of one's religious community is normal. The positive impulse can turn violently negative when group identity is defined in ways that dehumanize people outside the community." - Charles Kimball
One thing new this year is that the Lisa McPherson Trust had opened up in downtown Clearwater near the bank building. We used their building as a sort of central point. This gave the cult ammunition to show that the protest was orchestrated by the LMT, which it was not. I had moved to Clearwater that May to work at the Trust as the librarian. Trust members had through the year picketed downtown once in a while, which indirectly lead to an injunction that restricted where we or anyone "in concert" with us could picket. The city had even put white lines on Watterson Street, next to where Scientology staff got off buses to eat at their cafeteria, to designate where we could not picket while their buses were loading or unloading.
Thursday Peter Alexander and I were on WMNF radio. It was mostly an interview about Peter's expericences in Scientology and what he got for his huge donations (pretty much nothing).
On Friday December 1 some people picketed the Fort Harrison hotel. Scientology PIs would serve the picketers with a copy of the injunction, thereby making them a party. I was busy picking people up and getting things ready for the weekend. I had rented a Ford van just like the Scientology ones to move people and stuff around. Rod and Andrea borrowed my car. I was in the Edgewater Room at the hotel in the afternoon where people were supposed to come and get signs, but no one did!
The St. Petersburg Times wrote about the coming protest: "The protest will be tempered by a court order issued Thursday that outlines specific locations where the critics can and cannot picket. Jeff Jacobsen, one of the protest organizers, said he was expecting about 40 people to participate. Some flew in from Germany and Canada, he said, while others are local residents. He said he expects the protesters to obey the injunction, even though they disagree with it. 'It's a huge violation of our First Amendment and free speech rights,' Jacobsen said. 'Every year they do something to try and stop us. This year, they relied heavily on the injunction.'”
This injunction was given in November 2000 with detailed maps showing where we could not picket. The order also stated that both protesters and Scientologists must stay 10 feet away from each other. It was all pretty crazy, and in my opinion unconstitutional. Judge Pennick felt that he needed to keep the peace in downtown Clearwater by keeping us apart. In other words, he fell for Scientology's claim that we were a danger to them and to the public.
Saturday I went to
the Holiday Inn and had breakfast with the gang. We read the Friday
article in the SP Times and started coordinating transportation. We
argued some about the injunction and whether all picketers should abide
by it. I finally got a copy of the injunction (I had yet to be served
with it) and we pretty much agreed to picket across the street from the
Ft. Harrison hotel on the sidewalk between the curb and tunnel, since
Lt. Hall about a week before had told me that we would be able to use
that area and it was ok according to the injunction maps.
"Across from the LMT there is a multi-storied parking garage which is not only wonderfully suited to house cars, but also to provide welcome shade for the private eyes hired by Scientology to watch the front door of the LMT and photograph those going in and out. There was a man with his back to us who sprang quickly into his car when he spotted us. Not quickly enough to avoid having a couple of pictures taken by speedy Tilman. Three seconds later the door to the stairs burst open and three people scurried towards us. Two of them had bundles of papers in their hands while the third one recorded the scene on video. The both of them tried to shove papers into our hands while they screamed something about an 'injunction' at us. In it were mentioned several staff of the Trust and a few others who were to keep 10 feet away from all Scientologists and from all entrances to their buildings. Funnily this order applied not only to the people named but to all those 'in concert,' that means those who did the same as they.
"Since they absolutely could not get us to take their papers, they finally threw them at our feet with the words, 'now you are served,' to which Tilman dryly remarked, 'hey, you are littering.' We left the papers lying on the floor and walked over to the Trust. There we got signs or made up new ones and started out to our first practice picket. In front of the SC's bank building as we were waiting for the light to cross the street, we were stopped by a policeman. He amicably asked us to wait while he called his boss to clear up a few things. Since we were not entirely clear as to the legal situation at the moment and we didn't want to unnecessarily annoy anyone, we leaned on our picket signs. When the policeman saw that he walked over and told me in undertones we could hold the signs up, nobody would complain about that. So we did. The policeman came back to us and gave us the all-clear, 'everything is ok. You can go wherever you want.'”
"Bazooka Joe" reported his view of the protest:
"The main sidewalk was in a construction tunnel while the picketers were on a piece of sidewalk between the tunnel and the street. I walked past the picket, and when I got to the point where the sidewalk outside the tunnel ended I was admonished by Jeff Jacobsen to keep off the grass. He explained how the cops gave lots of rules and one rule was keep off the grass. A small patch of grass near the big length of grass was 'legal' somehow. The clams [Scientologists] were non-confront except for cameramen and the process server serving copies of the injunction on anyone who crossed to the other side of the street .”
From Patricia Greenway: "About 50 people lit candles, listened to a prayer written for the event, listened to the bagpiper, then slowly marched to the back of the Ft. Harrison Hotel with Stacy Brooks leading with the wreath. Stacy put the wreath near Room 174 where Lisa McPherson had been held. The people then went single file past the wreath, blowing out their candles and setting them below the wreath. Greg said a few more words, the bagpiper played one last song, and we were done. A few TV stations interviewed Lisa's family immediately after, then we all went out and had a great dinner."
"On Sunday, a few of us decided to do a late afternoon picket in front of the Ft Harrison. As happened nearly every day of the picket, we were approached by a small army of teenagers who said they read about the picket in the paper and wanted to get involved. They asked for picket signs and joined us there. They were anxious to hear and share details of the cult and its odd behavior. These kids were quite vocal and proved to be the most energetic picketers I've ever had the pleasure to meet. After tiring of facing nothing but OSA-cams and PI cams and a frantic Paul Kellerhals [Scientology security head] screaming for help on the phone, we moved our growing group of activists to Waterson Street. The youth picket lasted a full 2 hours and with their energy and enthusiasm most didn't notice that the temperature had dropped as we celebrated truth in the streets of Clearwater. The enthusiastic youth squad yelled in unison: Why are you hiding? Why are you hiding? Think for yourself!"
After this year, the injunction, and other factors had just worn down the idea of an annual picket in Clearwater and it was dropped. I was working at the LMT then. We would have pickets sometimes, including the famous Mad Picket, but there were no longer calls for a December protest.
"The DEFENSE of anything is UNTENABLE. The only way to defend anything is to ATTACK, and if you ever forget that, then you will lose every battle you ever engaged in." - Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard
Scientology reactions/results – Of all the different ways Scientology went after us, the legal attacks in 2000 finally took their toll, but it may also have been that picketing was somewhat losing its luster as the best method to protest. More online activity was happening all the time with new web sites and such. One thing we learned was that Scientology thinks short-term. Their goal is to solve a problem confronting them NOW, with little regard for any long-term consequences for how they do that. Thus, if we think long-term, we come out better. Also, I think it is important to set a general outline of what you want to accomplish, and don't let Scientology's antics sway you from that. They will scream and cry and bully, and you should just do what you were going to do.
Leaderless events – we had organizers (Rod and I) but no leaders. I was overruled by the group many times and just took that as being fine. Often protesters came with their own ideas that they didn't even tell anybody about, like Ethercat's Xenu babies and Keith's balloons. Other times we just had to adjust on the fly, such as DST setting up the Enthetamobile. In the end things worked out much better than if one person was trying to keep some kind of control over everything.
Technology different then – we used fax machines for our press releases. We rented cell phones for the week. We used walkie-talkies to stay in touch. We made VHS video tape copies for every protester since there was no such thing as youtube or anything like that. This was all slower and more expensive than what would happen now. Be glad for technological progress.
Media as a force multiplier – our main goals were to show that Scientology had a vocal, bold cadre of critics willing to confront them on their own turf, and to reach the public with our message of how dangerous Scientology is. To do that, there's nothing like local newspapers and TV news coverage. So we really pushed to have media cover us as much as possible. This worked out pretty well. We also went on local talk shows. And also, years later, the videos we made ourselves still get hits on youtube, vimeo and elsewhere spreading our message.
No infiltrators? - I don't think Scientology thought to infiltrate our protests for some reason. You could say Garry Scarff was an infiltrator, but he changed sides so many times I don't think either side had much trust in him (we did catch him talking with Scientology PI's once). Jason, son of a famous Scientology operative, infiltrated one of our protests in Los Angeles, but we had been tipped off ahead of time so nothing much came of that. It's possible that we did in fact have a mole in our midst in Clearwater, and we may never know. I don't think Scientology gains much by that due to our organizational style where nothing much is secret anyway.
Things needed for a protest – So many things are different today that I'm not sure our advice would make much difference now. I think our organizational structure would still be good. Using Gandhi Tech – staying peaceful in all ways and being open about what you are doing – will always be the way to go. Getting as much media coverage as possible is always useful. Recording everything yourself is now pretty much a given. And one thing I would do differently is to assume that Scientology will try to infiltrate the event. I have no advice on what to do about that, however.
Anonymous came out of the blue in 2008 and protested Scientology worldwide for months. They were peaceful, inventive, and playful. And they made a huge difference. So protesting will once in a while, I'm sure, be a tool that pops up and proves its worth.