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Aliens, cults and pranksters

BY BEN CALECA

Published April 10, 2008

Celebrities can be weird people. There are always rumors about one celebrity or another floating around some blog, but for the most part, I tend not to follow such trivial "news." However, I was intrigued by a leaked video of Tom Cruise ranting and raving about the Church of Scientology. He was babbling almost incoherently, suggesting a clean sweep of those who oppose Scientology and hinting that no other religion can help humanity like Scientology can. Like many, I was confused, but the video had a much more important effect: It revealed the dark side of an organization that relies on controlling information to survive and thrive.

Scientology's attempts to remove this video from the Internet led a group called Anonymous to make a video warning, saying that Scientology was now at war with them. The crimes they attributed to Scientology were severe, severe enough to catch my eye. What I found surprised me.

Documents from dozens of sources - the New York Times, Time magazine, independent reports and reports from former Scientologists - tell stories of a cult-like group whose "technology" created by the group's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, seemed tantamount to brainwashing. Its teachings are based on the now famous Xenu story, a tale of an alien nuclear holocaust kept confidential to all but high-level Scientologists until it was leaked to the public several decades ago. Even the German government has classified the group as a cult on the grounds that it is more of a pyramid scheme than a true religion. Apparently, to reach a higher spiritual plane requires that you pay exorbitant amounts of money, including in excess of $300,000 to become an "Operating Thetan," a high state of being that apparently grants superpowers and success.

The aftermath of Anonymous's threat was a mass organization of protests against Scientology in 14 countries and dozens of cities, even Farmington Hills, Mich. Many protestors wore masks to hide their identities from the Scientologists, who have been known to harass those who oppose them. They chose to protest on Feb. 10, the birthday of Lisa McPherson, one of Scientology's most notable victims.

The details of McPherson's death are gruesome, but the shortened version is that she died after being locked in a filthy room for 17 days without proper care or nourishment. Scientology settled out of court with her family. McPherson's case apparently isn't the only one. Many others associated with the group have committed suicide or died in mysterious accidents, and the strict resistance to psychiatric help has led some people with schizophrenia under the parentage of Scientology to commit violent acts, even murder.

To add another insidious quality to Scientology, it apparently committed one of the largest infiltrations of the U.S. government in history. "Operation Snow White," as it was called in documents seized in an FBI raid, was meant to place as many as 5,000 Scientology operatives in 136 agencies that were chosen because they either opposed Scientology or could be used to further its agenda. The plan included wiretapping, documentation theft and full infiltration of organizations - most notably the Internal Revenue Service - to further its interests.

Scientology has negatively affected many of its members and cannot be left unaccountable. On April 12, the protesters from Anonymous have promised to target those who they feel need the most help: the families that have disconnected members in Scientology. Dubbing their newest round of protests "Operation: Reconnect," they hope to get alienated Scientologists back in touch with their families.

I will be the first to admit that Scientology is not a massive threat to our livelihood. However, the group has largely gone unnoticed in America, despite being granted tax-exempt status as a church more than a decade ago. People should not be upset by the beliefs of Scientology but aware of the practices of organizations that abuse their members, as well as those who stand up against them.

- Ben Caleca is an engineering sophomore and a member of the Daily's editorial board.


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