originally published February 21, 2014
Not being particularly fond of organized religion, I nevertheless try to approach such topics with tact and compassion. So long as you’re not trying to bomb me, regulate my sex life or tell me how much bacon I’m allowed to cram into my eat-hole, I won’t attack your beliefs. But when it comes to Scientology, something about the organization clumps my britches. I’ve written before about the church’s vicious corporal punishment and member imprisonment, but I was already a little skeeved by this church, even before that. Something about the entire thing just ain’t right.
That’s not to say that the church’s lower-ranked adherents aren’t finding solace and comfort in whatever weirdness they are taught (and I’m not singling out Scientology with that word – if you look deeply enough, there’s weirdness in all religions). But for a church so damn young they have seen more than their fair share of scandals, lawsuits, and outright criminal activity.
This is no religious persecution either. The Church of Scientology has gone to ridiculous lengths to strike back against critics and vocal opponents, so much so as to suggest a staggering insecurity regarding the foundation of their beliefs. Maybe they just want to keep the tax credit, I don’t know. But there’s no excuse for the way they tormented Paulette Cooper.
In 1968, Paulette had recently scored a Masters degree in psychology, and she kicked off her freelance writing career by penning an investigative look into L. Ron Hubbard’s newfangled scientology religion. Paulette sifted through a lot of Dianetic dirt, and made herself some mighty powerful enemies in the process. How powerful? Once her book, The Scandal of Scientology was released in 1971, some of the higher-ups in the organization made it their mission to destroy her.
Not to quash the sales of her book, mind you… they wanted Paulette’s life on a flambéed skewer.
It started out with some wiretaps, some harassing calls, nothing too extreme. But Scientology’s third-highest ranked member (after L. Ron and his wife) sent out a directive to Terry Milner, who was the head of what appears to be the church’s branch of domestic evil smarminess. Milner instituted Operation Daniel, a covert mission to attack Paulette’s reputation as much as possible. And this was just the beginning.
Paulette tried to sue the church for damages resulting from the harassment. That only fuelled the fire; they slammed her mailbox full of pornographic subscriptions, smattered her name and number on walls all over the city, flooded her phone with anonymous death threats, and even spread propaganda all over her building, claiming she was a VD-riddled prostitute. This all appeared to be an elaborate revenge for Paulette’s book, a raucous smear campaign by an insecure gaggle of misguided, overly-entitled lunatics.
But Paulette was surviving. She was frazzled (in particular by an armed attack in her apartment when her cousin – with a similar body-type – was there alone), but still alive and reaping whatever royalties the book was bringing in. The church was trying to get the book yanked out of libraries by threatening to sue them. They were even (allegedly) importing the book into countries with more stringent libel laws, just so they could sue on that turf. These guys were nuts.
Then came Operation Dynamite. Either through an inside source or through a solicitor pretending to represent the United Farm Workers, the church got hold of some of Paulette’s stationary. They then used that paper (which bore her fingerprints) to send two “anonymous” bomb threats to themselves. These were passed to the FBI, who had no choice but to bring Paulette up on charges. She was indicted by a Grand Jury, and was staring down the barrel of fifteen years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
If the objective was to smash Paulette’s psyche with a metaphorical sledgehammer, the church landed a huge win. Paulette spiralled into depression, popping valiums, losing her friends and teetering on the brink of suicide. It took until 1975 before the government postponed the trial, filing a Nolle prosequi (do not prosecute) order. Paulette wasn’t off the hook – the government could still change their minds – but the worst of it appeared to be over.
Not for the church, of course. Next up: Operation Freakout.
The church continued to sue Paulette in various countries around the world, but their new aim was to get her “incarcerated in a mental institution or jail, or at least to hit her so hard that she drops her attacks.” Here’s how they were going to do it:
Step one: a sound-alike woman would call Arab consulates in New York and make a few threats. Paulette was Jewish – actually born in the Auschwitz camp – so they reasoned this would be feasible.
Step two: send a threatening letter to those consulates, and make it seem as though Paulette wrote it.
Step three: Find someone who looks similar to Paulette, get her to make vocal threats regarding President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a laundromat. Make sure there are witnesses, then contact the FBI.
There was also a plan to get some more paper that Paulette had touched, then to send a threatening letter to Kissinger on that. The FBI already believed Paulette was responsible for the bomb threats – this would all be another shovel-full of evidence.
You see why these people creep me out?
Fortunately, Scientology shot themselves in the proverbial foot before Operation Freakout was ever set in motion. Two church members were caught trying to break into a courthouse as part of Operation Snow White, an effort to purge any and all official records that showed the church in a negative light. On July 8, 1977, the FBI raided Scientology offices, grabbing over 48,000 documents, including several which revealed the truth about the three anti-Paulette operations. Finally, after more than half a decade of horror, Paulette was vindicated.
No one was brought to justice for any of this, however the FBI did manage to pin convictions on some of the folks involved for their part in Operation Snow White. Even Mary Sue Hubbard, L. Ron’s wife, was handed a massive fine and five years in the joint. Paulette’s harassment didn’t end, but she now had the ammo to fight back, suing the church and eventually settling for an undisclosed amount in 1985.
Paulette kicked her vices, found true love and laid down the kind of writing career that schlubs like myself can only dream of. Her ending was a happy one, but the merciless beating her soul took from this so-called church is enough to turn even the mightiest stomach. So yes, live and let live, and worship as you will. But it doesn’t hurt to ask questions, to look into the religious organization to which you subscribe, and maybe to leave open the option of bolting to the horizon if you discover that they are, in fact, truly despicable.