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Thanks to HBO's continual insistence on killing it in any given genre, the documentary Going Clear shocked the world last weekend with the revelation that an alien-worshiping religious group founded by a tax-evading sci-fi writer wasn't so great after all. Yes, Scientology sure is America's scary uncle, right down to the fact that it refuses to leave no matter how many court orders get sent.

So how is it that a group almost universally accepted as a grifting cult could still be able to operate legally? The reasons are more diabolically genius than you think, even if you watched the documentary -- because while the Church of Scientology is just regular ol' crazy when it comes to most things, it is crazy like a fox when it comes to legal matters.

They Achieved Tax-Exempt Status by Bombarding the IRS

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The one unifying merit to Scientology is that they're the only organization insufferable and wealthy enough to screw the IRS at their own game. The bombardment began in 1973 with the Church's Guardian Office conducting something they called operation "Snow White," a deliberate plan to infiltrate and blackmail the media, medical communities, and government agencies determined to be detrimental to Scientology's bat-shit existence. Like anything a cult does, it didn't take long for this to mushroom into a vast plume of insanity, with the Church going as far as infiltrating and bugging IRS offices. The FBI responded with a generous raid, sending 11 Scientologists straight to prison ... something the Church believes to be a "dark" but "justified" chapter in their history.

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And yet, somehow not the darkest ...

For any non-nefarious organization, multiple arrests resulting from criminal acts of espionage would seem like a black mark. For the Church of Scientology, however, it was just the naturally broken eggs that came from making their impeccable tax-free omelet. After that it was just a matter of annoying and harassing the IRS so unyieldingly that the exhausted agency would eventually cave, like an AT-AT being gradually lassoed down to the frozen earth. This was achieved with the elegant art of filing literally thousands of lawsuits against the IRS, along with hiring private investigators to dig into the lives of its employees. By 1997, when the Church offered to help drop their 2,200 lawsuits in exchange for tax-exempt status, the IRS instantly agreed to play ball, because dealing with every single one of those lawsuits would've taken years of time and resources.

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Remember, these are the people that had no fear in being able to take down Al Capone and Blade.

This victory was doubly important for the Church of Scientology -- not only did it earn them the tax-exempt status to avoid paying the billion-dollar tax bill L. Ron Hubbard had spent the last two decades of his life avoiding, it also demonstrated to the world that not even the U.S. government could withstand their campaigns of concentrated litigious harassment, which is just one of the many reasons why most organizations would bend over backward to never see these people in court ...

The Legal Battles Are Designed to Exhaust People

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One of the smartest things the Church of Scientology realized is that when you have enough money and power to buy your very own Tom Cruise, dragging enemies to court is revenge enough, no matter what the outcome. And since the Church makes a point to copyright literally all of their religious texts and materials, the simple act of showing what the group believes in can be grounds for a costly legal clusterfuck. Any criticism of their doctrine can be labeled as either plagiarism or libel, and the compounding legal fees can sometimes be so great that they can completely ruin you.

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Their budget on these forms is more than the net income of everyone reading this combined.

Time magazine can afford to fight a $416 million lawsuit in exchange for writing an expose on the Church, but other organizations aren't so lucky. Such was the case for the Cult Awareness Network, a support group for people who had been indoctrinated by cults that was hit with 50 lawsuits by the Church of Scientology in the mid-'90s and forced into bankruptcy. The charred shell of a company was later bought by the Church of Scientology, who operates it to this day.

It's that kind of scorched-earth, piss-on-your-grave attitude that keeps these guys on top of a perpetual war with reality -- going so far as to create stacks of propaganda like this to clutter the legal battlefield:

Freedom Magazine
"Also: HBO's hokey hullabaloo, and The Times' tomfoolery."

That's a copy of Scientology's Freedom magazine from when the Church was taking on The New Yorker for publishing a piece about one of their members. Along with passing around copies outside of the New Yorker offices, the packet came with a DVD outlining the many "lies" being told by the writer of the article. It seems petty and excessive -- but that's kind of the idea when you have golden pillowcases full of cult money to pummel your opposition with. That's how they defeated the IRS (again, let that soak in -- they beat the federal government): Like soccer, the goal is to make the process so drawn out and exhausting that nobody wants to play anymore.

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They Work With the Internet to Control Information

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If there's one takeaway from all of this, it's that being shit-filthy rich is a pretty integral part of maintaining a spectacularly insane cult. But the more important factor is knowing how to use that cash to get your message in front of as many people as possible. This is why any modish youngster doing a simple search for the many Newhart episodes on YouTube will find this at the top of their video lineup:

Side note: We'd pay good money to see Bob Newhart play L. Ron.

You may notice that Newhart does not contain the words "going," "clear," or "documentary."

But don't worry -- if you were searching for the documentary, Scientology has got you covered too. Right up until it came out, anyone searching for the HBO Going Clear documentary would instead find numerous videos and posts labeling the movie as an ugly piece of propaganda against a helpless religious group. For a while, this was the top search spot on Google:

They even hit up Google+, reaching the tens and tens of users.

The link looks like the official HBO page, right? Well, notice the URL -- instead of leading to the official Going Clear page, it's actually a redirect to Scientology's Freedom Magazine. But for anyone following the Church's online history, this kind of manipulation is old news, considering the Church was one of the first groups of people to harness the Internet back in 1994. As a leaked email within the Church outlined, early efforts to drum up goodwill included encouraging as many members as possible to post positive messages about Scientology in as many places as they could on the burgeoning web. The pure saturation would drown out any negative responses, like a boat of reason capsized in a sea of bullshit. Since then, the Church has publicly evolved from such childish techniques to the more effective "dumping money in Google's lap" offensive, which has gotten them everything from ad space to wiping anti-Scientology websites off of search results. Seriously, you guys -- having shitloads of money is super effective.

They Have Enough Money to Hijack Investigations

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The Church of Scientology has a lot of money, enough to buy two or three Disneys, but that's not their only remarkable feature; they have also probably killed people*.


One such investigation involved a woman named Lisa McPherson, who in 1995 was put under the medical care of Church members before dying of a blood clot 17 days later. The cause of the blood clot, as declared by coroner Joan Wood, was severe dehydration.

It all seemed extremely open-and-shut -- Wood's judgment was backed up by five different doctors at the time. Naturally, the Church of Scientology did the only rational thing one could do in the face of obvious negligence: They sued the almighty shit out of Wood, demanding to have their own hired doctors (including celebrity pathologist Michael Baden) conduct an investigation that would shockingly conclude that Lisa's blood clot was the result of an old automobile accident instead of any alleged abuse. And just like that, the burden of guilt was remarkably shifted from the Church to the original coroner, Wood, an 18-year medical professional who had conducted over 5,000 autopsies and testified in hundreds of trials. She found herself on the defensive against a millionaire enterprise slamming her for months with numerous subpoenas and thousands of documents.

Four months before the would-be trial, Wood changed Lisa McPherson's cause of death from "undetermined" to "accident," effectively imploding the prosecution's case and sending Joan Wood into a life of professional disgrace. She was forced into an early retirement and became a shut-in, never leaving her house until the day she died.

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"Cause of Death: Whatever you guys want to put down. Please, I have kids."

Also, Shelly Miscavige, the wife of the Church of Scientology's chieftain David Miscavige, has not been seen in public for eight years. King of Queens actress and former Scientologist Leah Remini actually filed a missing persons report with the LAPD, who insisted that Remini's concern was "unfounded" and that they had met with Mrs. Miscavige to confirm that she was not, in fact, missing. This was back in 2013, by the way, and still nobody has seen her. But we're sure nothing fishy is going on there.

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Religious Freedom Goes a Long Way

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Just so we're clear: We seriously can't stress enough the vastness of the sea of money the Church of Scientology floats upon. However, by far the most clever and infuriating detail here isn't their awesome power to tame federal institutions with fat green stacks of presidential flashcards, but rather that they've managed to harness one of the most cherished rights we have:


In 2013, a lengthy U.K. court battle resulted in five Supreme Court justices redefining religion to not exclusively require the belief in a god, allowing a couple to be married in the Church of Scientology. If you know absolutely nothing about Scientology, this seems like a clear-cut piece about the victory of religious freedom, and not the snarling hoot of triumph from the gullet of a terrifying monster. And that's the tricky little problem.

Despite very possibly being a money-hoarding, murdering, occult scam that preys on the cast of Look Who's Talking -- it's damn near impossible to dictate what brand of spirituality people choose to believe in when there's no absolute evidence that it's hurting anyone any more than any other religion out there.

And to be fair, other religions' movies are just as shitty as Battlefield Earth.

It's our willingness to respect freedom of religion that makes us vulnerable to the rancid mindspawn of pathological science-fiction writers who seek to take advantage of that.

And you know what? That trust is what makes us awesome. Without the freedom to pursue ideas and spirituality, we would never grow as a society, even if that freedom occasionally produces a Jonestown or a Hitler. You just have to take the good with the bad and have the wisdom to tell the two apart.

Along with writing for Cracked, Dave is also a renowned spiritual leader who will advise you for a small fee on Twitter.

Also be sure to check out 5 Brainwashing Tricks That Work No Matter How Smart You Are and 5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare.

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