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.
#5. They Achieved Tax-Exempt Status by Bombarding the IRS
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.
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.
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 ...
#4. 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.
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:
"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.
#3. They Work With the Internet to Control Information
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.