Between 1975 and 2011, the Church of Scientology bought 67 properties in the Floridian city of Clearwater. From a business perspective, sure, nothing too alarming. From a citizen’s perspective, oh sweet Mary and Joseph. But then came 2017, the year that kept everyone so preoccupied with that 45th president guy and his Nazi-sympathizing posse that no one even realized what was happening in Clearwater. Companies controlled by parishioners of the church were quietly buying up retail property in the city’s downtown at an alarming rate, doubling the Church of Scientology’s footprint there in less than three years.

It all started in 1975 when Scientologists set their eyes on Clearwater, buying the city’s historic Fort Harrison Hotel and a handful of other properties to establish the headquarters of their operations known as “Flag Land Base.” The City Council and its people didn’t even know that Scientologists were buying up these properties because the church used a different purchase name. When they found out, however, they weren’t too happy about it, and the city and church went head-to-head. 

Internal church documents show how the church apparently made plans to frame Mayor Gabriel Cazares in a staged hit-and-run while also starting BS rumors about him having an affair to undermine his fight against them. It also showed church operatives seemingly planting spies in the state attorney’s office, in the Chamber of Commerce, and the local newspaper, because if bad fiction is your entire belief system, everything you do is going to sound like an overdramatized, terrible movie.

The city and church were battling each other in court for years, until the church ultimately won and were left to do as they pleased because, since then, they’ve acquired a massive stake in the city’s downtown property, showing no sign of slowing down. Most alarming is that current city leaders didn’t even know the full extent of property purchases made by church parishioners until the Tampa Bay Times showed them their review of more than a thousand deeds and business records back in 2019.

Many of the properties bought by the church (through cash, mostly) weren’t on the market and were purchased for double the price of the property value. A lot of those properties also stand deserted, and the City Council said they have no idea what the church has in mind because they’re so notoriously secretive about their operations.

Mike Rinder/Wiki Commons

You can’t church with us. 

But there are signs pointing to the fact that the church may be looking to create its own, actual city - a plan they seemed to have had since this land grab started back in the ‘70s. A former Scientology executive who oversaw the church’s property in Clearwater between 1996 and 2001 said that it's all part of keeping the public away from its operations. One of the church magazines listed its goal in the year 2000 as making “Clearwater known as the first Scientology city in the world.” And to top it all off, the church filed a bid in April 2021 to gobble up the downtown Waterfront properties, with no one knowing what they plan to do with it if anything.

All of this falls in line with L. Ron Hubbard’s apparent vision, and it seems that, at least in Clearwater, his church might be closer to that reality than any of us even realized.

Zanandi is on Twitter.

Top Image: PictorialEvidence/Wiki Commons

 

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