The Scandal Behind the "Scandal of Scientology"
by Paulette Cooper
What happened to the woman (me) who first blew the whistle on Scientology in a book titled "The Scandal of Scientology." I tell the whole story this year for the first time...
The Scandal behind "The Scandal of Scientology"
By Paulette Cooper
You may not believe this, but you can write something that some group doesn’t approve of and then have a quarter of your life almost ruined. I know because it happened to me.
I haven’t previously written about this from beginning to end because it’s still painful, but here goes. In 1968 I was a struggling New York freelance writer, searching for an investigative story that would make a difference. I was already used to controversy — and publicity — when a year earlier I had successfully stowed away on an ocean liner and wrote an article (and sold movie rights) about it that had appeared all over the world.
But when I next decided to expose a then relatively unknown organization called Scientology (and the related Dianetics) I ended up arrested, facing 15 years in jail, had 19 lawsuits filed against me all over the world by Scientology, was the almost victim of a near murder, was the subject of 5 disgusting anonymous smear letters sent to my family and neighbors about me, and endured constant and continual harassment for almost 15 years.
I had obtained a master’s degree in psychology and had studied comparative religion at Harvard for a summer. So I became interested in researching a newly-popular quasi-religious mental-health cult founded by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard. I started by writing an article exposing Scientology for a prestigious English magazine, Harper/Queen, and expanded this into a book.
In it, among other things, I stated that the crux of Scientology- their e-meter which they say acts like a lie detector-produced questionable results; that Hubbard had lied about his credentials; that Charles Manson had called himself a Scientologist; that some auditors had behaved improperly toward their "parishioners"; that some who left may have feared being blackmailed; that some defectors claimed that they had been psychologically damaged by Scientology, financially ripped-off, and/or harassed when they tried to leave or speak out.
I got used to telephone death threats, harassing calls — and lawsuits.
Strange people seemed to be trying to gain access to my apartment. Then, in the basement of my small building, I discovered alligator clips on my phone wires-likely the remnants of a phone tap.
Next, my cousin- who was also short and slim like me— was in my apartment alone when a man arrived with a “flower delivery" for me. When she opened the door, the intruder pulled a gun out of the flowers and put it to her temple. Fortunately, the gun jammed, misfired or was empty. The man then began to choke her, and when she pulled away and screamed, he ran off. The police said afterward that they were mystified, because there appeared to be no motive for the attack.
I quickly moved to a safer doorman building. But soon afterwards, 300 of my new neighbors received an anonymous smear letter about me, outrageously describing me as a part-time prostitute!
Then, a few weeks later, I received a visit from a pompous FBI agent named Bruce Brotman. He said the spokesman for the Church of Scientology in New York, James Meisler, claimed to have received 2 anonymous bomb threats and named me as a likely suspect.
I didn’t take it seriously until I was called to appear before a federal grand jury and was shocked to learn that I was the target (suspect). I had to hire a top law firm — I chose one headed by Charles Stillman—who required a $5,000 retainer on my meager freelance income. Little did I realize that they would ultimately cost me $28,000 (like $75,000 today) and they would unsuccessfully sue me after the case was over for even more money!
Even worse, during the grand juryh, the prosecutor, John D. Gordon III, told me that if this Grand Jury decided that I had sent Scientology the 2 bomb threats, I faced 5 years in jail for each letter,5 more for perjury for denying it, and $15,000 in fines.
He showed me the letters, and I truthfully testified that I had never touched or seen them before. Then Gordon dropped the real bomb. “Then how did your fingerprint get on one of them?” he asked.
I was so shocked I think I momentarily lost consciousness, because the room turned upside down. I then rightly explained that Scientology could have obtained a blank piece of paper that I had touched, and typed threats on it afterwards.
But Gordon was unconvinced. On May 9th, 1973, I was indicted on all 3 three counts by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. And 10 days later I was arrested, released on my own recognizance, and forbidden to leave the state without the court’s permission.
For months, I could taste the anxiety in my throat. I was in a total panic. I could barely write, and my bills, especially legal ones, kept mounting. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day, popped Valium like M&Ms, and drank too much vodka.
I worried obsessively about the possibility of going to jail. And about my career. I had been doing extremely well. I had 4 books out or about to come out and I wasn’t yet 30. But once this story came out at trial, what editor would give an assignment to a writer accused of sending bomb threats to the people she wrote about? I had wanted to be a writer since I was 8 years old, and my dream life was about to be over.
I was also very concerned about my parents. They had adopted me from an orphanage in Belgium when I was 6, and I had always tried to make them proud of me. However, I knew they would soon be humiliated when the trial started. Especially since the sexual revolution was going on then, and young people were also experimenting with pot, considering horrifying by adults (and jurors no doubt!) in those days. As a single photogenic woman involved in a bizarre case, I knew I would become a page 1 scandal for the tabloids during the anticipated 3-week trial.
I tried desperately to prevent a trial. made a writing barter arrangement with a private investigator, Anthony Pellicano-the same one in jail and in the news now — but he did nothing. I also volunteered to take lie-detector tests to prove my innocence. But they returned contradictory and inconclusive results, although not surprisingly, they did show me to be highly stressed.
My state of mind got worse when the man I had been dating for a year and planned to marry, a lawyer named Bob Straus, left me. Most of my friends also stopped calling because I was so obsessed with the horrors that were happening that it was all I could talk (or think) about.
Fortunately, an editor friend at the New York Times stuck by me and called me the night of my 30th birthday. She kept me on the phone for hours to stop me from continuing to take the entire bottle of Valium I admitted that I had started to take that evening to end it all.
Another loyal friend was a new one, an understanding young man named Jerry Levin,a short smiling redhead, who moved in with me late that summer. Since I was too depressed to go out much, he did my errands and walked my dog Tiki while I compulsively watched the Watergate hearings.
Occasionally, he would persuade me to go up to the rooftop pool with him at night when no one was there. He was a gutsy guy, and he would leap up to the 33-story high ledge and try to get me to join him. “You have to be brave if you’re going to take on those bastards,” he’d say.
But I huddled below, a shadow of my former adventurous self. Toward the beginning of September, I was in such a bad state that I even became slightly suspicious of him. I questioned him, and he turned on me, saying I had become so totally paranoid that I no longer even trusted my closest friend. Then he too walked out of my life, leaving me alone to face the trial. Well, not quite. The lawyers wanted my parents to sit in the front row (to gain sympathy for me) — which upset me even more.
The court date, October 31, 1973, was approaching. Then, a University Professor and researcher from Scotland, Dr. Roy Wallis, came to interview me. Earlier, he had interviewed others who had left Scientolog,y and one (L Ron Hubbard Jr., the son of the founder) was seemingly involved in my frame-up,
Boastfully, he gave Roy a letter he wrote to his father, Hubbard Senior, saying he could "bring the enemy to their [sic] knees” - — and he suddenly purchased an expensive house right after I was indicted. Roy brought this and other information he had gathered on Scientology’s dirty tricks to Gordon, who had a growing file I had also given him on Scientology’s “fair game law”: That stated that an “‘enemy’ of Scientology”-such as me-”May be...injured by any means by any Scientologist...May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”
But no prosecutor wants to give up a high publicity case. And the Government doesn’t like to admit they are wrong once they arrest someone.
So I started searching for a doctor to give me a truth-serum test. After months of barely eating, I weighed only 83 pounds by then, and my health had deteriorated from the stress. Doctors refused to do it, saying I could die from the anesthesia. But I didn’t care. I had decided to kill myself right before the trial rather than humiliate my parents (and myself) once the news stories came out.
Finally, a neurologist, Dr. David Coddon of Mount Sinai Hospital, agreed, and after several hours of questioning me while I was out, he was so convinced I was innocent, that he said not only would he testify for me, but that he would chain himself to the courthouse steps if they proceeded with this case. (Just what I needed; more publicity!)
On Halloween day, 1973, the government postponed — and ultimately canceled — the trial, agreeing to file a nolle prosequi. I went into therapy for a year, and the depression lifted somewhat. But the memories and pain remained. Furthermore, the threat of a trial and scandalous publicity remained over my head, because the government could still try me, and the press could still discover that I had been arrested for sending bomb threats and ruin me.
So for four years, I was bitter—and broke—feeling that everything I had done was right and it had all come out so wrong. People continued to call me for help on Scientology (unaware of what I had just gone though,) and since no one else was doing anything or speaking out against them, I continued to. I worked (gratis) to help Scientology’s victims, which included those they were suing or who were suing them,
So the Scientologists kept suing me, and never let up on the harassment. For example, when they found out I had seen a shrink, they broke into his offices and stole my records to find out what I had said during therapy—then sending excerpts about them to my friends and parents. Nice, eh?
And then in July of 1977, I was shocked — and thrilled-to read front-page stories in the Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and in fact news papers all over the world that documents had just been found seizedd within the Scientology organizations revealing that they had once framed a writer critical of them — me.
It seems the FBI had raided 3 Scientology offices and seized internal memos and “dirty trick” papers. I was so happy that at last I would be able to prove my innocence, which had become an obsession with me. But it took me 4 more frustrating years (during which time they sent more lawyers and unscrupulous private investigators against me ) before I finally saw those documents.
And then, I finally reviewed the secret internal documents, which detailed some of the nasty stuff they had done not only to me but to anyone who had ever said or done anything against Scientology. As I later told Mike Wallace when I was on 60 Minutes, discussing the frame-up "Scientology turned out to be worse than anything I ever said or even imagined."
example, one series of documents 1976, was a plot of theirs called
"Operation Freakout." to get me "incarcerated in a mental institution
or jail or at least to hit her so hard that she drops her attacks” on
also in the documents was a strange diary someone wrote of what I did
each day during the “frame-up” period, and how close I was to suicide.
“Wouldn’t that be great for Scientology?” the person wrote
Sometimes, though, I get discouraged because Scientology gets so much publicity from people like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, etc. And I wonder whether it was worth wrecking my life when they seem so powerful again.
then I remind myself that I did reach and help a lot of people. My book
sold 154,000 copies (legal actions and loss of income cost me hundreds
of thousands of dollars) and each copy appears to have been read by
many people. In addition, it’s now available free on the Internet in
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