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How to Fight Scientology, on the Net

Net-activists cannot do without the old media, not entirely. The controversy between acces provider and the Church of Scientology proved that. Xs4all is a provider founded by the former anarcho-hackers famous for their underground magazine Hack-Tic ('xs4all', say it aloud: "acces for all"). Started two years ago, they are now running a fastgrowing access providing company. But they have not forgotten their roots, and are always in for fun, or for some political controversy. (They helped us out with our Van Traa site technically, and with the cd-rom). In the summer of 1995 xs4all got into serious problems with the Church of Scientology. An accountholder had put the famous Fishman-affidavit on his homepage. This needs some explanation, I'm afraid.

Scientology is not really a church, but more a profit seeking company. Or a sect if you wish. To become a full member you have to take several courses at different levels, and pay for them. The higher levels of these courses are kept secret, only available for those who reached those sacred hights. Ex-members are being terrorized and blackmailed to keep them from exposing their stories in the media.

Steven Fishman was one of them, he worked in the department of Scientology that had to deal with defectors. So he had some stories to tell when he left the sect. Scientology followed him around the world with slander, libel and lawsuits. But Fishman didn't give in. He even used the written material of the high- level courses, called OT's, as evidence in one of the cases in Court. This in fact made the so called secrets accessible for the public. They consist of complete nonsenses, stories about UFO's, immortallity and the bad things in your body you have to conquer, and kill, which is, of course, not possible without paid counseling from the Church.

Now that the OT's were in the Court's library, the holy secret could have been a sell out. But not for Scientology. They set up teams to work in shifts and study the affidavits in the library, so nobody else could ask for them. After a year or so Scientology managed to get a court order to remove the papers from the library again.

And that is where Internet comes in. People started putting the Fishman-affidavit on their homepage, and Scientology came after them. Threatened providers, sued them, just to cause a lot of problems and scare others off. But not the Dutchies.

When Scientology found out about the first Dutch homepage, they started a procedure against xs4all. Before anything was clear, they got themselves a search warrant and barged into the xs4all headquarters to seizure all property. There was a baillif, some American officials, computer specialists and a lot of Scientologists - twelve in total. They wanted to draw up an inventory, to use to prove xs4all's credibility if the case ever went to court - and they would win. (Silly thing is, they only wrote down the pc's in the main office, and forgot to go and check out the engine room with hundreds of modems and the big Unix systems).

This was a bridge too far. People who heard about the raid were stupefied, indignant, and extremely angry. Some of them started putting the Fishman affidavit on their own home page. The writer Karin Spaink took a lead in organizing the protests and within a week one hundred people from all over the country had an addition to their homepage. Karin Spaink started a mailinglist to keep all those individuals informed, and that was more then necessary.

All kind of people joined, forming an extraordinairy occasional coalition. Journalists, a liberal MP, commercial broadcasting stations, people at universities, catholics, christians, activists, you name it. They all had accounts with different providers, so they were kind of hard to get. I am sure this coalition would not have survived a reallife meeting, let alone a discussion on the strategy. Some of them would have detested eachother at first sight, just because the way they looked, or smelled or talked. But on the Net, everybody joined for their own reason, for the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, or just to tease Scientology. And this was the strength of the action. Karin Spaink was the spokeswoman in the press and coordinated the legal steps. A newsgroup was founded to discuss important matters, with sympathisers as well, but the list was moderated and closed. This worked, and it really helped.

Scientology pulled out all the stops to reduce the damage. When persuading didn't help, they started threatening providers, and harrassing some of the participants. The liberal MP for instance, got so many phonecalls from CoS, that he felt forced to remove the Fishman papers temporarily because he couldn't get on with his work. They even tried to frame Karin Spaink and some people from xs4all in a setup so complicated it would take hours to explain. (Someone -said to be- working for the American Embassy offered them compromising information about Scientology in order to help them fight the Church. But soon it came out he had been in touch with Scientology before he talked the xs4all.) They started to build their mirror palace, to play people off against one another. But it didn't really work here.

Scientology started a procedure for violating copyrights, against several providers and Karin Spaink. As this would be the first case on copyright & Internet, some people thought it a shame it had to be a Scientology case. Because the principle of the matter could easily be confused with their smoke screen of freedom of religion.

The occasional coalition hired a good laywer, still remembered for his work for revolutionaires in the seventies. The Fishman Affidavit was printed on old fashioned posters (pure text layout, it's quite a lot of letters..) which were soon seen in the centre of the city, specially around CoS-headquarters. They had their people sneeking around with spray and lime to repaint the posters.

A date was set for the Court hearing, at the request of Scientology months after the procedure started. Their biggest problem was the secrecy of the challenged papers. In order to claim the copyright, they would have to come forward with the orginals. And thus, break their own secrecy. They tried to solve this dilemma by hiring a public notary to comparise the orginal documents and the Internet version. This took him a long time.

Two days before the case was due in Court, the very night the Fishman supportgroup held a solidarity night in the Milkyway (well known to every smoking visitor of Amsterdam), Scientology announced that they were withdrawing the case. The notary had not been able to declare the two documents were exactly identical. Goodbye copyright claim.

This support gathering was a big success. Celebrities read out horrifying statements from ex members, and comical parts of the so called secret wisdom of the Church. Star of the show was David Fishman himself, flown in from the United States. He was completely flabbergasted as he hardly knew about the Internet struggle about his Affidavit before a friend introduced him to the Net a short time before. It sure was inspiring for him to be in Amsterdam. And he was not the only Yank present. Scientology had brought the top of their public relation staff - easily identified by their stiff, aloof faces.

Isn't it funny, the night in the Milkyway was the top of the campaign? The fight with Scientology origanally was a pure Internet event. The challenge was, whether or not, something could be published, on the Net. Support came through newsgroups and connected people in the United States, and the campaign spread, around the world (to Hungary for instance). The primary attack was against a provider, which aroused the anger of Dutch users of the Net. The coalition they formed wouldn't have survived reallife meetings, but florished in Cyberspace.

This was new. But then again, the campaign couldn't do without the Old Media. A case in Court, a laywer from the seventies, a blackbook by sect-watchers and paperprints postered in the street. A sole window smashed, a meeting in a hippyjoint and good coverage in the papers. And Scientology brought out another law suit, we won, and they brought out a new one. This is a neverending story.