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STALKING THE NET

IN THE ONLINE BRAWL OVER SCIENTOLOGY, INTERNET USERS DISCOVER THAT VIRTUAL REALITY BITES BACK.SHOWDOWN IN CYBERSPACE THE BATTLE OVER SCIENTOLOGY'S SECRETS IGNITES A HOLY WAR ON THE INTERNET.

According to Wollersheim, FACTNet had two sets of Advanced Technology documents--one obtained in his own lawsuit against the Church and another sent to him by a defense attorney in the Fishman case, in which he served as a consultant. And he had no intention of making either one accessible to users of his own archives, let alone the Internet.

"I've had that material since 1984," he says. "I could have given it out, posted it, published it, but I decided the wrath of these people wasn't worth it. Arnie was a new director--fifteen days on the job. He made the right decision at the wrong time."

Wollersheim says Lerma obtained his copy of the Fishman papers from some other source; in a deposition, Lerma stated he wasn't sure who sent it to him but he assumed it came from FACTNet. Regardless of the source, Lerma's decision to post the Fishman papers caused a sensation on the Net, particularly among those unfamiliar with the earlier postings.

All along, Church officials have contended that their opponents have infringed their copyrights in order to ridicule Scientology beliefs, cause the Church economic harm and desecrate Hubbard's message by taking it out of context. But Lerma and other dissenters have argued that it's precisely because of the claims of distortion that Hubbard's secret writing must be brought to light--that no summary or paraphrase of the upper-level teachings has quite the impact in a religious debate as the founder's own words.

At least some of what Lerma posted concerning the cosmology of "body thetans" had been reported before in some fashion. What seems to have stirred the most response from readers were disclosures concerning the intensive training routines for the Operating Thetan, including an exercise that involves attempting to communicate with plants and animals "until you know the communication is received and, if possible, returned." Even more controversial is a passage in the disputed Level VIII documents that debunks major religions as instruments of "enslavement" and depicts Jesus as "a lover of young boys and men...given to uncontrollable bursts of temper and hatred."

Although Church officials have emphatically denounced the OT VIII materials as fakes, Wollersheim insists they're legitimate. "Two sets of defectors, at different times in different parts of the world, came out with those documents," he says. "I've been working with defectors for fifteen years. I have never dealt with anyone as afraid of having their identity revealed as the people who came out and verified those documents."

Nine days after the materials went out on the Internet, federal marshals raided Lerma's home and seized his computers. Three days later--the same day the judge in California sealed the Fishman papers--Wollersheim and Penny issued a press release affirming their support of Lerma's actions and accusing the Church of trying to hack through FACTNet's security system and "place incriminating documents into our archives."

The lengthy screed went on to urge "volunteers" to "immediately begin putting up 100-1000 times more Fishman affidavit type public records on Scientology into world wide distribution on the Internet. Scientology needs to learn that attacking critics, illegal and immoral raids do not work any more."

If Wollersheim was trying to put a stop to the raids, he had a strange way of going about it. Kobrin says that the taunting press release, promising massive distribution of the Fishman papers, prompted Scientology's attorneys to move immediately against Wollersheim and Penny.

FACTNet had apparently prepared for such an eventuality. The organization carried a million-dollar insurance policy that is now funding the pair's defense. FACTNet required its users to sign elaborate disclaimers governing the use of its electronic library. And months before the raid, Wollersheim and Penny had each posted a "Search Warrant Special Notice" in their homes advising any law enforcement personnel of the presence of attorney-client-privileged materials on the premises. The advisory concluded: "Until you recontact the issuing judge relating this information, under no conditions are you to enter these premises without my or my attorney's presence or with any [off-duty] or nongovernment official!"

The Scientologists who raided Wollersheim's apartment read the notice carefully. So did the marshals. Then they pried off the lock to his bedroom door and took away his computers.

What happened to FACTNet's computers after the raids in Colorado and Virginia is still a matter of dispute. A federal judge in Virginia recently upbraided Scientology attorneys for exceeding the scope of her search order in the Lerma case by going through his computer files "willy-nilly."

In the Denver case, Scientology's computer experts claimed that their electronic search was focused on "principally religious terms which are unique to the scriptures of the Church" in order to locate infringing materials. But according to court documents, the search was soon expanded to include a host of keywords, including the names of prominent defectors from the Church, attorneys involved in civil litigation against the Church, the judge in Wollersheim's successful lawsuit, the e-mail pseudonyms of Church opponents such as "Capricorn" and "Rogue Agent"--even CAN, the acronym for the Cult Awareness Network.

Scientology attorneys say they took precautions to ensure that their clients didn't view privileged legal documents and that the search was a proper inquiry into copyright violations. "Any name that's on that list has had some connection to a wrongful use of those materials," Kobrin says.

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