The Church of Scientology has been taking a series of body blows in recent years from journalists and former members, ranging from multi-city protests organized by the hacker collective Anonymous to Lawrence Wright's New Yorker expose to the searing HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which features interviews with several former top COS insiders, talking about how they lied to the media, tried to intimidate critics and bullied their own followers, all allegedly on the orders of church leader David Miscavige.
But anyone who speaks out about Xenu and the cost of auditing these days owes a tremendous debt to Scientology critics of an earlier generation, some of whom endured years of litigation and thuggery for daring to take on such a powerful (and highly publicity-conscious) organization. And no one endured a more vicious campaign of surveillance, harassment, and jaw-dropping dirty tricks than Paulette Cooper, the subject of Tony Ortega's new book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely.
A former Village Voice editor who's written about Scientology for twenty years and now blogs at The Underground Bunker, Ortega has some firsthand experience with the Church's hardball tactics. But Cooper's story is unique; Ortega calls Scientology's retaliation against her "one of the most sinister personal campaigns the free world has ever known." In 1971 Cooper published a scathing book on Scientology; over the next fifteen years she was sued more than a dozen times by the Church. Her neighbors were told she was a child molester; a bomb threat, written on stolen stationery, led to her indictment and brought her to the brink of suicide.
The attacks on Cooper, as well as a massive libel suit brought by the Church against Time magazine in the early 1990s, did a great deal to keep negative articles about Scientology out of the mainstream media for years. Then the Internet came along — and some lively coverage of how the Church's critics were using the new technology to expose Scientology secrets, including several Westword articles about Boulder resident Lawrence Wollersheim's huge legal brawl with the Church. And Ortega's own aggressive reporting.
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Now on a book tour for The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, Ortega will join ex-Scientology insider Chris Shelton at 7 p.m. Friday, July 17, at the Secular Hub, 3100 Downing Street, to discuss Cooper's ordeal and recent developments in the Church. For more information, call (720) 583-5222.