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Germany vs. the Scientologists

1.

A confession: I am not a Scientologist. I do not like Scientology. I would become frantic if my sixteen-year-old daughter fell into the hands of this self-proclaimed church.

Such a repudiation of Scientology is necessary for anybody who writes about Scientology in Germany these days. Of course, to deny, disclaim, and disavow it still may not save you. For the very attempt may prove the opposite: that you are a secret disciple or an agent of influence of a group which, like the Freemasons or the Elders of Zion, has learned to camouflage its quest for planetary domination.

Even going about your normal business might brand you as part of this subversive group, especially in Bavaria, where the feeling against Scientology is strongest. Take Guy Count von Moy, who runs a smallish brewery, the Hofbräuhaus, in the smallish town of Freising just north of Munich. Like all local brewers in Germany’s shrinking market, the count has had to fend off giants like Beck’s or Löwenbräu. And so he launched an advertising campaign. Maybe he was trying too hard to push his suds, especially when he resorted to such mysterious slogans as “Feeling Inner Strength” or “Relying on Your Own Power.”

Sounds like Scientology, doesn’t it? Soon the whispers started (perhaps set off by the competition), and not long afterward the count’s workers were harassed as Scientologists, and so were his children. His wife, Verena, was one for sure, the voices in the dark murmured, and look, wasn’t she actually running the brewery? What better way to corrupt Bavarians than by using their favorite beverage as the devil’s tool?

It did not matter that the Moys were devout Catholics. Nor that the count was a member of the Order of Malta, into which only noblemen with the strictest Catholic credentials are inducted. In desperation, he took out an ad in the local paper: “Neither I nor any of my employees at the Hofbräuhaus Freising nor any member of my family has anything to do with the Scientology sect.” Whether that will restore his reputation and balance sheet is not yet clear.

By their very nature, witch hunts are not concerned with the truth. A favorite means of detection of medieval witches was to throw a suspect, bound hand and foot, into the river. If she floated, she was possessed of unnatural powers and thus destined for the stake. If she drowned, she was innocent. Either way she was dispatched from this world, which was presumably the result intended in the first place. As the count and others like him may yet discover, it is impossible to prove a negative.

The Bundestag has set up a “Commission of Inquiry on So-Called Sects and Psychogroups,” which directs much of its energies at Scientology. Late last year Antje Vollmer, a member of the Green Party who is also the Parliament’s vice-president, showed up for a meeting of the commission. While the experts from the domestic security service, the Verfassungsschutz, were testifying, she was asked to leave by an incensed witness. And why? Because Frau Vollmer was friends with an artist who has been accused of being a Scientologist. Hence, the Bundestag’s number-two leader could not be trusted, all the more so because, as one member of the panel said, she had already acted as an “unwitting” accomplice of Scientology.1

2.

Of course many Germans will object to any mention today of witch hunts or black-hooded inquisitors or search-and-destroy breviaries like the fabled Malleus Maleficarum, or Witch Hammer. Published around 1486, the Witch Hammer was the standard handbook on witchcraft, with instructions on how to detect and extirpate it, in the Holy Roman Empire.2 The people in charge of sects and “psychogroups” today are the internal affairs ministers of various German Länder, above all, Günther Beckstein of Bavaria. With a bit of historical license, this Catholic conservative might be cast in the role of Pope Innocent VIII, who lives on in the history books as author of the papal bull Summis Desiderantes of 1484, which castigated the spread of witchcraft throughout Germany.

Innocent sponsored the Malleus as well as a potent apparatus of ecclesiastical persecution. Last fall, Beckstein’s ministry issued a 15-point “action catalog” designed to ferret out and exclude Scientologists who might try to infiltrate Bavaria’s public service or get their hands into the public procurement trough. Beckstein thinks that Scientology is a “totalitarian system bordering on organized crime that seeks to take over the society and the state.”3

Bavaria’s Ministry of Culture didn’t do an update on the Malleus. But it offered help for schoolteachers. How could they tell a Scientologist? Look for “personality changes” that could occur “within days.” Another sure indicator was a “change in weight”: watch out for those who are bulging or becoming thin. Another tip-off is hirsuteness—no matter whether the kid is suddenly growing a beard or taking it off. “Anti-social behavior” is just as treacherous as apparently normal conduct. For the conspiratorial Scientologist will do everything “to dispel suspicion.”4 That list could put an entire class in the sect.

In Bonn, the federal minister of labor, Norbert Blüm, a dedicated Catholic, rarely misses an opportunity to hammer Scientology. He has called the church a “contemptuous cartel of oppression,” a “monstrous Kraken“—or octopus—a “criminal money-laundering organization” beholden to a “bizarre ideology” and engaged in “brainwashing.”5 When Scientology sued Blüm for defamation, a Cologne court, on May 31, 1996, sided with the minister. Beckstein and Blüm have support from a small army of eager Sektenbeauftragte (“Commissioners on Sects”) who have sprung up everywhere: in the political parties, both left and right; in the established churches, both Lutheran and Catholic; in the labor unions, the major youth organizations, school boards, and state welfare agencies on all three levels of government.

Opposing them is the Church of Scientology in the United States and Germany. But unlike many a poor woman who ended up in the river or at the stake, the members of this church are by no means weak and defenseless. By contrast with the saffron-clad Hare Krishnas in Harvard Square or the Jehovah’s Witnesses who stand mutely in a Munich subway station, holding up The Watchtower, Scientology is a cult with power—both vengeful and nasty.

When Time magazine in 1991 published a cover story that described Scientology as a “hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner,” the church hit back with a suit asking for $416 million in damages. Five years and more than seven million dollars later (the amount reportedly spent by Time-Warner on litigation), a federal judge dismissed the case. As Richard Behar, the author of the Time article, entitled “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power,” put it: “It’s a tremendous defeat for Scientology, but of course their doctrine states that the purpose of a suit is to harass, not to win.” Referring to the lawsuit against Time, he added: “They’ve had a real chilling effect on journalism.”^6

A long report in The New York Times by Douglas Frantz recently described just how nasty Scientology can be. The story traces the sixteen-year feud between Scientology and the Internal Revenue Service after the IRS had stripped the church of its tax-exempt status in 1967. The IRS was then regarded as a “pretty major enemy,” recalls Stacy Young, a former Scientology senior staff member. So “you go after them and harass them and intimidate them…until they decide to play ball with you.”

Or as the church founder, L. Ron Hubbard, put it: enemies “may be tricked, sued, or lied to or destroyed.” That included breaking into IRS offices and bugging them, for which eleven leaders of the church were sentenced to long prison terms in 1980. The church also dispatched investigators to dig into the private lives of IRS officials, hoping to uncover embarrassing information. In order to discredit the agency, Scientology financed a seemingly independent “National Coalition of IRS Whistle-blowers” which encouraged officials to go public with stories of wrongdoing by IRS officials. The IRS finally restored the tax exemption in 1993, apparently just to be rid of the endless harassment in the courts.7

Scientology is also quite rich. Georg Stoffel, a spokesman for Scientology in Bavaria, says the church has assets worth about $400 million, a sum that is proably on the small side. IRS records indicate that the church was earning about $300 million per year in the early 1990s from “auditing” fees—i.e., the fees paid by members for instruction and therapy—as well as payments to the church from businesses who employ it to advise “on management.”8

The aim of the auditing sessions is for the member to arrive at what the church calls CLEAR, a state indicating not just therapeutic success but secular salvation. A novice must rise through twenty levels of training and auditing to attain CLEAR. Asked what this might cost, Stoffel said: “That could go as high as 500,000 marks ($300,000).” Is that all? “Not quite,” Stoffel responds, pointing at a large poster headlined, in German, “The Bridge to Total Freedom,” which looks as impressive as the organizational chart of General Motors. “CLEAR” is not even at the halfway mark. Above it are five further steps of preparation, leading to fifteen levels of “Operating Thetan,” but Stoffel said he does not know how much that might cost. (A “Thetan” is a person who, through various stages of “illumination,” has re-acquired all his intellectual powers, spiritual freedom, and immortality.) For his labors, Stoffel says, he himself gets 700 DM (a bit more than $400) per month.

Scientology also knows how to play the public-relations game. In Washington it retained the influential PR firm Hill and Knowlton. It employs Washington law firms like Bisceglie & Walsh just to monitor the German scene and to write long letters to journalists such as myself that point out where they have been “incorrect” in their writings about Scientology. And the church buys many pages of advertising in major papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. It is in those pages where the war of “Scientology vs. Germany” began in earnest.

On September 29, 1994, an ad in The Washington Post said: “In 1945, the victorious allies…vowed that ‘Never Again’ would Germany be allowed to persecute religious minorities almost to extinction.” Yet “fifty years later, neo-Nazi extremism is on the march in a reunited Germany.” On January 11, 1995, a full-page ad in The New York Times drew a direct comparison between what the Nazis had inflicted on the Jews and what the latter-day Germans were doing to Scientology: “Today, a similar scenario plays out in modern Germany.”

That set the pattern. By the fall of 1996, quotations about Jews from Völkischer Beobachter and Der Stürmer were juxtaposed with anti-Scientology statements by the current labor minister, Norbert Blüm. In November, it was the turn of Bavaria’s internal affairs minister, Günther Beckstein. His portrait was set above a 1930s board game for children called Juden raus! (“Out with the Jews!”) and a poster taken from a present-day government campaign aimed at school children that shouts (in English) “SCIENTOLOGY NO!”

  1. 1

    See “Die CDU kritisiert Frau Caberta,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 19, 1996; and “Streit über Sachverständige,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, November 21, 1996.

  2. 2

    Written by two Dominican theologians—one from Cologne, the other from Salzburg—it went through twenty-eight editions and maintained its hold until well into the eighteenth century.

  3. 3

    Günther Beckstein column, “Ich bitte ums Wort,” in Abendzeitung (Munich), November 16, 1996.

  4. 4

    Alles clear? Informationen über Scientology,” Schulreport, No. 1/1996. The author remained anonymous, but was touted as “psychologist from the University of Munich.”

  5. 5

    As quoted in Roswin Finkenzeller, “Bayerische Nadelstiche,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, January 29, 1997.

  6. 7

    All quotes from Douglas Frantz, “Scientology’s Puzzling Journey,” The New York Times, March 9, 1997, pp. 1, 30-31.

  7. 8

    Frantz, “Scientology’s Puzzling Journey,” p. 30.

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