top of page

Notes on the geopolitics of cults. Part 2: North to North-West

Luigi Corvaglia


Willy Fautrè

Interior day. Me and a big Kazakh guy in an improbably shiny suit are standing in an empty space at the OSCE in Warsaw discussing. "Discussing" is a big word. He does not speak English and I do not speak Russian. We communicate through a Google translator. That makes up for the long hours of waiting for the Secretariat to open. We have to register to speak at the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) annual conference session on religious freedom. We are sure that we are the first two to speak in the plenary hall, as we have waited for three hours, standing, fasting and speaking to each other in languages we do not know. Then a small group of people emerges, led by an old acquaintance of mine. It is Willy Fautrè. He is the director of the Belgian organization Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) and, like me, a regular participant in the OSCE meeting. But Fautrè is also one of the family at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels and has long been a correspondent for News Network International, an evangelical U.S. editorial group that is fiercely anti-communist (communism meaning anything that deviates from the total free market) and extremely conservative (against abortion, against recognition of homosexual couples, etc.). HRWF, the association he currently heads, claims to have the goal of defending religious freedom in the world. In practice, it engages in intense negative propaganda against the 'anti-cult' movement. Our Willy was also a member of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF). The acronyms are gradually becoming too many. The IHF was mentioned in the media for several reasons. The first reason for mention is that the IHF had to close its doors for bankruptcy in January 2008 after an Austrian judge convicted its former financial director, Austrian Rainer Tannenberger, of embezzling 1.2 million euros. The second reason for the attention is the fact that the IHF apparently had relations with Scientology. In fact, the Federation's Greek correspondent participated in publications of the church founded by Ron Hubbard, and the Moscow delegation published a book in collaboration with Scientology. Let us pause for a moment.

Summarizing the facts gathered so far, we come to the following data: 1. there are state bodies in the USA whose task is to defend religious freedom in the world (see the first part of this investigation); 2. these bodies are led - and partly formed - by representatives of religious conservatism, especially of the evangelical variety (also in the first part, but we will see that better later); 3. These state bodies are flanked in the same role by non-state associations, some of the most prominent of which seem to come from the same world; 4. The Church of Scientology appears again and again in the presentation of the facts, sometimes as a beneficiary of protection by these associations, sometimes as an actor adjacent to the organizations themselves. All of these observations, already evidenced by the above, will be further elaborated and supported by facts throughout this report. Let us start with the last observation on Scientology.

Les Liaisons dangereuses

a) Scientology

As evidence of the cordial relations between part of the U.S. government and the Church of Scientology, among the documents published on Wikileaks is a report that after the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Germany, German Scientologists were invited to a briefing at the U.S. Embassy. With the US Secretary of State! Wikileaks has released cables showing that the U.S. consulate in Hamburg received information from Christoph Ahlhaus, later mayor of the city, about the German task force against Scientology and, in particular, about Ursula Caberta, a well-known opponent of the church.

The infiltration of Scientology into the French government administration is also worth mentioning. In 1991, the journalist Serge Faubert published his sensational book 'Une Secte au Coeur de la République' (A Sect in the Heart of the Republic).

In the early 2000s, the website of the American Embassy in France recommended Kay Gaejens, a well-known member of Scientology, as an attorney. Obviously, it is not a crime to be a follower of Scientology, nor to be a trusted person of the Embassy. However, this is the same Embassy that sent two of its members, uninvited, to a conference in the French National Assembly, accompanied by one of the Scientology leaders in France. Another person who has been active in the transalpine country in defense of religious freedom - that is, against those who oppose "cults" - is Louis Dèmeo, an American evangelical pastor and founder of the Nimes Theological Institute. This institute is affiliated with Greater Grace World Outreach, an association of non-denominational churches based in Baltimore, Maryland, which has come under criticism for alleged sectarian practices. Bruno Foucherau writes that Greater Grace can be considered a 'companion' to Scientology. Stacy Brooks, a former high-ranking Scientology believer who later became president of the Lisa McPherson Trust, an association that denounces the church's abusive practices, said she closely resembles Greater Grace's leader, the Reverend George Robertson. In Brooks' words, 'He's very close to Scientology leadership. When the cult can not intervene on certain issues for image reasons, they ask Robertson to do it for them. He is their main contact with the evangelical movement." In 1996, at Greater Grace's instigation, Scientology succeeded in bankrupting, through legal proceedings, the main organization supporting victims of destructive cults, the Cult Awarness Network (CAN). The puzzling thing is that the phone numbers, name, logo and property of the organization were bought by Mr. Hayes - a member of the Church of Scientology - who gave them away for free to a California group whose board includes several Scientology members (see here). In other words, Scientology has turned itself into an anti-cult association! In practice, it is as if the Mafia has made itself an anti-mafia association. The new CAN is, as one might have guessed, much milder toward alternative groups. The list of experts on the new CAN includes Gordon Melton and Massimo Introvigne. The latter is the director and founder of the Center for the Study of New Religions (CESNUR), and the former is the director of the American section of CESNUR.

In November 1996, US President Bill Clinton wrote an 'exclusive' article for the Scientology magazine 'Freedom'. Later, Clinton had the article published 'exclusively' for 'Freedom', the Swiss Scientology magazine, in 'Ethique et Liberté' and finally in the German edition of the Scientology propaganda magazine under the title 'What we can do about the drug problem".

His wife Hillary Clinton received members of the Scientology front organisation Hands of Hope at the White House and was given a quilt with a quote by L. Ron Hubbard. [here] In the media, this event was later appropriately called Clearwatergate.

In 1997, Clinton's National Security Advisor Sandy Berger met with actor John Travolta and other Scientologists to discuss the German government's attitude towards Scientology (TIME 22.9.1997). According to the magazine 'George' of 3/1998, President Clinton met personally with John Travolta. Clinton praised the 'educational' materials of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard: "Your programme sounds great" and "I'd like to help you with your problem in Germany with Scientology", he is reported to have said in the 'George' report.

On 21 March 1997, the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service reported that President Clinton had complied with Scientologist Tom Cruise's requests by instructing his newly confirmed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to arrange talks with German Secretary of State Kinkel about Scientology's claims of religious persecution in Germany (Berliner Morgenpost, 23.11.1998).

In a letter of 'warm greetings' dated 22 December 1999, Clinton expressed gratitude to Scientologists for 'all your efforts to promote [religious freedom] and to build just communities united in understanding, compassion and mutual respect'.

The official reason given for the Clintons' interest in Scientology was that the President had a Scientology sympathiser as a roommate during his student days.

More serious was the US government's interference in favour of Scientology outside US territory. For example, the US State Department sponsored a concert by jazz pianist Chick Corea in Berlin at the end of 1998 because he was allegedly not allowed to perform in Germany due to 'religious discrimination'.

The extent to which administrative support of cults by governments can go is shown by the advice of the US State Department spokesperson who recommends that Germans watch the film 'Mission Impossible' starring Tom Cruise. The Hollywood star is Scientology's ambassador to Europe. In a letter to the State Department, he speaks seriously and openly about his lobbying for Scientology:

... I appreciate the valuable assistance the State Department has given to the members of my Church in protecting their rights, especially in Europe.

There is also an intervention by the US Consulate General in Hamburg regarding the approval of the remodelling of the new Scientology Centre in that city by the city's technical authority, which concerned, among other things, the number of toilets and showers.

But relations between Scientology and the U.S. government were not always cordial at first. In the 1970s, Scientology conducted infiltration and espionage of American institutions under the name Operation Snow White, which ended with the FBI storming the organization's headquarters. In this operation, Scientology's intelligence service (then the Guardian's Office, now the Office for Special Affairs - OSA) illegally gained access to 136 government agencies, foreign embassies and consulates, and private organizations critical of Scientology to obtain information and delete compromising documents. This was the largest infiltration in U.S. history. At the same time, a bitter 25-year war began between the Church and the Internal Revenue Service, the famous IRS. We are talking here about the government agency that managed to put Al Capone in jail for tax evasion while it failed there for murder and drug trafficking. For 25 years, Scientology claimed tax exemption as a religious institution. More than 50 lawsuits were filed by the organization against the IRS. In 1993, the IRS unexpectedly capitulated and granted the exemption. Four years later, the New York Times revealed some interesting background information. A private investigator told reporters that he and several other colleagues had been hired by Scientology to gather information on IRS officials, mainly about misconduct, alcohol and drug use, and extramarital affairs. The tax exemption was at the express request of the director of IRS and bypassed the normal approval process.

The weight of the Ron Hubbard- founded church in the political sphere seems to have increased disproportionately since the mid-1990s, when a powerful lobbying campaign was launched, described in detail by Steven A. Kent of the University of Alberta. The church funded politics to the tune of millions of dollars, and its celebrities (Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and others) personally financed election campaigns. According to Foucherau, Scientology paid $725,000 to a political lobbying firm in 1997, and $420,000 the following year. Greg Jensen, one of the church's most respected leaders, allegedly sponsored the campaign of Senator Benjamin A. Gillman, who would later become chairman of the OSCE Commission for Religious Freedom (yes, the one that nearly led to a diplomatic incident over attacks on French anti-cult policies at the OSCE meeting. See the first part). Operation Snow White is now a memory.

The relationship between Scientology and the U.S. security services, especially CIA, has often been spoken of in hushed tones. It is quite clear that the secret services are secret by definition, so that it is not granted to the ordinary citizen to know their activities and consequently the reasons and ways of their attendances. Nevertheless, sometimes strange things leak out. In the mid-1990s, for example, Greek police raided Scientology headquarters in Athens and seized a large number of the cult's internal documents, some of which were made public. Some of them contained references to CIA 's support for Scientology's foreign branches. Investigators found thousands of pieces of information about the private lives of citizens and evidence of espionage.

Greece's Director of Special Affairs (DSA) of Scientology mentions CIA intervention

When Gerry Armstrong, considered Scientology's greatest enemy, arrived in Russia, Moscow authorities were notified of his arrival by the U.S. Embassy so they could take detention measures against him.

Greg Mitchell, the founder of The Mitchell Company, is the official lobbyist for the Church of Scientology in Washington, D.C., and is himself a member of the Church of Scientology. According to insiders, his job is to help the church gain mainstream credibility with influential decision makers. He has been a regular guest in successive U.S. administrations since the 1990s. According to disclosure reports from the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, the controversial religious group has paid more than $1 million to Greg Mitchell since 2003 to conduct its lobbying efforts.

According to White House visitor logs, Gregory Mitchell attended a Sept. 28, 2009, "Criminal Justice Working Group" with political consultant David Pope at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

The Church of Scientology is an unofficial member of the non-governmental organization International Religious Freedom Roundtable, which Mitchell chairs. The IRFR's official website states, "The IRFR works to engage the United States government and urge its leaders to make religious freedom a higher priority in foreign policy and national security."

Greg Mitchell, Scientology lobbyist, together with the Clintons in the White House

b) Unification Church

Scientology's proximity to the U.S. government is certainly curious, as no other cult seems to enjoy the same level of attention from the U.S. government. The only one that comes close is the Reverend Moon's Unification Church, which seems to have taken a similar path to Scientology. The Moonies, as members of the church are colloquially known, own one of America's largest newspapers, the Washington Times! Several members of Congress are subsidized by Moon's church and no less than two presidents, George Bush Sr. and Gerald Ford, have accredited the organization by attending public events of the church.

in 1978, the Fraser Commission, a subcommittee of the US Congress, investigated the South Korean government's political interference in US policy, known as Koreagate. The commission published a report that also listed Moon's involvement in these activities. This 80-page report reported on the efforts of Moon's movement to influence US institutions and US foreign policy, partly in its own interest, partly in the service of the South Korean government and partly, of course, at its direct orders. There were also questions about lobbying for the renewal of a licence to produce weapons for one of Moon's companies and many other things.

Moon's political organisation called Confederation of Associations for the Unification of the Societies of Americas CAUSA funded Le Pen's 'National Front' in France, whose European parliamentarian Pierre Ceyrac was also the head of the French branch of CAUSA, with millions. In Germany, the board member of CAUSA, Ursula Saniewski, was personal assistant to Franz Schoenhuber of the far-right 'Republicans'. Together with the president of the Unification Church, Karl Leonhardtsberger, and the vice-president of CAUSA, she had previously planned to found another right-wing 'citizens' movement'.

The Unification Church's greatest commitment, however, was to US affairs, waging an anti-communist proxy war in Latin America. When Congress did not allow the Reagan administration to support the Nicaraguan 'contras' against the Sandinista regime in 1985, this issue was resolved by Moon's movement, which meant that Moon benefited from greater prominence and influence during the Reagan administration. The facts are well described by John Gorenfeld in his book Bad Moon Rising.

Ford Greene reports that the CAUSA had provided thousands of dollars and tonnes of food, medicine and clothing to the guerrilla forces. in 1985, the Washington Times set up a private fund for the contras and announced that Bo Hi Pak, the official publisher, had contributed $100,000 as part of the Moonies' effort to raise $14 million. When asked how the newspaper could afford this, the publisher explained that the owner of the newspaper (the Moon organisation) was willing to provide exceptional help on important moral issues.

c) The network

In the very mid-1990s, as anti-cult campaigns began in Europe and religious freedom control institutions proliferated in the United States, Moon's church and Scientology seemed to begin a fruitful collaboration. The two churches became rallying points for many other minority cults, forming more or less formal and more or less open alliances that were supported by America's fundamentalist Christian organizations and, by osmosis, by their political reference points as well. This gave rise to institutions such as the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, an interesting collection of diverse people ranging from ultra-conservative senators to Moonies and followers of the guru Sri Chimmoy. However, that does not stop the Institute from calling itself 'fundamentalist Catholic'. Its founder and president was Joseph K. Grieboski. In 2004, Daniel Chapman, a former employee of Grieboski, contacted noted activist Gerry Armstrong to inform him that when Grieboski founded the IRPP in 1999, he received $8,000 per month from Scientology. It is possible that Scientology itself paid for the founding of the IRPP. In December 2011, Mark ("Marty") Rathbun, a former high-ranking Scientologist, posted on his blog what he believed to be a Scientology document dated January 29, 2007, titled "Grieboski Program" which listed "goals" or actions that Church leaders believed Grieboski should take to solve Scientology's problems in Europe and facilitate its entry into Muslim countries.

Scientology lobbyist Greg Mitchell with FOB president Alex Amicarelli

IRPP thus ushered in the phenomenon of incongruent aggregations and paradoxical ecumenism. This is particularly evident in the following years with the explosion of associations and federations whose stated goal is to lobby national and supranational political bodies to oppose the actions of organizations protecting cult victims. For example, the Italian European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB), the organization that accused me of traveling to China to persecute people (see the first part). On its website, this organization claims to be "an interest-bearing NGO, registered in the Official Register of Lobbies at the EU Parliament and Commission in Brussels and Strasbourg, where it represents six nations." As an aside, one of the founding members and a person who still sits on the Scientific Committee is Fabrizio d'Agostini. His fact sheet is missing a basic piece of information, but one that is easy to find in Scientology publications: he is a high-ranking Scientologist.

The mission of the Belgian association Human Rights without Frontiers, of that Willy Fautrè we met at the beginning, when he stormed into the hall of the OSCE Secretariat, is similar. I have not told you how it ended. The small group of newcomers stood in the corner of the room opposite the corner where I stood with my new Kazakh friend, and the Belgian claimed to be first in line. To our objections, the advocate of 'human rights without frontiers' condescendingly replied that we were on the wrong side of the room and that the line started with him (who had arrived three hours later). To my objection that I thought this was an absurd argument, he simply said, 'You lost your place' and turned away as if nothing had happened. I know this is a minimal episode and only testifies to a questionable upbringing, nothing like the high-level ambiguities and international intrigue described above, but perhaps the pettiness of some 'civil rights' activists describes the characters better than a treatise on geopolitics, given how much my and my Kazakh friend's rights were respected. Fade out.

Go to the next part

back to the first part


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page