Bringing Salvation to the field of rubble

Sect adherents appear as assistants in New York

Tagesspiegel Berlin/September 19, 2001
By Gabriele Renz

The press wire read like a success story: "Volunteer Ministers (...) give assists to people in need at Ground Zero to get them going again. Then they show them how they can help others with assists. That way the number of qualified assistants continues to grow," announced Scientology.

Following that is a description, straight out of a Hollywood movie, of a religious awakening in which an exhausted fireman, after having received an "assist" from a member of Scientology, is then able to continue searching for his missing brother.

"Touch Assists," a type of laying on of hands, is recommended in "The Way to Happiness" brochure, a non-aggressive, soft-PR piece by the Scientologists. The organization praised itself for gaining permission to enter, along with police, firemen and Red Cross workers, the cordoned-off area around "the scene of the disaster at the World Trade Center."

According to their own reports, 450 of them are currently operating there. The German Office for the Protection of the Constitution did not show much surprise that the organization was operating in this "tense situation."

Stuttgart's office spokesman Klaus-Dieter Schiemann said that people should be asking themselves the question "whether that is what the workers need to help them pull body parts from the piles of debris." Schiemann said this was quite typical for a Scientology starting point: "a situation of fear and uncertainty." He said this could cause great difficulties for unstable or confused people in that Scientology would only be using their own model of information dissemination. Experts in the field are outraged.

This was a case of "an opportunity being shamelessly exploited," said Berlin Scientology critic Tilman Hausherr. Shortly after the murderous attacks, the organization was already soliciting for donations from members and non-members via e-mail. The same thing, according to Hausherr, happened back in the Oklahoma City bombing. It is "unbelievable" that the USA loudly warns people about fraud, then ignores Scientology, Hausherr believes.

Apparently Scientology strategically held up emergency personnel in New York - "members of the fire department, police, doctors and nurses" - and "trained them." That was reported by the organization's Baden-Wuerttemberg branch, which also said that the "Dianetics Hotline" was broadcast on the screen by Fox. What they did not say was that they had gotten the number there by announcing it via e-mail as "National Mental Health Assistance."

"The crisis hotline is now available," was announced, but there was no mention of "Scientology." But for those who called, that was who they got. The St. Petersburg Times reported that they were offered a free publication based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard. Fox TV, which has since apologized for not having done enough research, had let Scientology's 1-800-FOR-TRUTH number scroll for hours on the bottom of the screen - including during the broadcast of President Bush and his wife Laura at a memorial service.

Scientology spokesman Kurt Weiland, tried to avoid the situation. He said it was the broadcaster's fault, but confirmed that there were 450 "volunteers" in the closed-off area.

Michael Faenza, the head of the real National Mental Health Association in the USA, warned that Scientology was the last organization that emotionally vulnerable people should call. He said the organizations method of operation was "outrageous" and he urged "the Church of Scientology to stay out of the mental health side of what happens in the country now."

Scientology critic Hausherr believes it is simply "disgusting" that "they're actually continuing to do it." As of today, the Scientology "volunteers" are standing among the Manhattan debris in their bright yellow t-shirts. And boast to each other in e-mail about having impeded other "real" psychologists in their work.

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