Berlin -- For years the millionaire Robert Minton had fought against the Scientology sect. He gave his fortune for the cause and received awards - now he has changed sides.
Horror would be too weak a work, said Graham Berry. "It's a shock. A disaster." The Los Angeles lawyer loses a little of his composure as he talks about an "unbelievable coup by the Scientologists". Berry, who has represented a few clients in court cases against the controversial Scientology Organization, has just returned from Leipzig, Germany, where an award ceremony had been held, with a prize going to opponents of the sect. The speech on that special occasion was made by Günter Beckstein, Minister of the Interior for Bavaria. But Berry did not feel much like celebrating that day. After all, Robert Minton, the multimillionaire who was the first person to receive the award in 2000, had just switched sides.
Minton was the sect opponents' major bank roller in the US, and he talked with politicians and secret services. Now he is supplying the sect, which is being monitored by the intelligence service in Germany, with material against those people who used to be his allies. "The consequences of his breach of trust are not at all foreseeable as yet," said Graham Berry.
This is the story of a man who had got ready to do battle. An investment banker from Boston - with assets of over 50 million dollars - taking a stand against the sect. Robert Minton, now 55 years old, first came across Scientology when he was surfing the net in 1995. At the time the sect was trying to silence its critics who accused it of manipulating its disciples by brainwashing them. Minton found out more and began to fund the opponents of Scientology, true to the old American motto: "If you want to do something, don't wait for the state, do it yourself."
The battle against the sect soon became Minton's real purpose in life. Former Scientologists looked to him as their protector. "Anyone leaving the sect is ruined and has lawsuits piled on them," he said. "I want to use my money to help them defend themselves." He funded their litigation and paid them a monthly salary. Graham Berry said that Minton had acted "like a father". "He was a loyal friend."
Minton spent 2.5 million dollars on a critical film about L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, who died in 1986. He took part in protests in front of Scientology branches and traveled to Europe to meet politicians and critics of the sect. When he gave a speech last year in Leipzig in praise of that year's award-winner Norbert Blüm, he compared Scientology with the Nazis and described it as a "new form of totalitarianism, that disguises itself in the sheep's clothing of religion and psychotherapy." He described himself as "Scientology's public enemy number one". The banker repeatedly spoke about being on a "crusade".
Minton said that he had invested ten million dollars in this crusade. And a spokesman for the sect in Florida stated that "no one before has ever fought such a campaign against us. Minton wanted to destroy Scientology." The opportunity to strike a serious blow against the sect came with the case of Lisa McPherson. In 1995 the 36-year-old Scientologist suffered an accident in Clearwater, Florida, a Scientology stronghold, and was taken to hospital where she was diagnosed as having a "psychiatric problem". Since Scientology fights against anything to do with psychiatry, Scientologists took Lisa to "Fort Harrison", a former first-class hotel, where the sect now runs courses. Seventeen days later Lisa McPherson was again taken to a hospital. She died on the way there. She was completely emaciated. The forensic doctor found "severe dehydration", but retracted her findings when it came to the criminal case against Scientology. The District Attorney's Office had accused the Scientologists of negligent homicide because Lisa McPherson had not been treated by qualified medical staff. The case was dismissed. It has still not been settled.
In the US, Lisa McPherson and her fate became a symbol for the anti-Scientology movement. In a parallel action to the criminal case, Lisa's family instituted proceedings for damages against the sect. The case was to come to court in July. "The Scientologists are scared of the case," said Berry. "If they lose, their image will suffer greatly and they run the risk of their customers staying away. So it's also about a large amount of money."
So far Robert Minton has provided a total of two million dollars to support the family's lawsuit. In addition he set up a company called the Lisa McPherson Trust in 1999, with the aim of looking after the victims of Scientology and of gathering information about the sect. In the Trust, Minton brought together the major opponents of Scientology in the US. But the Lisa McPherson Trust also became the turning point for Minton's crusade. "He had the crazy notion of locating the Trust in Clearwater, with five thousand Scientologists living there," said Graham Berry. Minton bought a house that was sited between an office building belonging to the sect and its secret service, the "Office of Special Affairs". A provocation. The Trust immediately found itself in something like a state of siege. Berry remembered that "Minton and his people were always under observation. Video cameras filmed everyone entering or leaving the building."
For the eight employees and their visitors, life in Clearwater meant running the gauntlet. There were demonstrations and counter-demonstrations almost on a daily basis, with charges and countercharges being brought. "Private detectives appeared at the offices and homes of Minton's business partners and relatives, Scientologists distributed flyers against him, details from his medical files were posted on the Internet," said Graham Berry. Scientologists also accused Minton of having laundered money for the Nigerian government on a grand scale. Minton defended himself against such accusations in the court - and won his case as well. But not all the proceedings in this matter have been completed yet.
Minton is not an easy person to deal with. His employees say of him that he is like a little king. Apparently he likes to pull strings. Intimate friends have seen him out of control. And there were repeated violent disputes with Scientologists. In 1999 the court issued an injunction against Minton and Scientology, compelling them to keep a minimum distance of three meters from each other during demonstrations.
In an interview Minton's response to the question of whether he saw the danger of losing the fight against the sect, was as follows: "I am quite happy to accept this risk, but I do not really see that danger." He was to be proved wrong. The situation in Clearwater got out of hand and the employees could not take the pressure any more. In November 2001 Minton was forced to close the Lisa McPherson Trust. "But that does not mean that we are giving up", he said, "I don't feel defeated." But things were to turn out quite differently. The McPherson family's suit for damages was delayed for five years. Scientology in turn brought an action against the family and against Minton. They alleged that the banker, rather than the family of deceased, was directing the lawsuit - and that was illegal. It is a lawsuit against the lawsuit.
In these proceedings, which Scientology had instituted with the new suit, a dramatic turnaround took place on April 9 of this year. On that day Minton appeared before the court and suddenly accused the attorney acting on behalf of the McPherson family, Kenneth Dandar, his brother-in-arms, that he had induced him to say "the worst possible things" about Scientology and to lie to the court. Minton said he himself had been lying when he testified that he was not directing the McPherson lawsuit. "Mister Dandar is a lying thief", Minton shouted, thumping his fist on the table. "I am now convinced that he is only sitting here for the money." Dandar's key consultant on Scientology issues, former Scientologist and Minton's friend, Stacy Brooks, suddenly also accused her attorneys of being liars. Scientology opponents in the court could not believe their ears. Some of them were crying. One of them said: "Bob, you've become a Scientologist." Even the judge checked that he had heard correctly. "What has prompted you to make this statement, Mister Minton?" he asked. Minton replied: "I could not bear the lies any longer." He had been afraid of having to go to prison for perjury. Newspapers in the United States were writing about a "collapse of the Scientology opposition".
The court case is continuing. Minton and Brooks are currently being cross-examined and are turning ever more vehemently against their former allies. Witnesses say that Minton is a regular visitor to "Fort Harrison", the sect's headquarters. Attorney Dandar suspects that Minton's mysterious behavior is due to a typical maneuver used by Scientology to eliminate an opponent. "Minton's statements are absurd," said Dandar. "It's very hard for me, because I admired Bob." Dandar believes that Minton is being blackmailed by Scientology with the aim of throttling the action for damages due to be heard in July. "He sacrificed six years of his life and ten million dollars for the battle against Scientology and then he suddenly changes sides? You just need to use your common sense to understand what's going on here."
In the meantime Minton and Brooks have admitted, in their cross-examinations, to having had secret meetings with the head of the Scientology secret service and with the sect's attorneys. Meetings that took place before the surprising change of sides. Attorney Dandar had known about these meetings since the end of March. "Bob said that the Scientologists had found out something about him and that he had to reach a settlement with them," said Dandar. It is probably related to tax liabilities. "I advised him to turn himself in and to pay the tax owing. Then he wouldn't have to fear any dire consequences. But Bob refused. He didn't say why."
In the US, and in Europe as well, opponents of the sect are now afraid of serious repercussions. "Minton knows a lot", said Graham Berry. He knows the strategies, structures and private details relating to opponents and politicians committed to fight against the sect.
The irony of this story is that Minton started a lot of things that are now bearing fruit. Two weeks ago the Scientology Organization in San Francisco paid the highest settlement ever to a former member. After 22 years of litigation, the sect paid Lawrence Wollersheim 8.7 million dollars in damages for "mental damage" as a result of its course program. Minton had supported Wollersheim with half a million dollars. It is the biggest success so far that his money has achieved against Scientology. "I'm sorry that Bob Minton is heading for disaster", said Graham Berry. "We have lost a friend."