Andreas Heldal-Lund was not the first person to provide information critical of Scientology on the Internet, and he was not the only one who fought attempts by the church to have his website taken down. But for many years, Heldal-Lund's "Operation Clambake" has been among Scientology's biggest Internet headaches around the world. A Norwegian computer engineer who became interested in a local Scientology court case in 1996, Heldal-Lund quickly came to symbolize the free-speech fight that was galvanizing Internet activism against Scientology and its heavy-handed methods. As his website grew to be an enormously comprehensive depository of information about the church, Scientology targeted it and Heldal-Lund with retaliation. In liberal Norway, however, they found it tough slogging.
I first wrote about Heldal-Lund in 2001, describing how he was thought of as "the devil" by Scientologists like Tory Christman, who couldn't imagine why Scientology's Office of Special Affairs hadn't been able to take down Operation Clambake and all of its "entheta" -- negative information about the church. In that story, I described how it wasn't only his website that finally broke down Christman's objections, but it was the way he reached out to her, took her seriously, spoke to her in a rational and calm way about his concerns with Scientology, and ultimately helped her leave the church after she had been in for 30 years. When I asked him about it, about how he had reached across the planet and helped a hardcore Scientologist break out of the thinking that had kept her in its grips for three decades, he was so humble, I have never forgotten his words: "I was just there at the right time, maybe saying the right things," he said.
Heldal-Lund has been entirely consistent over the last 15 years. He never criticizes an individual for getting involved in Scientology; it's the church itself and its management that he objects to, and he maintains that the best approach is to provide information and support to anyone who wants to see that information. I've found that the best of the old time critics tend to share that point of view. And the rest of this entry will look at others who fit that description. Some are no longer with us, but their efforts have not been forgotten.
It was Jeff Jacobsen who, searching for information on Clearwater, Florida before organizing a picket of Scientology facilities there, stumbled on a notice by the town's police department that it needed the public's help regarding an unusual death. Although Jacobsen was in Arizona at the time, he recognized right away the address on the police notice: Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel. He quickly notified other critics and a Tampa reporter, and soon, the rest of the world became aware of the strange details of Lisa McPherson's life and demise under the care of the church. Before long, the McPherson matter became one of Scientology's worst public relations nightmares in its history. I wrote about Jeff in 1999, first giving him credit for that discovery. He later moved to Florida to be a part of the Lisa McPherson Trust (he now lives in his native South Dakota). To this day, he maintains one of the best sources for information on McPherson's life and death.
Bob Minton (1946-2010): As this excellent article in the St. Pete Times explains, Bob Minton seemed to come out of nowhere in 1997, and soon became the biggest thing in Scientology watching. Sprinkling his millions all over the place, he seemed like the angel investor critics never knew they needed. I had only one conversation with him -- in 2001, when the Lisa McPherson Trust he funded welcomed Tory Christman with open arms as she fled Scientology. He said he was thrilled to help, and it just seemed normal by then that when there was a problem involving ex-Scientologists, Minton was there to make everything right. Of course, just a year later, everything had gone upside down, and Minton, under intense pressure from Scientology's legal onslaught, was testifying in court that attorney Ken Dandar was a "lying thief." There were a lot of hurt feelings in those days, but after the defection of some of the people who put that pressure on him, and then Minton's untimely death last year, it feels like it's time to remember the man who once inspired many people to take up picket signs against an organization's abuses.
Ida Camburn (1923-2010) lost a son to Scientology, and she began fighting the organization so long ago, references to her were found in church documents seized in the 1977 FBI raids. I came to know her because, back in the day, you couldn't write about Scientology without hearing from Ida Camburn. Living right in the shadow of Scientology's secretive desert headquarters, she would send encouraging e-mails and pass on tips, and nothing ever seemed to discourage her. As I said earlier this year, when documents became public that showed Ida had been duped by a Scientology mole to gather information about journalist Richard Leiby, that revelation made me very angry: "No one, in the 16 years I've been reporting on Scientology, was more pleasant and helpful than Ida Camburn," I wrote. She is missed.
Kristi Wachter has very quietly run two of the most useful websites imaginable -- Scientology-lies.com, and TruthAboutScientology.com. They include databases built on Scientology's own records, which are helpful if you want to know an individual Scientologist's "completion records" -- how many courses or levels a member has accomplished. For a journalist, it's an amazing tool that helps confirm that a person actually is a Scientologist, for how long, and to what degree. Wachter has had to defend the sites from numerous attacks, mostly from people who didn't like seeing their names there and some from Scientology itself.
Although Rick Ross is known primarily as a critic of Bible-based organizations that he identifies as cults, he has long been a thorn in the side of Scientology, which has spent no small amount of resources fighting with him. Over the years, Ross has built his website into a huge collection of information about many different questionable religious movements. (Ross also has special status here at the Voice underground bunker: it was an article about him that was not only my first reporting on Scientology, in 1995, but my first cover story ever, for the Phoenix New Times.)
When Rick Ross ran into a DDOS attack of his website (not Scientology-related), he wanted me to know that it was Zenon Panoussis who had the genius to fend off the attack and get him back online. Panoussis is better known for dealing with hellacious litigation in Sweden after he posted some of Scientology's high-level secret material. Though he eventually lost the case, Zenon had a knack for turning Scientology's litigation tactics against them, most memorably when he successfully invoked the Swedish constitution to make available to the general public Scientology's NOTs documents, drawing significant publicity. It took years for Scientology to successfully lobby to amend Swedish law so that the documents could be sealed.
Like Zenon, Dutch writer Karin Spaink [homepage] also withstood years of the Scientology litigation gauntlet in the name of free speech. Spaink had posted the infamous Fishman Affidavit to her website, which contained nearly all of Scientology's OT level materials, along with her analysis of Hubbard's work. Ten years after Spaink posted them, a Dutch court found that even if Spaink may have violated copyright law, her quotation of material served a higher goal in exposing Scientology as a group that undermines democracy.
Chris Owen is a British historian best known for Ron the War Hero, published in 1999, a thorough refutation of Scientology's official account Hubbard's World War II years. Owen has been quietly working behind the scenes on many of Wikipedia's pages on Scientology. In Germany, Tilman Hausherr has hosted an anti-Scientology website about as long as Heldal-Lund has in Norway, and his Scientology Celebrity FAQ remains an invaluable resource for getting the lowdown on which celebrities got sucked into the church. David Gerard stopped his involvement in 2000, but he was the most influential Australian critic of his day, and his website is still a major resource.
Here in the U.S., Ron Newman was one of the earliest net-based critics, and focused on the church's battle with the Internet. Rod Keller was renowned for publishing ARS Week in Review -- a summary of the most important posts to the Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology -- and also worked for the Lisa McPherson Trust. Speaking of ARS, the history of Scientology criticism would be incomplete without mentioning Scott Goehring, who in 1991 created the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup that would go on to become the bane of Scientology's existence for the next 15 years. "Modemac," a Church of the Subgenius member, built the first one of the first anti-Scientology website (founded June 30, 1995), which remains intact and invaluable today. (Ron Newman points out that he and Modemac were beaten to the 'net by a site built by Bob 'Da Sloth' Bingham. It's no longer online, but you can still see it archived at the Wayback Machine.) Grady Ward and Keith Henson both withstood years as defendants -- often pro se -- in suits against the Church of Scientology, Henson for copyright infringement and "interference with a religion," and Ward for copyright infringement and trade secret violations. Ward's victory on the trade secret claim put an end to Scientology's dubious argument that their supposedly religious documents were also trade secrets.
Finally, we want to recognize Xenubarb for going full tilt since the 90s, picketing with both OG and Anonymous, writing letters to officials, writing about Scientology at her Daily Kos diary, and even writing a book, a fiction based on her experiences criticizing Scientology.
Others have of course worked to get the word out about Scientology--more than a few galleries and who's who lists remain, documenting those contributors. But it takes a special kind of dedication to make this much of a contribution, over such a period of time, in the face of such opposition -- especially for people who were never in Scientology themselves. [And special thanks to Scott Pilutik for his invaluable help with this entry in our countdown.