Scientology can seem more silly than scary, with its zany mythology, made-up lingo, and Tom Cruise. But it was no joke when the group's leaders set out to destroy investigative journalist Paulette Cooper's life. In the new issue of Byline magazine, a publication of the New York Press Club , Cooper for the first time tells the full story of her 17-year battle against the followers of L. Ron Hubbard.
It began in 1968 when she wrote a story, "The Scandal of Scientology," for Queen, a British magazine. Despite receiving a death threat, Cooper decided to write a book on the topic. "I was naive and had no idea of the horrors that lay in store for me," she writes.
A series of lawsuits by the Church of Scientology convinced the publisher of Cooper's book to issue an apology and a recall, but the forces she had unleashed were not satisfied. First, Cooper discovered her phone was being tapped. Then, her cousin was assaulted by a man who, posing as a flower-deliveryman, gained entrance to her apartment and pulled a pistol on her. (The gun jammed.) When Cooper moved to a more secure building, someone sent 300 of her neighbors an anonymous letter claiming she was a prostitute and had molested a child.
It got worse.
Cooper was arrested and charged with mailing an anonymous bomb threat to a Scientology spokesman. In front of a grand jury, the prosecutor revealed that her fingerprints were on the letter. Certain she was going to prison for a crime she hadn't committed, Cooper contemplated suicide. Her fiancée left her. She hired a private investigator—none other than wiretapping suspect Anthony Pellicano—who proved useless. Her weight dwindled to 83 pounds.
Her luck finally turned after a Scottish professor who was writing a book on Scientology provided prosecutors with information about "fair game"—the Church doctrine that encourages Scientologists to attack their enemies by any means. Cooper also persuaded a neurologist to inject her with truth serum and interrogate her to prove she was telling the truth. The government dropped its case.
In 1977, an FBI raid on Scientology offices revealed the truth: Cooper was the target of something code-named "Operation Freakout," a scheme intended to land her in jail or in a mental ward. She concluded that a man who had stayed in her apartment prior to her arrest had been a Scientologist who had stolen paper with her fingerprints on it to forge the bomb threat.
"I sometimes get discouraged because Scientology gets so much assistance and publicist from people like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, she writes. "As for me, I often wish I had never even heard the word 'Scientology.' But given the same situation, I would still do it all over again. I would not have been capable of remaining quiet, because I learned too many scary things and talked to too many people who were being hurt."