Scientology's Antagonists

An ex-Scientologist and an army of online pranksters attempt to bring down the controversial religion.

San Francisco Weekly/August 13, 2008

Maybe it's his badass black outfit with blood-red letters screaming "Scientology Kills." Or possibly it's his crew cut, or his nose slammed 45 degrees left after catching one too many right hooks. Maybe it's the hardcore cell-phone earpiece or the camcorder strapped to his palm to record confrontations. Whatever it is, when Tommy Gorman stands at a man's door demanding he get his "chicken-shit ass out here," you doubt it's an invitation to a civil chat.

Gorman moved the man whose rear was in question, president of the San Francisco Church of Scientology Jeff Quiros, to his shitlist about seven years ago. The feeling is mutual. "I don't hold the best wishes for Tommy Gorman," Quiros says. "He's a lying criminal, and I would hope he ends up going to jail one day for the things he's done." Quiros would not be taking Gorman up on his offer for a tête-à-tête that July afternoon, earning him Gorman's favorite epithet of "coward."

Gorman's antagonism used to be directed at people exactly like himself. He was raised in Scientology - his family called Quiros "Uncle Jeff" - and never questioned that enemies of the religion deserved harassment. While defending Scientology, he heckled psychiatrists entering conventions before he could do multiplication, and held "Religious Bigot" signs outside critics' houses before he could legally drink.

But Gorman's loyalty to Scientology turned to rage against it in 2001, after his then-teenage friend Jennifer Stewart, now his wife, alleged she was forcibly raped by an adult staff member of the Mountain View branch of the church. Both say that Scientology officials, including Quiros, urged them not to go to the police. Scientology staffers vigorously deny both allegations. In a later civil suit, the church weighed the bad press that might come from the "incendiary" allegations coming out at trial and paid Stewart a handsome 2005 out-of-court settlement that barely made the news.

It could have been expected that Tommy Gorman wouldn't go quietly, especially since he's convinced that the organization known for ardently going after its critics intimidated his family with threats, stalking, and even allegedly tampering with his car. He now stakes out the city's Scientology headquarters in the old Transamerica building at the foot of Columbus Avenue, where the late Scientology founder and science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard's words are gospel. Gorman turns the bulldog picketing tactics back on the organization he now calls a cult. He even shaves "S.P." on the back of his head, mocking the "suppressive person" label reserved for Scientology's most evil critics. Although Gorman never received the official declaration as such, Quiros says he considers Gorman one. Gorman says it's an honor.

Yet before January, no one dreamed that Gorman would be backed up by the most unlikely of allies: an army of Internet geeks pissed about a censored Tom Cruise video. The troops call themselves Anonymous, Quiros calls them the "electric Klan," and they have stepped out of cyberspace in masks to bring down Scientology, too. With an estimated 10,000 members worldwide, the Anons form the largest movement to ever oppose Scientology since mobilizing on Web message boards earlier this year. Their numbers have galvanized ex-Scientologists formerly too scared to protest their former church and others, like Gorman, who had picketed but who could never find a critical mass of support.

Until now. "I'm not going to go away," Gorman says. "I've already told [Scientology] if they want to get rid of me they're going to have to kill me, and they've already tried that."

On YouTube, a sample of a video filmed and produced by Gorman shows a heavy-set man puffing on a cigarette as he walks down the sidewalk lined with Anonymous protesters toward the church's door. Gorman recognizes the man as the brother of Kevin Creech, who defected from the S.F. organization four years ago. Creech was declared an SP and then "disconnected" by his two Scientologist brothers. (Policy requires that members must cut off contact with SPs, family or not.)

It's just more ammunition for Gorman: "Heeey! How's it feel knowing that your brother, Dan Creech, he won't talk to your other brother, Kevin?" he taunts. "How's Kevin doing since you don't talk to Kevin? ... Don't be a coward!"

The man silently holds the door for another Scientologist approaching with a walker, exposing himself to yet more time with his heckler. ("You can see in his face, he's like, 'Can you just hurry up?'" says Kevin Creech, who later watched the video online.)

Gorman is undeterred: "Are you being a coward again? Why won't you talk about disconnection? ... They lied to [Kevin], Scientology did! What else is Scientology lying about?"

Gorman's wife, Jennifer, chimes in: "It's so sad you got disconnected from your family."

Mike Creech pops a stick of gum in his mouth with studied nonchalance and walks through the doorway as Gorman calls after him: "C'mon, let's talk about this! Kevin's been in good communication with me!"

Gorman's aggression comes off as obnoxious to most, and even Anonymous has questioned whether Gorman, known in Anon culture as an "old guard" critic, is an asset or liability to the cause. In June, one Anon started a thread on the anti-Scientology site saying he was "disgusted" by Gorman's methods: "People who need to dump their aggression should go to the gym and do some bagwork, not take it out on individual Scinos [Scientologists]. ... I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH THAT THIS BEHAVIOUR WORKS AGAINST US, AND FOR THE CHURCH."

Others were Gorman apologists: "Tommy has been heavily fucked by the cult, and I think he has a lot of justifiable anger," one wrote. In other forums, others profess respect: Tommy "would eat two handfuls of glass shards if he thought it made some kind of point about how much scilons [Scientologists] suck."

There's no denying Gorman and Anonymous use very different means for a common end. The "raids," as Anons refer to their picketing, are much like parties laced with the idiosyncratic humor of an Internet culture fueled by "lulz" (a take-off of "lol," Internet shorthand for "laugh out loud"). While dance music blares from speakers, protesters decked out in everything from a Pac-Man head to a furry panda sweatsuit dance with signs, eat cake, and call each other some variation of "faggot." With lines like "You're too cool to be in a cult!" the Anons' goal is to get Scientologists to question their own beliefs, or at least to research their church and learn about its grinding down of critics in the legal system or scandals such as Operation Snow White, in which church agents infiltrated and stole documents from U.S. government agencies that were investigating it.

In contrast, Gorman thinks some upfront and personal confrontation is necessary to get through to Scientologists. "To wake them up, you can't be all kind and sweet, 'cause they'll just think you're an SP," he says. "They'll block it out. I get under their skin so well, they'll have to think about what I'm saying."

Gorman has had plenty of practice. Families have hired him to persuade a Scientologist loved one to leave the organization; he once hunkered down for a three-day intervention in an Ohio hotel. He'll debate for hours with doubting Scientologists who call him, some of whom he knew personally on the inside.

"He knows the mindset, the policies, how a Scientologist is conditioned to think and act, and he knows what helped to disillusion him," says Steven Hassan, a Massachusetts-based cult "exit counselor" who has recruited Gorman to help him with Scientology cases.

Despite their internal squabbles, Gorman and Anonymous appear to be a united front to Quiros when he looks onto the street. He doesn't appreciate that the couple the church paid "to minimize the effects of this unfortunate incident" have returned with buddies who back their version of events.

"This Jennifer [Gorman] case was behind us," Quiros says. "This makes [Tommy] feel important, and if you tell a huge lie, it's human nature to try to convince everyone it was true. The more people he can convince, it becomes more true for him."

To the protesters, the San Francisco Scientology church sits like an impenetrable fort with first-floor curtains drawn down during protests like drawbridges, leaving the Anonymous outside to yell "Get out while you still can!" to those going in or out.

But on most days, the church's front door is wide open. Just inside, copies of Hubbard's classic text Dianetics are lined up like a bookstore display. A walk-through museum includes exhibits with titles like "L. Ron Hubbard - The Legacy." At desks lining the room's sides, women wearing navy jackets with anchors on the breast talk to newcomers: "The class I'm gonna recommend you start with - it's not a lot of money. The class allows you to take a bite out of Scientology," says one, who then draws a metaphor: "You gotta experience what the sunset is like."

Called by the receptionist, Jeff Quiros pads across the carpet in a gray pin-striped suit and freshly combed hair to lead a tour, making clear his intent is to demystify the church: "I'm sorry there's no flying saucers or baby eating or things like that." Still, there are interesting touches. As in all orgs, as Scientologists refer to the churches, there is a working office for the late Hubbard, filled weekly with fresh flowers. Behind a door in the basement that reads "Silence! Auditing in Process," a ring of tiny rooms sits ready for a staff member to question parishioners with an E-meter, a type of lie detector Scientologists believe can identify issues that trouble your unconscious. Quiros descends a ramp to a still lower part of the basement, where a man jogs on one of six treadmills facing a wall depicting a nature landscape. Like all Scientologists at a certain level in their coursework, the man will soon sit in a sauna to rid the body of toxins Hubbard believed made the mind "duller," Quiros explains. "Just like anything else in Scientology, you do that until you're done. [The process] could take two weeks; it could take a month."

Raised Catholic in San Francisco, Quiros first read Dianetics when he attended UC Davis, and says Hubbard's teachings explained some of his childhood ESP experiences. After a few years as an elementary school teacher, Quiros joined the staff at the Davis mission before eventually becoming the head of the San Francisco org a quarter-century ago.

That's where Quiros first impressed Gorman. "If I had to choose an uncle or even a father, I would choose him," Gorman says. "I was like, 'I wish I could be like him.'"

Gorman's own father joined as a teenager and, while a young man, worked as a cook for the Sea Org, the naval-like brigade whose members sign a billion-year contract to serve the church. Gorman's mother joined the church with the intention of getting her sister out, and remained skeptical as the family drained their money on costly E-meter sessions or two-week cruises aboard the Scientology ship, the Freewinds.

Still, Gorman dreamed of rising through the organization's ranks. He attended schools that taught a Scientology curriculum, starting in preschool with Quiros' former wife as his teacher. Gorman dropped out at 16 to volunteer at the San Francisco org. When he was 18, he says, Quiros started sending him to picket critics' houses for the Office of Special Affairs, of which Quiros is the director. Quiros counters that it was actually a part of a group within the church called the Scientology Parishioners League; Quiros monitored its activity, but didn't tell members whom to picket.

As a volunteer, Gorman targeted critics including San Francisco-based picketer Kristi Wachter, who ran a Web site called "I felt like I was one of the elite ones because most Scientologists are afraid to be around SPs," Gorman says. He would hold up "Religious Bigot" signs in front of Wachter's house, distribute pamphlets to her neighbors, and heckle her if she came out. Yet Wachter says he was not as nasty as some of the other picketers: "You know how adolescent kids get?" she says. "Like, 'Let me see how much I can needle someone and get away with it.' It was for approval."

In August 2000, Gorman joined the staff at the Mountain View org, where he recognized Jennifer Stewart, a former classmate. Stewart had stopped attending school at 14 to work as a receptionist at the org.

Stewart later alleged that, when she was 16, a staff member told her the church had "ordered" her to stay weeknights at 27-year-old course supervisor Gabriel Williams' one-bedroom apartment in nearby San Jose, where he lived with his fiancée. Her father, Michael Stewart, later told police that he was uncomfortable with the placement - church members described Williams in court documents as a gregarious man who cracked dirty jokes about underage girls. But the elder Stewart said he understood it was a church order, and backed down.

"That's like parents giving their kids Kool-Aid at Jonestown," says Ford Greene, the San Anselmo-based attorney who has handled many high-profile cases against Scientology, and who Jennifer hired for the civil suit. "The level of control is total."

The church denies there was an order for her to stay with Williams, instead saying it was an arrangement Stewart, also a course supervisor at the time, worked out to shorten her commute from San Lorenzo.

While at the org, Gorman noticed Stewart was gaining weight, was frequently crying, and often ran outside or to the bathroom to vomit. She claims another church staffer had her take a pregnancy test, and that she was questioned about her sex life in sessions with the E-meter.

After nine months of staying at Williams' apartment, Stewart finally told Gorman what had happened: According to court documents, she alleges Williams forcibly raped her more than 100 times, threatening to kill her if she told anyone. Stewart says she was terrified that if she reported him, she would be declared an SP and her family would disconnect.

Gorman says he called Quiros the next day, who told him not to go to the cops. But Quiros now counters he didn't say anything about the police, instead telling Gorman to inform Mountain View's then-director of special affairs, Mark Warlick, who told Stewart's father the church would investigate. (Warlick was unavailable for comment.) The org says Williams was fired the next day. Gorman and Stewart's families left Scientology.

"To a certain degree, it's a sad spot in my life because I cared about [the Gormans] and they cared about me," Quiros says.

Terrified that Williams or the church would come after her, or that she would be turned over to child protective services and psychiatrists, who Hubbard said practiced electric shock treatment and lobotomy, Stewart hid at the Gorman family's properties until she turned 18. Her father told a detective that church members contacted his family several times that year to urge them not to go to the police. Nevertheless, Stewart walked into the San Jose Police Department in June 2002 and told her story to then-Detective Jason Herr.

After listening in on a phone call between Stewart and Williams where Williams admitted what he did was "bad, evil, psychotic, freaky," Herr arrested Williams in Florida and had him extradited to California. "[Williams] knew it was inappropriate; they were engaging in sex acts that were by no means appropriate," the detective says. "But he was very adamant that this wasn't a rape or forced situation." Ultimately, "it's what are we going to be able to prove in court? What's the jury going to believe?"

In 2003, Williams pleaded guilty to sexual battery and sodomy with a minor in Santa Clara Superior Court. He was sentenced to a year in county jail and five years' probation. According to the sex offender registry, he lives in Lake County, California. (Williams has not responded to a letter requesting comment, nor has his civil attorney responded to an e-mail.)

Gorman and Stewart married in May 2003. Having researched cases against Scientology for months, they finally decided to press a civil suit against the church. That's when the Gormans say they began to be subjected to the church's "fair game" policy. A 1967 order from Hubbard stated that an SP may be "tricked, sued, or lied to, or destroyed." The church says the policy was cancelled decades ago, but critics claim they can cite many examples to this day.

As documented in police reports Gorman has since posted online, his father answered the phone to hear someone say, "SPs don't live long! Your son and his wife Jennifer will be dead soon!" Gorman's mother was tailed in her car for 45 minutes. After Jennifer lost control of the couple's 1991 Lexus while on the way to her attorney's office, a mechanic showed police that all six bolts connecting the left axle to the transmission were missing, which was probably done deliberately. City child protection workers showed up at the Gormans' house on an anonymous tip that Gorman's father may have sexually abused Tommy's sister, Christle. Gorman has no proof it was Scientology other than the timing, and Quiros denies the church was involved. About the axle, he says, "the most likely story is [Gorman] did it himself."

Quiros visited the Gormans' house near Lake Merced and Gorman's sister's karate studio to "talk some sense into them" about going to mediation, and not pursue a trial. Gorman says at points his family and even Jennifer tried to persuade him to drop the case because of the harassment, but that made him only more determined: "We fell into a bucket of shit, and now we had to climb out of it," he says. "I decided I had to stop being a pussy about it."

When Greene took on the case, Jennifer refused to be alone and rarely left the house. She and Tommy said they never had sex. Greene says she still couldn't complete more than one or two sentences about what happened to her before starting to sob or vomit - this was not a woman who would be able to tell her story on the witness stand. "She was a crushed little pup," the attorney says.

So Greene told her she had to overcome her terror to pursue the case, and worked out a plan where she would stand outside alone for one minute each day and work up to 20 minutes. While standing in front of the house, Jennifer scribbled in a notebook, "I'm scared that someone is going to drive by and shoot me in the head. What I mean by someone is Scientology."

Finally, at a mediation session, Jennifer told her version of the story. She was tearful yet focused. "I knew she had it in her," Gorman says. "When you show them you're not scared, that's when Scientology gets scared."

The church's attorneys called the suit a "shakedown" in a mediation statement and said officials had no knowledge of the relationship. But Quiros says the church had to consider the legal fees and disastrous publicity of Jennifer's allegations seeing court: "The blowback would be outrageous."

The Gormans can't discuss the amount on the 2005 settlement check, but Lawrence Wollersheim, a fellow ex-Scientologist who was awarded an $8.7 million judgment for "infliction of emotional distress" against the church in 2002, says he knows it was in the "high, high hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Now 24, Jennifer says she feels relieved the lawsuit is over. "I at least did something, to a certain degree, that I feel happy about," she says. She still has difficulty talking about her past, so Gorman usually speaks for her with the straightforward, look-you-in-the-eye assertion of a military recruiter. His story never wavers, and since the settlement, he has told it to whoever will listen. He posted an account with Jennifer's picture on the anti-Scientology site He befriended other former Scientologists nationwide and flew down to Los Angeles for several protests. Usually more than 20 critics would RSVP for such things, but Gorman says most "chicken-shitted out." At San Francisco protests, Gorman rarely got anyone to join him. Finally in February, he heard from other critics that a group named Anonymous had organized on the Internet to stage a protest in Los Angeles. He headed down, camera in hand.

After five months of protesting together more or less in harmony, a faction of Anonymous almost broke up with Tommy Gorman. The drama is lived out on multiple threads dozens of posts long, but the brief version goes like this: Old-guard Scientology critic Tory Christman ventured into a ruckus message board called the Thunderdome on, a haven for the darker-humored subset of Anonymous who "flame" their targets with insults, the more politically incorrect the better. Christman joined in the mudslinging, but when one post talked about "anal raping" her, she apparently didn't catch that such threats usually mean little outside of cyberspace. Christman told Gorman, who then challenged one of the forum posters known as megaphonebitch at the July protest with something to the tune of "before you get to [Tory], you're going to have to deal with me."

Then Gorman became the joke. Someone in the Thunderdome Photoshopped his head onto gay porn. Another poster slapped up his promotional amateur boxing photo at the top of the forum. They mocked his bad spelling and his intelligence: "Poor guy, they mutilated his brains ... it's like watching ozzy after all those years of drug abuse."

Poster LordCeptimos added: "HA HA HA! Funny shit ... however ... know this ... tommy can beat the shit out of you ... literally. lets hope he can take a joke."

Turns out he could. Gorman posted that it was a misunderstanding and he had found the porn "hella funny." For now, peace reigns again - "Tommy doesn't understand how the Internet works," Pandarific says - but the Anons are still laughing. One in Austin created a mask of Gorman's face to print out and wear to protests. They created a lovingly satirical entry for him on Encyclopedia Dramatica, the Wikipedia-style archive of troll culture. Megaphonebitch changed one of his screen names on the Bay Area message board to Tommy Gorman, and Anons have started dropping "Tommy Gorman" into their speech as a verb or noun meaning nothing in particular. "Poor Tommy has become a meme," says SanFranAnon, using the term for an idea or joke that catches on and is circulated ad nauseam throughout the net community.

Gorman takes a let-the-nerds-be-nerds view of his infamous status among Anonymous, and says he has more important battles. Though he admits he has no solid proof, he stacks up the scratches on his grandma's car, the mysterious van parked outside with its lights on, and a stranger telling his mother not to let him go to a recent protest in D.C. as evidence of continuing harassment from the church. "I feel it's normal," Jennifer says flatly. The couple bought three Rottweilers to guard the house and named them Killer, Beast, and Boss, the last of which responds only to commands in German. Gorman posted a chronicle of the van episode on YouTube, which even Quiros watched.

"Just try to look through it and go, 'Am I watching a delusional human being, or am I watching a rational person that's making rational arguments?'" Quiros says. "I got cut off [while driving] a couple of weeks ago. I should have said it must have been Tommy Gorman."

Still, Gorman says the days of fear for him were gone long ago, and for Jennifer, they're diminishing with every protest. She carries a sign: "Scientology Protected the Man Who Raped Me." After a surprise pregnancy - she still finds intimacy difficult - Jennifer gave birth a year ago to their daughter, Gwendolyn. Having a child has helped her focus on something other than the past: "She makes me happy," Jennifer says. "I just think about her. I don't really think about myself." She hopes to eventually get a nursing degree; Tommy, who works for his dad's construction company, dreams of becoming an attorney to represent cases against Scientology. First, he'll have to get his GED.

Now if he could just get Quiros to face him. That was the issue at hand at the July raid where Gorman delivered his "chicken-shit ass" line.

"Tell him Tommy wants to talk to him very peacefully. There's an officer here to, you know, watch the whole thing," Gorman says, motioning to Sergeant Carl Tennenbaum.

"I'm not gonna be out here," Tennenbaum says with a smirk, sensing a beef he didn't want to be dragged into. "I don't think [Quiros] is coming out here, either. I think he's smarter than that."

Gorman knows darn well Quiros wouldn't be coming out that day - probably never. It's just that his camcorder is rolling, and the suspense makes such good YouTube.

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