You've already heard about the invasion of Virginia Tech by a couple dozen "volunteer ministers" from the Church of Scientology. Now comes the mudslinging.
Xenuphobes sick of seeing yellow-shirted Scientologists show up to disasters alongside cable news cameras have accused Virginia Tech of inviting L. Ron's minions. An alleged "ministers consultant" named Irmin wrote an all-points bulletin e-mail sent to Scientology volunteers last week stating: "Our [volunteer ministers are] ... working in the student trauma center at the request of the provost. The VM [volunteer minister] team is helping her establish order and have started to deliver assists to students."
The e-mail, posted by an alert Radar reader in our Comments section, also claimed that the Salvation Army had urgently sought the help of L. Ron's kids: "We have been asked by the Salvation Army staff ... to provide 24-hour help for the next two days in the form of grief counseling and trauma relief for the parents and families of the victims."
Well, not quite.
Mark McNamee, the provost of Virginia Tech (who, despite being referred to as a "her" in the e-mail, is a dude) made no such request, according to the university. "No administrator invited the Church of Scientology or any other group to campus," says Kerstin Roan of Virginia Tech's public relations department, adding that in the chaos following the shootings, anyone offering help was "welcomed with open arms."
"There was never any request," acknowledges Abby Wertz, a Scientology volunteer who traveled to Blacksburg last week from New York City and who was listed as a contact in the e-mail. "Someone went into an office where the assistant to the provost was working, and that person met with her, and she was grateful for our help and asked us to continue helping." In other words, a "thank you" from an assistant became a request for assistance from, as the e-mail puts it, "the senior academic administrator and third in command of the university."
Likewise, representatives of the Salvation Army say they never sought out the Scientologists for help. "I certainly didn't make a request," says Capt. Richard White of the Roanoke Salvation Army, who spent last week on the scene. "And I was the zone commander so I would have been the one to make the call. I think they're a little overzealous in their reporting of that." White says he doubts the Church's claim that 25 volunteers were on the ground. "I saw a couple of folks in yellow shirts," he says. "But you would notice 25 people."
Sylvia Stanard, a Church of Scientology spokeswoman, dismisses the e-mail. "I'm not sure where they got that information," she says, speculating that overeager volunteers misconstrued a "casual conversation in the middle of the night" as an official request for help. But she adamantly defends the Church's role in rendering "assists" to trauma victims, and insists that Scientologists are not there for recruiting purposes. "Absolutely not," she says. "There's no proselytizing."
The e-mail, however, notes that "a group of professors" had asked the Scientology volunteers for help as well, and that ministers would be "hatting them"—that's Scientology jargon meaning they'd be teaching and instructing—"on assists and Dianetics."
Asked for details about how, precisely, she was helping survivors, Wertz referred Radar to the Scientology website, which features tutorial techniques like a "nerve assist"—a massage designed to dissipate a "standing wave" stuck in the middle of a "nerve channel."
Then, robotically, she adds, "We're just here to help people using the technology of Scientology, which was invented by L. Ron Hubbard."