When Palm Beach resident Paulette Cooper penned "The Scandal of Scientology" in 1971, she never imagined that 44 years later people would still be talking about it.
Cooper found herself in the Scientology spotlight again after she was interviewed in Lawrence Wright's 2013 best-selling book, "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief." More recently, she became the subject of Tony Ortega's new book, "The Unbreakable Miss Lovely," which was released .
Many have followed the tribulations of celebrities involved with the Church of Scientology. Some celebs have defended it; others broke away and became critics of its teachings.
The Church is actively recruiting new members locally. This month, a resident in the Wellington area received an unsolicited hand-written note from the church, along with several glossy pamphlets detailing the benefits Scientology. The note urged the resident to contact the church. "Our staff has been writing you letters trying to contact you," states a letter from Charles Fox, with letterhead from the Church of Scientology in Coral Gables. "Are you OK?"
Paulette Cooper got involved in the late '60s, when she was studying comparative religion at Harvard. According to "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief," Cooper began investigating the Church of Scientology after one of her friends joined. Back then, little was known about the Church of Scientology, which was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954.
"I just wanted to write, but I found myself in the position of being a whistle blower," Cooper said. "After I wrote my book, people started coming to me and sharing terrible stories about getting involved with Scientology and losing their family and all their money."
According to educational materials on the Church of Scientology's official website, Scientology.org, the religion focuses on the reactive mind (emotions) and analytical mind. Through Dianetic auditing sessions, a person holds an e-meter device and is then encouraged to talk to "thetans," or beings that Scientology characterizes as immortal spirits. These beings must be dispelled from the body and mind in order to maintain a "clear" state.
Auditing sessions can cost thousands of dollars and are needed to move up Hubbard's "Bridge to Total Freedom" in the Church of Scientology. According to a report on Altreligion.com, it costs $128,000 for an individual to reach the state of "clear."
CONTROVERSIES OF THE CHURCH
Scientology is back in headlines now because Lawrence Wright's 2013 book sparked Alex Gibney's recent documentary "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief."
More than 5.5 million people have viewed the documentary.
The Church's relationship with Paulette Cooper is also at the center of Tony Ortega's new book.
Ortega, who writes The Underground Bunker, a blog centered on the scandals of Scientology, traveled to Los Angeles this summer with Cooper to promote his book, which details Cooper's legal battles with Scientology as well as the traumatic early years of her life. After losing her parents to the Nazis in Auschwitz, Cooper successfully missed a train ride to the same death camp and spent six years in four orphanages in Belgium before getting adopted by an American couple and brought to the United States.
Cooper now lives in Palm Beach and writes a popular pet column for The Palm Beach Daily News, and she has authored multiple books on consignment shopping.
Forum Publishing contacted the Church of Scientology via phone and email multiple times for comment on the film and on Paulette Cooper, but the Church failed to respond to all queries.
"People have been calling me for over 40 years telling me horror stories about Scientology," Cooper said. "I knew of a son forced to disconnect from his mother when he joined the Church of Scientology, and he committed suicide. I was also getting calls from grandparents who were very upset to learn their grandchildren were brought into Scientology and being kept in unsanitary conditions with 30 other children and just one person to care for them."
In Cooper's book, she questioned the accuracy of Scientology's e-meters, which contain components of primitive lie detectors, she alleged inconsistencies in Hubbard's credentials and talked with Scientology defectors who claimed they were ripped off and harassed when trying to speak out against the church. She said she began receiving death threats, harassing phone calls and a whopping 19 lawsuits from the Church of Scientology. Her experience is documented in Wright's book.
In 1976, Cooper said, she became the target in "Operation Freakout," a detailed program she claims was spearheaded by the Church of Scientology to get her behind bars or sent to a mental institution. Wright's book claims "Operation Freakout" was one of the files taken by the FBI during a raid of Scientology offices in 1977 in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
"I was followed non-stop for three days while speaking at a convention several years ago," Cooper said. "You have to keep watching Scientologists. They have billions of dollars for advertising, but fewer celebrities are speaking out for Scientology now, which is a good thing."
BRINGING THE STORY FORWARD
Now 72, Cooper is considered a pioneer activist regarding the Church of Scientology. Ortega recently featured an account on his website from ex-Scientologist Len Zinberg, who apologized to Cooper for spy missions in the early 1970s in which he claims the Church of Scientology sent him to target her.
"I was now a participant in a project, devised and executed by the Church of Scientology, whose aim was to destroy Paulette, a woman who had done me no harm and bore me no malice," Zinberg wrote in the passage on Tonyortega.com.
But long before Cooper received the apology from Zinberg, she was sharing her plight with Ortega.
After Ortega met Cooper in person during one of her visits to New York, the idea of authoring a book about her life began to grow in his mind. "In the book, I wanted to tell the full story of her experience, but also weave it together with the many things that were happening to Scientology at the time," Ortega said. "I also wanted to bring the story forward to show that Scientology is in more dire straits than ever and is still relying on the same kinds of harassment techniques they used against Paulette in the 1970s."
Leah Remini, an actress who is one of Scientology's most famous ex-members, came out to meet Cooper during the California book tour at a party hosted by Spanky Taylor. Taylor, another famous defector of Scientology, appeared in Gibney's documentary.
Devoted Scientologists such as John Travolta have refused to see Gibney's film, which includes a variety of interviews from some of Scientology's most famous ex-members, including filmmaker Paul Haggis and former high ranking Scientology officials Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun.
Freedommag.org, a magazine run by the Church of Scientology, has launched a campaign against almost everyone who appeared in the documentary. Rathbun has been deemed "a violent psychopath," and Rinder has been labeled "a vicious liar to be avoided" on the website.
In 2005, global membership was estimated to be about 8 million, according to the Church of Scientology. A 2008 study released by the American Religious Identification Survey stated membership was just 25,000.
When a person questions anything about Scientology with a church member, that person is typically labeled as a "suppressive person," and the church member is then encouraged to cut off communication with that person, Cooper said.
Scientology.org states: "The suppressive person seeks to upset, continuously undermine, spread bad news about and denigrate betterment activities and groups. … When such a person is connected to Scientology, for the good of the Church and the individuals in it, such a person is officially labeled a suppressive person so that others will know not to associate with them."
One expert on Scientology who was declared a "suppressive person" is Rick Alan Ross, a leading cult expert. Ross wrote "Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out" and said he has deprogrammed dozens of Scientologists as well as Waco Branch Davidian members before the 1993 raid.
"I deprogrammed a man who was a member of the Church of Scientology for 27 years," Ross said. "He was ready to divorce his wife and leave his entire family… I did an intervention that took a week. Usually they just take a few days."
Ross said he has conducted more than 500 interventions since 1982, but he said one that stands out in his mind is a 14-year-old girl. "The Church of Scientology wants young, healthy workers who could dedicate their lives to this cause," Ross said. "This young girl was bright and strong. Her older brother was involved with Scientology and recruited her. The church drew up papers to get custody of this girl."
Ross, who said he faced five years of litigation from the Church of Scientology, said he sees the church filing fewer lawsuits against media outlets these days. "The Internet has really helped a lot," Ross said. "Scientology's day of suppressing and controlling information is so old."
With Gibney's documentary based on Wright's book and Ortega's newest book, attention is turning to Cooper again as more of the mystery of Scientology unfolds.
"Tony [Ortega] is fearless," Ross said. "And the circle of completion on this is nothing short of poetic. Paulette was the first journalist to really write about this."
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