Alex Gibney’s new documentary about the Church of Scientology is entitled Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. The film is set for its world debut on January 25, 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival.
Gibney’s film has already caused anger and rage at the highest levels of the Church of Scientology. I say this for three reasons:
1. The Church of Scientology’s full-page ad in the New York Times criticizing Alex Gibney. Whenever the Church of Scientology becomes extremely hostile about something it reverts to its 1950’s Communist-hysteria mentality and takes out full-page newspaper ads. Back in the day when print newspaper ads actually meant something, powerful special interest groups took out full-page ads to present their case to the public. A full-page ad was a symbol of wealth and power; it meant you were somebody. Nowadays, a full-page newspaper ad is an expensive and pointless temper tantrum. The Church of Scientology might as well light $100,000 on fire while screaming about how unfair life is.
In the past, the Church of Scientology has used full-page ads to attack the IRS, Time Magazine, and Germany. Alex Gibney is in very elite company.
2. The presence of Church leader David Miscavige’s personal attorney Monique Yingling. In his New York Times article about Scientology’s full-page ad in the New York Times, Michael Ceiply noted Yingling’s objections to Alex Gibney’s work:
“Ms. Yingling and others further challenged claims, reflected in both the book and the film, that church membership had dwindled in recent years. While citing no specific number, Ms. Yingling said adherents of the church number in the millions. Karin Pouw, a church spokeswoman, said Scientology had been growing in the years since Mr. Rathbun and Mr. Rinder left (Mr. Rathbun in 2004, Mr. Rinder in 2007), as it opened new facilities around the world.”
Whenever Yingling makes one of her rare public appearances on behalf of the Church it is because her client David Miscavige is gravely concerned about doing damage control to protect his own reputation and that of the Church. The last time Monique Yingling appeared publicly was when CNN’s Anderson Cooper did his “Scientology: A History of Violence” expose. Yingling appeared with Sea Org members to deny charges that Miscavige physically beat his subordinates. She additionally commented, and this was astonishing, that the Church of Scientology chose to handle assault and battery among Sea Org members on an internal basis. That the Church did not permit victims of assaults to file civil or criminal charges against the perpetrators speaks volumes about the Church and attorney Yingling.
3. Monique Yingling lying on behalf of the Church of Scientology. Yingling was lying when she told Michael Ceiply that adherents of the church numbered in the millions.
Before we get to our estimate of membership, let’s clear up a misconception: To be legally specific, the Church of Scientology International (CSI) has no members nor can it can have any members. See: The Church of Scientology International Has No Members.
In its application for 501(c)(3) tax exempt recognition, Church lawyers told the IRS:
(Monique Yingling very likely wrote the footnote above.)
Given the fact that the Church of Scientology International has no members, how does a person become a Scientologist? The answer is that there is an officially designated membership association. Those wishing to become Scientologists must join this association.
The “officially designated membership association” is actually an unincorporated membership association called the International Association of Scientologists or IAS. Per the IAS membership agreement Scientologists sign, all donations made to the IAS are nonrefundable:
Because the IAS is unincorporated and can do nothing in and of itself, it has an operating arm called the International Association of Scientologists Administrations (IASA). Link to IASA.
Discounting the free six-month IAS memberships that are given away like candy, the real number we are looking for is lifetime IAS memberships. These people are the real card-carrying Scientologists. After deducting out those people who have left the Church but are still technically on the books as IAS lifetime members, the best and most generous estimates of active IAS annual and lifetime membership is about 20,000-25,000 people. This number is composed of 15,000-20,000 active “publics” and ~4,000 Sea Org members. One variable here is how many Nation of Islam members have paid the minimum $5,000 USD to become Lifetime IAS members.
On a related note, if the Church of Scientology had even two millions of members at $5,000 per membership, it would have made $10,000,000,000 (ten billion) in tax-free cash. The Church of Scientology has $1.5 billion in 2012 990’s and about and perhaps $2 billion in cash for which it does not have to file public forms. The Church does not have millions of members or it would have over ten billion in pure cash from IAS memberships.
Monique Yingling knows what she is saying because she was one of the legal architects of the Scientology franchise system. In my view, Yingling used the term “adherents of the church” in an ambiguous and misleading manner. But what else can we expect a Church of Scientology lawyer to say? Yingling has to trot out the party line and talk about the imaginary millions of Scientologists.
It is also worth noting that Monique Yingling is criticizing Alex Gibney and HBO while ignoring the fact that Church leader David Miscavige would not make himself available for Gibney to interview. This is completely predictable as David Miscavige does not do interviews; he instead prefers scripted stage shows in which he speaks and others listen.
I expect the HBO panic inside the Church of Scientology to get bigger and louder.