In a previous article we reported on journalist Alexandra Bruell’s exceedingly sloppy work in her Wall Street Journal article on Scientology. Essentially, Bruell uncritically repeated Scientology’s undocumented claims of persecution arising from Leah Remini’s Emmy-winning show Scientology and the Aftermath. As we noted in our previous article:
Without bothering to substantiate even one of Scientology’s claims, WSJ columnist Alexandra Bruell uncritically quoted this bit of Scientology hysteria:
“Leah Remini’s hate campaign of religious bigotry in its first season alone generated more than 400 incidents of harassment, threats of violence and vandalism against our churches and members,” reads one letter from STAND, dated from August and addressed to Geico’s assistant vice president of marketing Bill Brower. “The threat level has again risen, precisely coincident with A&E’s promotion and airing of the second season of this show, now spawning even more threats—bombings, murder and acts of physical violence.”
Alexandra Bruell apparently couldn’t be bothered to ask for even one shred of hard evidence from Scientology in the form of police reports, threatening e-mails, or any other substantiating proof. Instead, Bruell simply repeated Scientology’s claim. This sort of lazy journalism is highly offensive to the victims of Scientology and serves only to tarnish the reputation of the Wall Street Journal. I actually wondered how this unvetted story got by WSJ editors.
What are the real facts about violence against Scientology?
For a more in-depth analysis of Scientology’s suspect claims, we turn to Dr. Jeff Wasel.
Dr. Wasel holds Masters and Ph.D degrees from the London School of Economics (LSE), and is an expert in financial crime and related criminal behaviors, risk, and compliance. As a researcher with the LSE’s Information Systems Innovation Group, he was one of the earliest, post-9/11 investigators to examine the use of behavioral profiling, data mining and data analytics, in uncovering, understanding, and disrupting the use of money laundering, hawala, and other terrorism-related financial networks, as well as those of trans-national criminal organizations (TCOs). Additionally, Dr. Wasel and his LSE colleagues contributed to an EU-sponsored, multi-year, multi-disciplinary, profiling, data privacy and data protection research initiative, the Future of Identity in the Information Society, (FIDIS). Outcomes from the FIDIS initiative, made a significant contribution to the enactment of the robust, EU-wide data protection statutes now in place, and recently used so effectively by Hungarian authorities against Scientology in Hungary.
Using a variety of perspectives, methods, and tools, Dr. Wasel has been investigating the financial irregularities of the Church of Scientology for over ten years. While Scientology has been the subject of studies by several noted New Religious Movement (NRMs) scholars, Dr. Wasel’s ongoing work differs significantly in this regard; rather than researching Scientology from a theologian’s historical, and/or subjective, philosophical perspective, his research emphasizes a quantitative, forensically-grounded, multi-disciplinary approach, drawn from the fields of accounting, psychology, criminology, statistics, and data science, among other fields.
With this unique approach, Dr. Wasel has identified patterns of behavior that may indicate violations such as inurement, entanglement of funds, corporate governance irregularities, and tax avoidance/under-reporting; financial crimes such as fraud, structuring, and money laundering; and immigration crimes such as visa fraud, and human trafficking among other, ongoing egregious activities; such patterns are in addition to the Church of Scientology’s already extensive list of widely-documented and verified cases of criminal and anti-social behavior. I asked Dr. Wasel for his analysis of Scientology’s claims of having been the target of “increased violence” due to Leah Remini’s show. His analysis is as follows:
Final Hate Crime 17 Status Report pdf
It is clear from her recent article, that WSJ reporter Alexandra Bruell failed to properly source or validate any of Scientology’s claims of “violence”, wherein Scientology asserted increased threat levels against both it’s members and property, as a means to legitimize its call for a boycott against those companies sponsoring Leah Remini’s “Aftermath” show on the A&E network. In addition to these perceived threats of physical violence, Scientology has also called for a boycott in response to alleged “religious bigotry”, above and beyond the alleged “hate crimes and violence” against its members. However, as the following analysis will demonstrate, there is no substance to the Church of Scientology’s allegations; moreover, given the seriousness of these allegations, both the Church of Scientology and Ms. Bruell, have failed to produce any independently substantiated evidence for the Church’s sensationalistic claims.
A basic Google search uncovers easily verifiable evidence that Scientology’s claims have no basis in fact. As an example, a recent report (2016/2017) conducted by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, a research institution located within California State San Bernardino, and entitled “Final U.S. Status Report: Hate Crime Analysis & Forecast For 2016/2017,” provides a wealth of data refuting the Church’s spurious claims, all in a concise, well-articulated, and visually compelling format; an earnest skimming of the charts and graphs alone, would have invalidated the church’s position, let alone a thorough reading of this detailed investigation. The detail in the report is reflected in both the breadth and depth of it’s data sources: for instance, the authors note that it is a “compilation of official, vetted police data from over 40 U.S. cities, counties and states.” Subsequently, given the depth of analysis therein, as well as my own efforts in analyzing this report, it’s not surprising that I can find no evidence of any hate crime or hate-related violence, directed specifically towards the Church of Scientology or any of its members or properties. Indeed, no mention of Scientology appears anywhere in the report. (A PDF of this report appears at the bottom of this article). If such violence against Scientologists occurred as alleged, it was never reported in a way that would reflect among the widely available criminal justice and policy-related statistical data sources included in this report.
Tellingly, law enforcement agencies for both Los Angeles, which has the highest concentration of Scientologists anywhere in the world, and Clearwater, Florida, home to the second largest concentration of Scientologists world-wide, (as well as both cities having provided significant data sources for this report), reported no acts of criminal violence against Scientologists or their property. Perhaps more revealing, is the fact that the Church hasn’t produced any rebuttal, nor supporting data, for either the media or the public to review, in substantiating not only their most recent claims, but historical evidence of any concerted “pattern of violence” against church property or it’s individual members.
This lack of data stands in stark contrast to the expensive study the Church of Scientology funded to show its positive financial impact on the City of Clearwater. In that study, released in 2014 and conducted by the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University, the Church spared no effort in offering a wealth of detailed information on its beneficial financial contribution to Clearwater.
However, what the report doesn’t say reveals more about the church’s motivations: the “contribution” the church touts, is the result of hotel taxes and property taxes it pays as a result of it’s significant real estate holdings in the Clearwater area; no where does the report mention any ecclesiastical, social, or cultural benefits resulting from Scientology’s presence. That’s not surprising, given Scientology contractually shields itself in this regard, by stating that by practicing it’s “religion”, it promises no spiritual outcomes whatsoever, nor does it’s “dissemination,” Scientology’s version of proselytizing, involve anything less than a hard sell cash grab.
This begs the question: Why then, has the Church of Scientology not funded an equally extensive study, supporting its claims of increased violence against it’s members and property, as a result of Ms. Remini’s show? The answer is simple: The evidence for Scientology’s claims is statistically nonexistent; moreover, any efforts towards inferring even the slightest connection between the two, however tangentially, have been half-hearted or uncoordinated at best. Aside from an isolated incident of a young man, the son of former Sea Org members, throwing a hammer through the window of a Scientology church — a crime for which he was arrested and convicted for — Scientology has produced no hard evidence to sustain its claim that Ms. Remini’s show resulted in “more than 400 incidents of harassment, threats of violence and vandalism against our churches and members.”
Not only does Scientology fail to produce any evidence, of what would be a statistically significant representation, (it’s alleged “400 incidents”), it also fails to prove any causal relationship between Ms. Remini’s show and any claimed acts of violence, let alone a statistically significant, Federally-monitored “hate crime”. Rather, Scientology typically relies upon worn-out, demographically or culturally suspect tropes, red herrings, or vague, academically tenuous or discredited “studies”; for instance, in regards to causal factors of “violence”, they reference the statistically tenuous links between violent, first person shooter video games, and varying indicators of supposed increased levels of violence among particular “categories” of “young” people. It’s clear that analyzing, or more so, the accurate parsing of data, is incompatible with the generalities and situational veracity that comprise any Scientology narrative or behavioral rationalization; though when all else fails, the default defense or “reasoned response” is one of misdirection, ad hominem, slander, or gross generalization.
While the report shows that there has been a significant rise in hate-related crimes across the country, such crimes are predominantly racially-based. Religious-specific hate crimes comprise 19.7% of the aggregate, with anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish crimes predominating. As I indicated, Scientology is not mentioned anywhere in the span of this report, nor in any reliable reporting for 2017 that I was able to source otherwise. More revealing, is that the vast majority of crimes are against people, not places, further exposing Scientology’s lie as to violence directed against Scientology-owned properties. One can further extrapolate from this distinction, that in addition to the dearth of property crime, any concerted efforts directed at individual members is also exaggerated, given Scientology’s hysterical pronouncements regarding any perceived slight, let alone physical assault.
In assessing the context of the report, I would offer a few considerations to the reader. Although America’s post-election social domain has certainly been turbulent, the author(s) appear to have omitted a competent contextual discussion, in situating a comparison between the current state of anti-Muslim bias/violence, as it relates to, for instance, the last 10 years, or the role of media bias. Furthermore, they fail to include any baseline longitudinal (time) stipulations or controls in this regard, given that anti-Muslim behavior has risen steadily since 9/11, potentially skewing the mean; it could well be considered a constant in this regard.
Additionally, political/terror actions by jihadists, or conversely, by Jews, both here or in the Middle East, can induce random situational spikes, and I see no mention of having longitudinally rationalized these spikes in the data. The contextual significance evolves from factors such as the editorial coverage of ISIS’ and other terror group activity in 2016, along with repressive Israeli military activity, and increased pro-Palestinian activism, specifically the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement across the academic and SJW world. That said, in all fairness, responsibility for my concerns rests on both those compiling the data sourced by the authors, as well as the authors themselves.
Lastly, the use of unqualified data from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is problematic in my view; in recent years, much of SPLC’s analysis and research has become verifiably politicized, and no longer enjoys it’s previous reputation for objectivity and methodological rigor. Having used earlier examples of Mr. Dees and Co.’s data on extremism in America, it pains me to make such an observation. Aside from subjectivity of it’s advocacy efforts, it’s worrying that the SPLC is not unique these days, in having the objectivity of its research and policy data subverted through a variety of questionable means. It’s an unfortunate reflection of contemporary norms within the “wonk world,” in that the sourcing and delivering of objective research, has become more incumbent on sponsor dollars, rather than scholarship, intellectual rigor, and personal integrity.
In closing, I would encourage readers to study the report; stylistically, it’s well-written and refreshingly free of multi-syllabic academic drudgery, and significantly, is disturbingly informative. To that, this report certainly refutes the Church of Scientology’s victimization narrative, and all of it’s hypocritical, hyperbolic venting regarding “bigotry and hate”, while simply reiterating that STAND, (STTAD? STOOD? Whatever the hell), has no leg to “STAND” on… Surprise, surprise.
Note: Hover over PDF with your mouse to pull up page up/page down controls