Wikinews interviews Jeff Jacobsen, creator of LisaMcPherson.org
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
LisaMcPherson.org is a memorial site created in 1997 containing information on her death and the resulting legal case against the Church of Scientology.
Lisa McPherson died in 1995 while in the care of the Church of Scientology. After a car accident, she became mentally unstable. Scientologists removed her from the hospital and placed her in the Introspection Rundown, she died 17 days later while still in care of the Church. She was used as an icon during Project Chanology, the protest of the Church of Scientology by Anonymous. Protesters were pictured with signs that said "Remember Lisa McPherson" and "Ask Scientology Why Lisa McPherson Died", other protesters had posters with her picture on it.
Wikinews: Give a short description of yourself and what you do outside of protesting Scientology.
- Jeff Jacobsen: I'm a Political Science senior at Arizona State right now. Full-time student. I'm 52, from South Dakota Was in a cult age 16-22 (not Scientology). Got a BA in Religious Studies in 1984. Worked at Lisa McPherson Trust until it closed.
WN: What was your job at the trust?
- J.J.: Librarian, and researcher. So I helped the people "downstairs" when they needed documents or whatever.
WN: I see from your website that you list your "cult experience" as your once belonging to the United Pentecostal Church. Do you consider all organized religions as "cults"?
- J.J.: No. Not all religions are cults. The word is loaded but I think still useful. A cult is totalitarian, has an us vs. them mentality, and thinks they are the sole keepers of The Truth And uses deception, takes advantage of members.
WN: How do you finance your activities in this area?
- J.J.: Myself.
WN: What happened to Bob Minton, your former chief financial supporter?
- J.J.: That's a sore point for many, but I'll give my version. I think he wasn't prepared for the backlash he'd get from Scientology. So finally he caved into the pressure that Scientology is so good at applying, and to get out from under them he agreed to certain things, he changed his testimony in court to be helpful to the church, he stopped all anti-scientology activity and he has left the scene.
WN: How powerful is the Church of Scientology in your opinion?
- J.J.: Their power now comes from their money. I don't believe they have much recruiting ability, nor that many members (maybe 100,000 worldwide.) Also their ruthlessness gives them power. But I do believe they are on the decline.
WN: Do you feel mocking the silliness of the upper level teachings is helpful?
- J.J.: No. But, I think exposing their secret teachings is good. It's very strange that you have a religion where you can't tell what they believe until you pay them. So it's fine by me to expose their teachings so people can decide if that's what they want to get into or not. I suppose I've helped make fun of Xenu, though.
WN: As we understand it, the Church believes their teachings allow you to overcome illness. Does this work? What do they do when it doesn't?
- J.J.: Scientology makes abundant medical claims in their writings, yes. But they are not qualified in any way to deal with medical issues. Lisa McPherson was the perfect example of that. They were handling her according to Hubbard's teachings, and she died as a result. This is one of the ways Scientology hurts people. It should be stopped. Exposing their unscientific gobble-dee gook is hopefully helpful in stopping more harm.
WN: What is Church of Scientology policy for off-loading its members when they become seriously ill?
- J.J.: I'm not sure of the answer to that. I've heard of "off-loading" where there have been reported cases that they've kicked out people who are more a burden than a help and from what I know, they have no retirement plan for long-time employees or Sea Orgers. I'll give one example, Heber Jentzch's wife, Yvonne, got cancer. She died at a young age, they treated it as if she chose to do that. In their obituaries they say "we look forward to X's soon return". They believe in reincarnation.
WN: What is your key issue with the Church having tax exempt status within the United States?
- J.J.: 1) they got it by pressuring the IRS rather than legitimately 2) they aren't qualified 3) they conducted the largest infiltration of the federal government in US history, then that government gives them tax exemption? These are the same people that were there back then. Kendrick Moxon was part of Operation Snow White and he's still a Scientology attorney. Many reasons. The Sklar case, and the Hernandez Supreme Court ruling also de-legitimizes their tax exemption.
WN: Why mock an organization that has members who believe it has helped them?
- J.J.: I hope we don't mock. I hope we inform, expose, and educate. It's easy to make fun of Xenu and that, and I suppose I'm guilty of doing that too. But the goal of critics is to inform, not mock.
WN: Some people claim Scientology has worked for them, why should they be persecuted or hounded, for what after all is free choice of belief?
- J.J.: Again, critics aren't (I hope) persecuting anyone. It's to inform. I've seen in several of the Anonymous protest videos where Anons say they're not there to ridicule the beliefs but to complain about their actions. That's a correct stance.
WN: It is claimed by some anti-Church of Scientology campaigns that some Scientology doctrine is flawed or inconsistent, could not the same be said of the arguments put forward by those campaigns. (or indeed the ideological doctrines of any number of other religions)?
- J.J.: I'm a Christian. I actually like reading about the inconsistencies of my religion, so I can understand it better. If any organization promotes some belief or teaching, then it's fine to point out inconsistencies. In fact, it's good. I just happen to know a lot about Scientology, so that's what I deal with.
WN: The German Government continues to pursue it's investigation into Church of Scientology, why should law enforcement waste time on such investigations?
- J.J.: Obviously, they don't think they're wasting their time. If there is evidence of illegality, it should be pursued. Remember Operation Snow White, for example. Scientology railed against the FBI as being anti-religion and bigoted when the raids happened. Yet the FBI turned out to be right.
WN: One aspect of Scientology, is a rejection of modern psychiatry, would you not agree that even the best of shrinks can still get things badly wrong? (even when implementing so called ethical practices)?
- J.J.: Psychiatry definitely has problems. And if people think that's something that should be researched, great. But I deal with Scientology. They reject psychiatry so much that they made a video of themselves blowing up psychiatry with a grenade. Their goal is to eradicate psychiatry. As a whole group, not just get rid of the bad practices. That's wrong.
WN: When an organization faces an ideological challenge from specific individuals, is it not reasonable to have sufficient information to mount a robust defense?
- J.J.: Is this referring to Scientology defending itself I guess? Hopefully, the information being used in defense is correct information. And sure, I've been on radio with a Scientologist before. I enjoy it when they debate. But that's very seldom, unfortunately. If you could set up a debate I'd love it
WN: How does campaigning against Church of Scientology materially differ from 'hate crimes' as defined by many laws?
- J.J.: Critics of Scientology are more like whistleblowers or muckraking journalists. We're not doing it out of hate. We're doing it out of concern for the truth. People get hurt so we try to prevent it. Ted Kennedy eulogized his brother Robert saying "he saw a wrong, and tried to right it." I think that's what critics are doing. It's not a hate crime to expose wrong.
WN: If the campaigners are presenting genuine arguments, why has there not been more action from governments (in particular the United States)?
- J.J.: Short answer: Because governments sometimes suck? :) But really, on xenutv.com there's an interview with Ray Emmons of the Clearwater Police. He said he compiled a lot of information about Scientology, then presented it to the feds. Their response; "will they come after me?". So he got nowhere. Part of it is actual fear. Part of it is the "religious cloaking" where the government doesn't want to be seen going after a religion. Part of it is incompetence, imho [In My Humble Opinion]. But remember there have been governmental charges against Scientology, even in the Lisa McPherson case.
WN: Church of Scientology has fought and won legal actions, juries cannot be that easy to sway?
- J.J.: I can't think of many cases that Scientology actually won. You'd have to give me a couple of cases. Generally, Scientology sues in civil court to harass and intimidate, not even to win anyway. So I'd need a specific case to discuss here I guess...
WN: Did you actually know Lisa? Or any of her family?
- J.J.: No, I first heard of Lisa about one year after she died. I have met her cousin, her aunts and uncle. They are all very nice. Lisa's mom died about one month after Lisa did. Her brother and dad died several years before she did.
WN: Isn't it disrespectful of Lisa's memory to use her memory for purposes so clearly counter to her known beliefs?
- J.J.: My question there; what were her beliefs when she was being held against her will in her last days? My suspicion is she changed her mind about Scientology. I know I would have. But her friend, Kelli Davis, said she had talked to Lisa not long before she died, and Kelly thought that Lisa was implying that she was leaving Scientology. So my opinion is that Lisa's beliefs in her last days was that Scientology sucked and I will go with that.
WN: Is it possible to bring murder or manslaughter charges against the Church of Scientology again?
- J.J.: IANAL [I am not a lawyer] but there's no statute of limitations for murder. I hope that will happen some day. Perhaps some of the people involved will come forward with information compelling to a prosecutor
WN: Do you know any details about the 2004 settlement with Lisa's relatives? Is it true that they have not yet received any money from this settlement with the Church of Scientology?
- J.J.: On lisamcpherson.org is a statement from Lisa's family after their "settlement" of the civil suit. I do not know for sure. I believe the court case is still listed as active. As far as whether they were paid, I do not know. The assumption was that it was over though.
WN: What do you expect Project Chanology to accomplish and when?
- J.J.: I am not an Anon, and know little about the movement. But I was extremely impressed that Anonymous brought out thousands of people to protest around the world on short notice. From what I've seen, I believe they can accomplish a lot. I hope a few more protests, then work on Scientology's tax exemption, which I believe is a very vulnerable area for Scientology. Project Chanology is a strong force with able people. It can do a lot.
WN: Anonymous utilized criminal tactics, why should such organizations be trusted and regarded as credible?
- J.J.: Us long-time critics were initially very frightened of Anonymous. You can tell that from Wise Beard Man's first video but since then it appears that Anonymous has dropped the original things we were seeing. So I see it as self-policing happened and things are on track now. I do not condone anything but peaceful, legal methods. And now Anonymous is promoting that as well, so I am happy.
WN: What should be the next step for the Anonymous movement?
- J.J.: Wow. That's not for me to say. I'm not a part of it. But I do hope they will do as they have been, which is listening to us who have been in the field for a long time. You can listen and learn from what we've done, then decide where to go from here. My one wish would be to go after Scientology's tax exempt status in the US. Otherwise I have confidence that Anonymous will find the right path.
WN: What are your crimes?
- J.J.: religiousfreedomwatch.org tried to find my crimes, most of what they came up with is about my dad. So I like to tell people I'm Scientology-approved! They couldn't find any crimes :)
Justice2: What keeps you going? And how much fair game have you got got?
- J.J.: I've been deposed 3 times by Scientology attorneys. My home has been picketed. My business has been picketed twice. In Clearwater I was followed sometimes daily by PIs [Private investigator]. Lynn Farney yelled at me "we will raid you and sue you! You are on notice!" after one deposition. I've had my neighborhood leafleted with flyers calling me a bigot. What keeps me going is that Scientology hurts people. When they stop hurting people, I'll stop bugging them.
Justice2: What advice would you give to those who get "Fair Gamed"?
- J.J.: Go to the police right away. Keep a record of everything. Carry a video camera. I always had a video camera with me in Clearwater, even going to the grocery store. And another thing I liked to do is post everything that happened online. One time I posted "if I disappear, here's the plate number of a car that's been following me..."