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What Happened to
Lisa McPherson

NOTES: Mr. Williams' opinion does not necessarily reflect that of The Santa Fe Sun.

by Hart Williams 1997

When that didn't work, the stakes were raised. First came the "killbunnies," as postings critical to Scientology were cancelled wholesale by mystery hackers. Then, last summer, "clamspam" hit alt.religion. scientology, as pro-Scientology forces glutted the newsgroup with hundreds and thousands of messages each day.































































This eye never sleeps

CLEARWATER, Fla., Jan. 14, 1997 (UPI)-

Prosecutors in Clearwater, Fla., have joined a police investigation into how a 36-year-old Scientologist died while in the care of church members. [...] The church maintains [Lisa] McPherson died from a severe staph infection, but an autopsy concluded she died from blood clotting and severe dehydration. A medical examiner's report says the autopsy showed evidence of injury on the woman's body, including bruises, abrasions, lesions and marks resembling insect or animal bites.

February 20, 1997
By THOMAS C. TOBIN, St. Petersburg Times

"CLEARWATER - A lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that the Church of Scientology is responsible for the death of Lisa McPherson. [ ... ] Scientology lawyer Elliot Abelson said Wednesday: 'This type of lawsuit, based on no facts, is an extortion attempt. It's only about money.' ... Church officials have said that the investigation into McPherson's death is part of a 15-year effort by city officials to discredit Scientology."

Washington Post, Dec. 25, 1994
by Richard Leiby:

"[Founder of Scientology, L. Ron] Hubbard's seagoing, operation secretly came ashore in Clearwater [FL] in 1975. Documents released by the Court in connection with the Scientology 11 proceedings would reveal a Hubbard-directed scheme to take control of the town's police, business and media institutions. [Scientology's] Guardian Office files showed that Scientology planted spies in the Clearwater Sun and that its agents attempted to smear the mayor by staging a hit-and-run accident. Those are a few of the stories I reported on when I [worked as a reporter for the Clearwater Sun]."

The first few months of 1997 have been difficult for Scientology: the Lisa McPherson story seems to be heating up; Germany, Greece, France and Italy have all sanctioned the CoS (Church of Scientology) in some way, and new revelations appear almost daily.

"Wait a minute!" the reader asks. "I haven't read anything about this. Where are you getting your information?"

The ongoing investigation I refer to is taking place in a usenet group, alt.religion.scientology. The mainstream press is, understandably, more than a little reluctant to take on Scientology.

Over the past two decades, the CoS has gone after the media in a big way, taking on 'antagonists' as diverse as 60 Minutes, The St. Petersburg Times, The Washington Post, books critical of Scientology and even fainthearted READER'S DIGEST, which wrote in September of 1981:

"Eighteen months ago, the U.S.-based Church of Scientology launched a global -- and unsuccessful -- campaign to prevent publication of a Reader's Digest report called 'Scientology: Anatomy of a Frightening Cult.' The church engaged a detective agency to investigate the author, Digest Senior Editor Eugene H. Methvin. Digest offices in a half-dozen nations were picketed or bombarded with nuisance phone calls. In Denmark, South Africa and Australia, the church sued unsuccessfully to prevent publication."

And so, with few media willing to risk litigation, the internet has taken up the investigation, and, perhaps, the curse, at alt.religion.scientology.

"You'll recall that the controversial Los Angeles-based church provoked anger on the Internet not long ago when a church attorney attempted to obliterate the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, a well-known gathering place for church critics in which anonymous postings are common. Armed with a court order, church officials also seized computer disks from the Glendale home of a church critic whom they accused of violating copyright law by posting church materials on the Net." [Daniel Akst, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1995]

The attempt was, if anything, counterproductive.

AP July 21, 1996, by Elizabeth Weise:

"As news of the failed attempt spread, Internet users who had never heard of Scientology took up arms. They marched over to the newsgroup in question -- alt.religion.scientology -- and checked things out themselves."

When that didn't work, the stakes were raised. First came the "killbunnies," as postings critical to Scientology were cancelled wholesale by mystery hackers. Then, last summer, "clamspam" hit alt.religion.scientology, as pro-Scientology forces glutted the newsgroup with hundreds and thousands of messages each day.

Weise states, "The ongoing confrontation is perhaps the best example of the Internet as a self-regulating anarchy: When the church [CoS] made ample use of the U.S. legal system to stop the illegal posting of its copyright materials, Internet users countered with hit-and-run online networks to spread information faster than the church could file suits.

"Things began quietly in July 1991, when Scientology critic Scott Goehring formed the Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, which quickly became home to a crowd of current and former Scientologists arguing endlessly about the nature of the church."

And so, "killbunnies," "clamspam," the raid on Arnie Lerna's home (which is still in litigation) and many others. There is not space to detail all herein.

Still, 1997 has already seen several CoS reversals overseas:


17 Jan 1997

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- An Athens court has called the Church of Scientology a danger to society and ordered it to close, drawing fire from Scientologists, who called the decision a sham. "'It is an organization with medical, social and ethical practices that are dangerous and harmful,' Judge Constandia Angelaki wrote in her ruling. "Scientologists have recently clashed with the German government, which claims the U.S.-based church is a moneymaking organization with traits of organized crime that threaten democracy. "Last month, Germany announced it would keep people linked to the group out of certain public jobs, such as counseling and teaching." In February, the US State Department named Germany in its Human Rights Report, for its treatment of Scientologists.

On 2/18/97, a Clearwater resident posted this on alt.religion.scientology: "Scientology recently published a tabloid edition of Freedom, which is occasionally published in Clearwater, to be distributed in courtesy boxes and thrown on lawns in town. This issue contained an article 'Turning Lies Into News: How the Tampa Tribune and Reporter Cheryl Waldrip Create Stories to Fit a Corrupt, Bigoted Agenda.' Cheryl wrote the first story on Lisa McPherson." It may be some time before we know why Lisa McPherson died with eleven dollars to her name.

2007: The ending was neither a very 
happy nor pretty one. For more details ...

The Lisa McPherson memorial page is at:

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