What lies ahead for the CoS? Does it make sense for an organization supported by
user donations, auditing fees, and book sales to keep using up its resources on
legally pursuing Net posters who seem unlikely to give up? If raids and vertical
spam don't stop the newsgroup, does it make sense to keep trying the same tactics
over and over again? Can the Net take the law into its own hands and render
copyrights meaningless? If so, what does this portend for the future of intellectual
One scenario sounded so paranoid when it was first proposed on the newsgroup in
1995 by a poster calling himself only "Capricorn" that I dismissed it out of hand.
This was that the CoS would eventually try to build a conspiracy case against the
Internet and take action under the RICO statutes. At the end of 1996, however, a
day before the final hearing on the CoS's demand for attorney fees in the Lerma
case, Scientology representatives filed an affidavit from an Internet user identified
as Peter Mante, alleging a conspiracy among Internet users to violate Scientology's
copyrights. Mante, apparently using the nickname "newkid," declared that he had
participated in discussions over IRC in which some of the newsgroup's best-known
regulars (a few of whom have denied the allegations) had stressed the importance
of continuing to post the secret documents all over the world.
The Irish film censors who banned Monty Python's Life of Brian only to see it turn
into an underground video hit could have warned the CoS that controversy brings
popularity. Throughout 1995 the traffic on alt.
religion.scientology increased, from an average 2,500 postings a week in March to
2,700 articles a day by August, according to the "Arbitron" ratings posted to
news.admin.misc by DEC research scientist and Usenet expert Brian Reid
throughout 1995. The raids only boosted interest, summed up by one newcomer as
the sort of instinct that makes you go take a look at a 200-car pile-up. By April 2,
two months after the first raids, alt.religion.scientology had moved into the top 40 in
the categories of megabytes (no. 40), traffic (no. 8), and per number of readers (no.
18). Some of the fallout landed in alt.journalism, news.admin.misc,
comp.org.eff.talk, alt.current-events.net-abuse, and even, with the Scamizdat
postings, the hacker newsgroup alt.2600--which wasn't too thrilled at the incomers,
even though the group had to admit there's something like hacking involved in
anonymously posting secret scriptures.
However, Stu Sjouwerman, a Scientologist since 1982 and part owner of a
computer company, dismissed the affair in an email message in
mid-1995 as "less than 0.002 percent of the whole Net. Couple of dogs barking,
that's all." Sjouwerman, who is passionate about Scientology's potential to save the
planet, runs a closed mailing list for Scientologists, which in early 1995 he said had
about two hundred members and a traffic level of fifteen to twenty messages a day.
In another message, he commented,
The issue here is that copyrights are knowingly being violated and
we are ready to defend our constitutional rights in court. Listen,
have a look at what happened to the Jews in 1933-45. The main
reason why this happened is that nobody said a word when it
started and let it seep into the German society like a cancer
growth. The camps were the terminal stage. We are not going to let
this happen again so we are _very_ vocal and will not lie down and
die because some people want us to. Remember the Price of
Freedom: Constant alertness, constant willingness to fight back.
There is no other price.
Homer Smith sees some of this differently, although his starting place, the value
and importance of Scientology itself, is the same.
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