How the Church of Scientology tried (and failed) to suppress Bare-Faced Messiah
Russell Miller started work on Bare-Faced Messiah in 1985, not long
before L. Ron Hubbard's death. He was well aware that he would face problems.
Every author who had written 'unsanctioned' books about the Church of
Scientology, and many journalists as well, had been threatened with legal and
sometimes physical reprisals; many had been harassed and defamed as well. He
knew that the Church could go to extreme lengths to suppress critical comment
- in the 1970s, New York journalist Paulette Cooper very nearly went to prison
for alleged terroristic activities before the FBI found that the Church
leadership was responsible for framing her.
Given this background, it's to Miller's credit that he persevered. The
threats were not long in coming. When the Church learned of his project,
"[it] did its best to dissuade people who knew Hubbard from speaking to me and
constantly threatened litigation. Scientology lawyers in New York and Los
Angeles made it clear in frequent letters that they expected me to libel and
defame L. Ron Hubbard. When I protested that in thirty years as a journalist
and writer I had never been accused of libel, I was apparently investigated
and a letter was written to my publishers in New York alleging that my claim
was 'simply not accurate'. It was, and is." (Bare-Faced Messiah, page ix)
The death of Hubbard in January 1986 reduced the Church's hand in dealing with
Miller - the dead cannot be libelled or defamed (at least in the eyes of the
law). Even so, it soon became apparent that the Church's 'secret police' - the
Office of Special Affairs (OSA) - regarded Miller's work as being a major
threat. As publication day (October 1987) moved closer, the Church's efforts
to suppress the book became increasingly desperate - and vicious.
1986: Miller visits US to interview witnesses, several of whom
are apparently 'spoken to' by the OSA. Constantly followed by private
detectives and OSA agents. Receives numerous legal threats and is defamed.
5 August 1987: Proof copies of Bare-Faced Messiah
circulated within a limited circle.
xx Sept 1987: Female Scientologist is arrested in a
reprographics shop in East Grinstead, where the Church has its UK
headquarters, making seven illegal photocopies of a proof version of
Bare-Faced Messiah. Lack of evidence prevents prosecution for theft of
29 Sept 1987: Church of Scientology serves writ alleging
breaches of copyright, confidence and Californian sealing orders, and requests
injunction to prevent publication of Bare-Faced Messiah on October 26.
9 Oct 1987: Mr. Justice Vinelott rejects injunction request,
calling it "mischievous and misconceived". Church appeals.
xx Oct 1987:The Sunday Times is threatened by
Scientologists over its plans to serialise extracts from Bare-Faced
Messiah. Notorious Scientologist private detective Eugene Ingram gets into
Sunday Times offices under false pretences in failed attempt to
discredit Miller's sources.
1 Nov 1987:The Sunday Times begins serialising extracts
from the book over three weekends. A Bristol-based private detective in the
pay of the Church is exposed trying to smear Miller and link him to the CIA,
and retaliates by attacking the reporter with a .357 pistol.
4 May 1988: Scientology sues the U.S. publisher in New York,
alleging 211 instances of copyright infringement, and asks for a temporary
restraining order to block publication. The TRO is denied on a technicality
(laches). However, a second printing of 10,000 copies is delayed, and 44
quotes are found to be slightly infringing (37 from the teenaged Hubbard's
1927 "Asia Diaries").
19 Apr 1989: The U.S. Court of Appeals upholds the ruling of the
lower court, but on narrow technical grounds. The opinion casts "in concrete"
a doctrine that gives unpublished writings nearly total protection from
fair use quotation.
In 1988, Miller wrote a rueful article for The Listener magazine on
the bizarre experiences which he had had in writing Bare-Faced Messiah.
The nadir was probably the attempt by persons unknown to frame him for an axe
murder in South London. Things could only get better after that...