The secret was out.
It wasn't really United Churches of Florida that had taken over that old Clearwater landmark, the Fort Harrison Hotel. It was the Church of Scientology.
Citizens of Pinellas County received the word on Jan. 28, 1976 when Rev. Arthur J. Maren, a national spokesman, came to Clearwater. He said the Church of Scientology had kept the fact secret because it didn't want to overshadow the good intentions of United Churches.
It's a wonder the truth hadn't come out before then. For L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, was in town. Three Clearwater ministers later recalled that he directed the taping of radio shows in which they had been invited to participate by United Churches.
"He looked very impressive," Rev. Otis Green of Everybody's Tabernacle said of the elusive Hubbard. He was dressed in an army-type khaki-colored uniform with matching tam-o'-shanter, Green said.
Hubbard "came right in and started turning the knobs," Green said. Wearing earphones, he directed people where to stand and was "putting all the sound together."
Rev. R.L. Wicker of Calvary Temple of God said Hubbard displayed "tremendous authority" at the taping of the show for his church. "They introduced him to me as Mr. Hubbard, but that didn't mean anything to me -- they said he was an engineer," Rev. Wicker said. "When I saw his picture in the paper, I felt like an idiot -- that I had really, truly been had."
Hubbard, like his church, was doing good deeds ... on the face of it.
There was such contrast between what Scientology did publicly in its first few months in Clearwater, and what went on secretly in the Guardian office in the Fort Harrison.
Oh, the church lost no time in letting the community know that its velvet glove concealed a rock-hard fist. On Feb. 6, just a week after Maren's announcement, the church filed a $1-million dollar lawsuit against Mayor Gabriel Cazares -- a consistent critic of the secrecy with which United Churches came to Clearwater -- accusing him of libel, slander and violation of the church's civil rights.
But five days later, the public was invited to an open house at the Fort Harrison. About 500 people showed up and they found the old hotel looking better, cleaner.
Rev. Fred Ulan, flashing a big smile, greeted everyone and spoke of a week of "ups and downs." He introduced Maren and, pointing at his head, said: "See, no horns."
Maren told the crowd the Church of Scientology had come in peace and good will.
"Scientologists are people who don't drink or violate laws," he said. "They are friendly and want to contribute. We'd like you to give us the right to have our viewpoint."
Peace? Good will?
The day after Maren had come to Clearwater, an official of the church circulated copies of his "weekly report" to other church executives. Among the problems he listed in typical Scientology report fashion was this one:
"SITUATION: Set of entheta (translation: unfavorable) articles connection UCF (translation: United Churches) and Scientology and LRH (translation: Hubbard) breaking now in the Flag area papers.
"WHY: Unhandled enemies (reporters and media terminals); possible plant and definite out security.
"HANDLED: Collections and Ops (translation: operations) underway on reporters Orsini, Sableman, and Snyder (radio broadcaster). Results of ops not in yet ..."
Flag was the church headquarters at the Fort Harrison. Bette Orsini of The St. Petersburg Times, Mark Sableman of the Clearwater Sun, and Bob Snyder of Radio Station WDCL, Dunedin, had been reporting on Scientology. They were already marked for church operations to discredit them.
This report was among thousands of church documents -- its own and documents that it had stolen -- that were released recently by a federal court in Washington.
The day before Maren told the crowd at the hotel how Scientology wanted to contribute, Joe Lisa, assistant guardian for information at Flag, sent his weekly report to other church offices. Among the dozen situations cited was this one:
"SITUATION: Chamber of Commerce has enemies on it that PR (public relations) is not aware of.
"WHY: We did not liaise with PR to inform them.
"HANDLED: We compiled a list of enemies that we knew of at the Chamber of Commerce and turned it over to DG PR US (deputy guardian for public relations U.S.) for his and Flag PR Bureau's use in their planned handling of the terminals at the Chamber of Commerce. Report sent."
On Feb. 17, Lisa wrote Jimmy Mulligan, an aide to Mrs. Hubbard on the commodore's staff, that "a letter is going out to the Sun (one of those 5 day warning letters). Basically they are going to be warned not to print anymore ... or else we will sue."
He also said, "Yesterday we turned over to PR scandal material for a Br I PR (branch one) attack on the medicos in these here parts. I am also having some follow up on this and am drawing up a project to get a large scale attack going on nursing homes, medical centers, mental health and psychiatric clinics. I'll be sending a copy up lines as soon as I get that completed."
The next day, M.S. -- Mary Sue Hubbard, wife of the founder -- wrote her assessment of the Clearwater scene to Dick Weigand, deputy guardian for information, U.S. Of Mayor Cazares, she said: "He thought he had an excellent handle on us politically and was using it to gain PR for himself politically. He has nowhere to go except in the political arena. We were the football that blew up on him when we did not prove out to be tied to some gambling or other interests."
She gave her assessments of reporters Snyder and Sableman and of The St. Petersburg Times.
"Of all," she said, "I consider the SPT (Times) to be the most dangerous. Poyntec (?) obviously feels he owns this neck of the woods morally, spiritually, politically and otherwise."
She was referring to Nelson Poynter, the Times' chairman of the board.
That March 19, the open face of Scientology announced that it was selling the church's seagoing flagship, the 3,287-ton Apollo, because it had established a new "land base" in Clearwater.
But the secret face was plotting. Eleven days later Mitchell Hermann (who was also known as Mike Cooper), southeast U.S. secretary, wrote Lisa: "Attached is a list of ops customers in order of priority. Please begin (actually please continue) sending up ops on these folk. Robert Snyder, Mayor Cazares, Poynter/Patterson, Steve Advokat (unless he shifts off the heavy entheta)/Mike Pride/Stuart, Orsini/Andy Barnes, Nan McLean ..."
Eugene C. Patterson was editor and president, Bette Orsini a reporter and Andrew Barnes the managing editor of The St. Petersburg Times. Ron Stuart was the managing editor, Mike Pride the city editor and Steve Advokat a reporter for the Clearwater Sun; Nan McLean was a disaffected church member.
April came. The church announced it was doubling its professional staff in Clearwater to handle an expansion of its program. About the same time, Rev. Ulan, the newly-named director of United Churches, was accepted as a member of the Clearwater Ministerial Association.
The church did not reveal the letter national operations officer Raymond Windment (also known as Bruce Raymond) had written to Weigand.
"Sitn: The "Bank" of CW is following the anti-C of S line of attack.
"Data: The Mayor of CW and the local press and others are attacking the C of S.
"LRH's policy on (PR) Black Propaganda states something to the effect of 'Black Propaganda if overused turns on its user.' (Actual quote: '... Black Propaganda is not something one lightly instigates. For it recoils on the person who uses it.')
"The attached OP is designed to get Base 'overattacked' but at the same time to do no harm to Base.
"The idea is to 3P (attack) ourselves in such a manner that the persons who continue to attack us seem to be Fascists, commie haters, and bigots. This OP should make "Black" and Jewish allies if PR carries the ball.
"The OP is very simple to do.
"I've talked to SE SEC (southeast directorate secretary) about this and he thinks that no harm could come out of it but that the letter should be more pronounced in its bigotry.
The attached scenario for the operation was labeled "OP Yellow." It said that an anonymous letter should be mailed to all downtown Clearwater businesses, particularly "ALL the Jewish ones." In fact, it said, to mail it to businesses as far away as Tampa.
The suggested letter said:
"Fellow Clearwaterians (check spell)
"God bless the Mayor. He is a true Christian and the entire town should be proud of him. He has stood up against un-Christian Scientology and God is obviously with him.
"On the Scientology issues, the Mayor is right. We back him all the way. But what we should also do is make sure no more undesirables move into Clearwater.
"We kept the Miami Jews from moving in and turning beautiful Clearwater into Miami Beach. The blacks in Clearwater are decent and know their place ..."
Peace? Good will?
While the church was publicly wooing citizens of Clearwater, behind the scenes its agents were investigating public officials and civic leaders and compiling dossiers on them.
On Feb. 21, a two-page report from Molly Harlow, collections officer for Flag to Lisa provided biographical background on Clearwater City Atty. Thomas Bustin. A May report furnished Lisa with pertinent data on The Upper Pinellas County Association for Retarded Children. An information bureau daily report said the investigation of county commissioners was almost done.
A remarkable amount of time was spent by church officials in dealing with people they perceived to be enemies or potential enemies. Remarkable also was the complexity of the schemes they wove to discredit people and organizations.