III) The Public Controversy Surrounding Robert Minton
The first public appearances of Robert Minton fell together with several legal battles between the Church of Scientology and some U. S. critics during the second half of the 1990s.
During 1995 the homes of two Ex-Scientologists, Dennis Erlich [Exh. No. 20] and Arnaldo Lerma [Exh. No. 21], and one anti-cult organization, "F.A.C.T.Net" from Colorado [Exh. No. 22] were raided by federal marshals, private detectives, representatives of Scientology's "Religious Technology Center" (RTC) and its respective attorneys. The raids were executed upon writs of seizures that had been issued by federal district courts in San Jose (California), Alexandria (Virginia) and Denver (Colorado).
RTC brought about the raids and the subsequent lawsuits because it claimed that Lerma, Erlich and F.A.C.T.Net had violated the organization's copyrights by posting some of Scientology's unpublished and secret teachings on the Internet.
The raids by RTC caused much uproar, not only among the critics of Scientology but also among free speech and internet activists, as RTC named the internet providers of Erlich and the others as defendants in the complaints of the lawsuits.
During the course of the year 1995 the legal confrontation between the Church of Scientology and its Internet critics was even expanded into countries outside the United States. Two raids were conducted on behalf of RTC at an Internet provider ("XS4ALL") in the Netherlands [Exh. No. 23] and at the office of an administrator of an anonymous remailer service in Finland [Exh. No. 24].
The critics responded to these actions by further posting critical and secret documents on the Internet newsgroup "alt.religion.scientology," an Usenet discussion board where Scientologists and their critics can post their opinions about the subject of Scientology.
When the intellectual dispute evolved into the above-mentioned legal battles, the newsgroup "alt.religion.scientology" (ARS) had become not only the most important medium for exchange of information on Scientology but it also attracted various media outlets that stigmatized the controversy between Scientology and its critics as the first cyber war in the history of the Internet [Exh. No. 25].
1996 - Beginnings
In 1995 Robert Minton became attracted to the Scientology controversy on the Internet and he began following up the discussions and newest events reported on the newsgroup. Angry about the legal actions of the Church of Scientology against its critics, he decided to become active and began alerting the United States government of the activities of the Scientologists.
In January of 1996, Minton wrote three letters, asking representatives of the U. S. government to start an investigation into the activities of Scientology. In his first letter on January 24th to then President Clinton [Exh. No. 26], Minton wrote:
" [ ... ] I have never before written to an elected Federal Government official, but actions in the last year by the Church of Scientology compel me to ask something of my Government for a second time in my life. You, President Clinton, being the highest Federal official under my employ are respectfully requested to ask the Attorney General to look into the flagrant abuse by this entity of the First and Fourth Amendments to our Constitution; specifically, abuses by Scientology in copyright related civil court procedures of ex parte searches and seizures with expedited discovery. [ ... ] "
Three days later, on January 27th, Minton sent out a similar sounding letters to U. S. senators, one to Robert Smith of New Hampshire, in which he complained about "Scientology's flagrant abuse of the First and Fourth Amendment of the U. S. constitution" [Exh. No. 27]. As he would later do with most of his correspondence concerning Scientology, either received or sent, Minton posted these two letters on the Internet.
In March of 1996 Minton met with other Internet critics in Clearwater, Florida and participated for the first time in a demonstration against Scientology. Following the demonstration, Minton posted his impressions about Scientology's presence in Clearwater on the Internet and offered the sum of $ 360,000 for incriminating information about Scientology that would ultimately lead to a revocation of the organization's tax-exempt status, which had been granted by the Internal Revenue Service in 1993 [Exh. No. 28].
From then on Minton gradually became more and more active. He continued to publicly protest and tried to make his position on Scientology also known to people outside of the Internet discussion group.
It was not until September 1997 when the Church of Scientology made the first attempt, through its attorney Elliot Abelson, to discourage Minton's anti-Scientology activities [Exh. No. 29]. At that time Minton had also begun giving financial help to people involved in litigation against the organization.
1997 - Enter the Public Arena
Three months later, in December 1997, the first newspaper articles on Minton appeared in some U. S. newspapers. The articles focused on the dispute between Minton and the Scientologists, Minton's financial support of critics and his motives for engaging in such a confrontation. The "Boston Globe" wrote on December 9th [Exh. No. 30]:
" [ ... ] Robert Minton said he decided to fund church critics because he believes Scientology abuses some of its members and uses unfair, strong-arm tactics to intimidate its detractors.
"Minton, who is not a Scientologist, became aware of the church's activities through the Internet. He said he does not question Scientology's beliefs.
"But, he added, ‘I am trying in a rather helpful way to force this organization to reform. If they want to be a good member of the world's religious communities, then they need to act like one.'
"Minton's tangle with the Church of Scientology began more than two years ago after the church took legal action against several people who were posting internal church documents on the Internet. The church charged that the postings violated copyright laws.
"Minton, who says he viewed the struggle as a free speech issue, was alarmed at what he considered the extremes to which the church would go to quash dissent. He became one of many activists around the world campaigning for change within the Church of Scientology.
"Eventually, Minton said, he decided to ‘put my money where my mouth was and help individuals and organizations who were having problems with the church.' [ ... ] "
On December 21st the "New York Times" reported about Minton's financial support of Scientology's critics [Exh. No. 31]:
" [ ... ] In the spring of 1996, Minton posted a $ 360,000 reward on the Internet for information leading to the revocation of the tax exemption that Scientology received in 1993 after a two-year inquiry by the Internal Revenue Service determined that it was a bona fide church. The reward expired unclaimed that fall, but by then Minton was committed.
"‘He's a man of principle and a very tenacious person,' said Robert P. Smith, a Boston financier, who worked with Minton on many business deals.
"Over the objections of his wife and former business associates, Minton decided to finance some of the most vocal and persistent opponents of Scientology. He lent $ 440,000 to a former Scientologist who has been trying for a decade to collect a civil judgment he won against the church. Minton and his wife bought a $ 260,000 house on an island in Puget Sound and provided it to two former Scientologists who are persistent critics of the church.
"Some recipients of Minton's largesse operate Internet Web sites that are fiercely, and sometimes profanely, opposed to Scientology. Church officials say that some of those people have advocated violence against Scientologists.
"But the payment that seems to have angered Scientology officials and lawyers most is the $ 100,000 that Minton gave recently to Kennan Dandar, a lawyer in Tampa, Fla., who represents the family of Lisa McPherson in a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against Scientology.
"Ms. McPherson's death two years ago after a 17-day stay under the care of Scientologists in a church-owned hotel in Clearwater has become a rallying point for church critics. It was her death that Minton and others marked with their protest march earlier this month, and he was among several participants whose neighborhoods had been posted with leaflets. The local prosecutor is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether anyone will be charged in connection with the death.
"Minton, who said he promised to provide another $ 250,000 for the McPherson case, if necessary, said the money was intended to level the playing field between Dandar, who runs a small law practice with his brother, and the church, which has hired a small army of lawyers. [...] "
Around this time, the Church of Scientology began to hire private detectives to look into Minton's past and his current life. Concurrently members of the Scientology organization in Boston started to demonstrate in front of Minton's home in Boston. Additionally neighbours received leaflets about Minton, accusing him of holding "a KKK-style rally against peaceful members of a religion."
During an interview with journalist Leslie Miller from "Associated Press" the Scientology official and executive of the "Office of Special Affairs International" Kurt Weiland confirmed that an investigation of Minton was indeed under way [Exh. No. 32].
In the following months Scientology investigators continued not only to investigate Minton himself, but also his family, his relatives and his former and present business partners. Minton's home in Boston and his second residential home in Sandown, New Hampshire were repeatedly picketed by either staff members of the Boston Scientology organization or by its public members.
Minton, on the other hand, continued to support Scientology's critics, not only by giving them financial aid but also by assuming an official position of one anti-cult organization that was involved in litigation with Scientology. During spring of 1998 Minton became the vice-president of F.A.C.T. Net, the organization that had been sued by the "Religious Technology Center" in 1995 for copyright violation.
On April 19th, 1998 Minton was holding a speech at a conference of the "Cult Information Service" in Newark, New Jersey, where he explained his motives behind his efforts to reform the Church of Scientology and recounted his experiences and encounters with Scientology's "Office of Special Affairs." At one point Minton recalled a telephone conversation with a member of the Boston branch of OSA on October 14th of 1997:
"... In November [sic] I got a call from a woman at the Scientology org in Boston, whose name was Mary-Frances Newey. In a subtle but firm way she said that if I did not stop giving financial support to critics of Scientology, the church would attack me on five fronts: Family, children, ex-wives, former business partners and my federal and state tax status. ... "
On that same day, when Minton held the speech in New Jersey, a TV-documentary was aired in Germany by the private channel "SAT 1." It portrayed "US millionaire" Minton and its "crusade against the cult."
On June 16th, a second documentary on Minton was aired, this time in the United States by NBC's "Dateline" program. Titled "The Crusader" it featured Minton efforts to help critics of Scientology, his plans to reform Scientology and the organization's investigation of Minton's family and his business partners [Exh. No. 33].
During May Minton began meeting Scientology representatives to discuss their mutual disagreements. Minton later reported that he spoke with Mark Rathbun and Michael Rinder, both corporate representatives from RTC and CSI, on three occasions in Boston and Los Angeles in May and in July [Exh. No. 34].
While Minton stated that the meetings were part of his reform efforts, the Scientology officials tried to use the opportunity to obtain a settlement agreement with Minton in order to get him to cease his activities directed at the Church of Scientology [Exh. No. 35]. Minton refused to sign an agreement and after the third meeting in July the talks were discontinued.
On July 9th, another article with a feature story on Robert Minton appeared in a major United States newspaper. Published by the "Boston Globe" it was titled "The improbable Crusade of Robert Minton" and described the activities of the Church of Scientology directed against Minton's family and relatives and how they had effected the family life [Exh. No. 36].