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A French take on Scientology



In Scientologie: autopsie d’une secte d’Etat, Fansten has joined the dots on Scientology’s lobbying activities not just in France, but worldwide.


Somewhere on my bookcase is a fat file containing news cuttings about Scientology in Europe over the past 15 years or so. Thanks to French journalist Emmanuel Fansten’s new book, Scientologie: autopsie d’une secte d’Etat, I’ll be able to trim it down considerably.[1]

But Fansten’s work is not just a cuttings job: it does more than simply summarise press reports of the developments in France and elsewhere. He has interviewed deputies, magistrates and members of France’s internal security service, Renseignements Généreaux, and gained access to hitherto confidential ministerial notes.

Rather than trying to cover every facet of Scientology’s operations, Fansten has focussed on an aspect that has long deserved closer attention: the movement’s remarkable talent for lobbying.

This covers a multitude of sins: from its efforts to win respectability, tax concessions and subsidieds from governments; to co-opting naïve or mercenary experts to their cause; and there is even a suggestion that the movement – perish the thought – might at some stage have been engaged in illegal activities.

But he has not been able to pursue this much further. So far as tales of key documents going missing from French court rooms are concerned for example, there are some interesting observations but no smoking gun.

Throughout his book, Fansten makes it clear that the pursuit of power and influence was one of founder L. Ron Hubbard’s priorities for the movement. He drives the point home with periodic quotes from Hubbard himself, often at the head of his chapters.

Hubbard’s confidential February 16, 1969 policy letter “Targets, Defence”, for example, proved rich pickings for his book.

The vital targets on which we must invest most of our time are:…
T3. Taking over the control or allegiance of key political figures.

And there is more of the same introducing several chapters of the book.[2]

Fansten charts the ebb and flow of successive French and U.S. administrations’ attitudes towards Scientology – and the way in which their differing positions have sometimes strained relations between the two countries.

In the United States, the official position was for a long time one of suspicion, even hostility towards the movement.

Scientology’s low point there came in early 1980s when, following FBI raids on its premises in 1977, 11 senior members of the movement (including Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue) were convicted of conducting an extensive spying operation against federal organisations.[3]

Even for years before that, the Internal Revenue Service had dismissed the movement’s claim to be a church and thus eligible for tax exemption.

But then in 1993, after an extended Scientology campaign against the IRS, which included extensive litigation and a campaign to dig up dirt on its officials, the agency caved in spectacularly.

The IRS granted the Church of Scientology the status of a church, and the tax breaks that came with it in an astonishing deal which, according to some reports, even broke its own rules.[4]

And not only did the IRS grant the Church of Scientology tax breaks, but it extended the same privilege to all its front groups.

Thus groups such as the controversial drug rehabilitation programme Narconon and the rabid anti-psychiatry group the Citizens Commission on Human Rights both benefited from the new tax break.[5]

Within months of the IRS decision, the U.S. State Department was reporting on what it described as Germany’s harassment of Scientology in its annual human rights report.[6] And before long, France too had come into the firing line, as Fansten details.