Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Trouble with Witty Flights: Contents under Pressure

One of the hardest things she went through, she says today, was just getting people to believe that all of the harassment was going on. ‘If you tell people you're being followed, they think you're paranoid,’ she says. The experience left her angry and depressed. ‘I was really very, very bitter.’
–Tony Ortega interviewing Paulette Cooper about her experiences with the Church of Scientology, Village Voice, 24 November 2011
Indeed, Pauline Cooper, in the face of her ordeal with Scientology, found those she counted on for support not only tuned-out the message about Scientology, but pathologized her as "paranoid." One can imagine the type of frustration that causes, resulting in a vicious cycle where one is facing pressure from an outside source, and cannot rely on the expected emotional support of friends, some of whom probably distance themselves. A targeted person might even see that distancing as suspicious in and of itself, leading them to wonder if friends might be secret Scientologists, and if so, which ones. In Cooper’s case, that’s exactly what happened when she discovered that a "new" friend actively participated in Scientology’s surveillance efforts against her

It’s not difficult to imagine that had the FBI not discovered iron-clad evidence, in the form of internal Scientology memoranda detailing their harassment and framing of Cooper (in operations they dubbed FREAKOUT and DYNAMITE), history, and for that matter the courts, might have regarded Cooper as a dangerously disturbed individual, a threat to herself and others. Likewise, Sweeney’s outburst to CoS spokesperson Tommy Davis made the reporter seem unhinged. Although Sweeney could document the surveillance using his own cameras, Rinder’s stipulation that he ordered and participated in the activities against Sweeney, and his possession of internal CoS memos verifying the attempt to harass and provoke the journalist, is what really proves the implementation of the Fair Game policy beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

We know that Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan took at least some steps to document what they saw as harassment by the Church of Scientology. Duncan wrote about these efforts on Wit of the Staircase. She specifically said that she and Blake had taken pictures of cars close to their home bearing Florida plates. In a comment to a post dated 25 July 2007 on Blogging Los Angeles, someone going by the handle "Marshall" shared an excerpt from his private e-mail correspondence with Duncan in which she attached photos of these cars. One of them, a van, had painted on it a telephone number with a Clearwater area code.

Granted, that doesn’t prove that the cars with the Florida plates had anything to do with Scientology. After all, there are plenty of Scientologists in southern California and NYC that could more stealthily follow Blake and Duncan with their in-state plates. Nevertheless, the photos attached to that e-mail at the very least show that Blake and Duncan tried to prove what they felt to be one source of pressure acting upon them. Unlike Cooper, Theresa and Jeremy would most likely never have had the tremendous luck of FBI special agents finding the smoking gun for them. And unlike Sweeney, they probably wouldn’t get former high-ranking church officials to corroborate and provide written evidence of their suspicions. And after they died, they were hardly in a position to stop such Scientology hires as John Connolly from helping to make what could be their final public depiction–the last word.

Although it’s extremely difficult to prove Scientology harassed Blake and Duncan, their claims are consistent with those made by others who were not judged delusional, or could in fact prove the harassment took place. And their behavior is consistent with those getting their buttons pushed.  Seeing that by many accounts the couple lived in dread as their lives drew to a close, it’s reasonable to consider the likelihood of the church’s harassment as a stressor, which provoked them to act in ways that would seem unbalanced, irrational, or perhaps even dangerous.

Blake and Duncan might have faced pressures from other sources. In "The Trouble with Anna Gaskell," Duncan unambiguously laid out her suspicions that some of their harassment had come courtesy of Jim Cownie, a well-connected Iowa media mogul and the foster father of Jeremy’s former beau. Theresa saw the connection in a number of menacing guises: the proliferation in their area of cars bearing Iowa plates; the alerting to her FBI file by Dr. Reza Aslan, a former Iowa resident; the friendship between Anna Gaskell and Hillary Chartrand, whose boyfriend, Ralph Rugoff, had apparently started a smear campaign against her and Jeremy; the pacing in front of their Venice home by Gaskell’s brother, Zach.

Let’s table discussion of that for now.

Instead, let’s look at speculation that Duncan and Blake might have faced even more pressure from a source that was as hidden and mercurial as it was ubiquitous. This source has possibly existed for decades, but soon made a special roost for itself online. There are aspects and actors that we can name. Most times, however, it’s not clear who a person is, what they represent, or what they intend to do. Perhaps they can do you harm, online or off.

If you want a short name for this "thing," let’s call it "Trickster," for the time being. Like any other trickster, it’s not a he or she, but an it, which real flesh-and-bone people bring to life. And like tricksters past and present, it finds fruit in every wound.

We have reason to suspect that Blake and Duncan might have encountered either Trickster or a twenty-first century spiritual clone. Other bloggers--especially those who write about politics, parapolitics or conspiracy–have argued in reasoned terms that a malicious something turned the biographies of one Theresa Duncan and one Jeremy Blake into the backdrop of a sideshow called Theremy. Many have described this entity as malevolent. Those who encountered it have discussed publicly and privately the personal toll it took on them.

Every who has encountered Trickster will tell you, at the very least, the experience was stressful.

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  • At 11:16 AM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said…

    So are you now on a Scientology track list merely from discussing these issues?

  • At 6:23 PM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    I hope not Charles, but I wouldn't be surprised.

  • At 5:58 PM, Blogger foam said…

    No doubt the Internet is a great place for the trickster to thrive in.

  • At 4:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is getting very good, and progressively creepier. I will reserve many comments I have, for now, but this is a story that has interested me since day 1 (or day 10, or so). I'm intrigued to see you mention the ARG thing (which I do remember) and breaking down the whole meta-fiction point by point. I've always wondered what happened to the 'dreamsend' blogger, too. I'm intrigued to see what your conclusion(s) are, and what else you've got coming up.

    Marge: You liked "Rashomon."
    Homer: That's not how I remember it...

  • At 9:04 AM, Blogger Ray Palm (Ray X) said…

    Trickster, eh? That's a turn in the story I wasn't expecting. Looking forward to seeing how you handle that topic and angle.

    Regarding Charles Gramlich's comment about being put on a Scientology watch list: I thought about that with my the previous comments with this series. But they can't track everyone, can they?

    Following up on my comment about word verification in your previous post, I'm experimenting with a different setting with my own blog: verification off, comment moderation on, only comments from readers with OpenID. Of course, that means no immediate publication of comments like with this blog and no anonymous commenters.

    As someone else mentioned, it's sometimes hard to use Blogger's CAPTCHA; it's too strict. With the letters squeezed together I don't know if I'm supposed to type "h," "n," or "r." I wonder how many commenters give up after the second try. Anyway, my feedback for what it's worth. I'll let you know if the settings I'm using work or if I get spam bombed.

  • At 9:57 AM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    Foam, 'tis a warm and fuzzy place for the thorny.

    Anonymous, welcome to The X-Spot. Thanks for the kind words.

    What's coming up will be slow to arrive, I'm afraid, because I've taken up a new assignment that's sucking up all my time in meatspace. But we're going to start with the most direct link between Wit of the Staircase and the hub of much of the activity.


    Charles, the Trickster angle was something I foreshadowed in the preamble to this series. There is a line of tricksterism which, believe it or not, had some roots in Intel--or at the very least in intelligence personnel. There appear to be connections here, tenuous as they might be.

  • At 9:21 PM, Blogger X. Dell said…

    Oops, I meant to leave that last comment to Ray. Senior moment.


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