BBC1 Panorama: The Secrets of Scientology

In 2007, John Sweeney investigated the Scientologists for the BBC and was nearly driven insane by the experience. Now he revisits the investigation with a former Church official who has defected and tells all, including a behind-the-scenes look at what went down during Sweeney’s previous investigation. Fascinating, scary stuff. Those in the UK can probably catch it on the BBC’s iPlayer, but TreVelocita has put it on YouTube for everyone else in 4 parts (the rest are embedded after the jump).

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. John Sweeney does not come off as a terribly professional person to me. I understand he was pushed and goaded by the Scientology thugs to a breaking point, but that still doesn’t excuse his losing it like he did. Any why exactly was he (rather intimately) kissing one of his interviewees for the second project that was intended, at least in part, to exonerate his integrity as an investigative reporter? Stupid.

    There is little I can think of that would be capable of attenuating my extremely dim view of Scientology in general; it is a fantastically evil and creepy cult, and the character flaws of this reporter are no exception. However, to his ostensible target audience, ie. people who don’t know much about Scientology, these must be significant detractors to his arguments.

  2. John Sweeney is not the ideal investigator, but it seems to me that a entirely reasonable person would be very unlikely to take on the job at all.

    Thanks Mr. Sweeney!

  3. I watched this on iplayer last night. Fascinating and disturbing viewing.

    Magnus: I must admit, I didn’t see him intimately kissing an interviewee. It appeared that they gave each other a little peck to say goodbye, as people often do.

    I admire Mr. Sweeney’s courage in taking on such a difficult and potentially dangerous assignment.

  4. Magnus: which is exactly why Scientology pushed him not to the brink, but over the brink. I’d like to see how many reporters will neither give up nor flip out at some point, and of course showing emotion is by some strange notion unprofessional, so you keep it in until you explode.

  5. Right at the beginning, the narrator (Sweeney?) says that Scientology claims to be the fastest growing religion in the world. This would be fantastic if true, because (at least according to an old SGU podcast I was listening to the other day), it has declined by about 50% from it’s peak membership. Therefore every other religion would have to be declining even more rapidly.

  6. The narrator of the documentary is not claiming Scientology is the fastest growing religion. That was from a Scientology video. Every single religion claims to be the fastest growing religion on the planet.

    I don’t think Sweeney did anything particularly unprofessional. His outburst was unfortunate, but if you’re familiar with Scientology’s tactics, not unexpected even from some of the most stable people around.

    When discussing Scientology, I constantly run into people saying “I know it’s silly, but just lay off them. They’re just another religion, and they can believe what they want.” The tactics Scientology uses against its critics are so heinous that most people dismiss the stories as malicious rumors, or just gross exaggerations.

    Scientologists are trained to use tactics like bullbaiting, literally attempting to enrage people. They will approach people and ask them if they are pedophiles, one critic had parents who owned a small video store, which like most small video stores had an adult section. They had flyers handed out around their neighbourhood accusing them of being pornographers, and generally indecent people. They’re quite good at knowing how to attack people while just barely avoiding crossing the line into libel or slander.

    They have also been known to break laws when they think they can get away with it. Look up Operation Freakout, for example. Paulette Cooper was a journalist working on a book about Scientology in the early 70’s. She received anonymous death threats, her neighbours were anonymously informed she had venereal diseases.

    Scientologists later stole her stationary, and used it to send fake death threats to themselves, getting her arrested. When this failed to get her imprisoned, the church decided to find a way to make it look like she was insane. They were going to use people to impersonate her that would call in bomb threats to arab consuls in New York, and to threaten then president Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger.

    Of course Scientologists claim this is all ancient history, carried out by some misguided fringe within the church, but the reality is they’ve merely learned to refine their tactics in such a way that they don’t need to fear the law.

    Scientology is literally one of the most dishonest, despicable, and downright evil groups operating legally in the world today.

    Anyone who can go up against them, and their only real lapse is to lose their temper once, and give someone a friendly peck on the cheek sounds damned professional to me.

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