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Title Scientology - Scientology's scourge

Scientology s scourge September 17th, 2006 - [...] Shawn Lonsdale, 38, has become a downtown fixture. Most often, he can be found standing next to a sandwich board that reads: Cult Watch *Now Filming!* - Ch. 96 - Lonsdale said he is making a pseudo documentary about Scientology and its effect on downtown Clearwater for a local cable access show. He stands there for eight, sometimes 10 hours a day in the full heat of the summer. His only equipment: a still camera, a videocamera, a bottle of water and a can of mace in case things get hairy. A Scientologist was charged recently with assaulting him though the charges were later dropped. Lonsdale shrugs. More good footage for the documentary. In Lonsdale, the Church of Scientology has encountered a confusing and difficult nemesis. Unlike most ardent Scientology critics, Lonsdale was never a member. And unlike other critics, Lonsdale has proved difficult to squash. The key: He has very little to lose. Lonsdale, who is unemployed, rents a small home in Clearwater where he chain-smokes Basic cigarettes and watches his own video in a living room adorned with stuffed alien dolls. In the next room he logs onto anti-Scientology Web sites to chronicle his daily encounters with church members. On these sites, Lonsdale is regaled as a hero. [...] A couple of years ago, he had a vague idea about making a coffee table book about homeless people in downtown Clearwater. At least that s what brought Lonsdale to a City Council meeting, where he ended up in a fight with a Scientologist over redevelopment issues. The Scientologist followed his car home, he said, and a van parked in front of his house for two hours the next day. He looked into Scientology at the library and on the Internet, where he found plenty of anti-Scientology Web sites. Into a directionless life, a passion was born. [...] Lonsdale began to pedal his bicycle downtown at night. Onto the doorsteps of downtown businesses, he d drop a pile of anti-Scientology fliers printed off, perhaps the biggest anti-Scientology site. Lonsdale s phone began to ring at odd hours. We know what you do. We know who you are. Why are you doing this? People don t live too long doing this kind of thing in Clearwater. The attention only motivated Lonsdale. On lunch breaks from his job at Tampa Bay Title, Lonsdale began a daily routine. He d pop a few coins into a meter on Cleveland Street across from the Clearwater Bank Building, which serves as Scientology s cafeteria. Taped to the side of his white 1991 Oldsmobile was a message on a large piece of cardboard: OT I-VIII for free at To the hundreds of Scientologists who filed past each day, that message was blasphemous. People come from all over the world to Clearwater to study the highest levels of Scientology, called OT levels, or Operating Thetan levels. Members pay tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars to have those levels revealed. Scientology levels build upon one another, and reading ahead to higher levels is strictly forbidden. Scientology has a history of aggressively taking on critics, in the courts and on the streets. When Lonsdale came along, the church hired a private investigator, as usual, to check out its latest troublemaker. Tailing Lonsdale was a matter of protecting staffers safety, said Ben Shaw, a spokesman for Scientology in Clearwater. He is crazy, Shaw said. He is utterly crazy. The tactic also conforms with Scientology doctrine laid out by founder L. Ron Hubbard. We do not find critics of Scientology who do not have criminal pasts, Hubbard once wrote. We are slowly and carefully teaching the unholy a lesson. . . . If you oppose Scientology we promptly look and will find and expose your crimes. If you leave us alone we will leave you alone. [...] As Lonsdale made his way downtown one afternoon last month, he saw his picture staring back at him. Storefront after storefront along Cleveland Street displayed posters with the word Warning above Lonsdale s mug shot. The poster says Lonsdale has been harassing people and that he has been arrested for sex crimes. The flier was the work of the Cleveland Street Safety League. The man behind the committee and the signs is Richard Hirst, a longtime Scientologist known for confronting critics. Hirst created a Web site documenting Lonsdale s arrest record. He posted comments Lonsdale made on a swinger site years ago seeking partners for group sex. He called Lonsdale s family in New England and told them Lonsdale needed mental help. Last month, Scientology lawyers subpoenaed Lonsdale for a deposition. The church contends Lonsdale is an agent of an old anti-Scientology group that was legally barred from protesting in certain places. So he must abide by that order, the lawyers say. Attorney Luke Lirot, who has famously battled Scientology in the past, has come to Lonsdale s aid. The church s arguments are ridiculous, Lirot said, and were attempted as the quickest way to get him out of there. They think because I m a nobody and I ve got nothing that I m easy to stomp, Lonsdale said. It s getting big. [...] This is a summary extract of the full article as published by the St. Petersburg Times, Sep. 17, 2006 Full article