The first time I met Gerry Armstrong, I thought he was paranoid. I’d driven down from Vancouver, summer 2007, into the verdant Fraser Valley to Chilliwack, BC, a somnolent, wind-blown town surrounded by jagged mountain ranges. A place as far removed from Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Scientology’s loopiness as one can possibly get. Armstrong and his third wife Caroline live in a walk-up, one-bedroom apartment above a tiny strip mall that’s seen better days.
When I arrived, Armstrong suggested we drive to a nearby park, rather than talk in their apartment. It was a beautiful July day and, except for a couple of stoners milling about out of earshot, the three of us were alone on the manicured grass beside a pond. Now sixty-one, Armstrong is an alarmingly small man, with elfin features, a beaky nose, sallow skin and large limpid blue eyes. The baseball cap he wore to ward off the hot sun made him look even more vulnerable. Amiable, soft-spoken with no trace of aggression, he chose his words with deliberation. Caroline seemed protective of him.
Armstrong’s wariness toward me stemmed from his concern that I might very well be a Scientologist on a spying expedition. This has happened before. Four years ago, a middle-aged man showed up in Chilliwack, rented a storefront across the street from their apartment and tried to ingratiate himself into their lives. He was there for a year and a half before Armstrong and his wife finally figured out that he’d been sent by the Church of Scientology to keep an eye on them. When they confronted him, he said “You turned the tables on me,” and bolted. “And in the middle of the night he disappeared from the office space,” Armstrong told me.
Armstrong finally began to tell me fragments of stories about being relentlessly harassed by the church, pursued by its private investigators, run off the road, targeted in elaborate sting operations, slandered at every turn by what he calls “Black PR” and “dead agent packages” and stalked through the US courts. In fact, since last fall, a California court order has been reinstated, demanding that he be remanded to a state jail and pay Scientology $500,000 US for breaking a confidentiality agreement he signed with the church twenty- one years ago. Hence his exile in Chilliwack.
Why has the Church of Scientology spent nearly three decades trying to discredit and silence this unemployed, penniless man living on a disability pension in the middle of nowhere in British Columbia?
Because of what he knows. Arm- strong not only worked very closely with the church’s founder, the former pulp sci-fi writer L. Ron Hub- bard, but was sanctioned by Hubbard to compile a massive archive of documents detailing all aspects of Hub- bard’s life. Armstrong understands more about Hubbard’s true identity and history than just about any- one alive. For Scientologists, it’s like Armstrong has spent time with Jesus or Mohammed or Moses. The only problem is, Armstrong does not worship Hubbard. Quite the opposite. As the myth of Hubbard has grown, however, the existence of people like Armstrong has become a problem. His experience attests to inconve- nient truths about the messianic fi gure. After all, what Gerry Arm- strong saw and learned convinced him that Hubbard was a fraud.
“Gerry poses a threat because he has knowledge of L. Ron Hubbard that few if any other outside critics hold,” explains Stephen Kent, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta and a world-leading expert on Scientology. “He was working with exclusive documents—documents of Hubbard’s childhood and teenage years. Armstrong interviewed Hubbard’s relatives, so he had an in-depth knowledge of Hubbard the person and how Hubbard’s biography developed over time. For a person with that kind of knowledge to say that what the organization portrays about its founder is false, distorted or misleading—that’s a terrible threat.”
Scientology—the term means the “study of truth”—calls itself “the world’s fastest-growing religion.” As religions go, it bears striking similarities to a soulless multinational corporation. Forty-seven-year-old David Miscavige, its current leader, wears business suits and is the “chair- man of the board” of the Religious Technology Center, through which he oversees Scientology. Founded by Hubbard in 1954, the church now claims 10 million members— although the true number is prob- ably in the range of 200,000—in 159 countries and more than 6,000 Scientology churches, missions and outreach groups across the globe. Worldwide real estate is assumed to be valued in the billions of dollars. Church missionaries stage “caval- cades” throughout the developing world and can always be found at disaster sites such as 9/11 and Hur- ricane Katrina. They champion their own anti-drug program and human rights campaigns, and blame “sup- pressive persons,” psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry for many of the world’s woes.
With Hollywood celebrities like Cruise, Travolta, Juliette Lewis, Jenna Elfman, Kirstie Alley, Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson) and Oscar-winning and Canadian-born director Paul Haggis among its adherents, the church is rarely absent from the headlines. Cruise’s relationship to Scientology, in particular, has been an ongoing source of controversy of late, most recently stirred anew by the publication of British writer Andrew Morton’s biography of the actor. In Quebec, a Scientology front organization drew some attention when it launched a lawsuit to ensure Ritalin is not used in schools.
But the church also has a dark side—vindictively petulant and quick to harass former members, journalists and academics who have dared to criticize it. Scientology is notoriously litigious and defamatory. And despite efforts to burnish its image in recent years, the Armstrong saga reveals that the DNA of Hubbard’s church remains unaltered since his death in 1986, continuing to reflect its founder’s distrustful and punitive nature. “I’ve been physically driven into with a car,” says Armstrong. “I was terrorized on a freeway in Los Angeles, and in Germany. I have been physically assaulted six times. I have been threatened with assassination by their head private investigator. So I know they are very, very capable of that level of violence.”
In spite of being relentlessly targeted, Armstrong remains unbowed in his quest to reveal all that he knows about the surreal world of Scientology. Over the past thirty years, he’s paid such a steep price, going public may be the only thing he has left.
ARMSTRONG GREW UP IN CHILLIWACK in what he calls an “extremely dysfunctional family.” Despite good marks in school, by age twenty- two he was adrift and working in a logging camp on the BC coast. By chance, a friend lent him some Scientology literature. This was an era when alternative religions were in vogue. In 1969, Gerry visited the church’s offices in Vancouver. “Like a lot of people, what attracted me was they make a lot of promises with a money-back guarantee,” he recalls. “These things, as a young kid at the time, were extremely attractive to me. These were not religious representations at all, these were things anyone can understand. Like rais[ing] the IQ … through their psychotherapy.” Armstrong was hooked, taking courses and sessions. In 1971, he volunteered to join the church as a full-time employee. He sold his stamp collection and bought a ticket to Los Angeles, signed up as a member of the Sea Organization, the church’s inner staff, and soon was on a plane to Spain. From there, he took a boat to Morocco to join the crew of the Apollo, the ship from which Hubbard was running his enterprise.
When Armstrong became a Scientologist in the late sixties, the church was largely stateless, having run into problems with various governments around the world (many of whose intelligence agencies were spying on it). Hubbard was an unusual fellow to have started a religion. Scientologists have portrayed their founder, born in 1911, as a visionary, philosopher, educator, scientist, old-time adventurer, ethnographer, artist, sailor and war hero. The son of a US naval officer, he came from Tilden, Nebraska, attended George Washington University, found moderate success as a writer of pulp fiction (the church’s website calls him “one of the most popular writers of the 1930s”) and served as a lieutenant in the US Navy during World War II.
After the war, Hubbard moved to Pasadena, California, where he met John Whiteside Parsons, a society figure and a founder of CalTech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A sci-fi buff, Parsons was also a follower of the English occultist Aleister Crowley. Having absorbed lessons learned from Parsons, Hubbard decided to conjure up his own religion, telling one fellow sci-fi writer: “That’s where the money is.”
Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health was published in 1950, and it became a runaway hit, remaining on the New York Times best-seller list for twenty-eight consecutive weeks. In 1954, Dianetics begat the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. From there, Hubbard set about spreading his new mantra around the world, opening offi ces in England, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. In 1955, a directive known as Project Celebrity was launched with the purpose of recruiting stars. John Travolta became a Scientologist in 1975 after reading Dianetics, and many other Hollywood glitterati have since followed him into the fold.
In many respects, Scientology is the Tony Robbins of religions. Instead of worshipping a deity, the church claims it can rid people of fears and insecurities and boost their IQs so they’ll be happier and do good in the world. In order to achieve this, people go through “auditing” with the help of something called an e-meter, whereby they unburden themselves of all their negative thoughts to a Scientology staffer. The goal is to become smarter and reach a state of “clear,” giving you total control of your mind. “You have complete control of your thought process,” explains Armstrong. “In addition to that, there are other promises. Clears don’t get colds, clears have total recall, perfect memories.”
But it doesn’t end there. After reaching a state of clear, you then embark on more courses and auditing to climb levels called operating thetans (or OTs). The higher the OT level, the more superhuman you are supposed to be. As a third-level operating thetan, OTIII, you are allowed to learn the founding story of Scientology, which involves Xenu, an alien who purportedly came to earth 75 million years ago and dumped souls into volcanoes, which were then destroyed by hydrogen bombs. However, auditing sessions and courses are expensive. Armstrong estimates it can cost $360,000 US or more to complete all eight OT levels.
Hubbard also drew up a series of harshly disciplinary policies and dictums. “Hubbard was paranoid,” explains Kent. “He was convinced a number of agencies and individuals around the world were against his organization. There is some basis of truth in those fears, in part because Scientology placed such rigorous demands on members and was so slippery about its finances.”
Hubbard suggested that any attack against Scientologists should be met with vigorous counterattacks. “The only way to defend anything is to ATTACK,” he wrote in 1955, “and if you ever forget that, then you will lose every battle you are ever engaged in … NEVER BE INTERESTED IN CHARGES. DO, yourself, much MORE CHARGING, and you will WIN.” In 1960, he wrote: “If attacked on some vulnerable point by anyone or anything or any organization, always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace.”
In 1965, Hubbard created the idea of the “Suppressive Person,” or SP. SPs are portrayed as resentful social outcasts and former church members, but in essence an SP is anyone who poses a threat to the church. In 1967, Hubbard wrote: “SP Order [is] fair game.” Anyone the church considered its enemy, he continued, “may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.” The church even has a quasi-secret police force, known as the Guardian’s Offi ce, which enforces its harsh tactics. In 1968, Hubbard limited the defi nition of who was “fair game” to exclude outsiders, but since any serious critic is branded as a Suppressive Person, in practice “fair game” remains church policy to this day. A clear demonstration of this fact is an internal Scientology videotape made four years ago, in which Tom Cruise describes the manner in which the church deals with critics or SPs: “confront, shatter, suppression.”
WHEN ARMSTRONG MET UP with the Apollo, it was sailing aimlessly around the Atlantic Ocean and West Indies. Crowded onboard were four hundred Scientologists, along with Hubbard, his wife and young female messengers. Hubbard was a bearish, redheaded and seemingly paternalistic man. “He was bigger than I thought, a very big man,” remembers Armstrong. “Very bulky with huge forearms and deep voice … He surrounded himself with young girls, they were the messengers. Wherever he went he had this group of young girls with him, to carry his ashtray for him. He chain-smoked non-filtered Kools, never stopped. He tried to dress in a very flamboyant manner—cravats, capes, boots, and on board he generally had on his nautical officer’s cap.”
Armstrong started as a lowly dishwasher but quickly proved to be useful. He helped with rudimentary interpreting with the locals in Portugal whenever Hubbard needed a suit fitted or a haircut. “I was very close to him in circumstances like that,” relates Armstrong. “He could be very charming and very often was. But he had a hair-trigger temper and could fl air up in a second and could become extremely belligerent. He really terrified the whole crew. And it was such a relief to be in that charming identity. Because he could be a terror to everyone.”
In fact, Armstrong now believes that although Hubbard “had tremendous command and presence and was obviously very intelligent,” he was also a “classic sociopath.” And the reason was because of Hubbard’s “charm, the determination to dominate, the covert attacks on enemies, the pathological lying.”
Armstrong eventually rose to become a legal and then public-relations officer and loyal member of Hubbard’s inner circle. In 1974 in the Bahamas, at Armstrong’s wedding aboard the Apollo, Hubbard played the role of surrogate father and gave away the bride. Photos of the ceremony show a joyous occasion with Hubbard clearly in buoyant spirits. A year later, Hubbard and his followers returned to land and established a base in Clearwater, Florida. Arm- strong moved to California in 1976 to work with Hubbard making training films. He then followed Hubbard up the coast to the church’s secret base in Gilman Hot Springs, California, to manage Hubbard’s household staff there.
But Armstrong did not escape Hubbard’s wrath. In 1974, Hubbard established his own internal punishment program, the controversial Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF). Arm- strong calls it the church’s “gulag.” Staff members are stripped of every- thing, pressed into doing menial labour for long hours, their wages cut to a few dollars a week, interrogated, isolated from family members and made to sleep in squalid conditions like parking garages, according to Kent. “The stories of many of the people who go through RPF are just astonishing ... I have heard stories of people working for thirty-six hours without sleep. It often means hard and demeaning labour ... The RPF is, in my opinion … an extraordinarily abusive program,” Kent says.
That abuse has increased in intensity since the 1970s, continues Kent. “It’s worse for a couple of reasons: the RPF apparently prohibits family contact and pays people even less money … it takes longer to get out of it. Routinely people are in RPF for five years or more.”
In 1976, after getting into an argument with the secretary of Hubbard’s wife, Hubbard banished Armstrong to RPF for seventeen months where he earned $4.30 a week. “They had huge brigades,” says Armstrong. “There were about eighty people, highly disciplined, doing the dirtiest work in the organization. You would eat whatever was left after the staff had eaten. We always slept in an unventilated storage area or in a parking garage.” Finally, Armstrong was let out of RPF, only to return for another nine- month stint after Hubbard thought Armstrong was making fun of his filmmaking. RPF is one of the reasons that the German government seems determined to hinder Scientology: it reeks of concentration camps and forcible confinement.
SCIENTOLOGY'S LEADERSHIP came under siege in the late 1970s, and a tumultuous period for the church began. The US Internal Revenue Service investigated it for the theft of documents from more than one hundred government agencies. Incredibly, starting in 1974, the church had launched a massive espionage attack on the US government, forging credentials so its agents could infiltrate government buildings to find and remove any incriminating materials or evidence linked to Scientology and its members, including taxation documentation. Nine leaders within the church, including Hubbard’s wife Mary Sue, who had supervised the operation, served lengthy prison terms. Hubbard himself went into hiding in 1980. The new reality of being a Scientologist, with its attendant paranoia and eternal vigilance, set into motion Armstrong’s eventual exit from the inner sanctum.
In January 1980, Hubbard ordered his staff at Gilman Hot Springs to get rid of any documents he thought the government could want in the event of a raid. When one of Armstrong’s juniors brought him a box of Hubbard’s personal effects, Armstrong realized their true value. He asked Hubbard that any material dealing with Hubbard’s own background be kept so the church could publish a biography.
Armstrong was authorized by Hubbard later in January to com- pile his papers and work with a pro- fessional writer, Omar Garrison, to produce the biography. Armstrong began to assemble and catalogue the documents, which eventually grew to more than 500,000 pages. “And fairly early on I fi nd some contra- dictions to what he has said publicly and what is there in the documents,” he recalls. “I think the fi rst instance was his claim that he had written the screenplay for the movie Dive Bomber. Well, he hadn’t, and I went to the Academy of Motion Pictures Sciences and researched the movie and confi rmed he had not.”
For nearly two years, Armstrong gathered documents and interviewed Hubbard’s relatives and acquaintanc- es. And he kept discovering that Hubbard’s past rarely jibed with the church’s published account. For ex- ample, Hubbard said at various times he was a nuclear scientist, a civil en- gineer, a decorated and wounded war hero, and had a Ph.D.
“His claim he was a nuclear sci- entist was a lie, his claim of being a civil engineer was a lie, his claim of even graduating from George Wash- ington University was a lie,” says Armstrong. “And he never [was] crippled or blinded in the war. In fact, he was a malingerer during the war and [was] busted from com- mand of the ships he was given. [The church] claimed he received twenty- seven medals and palms, including two Purple Hearts. Complete lies. He got four regular service medals.”
As Hubbard’s fictionalized past came to light, Armstrong began suggesting to the church’s leadership that they correct the record. But his overtures were received with hostility. No one was keen to confront the increasingly volatile, reclusive and vindictive Hubbard. Armstrong grew deeply disillusioned with the church to which he’d devoted so many years. “It [had been] very signifi cant to me he was a nuclear physicist. To me, that meant something. And then to fi nd out after all of those years it was just a load, the whole thing began to crumble for me.”
Today, the church’s biography of Hubbard still paints its founder in glowing terms, but any claims of academic or wartime citations have been expunged. Armstrong, it seems, was in the right. If he was guilty of anything, it was being the bearer of bad news at a bad time.
In the end, Armstrong and his wife decided to flee. “I had to really confront the fact I was not any smarter than when I got into the organization. I did not attain any of those IQ powers or any special abilities whatsoever. So I was faced with a tremendous dilemma.” In December 1981, they packed up their belongings and quietly left the compound in Los Angeles where they were living. Little did he foresee the new nightmare awaiting him.
WHEN ARMSTRONG QUIT the church, boxes of documents about Hubbard were still in the possession of Omar Garrison, the writer who’d been commissioned to write the biography. The combined loss of Armstrong and these documents clearly panicked the church. In the spring of 1982, Scientology issued two “Suppressive Person” declarations against Armstrong, which listed charges including theft of church property and obtaining money under false pretenses. Amazingly, the church created a plan called “The Gerry Armstrong Project,” which laid out its intention to hunt him down, spy on him and find out what he was saying, including inventing cover stories to pump information from friends and acquaintances.
By this time, Hubbard was in hiding, due to pending litigation against the church by former members and having been found responsible for launching the covert infiltration operation against the IRS and other US and Canadian government agencies. One of Hubbard’s lieutenants, David Miscavige, began asserting himself in the leadership of the church. Despite his precocious years (he was only twenty-one), Miscavige had been close to Hubbard since his teens and now carried out Hubbard’s orders. Former high-ranking Scientologist Larry Brennan, who was employed in the church’s enforcement wing, the Guardian’s Office, spent three years working directly under Miscavige in the early eighties. He recalls Hubbard ordering Miscavige to do things like spit on certain staff. “And he would do it,” says Brennan. Brennan also witnessed Miscavige punching Scientology staffers in the mouth.
When Hubbard died in 1986, Miscavige engineered a coup and took over as leader of the church. Today, he is best friends with Tom Cruise. Miscavige was best man at his wedding to Katie Holmes, and both seem to possess an intense, all-or-nothing personality. Brennan, who left the church staff in 1984 and spent a total of $400,000 US on auditing courses, recalls Miscavige having a particular enmity for Armstrong.
“He really hated Gerry,” he recalls. Brennan says Miscavige would mock the now defected Armstrong in front of staff, using the most personal confessions of Armstrong’s own auditing files to cast him in the worst possible light.
After Armstrong quit the church, he went to work as a paralegal at a law firm elsewhere in California. The church soon tracked him down and sent private investigators to sit in cars in front of his apartment and follow him. Armstrong says they verbally threatened him, once tried to run him off the road and even struck him with their vehicles.
In 1982, the church launched a lawsuit against Armstrong, seeking the return of the Hubbard documents. The case came to trial in Los Angeles in April 1984. It could not have gone any worse for Scientology. Armstrong testified at length about his experiences in the church, much of which he was able to corroborate with documents. Scientology’s witnesses, in contrast, made a very poor impression.
In a stinging decision, Judge Paul Breckenridge ruled against Scientology. “In addition to violating and abusing its own members’ civil rights,” wrote Breckenridge, “the organization over the years with its ‘Fair Game’ doctrine has harassed and abused those persons not in the Church whom it perceives as enemies. The organization clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder [Hub- bard]. The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background, and achievements. The writings and documents in evidence additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power, and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile.”
The Breckenridge decision, says the University of Alberta’s Kent, is one reason the church has pursued Armstrong so vigorously over the years. “His case was so prominent,” he explains. “Everybody comes back and refers to it ... Consequently they have to discredit Gerry Armstrong.”
In late 1984, in a bizarre turn, Scientology ensnared Armstrong in a sting. Armstrong was approached by a person in the church he had been friends with, who told Arm- strong that he represented a faction called the Loyalists eager to wrest control of the church away from Miscavige. Armstrong believed his former friend’s story, was intrigued and talked with him about how the Loyalists could win. The church surreptitiously filmed these meetings.
“Over a period of time, they set me up in a number of situations which were recorded and videotaped without my knowledge,” says Arm- strong. The video footage was further evidence of the church’s use of covert methods—the church still claims that Armstrong was part of a vast plot to destroy the church—but it nonetheless muddied the evidence and cast some doubt on Armstrong’s motives.
Armstrong countersued the church for fraudulent misrepresentation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. His case was set to go to trial in 1986. However, his lawyer, who collectively represented about twenty former Scientologists, negotiated a settlement: in return for $800,000 US for himself, Armstrong would sign a confidentiality agreement and never talk privately or publicly about Scientology ever again. If he broke the gag order, Armstrong would have to pay $50,000 every time he uttered the word “Scientology.”
When he read the proposed agreement, he was appalled—it was so stringent it would even have pre- vented him from telling a psychiatrist he’d been a member of the church. Nevertheless, Armstrong claims his lawyer—who was also being harassed by the church—urged him to take the deal anyway. “You have to sign,” Armstrong recalls his attorney saying. “All of these people [the other litigants and former Scientologists] are depending on you to have fair game end for them.”
“I was made the deal breaker in this global settlement, including with my lawyer. He had huge insurmountable conflicts of interest. He was himself a target of Scientology.”
Armstrong signed the agreement, the documents about Hub- bard were returned to the church, and he pocketed $500,000 US (the rest went to his lawyer). “I wanted it to end because they had not stopped [attacking] me,” says Armstrong. For the next three years, he abided by its terms. However, he says, the church did not.
WHETHER THE CHURCH TRIED to drive Armstrong into breaking the gag order or whether he simply couldn’t hold his tongue is unclear. The church has since stated it was not bound by the confidentiality agreement to stop making statements about him. In fact, Armstrong noted that the church had, in several affadavits filed in its case against Russell Miller and Penguin Books Ltd. in the High Court of Justice in England, falsely accused him of vio- lating court orders, and labelled him “an admitted agent provocateur of the US Federal Government.”
In 1990, Armstrong petitioned in California to be allowed to respond to the church’s remarks, which he labels “Black PR.” “It was impossible for me not to talk about Scientology, especially after they continued to attack me,” he says. “It was also impossible because of what is in my mind. I signed an impossible contract.”
A year later, the church asked the courts to uphold the agreement but was turned down. So they sued and eventually found a judge willing to impose steep penalties. Armstrong was soon driven into bankruptcy. The church intervened there, too, trying to prevent the bankruptcy courts from discharging him from the debt.
Armstrong was making a living working for law firms as a paralegal. But the church targeted them all and he was forced to quit these jobs. By the mid-nineties, Armstrong was openly and regularly excoriating the church, granting media interviews, writing online, testifying in court, speaking at conferences and even occasionally picketing their premises. The church, in response, has sued him five times, most recently in 2007.
Scientology claims Armstrong has violated the original agreement 188 times. When contacted, their spokespeople refuse to discuss the Armstrong case, saying they are not responsible for the judge’s penalties. On the website Religious Freedom Watch, devoted to attacking the church’s critics, former “friends” describe Armstrong as a “whacko,” a “complete idiot” and more.
But Scientology’s online presence has taken some serious hits recently. In January 2008, bloggers and hackers around the world declared cyber-war against the Church of Scientology. And Armstrong has his own comprehensive webpage, gerryarmstrong.org, devoted to his legal and personal odyssey with Scientology.
Armstrong continues to inflict hits on Scientology. In 2000, he put online texts allegedly written by Hubbard in 1947: personal affirmations bolstering his self-esteem and confessions of his failings, including infidelity to his wife, feelings of persecution and enjoyment of pornography. “Material things are yours for the asking,” writes Hubbard. “Men are your slaves. Elemental spirits are your slaves. You are power among powers, light in the darkness, beauty in all.”
In 1997, Armstrong left the States, fearing for his security, and returned to Chilliwack, BC. Still not feeling secure, in 2002 he and his then-fiancée (now third wife) Caroline—a former Scientologist who’s also been declared an SP—moved to Germany, where the intelligence service keeps Scientology under more or less con- stant surveillance. But even there, Gerry claims, the harassment continued when they were terrorized on the autobahn by a Scientologist. The couple returned to Chilliwack in 2004 to fight their latest court case.
Financially broke, Armstrong is unable to hire lawyers and has for the past several years represented himself. Perhaps as a consequence, the church has won orders stipulating he must go to jail and pay them $500,000 US. Says Armstrong: “It’s staggering to me that they are able to accomplish this in the courts. It also indicates to me the level of complicity within the court system and government itself.”
“Gerry’s war” has taken a huge mental toll as well. Armstrong feels “tremendous isolation, a type of hyper vigilance, a constant awareness of threat … not just, Are they going to assassinate [me]?”
“Scientology takes the long picture, the overview—it’s looking in terms of fifty to one hundred years,” says Kent. “They don’t want someone to avail themselves of information Gerry provided. [The church] wants to ruin Gerry’s reputation for the present and for time immemorial.”
Still, given Armstrong’s feelings about Scientology, the struggle has been worth it. “The US government says [it is] a religion. Scientology proves that a commercial enterprise can be a religion, a dangerous cult can be a religion, and an organization that hires private investigators and runs an intelligence operation [can be] a religion,” he remarks.
“I know the fraud, I know the sociopathy. I can write and talk. And so far, they have not been able to silence me.”
[Note: This piece received an Honourable Mention in the "Investigative Reporting" category of the National Magazine Awards.]