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High-tech Heretics

scientologists
Christopher Gardner

Netizens put Scientology on the stand

By Will Harper

The air conditioning inside the makeshift courtroom at the Wyndham Hotel in Palm Springs purred loudly, but Grady Ward was cooking. This self-described "fat, bald house-husband" from tiny Arcata, Calif., had managed to corner the top Scientology official, David Miscavige, powerful chairman of a multimillion-dollar international religious empire.

And now that he had him where he wanted him, his cross-examination consisted of staring and making faces.

The dapper Miscavige, flanked by attorneys and bodyguards, tried not to take the chubby heretic's bait. After all, Ward and his cohort, Keith Henson, thrive on getting a rise out of Scientologists and impressing their Internet pals.

"[I] have seen postings from [Ward]," Miscavige stumbled during his hotel room deposition, "describing the various sexual acts that he had me engaged in with various male members of the Scientology religion, attorneys and so forth."

"And let the record reflect," chimed in William Hart, a New York copyright attorney representing the church, "that both Mr. Henson and Mr. Ward are snickering."

"Let the record [reflect]," Ward retorted in a mocking two-can-play-at-that-game voice, "that William M. Hart is not well shaved and he looks like a ruffian."

For two guys who stand to owe hundreds of thousands of dollars if they lose their trials, Ward and Henson seem to be having way too much fun. The Religious Technology Center, an arm of the Church of Scientology, is suing both men for allegedly posting copyrighted church scriptures on the Internet. In Henson's case, the court has already found that the 55-year-old Palo Alto engineer violated copyright laws when he posted a secret internal Scientology document last year. A jury must decide later this year how much to fine Henson for his misdeed, from $500 up to $100,000, not including RTC's attorney fees. As for Ward, Scientology lawyers have been unable to definitively prove he is the elusive "Scamizdat," a netizen who takes great glee in posting church secrets.

Neither of the two men gave Scientology much thought until they heard a report about the church censoring a chat group on the Internet two years ago. "They came and pissed in my sandbox," Henson snarls. Now, annoying Scientologists has become their favorite pastime.

Though both have been slapped with injunctions preventing them from posting protected internal church documents, they each find the time to pester the church. Henson pickets the San Jose branch, carrying a sign that reads, "Scientology--Heaven's Gate--Both UFO Cults." Online, Ward refers to one of the church's female lawyers as "the 'ho" and concocts lurid fictional accounts about Scientology officials performing oral copulation and sodomy. Even U.S. District Court Judge Ron Whyte couldn't help but call Ward's postings "disgusting."

Ward, 46, admits he wouldn't want his two grade-school-age kids to read his own material, but insists he has a higher purpose. "I believe you need to test the limits of the First Amendment in order to protect it," Ward told Judge Whyte. "So I think it's a patriotic use of speech."

Judge Whyte seemed unmoved. "Let's be blunt: Referring to a lawyer as a cock-sucking legal whore is disgusting."

Henson is no stranger to weird stuff. He helped launch the so-called L5 Society in the '70s that contemplated space colonization, earning him a write-up in Ed Regis' book, Great Mambo Chicken. His most recent earthly adventure came shortly after Miscavige's deposition in Palm Springs. Driving a rented Geo, Henson says, he evaded private investigators in an off-road car chase, bragging that he ultimately ditched the gumshoes. A local Scientology spokeswoman confirms that the church had people "looking after" the defamatory duo during their Palm Springs visit because someone supposedly overheard Henson, an explosives expert, mention bombing Scientology at the airport. Henson denies making such a remark.

Henson and Ward's hijinks have made them cult heroes, so to speak, among Internet fanatics who view the church's lawsuits as an effort to chill free speech. They've even made some money off their plight, receiving donations from people around the world. According to Henson, he has pocketed about $1,000 while Ward just bought a new car. (Ward refused to discuss how much money he's received.)

Ironically, the lawsuits against Ward and others have only sparked more interest among netizens in exposing church secrets. Other Web sites displaying Scientology's secret scriptures keep popping up. "Any organization that relies on secrecy to hold power is doomed, at least when the Net is around," Ward argues. "It will get out, and once it's out, it's out forever."

Though Henson and Ward are still on the hook for copyright infringement, they did get a big break recently when the RTC abandoned its trade-secret claim against them. Scientology's explanation: The two offenders probably didn't plan to set up a competing religious operation.

The fact is, Ward and Henson already have their own weird religion and it's called the Internet. Its only commandment: "Anything goes."

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From the Sept. 11-17, 1997 issue of Metro.

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