May 13th, 2013 | by Ann-Derrick Gaillot and Aaron Mesh News | Posted In: Activism, Religion, Multnomah County

Scientologists Commemorate That Time They Emptied All the WW Boxes

     
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scientologyScientologists celebrate the opening of a Portland "Ideal Org" behind those bushes. - Ann-Derrick Gaillot

By now, you've doubtless heard about last weekend's Scientology shindig on Portland's Southwest Oak street.

A crowd (though maybe not so big a crowd as the allegedly photoshopped press release suggests) gathered in front of a stage that looked remarkably like Mickey Mouse's birthday party at Disneyland, in order to celebrate the grand opening of a new "Ideal Org"—which is essentially the Scientology equivalent of a megachurch, but without so much congregation.

But why Portland?

Newcomers and those with short, suppressive memories may not remember that Portland is something akin to a holy city for Scientologists. That's thanks to a two-month protest in 1985 of a Multnomah County circuit court jury finding the church guilty of defrauding a defector named Julie Christofferson Titchbourne. Scientologists from across the country turned the verdict into a referendum on religious freedom, and the court declared a mistrial.

The posters advertising last weekend's party make that connection clear—calling Portland "the first Scientology city" and showing a photo of 1985-vintage protesters attaching theses to the Multnomah County Courthouse, Martin Luther-style.

"Church members who had been in Portland would always feel an ecstatic sense of kinship," writes Lawrence Wright in his new book on the religion, Going Clear. And little wonder. As Wright explains:

As many as 12,000 Scientologists came from all over the world in May and June 1985 to protest the judgement in what they called the Battle of Portland. Day after day they marched around the Multnomah County courthouse, shouting "Religious freedom now!" and carrying banners reading WE SHALL OVERCOME! Chick Corea flew in from Japan to play a concert, along with other musicians affiliated with the church, including Al Jarreau, Stanley Clarke, and Edgar Winter. Stevie Wonder phoned in and sang "I Just Called to Say I Love You" as the crowd cheered.

One strategy in the Battle of Portland? Destroying copies of Willamette Week.

WW's cover story on May 30, 1985 was entitled "Scientology on Trial." It's very long, and has been excerpted by an anti-Scientology website, but the subtitle provides a pretty clear indication of where it's going: "Why a Portland jury awarded $39 million in damages against one of the world's most profitable cults."

The following week, Mark L. Zusman opened the paper with a letter from the editor. Here is that letter in full.

Seldom has Willamette Week been in the news as much as it has been over the past week. While the radio, television and daily-newspaper reporting on what occurred has all been accurate, some of it has been incomplete. For the record then:

Last Wednesday, several phone calls were received at our office claiming that Scientologists were seen hauling off many copies of our paper. That week's issue of Willamette Week, which had as its lead story a piece called "Scientology on Trial," had been distributed to 360 racks and boxes in the metro area Wednesday morning. One newsstand clerk told us that a woman walked into the store, identified herself as a Scientologist and attempted to take about 75 copies of the paper. Another man called and said he confronted a fellow at the New Market Theater walking off with a stack of papers. The fellow said he was a Scientologist and "was under orders" to take the papers. Someone else called us to report that a white van with Texas license plates was seen driving up to the downtown branch of the Multnomah County Library. He said three men got out of the van, emptied a Willamette Week box that sits on 10th Avenue, and then drove away.

That evening, we walked through downtown and found more than 25 boxes and racks that were completely empty. On the 11 o'clock KATU news, a spokesman for the Scientologists conceded that members of his organization were responsible. He apologized and promised to return the papers. That evening we ran an additional press run of 3,500 copies and spent the next day refilling the empty boxes. We have no evidence that the Scientologists have returned any newspapers.

Let this be a warning to you, Gizmodo: However many Scientologists are in Portland, they will wreck you.

 
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