of Scientology is a religious cult which has unwisely
decided to declare war against the Usenet and Internet communities.
Since December of 1994, this Church and its followers have committed the
Members or allies of the Church have tried to remove messages written
by other people in the Usenet discussion group alt.religion.scientology.
They did this by sending unauthorized cancel messages, which
are specially-formatted messages instructing Usenet servers to delete
a previously posted message. Here's an example
of such a cancel message, and here's another.
Some of these cancels were accompanied by
text claiming that the original message contained violations of
the Church's copyrights and trade secrets. But copyright disputes
should be settled in a court of law, not by faceless vigilantes
issuing cancel messages.
The first such cancels started around Christmas of 1994, and were sent
by firstname.lastname@example.org (Harry Jones), who did not understand
his news-posting software well enough to conceal his true identity.
He eventually got smarter, and later cancels came from the
non-existent account email@example.com. The cancels
quickly attracted the attention of Time
magazine's Netwatch column, which mentioned them in the
January 16, 1995 issue. After weeks of complaints, Netcom's system
administrators finally installed software that forced anyone sending a
cancel to reveal their true identity (or, at least, their Netcom user
ID). Subsequent cancels then came from: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Michael Clark), email@example.com (John Palmer), and
firstname.lastname@example.org (Elizabeth Jones). Netcom soon disabled
logins from all of these accounts.
Soon afterwards, two more cancels originated from the site
deltanet.com, and claimed to come from the address
email@example.com. Don't try to send e-mail there; it's a
non-existent site. But the good news is that, on March 6, the good
folks at deltanet.com found and terminated the accounts of
two users who issued forged cancels from their site. Here's a report from deltanet's system administrator..
I thought we'd seen the last of the
Cancelbunny, but it came back once again on March 30, this time
from the UK. Here's a fairly recent cancel,
dated April 7. The system administrator of demon.co.uk has
informed me that the cancel appeared to originate at another UK site,
pipex.net. That site, in turn, apparently received it from a
site in Ireland, possibly an open-access NNTP port. The search
If you are familiar with certain American television commercials,
you'll understand why I dubbed this the "Cancelbunny":
it just keeps going, and going, and going...
On January 11, 1995, a lawyer for the Church, Helena Kobrin
a rmgroup message, which is an instruction to
Usenet servers to delete the entire discussion group
This message claimed that the group's very name infringed on the Church's
trademark, and again complained that members of the group were posting
infingements of the Church's copyrights. The "rmgroup" had
little effect, because most Usenet system administrators regard such
messages as purely advisory, and several quickly sent
newgroup messages to re-create the group
on any server that had removed it.
Internet World magazine asked Helena Kobrin for an
explanation, and got a long letter
back from her. I wasn't terribly impressed, and sent her
a reply. The magazine's article
appeared in the April
1995 issue. A shorter article (by net.personality
Joel Furr) appeared
in the April 1995 issue of the UK magazine
Internet and Comms Today.
Also check out the article in the April 1995 issue of the UK's
In early February, 1995, Church representatives somehow used Interpol
and the Finnish police to demand the True Name of a user of
anon.penet.fi, an anonymous remailer in Finland. Julf
Helsingius, the administrator of anon.penet.fi, announced
this in a Usenet message to many
newsgroups on February 18, 1995. He followed this with a press release on February 21. The
covered the story on February 18; this was soon followed by the Associated Press,
magazine, and another
"Postcard from Cyberspace" column
from Dan Akst in the February 22 Los Angeles Times.
On February 8, 1995, two Church corporations filed a lawsuit
and a request
for a restraining order
against Dennis Erlich of Glendale, California, alleging that he was
posting the Church's "copyrighted trade secrets". They also sued the
bulletin board he was using, support.com, and the bulletin
board's Internet service provider, Netcom. Two days later, they
received a temporary
restraining order against the three
defendants, as well as a writ
of seizure allowing them to search Erlich's home and seize computer files.
Erlich did not know about any of this until 7:30 in the morning of
Monday, February 13, when Church attorney Thomas Small and seven
other people demanded entry to his home. According to Erlich, they
spent over six hours copying and deleting files from his computer
system. A Glendale police officer was present at the beginning
and end of the raid, but not at any other time.
A court hearing was held on Tuesday, Febrauary 21 in San Jose
Federal District Court. Dennis made a statement
to the court. Tom Klemesrud, the owner and operator
of support.com, also made a statement.
Netcom's vice-president of software engineering, Rich Francis,
filed a statement
as well, as did Netcom's
At this hearing, the judge lifted the restraining
orders against support.com and Netcom, and modified
the restraining order against Dennis.
On February 27, Helena Kobrin wrote a letter
to Judge Whyte claiming that Dennis Erlich had violated
the amended restraining order the previous day. Erlich sent an apology
to the Judge that same day,
explaining that he had not yet received the amended restraining order
before allegedly violating it. (Apparently it was delivered to
the wrong address.) That was not good enough for the Church
lawyers, who promptly filed two more motions, one seeking a
contempt-of-court citation against Erlich, the other
an injunction against Netcom and support.com.
Dennis Erlich now has legal representation, from the
San Francisco law firm of Morrison and Foerester ("MoFo"). Because of
their good work, Judge Whyte cancelled a March 17 hearing which was to hear
a motion to hold Dennis in contempt of court. Instead, the judge issued an
delaying all pending hearings until further notice.
(Dennis reported this news to Usenet in two messages on
March 15 and
A second court hearing was held on
Friday, June 23 at 2 pm at the San Jose Federal
Courthouse. This hearing considered a number of motions from all
parties in the dispute, including Helena's motion to hold Dennis
in contempt, Helena's motion for an injunction against all three
defendants, and Tom and Netcom's motion to dismiss them from the case.
Dennis described the motions in
written a few days before the hearing.
Brian Harmon attended the hearing and wrote
this description of what he saw.
(Dennis later sent several replies, which I've intercut into Brian's text.)
Francisco Chronicle also covered the story in its June 24 edition.
The trial (by jury) date is set for early 1996.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has established the Dennis Erlich
Defense Fund for people who want to help Dennis cover the "hard costs"
of his legal defense. Follow this
link for more information. Update, June 8: You may now
contribute to the Fund by bank wire transfer!
Dennis's ex-wife Rosa continues to harass him with claims that he owes
$40,000 in child-support payments. Dennis claims that he's been
denied the right to visit the child. Here's a link to
Dennis's latest postings on this subject.
Dennis suspects that the Scientologists may have "bought" Dennis's
alleged debt from Rosa in order to collect it.
A member of the Church's Office of Special Affairs, Andrew Milne,
posted a message claiming that a Scientologist named Robert Lippman
"has obtained a restraining order against
Dennis Erlich over Erlich's threat to kill him at the 1992 Cult
Awareness Network conference." Erlich says he's never been served
with any such order and has never met or heard of Lippman.
The British Broadcasting Corporation covered the Erlich case
in its first edition of "the Net" TV show on May 15, 1995.
They've put a transcript
of the show on the Web.
Daniel Davidson is a student at San Francisco State University in
California. Because of Helena's
complaint, SFSU's director of computing services, John
True, filed a disciplinary
charge against Davidson. Davidson was required to appear
at a disciplinary hearing on Friday, March 31. He explained
his predicament in a series
of Usenet messages. Fortunately, Davidson was exonerated of all charges. This
was partly due to the good work of Netizens throughout the world, who
sent numerous e-mails and faxes to San Francisco State University
officials explaining why Helena's groundless complaint should not be a
cause for punitive action by the University. One of the best such
letters was sent by Bruce
Tober, a reporter for the UK magazine
Internet and Comms
Bob "Sloth" Bingham received an ominous
e-mail note from a known Scientologist, informing
him that his
Web page had been "reported" to the Church's Office of
Special Affairs (intelligence unit).
In Oklahoma, TarlaStar got a phone call from
someone falsely claiming to represent her Internet Service Provider.
A few days later, two Church of Scientology representatives posted her
real first and last name, her address, her phone number, and her
husband's name to alt.religion.scientology.
On April 15, two Scientologists paid Grady Ward an unannounced personal visit. This
link contains both Grady's story and a counter-story from
Scientologist "Chris Miller", who seems to have some kind of inside
connection with Scientology's Office of Special Affairs.
On May 8, Grady's publisher received a
slanderous phone call
from a man identifying himself as Gene Ingram, who is a private
investigator for the Church of Scientology. On May 10, a very
inquisitive stranger, calling himself "Jack Hoff",
Grady's 74-year-old mother in Tacoma, Washington.. Grady's mom
later identified Mr. "Hoff" positively as Eugene Ingram, with
help from this photo,
taken by Jeff Jacobsen. As a result, the Tacoma
Police Department has filed criminal case #95-1530374 against
Ingram, on the charge of criminal impersonation.
Gary Reibert, who had only posted two messages to alt.religion.scientology,
experienced a variety of disturbing
events: his car was tailed, someone phoned him to do a survey in which
"not participating is not an option", and somone else impersonated him
in a phone call to his gas company, falsely reporting damage to his line.
Finally, someone claming to be both a Scientologist and an MIT alumnus
sent this complaint
to the MIT webmaster. (Unfortunately, a bug in
MIT's comment gateway truncated the message.) The webmaster sent
Scientology has also threatened the FACTnet bulletin-board system
with numerous lawsuits, forcing them to remove their Web page.
This BBS contains a huge library documenting the activities
of Scientology and other religious cults. FACTnet may have to
to shut down entirely in a few weeks, and they have issued
a general appeal to netizens asking that
you download their files free of charge while they are
Update, May 11: FACTnet has put all of its text files, in
.zip format, onto its FTP site, ftp://ftp.rmii.com/pub2/factnet/.
These files were scheduled to
disappear at the end of April, but seem to have been given a reprieve.
Still, they could vanish at any time. Get them now!
Internet users are finding out something that writers and journalists
have known for years: the Church of Scientology doesn't take
kindly to people who write negative things about it. They've
sued and harassed numerous writers of books,
such as biographer Russell Miller, who described his courtroom experience
in a Punch magazine article in February 1988.
More recently, they've picketed and distributed defamatory leaflets
about writer Jon Atack, whose story is told in a 1994
Evening Argus article.
Los Angeles Times writer Robert Welkos was followed by
private investigators and received unsolicited hand-delivered
ads from funeral homes; you can read a first-person account in
his Quill magazine article.