cult post!!! scientology, network tv and branch davidians, oh my!

Ex-Scientology leader Debbie Cook tells of fear and pursuit by church officers

Starting new lives in San Antonio, Texas, after working decades for the Church of Scientology, they picked up the phone in August 2009 and were stunned when church security officer Kathy True said she and two other staffers were in town to see them.

Could they come to the couple's home?

No, said Cook. She had thought True was coming alone. Cook suggested a public place, a restaurant.

It was a tense time for Scientology. A few weeks earlier, four high-ranking defectors had spoken out about abusive practices in church management ranks. Now, three big names wanted to make sure Cook and Baumgarten were still in the fold.

Before going to the restaurant, Baumgarten bought a handgun.

That account was provided to the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday by Cook and her Texas lawyer Ray Jeffrey, whom Cook and Baumgarten hired after the church sued them in January for violating confidentiality agreements signed when they left the church in 2007.

Cook is one of Scientology's most noted defectors. She served 17 years as the top ecclesiastical figure at the church's worldwide spiritual headquarters in Clearwater.

When she and Baumgarten left, the church paid them $50,000 each in exchange for signing the agreements. For four years, they said nothing.

But on New Year's Eve, Cook emailed thousands of current and former Scientologists, calling on them to help reform the church's money-raising and management practices.

The church quickly sued the couple. It contended they violated their confidentiality agreements. It also asked a San Antonio judge to enjoin them from making further statements.

The case has drawn widespread media attention, generated dramatic testimony and swelled into a full-blown Texas showdown, with lawyers for both sides filing reams of paperwork and leveling tart accusations. The case took a dramatic turn Feb. 9 when church lawyers called Cook as a witness. She delivered three hours of testimony damaging to the church's image.

She recounted how she was transferred from Clearwater to the church's International Base near Los Angeles and saw dozens of church executives held under guard in a pair of doublewide trailers nicknamed "the Hole.''

She said she was thrown into "the Hole" in the summer of 2007 and described how church managers were forced to sleep on an ant-infested floor and eat meals of stew she referred to as "slop."

She told of church leader David Miscavige once directing his secretary to slap her because he was displeased with her work. Another time, he ordered another assistant to break one of Cook's fingers, she said. The staffer bent it back, but didn't cause a fracture.

The church denied it all.

Cook testified that after being assigned back to Clearwater, she and Baumgarten ran away, dismayed at what she'd seen in California. But security staffer True tracked her down at a South Carolina diner and convinced them to return and leave under standard church procedures.

After three more weeks under guard in Clearwater, she and her husband were willing to sign anything to leave, she said.

The riveting testimony generated widespread media coverage that continued into last week with a lengthy report on ABC's Nightline.

March 13 designated as L. Ron Hubbard Day in California

In commemoration of the birth of Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard in his centennial year, Inglewood, California, has designated March 13 as L. Ron Hubbard Day.

Inglewood City Councilman Ralph Franklin presented a special commendation in City Council chambers March 8, to the Church of Scientology of Inglewood.

Signed by Mayor James T. Butts Jr. and members of the Inglewood City Council, the commendation states:

“L. Ron Hubbard is highly regarded and respected. (lol) His work has brightened the lives of people from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, and walks of life, and his vision has made a notable impact on the residents of the City of Inglewood.”

Natalie Zea joins Bacon & Purefoy in pilot for Fox's fall serial killer cult drama

Justified star Natalie Zea has landed a co-starring role in Kevin Williamson’s drama pilot for Fox.

The untitled project centers on Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy), a deranged serial killer who creates his own cult of murderers via the wonders of technology, and the retired FBI profiler (Kevin Bacon) who is hunting him down. Zea will play Carroll’s ex-wife, who finds herself in the middle of a nightmare when he escapes from prison.

KWTX news director: New media could have changed Waco siege

Nineteen years ago, federal agents attemped to execute a search warrant at Mt. Carmel, the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, after the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the possible presence of illegal weapons.

That was the beginning a 51-day siege that ended with the compound destroyed in a fire. 82 people died in the fire, including 20 children under 13 (16 of whom were under the age of 9) and two pregnant women.

The siege of Mt. Carmel, which included agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF); the Texas Rangers and the Texas National Guard, began when ATF agents attempted to execute a search warrant for the compound on Feb. 28, 1993. The ATF is now called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Some wonder how different the Branch Davidian siege might have been had it occurred today, in light of the impact social media has had on other events, such as those of the Arab Spring in 2011 that led to revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other nations.

Rick Bradfield, news director at KWTX, Waco’s CBS television affiliate, was one of the reporters covering the siege in 1993. While speaking to Dr. Cassy Burleson’s advanced public relations class on Wednesday, Bradfield said the Davidians were cut off from the media during the siege by FBI signal jammers.

This technology made cell phone communication impossible after Davidian leader David Koresh made phone calls to local media outlets.

This would have been different had the siege occurred today. The advances in technology and social media would have slowed the government’s prevention of the Davidians’ communication with the outside world, Bradfield said.

“News is no longer disseminated,” Bradfield said. “It’s shared.”

Those inside the Davidian compound might have been able to tweet or post to their Facebook accounts about what was happening, had those technologies existed at the time, Bradfield said. They could have also posted videos online from their point of view during the siege.

“The thing that unnerved me the most was that we never saw the people on the inside,” Bradfield said.

Bradfield said the only information he received at the siege was from ATF agents.

“Truth is what people want it to be, as opposed to what it is,” Bradfield said.

He said many people now receive their news through social media.

“If something big happens today that people need to know about, you’ll find out about it on Facebook,” Bradfield said.

The sharing of news through social media has made the news cycle faster and news easier to access, Bradfield said, but there can be a trade-off in news quality.

“Internet journalism’s greatest sin is to be last, not to be inaccurate,” Bradfield said

San Antonio junior Sarah George said she sees the benefit of universal access to all kinds of media.

“I heard about the [Arab Spring] riots on Twitter,” George said. “I think it’s good governments have to go through greater lengths to stop the flow of information. It puts the power in the hands of the people.”

Chicago junior Madeline Lloyd agrees.

“I love the idea of unfiltered media,” Lloyd said. “There are a lot of people who definitely post things they shouldn’t and instantly regret they can’t take that back, but when used properly, new and social media can be extremely effective to reach a younger audience.”

Bradfield said with modern technology and social media, the internal story of the Davidian compound could have been made public and people could have heard their side of the situation.

“The Davidians didn’t have the means to get their story out,” he said.