-- UPDATE: the appeal reached its target total on Tuesday, Sept 18 --
Marc and Claire Headley have refused an offer from Scientology to inform on fellow critics of the movement in return for having their hefty legal costs waived – and now their supporters are rallying round.
Marc and Claire Headley, faced with a $40,000 legal bill after unsuccessful lawsuits against Scientology, have nevertheless refused the movement's offer to waive the fees in return for informing on fellow critics.
In response to their plight, well-wishers have raised nearly half that sum for them within 24 hours of an appeal fund being set up.
In the latest in a steady stream of scoops, Tony Ortega at Village Voice on Thursday reproduced a letter from Scientology lawyers that set out three conditions to be met if they want to avoid paying their $42,852.06 legal bill.
The settlement would have required the Headleys to:
- stop all campaigning against Scientology, both to the media and on the Internet;
- turn over the rights of Marc's book, Blown for Good, which details the abuses set out in his lawsuit and many other incidents only now being picked up in the mainstream media;
- provide information on other Scientology critics, in particular Marty Rathbun, a leading figure in the so-called independent Scientology movement.
Rather than cave in to these demands, they decided to pay the bill in full.
“I sold my van,” Marc told Village Voice. “We're selling the kids' swing set. I also sold a ton of my tools and equipment.”
They also had to use up all the savings they had put aside for a new addition to the family: Claire is currently pregnant with their third child.
Ortega reported that Actor Jason Beghe, another former Scientologist turned outspoken critic of the movement, persuade Marc Headley to set up a fund to help recoup the money the Headleys paid out to Scientology.
Beghe has put a thousand dollars of his own money into the fund, which has a target of $45,000.
“The idea that the Headley's would have to pay even a dime to those criminals is unacceptable and shameful,” Beghe wrote in a message kicking off the fund.
“After all they have done for all of us who decry the abuses of the 'church' of scientology, after all they have endured working under David Miscavige, after all they have endured fighting this case, I am proud and morally obligated to contribute to their fund.”
At the time of writing, less than 24 hours after the fund was launched, the sum raised stands at $21,457. (You can see the full Village Voice story here.)
From 2006, Marc Headley's pseudonymous postings as Blownforgood at message boards such as the one at Operation Clambake offered the first, detailed accounts of the violence and abuse at the top of the movement.
Headley wrote about the beatings handed out by Scientology's leader David Miscavige at the Int Base, near Hemet, in California, where the movement's top executives worked.
In one of his first posts he not only confirmed a report that Miscavige had beaten long-serving executive Mike Rinder but listed other victims of his violence. (Rinder and some of the other executives named have since quit Scientology – and confirmed Headley's account.)
Headley was the first to tell the story in detail of the now-notorious musical chairs incident, in which Miscavige had executives fighting to win in order to avoid being banished from the base.
And it was Headley who first told of Miscavige's operation to audition Scientologists as possible partners for Tom Cruise. (The latest disturbing twist on that story, in the October issue of Vanity Fair, has been picked up by news media around the world.)
All of Headley's allegations were subsequently confirmed by other defectors, as former members began to go public in 2009 with allegations that had until then mainly been made pseudonymously on Internet message boards.
That same year, the Headleys launched separate lawsuits claiming damages for what they had both suffered during their time in the Sea Org – and Marc Headley published his book, Blownforgood.
A California federal appeal court rejected both lawsuits earlier this year. But the judgment gave clear indications about how such actions might be best pursued in the future – and the credibility of their accounts was not called into question.
Gagging orders are nothing new in Scientology litigation.
At least two other potentially devastating lawsuits, by former Sea Org members Daniel Montalvo and John Lindstein were settled out of court, with the plaintiffs making no public statement since.
And earlier this year, the movement had to move quickly to limit the damage after making the mistake of suing former top executive Debbie Cook.
Having taken her to court for her criticism of Scientology management, their lawyers had to stand by while she offered devastating details of abuse at the top in court testimony that was reported around the world.
A settlement with a gag clause ended what had been a public relations disaster for the movement.
Even the copyright grab for Marc's book is not without precedent.
Former member Jon Atack, who in the late 1980s and early 1990s was the movement's most effective critic, was presented with a similar offer.
Atack was subjected to a dirty tricks campaign that nearly broke him.
Private investigators tried to gather information on him; he was verbally abused on his doorstep by zealous Scientologists and denounced in noisy demonstrations; and he was dragged into the courts.
“Very few people can stand up to such an assault,” he wrote in a 1995 paper. “My own life has been savaged by Scientology. I am bankrupt... My health has suffered...”
It was just when he was this low point that Scientology made its move.
“A few months ago, I reluctantly responded to the latest in a long line of Scientology offers of settlement, willing for the first time to offer my silence in return for a cessation of hostilities and the payment of compensation.
“The offer by return was that they would leave me alone if I would give them the rights to my published work, my unique collection of Scientology papers and my permanent silence.”
Atack of course, is the author of A Piece Blue Sky, the definitive account of Scientology during the Hubbard years.
He turned them down.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the offer made to the Headleys is the explicit request that they inform on their fellow critics; that they effectively act as spies for Scientology.
Perhaps equally astonishing is that the movement was prepared to put this offer down in black and white.
Thus when the Headleys decided to say no – and to go public – the movement was wrongfooted.
Scientology of course, sees the matter rather differently.
“The church makes every effort to participate in good-faith confidential settlement negotiations,” spokeswoman Karin Pouw told the Tampa Bay Times.
“The church has no desire to engage in long-term litigation with Mr. Headley concerning his defamatory publication and his continuing harassment of the church and its parishioners.”
That the Headleys turned down this deal at no small cost to themselves, will come as no surprise to their supporters and admirers.
And it is a measure of the respect and affection that they are held that the appeal fund has risen so fast. But the target sum has still not been reached.
A couple of hours on, and the appeal fund currently stands at $22,132: you can make your contribution here.