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USA: Anti-cult activist assaulted a synagogue and Scientology church

USA: Anti-cult pro-Russia and pro-China activist assaulted a Scientology church and a synagogue

The interesting story of Randi Nord opens a window on the American and international ramifications of bigotry

by Massimo Introvigne

Bitter Winter (10.05.2023) – On May 3, 2023, Royal Oak, Michigan, 44th District Magistrate Donald Chisholm charged a woman called Randi Nord with ethnic intimidation and vandalism. Royal Oak is a suburb of Detroit, and is where Nord defaced a synagogue by painting a Nazi swastika on its wall. She also painted swastikas on a baby stroller and a car belonging to Jewish families, and was arrested on May 1 with the cooperation of the FBI.

Randi Nord is a woman with a very interesting story. According to media reports, she is the founder of Geopolitics Alert Independent World News. The pompously named media outlet deals often with Yemen and publishes anti-Israeli and pro-Venezuelan articles. Nord has also echoed Russian positions on issues such as Internet governance, and routinely republished Chinese propaganda on various subjects. She even claims that Cuba’s medicine is so advanced that they have developed a cancer vaccine.

Nord is also an anti-cult activist. Her website published an article (since taken down) calling Falun Gong a “Scientology-like cult” and accusing it of having invented the organ harvesting narrative for its own anti-Chinese purposes.

She also attacked “the criminal and cult-like aspects” of Scientology, although just to be ecumenical she added that, “Most Christian mega-churches are not that far off from the Church of Scientology—they are companies in the business of ripping people off based on fear. The mega-churches are just a little less cult-y.”

The problem with Randi Nord is that she does not limit herself to writing. She also acts upon her bigotry. Before assaulting the synagogue, in March 2023 she was involved in an arson attack against the Church of Scientology of Farmington Hills, another suburb of Detroit. According to Chief Jeff King of Farmington Hills police, Nord “was charged with two different felonies and given bond that included a tether” for the anti-Scientology attack. She had cut her tether since.

And there is more. She painted together with a swastika the word “Azov” on the wall of the Royal Oak synagogue. The immediate interpretation of the media was that she wanted to glorify Ukraine’s Azov Battalion, often referred to as “neo-Nazi” (although, as readers of Bitter Winter know, its story is much more complicated). This looked strange, given Nord’s political inclinations.

Eventually, she confessed to the police that it was the other way around. She hoped that her crimes would be attributed to pro-Ukrainian activists, and wanted to generate anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian feelings. According to the Royal Oaks detective who received her confession, “She said she planned to do as many hate crimes as possible and blame them on AZOV [Battalion].”

When she tried to set fire to the Church of Scientology in Farmington Hills, she had just returned from Serbia, where she spent two years. What she did there is unknown, but certainly the country hosts very active pro-Russian (and anti-cult) organizations.

Nord deleted her Twitter account in 2022. She opened a new one in May 2022, with no posts but an old Soviet poster “Visit the USSR.”

 

HRWF: More reading

The Detroit Jewish News

Macombdaily

CBS News

 

Photo: The Woodward Avenue Shul was defaced April 28 – The Detroit Jewish News Credit

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Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.

Further reading about FORB on HRWF website





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FRANCE: To avoid judicial proceedings by Scientology, the MIVILUDES republishes its annual report

FRANCE: To avoid judicial proceedings by Scientology, the MIVILUDES republishes its annual report

Faced with a lawsuit, the French governmental anti-cult mission republishes its yearly report including a four-page right of answer by the Church of Scientology

HRWF (05.08.2023)On 5 May, Bitter Winter published an article by Massimo Introvigne titled “Anti-cultism à la mode de Caen: to avoid a court hearing, MIVILUDES humors Scientology” showing how surprisingly the MIVILUDES, the “Inter-ministerial mission for monitoring and combating cultic deviances (dérives sectaires)”, a peculiar French governmental institution officially endorsing and propagating the anti-cult ideology, has suddenly decided to avoid a lawsuit in the city of Caen which would have put in the limelight of the media a number of systemic deficiencies of its methodology. Hereafter, we publish large excerpts of the said article; the divisions in sections and the titles thereof are HRWF’s and not the author’s.

The MIVILUDES in trouble with the right of reply

“The MIVILUDES publishes yearly reports, which normally include factual mistakes, faulty statistics, and slander against movements it has decided to label as ‘cults’ (‘sectes,’ a French word that should be translated in English as ‘cults’ rather than ‘sects’).

(…) What happened to the MIVILUDES, thus, was that some of its victims started taking legal actions. One was the Church of Scientology, which asked for its answer to the allegations included in the MIVILUDES document to be published within or at the end of the report on the MIVILUDES’s website. The request was based on the French law on the right of reply, or the right to defend oneself against public criticism in the same venue where it was published. Since MIVILUDES did not publish Scientology’s answer within a reasonable delay, Scientology filed an emergency case (référé) with the Court of Caen, asking that MIVILUDES be forced to publish the answer. The hearing was scheduled for May 4. (…)

The MIVILUDES’  “former chief and now member of its Orientation Council, Georges Fenech, already had a bad experience in Caen, where he was sentenced in 2019 for infringement of the presumption of innocence of the Church of Scientology. Fenech prefers touristic destinations other than Caen, including Crimea, where he went in 2019 to meet with Vladimir Putin and condone the occupation of this Ukrainian region by Russian forces, which the French government and the European Union regard  as illegal.”

“Trying to avoid the ill-fated Caen trip, the MIVILUDES did something that should be normal in democratic countries but is untypical of its modus operandi. Before the date of the hearing, it did republish its last yearly report by including the answer to it by the Church of Scientology. You may read the answer in the very last pages of this extraordinary ‘second edition’ of the MIVILUDES report.”

About the arguments

“It is a common sense answer, focusing on the fact that the references to Scientology in the report do not amount to ‘cultic deviances,’ even if one accepts this notion that is typical of the MIVILUDES and is not endorsed by mainline scholars of new religious movements. The answer notes that, ‘The Church [of Scientology] is pejoratively qualified as a multinational of spirituality. It is true that, like many other religions, the Church of Scientology has an international dimension: its followers are present in more than 150 countries throughout the world. But what is the difference with other religions such as Catholicism, Islam or Buddhism, for example? Why is the Church of Scientology treated differently with a commercial designation, when many countries in Europe and around the world recognize it as a religion like any other?

What are really “the saisines”?

“The answer then criticizes the system of ‘saisines,’ i.e. MIVILUDES’ method to evaluate the danger of a ‘cult’ based on a number of reports against it anybody can send to the agency via a Web form. ‘

To justify the inclusion of our Church in the activity report, MIVILUDES puts forward on pages 35 and 38 the figure of 33 ‘saisines’ received in 2022 concerning the Church of Scientology, without us knowing anything about the content of these ‘saisines,’ or even about this opaque concept of ‘saisine’ (does a simple request for information concerning our Church constitute a ‘saisine’?) Moreover, everyone can appreciate the special treatment given to the Church of Scientology in the activity report, for no apparent reason: 33 ‘saisines’ are enough for MIVILUDES to devote 4 pages of its report to the Church of Scientology (pages 58 to 61 of the report) and to mention it 51 times.

This is much more than all the cumulative developments devoted to the Christian tradition as a whole (Catholicism, Protestantism and Evangelicalism), which has nevertheless been the subject of… 293 ‘saisines’! The yearly report thus testifies to a very curious conception of the principle of impartiality of the administration and of the neutrality of the State with respect to religions.”

Half of the truth is not the truth

“After criticizing the report’s lack of understanding of what the theology of Scientology is all about, the answer discusses the case of a new Church of Scientology to be opened in Saint-Denis. “If, on this subject, MIVILUDES mentions the cancellation of the municipal decree which attempted to hinder the work necessary for the opening of the building, it forgets to specify that the State was also condemned by the Administrative Court of Appeal of Paris, at the same time as the city. The report tries to minimize this condemnation by simply indicating that the authorities must base themselves on strictly legal and objective considerations, without any pejorative a priori displayed towards the movement. This is a modest way of carefully avoiding the fact that the administrative judges condemned the administration for a misuse of power committed to the detriment of the Church, that is to say, the most serious violation tainting administrative action. One can only deplore the fact that MIVILUDES does not frankly disassociate itself from actions which seriously undermine the rule of law, because respect for the law is part of respect for the Republic and the great principles on which it is founded.”

Freedom of expression (verbal and printed) – a ‘cultic deviance’?

“The answer notes that the report presents proselytism activities and the distribution of flyers and booklets as ‘cultic deviances’ while they are part of the normal exercise of religious libertyby any religion. ‘The allegation that the Church seems to target fragile, suffering people, confronted with personal dramas or existential questions, adds the answer, is once again an allegation which has no reality: Scientology is universal and addresses itself to all, as is reflected in the profile of its devotees throughout the world, who belong to all socio-professional categories.’ The Church of Scientology is accused both of carrying out a massive propaganda by advertising its ideas online and offline and of secretiveness and ‘lack of transparency,’ which seems contradictory.

A controversial book endorsed by the MIVILUDES

The MIVILUDES report, the answer notes, advertises a comic book called ‘The Bubble Box,’ published in 2005 by a disgruntled ex-member of Scientology, and ‘endorsed by the MIVILUDES because it is one of the winners of its call for projects in 2021.’ The report, according to the answer, ‘tends to give it credibility by presenting it as a true testimony, whereas there is nothing to verify its authenticity. Whether or not this story really comes from a former faithful, its artificially dramatic tone, like a Hollywood thriller, has the effect of damaging the reputation and image of the Church, as well as the religious feelings of its faithful who do not recognize themselves at all in this story. This is all the more damaging since the report claims that the comic book was widely distributed with the blessing of a state agency.”

Finally, the answer mentions that the MIVILUDES report ‘also claims that the vigilance of some complainants has thwarted potential asset grabs by the Church of Scientology.’ However, ‘this claim is not supported by any source mentioned and… it is therefore impossible to know on what alleged facts it is based.’”

Conclusions

“It is clear, concludes the answer, that the MIVILUDES did not find any ‘cultic deviance’ in the activities of the Church of Scientology, even according to its own controversial definition of the notion. Having decided a priori that Scientology is a ‘cult,’ any activity it carries out, which would be regarded as absolutely normal if practiced by another religion, are automatically labeled as ‘cultic deviances.’ This is a circular and faulty logic, which can only result in discrimination and slander.”

Photo: The new Palais de Justice of Caen. From Twitter.

Further reading about FORB in France on HRWF website





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NETHERLANDS : Full state recognition of Scientology with tax exemption

Full state recognition of Scientology with tax exemption

HRWF (08.09.2022) – On 30 August 2022, after years of financial investigation, the Church of Scientology was granted the status of Public Benefit entity. It means that from now on its activities must be tax exempted like any other religion or belief system. This includes not only their social activities but also their spiritual counselling and their religious classes.

In 2013, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal recognized the Church of Scientology as a religious or belief community but the Dutch state authorities in charge of tax exemption for such legal entities challenged the implementation of this decision by its services. They did not apply the tax exemption the Church of Scientology was claiming to benefit from, having questions about the activities of the Church and its finances.

This led to an extensive review of all finances and financial flows of the Church of Scientology in the Netherlands, as well as a complete review of all its activities by the authorities. The investigation lasted nine years: lots of documents were requested and thoroughly checked, and there were a few onsite inspections in the Church itself.

Such proceedings usually take a lot of time with new religious movements applying for tax exemption after state recognition in many countries.

The Dutch state has the reputation of being a liberal country. In August last,  it appointed a special envoy for FoRB attached to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is also part of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, a network of like-minded countries fully committed to advancing FoRB around the world.

In Spain, a court in Madrid (Audiencia National) ruled in 2007 that the Church of Scientology was a religious or belief community but the state only recognized in 2015 that promoting the teachings and practices of Scientology is of public benefit.

In 2013 it was the UK Supreme Court that recognized the UK Church of Scientology as a genuine religion and granted it the right to perform official marriages.

In the last few years, the Church of Scientology in Mexico, Colombia, and North Macedonia. These recent recognitions add to the numerous dozens of recognitions that the Church has obtained since its inception in the 1950s.

The full list of state recognitions is available here.

Photo: The European Times News

 





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RUSSIA: European Court: “Scientology cannot be banned in Russia”

European Court of Human Rights: “Scientology cannot be banned in Russia”

Judges find that arguments that Scientology is not a religion are unpersuasive, and its literature is not “extremist.”

By Massimo Introvigne

 

Bitter Winter (17.12.2021) – https://bit.ly/3e4gtjk – It is becoming almost a mathematical law. Every time Russia crosses swords with Scientology at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Russia loses. In 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2014 the ECHR repeatedly ruled that Scientology had been recognized as a religion (until 2014) in Russia and cannot be banned nor denied registration in Russian republics or cities. This year, the ECHR ruled against Russia for its detention and harassment of a Scientologist, Vladimir Leonidovich Kuropyatnik. Scientology has won every single case at the ECHR where it has complained that its religious liberty has been infringed in Russia.

The ECHR ruling of December 14, 2021, Church of Scientology of Moscow and Others v. Russia, which decided together three separate complaints by Scientologists and their organizations, is however the most comprehensive examination of the issue by the Strasbourg judges to date.

The decision discusses two separate issues, whether Scientology literature can be banned as “extremist,” and whether Scientology organizations can be denied registration as religious and dissolved in Russia based on the argument that Scientology is not a religion. To both questions, the ECHR answered in the negative.

On the first issues, the ECHR noted that books by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, were deemed “extremist” and banned on the basis of the analyses of “experts” whose credentials were as “linguist psychologists,” and which exhibited obvious anti-cult prejudices. Expert reports by scholars of religion submitted by Scientology were declared not admissible.

The “experts” of the prosecution applied to Scientology a definition of “extremism” that the ECHR had already found objectionable in cases regarding the Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses. These “experts” stated that any religion that claims to be superior to others and tries to convert members of other religions, incites religious dissent and hatred against other religious organizations, and is thus “extremist.” Hidden in this definition is the idea that any religion that tries to convert members of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), thus implicitly arguing that its beliefs are superior to those of the ROC, should not be allowed to operate in Russia, a theory and practice that the ECHR has recently declared incompatible with freedom of religion in two cases decided on November 23 where it ruled in favor of the ISKCON, the Hare Krishna Movement, and the Unification Church.

In fact, all religions, including the ROC, argue that their teachings are superior to those of other religions and, if the Russian definitions were applied fairly, should all be banned as “extremist” in Russia. The ECHR told Russia that freedom of religion and of expression can be limited by national concepts of security “only on an exceptional basis and in extreme cases,” when religious literature includes “a direct or indirect call to violence or as a justification of violence, hatred or intolerance.” The ECHR did not find such violent content in Scientology literature (including when it deals with “suppressive persons”), and was skeptical about the competence of the Russian “experts” who had concluded otherwise.

Once again, Russia was lectured on the need that it should accept religious pluralism and proselytization of ROC members by other religions. Majority “religious groups, the ECHR said, cannot reasonably expect to be exempt from all criticism; they must tolerate and accept the denial by others of their religious beliefs and even the propagation by others of doctrines hostile to their faith.” As for Scientology literature, “There is no evidence before the Court that the impugned texts insulted, held up to ridicule or slandered persons outside the Scientology community; nor that they used abusive terms in respect of them or of matters regarded as sacred by them.”

Concerning the registration of Scientology organizations, the ECHR noted that until 2014 Russian courts agreed that Scientology was a religion, although one accused of “religious extremism.” Registration was denied based on technicalities, with the obvious intent to prevent Scientology from operating legally in Russia. When in 2013 Scientology asked the Justice Department for instructions how to prepare its applications for registration in a way that would avoid the technical objections raised, it was told that its violations were “irreparable,” that it would never be registered as a religious organization, and that it should voluntarily dissolve. The Church of Scientology of Moscow was then dissolved by the Moscow City Court in 2015, with the Supreme Court upholding the decision in 2016.

The ECHR noted that, while until 2014 Russian courts regarded Scientology as a religion (although one they did not like), from 2014 the Justice Department and the courts relied, in addition to expert reports declaring Scientology extremist, on a report of 2013 of the Committee of Experts on Religion of the same Justice Department, which had concluded that Scientology is not a religion. Although this is not mentioned in the ECHR decision, this so-called Committee of Experts was an active promoter of the anti-cult ideology, and the notorious anti-cultist Alexander Dvorkin was a main force in the committee.

The ECHR found the Russian attitude contradictory. “The applicant church had been officially recognized as a religious organization since 1994, the ECHR wrote, its religious nature was not challenged for several years even after initial unsuccessful attempts to re-register between 1998 and 2000s… During the entire period of its lawful existence the applicant church and individual members had never been found responsible for any criminal offence or dangerous conduct. There is no evidence that the nature of the applicant church’s activities has changed since that time. The authorities grounded their conclusion in this respect on an expert opinion prepared by an expert panel at the Justice Department. It does not seem that they took into account any alternative expert opinions, in particular, those which could be provided by the applicant church.”

The ECHR concluded that the dissolution of the Church of Scientology of Moscow was an illegitimate and “disproportionate” measure.

Russia keeps losing key cases on religious liberty against groups Dvorkin and the anti-cult movement call “cults,” including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Hare Krishna movement, the Unification Church, and Scientology. In 2015, Russia passed a law authorizing its non-compliance with ECHR decisions, opening a dispute with the Council of Europe that has not been settled to-date. It is, accordingly, not certain that Russia will follow the ECHR and recognize to Scientologists their rights to religious freedom. That they are entitled to them is, however, a solemn affirmation by European judges, and one other countries should also take note of.

Download full judgement.

Photo : The Church of Scientology of Moscow. Credits.

 

RELATED ARTICLES

 

https://www.europeantimes.news/2021/12/church-of-scientology-won-again-at-eu-court-in-face-of-violations-of-rights-by-the-russian-government/

https://www.sova-center.ru/religion/news/harassment/harassment-protection/2021/12/d45457/

https://credo.press/240157/

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Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.

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Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website


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