Longform

Picket Fencing

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But the church's own records, released on a judge's orders, show that McPherson's mental and physical condition plummeted during her stay. Notes kept by the hotel's health-care staff show that she was violent, incoherent, and seemed unable to care for herself. Other notes indicate that McPherson had tried to leave the hotel, and that she had hallucinated that she was L. Ron Hubbard.

As details of the McPherson case gradually emerged, Jacobsen and other Scientology critics began telling reporters that McPherson had been subject to a Hubbard technique called the "introspection rundown."

In a 1974 technical manual, Hubbard wrote that a person "in a psychotic break" should be isolated. "No one speaks to the person or in his hearing," Hubbard instructed. The subject under introspection rundown could not be released until he could provide, in writing, persuasive evidence that he had reformed. If not, he should be told: "Dear Joe. I'm sorry but no go on coming out of isolation yet."

Jacobsen says the introspection rundown is simply a Scientology policy of holding people against their will. Although the church insists that McPherson was cared for in a posh hotel environment, Jacobsen points to the insect bites on her arms and suggests that McPherson was held, forcibly, in a hotel basement. Several former church members have claimed that the same thing happened to them. One former member, Stacy Young, told the St. Petersburg Times she had been ordered to guard a woman who was kept for two months in isolation during introspection rundown in a dirt-floor shack east of Los Angeles. Scientology officials say Young and the others are lying.

Each new development in the case is watched carefully by Jacobsen and other critics. Scientologists, meanwhile, complain that Jacobsen has no real interest in McPherson and instead cruelly exploits her death for his own purposes of criticizing their religion.

When Jacobsen pickets Scientology churches, he carries a sign with a photograph of McPherson and the years of her birth and death.

"She, to us, represents all of the other people who have been hurt by Scientology," Jacobsen says. "Why did people wear bracelets for soldiers lost in Vietnam? They didn't know those soldiers. How could you care about somebody you don't know? You do. You just do."

"We are not the first church he's attacked, and doubt we'll be the last one," says Reverend Durhman, who leads the Mesa congregation. "In fact, he has made attacking churches a lifelong career.

"You have to ask yourself what would motivate someone to spend their time at such a vicious activity. We want him to go away and stop harming people of goodwill."

Durhman blames Jacobsen and other demonstrators for an environment that encourages vandalism of their church. "There was some graffiti, and some property was damaged. Some benches in the back were thrown into the canal," she says.

She acknowledges that church members have been picketing and leafleting Jacobsen's work and home. "It's the parishioners that are concerned about this and want to get out the truth about him," she says.

She dismisses Jacobsen's complaints about retaliation against Internet critics and about Scientology's withholding of information from adherents.

"It isn't that this stuff is weird or sinister or hidden or whatever. It's just that it's understood that when you have a good body of theology, you don't just dump the whole thing on somebody at the beginning," Durhman says.

She herself has not attained the level of OT III, and so she could not comment on the revelations about Xenu the galactic overlord. Durhman did object to the dissemination of such materials over computer networks.

"Well, of course we don't want it for free on the Internet. Don't you understand that? It's copyrighted material. It belongs to parishioners when they are at that level of spiritual attainment. We have the right to receive donations for all of our services. So it's not right for people to criticize us for how we operate," Durhman says.

One of Durhman's parishioners who has picketed Jacobsen is also a familiar local personality. Realtor Russell Shaw, whose advertisements frequently run on radio and television, maintains a Web site denouncing Jacobsen as an "A.R.S. Bigot."

Shaw couldn't be reached for comment on his Web site. His wife, Wendy, says that he is in Los Angeles and could not be contacted.

But Shaw's Web site makes clear his feelings about Jacobsen. Comparing Jacobsen and eight other critics to Adolf Hitler and Ku Klux Klan members, Shaw writes that Jacobsen's "always disparaging comments have the effect of creating violence, discrimination and hatred. . . . When you open Jeff's closet, all the dirty diapers and dishpans fall out."

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega