Picket Fencing

Residents of a quiet south Scottsdale neighborhood received an unusual present the day after Christmas. In their mailboxes, homeowners found a flier with a picture of one of their neighbors.

"Your neighbor Jeff Jacobsen is not all that he seems. When he's not stirring up hatred on the streets, Jacobsen is poisoning the Internet by filling it full of religious bigotry and intolerance! Jacobsen's hatred puts families at risk. Next time you see this man, recognize the face of religious bigotry."

Sherry Kinner found the leaflet in her mailbox and walked out to confront one of the men who was distributing it.

It wasn't the first time Kinner had caught people targeting Jacobsen, who lives two doors down from her. She'd spotted private investigators staking out Jacobsen's house. Her son had been questioned by a private eye, and her husband had tried, to no avail, to get the detective to say why he was keeping an eye on their neighbor.

One night when Jacobsen was out, Kinner saw two women picket his house, carrying signs denouncing Jacobsen as a bigot. They scurried away when Kinner's husband threatened to call the cops while citing, correctly, an Arizona law that prohibits picketing a private residence.

Now one of Jacobsen's enemies was leafleting her street.
"Don't ever put that trash on my mailbox again," she told the man. She says he warned her that she didn't know the entire truth about her neighbor. She replied that she knew full well why Jacobsen has been targeted.

Kinner then collected the leaflets from neighboring houses and delivered them to Jacobsen.

Jacobsen says he was grateful. He had been labeled a bigot before, but never had his detractors distributed fliers in his neighborhood.

Normally, he's picketed at his job.

If the Church of Scientology believed in a Devil, he might look a lot like Jeff Jacobsen.

His name produces a virulent reaction from the local church's leader, Reverend Leslie Durhman. "Jacobsen is in league with the worst kind of bigots--kidnapers, forcible deprogrammers, Internet terrorists who promote killing Scientologists and blowing up our churches," she tells New Times.

Scientologists have denounced Jacobsen as a bigot in picket lines at his home, at his work, and even thousands of miles away when he was visiting in Florida. A church member's Web site, meanwhile, includes Jacobsen on a list of nine of Scientology's all-time worst enemies.

The mild-mannered, single man of 43 seems hardly satanic in appearance. Tall and reserved, Jacobsen seems about as dangerous as a church mouse; it's hard to believe he's the archnemesis Scientologists make him out to be.

Jacobsen is one of the most dedicated of the church's many critics. Never a member of the religion, Jacobsen participates with other critics in an Internet debate about Scientology. And like several other hard-core local critics, he occasionally pickets the Valley's lone Church of Scientology on University Drive in Mesa as well as churches in California and Florida.

Unlike most of his cohorts, however, Jacobsen has been singled out for retaliation. And that's probably because of his role in what has become the most embarrassing debacle in the church's 45-year history.

The 1995 death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson at a church-owned hotel in Clearwater, Florida, has brought the controversial religion negative publicity like nothing before. It's also brought the church two criminal indictments.

Jacobsen's role in Scientology's disaster has never been publicized. But the church itself seems well aware of his contribution.

For his part, Jacobsen clearly enjoys being a thorn in the church's side. Despite the retaliation he's suffered, Jacobsen spends vast amounts of time researching and criticizing Scientology because, well, it's fun, he says.

"It's nonviolent. It's effective. It shows the church that it has critics and that we're not afraid. If you go to Disneyland, what happens? You take a ride and you know it's going to be safe. But if you go to Los Angeles and picket the Church of Scientology, you don't know what's going to happen. You might be followed by a private investigator. When you picket, will the Scientologists harass you, will they run away? You have to be careful. You have to plan. But it's still pretty neat," he says.

Besides organizing road trips for his fellow debunkers, Jacobsen maintains several Web sites containing hundreds of pages of information about the church and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. To counter Scientology claims that Hubbard had a stellar college career resulting in two doctorates, Jacobsen found Hubbard's actual college records in a court file and posted them for the benefit of Internet users. The records show Hubbard actually earned a D average in two years of work at George Washington University, took a single course in nuclear physics (Hubbard later claimed to be a "nuclear physicist") and earned no degree.