How the Church of Scientology tried to bring down journalist Paulette Cooper, aka Miss Lovely
As a journalist working in New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Paulette Cooper lived a glamorous life.
She was young, beautiful and smart, and she was on the lookout for good stories.
Cooper stumbled into Scientology when a friend joined the church.
“[He] told me he was Jesus Christ and then I went to the person who got him in and I said, ‘He thinks he’s Jesus Christ now, what’s going on?'” she told Lateline.
“This other guy said, ‘Well maybe he really is.’
“So I thought you know, maybe this would be something to investigate and that’s how I started.”
Cooper filed a piece for Queen magazine in London and the harassment started soon after.
“I was in New York at the time and I picked up the phone and got the first of several death threats, and that’s how I knew that the article had come out,” she said.
That first story led Cooper to gather more information on the church and write a book, the Scandal of Scientology, one of the first critical books on the church.
Cooper had no idea what she was getting herself into.
“They sued me 19 times, all over the world, put me through 50 days of depositions,” she said.
She said the church also started sending anonymous smear letters to her neighbours and other people she knew.
“They sent, it was 300 people, they sent a letter saying I was a prostitute with venereal disease and had sexually molested a two-year-old baby girl,” she said.
“They sent anonymous letters to my parents, saying I was practising sexual perversions with their clergymen.”
Scientology’s spies soon found out that Cooper had suffered depression.
“I had seen a psychiatrist, so they robbed the psychiatrist and got my records and sent that to everybody that I knew,” she said.
Bomb threat conspiracy
Scientology’s founder L Ron Hubbard ordered his followers to attack critics by any means possible.
The Fair Game policy written by Hubbard decreed that enemies of Scientology “may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed”.
As part of this policy the Church of Scientology attempted to get Cooper incarcerated by framing her for a bomb threat she had nothing to do with.
Cooper said it was the worst thing they did to her.
“They got my fingerprint on a piece of paper and then they sent bomb threats to themselves and they had me arrested for a terrorist crime,” she said.
“I was arrested and I was indicted and I was up for 15 years in jail and it was just the most horrible, horrible time of my life.”
The harassment took a terrible toll on Cooper and she started drinking too much, taking prescription drugs and at one point came close to taking her own life.
FBI raid uncovers church conspiracy
Eventually the trial against her was postponed as more evidence came to light.
When the FBI raided the Church of Scientology in 1977 for stealing swathes of documents from the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service, the conspiracy to frame Cooper was uncovered.
“In the raid they found something that said along the line of, conspire to frame Miss Lovely, which was the code name that Hubbard gave to me,” Cooper said.
In 1985, the Church of Scientology reached an out of court settlement with Cooper — the details of which are confidential.
After that, the whole saga lay dormant for nearly 30 years, until journalist Tony Ortega, who writes daily about Scientology for his blog the Underground Bunker, uncovered new information.
He was researching for a book he was writing on Cooper, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely.
“We learned there were more operations than we knew originally. There were so many different operations running against her with many personal, in different parts of the country, over years of time,” he said.
“So it must have taken hundreds of employees breaking into places, stealing records, tapping her phone, making friends with her, with spies.
“This total scope of it is really amazing and from 1969 to really 2010 at least.
“I’ve thought about the millions of dollars they must have spent to destroy her over the years.”
Ex church member reaches out
The Church of Scientology has never publicly apologised for its campaign to destroy and incarcerate Cooper, but one ex-member has.
Len Zinberg was in his early 20s and a Scientologist when he spied on Cooper.
He was not involved in framing her but he did deliver her childhood diary to her father. It had been stolen from her apartment and contained typical teenage messages of disdain for her adoptive parents.
Two years ago, Mr Zinberg apologised to Cooper via email.
But earlier this month, for the first time, he met with her in person at a conference on Scientology held in Toronto, Canada.
“I realised that when I knew of her back in ’70s she was the worst person in the world. This sweet, lovely woman I had so demonised her and I don’t want to put the responsibility on other people,” he said.
“I did what I did, and yes, Scientology is a coercive thought cult, but in the end we’re responsible for what we do and we have to own it.”
Mr Zinberg felt ashamed that as a Jew he had been involved in persecuting a woman whose parents had died in the Holocaust.
“I have children and the year before I sent Paulette the email, I’d taken them to Israel and we’d visited the museum called Yad Vashem and I realised that there was no way for me to continue avoiding what I’d done,” he said.
Church says smear group ‘disbanded’
Cooper said she was touched that Mr Zinberg had reached out to her to apologise.
But she said the worst perpetrators of the smear campaign have never owned up.
“The major people who did the really horrible things — now Len as you know, that was horrible, he delivered the anonymous letter to my father saying that I hated him — but the people that actually framed me and wrecked my life, none of them have come forward,” she said.
No-one from the Church of Scientology was available to do an on-camera interview with Lateline.
In a statement, the church said it no longer operates in the way it did with Cooper and it has settled all outstanding claims with her.
“It is a matter of public record that the current Church management disbanded the rogue unit with which she was having trouble long before then,” the Church of Scientology said.
“The Church turned the page on this chapter three decades ago and has since neither heard from nor been involved in anything related to Cooper.”
It also described Mr Ortega as someone “who has used bigotry and false allegations about the Church of Scientology to create a cottage industry of hate”.
But Mr Ortega disputed the view the Church of Scientology has changed its way, pointing to the continued harassment of ex-Scientology executives Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder.
“Today they hire professionals to do it and the professionals are a little bit smarter in knowing where that illegality line is,” he said.
“But they’re still ultimately accomplishing the same things, psychologically terrorising people with the use of surveillance, with the use of intimidation. They’re just a little bit more careful in how they do it.”