The long-standing antagonism between Germany and the Church of Scientology escalated over the weekend when a high-profile historian compared Tom Cruise’s performance in a Scientology video with the style of the Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.
Guido Knopp, who has written a number of books on Hitler and his inner circle, said the video, which surfaced on YouTube last week, “inevitably” recalled Goebbels’ speech in a Berlin sports stadium when he asked “Do you want total war?” and the crowd thundered “Yes!”
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The Scientology footage shows Cruise, wearing a large medallion and speaking from a podium. “So what do you say, we gonna clean this place up?” he asks. He is greeted by zealous cheers.
“It may be the case that Cruise’s delivery style is not uncommon in certain religious movements in the US,” Knopp told Bild am Sonntag in an interview. “But for Germans with an interest in history, that scene where he asks whether the Scientologists should clean up the world and everyone shouts ‘yes’ is inevitably reminiscent of Goebbels’ notorious speech.”
Parallels with the Third Reich remain highly sensitive here. But Scientology has generated a visceral opposition in Germany – last month security ministers tried to ban it, saying it contravened the constitution – and Knopp’s remarks found few critics yesterday.
Thomas Gandow, of the German Protestant church, who has previously compared Cruise to Goebbels, said the video revealed the actor’s high standing in the organisation: “He is not your average sect member but rather a propaganda minister … I still believe it: Tom Cruise is the Goebbels of Scientology.”
There was no immediate comment from the Church of Scientology in Berlin, however the organisation’s US headquarters issued a statement in defence of Cruise. “Bild am Sonntag is grossly irresponsible for publishing horrendous and disgraceful claims about Mr Cruise,” it said. “Unlike Bild am Sonn tag and other German anti-religionists, he does not discriminate against any other religion, race or colour.”
The organisation has said the footage came from a meeting four years ago. It was posted on several websites last week, but some took it down after the church claimed copyright. Other footage shows the Oscar-nominated actor speaking above the “Mission: Impossible” theme music. He presents himself and fellow Scientologists as “authorities on the mind”.
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted atWhat judges have to say about Scientology
“We’re the authorities on getting people off drugs. We’re the authorities on the mind. We’re the authorities on improving conditions … We can rehabilitate criminals. Way to happiness. We can bring peace and unite cultures,” Cruise tells his audience.
But such claims are treated with suspicion in Germany, where there is decades-long scepticism about anything regarded as an ideological movement.
Germany has taken a very distinct stance among European countries towards Scientology, considering it not as a religion but as a commercial organisation.
The Church of Scientology, which is thought to have about 6,000 adherents in Germany, is closely monitored by Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which also tracks the activities of neo-Nazis, leftwing extremists and Islamist terrorists. Such scrutiny has prompted criticism from the US state department.
Cruise found himself at the sharp end of German hostility last summer when the defence ministry sought to obstruct the filming of Valkyrie, starring Cruise as the German resistance hero Claus von Stauffenberg.
Although the ban on using military sites was eventually scrapped, ministers criticised the project, citing Cruise’s affiliation with Scientology. Even Berthold Graf von Stauffenberg, the count’s son, joined in, dubbing Scientology a “totalitarian ideology”.