Target 5 Investigates: Free Stress Test Or Religious Recruiting Station?
CINCINNATI — It is a church that critics believe is dangerous, but members say it’s completely misunderstood. You may not realize it, but during this holiday season, a visit to the mall may come with an invitation to a religion that sparks passion and controversy.
Sylvia Stanard/Scientology Spokeswoman: “It’s really the religion of religions.”
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To those who believe, it’s both a church and a lifestyle.
Worker #1: “I know that this works.”
To critics, it’s a money machine and mind-controlling cult.
Former Recruit: “Saying that they appeared brainwashed is putting it mildly.”
From the words of a science fiction writer…
L. Ron Hubbard: “They can confront their own problems and solve their own problems.”
…a controversial church has emerged, and membership is growing.
Michael Rinder/Scientology Spokesman: “There’s about 10 million around the world.”
They are the ABC’s of Scientology — Alley, Beck, Cruise. Add to that Travolta and Presley, and Scientology has some major star power. And they’re looking for more than a few good recruits right here in Cincinnati.
In the middle of Kenwood Towne Center is a display that’ll catch your eye — “Free Stress Test” — and these days, who isn’t stressed?
Worker #1: “Alright. Put your hands in your lap like that. Wrap your fingers around it. Just hold it comfortably still there. OK?
At this retail cart, shoppers are encouraged to try out this so-called “E-meter.”
Worker #2: “When you hold these cans, that tiny energy goes through and goes through like this, your body and comes back and make a circuit.”
The “E-meter” is a device that’s supposed to measure the amount of stress in your life.
Worker #1: “Now here’s how this works. I ask you questions. You look at it, OK? And as you’re looking at it, when this needle moves to the right, that thought, that thing that causes it to move, that is something that is stressing you, bothering you.”
What shoppers aren’t told — this is a recruiting station for the Church of Scientology.
Shopper: “What are these?”
Worker #3: “Hold ’em.”
Shopper: “Hold ’em?”
We sent in seven shoppers with hidden cameras, many of them kids, and the Scientologists questioned them about the stress in their lives. This 12-year-old boy is questioned about his family.
Worker #1: “Think about your family — mom, dad. You’re mad on dad?”
Shopper: “Uh huh.”
Worker #1: “What did you think of on dad?”
Shopper: “Uh. A lot of guilt?”
Worker #1: “Yeah. You don’t like that, do you? You don’t know what to do to change it or help with that?”
When the Scientologists are told that one of the kids is on Adderall, a drug for attention deficit disorder, this is their response:
Worker #2: “No good idea. Go on the Internet and find what the side effect they have, actually.”
Shopper: “Get her off of the Adderall, and…”
Worker #2: “Yes. I mean, I don’t, I don’t suggest that I know to take off. I don’t know how many years she is taking or how many months she’s taking. But you can use this one and you will see the difference, actually.”
Bring up the topic of psychiatric drugs, and you’ll get an earful from Scientologists, including the church’s most famous ambassador.
Tom Cruise: “You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do.”
Michael Rinder: “The practices that are used by psychiatrists damage people. They harm them.”
Shopper: “Are you doctors?”
Worker #3: “No, I am not a doctor. It’s not have to do with medicine or doctor.”
Back at the mall, the Scientologists are making some strong statements about drugs and the 9-11 hijackers.
Worker #1: “Even 9-11. These guys were on some kind of psychiatric drugs ahead of time. Isn’t it interesting that there’s a little thing going, well, the psychological? They were under psychological evaluation. But if it were working, then why are we having such mess-ups?”
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Sylvia Stanard: “That’s not something I’ve ever heard. That’s just somebody’s statement of what they think.”
L. Ron Hubbard: “I became very fascinated with this particular line of research, and I made it my life’s work.”
Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard is the founding father of Scientology. His 1950 book, “Dianetics,” is their bible.
Sylvia Stanard: “So these are the books, some of the major books, that he wrote throughout the years. How to take care of kids and do better with kids.”
Sylvia Stanard: “We’re not a Christian religion specifically, although some Scientologists are Christians. So it really is, fits into our concept, it’s more Eastern in tradition, of you discover for yourself what is the supreme being and what is that relationship for you.”
Through classes and counseling, the goal of Scientologists is to reach the point of “clear” — where stress no longer negatively impacts their lives.
Sylvia Stanard: “Things that have happened to you in your past do not currently affect your life.”
Worker #1: “This planet is not run by dogs and cats. It’s run by us. We can solve all the problems that we’ve created.”
At the mall, shoppers aren’t told that Dianetics is Scientology.
Shopper: “You said organization.”
Worker #2: “Oh, the organization we have. Of course, it’s a nonprofit organization. We have our main office in downtown. If you come over there, you can watch that DVD.”
We talked with one local recruit who says he initially found Scientology intriguing, until he visited the church headquarters on Fourth Street downtown. He says he was pressured to sign up for a class — the same one Tom Cruise first took.
Former Recruit: “The people going through the Dianetics process were not acting normal, more like brainwashed zombies.”
He now believes the church is mostly a money machine, designed to rake in cash through classes and counseling. The man says he’s been hounded by Scientology recruiters for the past year and called to cancel his interview with us because he’s fearful the church will retaliate.
Sylvia Stanard: “That’s a very common misperception, and it’s just absolutely not true.”
Sylvia Stanard is a Scientology spokesperson. She’s been a church member for 30 years and flew in from Washington D.C. specifically to respond to our story.
Dave Wagner: “Is this a mind-controlling cult?”
Sylvia Stanard: “Absolutely not. Mind control really involves pain, drugs, hypnosis. It’s the kind of thing psychiatrists do. Scientology does exactly the opposite. Scientology releases you, your inner self. It releases you from problems and upsets that are controlling you.”
Receptionist: “Church of Scientology, how can I help you?”
When we sent a person to the four-story Scientology headquarters downtown, he was asked to watch a DVD about the church, then says he was pressured to join.
Bryan Tolle: “They were putting a lot of pressure on me — you know, you should really do this, this will change your life, you have stress in your life, well, this will alleviate all your stress completely.”
Ijaz Ahmed was born into a Muslim family and says Scientology changed his life. He says he moved to Cincinnati from Pakistan to more deeply explore the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard.
Ijaz Ahmed: “I love being here, and it’s my dream to help people, and that’s the reason I’m in Scientology. It’s simple, it works, and you get results.”
For critics who hope Scientology disappears from Cincinnati, these renovation plans of their headquarters indicate they’re here to stay.
And here at Kenwood Towne Center, they’ve found a steady stream of stressed-out shoppers.
Worker #2: “It’s holding you back right? It’s stopping you from being who you want to be.”
Scientologists hoping to find some fellow foot soldiers in their journey to become “clear.”
Officials at Kenwood Towne Center declined comment for this story. The Church of Scientology maintains that what may appear like harassment by some recruiters is actually just excitement about this religion — a religion the church claims is now in 156 countries and growing.