A 2005 episode of South Park titled "Trapped in the Closet" ranks number 17 on TV Guide's list of TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time. Of course, the episode, which mocks the Church of Scientology's tenets (as well as high-profile church member Tom Cruise), was slammed by Scientologists. But the true extent to which the show angered the church has only just been revealed, thanks to a document leaked by a former high-level Scientologist. The memo explains that following the episode, the church targeted South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone with an extensive investigation meant to embarrass the duo. (A spokesperson for Scientology told E! Online that "the church at no time authorized any of the actions suggested in the statement.") Here, a concise guide to the "super-creepy" probe:
What allegedly happened?
Former Scientology executive Marty Rathbun, who left the church in 2005, released an internal Scientology document on his blog detailing the investigation by the religion's Office of Special Affairs (OSA) — which he calls "the harassment and terror network of Corporate Scientology." The probe of Parker and Stone was apparently direct "retaliation for the South Park episode that exposed the religion's bizarre upper-level teachings," says Tony Ortega at The Village Voice. According to Rathbun, the OSA uses methods comparable to Cold War-era CIA and KGB "intelligence and propaganda techniques," such as investigation, threats, and infiltration.
How did they conduct this alleged investigation?
In order to find a "direct line" to Parker and Stone, the OSA allegedly identified close friends of Parker and Stone, including formerly married actors John Stamos and Rebecca Romijn, "in an effort to find some weakness," says Kimberly Nordyke at The Hollywood Reporter. These people were then the targets of "covert information gathering" that included searching through their trash, purchasing their phone records, hacking their airline reservations, going through their bank records, and reading their personal letters. "They'll read stuff into the kind of alcohol you're drinking and how much. Prescriptions. They'll figure out your diet," says Rathbun. "They can find out a lot about you through your trash."
What else did the OSA allegedly do?
Frustrated that these methods weren't producing "any vulnerabilities to exploit," says Ortega, the OSA allegedly attempted to employ a film student as a mole to "get intelligence" about Parker and Stone directly from the studio where they worked. The group hoped the film student would be able get a job either as an intern at South Park or as a writer there. It's unclear whether this plan ever panned out.
How much information was allegedly gathered?
The document reveals that the OSA kept careful watch over Parker and Stone's workplace, discovering what catering service they used for lunch, where the duo's parking spaces were, and the makes, models, and license plate numbers of their cars. But beyond that, "whether Scientology was ever successful at digging up dirt on the filmmaking duo or their friends is something we'll be trying to find out," says Ortega.
Is Rathbun incurring the church's wrath now?
Since leaving the church, Rathbun has "made it his mission to expose the inner workings of Scientology," says Nordyke. He's used his blog to publicly criticize church leader David Miscavige since 2009. But it hasn't been without consequence. Rathbun has been harassed by a "goon squad" that allegedly showed him an image of his head on top of squirrel's body inside of a red circle with a diagonal line through it — a "squirrel" is Scientology slang for someone who has left and perverted the church. According to Ortega, the church "began a five-month siege of [Rathbun's] Texas house and even had him arrested."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 6 tiny scientific mistakes that created huge disasters
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
- Uber, and the growing threat of corporate surveillance
- The myth of the stay-at-home dad
- What could happen if the Supreme Court rules against ObamaCare
Subscribe to the Week