Forty years after skewering Scientology as a “mental health cult” in her historic exposé, author Paulette Cooper is convinced the church is still keeping tabs on her. She sees the church planting operatives in the nail salon. She believes Scientologists are scrambling her travel plans. They approach as college students writing research papers, she says.
Cooper was the first and for years the only public critic of Scientology. Then she became the church’s Public Enemy No. 1. Ultimately, she was joined by defectors‚ many of whom will appear in Sunday’s HBO documentary based on Lawrence Wright’s book Going Clear.
“I’ve had Scientology spies on me since 1969, and here we are today. How many years is that that I’ve had to deal with these people?” Cooper told The Daily Beast.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Church of Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw said Cooper’s claims are meritless—and maybe even borderline paranoid.
“The Church of Scientology resolved all outstanding issues with Ms. Cooper in 1985,” Pouw said. “We disengaged 30 years ago and have kept to our part of the bargain. If she feels she is experiencing something in the present, she should look to those seeking to benefit from fomenting controversy about Scientology as the source of it.”
Paulette Cooper sued the Church of Scientology in federal court for $25 million back in 1981. In the lawsuit, she alleged that in 1969, L. Ron Hubbard and Boston-based Scientologists burgled her therapist’s office, fleeced the state’s attorney general’s offices of Cooper’s correspondence, and planted members in the Better Business Bureau of Boston and at the law firm repping The Boston Globe, which was writing a piece on the church. A church spokesman at the time dismissed the lawsuit, calling it “one more attempt to gain publicity.”
The Church of Scientology and Cooper did come to a settlement in 1985 for an undisclosed sum. She wrote in an affidavit: “All litigation between the church and me has been settled and terminated.” She later backed off her allegations that Hubbard had a direct hand in threats against her and wiretaps.
She says she still attracts refugees from Scientology, all these years later.
Just last week, an alleged defector wrote to Cooper calling the church a “repulsive right wing cult,” in an email reviewed by The Daily Beast. The woman praised Cooper: “You are the reason I left!”
Approaches from strangers aren’t always welcome. Cooper says she is still traumatized from the hellish experiences she endured beginning in the late 1960s, when as a freelance journalist she started chasing the Church of Scientology for a magazine article. It was then, she says, that the church launched what she describes as a “campaign of intimidation and destruction.”
When Cooper moved into a new building in 1972, she says, 300 neighboring tenants received letters defaming her. “The church said I was a part-time prostitute and that I had sexually molested a 2-year-old baby,” she said. Then came the bomb scares. A team of Scientology operatives, she says, planted evidence that Cooper (allegedly dubbed “Miss Lovely” by the church for her radiant looks) had mailed anonymous bomb threats to the Church of Scientology in New York. They even pulled a partial fingerprint of hers off of a petition, she says. According to news articles from the 1980s, the FBI uncovered an alleged smear campaign against Cooper, dubbed “Operation Freakout,” during raids of the church in 1977. The campaign allegedly involved “an effort to have [Cooper] imprisoned or driven insane.”
A low point came in 1973, Cooper says. Cooper says a new friend who was staying at her apartment, a red-headed man who called himself “Jerry Levin,” was secretly a Scientologist. They would swim in her rooftop pool at night, Cooper says, and Levin would try to convince her to stand on a high ledge with him, 33 stories above the street.
“Why on earth would Jerry want me to climb that ledge?” she said. “He was up there. It would have taken the slightest push, and that would have been it.”
Cooper went on to write a best-selling book about her experiences, The Scandal of Scientology. But the shadow of the church still lingers over her life, Cooper says.
Scientology critic Tony Ortega, who is writing a book on Paulette Cooper titled The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, says the church employed and still employs spies. “Her story is important history because it could happen again tomorrow,” he said. The church denied the spying allegations in a statement to The Daily Beast.
Today, Cooper, an adopted Holocaust survivor whose parents were killed at Auschwitz during World War II, has rebuilt her reputation—but she still believes that Scientologists are spying on her. She remembers her friend and fellow Scientology critic Robert Kaufman, who wrote Inside Scientology, warning her: “They’ll always know what you’re doing because you’re still a threat to them.” (The church denied this allegation, as well.)
Cooper, 72, says she is certain the surveillance will increase. “I will have to more cautious when [Tony Ortega’s] book comes out,” she said.
When she gets Facebook friend requests, she refuses them. “Unless I personally know them or know of a book they’ve written against it I do not accept,” she said.
She did recently accept one invitation: from Placido Domingo Jr. “He was a Scientologist and now he’s out. I think we can trust him,” she said.
This past week, Cooper had a pedicure at a hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, and met a woman who was reading Cooper’s newspaper column on dogs and cats.
“You’re Paulette Cooper,” she said, apparently as a fan.
Cooper hesitated. “I still had to ask myself: Could she have followed me there?” she told The Daily Beast.
Cooper remembers how her adopted mother went to a beauty shop several years ago and was approached by a woman who ultimately tried to fix up her son, a Scientologist, on a date with Cooper.
Church operatives, she says, have approached her as college students writing a Scientology research paper. “That is one of their standard crapolas,” Cooper said. “I came home one time and there was a student waiting in my lobby and she tells me ‘I’m a student. I’m writing a paper on Scientology.’”
They’ve allegedly come as perps in the middle of the night. One time, outside her hotel room, she says she heard someone cackling loudly after failing to jimmy the door. “I’m alone and of course I was scared,” Cooper said. “I had double-locked the door, of course. The person was jiggling and trying to get in. Then he laughed loudly.”
Sometimes Scientologists, Cooper claims, have messed with her travel plans.
While traveling to California to give a deposition for a Scientology lawsuit, she says, the second leg of her trip was mysteriously canceled. “I said to myself, ‘I can’t tell the flight manager that I’ve written about the church and they’re going after [me]’—they’d think I’m crazy. So I said to them, ‘I’m having a little harassment problems with a former husband and he likes to play little games on me like canceling my flight.’” It worked, and she was allowed to board the plane.
When Cooper and her husband visited Southern California 11 years ago to spend time with “antis”—former Scientologists—they returned one night to find the safe in their Sheraton Hotel room had been tampered with, she says, and a mysterious glove in the sink. “Sometimes Scientology leaves things so you know it’s them,” she said.
When they checked out, she says, the parking tab was $16,000. “We told [the hotel staff], ‘I wrote about a scandal of Scientology and come on, nobody is at a hotel for two nights and has a $16,000 valet bill!’” she said.
(The church, which dismissed Cooper’s allegations about the valet bill and the canceled flight, did not address the claim about the glove in the sink.)
That Cooper says she is forced to be extra cautious makes sense to Ortega. “Paulette was under more surveillance than she even realized,” he said. “She was subject of five or six operations.
On Sunday, Cooper’s hosting a viewing party for Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, and she’s even invited her new pal from the Palm Beach hotel salon. “I’ve invited her over to watch,” Cooper said. “She’s such an anti-Scientologist and is so excited to watch the show with me. I feel like I want to give her a chance.”