Strategic Activism: Fighting Scientology Asymmetrically, Part 1

In this, part one of a series on strategic activism, Dr. Jeff Wasel looks at the applicability of the theory of asymmetrical warfare in countering Scientology’s abuses. He revisits and revises some of his previous thoughts on the efficacy of OSA, as well as the current state of the church. Lastly, he looks at historical examples of the use of asymmetric warfare, as well as how the critic community at large can leverage its disruptive abilities.

Here’s a podcast from Dr. Jeff and Chris Shelton, talking about some of the concepts in this article and more besides.


Let’s be clear. In proposing the use of military theory as a means to strategize against Scientology’s excesses, my thoughts are in keeping with those of business theorists and sociologists, who may not only utilize military stratagems, but also strategies drawn from a variety of disciplines; subsequently, it inevitably must be multidisciplinary to be effective.  Many of those harmed by Scientology view this as a battle between good and evil, as do I; while this is reflective of something of a moral absolute, that doesn’t mean that in combatting Scientology, that a binary, indeed highly linear approach is best. Rather, our strategy must encompass a sound theoretical underpinning, as well as tactics and techniques which leverage not only our collective outrage, but more so, our collective will, strengths, and resources.

In short, we must fight the monolithic, highly centralized mentality of Scientology with a strategy of asymmetrical warfare. Asymmetry can also be described as “disruptive”, much in the way that internet shopping has disrupted traditional forms of retail sales as an example. It implies adaptive, innovative, and non-traditional forms of thinking, organizational practice, or resource utilization. In short, asymmetry thrives on leveraging the unexpected against the unprepared.

OSA and its precursor, the Guardian’s Office (GO), have enjoyed tactical successes in stifling numerous challenges to the church, using threats, intimidation, break-ins, pernicious litigation, and other methods pulled from L. Ron Hubbard’s revenge-driven playbook. The resulting outcomes have included damages to individuals that are real, ongoing, and span some 60 years. I continue to believe that while these actions may indeed postpone the inevitable demise of the church, they still do not represent a pattern of success in either furthering or perpetuating the goals of the church.

Some argue that these goals have nothing to do with doctrine, but are merely aimed at perpetuating the scam, or keeping COB David Miscavige out of prison. I agree to an extent, but would also argue that COB’s existence is one of a gilded cage. Outside of the occasional org opening or yearly pow-wow, when do we ever see him? What does he do all day, besides figure out ways to “get back” at all of us SPs? It’s hardly a bountiful life, though perhaps one steeped in the luxury of ill-gotten gains. While there’s a pile of cash at hand, what of it? Donations are down, whales are reticent, and at some point the church will be forced to start tapping reserves.

Using a variety of data points as well as the opinions of former members, we can estimate that current Sea Org membership is around 3,600, with roughly 5% of that total reflecting OSA staffing, or some 80 operatives. Given some of those individuals occupy management positions and are not field operatives, the total available offensive capability of OSA is surprisingly small. While OSA may indeed leverage a variety of outsourced resources such as private investigators, lawyers, web developers, etc., a generous exponential increase in capability would still find OSA woefully short of the resources needed to mount effective offensive operations on the scale needed to fully silence dissent on the massive scale the cult now faces.  While OSA has demonstrated competency in the HUMINT (Human Intelligence) operational environment, this simply has not translated at all to the virtual world.

Scientology has never really grasped the internet, social media, nor crowdsourcing; they continually demonstrate a woeful understanding of not only the medium, but the message as well in combating “entheta” in the virtual field of conflict. OSA unreservedly fails here both tactically and strategically, when compared to their demonstrated mastery of psyops tactics, inclusive of smear campaigns, harassment, and intimidation. Subsequently, one could argue that these tactics can indeed unbalance an opponent’s responsive capabilities; while that may be true on a case-by-case, highly individualized basis, it fails markedly in shaping the wider conflict domain of ideas, such as ensuring both a broader cultural acceptance as well as a positive perception of Scientology, in the near and long-term.

Why Asymmetric Warfare?

I use the moniker of “asymmetric warfare” here in the most general of terms, as like many other past military concepts, its usefulness has been somewhat diminished by its utility in describing unconventional or irregular warfare (yet more terms for non-linear battle). Asymmetric warfare has been co-opted by pundits, military theorists, and scholars to mean many things, especially when applied to a variety of 20th and 21st century conflicts. From the Viet Cong, the Moro Liberation Front,  the Baader-Meinhof gang, along with Iraqi insurgents to Hezbollah, supposed Western military superiority has been challenged by a variety of both kinetic and non-kinetic tactics.  For my purposes, I describe asymmetric warfare as:

A conflict between opponents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics also differ significantly. This is typically a war between a standing, professional army (Scientology) and an insurgency or resistance movement (critics, watchers, and the public at large).

Asymmetric warfare reflects distinct variances in the tactical and strategic approaches of two opponents within a given conflict, as they interact and attempt to exploit each other’s organic weaknesses. These conflicts may often involve a variety of non-traditional, non-linear forms of warfare, with the weaker combatants attempting to use unconventional strategies to offset deficiencies in the quantity or quality of their respective resources.

Given that the 2-dimensional battlefield of old now includes a virtual dimension, inclusive of electronic, space, cyber, and cultural warfare, today’s conflict domain can be construed as “the battlespace.” For our purposes today, our battlespace comparises actors such as the critic movement, Scientology and its adherents, the OSA and its hired minions, government actors, society as a whole, and other agents, influencers, or random actions as they may occur. Rather than the traditional setting for seizing territory or altering the political landscape of nation-states, this is a battle of ideas: that of right and wrong, of faith and belief. Though abstract at times, this battle still has very real consequences: we are facing a tenacious, well-funded, pernicious and amoral foe, who has demonstrated a ruthless dedication to furthering its aims at any cost.

I’ve previously argued that when it comes to mitigating criticism, Scientology is stuck in a model of linear, almost Napoleonic-style of offense and counter-attack, wherein the default is to bludgeon critics into silence, either in the courtroom, or via ongoing, sporadic harassment: mass the troops, rally them to the cause and take the hill, and damn the casualties. While this may have worked in the past, Scientology’s declining fortunes, for instance as reflected in OSA’s significantly reduced capabilities, demand a more nuanced approach. OSA has only so many resources, and even by leveraging outsourcing, it can only effectively field so many operatives against the far larger critic community. However, given Scientology’s rigid doctrinal adherence, the church is preternaturally indisposed to nuance or adaptability. One need only assess it’s response to the Anons in 2008 to understand this. Therefore, we need to further exploit this form of disruptively asymmetrical, crowd-sourced, multi-resourced, multi-directional mode of attack.

The Past as Precis

In suggesting asymmetry as a strategic basis for combatting Scientology’s excesses, we need only look to the relatively recent successes of Anonymous, in exposing the church’s abuses to a greater audience via the internet. We can view these successes as first generational, in that Anonymous was somewhat restricted by the technology of the time, as well as its relative obscurity, in engaging a wider cultural audience. That said, the fallout from its original campaign of virtual and real-world activism, caused havoc within the church that continues to this day. In proposing asymmetrical warfare as one possible strategy against Scientology, I suggest that much of Anonymous’ past successes can be not only replicated here and now, but also highly scaled to an impressive level of persistence. This persistence, indeed ubiquity, can leverage social media, crowd-sourced demonstrations, video — the gamut of technology now available — in propagating a message of resistance to Scientology’s abusive practices.

It’s important that we also address the context in which the message is delivered, given that there was a fierce debate at the time about the level of Anonymous’ activism; some perceived their tactics as psychologically abusive, if not physically so in some instances. Such were the concerns of long-time church watchers such as Mark Bunker, that he was moved to video a message of balance and tolerance to Anonymous as “Wise Beard Man,” encouraging them to take the high road in their activism and messaging. I would also agree that such cautions are as valid today as back then, given the church’s ongoing victim narrative. Anything that Scientology can remotely construe as “threatening”, despite their obvious hypocrisy, is immediately exploited as “bigotry” or some other such nonsense. It is in countering this false narrative, that asymmetry becomes so valuable as a stratagem at both the tactical and strategic level. The persistent scrutiny of the church’s behavior is now a common capability among every constituency within the critic community, and must continue to be the status quo; this is especially critical in this age of “alternative facts,” as the church will try and spin a narrative that, while lacking in veracity, may prove persuasive to those unaware of its sinister intent. Such duplicity must be countered at every opportunity, if we are to own the narrative in combating their lies, omissions, and half-truths.

The church is being hit from all directions as it is, and as a result, I am simply suggesting formalizing this approach within the critic movement at large. By aligning our ideas, goals and resources around a multi-faceted, multi-level approach, we can continue our current level of momentum. The church continues to shrink, and by maintaining pressure on all facets of both Scientology’s public and private operations, we can continue to ensure their abuses are publicized as well as eventually prosecuted. In future installments, I will dive into past OSA operations, in attempting to deconstruct and understand how they achieved success, as well as how they could have been countered more effectively. I’ll also be seeing how asymmetry and other tactics, techniques, procedures and strategies, can be applied to curbing other significant facets of the church’s operational and cultural behaviors.