Last night at The Half King, Rolling Stone reporter Janet Reitman read from her book Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion.
Reitman, who has reported in Haiti, Iraq, Sudan and Sierra Leone, spent about six years researching the book. She told the standing room only crowd that she tried to write objectively about Scientology--like a journalist reporting on a foreign culture.
Rietman described herself as a typically cynical New Yorker. She didn't expect to be lured in easily.
Her initial encounters with Scientologists--who didn't know she was a reporter--were benign. They acted so kind, so friendly and they seemed to truly want to help her quit smoking. They offered to enroll her in various--and expensive--Scientology programs. She told them she'd think about it.
When she told her editor at RS how nice they were, he yelled at her and said, "No! What's happening to you?" and she snapped out of it.
"They have an amazing sales mechanism," she said.
Someone in the audience asked Reitman if she had any insight on why people searching for meaning look for it at organizations like Scientology.
She said that people who are searching for meaning will be drawn to any organization that claims to provide answers--and Scientology is actively looking to recruit searchers. "They have modified themselves to fit every generation," she said.
When asked if she feared retribution for writing the book, she said pointedly said to "any Scientologists in the room: 'No.'"
There was a slight pause, and, when no one in the audience spoke up to claim membership, the crowd exhaled.
Reitman said she was not afraid. She paraphrased FDR, "The only thing you have to fear," she said, "is fear itself."