As was reported here yesterday by my colleague Becca Lower, without warning the Biden Campaign announced that Joe Biden’s selection of his 2020 running mate was being postponed for two weeks.
Also yesterday, the Daily Caller reported on leading VP contender Karen Bass’s history of praising the “Church” of Scientology in Los Angeles, and its founder, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
The “Church of Scientology” has a major presence in Los Angeles. The industrial entertainment complex known as “Hollywood”, especially on the “talent” side has many who advocate that clutching a couple of tin cylinders wired to a box and confessing all your impure thoughts is a path to inner peace. That, and a couple hundred thousand dollars paid to the “church” for books, tapes, and “counseling” sessions with an “auditor” to guide you along on your path to salvation – at the standard hourly rate for such services by a “Church.”
Imagine having no particular religious belief and then making a decision to convert to Judaism — but having to pay for courses in order to hear the story of Abraham, Noah, or Moses and the Ten Commandments. Or after joining the Catholic Church being told you would only learn about the crucifixion and the resurrection after completing a series of pay-per-view courses online through which you reach “Operating Theological Level III” — with a price tag of $60,000 to get there.
Was Karen Bass the VP choice before the revelations about her history with Scientology? Hard to know now, but the answer to that question might make its way into the press before too long.
Many indications that she had risen to the top of the list have surfaced in recent weeks, notably favorable national coverage of her when she has historically received little attention from the national press. She’s a long-time California politician from the Los Angeles area, but her career has been mostly in state politics. First elected to Congress in 2010, she has risen through the ranks rapidly by virtue of the fact that Nancy Pelosi is Speaker and the California Democrat Congressional Delegation is the “800 lb Gorilla” in the House Democrat Caucus. Having been Speaker of the House in the California Legislature, Bass has sat atop the California Democrat Party establishment there. Once in Congress, she demonstrated an ability to get things done behind the scenes with little drama and has worked well with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, also from California, another veteran of California state politics. She has risen quickly to become the Chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, which gives her greater geographic reach with her influence. News reports are that she had become a favorite of former Conn. Senator Chris Dodd, who is leading the Biden Campaign VP selection process, and Pelosi and the California congressional delegation are strongly backing her as the choice. That means bags full of cash from California campaign contributors in Los Angeles and throughout the state.
Bass’s rise also coincided with increased nervousness over the suitability of Kamala Harris and Suan Rice, two other leading candidates to be Biden’s running mate.
As for Bass’s history with Scientology, the Daily Caller story reported as follows:
Bass, 66, served in the California General Assembly when she spoke at the event, held on April 24, 2010.
“This day and this new Church of Scientology is an exciting moment because I know your goal and your commitment is truly to make a difference,” Bass told the 6,000 attendees at the ceremony, which was led by Scientology president David Miscavige.
“The Church of Scientology I know has made a difference, because your creed is a universal creed and one that speaks to all people everywhere,” continued Bass, who went on to praise Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
“The words are exciting of your founder, L. Ron Hubbard, in The Creed of the Church of Scientology: that all people of whatever race, color or creed, are created with equal rights,” she said.
“It’s a remarkable credit to your church that this is part of your creed,” Bass said.
The Daily Caller posted a video of her remarks, which pick up at about the 4:30 into the six-plus minute clip:
It’s likely that the Biden campaign would have tried to play this off as a public event where a local politician was simply offering words of praise for a substantial public works project in her home district. But the words of the press release from the Scientology Organization concerning the event — not reported by the Daily Caller — likely make such an escape impossible so they decided to punt for now:
The ceremony marked the conclusion of the full-scale redesign and construction of the Church’s 64,571-square-foot property at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and L. Ron Hubbard Way. The building is now fully reconfigured as an Ideal Church of Scientology, one that not only serves the entire community but also stands as a training center for Church executives and staff from around the world.
Describing the significance of the occasion, Mr. Miscavige said: “Today marks a milestone step in our planetary crusade to bring on our help on a truly global scale—so that one day there is no crime, no war, no insanity, a world in which Man is free to rise to greater heights.”
In describing the significance of the city of Los Angeles to Scientologists, Mr. Miscavige said: “It’s the city where the Church of Scientology was first incorporated in 1954. While even more than that, it’s the city with the largest concentration of Scientologists on Earth.”
As the Daily Caller story showed, this wasn’t a “one-off” event at a local ribbon-cutting:
Bass has praised the church as a U.S. congresswoman as well. In November 2011, she submitted a letter read at the opening of a Scientology center in South Los Angeles. According to reports of the event, Bass praised the church for its “many humanitarian initiatives and social betterment programs for the benefit of South Los Angeles.
Trying to damp down the story, Bass made the following statement yesterday as reported by NBC News:
Bass on Saturday defended her past comments on Twitter, writing that since that time the church has been exposed and people are now more aware of the allegations of abuse.
“Ten years ago, I attended a new building opening in my district and spoke to what I think all of us believe in — respect for one another’s views, to treat all people with respect, and to fight against oppression wherever we find it,” she continued.
Bass also noted that she attends a Baptist Church in Los Angeles.
It would probably have been wise for her to stop there. Instead, she pivoted to a disingenuous defense of her action by claiming that much of the controversy surrounding Scientology has only become public in the years since her “kind words”.
“Since then, published first-hand accounts in books, interviews and documentaries have exposed this group,” she said, adding that on the topics respect for different views and fighting oppression, “my views have not changed.”
Presumably, she is thinking that it is only the book and documentary “Going Clear” by Lawrence Wright, exposing the venality and duplicity of Scientology and its founders, or the television series “Scientology and the Aftermath” hosted by life-long — and now former — Scientologist and Hollywood actress Leah Remini, brought the abusive practices of the group to public attention. I’d also recommend a book I first read nearly THREE DECADES ago that gave me a better understanding of Scientology — “A Piece of Blue Sky” by British former Scientologist Jon Atack.
It is nonsense to claim the issues surrounding Scientology have only become public as described in Bass’s statement. These issues have been well known and debated in the public arena for far longer than Bass claims. She was either woefully unaware of them — entirely implausible — or she was willing to overlook them and praise Scientology, Hubbard, and Miscavige, likely in pursuit of campaign dollars. If I was to start to chronicle the innumerous controversies involving Scientology and its various components, I could keep writing here for another week or more.
The title “A Piece of Blue Sky” is a reference to an anecdote learned by the author involving Hubbard in the early days of the success of “Dianetics.” Hubbard opened the doors of his first organization because of the demand of readers based on the premise that his book promised to solve every problem of the human mind if adherents simply “stayed the course to the end.” As an accomplished writer of fiction, Hubbard found it easy to create schemes to separate these new followers from their money. An early revelation was the creation of “grades” of membership, promising a pathway to even greater levels of enlightenment and rewards — but which could only be obtained on a scale of escalating prices. An associate from that time recalled Hubbard one day confiding to him “Let’s sell these people a piece of blue sky.”
Or as P.T. Barnum once said — supposedly — “There’s a sucker born every minute.” [In actuality, a competitor of Barnum’s made that comment about Barnum’s “oddity show” customers, a matter that later landed both in a court battle.]
If Bass turns out to be Biden’s VP selection, the Trump campaign will have a lot to tell middle-America about the “Church” and its science fiction writing founder that Karen Bass finds so worthy of “praise”.