In The Echo Chamber: Scientology Stretches Outside SoCal?

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Tanya Silverman

By Tanya Silverman

Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Many alarming stories have been emerging from Ukraine lately. Out of the burgeoning, constantly changing coverage, some stories focus on illustrating the background of interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk while others highlight Russian rhetoric, which espouses the detrimental influence of the west.

One succinct and less acknowledged story that surfaced recently seems to fuse aspects of Western influence with Yatsenyuk’s background.

On Mar 5, the headline of an article on Interfax-Religion, a branch of the Russian News Agency, read:  “Acting Ukrainian president is a pastor and its prime [minister] is a scientologist.”

The piece–which is still up as of March 19—cited Ukrainian media stating: “His sister chairs a major scientologist organization in the USA.”

However, that wasn’t the only article to present the Yatsenyuk-Scientologist theory as a fact. On Feb 18, Tom McGregor, a China Radio International employee and “conservative Republican,” explained a theory on Dallas Blog. McGregor said George Soros, who he described as a billionaire oil tycoon (Soros is a business leader and known philanthropist), hired a scientologist–Yatsenyuk–to “conquer Ukraine.” According to McGregor’s theory, Yatsenyuk “is a leading member of the Scientology cult and a big fan of the Hollywood film star Tom Cruise.”

For whatever fact check that did (or did not) take place, McGregor also copied and pasted content from the interim prime minister’s English language Wikipedia page–information that has since been taken down from the online encyclopedia.

Until recently, the Russian Wikipedia entry for Arseniy Yatsenyuk also listed him as a Scientologist, and had the Interfax-Religion article footnoted as a reference. Writers added content about his sister who lives in Santa Barbara, California, and works as a psychologist for the Church of Scientology. Several articles from assorted Russian-language publications of 2013, and going back to 2009, were cited to credit these claims.

But are these sources legitimate? Or do they merely make up a series of faulty content sought to discredit and spread misinformation about Yatsenyuk?

When Tony Ortega, editor of Raw Story and former Editor-in-Chief of The Village Voice–who has written extensively about the perils of Scientology since 1995–reached out to Yatsenyuk’s California niece Ulyana Biloskurska about the rumors, she had a very direct response.

“That’s crap,” she said on behalf of her nuclear family. “We don’t even know what Scientology is.”

Ulyana Biloskurska said she’d heard about the rumors regarding her mother, denied them, and added that the only knowledge she personally had of Scientology was that Tom Cruise belongs to the church.

As an individual, Tom Cruise has become the celebrity icon of Scientology who is directly associated with the church. For the token Scientologist destination, it looks like Southern California–where Santa Barbara is located–is the place.

When asked about the association between the locale and religion, Ortega tells BTR that there are more Scientologists in that area of the state than anywhere else in the world. For decades, people have associated California with Scientology, which is in part related to its history in establishing itself there.

“Los Angeles is home to one of Scientology’s major headquarters, and the Hollywood Celebrity Centre is there,” he explains. “The secretive ‘International Base’ for top church management is a 500-acre compound about 90 miles east of LA.”

Yatsenyuk’s family members may live in a region notorious for hosting Scientologists, but while these connotations may have spread across continents, Ortega tells BTR people should still keep in mind that Scientology is less prevalent than perceived.

“The church claims millions of members around the world, but that’s nonsense,” he says. “Good evidence suggests that there are no more than about 25,000 Scientologists planet-wide at this point.”

Scientology, Ortega says, has acquired a “miserable reputation” in the United States, so, “spreading rumors that someone is a member would definitely be a way to discredit them.”

Do the allegations about the Ukrainian Prime Minister hold any truth?

“At this point,” Ortega concludes, “unless someone comes forward with more believable evidence and not just rumor, I don’t see any reason to believe Yatsenyuk has any relationship with Scientology.”

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