TAMPA -- Most people who've spent afternoons walking in crowded cities know what the sign means. FREE STRESS TEST? Here there be Scientologists. The church founded by L. Ron Hubbard took up decent real estate at the P.A.U.L. Festival, an unsanctioned tribute to presidential candidate Ron Paul. Walk past the booth for a new alternative currency in Breckenridge, Colorado (the "Mile High Hour," or "Rado") and you'd see many copies of Dianetics and four e-meters, manned by church members, checking Ron Paul supporters for thetans.
This was a crowd of people familiar, and fed up, with being labeled kooky. "I asked them if they'd ever met Stan Marsh," snarked a Texas-based Ron Paul fan named Danny Bessoms, referring to an episode of South Park in which the character becomes head of the church. So, why did the Scientologists fork over $500 for a booth and court Ron Paulians?
I approached the both and joined reporter Garrett Quinn in an obviously unwelcome Q&A session with the Scientologist manning the booth -- a fit young man dressed in white and black and a Sea Org belt. (Nearby Clearwater, Fla. is a nexus of Scientologists.) "We'll get Aaron over here and he'll talk to you," he said. Soon enough, Aaron Doerges returned to the booth to explain why Scientologists and Paulians could be friends.
"The bottom line is that the guys who are Ron Paul supporters are free-thinkers," said Doerges. "They're more literate. They're able to actually look at data, and make decisions about it. That's sort of the keynote of Scientology -- it literally means 'the study of knowledge.' The think on it, as we decided to do the both, was: Look, you've already got guys here who actually know that the mainstream media is full of crap. They actually know that there's more out there than what you're being fed. Let's get in front of some of those people, get in front of some of the false data they have on the subject, get them interested in something that actually helps able people become more able."
Doerges said that a fellow believer had turned him onto Paul. "From being a Scientologist, and knowing Scientologists, a lot of Scientologists support Ron Paul," he said. "A lot of them look at it and go: Look, the bottom line is the system we are in right now in supressive. It actually rewards non-production and punishes production. And so you have an economic crisis -- like, go figure! If you reward non-production, you're going to get non-production. Scientologists realize that. They tend to be independent thinkers."
Doerges's companion interjected: We were hearing one man's personal beliefs, not any statement from the church. As Doerges described how he got turned onto Paul, though, he kept mentioning libertarian stances that would be good for new-ish religions that want as much protection as possible. "You have some basic principles of what the role of government is," said Doerges. "You have basic principles of the viewpoint on taxes, on governmental control. There's enough going on that he's right about that I think he's excellent." Scientologists were onboard with libertarian critiques of psychology (this is an understatement) and were right in step with the Christian homeschoolers who back Paul. "The education system has been deteriorated to the point where it's not education," said Doerges. "The data is actually false data, and it's destructive."
Doerges was basically finished. The less smiley Scientologists politely asked the journalists who'd talked to him (me, Garrett, and Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray) to write down our contact info, and then, just as politely, suggested that we'd been blocking the booth.
"As you can see," he said, "we're empty now."
I walked by 10 or so minutes later. The booth was full again.
(Photo by David Weigel.)