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What Do HRC + Scientology Have In Common? Inflating Their Memberships

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The Human Rights Campaign writes in every press release that it is “the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization.” Claiming 750,000 members, that might be true. But HRC counts membership by including anyone who’s ever donated $1 — even if that donation came in a year that begins with “19.” (UPDATED: HRC responds with clarifications. See below.) Similarly, California’s Courage Campaign claims 700,000 members, a significant number given it’s been alive for a fraction of HRC’s lifetime, though it won’t say how it reached that figure.. What’s amusing, then, is that these Gay Inc. groups share the same arithmetic methods as Tom Cruise’s place of forceship.

The Church of Scientology claims 10 million members around the globe. It gives that number to any journalist who asks, and journalists then repeat those numbers.

It turns out, that’s a big fat lie.

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In reporting on former Scientologist Marc Headley’s new inside-the-church tome Blown for Good, Village Voice editor Tony Ortega notes, “Years ago, we watched church president Heber Jentzsch (whose title is largely ceremonial) admit under oath in a court deposition that when Scientology claimed millions of members, it was referring to all of the people who had ever bought a manual or taken a class in the organization’s entire history (the church was founded in Los Angeles in 1954).” (Emphasis ours.)

So how many members does Scientology really have? Probably somewhere in the low five-figures. Reports Ortega:

On numerous occasions, Headley writes about the fabrication of “e-meters,” the small devices that are supposed to work something like lie detectors. Scientologist auditors use them in counseling sessions, but they’re also used during interrogations — called “sec checks” — during which church workers suspected of wrongdoing are pressured to confess their “crimes.”

Headley mentions that the devices cost the church about $40 to make, but were then sold for about $3,000 each. What really caught our attention was Headley’s assertion that Miscavige demanded that enough of a new line of e-meters be manufactured so that every member in the world could purchase two of them. (Headley says each working Scientologist is supposed to have a backup unit in case the other fails.)

In order to have that many, Miscavige demanded that 30,000 be built, Headley writes.

We asked Headley, doesn’t that imply that there are only 15,000 Scientologists in the world?

“The actual number is more like 10,000. You had to make more than that because various orgs [facilities] needed to have extra on hand,” he says. “That figure can be cross-checked so many ways.”

When the New York Times recently reported that a French court had found that Scientology was a fraud, it dutifully cited Scientology’s own claim that the church has 10 million members worldwide. But the Associate Press this week reported that a survey of Americans and their religious affiliations suggested that this country only has about 25,000 active Scientologists.

[…] Headley says there was another method that confirmed his estimate. At especially important events — like the time Tom Cruise was awarded a “Medal of Valor” in 2004, or at New Year’s Eve celebrations — about 4,000 Scientologists could be counted on to show up at a venue like the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Every other “org” around the world, watching the event on a video feed, would report their own attendance figures. “You added it all up, at every big event, it would always add up to about 10,000. It would never fall to 2,000 or go up to 20,000. It was always about 10,000,” Headley says.

But adding additional millions to their membership role makes the Church of Scientology sound so much more influential! Oh, that’s HRC’s trick too?

UPDATE: HRC spokesman Michael Cole writes in with this clarification: “Yes, HRC has 750,000 members and supporters. That number includes all members who have contributed $5 or more in the past 24 months and supporters who have taken part in an action alert in the past 24 months.”

We asked for clarification of that clarification, such as, what does it mean to have “taken part in an action alert”?

Cole responds: “Taking part in an action alert means that someone’s engaged in an action we’ve encouraged such as writing or calling a Member of Congress that we’re able to track. It is not a tabulation of simply ‘subscribing’ to our alerts. Contributed means just that – given more than $5 to the organization which includes merchandise purchases. And again, both are within the last 24 months. The Blade story from more than five years ago is not accurate as to how we count our members and supporters. The information I’ve provided is where the 750,000 members and supporters number comes from.”