The Improbable Crusade of Robert Minton
Incensed by Scientology's ways, millionaire is bent on forcing change, even though he's not a member
By Patti Doten, Globe Staff
July 9, 1998
So why has this self-made man chosen to do battle with the Church of Scientology instead of sitting back and enjoying his financial success and a peaceful, family existence? And why, especially, when he has never been a church member?
Because, he says, he believes in the First Amendment; has the money to fight the church and what he calls its harassment of critics and former church members; and because he cannot forget being locked up at age 16 in a mental institution against his will.
His crusade, costing $1.5 million to date, has not been without its repercussions and has had a direct effect on his and his family's life.
Since last fall Minton has been greeted with anti-Minton fliers written by Scientologists and dropped on his and his neighbors' doorsteps or pinned to trees lining the quaint streets ofhis upscale urban neighborhood. He's looked out his windows to see groups from the church picketing his house. And he's had detectives hired by the Scientologists checking every phase of his background both here and abroad - and this has affected the relationship between Minton and his mother and son. But what he found most disturbing were the anti-Minton fliers distributed while he was vacationing with his family on the Caribbean island of St. Barts in March. After a day at the beach, Minton returned to his car to find the church's calling cards on his and more than a dozen other windshields.
''People ask me why I'm involved in all this when it isn't my fight,'' says Minton, during an interview at his home and over lunch at a Charles Street restaurant. ''I was never a member of this group but I'm involved because I believe everyone has the right to believe what they want.
''People don't have the right,'' continues Minton, his words becoming more impassioned with each sentence, ''to have their minds controlled and manipulated in the way the Scientologists manipulate people. I'm just so incredibly shocked at the pain Scientology can cause people. It's so obvious that Scientology, like other groups and cults, causes a lot of devastation.''
Advancing through audits
The Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, a prolific science-fiction writer who died in 1986. In his teachings, Hubbard described humans as clusters of spirits that had been trapped in ice and banished to Earth 75 million years ago by an intergalactic ruler. Through self-help techniques and counseling sessions known as auditing, Scientologists believe they can live more productive lives. But the often substantial costs of these sessions has drawn criticism over the years and in 1967 the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status that the church had been given in 1957. The IRS reversed that decision in 1993.
''Scientology means the study of knowledge and it recognizes that the person himself is a spiritual being and he has a mind and he has a body,'' says Heber C. Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International. ''And Scientology is not a dogma, it is a route, a way, rather than a dissertation or an assertive body of knowledge. We believe man is basically good.''
For six months, Minton says, he has become the church's ''numero uno'' target and he in turn has slowly made Scientology the focus of his time, energy, and money. He has a growing suspicion that church members are responsible for personal belongings that have disappeared and other odd incidents.
He wonders, for example, if the Scientologists are responsible for a dead cat he found on his doorstep in New Hampshire. And he wonders if they stole his laptop computer and address book from the trunk of his rental car in California, where he'd gone to picket the church's April celebration of Hubbard's birthday.
Jentzsch acknowledges that the church hired detectives to look into Minton's past, had an attorney contact him, and that Scientologists did distribute fliers in Boston. But he denies any church involvement in the cat and computer incidents.
Despite these incidents and the pressures on his family, Minton, who made his fortune trading in the debts of Third World countries, says he will continue his anti-Scientology efforts indefinitely.
''The harassment began last fall after I bought a home [for $260,000] for a couple, former Scientologists, who were being hounded by the church in Seattle,'' says Minton, who became interested in the church while surfing the Internet in the spring of 1995. ''At that time, I got a phone call from a lawyer named Elliot Abelson, a heavy-hitting attorney who works for the Scientologists.
''He asked if I were surprised to hear from him. I said no because I knew he was representing the church. He then asked why someone like me with a stable life and family and financial means would want to get involved with the Scientologists. He clearly was giving me a veiled warning.''
Minton said he was more curious than fearful about the call and expected to hear further from Abelson. But he did not.
Jentzsch confirms that Abelson did call Minton because he wanted to know why Minton ''started bankrolling individuals litigating against the Church concerning matters in which he had no apparent interest.''
Then the fliers and picketing began. The investigation into his background started after he paid an attorney for the family of Lisa McPherson in a wrongful death suit against the Scientologists. McPherson died after a 17-day stay in a church-owned hotel in Clearwater, Fla. According to published reports, church officials say that McPherson was under 24-hour watch at the hotel during which time she spit out food, banged violently on the walls of her room, and hallucinated. The county medical examiner said McPherson was deprived of water for at least her last 5 days and died of a blood clot brought on by severe dehydration. Church officials deny responsibility for her death.
Kennan Dandar, the attorney for the McPhersons, says he is preparing to take the civil suit to trial early next year.
But it was the fliers that have been the most public and vitriolic. Some of the accusations:
'' Robert Minton, of ... West Cedar Street, has given $1.25 million to complete strangers to destroy a religion while his own mother lives on Social Security.'' ''Like many hate mongers, he has a history of psychiatric problems. But a troubled past is no excuse for leading KKK-style rallies and spreading poison on the Internet about a peaceful religion known for its helpful literacy and drug r ehabilitation programs.''
''Mr. Minton refuses to help his own son with a loan to purchase a house, yet forked over $1.5 million to fund the members of a known hate group in a campaign to create intolerance & hatred.''
``Mr. Minton acts like a bully to anyone he can manipulate with his money. His second wife left him rather than put up with his brutal beatings.''
The first of these fliers was unsigned, succeedings ones, with the exception of the St. Barts missive, carried the following identifier: This is written as a public service of STAND (Scientologists Taking Action for Non-Discrimination).
''The fliers never really bothered me because I knew that if you tell lies often enough, someone is going to believe them,'' says Minton. ''I know some people are going to believe some of what has been said about me. But what can I do? I'm not a member of the truth police. Sure, I could pass out my own fliers. But I won't. I'd be a basket case if I worried about what the Scientologists say about me and what people believe. And yes, I'm relatively confident about who I am. Perhaps you might say arrogant. I think I drive them crazy. I think they find my attitude extraordinary.''
Burden on his family
But the effect on his family has been an issue, especially for older daughter, Katherine. Drawing attention to oneself at age 12, Minton says, is something every preteen tries to avoid. Having picketers in front of your house can bring nothing but embarrassment to a young girl, says Minton.
''I've told my girls that, yes, their dad is different,'' says Minton of Katherine and Sarah, 10. ''I've explained that I'm just not prepared to let these guys act like predators on people who are trying to exercise their most fundamental rights in a democracy.''
At Christmas, he says, he and his wife gave a party for close friends and neighbors. During the evening, he noticed several boys dropping balloons filled with water off the back deck. Katherine later explained that the boys had come armed with the balloons in case the Scientologists were picketing.
''I thought that was a nice sign of support for her,'' says Minton, who chooses his words carefully when discussing his children and wife. ''The kids in her class knew what was going on because they'd talked about a newspaper article about me in their current events class.
''So yes, Katherine initially exhibited age-appropriate embarrassment but time has made everything less of an issue,'' says Minton, who adds that his girls understand that his involvement is not going to end any time soon.
Minton says what most sparked his anger were the fliers in St. Barts.
''It was so unexpected. I think that's why it got to me. But it certainly was not surprising because that's the sort of violation of personal boundaries that the Scientologists enjoy,'' says Minton, who is reluctant to talk about his reactions because he does not want to fuel the Scientologists' tactics. ''It was a tactic to make my wife squirm. To make me squirm. They gloated about this incident on the Internet - about their unstoppable reach, that nobody is outside the reach of the Church of Scientology.''
Jentzsch says he does not know anything about the fliers in St. Barts but does confirm that ''individual Scientologists have distributed fliers in Boston to draw attention to what they felt was Minton's religious bigotry.''
Minton's wife, Therese, says she supports her husband. His dedication does not surprise her, she says, because her husband has always had strong beliefs. But does she hope his involvement will end?
''Oh God, I hope so,'' she says during a short telephone interview. ''But I know he has made a commitment and I feel my job is to protect my family and not let all this have a negative effect on our lives. I've tried to make it a positive experience for our girls. That their dad has strong beliefs and it's important to have such beliefs and to stand up for what he believes is right.''
She says they don't thrash it out at the dinner table but talk about other things.
''But I guess I do exercise more caution than the girls know about,'' says Therese, whose family in England was contacted by Scientologists looking into her background. ''I look at who's walking down our street when I go out the front door and take other little precautions. But I want everyone to know that we are truly there for him.''
Jentzsch confirms that church attorneys retained ''qualified investigators'' to try to ''discover the man's true agenda.''
His mother talked
What Minton has found most disturbing is that his mother, son, and brother talked to detectives after he'd warned them to keep silent. He has little contact with them and is openly upset by what he sees as their betrayal.
Detectives ''went to where my family works or to their homes and told them that I was being accused of hate crimes against the Scientologists,'' says Minton. ''They said I was giving millions to people who are out to destroy the Scientologists. They told my mother that if I wasn't putting all these millions into a war against the Scientologists, maybe she could have a nicer home. They used the same tactic with my son and he began to question how I was spending my money.''
He says his mother probably sat down with the detectives because, like any mother, she likes to talk about her sons. His younger brother, he says, was probably shaken after being told his big brother was under investigation for an extortion attempt against the church. He probably thought, says Minton, that somehow he might get in trouble if he kept silent.
''I guess I didn't do a good enough job preparing my family for the tactics of these people,'' says Minton, who grew up in Nashville. ''My family is Southern and they're not used to dealing with strangers in a forceful way.''
Minton's mother, Catherine Minton, says she is surprised by her son's involvement with the Scientologists because she didn't think ''he was interested in these sorts of things.'' She agreed to talk with two Scientology members who arrived on her doorstep, but now regrets that she did.
''I was really upset when they left,'' says his mother, during a phone conversation from her room in a Florida nursing home. ''They wanted to know everything about Bob and it really was none of their business. I wish I'd never let them into my house. I wish I hadn't talked to them.
''What Bob is doing is really his business,'' she says. ''I can't do anything about it. But I sure wish he'd quit fooling around with these people because of his family.''
His son by his first marriage, Rob Minton, 30, is more vehement.
''We've always had a rocky relationship,'' says his son, during a recent phone conversation from his home in Kentucky. ''There have always been many problems. He's got a lot of money and he's bored. He doesn't have any hobbies so this has become his hobby - a very expensive hobby at that. But I think it's a waste of time. Why not help underprivileged kids or battered women? Why this? Why didn't he spend this kind of time and energy on our relationship? He never visited me in college and did not come to my graduation. We've never had a father/son relationship.''
Minton, in response to the fliers about his family, says that over the years, he has been very generous with family members. He says he took a mortgage on his mother's home to protect her from herself because she has a history of borrowing against the equity and getting herself in financial trouble. He says he did not appreciate his son's questioning how he spends his money, especially the money he paid for the home for the former Scientology couple who wanted to open a cat sanctuary near Seattle. And he says, he will, as promised, give his son a down payment for a home when he marries.
As to the psychiatric problems alluded to in the fliers, Minton says they stem from several days spent in a mental hospital when he was 16.
''My father was very abusive towards my mother, so when I was 16 she up and left,'' says Minton, whose father owned clothing stores in Nashville. ''A week later my father and I got into an altercation and I left the house and took the car.''
His father called police and they chased the young Minton through the streets of suburban Nashville until he overturned the car. He was taken to the police station and at 1 in the morning transported to a private mental institution, he says.
''I felt terribly abandoned there,'' says Minton. ''I had no idea how long I'd have to stay or why I was put there. I was locked up in a padded cell like an animal. I wasn't allowed to contact anyone.''
On the third day he managed to call his girlfriend's mother, who called his grandfather. The next morning his father and grandfather picked him up and he went to live with his grandparents - permanently.
It was this experience that triggered his interest in Lisa McPherson who, according to Minton and published reports, died after being locked up for 17 days in the Scientology-owned hotel. So far Minton has committed $350,000 to the civil suit.
''Bob is extremely serious about what he's doing,'' says Dandar, the McPherson 's attorney. ''He sees Scientology as a big bully and violator of human rights. He's astounded at what happened to Lisa. And he puts his money where his mouth is. I know he'll see this case through to the end.''
Minton says he's never before supported a cause with such passion. He protested the Vietnam War but not with the energy he has devoted to Scientology. It has enveloped him to the point that he's backed away from many of his former activities, such as helping to coach his daughters' Little League team and spending time raising money for his daughters' private school.
What is interesting is that Scientologists have recently requested sit-down meetings with Minton. And he has agreed. Minton met for five hours in Los Angeles and two hours in Boston in a hotel room at the Marriott Long Wharf with two high-ranking Scientologists, Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder. Minton says he believes the meetings came about because they thought that schmoozing with him might help persuade him to ask the producers of ''Dateline'' not to air a show on him on June 16.
Jentzsch confirms that they met with Minton but denies that the purpose was to convince him to cancel the ''Dateline.'' ''I don't think he could do this, in any event.''
Minton plans to meet further with the Scientologists. He says he hopes that might lead to changes within the church.
''My involvement does surprise me at times. It certainly wasn't there at the beginning,'' says Minton, who notes that the fliers and picketing stopped, with the exception of St. Barts, after he took pictures of the picketers and posted them on the Internet late this winter. ''I'm spending all my time on this and I have no thoughts of retreating.''
This story ran on
page E01 of the Boston Globe on 07/09/98.