The Church of Scientology reportedly responded with threats of legal action when asked about their response to the coronavirus pandemic, The Daily Beast reports.
Scientology's beef with The Daily Beast appears to have begun with a report in another publication: The Tampa Bay Times. Back on March 30, the Florida newspaper published a report on conditions inside the church's buildings, seafaring vessels, and other properties and found that the organization was purportedly completely ignoring social-distancing guidelines.
Specifically, reporter Tracey McManus claimed that the church was still packing its members into buses to move them to and from different locations and still holding meetings "shoulder to shoulder" inside its Florida buildings.
The piece also quoted Clearwater City Councilman Mark Bunker.
"It's not a healthy situation. I've heard from a lot of family members, families who have been (estranged) from their kids in the Sea Org and they are worried to death about the conditions they are living in," Bunker said.
A week earlier, writer Tony Ortega, writing in The Underground Bunker, claimed to have in his possession a document, reportedly from Scientology head David Miscavige, during which the religion's leader purportedly told his people to proceed with "business as usual," calling the pandemic "bullbait." However, the document also noted that the organization has plenty of "effective products," such as "airborne ozone, as well as nebulized peroxide and Decon7," on-hand to combat the virus.
When The Daily Beast contacted the church to discuss its coronavirus response, the news outlet reportedly got threats of legal action in response.
Specifically, in initial communication, the church referred to the Tampa Bay Times piece as a "baldfaced lie," and said that the organization is banning mass gatherings, providing its members with masks and gloves and practicing social distancing, among other policies.
That was followed by accusations that The Daily Beast was practicing a "perverted agenda" and said that the church was working to "help others get through this, and that even includes you"
The next day, The Daily Beast received a letter from one of the church's attorneys, reportedly threatening to "end" the news outlet for publishing any more "false" information about the church.
"Now that you are on written notice that your story is 100% false, any publication exposes you to the end of your career and The Daily Beast to the end of its existence... We hope that is not necessary," the purported letter reads.
A second letter, from another Scientology attorney, was more direct, saying that the organization would "file for defamation" if it published anything that suggested the organization was out of compliance with state and federal guidelines.
Daniel Slaughter, the chief of the Clearwater Police Department, said for his part that he personally observed some of what was going on in and around Scientology buildings and vehicles in his city. He noted that buses appeared "less occupied than normal" and that he personally didn't witness anything that suggested the organization was out of compliance with social distancing. However, he also noted that the guidelines don't apply to residential buildings, so he was unable to comment on what was going on inside the church's residential quarters.