Scientology finally moves into Ybor Square

"Friends of mine have been assaulted, I've been assaulted, I've gotten death threats from them. They've threatened to show up at my house," Harvey told CL. She claimed a member of the church's board of directors had threatened her earlier on Sunday, saying, "We know where you live and you better believe we'll show up at your doorstep."

Among those whom CL was able to observe leaving the ceremony on Sunday were Nation of Islam members.

The handful of protesters said they arrived across the street from Ybor Square before noon (the official ceremony began at 2:oo p.m. and was over before 3:00 p.m.)

Two men who said they were here visiting the Bay area from Chicago also participated in holding signs in protest.  One man, who preferred to only give us the name "Pelladin," was critical of Scientology's leader David Miscavige, for reports in the St. Petersburg Times that alleged he had physically attacked other church members.

Another protester refused to give CL his name, instead saying his "Anonymous" moniker was "Pelladin." He said he was originally a Scientologist in Clearwater back in 1978, but was told by officials that he needed to go at the time.

His friend, Chicago Alex Hageli, insisted, "We're not protesting against their beliefs. We don't care what they believe, they're free to spend their time and money however they want. We're here to let people know there are abuses in this church."

Both Hageli and his friend were visiting from Chicago. When asked why they were standing across the street from Ybor Square with masks on and signs protesting against Scientology, he laughed and said, "That's what you do when you're in Clearwater."

Last May the Church of Scientology purchased the V.M. Ybor Cigar Factory, better known as Ybor Square, for approximately $7 million.  The only two tenants that remain in the Square now are the longtime popular Italian food eatery Spaghetti Warehouse, and CL, which resides directly upstairs from the restaurant in what is known as the old Warehouse Building.  Yes, that means CL is now cutting our rent checks to the church.  On Sunday, more than 2,000 people converged at Ybor to see church leader David Miscavige cut a gigantic ribbon at a ceremony officially welcoming themselves into the facility.

The Church is occupying two of the three buildings that make up Ybor Square.  Church officials said last year that there would be approximately 120 employees working in their offices during the week, and a separate staff of 100 on weekends.

To say the church is shrouded in controversy would be a bit of an understatement. The most recent media hit against them was an extensive New Yorker article published last month by Lawrence Wright that featured acclaimed film director Paul Haggis' very public breaking with the church.

On Sunday, four lonely protesters held signs critical of the church in front of a parking garage on 13th Street.  Clearwater resident Kathryn Harvey from Clearwater is with the group Anonymous, which held several high-profile protests against Scientology in Clearwater in 2008.

She said she originally was critical of Scientology because her home city "has basically fallen apart because of their presence there. No one wants to go into downtown."  She says she has continued to protest after the church started "Fair Gaming" her, a policy that critics say is a systematic way of going after their critics.  However, members of the church  have denied such a policy exists, but do say that they can use the same legal tools as anybody else to defend themselves.


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