EXCLUSIVE: Inside the Inner Circle at Scientology’s new Paris HQ

Last week, Scientologists from across Europe gathered to celebrate the opening of their latest ‘Ideal Org’ in Paris, France. Despite Police enforcing tight restrictions and Scientology’s best efforts to clear the area of protestors, Scientology Business journalist Callum Clark secured a spot and reports from inside the production team’s inner circle.

A camera and tripod mark my territory. I stand on a small grass lawn across the street from the Église de Scientologie et Celebrity Centre Du Grand Paris. Today, the Église (Church) will finally open its doors, seven years after its €33 million purchase.

The building does not look like your typical Church. It is modern, imposing, and opulent—a physical representation of Scientology’s wealth, power, and control, situated in France’s poorest suburb. In just a few hours, the Stade de France, this Summers Olympic Stadium, will officially have a new novel neighbour. I await in anticipation. This is Scientology’s biggest European event since last November’s IAS gala… and you can feel it.

I am surrounded by Scientologists. All are performing active “staff” roles, ensuring the delivery of a successful and memorable opening. They move with a quiet conviction. This event has no doubt been much-anticipated since they acquired the building seven years ago. There is no margin for error, many have attempted to stop today from happening. Now they finally have the green light; they had better not botch it. This underlying tension is subliminally reflected on the faces I peruse.

Scientologists in attendance were tense and guarded, with smiles nowhere to be seen until the cameras started rolling

It doesn’t take long before my presence is noticed. Photographs are taken. Videos are recorded. It comes with the territory, I tell myself. As I look through the lens of my camera, attempting to gather some B-reel of the building, I am distracted by a blue-suited Scientologist looking directly into the lens. He begins to walk in my direction. Am I being shut down? He stops for a conversation with another Church member before he reaches me. From what I can gather, he asks which television company I am with. “No parlais Francais”. “Anglais?” he asks. “Ecosse” (Scotland), I respond.

I am talking to Eric Roux, chief European spokesperson and President of the Church of Scientology France. This is one of the world’s most dedicated and senior Scientologists. I inform Eric that I am filming as part of a university assignment. “Super nice!”, he says, realising the low-level status of my being here. I attempt to move us into conversation. “Are you excited?” I ask. “Of course I am”, he responds before asking for my details. Eric has an air of control and sophistication to him. Dare I say it, he seems… friendly.

30,000 local residents campaigned against Scientology’s acquisition of this building, with the Saint-Denis municipality itself trying to stop the Church from moving in. Despite this, only a handful of French protestors are present but are joined by former Scientologists Alexander Barnes-Ross and Pete Griffiths from the UK, along with a few other campaigners who have travelled from across Europe to be here today. They set up camp well away from the Église. Alex begins his livestream, wandering up and down the street, introducing his audience to the scene and his former colleagues who were littering the streets. All seems fine and well.

Soon, a phone call is made. The Police Nationale arrive and question the small opposition group. Alex is photographed, his passport details are taken and they move on. It would seem there is no problem. But this doesn’t last long. An hour later, as guests begin to arrive, the Scientologists show the police “evidence” that the group have been protesting without a permit. After establishing a permit had in fact been granted by the city, but for a designated area further down the road, the tone changes dramatically. “YOU HAVE TO LEAVE NOW”, comes a loud, controlling command. There is now quite evidently a problem. The group is directed off the street and relegated to a roundabout away from the glass building. I am left as one of only a few non-Scientologists able to witness the opening from the crowd’s perspective. Church members begin to arrive in their truckloads. Scientologists all around me exchange pleasantries and greetings.

I attempt to move my camera closer to the building, moving off a grass verge and onto the closed street. One Scientologist has been keeping a close eye (and constant recording) of my movements since I got here. He approaches me, but he doesn’t seem to be as nice as Eric. “I think it would be more simple if you stayed on the grass”, he says. I tell him that I am quite happy where I am. He moves away reluctantly. Next, a police officer approaches. I suspect a phone call has been made from my new Scientology friend but to my surprise, not even the Church of Scientology can defeat the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) Student Press Card.

Huge Hollywood cameras dwarf my simple tripod setup and University-loaned equipment, drones fly overhead and booms move buoyantly. I may as well be on the set of a multi-million dollar box office film. What they don’t have on such production sets are young hacks, and my intrusion is being recognised once again. The director of camera four wants a word. I am informed that I am in her shot. Before I can respond, I am surrounded by at least five other Church members. It’s a little disconcerting… Do I cave to their demands and move back or do I hold my ground?

Thinking it’s best to keep everyone onside, I agree to compromise. Fright wins over fight. Better to be here in a lesser position than not be here at all. I settle for moving back and am invited into the production team’s literal inner circle made up of gold stanchion posts and red rope, directly opposite the Église’s front gate. What this does allow me to do is get chatting with the director whose shot I have just ceased spoiling. I ask why she would recommend a lifetime in Scientology. She informs me that being in the Church has made her, “such a happy person”. Something is ever so slightly off. Happy people are not this happy. Authenticity evades her effervescent eyes.

Callum’s view from the production team’s inner circle: an unobstructed view, but not a smile in sight

As the preparation enters its most intensive phase, guests are moved away from the site and up the street for lunch (later walking past the restaurant they attended was a giveaway that the number of attendees could not have been more than a couple of hundred). The street is now fully closed. Road signs and billboards are covered. I am told the billboards are being hidden due to American advertising laws. I’m a little suspicious; I wonder what the advertisers would think of seeing their posters covered for the sake of continuity.

Soon enough, the guests return from lunch. All are wearing French tricolour IAS (International Association of Scientologists) badges and they are directed into the building via a side door. It is obvious that part of the inaugural event is happening inside, out of sight from the prying press.

More time passes. Guests begin to file out once again to the front of the building for the ribbon cutting. The moment finally draws near. There is a brief rehearsal of French flag waving. The guests oblige and are told to perform with a bit more vigour. As the crowd spills onto the street, I am struck by the sight of Scientology staff members directing guests as to where to stand. Some are too close to the cameras and must step off the street. Others must move into empty areas. “We need more people here”, says someone over my shoulder, with one portion of the street still looking too spacious.

The stage is now set. Excited expectation fills the crowd. My camera points firmly towards the Église. “Une, Deux, Trois,” cries a voice over the tannoy. The big blue bow, tied and held together at the very top of the building, comes loose and drops to the floor as party poppers and fireworks go off. Scientology’s new French headquarters is officially open for business.

What went on inside? During our conversation, Eric Roux informed me that if I gave him my details, he would send me a press release covering everything that happened on the day. He said this would be the best way to make sure the Church is given a fair right of reply in my documentary. Eric Roux and the Church of Scientology have yet to contact me, but a statement has been published on their website.

Photos released on Scientology.org claim to show Scientology leader David Miscavage addressing a crowd inside the building as part of the opening. However, as previously reported by Scientology Business, none of the crowd Miscavige is seen to be addressing are wearing the IAS tricolour badge worn by every single guest present on the official opening day. Furthermore Tom Cruise’s private jet, often used by Miscavage, was seen arriving in Paris a week earlier, only to leave six hours later. Could it be that Scientology staged Miscavage’s attendance at the opening with a pre-recorded message?

Scientology was classified as a “secte” by a French parliamentary report in 1995. As I pack up my camera and make my way off the street, I take a moment to reflect on everything I have just witnessed and experienced. Above all the pomp and pageantry, I struggle to understand why Scientology is investing millions into a city and a country which seemingly doesn’t want them. I am left considering the words of former Scientologist Alexander Barnes-Ross:

“It’s all a facade. They’re investing in this real estate to make people believe that Scientology is growing and expanding, but it’s just simply not the case. Paris is an important Org for them to use as a marketing platform to promote Scientology at the Olympics this Summer. It’s nothing but strategic.”

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Callum Clark https://twitter.com/callumfclark

Master of Arts: City, University of London, Broadcast Journalism
Bachelor of Arts: Durham University, Classics

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