The Tom Cruise Missle or Scientology vs. Keith Henson

From CNet:

A Silicon Valley figure who fled the country after being convicted in part because of a Usenet joke about Tom Cruise and Scientology has been arrested in Arizona.

Keith Henson, an engineer, writer and futurist, was arrested Friday in Prescott, Ariz., where he has been living for the past few years, and now faces extradition to California. Henson originally fled to Canada after the 2001 conviction.

The misdemeanor conviction in California stems from a post that Henson made in the alt.religion.scientology Usenet newsgroup that joked about aiming a nuclear “Tom Cruise” missile at Scientologists, and Henson’s picketing of the group’s Golden Era Productions in Riverside, Calif.

Michael Kielsky, Henson’s defense attorney, said Monday that his client will likely be released on Monday evening and is required to appear in court for a March 5 hearing.

Kielsky said that Henson was mistreated by police and jailers–including being told during the arrest that he had no right to an attorney and being held in solitary confinement in a poorly heated cell without adequate bedding. “My best information is that it’s very political,” he said. “They gave him an extra blanket but then an hour later they took it away–(this is) a 66-year-old man with a heart problem.”

I found the CNet article to be a bit confusing in what was actually going on so here’s an article in Wired News from 2001 which gives more details on the case:

WASHINGTON — A California jury has convicted Keith Henson, a prominent critic of Scientology, of terrorizing the group through Usenet posts and by picketing one of its offices.

Henson, a computer engineer who has been involved in prior legal skirmishes with Scientology, was found guilty on Thursday of interfering with Scientologists’ civil rights and now faces a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $5,000.

The charges revolved around posts Henson made in the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup about targeting a nuclear missile at Scientologists, and Henson’s picketing of the group’s Golden Era Productions in Riverside, California.

The jury rejected Henson’s claim that he was exercising his First Amendment right to criticize a dangerous cult, and convicted him of interfering with a religion, one of three counts against him.

“It was not just the postings themselves,” said Deputy District Attorney Robert Schwarz. “He had been engaged in other odd behavior — chasing down buses, taking down license plate numbers.”

Schwarz, who prosecuted the case, said that Henson also followed people he knew to be Scientologists from their homes to Golden Era Studios: “He would hang over the fence and yell at them and do other weird behavior.”

Henson’s supporters have created a website, freehenson.tripod.com, to rally support for Henson during his legal battle.

The site says that Scientology has a suspiciously close relationship with the prosecutor: “What kind of Alice-in-Wonderland Court is it that allows organized criminals to sit in the prosecutor’s chair bringing charges against the honest citizens, in which a heavily-armed cult has Mafia lawyers direct the activities of the District Attorney?”

“A dodgy District Attorney, with cult lawyers sitting at the prosecutor’s table, set him up for absurd charges of threatening the cult with cruise missiles,” says Dave Bird, another Scientology critic. “Virtually all the defense evidence was excluded…. Even when Henson quoted L. Ron Hubbard’s violent words, it was presented as his own speech without quotation marks.”

Henson was convicted of violating a hate crimes statute, section 422.6 of the California Penal Code. It says: “No person, whether or not acting under color of law, shall by force or threat of force, willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress or threaten any other person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege.”

Scientology welcomed the jury verdict. In a statement, the group said: “Justice has been served in the trial of People v. Keith Henson. Religious bigotry will not be tolerated in Riverside County.”

The jury was hung on the other two counts against Henson: 9-3 for conviction on the count of terrorism, 10-2 for conviction on the count of attempted terrorism.

The lesson here is that you don’t want to be around when a Tom Cruise missle explodes. Wikipedia has a lot more details about Keith Henson and his battles against the space cult.

Update:

Daily Kos has an article called Keith Henson and the Great Miscarriage of Justice