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Scientology forming an army?

by Mark Wise Monday, Oct. 19, 2009 at 10:37 PM

Scientology

Front Sight, Ignatius Piazza, and Scientology?



________________________________________

Background

As some of you know, I am a supporter of Front Sight, a superb firearms training facility outside of Las Vegas. As a bit of background, Paul and I went to our first course (Four Day Defensive Handgun) this past April and were completely blown away by the experience. I attended the kickoff of the Ambassador Program in August. And Paul and I are returning to Front Sight in early November to repeat the Four Day Defensive Handgun course. Both Paul and I are also "First Family" members, which means that we paid a certain amount of money up front in order to be able to take certain set of classes for free.

Last night, I learned that Front Sight has something of a PR brouhaha on its hands. Ignatius Piazza send out an e-mail reporting that as of last June, "a former Front Sight instructor suddenly began to circulate hate-group propaganda to some of our staff and students on the Internet and by rumor, attacking both Front Sight and me personally."

That person is former Front Sight Instructor and Range Master Dean Gamburd who has posted an article entitled "The Fourth Secret" on Arnie Lerma's anti-Scientology web site, Lermanet. The basic accusation of the article is that Ignatius Piazza "is a hard core Scientologist using the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute as his personal Scientology recruiting ground, cash generator, and to further the ultimate goals and presence of Scientology."

The result has been some debate and speculation on various gun forums, like in this thread on Glock Talk and this thread on the Front Sight Alumni message board.

In the e-mail, Piazza denied these allegations by saying:

I am aware that he [Dean Gamburd] is attempting to establish his own firearms training organization and has taken the irresponsible approach of spreading false rumor, misrepresentation, disparagement, slander and libel to damage the good work and outstanding reputation Front Sight has established. In other words, we reasonably believe he is lying for his own personal gain, to siphon off our students and staff, and to interfere with our ability to serve you and the Second Amendment.

Some current Front Sight Instructors and Range Masters have also offered their testimony in support of Front Sight. On Glocktalk Bill Carns wrote, "I've never ... had Scientology brought up in any conversation I've ever had there." Bill Haag wrote:

No one at Front Sight, or connected with Front Sight or with any Front Sight affiliated organization has ever approaced me with any information about Scientology.

Let me be perfectly clear for all those who would try to parse my words to find some hidden meaning where there is none. There has never been any discussion about Scientology at Front Sight or with persons associated with Front Sight. I have never been approached to learn, contribute, etc. about or to anything to do with Scientology in order to "go up the Instructor ladder." Or at any other time.

These recent ravings about Front Sight and Scientology are groundless and I find them personally insulting.

On Front Sight Alumni, John Woo wrote:

Throughout my entire career at Front Sight, there has NEVER been any mention, attempt to recruit, or even a slight indication that Scientology was an influence. Indeed, in all the conversations and interactions I have ever had with Front Sight staff have been regarding firearms training, or some common social issue.

Truthfully, the first time I have ever heard of Front Sight and Scientology even being used in the same sentence was on the Internet boards.

I cannot say whether or not Naish is Scientologist. However, I can say, with 100% certainty, that Front Sight is NOT a "recuiting ground for Scientology", nor a cult, nor a subtle medium for manipulating people into Scientology's belief system.

Front Sight offers firearms training. Period.

(John Woo was our superb Range Master in our April Four Day Handgun course. I have no doubt that he is telling the absolute truth.)

The Lack of Evidence

This whole episode is rather disturbing to me, particularly as a philosopher who cares about little things like logic and evidence.

Far too many people commenting in the thread on Glocktalk seem quite eager and willing to believe Dean Gamburd's accusations without any sort of solid evidence. One person called the information "interesting and highly disturbing." Another simply commented "scary." Yet another said "When I first heard he charged such and such for his different levels of membership, I had a feeling that the guy was not legit." Oh good, thanks for the "feeling"...

Others are posting false rumors of their own. One said, "The way I hear it is that all of the main range masters must attend some scientolgy classes in order to keep their jobs." Another wrote, "Lets just say that in order to go up the instructors ladder they have some suited people give you readings,alone,you are not to let anyone know where you are for a week period of time, like just happen to one of their up and coming instructor. plus one instructor keeps scientology books and material out for others (wogs) to study on." No evidence whatsoever for these claims was given.

The worst aspect of such comments is that they are almost entirely from people who have not actually ever attended Front Sight courses. Yet they seem determined to think ill of Front Sight; these accusations are just the latest excuse. (I've seen this pattern with respect to other issues as well, where the harshest critics of Front Sight are those with no direct knowledge of the issue or even experience taking the courses at Front Sight.)

Those who have been to Front Sight were uniformly more reasonable in their assessments of the accusations. I was delighted to see that they restricted their claims to subjects of which they were actually knowledgeable.

One writes:

I have taken two classes at Front Sight in the past year. I was expecting the "sales pitch" to be rather hard. It was not. Basically, Piazza tells you how Front Sight started and his plans for it in the future. He then reviews the membership plans and that's it. There is no hard sell there folks.

There were no Scientology pitches at all during both classes nor have I heard anything about Scientology and Front Sight except on forums like these.

The training is first rate.

Regarding instructors and Scientology, that is only up to speculation as far as I'm concerned.

Another writes:

I am not an instructor at Front Sight but have taken several classes there in Handgun and Shotgun. I can recommend it without reservation. The training and instruction is top notch.

My business dealing with Dr. Piazza and Front Sight have been above board and Front Sight has delivered what they have promised and more. I have never seen any evidence of Scientology or been solicited along those lines.

I do not know the "truth" here but I can tell you about my experiences at a customer at Front Sight.

Another writes:

I'm not affiliated with Frontsight in any way but I have been there a couple of times, most recently the weekend of 27-30 Sept. I totally agree with the statements made by Bill Haag. There was absolutley no mention of any religion, cult etc. The training is awesome, the instructors are great. The briefings on Frontsight givien by Piazza are given at lunch break and are purely optional. No one is forced to listen and they are very low key. The place is great and I have no reservations in going back.

For the record, let me add that I have never heard any talk of Scientology at any Front Sight event -- ever.

So given this range of uninformed and informed opinion, let's take a look at the strength of the actual accusations in Dean Gamburd's article "The Fourth Secret."

1. Gamburd claims that Piazza is a Scientologist. He references a document ("Scientology's Auditor publication #296 dated October 2001" published "published by 'ASHO' in Los Angeles California") in which Piazza is claimed to have reached "clear.") The problem is that we do not have any access to or even verification of the existence of this document. There is no online version, either as text or as a scanned image. In fact, it's unclear to what document or publication Gamburd is actually referring, as there is no proper publication title or publisher.

2. Gamburd claims that Piazza is "very short on Scientology conversions." Thus Gamburd claims that Piazza was "about to launch a full assault to help him move up the Scientology ladder, through the Front Sight First Family Ambassador Program and other soon to be announced programs." The problem is that the testimony of multiple Students, Instructors, and Range Masters offers no indication whatsoever of any recruitment efforts or even discussions of Scientology by Piazza or anyone else at Front Sight. I attended the big initial meeting of the Ambassador Program in Las Vegas. There was no mention of Scientology or presentations of any concepts of Scientology whatsoever. (I am familiar with and detest Scientology, so I would have noticed!)

3. Gamburd claims that Piazza spoke to him directly about being a Scientologist, send him and his wife some books, and offered to send them to Scientology classes for free. There is no independent confirmation of these facts. Given Gamburd's other groundless claims, we have good reason not to take him at his word. Independent verification would be needed, but none is offered.

4. The rest of Gamburd's article consists of innuendos about Piazza's handling of the finances of Front Sight, the curriculum at Front Sight, and more ludicrous claims about the Ambassador Program. (BTW, The management guru brought in for the Ambassador Program was Chet Holmes. He has no discernable association with Scientology whatsoever.)

Dean Gamburd clearly has an ax to grind against Front Sight. He has no evidence to back up his claims. They should be dismissed as ludicrous.

One Nagging Question

That being said, I did have one nagging question about Piazza's e-mail. So I wrote to Ignatius Piazza about it directly. Here's the entire letter:

Hi Naish,

After receiving the "Front Sight Legal Bulletin" I found and read Dean

Gamburd's essay, as well as the commentary on GlockTalk and elsewhere.

Gamburd's accusations have no evidence whatsoever to back them up, so I'm

pleased to ignore them, as the vast majority of Front Sight students seem

to be doing as well. As usual, the most eager and willing to believe the

accusations on the discussion boards are those who have never attended a

course. I think such people have an envy problem, at the very least.

In any case, it pains me for Front Sight to have to be dealing with such

people.

One thing did catch my attention in your note though:

> We took the time to investigate him and continue our investigation. We

> have found that he has hooked up with a hate group and is associating

> with people of known criminal background and questionable ethics.

I've kept my eye on the dangerous and criminal organization of Scientology

over the past few years. When publicly criticized, one common strategy of

the Church of Scientology has been to brand the critics as "religious

intolerants" and "criminals" "involved in hate groups" on web sites like

www.religiousfreedomwatch.com. (I can provide particular examples if you

wish.) I'm sure that they would brand me as such if I ever investigated

or published on Scientology, although nothing could be further from the

truth.

In case you are unfamiliar with the tactics of Scientology, I wanted to

alert you to the extreme unreliability of any information they might

provide about their critics. I am worried simply because your language

seemed a bit too close to theirs. I hope that it was merely a

coincidence!

Let me know if I can be of any assistance. Best wishes in all of this

brouhaha,

diana.

Naish only responded with "Thanks Diana." As I have expressed my concern about the wording and my views on Scientology, this matter is closed for me unless some actual evidence turns up. I don't entertain arbitrary hypotheses.

However: Don't make the mistake of confusing dismissive my attitude towards baseless speculations with not actually caring about whether organizations and people I support are involved with Scientology. Given my views of Scientology, I would abhor being unknowingly associated with the Church of Scientology or any Scientologist. (After reading Monica Pignotti's My Nine Lives in Scientology, I could never be "whatever" about Scientology.) It is precisely the gravity of such situations that requires a careful and rational approach to judgment, not leaping to conclusions as so many have been all-too-willing to do.

The Investigation

In April of 2002, my husband Paul and I attended our first course (Four Day Defensive Handgun) at Front Sight a top-notch firearms training school outside of Las Vegas. The quality of the instruction was mind-boggling good, so much so that Paul and I decided to purchase First Family memberships, as they allow us to attend a certain set of courses for free as often as we wish. (He has a "copper" membership; I have a "bronze.") I also attended the "Ambassador Program" launch in Las Vegas in late August.

At least until recently, my support for Front Sight has not been limited to their superb firearms training, but also included their remarkable plans to change hearts and minds about guns and gun rights. I had nothing but confidence in Ignatius Piazza, the founder, director, and super-majority owner of Front Sight. I was on board 100 percent.

Then on October 9, 2002, I received this Front Sight Legal Bulletin from Piazza saying that a former Front Sight Range Master and Instructor "suddenly began to circulate hate-group propaganda to some of our staff and students on the Internet and by rumor, attacking both Front Sight and me personally." The e-mail also said that an investigation has revealed that this instructor has "hooked up with a hate group and is associating with people of known criminal background and questionable ethics."

Although the e-mail didn't offer any specifics, my husband and I quickly found the relevant information. The former RangeMaster and Instructor was Dean Gamburd who posted an article entitled The Fourth Secret on Arnie Lerma's anti-Scientology web site LermaNet. The article consisted mostly of wild accusations that Front Sight was deeply involved with Scientology. (Scientology is cult-religion commonly accused of immoral and illegal activities in its quest for power and money.) Gamburd claimed that Ignatius Piazza "is a hard core Scientologist using the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute as his personal Scientology recruiting ground, cash generator, and to further the ultimate goals and presence of Scientology." His evidence in support of this claim, however, was weak, to say the least.

In addition to Gamburd's article, I perused some of the ongoing debate about this issue on various gun message boards like Glock Talk and Front Sight Alumni. I also found a number of vague and unsupported references to Piazza's involvement with Scientology through Google searches.

On October 10th, I responded to these comments in my blog NoodleFood with the post Front Sight and Scientology?!?. Given the lack of evidence, I was justifiably skeptical of all of Gamburd's claims, including even the most basic claim that Piazza was involved with Scientology. However, not being an agnostic about Scientology like so many others, I wrote that "I would abhor being unknowingly associated with the Church of Scientology or any Scientologist" based upon my knowledge of Scientology, particularly that gleaned from Monica Pignotti's amazing essay My Nine Lives in Scientology.

At the same time, I also wrote Ignatius Piazza a note of support. I said that I was "pleased to ignore [Gamburd's accusations]" as they had "no evidence whatsoever to back them up." I also commented on Piazza's characterization of Gamburd as involved with a "hate group" and criminals, pointing out that such language is similar to the propaganda used by the Church of Scientology to silence its critics. I then said, "In case you are unfamiliar with the tactics of Scientology, I wanted to alert you to the extreme unreliability of any information they might provide about their critics." Earlier in that letter, I also characterized the Church of Scientology as a "dangerous and criminal organization." Piazza wrote me back shortly, saying only "Thanks Diana."

That same evening, I also posted a quick message to the Front Sight Alumni thread pointing people to my blog entry. The next day, I received some pointers to information that radically changed the picture for me.

First, I was pointed to thread accessible only to First Family members on Front Sight Alumni. In this thread, "Johnylompoc" posted mail from Piazza on August 17th in which Piazza said (1) that he is Catholic, (2) that "Front Sight is in no way, shape, or form connected to or affiliated with ANY religion" (3) that he has "attended Scientology services," and (4) that he uses "some of the business technology developed by L. Ron Hubbard" at Front Sight.

A few days later, "Johnylompoc" posted another letter from Piazza responding to some of Dean Gamburd's accusations in this reply to Piazza. There, Piazza reiterated that both Front Sight and the Ambassador program have "no connection or affiliation with ANY religious organization and never will." But then in a disturbing twist, Piazza admitted to becoming "Clear" in 1998. (He then incoherently said "so I guess that makes me a 'Clear Catholic!'" -- as if Scientology and Catholicism are at all compatible.)

For anyone unfamiliar with Scientology, to be "Clear" is the alleged state of "total erasure of the reactive mind." According to reports, it usually costs over 0,000 to achieve. Thus to achieve "Clear" indicates a deep involvement with Scientology, not just a passing fancy.

Second, I was pointed to the ongoing debate on the API mailing list (the Gunsite alumni list). (Whoops! After announcing this mini web site, several API list members wrote to tell me that the API list is private. The archives were accidentally made public on the web site. Thus the API links and names have been removed. I have retained this general summary though, as it bears upon my e-mail to Piazza.) On that list, Piazza was repeatedly questioned about his personal involvement with Scientology. His only reply was to reiterate his Catholicism and then say "I have attended business management courses using the business management tools of L. Ron Hubbard. So do Fortune 500 companies. I have had some Scientology services. So have some of the most successful people in the world. That's were it ends." Many people then questioned the evasiveness of this reply. One poster even sided with Dean Gamburd in a gesture against Piazza, who promptly threatened to sue. That was disturbing to me, to say the least.

As a result of this new information, I posted a second blog entry entitled New Information about Front Sight and Scientology. There I said that "there is no reason to doubt" Piazza's repeated and clear statements regarding Front Sight's lack of involvement with Scientology based on my own and others' experience. But I expressed concern over Piazza's own personal involvement with Scientology, particularly the absurd contradiction of being a "Clear Catholic." I also noted that Piazza downplayed this involvement in Scientology by claiming to have received "some Scientology services," although obtaining Clear is a huge investment in Scientology. I also suggested that perhaps Piazza doesn't fully understand the ideological commitments involved.

The next day, I sent Piazza a second e-mail detailing my concerns about his personal involvement with Scientology and asking for "clear and direct answers" to some basic questions about his present relationship to Scientology. Those questions were: Are you or were you ever a Scientologist? Do you agree with all or most or some or none of the basic tenets of Scientology? Do you regard the Church of Scientology as a legitimate, law-abiding organization? Do you regard strong criticism of the Church of Scientology 'hate speech'? Do you directly or indirectly financially support the Church of Scientology? I then explained my reasons for my interest in his personal involvement with Scientology. I also expressed my concerns over his threats of lawsuits on the API list.

Piazza's prompt and polite reply did not answer my questions directly, but did provide new information. He stated "I ... will most likely continue [to have Scientology services] as I feel appropriate." He said that he had never experienced any immoral or criminal behavior within the Church of Scientology. He then seemed to argue that if such behavior did occur, it would not taint him or be "his issue."

On October 23rd, Dean Gamburd posted a total retraction to settle the lawsuit with Front Sight to various message boards. (Strangely though, all those threads seem to be locked and inaccessible now. Anyone know why?) The next day, in an e-mail about the 2003 course schedule, Piazza claimed an "immediate and total victory in the lawsuit ... we filed against a former instructor that slandered Front Sight." While I do feel sorry for Dean, his original article and later comments on message boards were libelous in their wild speculations and claims.

A few days later, I finally wrote Piazza a third e-mail in which I provided links to reliable information about the misdeeds of the Church of Scientology. I also argued that Piazza's personal involvement the Scientology would likely seriously damage Front Sight as well as the gun rights movement. And finally, I let Naish know where my line in the sand is on this issue. I would urge anyone who thinks Piazza's personal involvement with the Church of Scientology isn't all that important to read that e-mail.

As a final note, let me make clear that I do not believe that Front Sight itself is involved with Scientology. Piazza has been very clear on that point throughout this brouhaha. The testimony of multiple Range Masters, Instructors, and students belies any such association. My own personal experience at Front Sight and in the Ambassador Program also supports this conclusion.

I did, by the way, write Piazza a note about this site before the URL was made public. I wanted to be completely up-front with him, as well as give him a chance to offer any comments or suggested corrections. He did not write back.











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