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Sunday, December 11, 2005
Scientology Center Invites San Miguel Contingent to Tour Facility
By Dave Kavanaugh
Journal Staff Writer
LAS VEGAS, N.M. Several San Miguel County officials recently got a look inside the Church of Scientology's compound east of here, which has been back in the news because of landscape markings visible only from the sky.
The compound was built in the 1980s in high desert country near the community of Trementina, about 40 miles from Las Vegas, and includes an underground archive for the writings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
A Scientology corporation called the Church of Spiritual Technology runs the compound.
San Miguel County officials including County Manager Les Montoya, Commissioners LeRoy H. Garcia and Kenny Medina, Sheriff Chris Najar and others took the church up on its invitation to tour the facility this fall.
Najar said the visit answered some questions about the compound, which has drawn renewed national media interest after the landscape markings resembling crop circles were the subject of a recent report by an Albuquerque television station.
The interlocking circles etched in the desert match the logo of the Church of Spiritual Technology.
"There's been speculation as to what it really is," Najar said of the compound, noting rumors that have floated around about everything from the markings on the ground to the contents of the buildings on the premises.
But in their invitation-only tour, Najar and the other county officials found no major surprises just an apparently expensive archival center designed to safeguard many of Scientology's key works.
Three main buildings make up the compound; one of them contains the depository, Najar said. Storage involves vaults with specially designed bolts and wrapping in a Kevlar-type material, he said.
"When they talk about preservation," Najar said, "they're not talking 50 years. They're talking 1,000 years ... It's quite a place."
Also on the property, according to Najar and others who have been allowed to visit, are features such as a landing strip, dormitory and cafeteriaspace, meeting rooms and an area holding livestock. A generator provides the facility with its own electricity.
The perimeter includes a heavy-duty metal gate and standard fencing, while each building has its own security system. Separating the Church of Scientific Technology's 43-acre compound from adjoining properties are an estimated 4,570 acres of vacant land also owned by the organization.
Najar and Las Vegas Police Chief Tim Gallegos theorize that one reason they were invited to tour the premises has to do with public relations.
"It may be so we can put people's minds to rest, to assure the community it is just what they say it is," Najar said. He said his tour guides, including Jane McNairn of the Church of Scientific Technology's Los Angeles headquarters, answered officials' every question.
"They didn't hedge on anything," he said.
Gallegos, who was a sergeant 12 years ago when he was invited to tour the compound, had a similar account.
"We looked everywhere," he recalled. "A couple of us were going through everything."
In that tour, Gallegos and representatives of the New Mexico State Police and the local district attorney's office were guided through the facility, which had then been functional for only a few years. Gallegos recalls seeing elaborate methods used to store Hubbard's works. Hubbard, the late science-fiction writer whose best-known book was "Dianetics," started Scientology in the 1950s.
"Books were reproduced in five different formats," he said. "For example, they used a paper similar to (currency) that would last forever. There were specially designed boxes ... pressure-sealed."
Special audio CDs and titanium plates etched with church writings were also in the vault, he said.
"It appeared to me they were creating a time capsule," Gallegos said.
Gallegos said the invitation to tour the facility was not surprising. The timing of the tour, he said, seemed like a calculated proactive public relations move.
"It was real close after the Waco incident (in which a standoff between federal agents and cult leader David Koresh ended with a fire that killed Koresh and more than 80 of his followers in February 1993)," he recalled. "That was the big to-do."
With nationwide concern about religious cults as the backdrop, Gallegos said, "There was a lot of suspicion as to what they're doing out there. What was this group from California doing setting up shop in Trementina?"
"My belief is that law enforcement was asked to participate in these tours to prove that everything they were doing was legitimate and above board ... I didn't see anything to indicate it was anything other than what they said."
Why a mesa near Trementina which means "turpentine" in Spanish was chosen to house one of three known vaults for the church's documents remains something of a mystery because organization representatives offer few answers.
But Najar and Gallegos offered some theories based on their visits.
"I think they chose the site because it's away from the main place (California, where two other vaults are reportedly located)," Gallegos said. "It's a very well-built facility. Why they picked that particular site I don't know."
Najar said the selection of the Trementina site may have been practical. Climate, elevation and average temperatures there may have been viewed as ideal for preserving and archiving documents, he said.
And what of the crop-circle markings? Their design, two interlocking circles side by side with diamonds in the center of each, is the accepted logo of the Church of Scientific Technology. Najar said the design, cut into the grounds, matches that on the church's business correspondence.
The Washington Post recently reported that former Scientologists familiar with Hubbard's teachings on reincarnation say the symbol on the ground near Trementina marks a "return point" so loyal staff members know where they can find the founder's works when they travel here in the future from other places in the universe.
"As a lifetime staff member, you sign a billion-year contract. It's not just symbolic," said Bruce Hines of Denver, who spent 30 years in Scientology but is now critical of it. "You know you are coming back and you will defend the movement no matter what. ... The fact that they would etch this into the desert to be seen from space, it fits into the whole ideology."
McNairn, the CST representative who accompanied the San Miguel officials on their recent tour, would not speak on the record with a Journal reporter.
According to Karin Touw, public affairs officer with the Church of Scientology International, the Albuquerque Scientology church was founded in 1980 and has a membership of 1,000. Worldwide, Scientology has more than 5,100 churches, missions and groups, according to information provided by Touw.