‘There’s a war going on’: L.A. anti-Scientology protests bring arrests, attack allegations

The Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles
Anti-Scientology protesters have approached Scientology properties, including the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles, and yelled at and recorded people.
(Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

Until about a year ago, William Gude had no issues with the Church of Scientology.

The self-proclaimed cop watcher and activist better known by his social media handle @FilmThePoliceLA did not understand why the L.A.-based religion started by L. Ron Hubbard got so much flak.

That was until Gude tried to record video of police making an arrest last year outside one of Scientology’s buildings. Gude says he was harassed by Scientology security guards who told him he could not shoot video on the public sidewalk.

Although the allegation pales in comparison with others that have been made against the church, it set Gude off.


“I told them, ‘I’m going to end your religion,’” Gude said in an interview.

Now, Gude and his gaggle of anti-Scientology protesters are brawling publicly with the organization. They’ve demonstrated outside Scientology’s major facilities and those of businesses perceived to be cozy with it. At times, a hundred or more people show up at the protests, Gude said. They say the church has tried to stop them, calling police and sending people to harass them.

The tactics of the protesters can be frustrating to their targets: They approach Scientology properties and yell at and record people — though they do so on public property, which is legal.

“There is a war going on,” Gude said.

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Gude’s group is the latest of many to protest the church, which has been the focus of controversy for decades, and his complaints will sound familiar to former members and other critics who’ve tangled with it publicly.

The church disputes everything Gude and his team say and alleges that the “hate group” does not comprise protesters but agitators and bigoted harassers of religious people.

“Scientologists have been harassed and attacked. The Church and Scientologists have dealt with these religious hate-crimes in accordance with the law. We have filed police reports and have alerted the appropriate federal authorities to these threats and hate crimes,” Karin Pouw, the organization’s spokesperson, said in an email.

Pouw said the protesters have called in bomb and fire threats, “costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money, denying important public services for real needs in our community, disturbing the peace and disturbing places of worship.


“Why is anti-religious discrimination and hate with the stated goal of closing churches and causing harm to parishioners new and old alike tolerable? Not even the Los Angeles Times would consider these actions acceptable if aimed at a synagogue or a mosque,” she said.

The battle culminated in the arrest Feb. 16 of three protesters outside La Poubelle, a cafe and bar on Franklin Avenue, across from the Scientology Celebrity Centre, after they clashed with people who were not even affiliated with the religion.

Protesters had targeted La Poubelle because its owner, Francoise Koster, wrote a letter to a judge in support of Scientologist Danny Masterson after his conviction on multiple counts of rape.

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The letter was galling to activists because one of Masterson’s victims alleged that she lost consciousness after the actor gave her a drink at La Poubelle. She regained consciousness the next morning, in pain, and Masterson told her they had had sex, according to her testimony at trial.

Koster did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Protesters gathered outside La Poubelle, telling patrons not to go into the bar and suggesting that drinks might be spiked with drugs.

Details from the Los Angeles Police Department about the three Feb. 16 arrests are scarce and shrouded in bureaucratic language.


Police said two people came to the Hollywood station around 10:30 p.m. and reported a battery. Officers followed up on the report to the 5900 block of Franklin Avenue, where La Poubelle is located.

There, officers arrested two suspects, a police news release said. While making those arrests, officers were alerted to “a second physical altercation at the location” and arrested a third battery suspect.

The three arrested — Daniel Villeda Gonzalez, Kamrin Ivone and Scott Hochstetter — were booked on suspicion of conspiracy and suspicion of unlawfully using tear gas.

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For the record:

12:10 p.m. Feb. 21, 2024An earlier version of this article said that, according to other protesters, Daniel Villeda Gonzalez used tear gas. The protesters said he used pepper spray, not tear gas.

But other protesters said that only one of the three, Gonzalez, used a spray, and it was pepper spray, not tear gas. Gonzalez could not immediately be reached for comment. It was not clear whether he remained in police custody as of Tuesday.
vone said he was shoved by a man outside the restaurant and has no idea why he was arrested.

“I don’t raise my voice at anybody. I’m the most peaceful protester. I don’t assault anybody,” Ivone said in an interview with The Times. “I honestly don’t know why I was arrested. My head was spinning. Why am I being arrested when I didn’t put my hands on anybody?”

Video recorded at the scene shows Ivone referring to a La Poubelle patron as “Motley Crue”; the patron then slaps Ivone’s phone out of his hand. Ivone said the man then pushed his chest and pinned him against a car before security guards separated the two.


Video later shows protesters yelling at police, referring to them as “dirty” and using profanity.

Ivone says he did not assault anybody and did not have tear gas. All police found in his pockets was lip balm, a vape pen and AirPods, he said.

Hochstetter could not immediately be reached for comment. Public records show he is in LAPD custody.

The LAPD did not respond to a request for additional information on the three arrests.

La Poubelle was the latest flashpoint in the simmering feud. Gude alleges that protesters have been attacked since they started showing up at Scientology’s Hollywood information center in September.

Chris Nava said he was assaulted Feb. 4 after protesting outside Scientology’s blue building on Fountain Avenue in Hollywood. A man followed him to his car and beat him up, leaving him hospitalized. He required stitches to the back of the head and lost a tooth. The man took his phone, Nava said. He reported the incident to police, but no arrests have been made.

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Protesters said they have had tires slashed; some allege they have been attacked by a man with a dog, and others say they were spat on or had knives pulled on them. None of the attacks have been directly tied to the church, though protesters hold it responsible.


“Scientology has been sending people out to physically intimidate the protesters,” said Aaron Smith-Levin, a Florida-based former Scientologist who has attended some of the recent protests in Los Angeles.

Smith-Levin said he and Patrick Perry, 52, were detained by police Jan. 19. Smith-Levin alleges Perry attacked him. Arrest records show that Perry was booked on suspicion of battery, but the department did not provide further details. Smith-Levin was not arrested.

“After much consideration, only one individual was arrested for battery,” the LAPD said in a statement at the time. “The individual arrested has no known association with the Church of Scientology.”

Perry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Pouw, the Scientology spokesperson, did not respond to a question about claims of retaliation against protesters.

“It’s a constant thing,” said Gude, who instructs fellow protesters to turn the other cheek. “We’ve preached, ‘Guys, you just have to take it.’ This is not about me. It’s about us, the movement.”