An Illinois man has been arrested and charged on suspicion of threatening to assassinate the leader of the Church of Scientology, David Miscavige, and others affiliated with the church, according to court papers filed in Los Angeles.
Andre Barkanov is accused of making several phone calls to the Church of Scientology’s main telephone line and vowing to kill Miscavige, the church’s upper echelon and “every single” member of the church, according to an affidavit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The alleged threats were first made July 21 in five phone calls ranging in duration from a few minutes to more than three hours, according to the affidavit filed by investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department.
In one of the calls, according to the affidavit, a warning was offered: “Get out, get out before it is too late.”
Two of the calls were answered by a receptionist who was so “shocked and frightened” that she could not utter a word to the person on the other end of the line, according to the affidavit. Fearing Miscavige’s life was in danger after the first call, she alerted the LAPD.
Church staffers told police that most harassing or threatening calls received by the church feature giggling in the background.
But these calls had a voice that seemed “calm and collected,” with the caller having an atypical sign-off: “Thank you,” according to the affidavit.
Michael Dean, a church community relations staffer who listened to the three-hour-long call, said the tone of the threats was "definite, menacing and hostile,” according to the affidavit.
On the day after the threats were made, a longtime attorney for the church, Kendrick Moxon, and the church’s director of security, Kirsten Pedersen, met with police at the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, according to the affidavit.
Church representatives handed over recordings and transcripts of the phone calls, according to the affidavit.
On July 23, eight more phone calls from the same telephone number were made to the church. In the last call, according to the affidavit, the message was blunt: “Tell [Miscavige] that we have a bullet for his forehead. OK? Thank you.”
Miscavige is the ecclesiastical leader of the Church of Scientology and is chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center, which holds the rights to the Scientology and Dianetics trademarks. Dianetics is the self-help system developed by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard that became the forerunner to what is now a global church with its international headquarters in Riverside County.
Miscavige took over leadership of the church after Hubbard’s death in 1986.
Some of the calls threatening Miscavige came from a blocked number. Others were traced to a Skype account registered to Andre Barkan, an alias of Barkanov, according to the affidavit. Records from his Skype account showed 20 calls were made to the Church of Scientology, according to court papers.
Barkanov was located at an address in Chicago by police there, but he refused to speak to officers, according to the affidavit. Barkanov had been arrested several times by the Chicago Police Department, and he had twice been convicted of impersonating a police officer.
Internet records from the Skype account also led investigators to a woman’s home in Kenosha, Wisc. Her wireless Internet account lacked a password, and her home was next to a bar and other apartments -- areas where someone could have used her account to go online, investigators wrote.
A bartender at that bar recognized Barkanov as “the Russian” who lived next door, and he was tracked down to an apartment. He would later tell police that his business was in Kenosha, about 60 miles from his residence in Chicago, and that he occasionally slept there when he made calls abroad, according to court papers.
Kenosha police arrested him Nov. 10, and after his extradition, he was booked in a Los Angeles jail on Dec. 17, according to police records.
Barkanov was charged with 12 felony counts of making criminal threats and one count of stalking, according to the complaint filed by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
At his arraignment in a downtown courtroom Dec. 18, he pleaded not guilty to all charges.
He’s being held in an L.A. County jail in lieu of $600,000 bail. During court proceedings in Wisconsin, Barkanov was represented by a public defender who did not respond to a request for comment. An L.A.-based attorney could not be reached.
It’s unclear what motivated the alleged threats.
Court papers did not specify what relationship, if any, Barkanov has with the Church of Scientology or Miscavige.
A church spokeswoman said in a written statement late Tuesday that Barkanov had never been a church staff member or parishioner.
“From what we have been told, his actions appear to have been incited by anti-Scientology propaganda,” said Karin Pouw, the spokeswoman.
Parishioners and the church’s leaders do not routinely face threats of violence, Pouw said, adding that the church does not discuss threats made against Miscavige or others.
She also blamed rising levels of “religious hate and bigotry” for driving such violent threats.
“This case involving an apparently unstable man who told police he was incited by anti-religious propaganda shows the dangers of bigotry and hate spread by irresponsible individuals,” Pouw said.
Investigators searched Barkanov’s Wisconsin apartment, specifically seeking news articles, books, magazines or other items “related to the Church of Scientology,” according to court papers.
A police report shows investigators recovered several hard drives, blank 9-millimeter ammunition, and other electronic equipment.
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