"What we're doing here, really, it's all about Do It Yourself... yeah, we provide the framework- a framework that's scientifically proven to be effective- but you're the one who has to put in the time. I think that's why the Bushwick creative community has been so drawn to us. It's totally DIY!" said Cody Sims, director of the new branch of The Church of Scientology in Brooklyn. Sims chuckles and hands me a refill of cold brew iced coffee, served in a mason jar with a pinch of sea salt (to bring out the flavor, Sims claims).
Scientology has had a few locations in Manhattan for years, but this is their first outpost in the outer boroughs, and also their first time marketing directly to counter-culture millenials. The Church has been steeped in controversy for decades and generally maligned by the New York cultural elite, but looking at the hip young faces milling around the headquarters you'd think a contemporary art opening was about to break out.
Sims and I are standing in a large room with well-worn wooden floors and big metal doors. The building was used for manufacturing at some point, but certainly several tenants ago, as it now feels more meditative than industrial. It's a beautiful space, but an earthy departure from the slick surfaces The Church is known for. Except for a small sign on the wall, laser-cut out of galvanized steel, there's no visible reference to Scientology anywhere.
“I guess this building was some kind of multi-use artist's space, yoga studio and music venue until a few months ago? I'm not sure why they had to close it down, but the building is just tremendous!” Sims said, looking up at a skylight with a few small panes of indigo colored glass. I nod recognition, having attended several music shows at the location in years past, most recently a confrontational noise performance by a DJ named Skuzz HD. "I had never heard of the place myself, but we felt it was a perfect fit for us, to replace one departed local institution with a new one." says Sims.
We finish our coffee and Cody leads me down a hallway to another, even larger room, with dozens of people sitting in pairs at reclaimed wooden tables. Between each grouping sits a small tablet computer with a bright red case. I don't recognize the brand, but I assume it's the newest generation of Scientology's signature E-Meter device. It's an eclectic mix of people, with more than a few visible tattoos on both ends of the conversation.
"There was a huge spike in enrollment after that HBO documentary came out. It's funny, interviewers kept asking us 'is this movie the end of Scientology?' or 'how will the church recover from this?', I just laughed and said, as long as there is negative thinking and suppressive people in our society, we'll be here. I don't see that changing any time soon. But really, New Yorkers have some of the best bullshit detectors in the world. Bushwick especially is known for artists and creatives... people trained to think critically. They saw right through that hack filmmaker's attempt to slander us, and took away from it a desire to learn more about Scientology, to learn our techniques to make their lives better. Ironically, that trash has been one of our best recruitment tools in years!" Sims says, gesturing to the crowded room of people.
On my way out I chat with a young woman packing up her purse, multi-colored dreadlocks falling down to the small of her back. She introduces herself as Feather Diamond, and I ask how she got involved with the Church. "I downloaded this meditation app, and got kind of obsessed with it, that lead me to Transcendental Meditation, which totally changed my life... but it wasn't enough. Scientology took all my interest in Spirituality and self-help and introspection and just took it to the next level. Plus, it's got aliens... and aliens are really cool. " ♦