Dangerous criminal safely behind bars at last

Man, this Keith Henson character is a fearsome dude. He was convicted of a crime, fled the state, has been on the lam for 6 years, and was finally caught and thrown in jail, with bail initially set at half a million dollars. What heinous act won him such a nefarious reputation?

He posted a joke on usenet. A joke that made fun of a religion.

Henson was convicted in 2001 under a California law (Sec. 422.6) that criminalizes any threat to interfere with someone else’s “free exercise” of religion. One Usenet post that was introduced at his trial included jokes about sending a “Tom Cruise” missile against a Scientology compound (the actor is a prominent Scientologist). Picketing Scientology buildings and other “odd behavior” were also part of the charges, Deputy District Attorney Robert Schwarz said at the time.

We’re in a sad state when making a joke about a religion is regarded as interference with free exercise of that religion. Especially when the religion itself is a colossal joke.

Although one could also argue that it is no joke that Scientology is populated with such scumbag losers, and has successfully convinced the apparatus of the state to do their dirty work for them.


  1. says

    Congratulations, PZ. By making snide comments about Scientology, you’ve probably violated the same laws as did Mr. Henson. I think you’re now wanted in two states.

    Try Idaho next. I’m sure it can’t be that hard.

  2. llewelly says

    By far the most serious defamation of Scientology has been the actions of its leaders.

  3. says

    Any specific Idaho statutes you can mention that I’m breaking? I’d like to go for “wanted criminal in all 50 states!” status.

  4. Baratos says

    This reminds me, a few weeks ago on YTMND a new site popped up detailing all the bad things scientology has done. It quickly became the most viewed and top rated site, and I believe it got into the Hall of Fame. The Church of Scientology pressed charges, but like every other group that sued YTMND, I am pretty sure they lost.

    Also, what about the people in the episode of South Park that made fun of Scientology? Are they criminals too?

  5. says

    California has a law against ‘any threat to interfere with someone else’s “free exercise” of religion’? Such as, by saying it’s all nonsense for instance? Godalmighty. (Come and get me – you’ll never take me alive.)

  6. says

    This guy wanted to strap Tom Cruise to a cruise missile?
    If he wanted to strap John Travolta to a cruise missile, this guy should get a parade.

  7. Hank Fox says

    Scientology is the ultimate parasite on our peculiar conviction that religious organizations should be immune to taxes, scrutiny, and the consequences of actions that would be illegal if any of the rest of us tried them.

    It’s also a proof that some wealthy few of us — religions and corporations, for instance — generally have MORE freedom of speech than the rest.

    I’ve been reading for years that the church aggressively goes after anyone attempting to say or do anything that would give them bad publicity. Interestingly, I was reading a blog by a major SF author just a few days ago, and he posted links to a controversy regarding Scientology, but he posted them in a lightly coded way that would be missed by a search engine.

    He was obviously afraid of them.

    There’s something more than a little scary in both of these incidents.

  8. says

    To be fair, PZ, if you actually read into everything he was accused of, he wasn’t given the sentence for the joke (which the judge dismissed as an unrealistic threat, because really, where is a private citizen going to get cruise missiles), but rather, the real-world stalking of various Scientologists. Just because someone is anti-Scientologist doesn’t mean they’re perfect. I’m not saying he deserves the six months either, but he was being a bit more obnoxious than merely making online jokes.

  9. Paul says

    The one useful thing that Scientology does prove is that even in a literate culture with multiple recording media, one messianic kook can set up a religion from scratch and have a network of rabidly fanatical followers within a human life time, despite there being absolutely no evidence to back up the various absurd claims of said religion.

    It’s a nice case study to compare with Christianity and Islam.

    There – three religions dissed with one comment. Woot! :-)

  10. Steve LaBonne says

    Paul- that’s why I’ve always found the infamous Lewis “lunatic, liar or Lord” “argument” so funny. I mean, it’s perfectly obvious that any founder of a religion has to be a lunatic, a liar, or most commonly both. (As well as having no sense of humor, of course.)

  11. Shiftlessbum says

    It doesn’t look like the denizens of Pharyngula have plugged in their bullshit detectors yet.

    As much as I understand that there are a lot of bad, stupid laws out there, the reportage on this story is deeply suspect. Follow the link that PZ put in to find the actual statute. Now consider, does anyone really think a CA DA really would press charges based on a usenet joke? Don’t you think there might exist more substantial threats that Hansen allegedly made which may have prompted the criminal charges? Don’t you think it possible that for (dramatic?) effect the reporter cited only the usenet joke among other evidence the prosecutors may have?

  12. Rey Fox says

    “Any specific Idaho statutes you can mention that I’m breaking?”

    Just come here to Boise and bare a nipple.

    This sounds an awful lot like those proposed laws against criticism of religions or something in England, did those ever go through?

  13. Steve LaBonne says

    Shiftelessbum- if you know more, post your information instead of being cute. If you don’t know more you’re just wasting electrons.

    And I don’t find it the last bit implausible that a California (or anywhere else) DA would press charges based on a USenet joke. Among the many good prosecutors, there are a few seriously bad apples out there. Just ask Julie Amero.

  14. Steve_C says

    Scientology is a pyramid scheme and a cult.

    I would love to have them in court and watch them try to explain what their belief system is… is it a religion just because they claim it is?

    What’s the bridge? Who is Xenu? Thetans?

    As highly public of a trial as possible please.

    The Church of Scientology is known to have a ruthless cadre of lawyers… many people who combat the cult, usually former members, find themselves attacked in the courts.

    I wouldn’t be surpised if they had people spying on him and catologing his protests and writing in an effort to show the police he was a stalker or a threat… when all he was trying to do is expose them for what they are.

  15. Shiftlessbum says


    Good grief.

    A different reporter cited slighty different exigent circumstances; http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,43420,00.html

    “It was not just the postings themselves,” said Deputy District Attorney Robert Schwarz. “He had been engaged in other odd behavior — chasing down buses, taking down license plate numbers.”

    Schwarz, who prosecuted the case, said that Henson also followed people he knew to be Scientologists from their homes to Golden Era Studios: “He would hang over the fence and yell at them and do other weird behavior.”

    He followed people. To their homes. At the very least the guy is a creep. A jury felt his actions were threatening (a misdemeanor) but aquitted him on two other more serious charges relating to terrorism.

    I do agree with Hansen’s attorney, though who thought the case was stupid; “A dodgy District Attorney, with cult lawyers sitting at the prosecutor’s table, set him up for absurd charges of threatening the cult with cruise missiles,” says Dave Bird, another Scientology critic. “Virtually all the defense evidence was excluded…. Even when Henson quoted L. Ron Hubbard’s violent words, it was presented as his own speech without quotation marks.”

  16. Steve LaBonne says

    Thank you. Was that so hard? Why didn’t you just post that information in the first place?

  17. Shiftlessbum says

    Thank you. Was that so hard? Why didn’t you just post that information in the first place?

    a couple of comments. First, original post was pointing out that Pharyngula masses were basing their opinions of what happened on reportage of a CNET reporter. Not the best source. Second, it appeared that Pharyngula denizens had disengaged their brains, probably because the reporting fit some kind of weird expectations y’all have vis accomodating religious nuts. Third, what your fingers busted? You can’t do a quick google to check to see if there might have been something fishy with the CNET reporter’s piece?

    It’s fun to dog-pile the religious, their enablers, and the screwy stories that come out of that interaction but we run the risk of looking foolish when we do it without adequate prior skepticism.

  18. Patrick says

    Either way, putting the guy in jail for ‘interferring with religion’ is pretty drastic. Scientologists have been known to follow their detractors to their homes, picket their homes, distribute negative fliers about their critics, etc. (http://xenu.net/). They can do that but it’s not ok for someone else to return the favor? They already bankrupted the guy, why the need to put him in jail to? They aim to completely destory their detractors, plain and simple. Also, he was barely acquitted on the terrorist charges (10-2, 9-3). It wasn’t that much of a joke. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Henson#Henson_versus_Scientology

  19. says

    I completely can see a DA putting in a charge on a usenet posting for the scientologists. Never has there been a more litigious cult. And if the DA is connected to the cult, or has a supporter from the cult, or even has plans of running for a higher office in an area where the cult is strong, the DA will do the bidding of the cult. They shut down criticism by the courts. If he has been a past annoyance to the cult, then they would jump at the opportunity to impugn his character or financially stop his activities. Check out operation clambake for the history of this kind of activity.

  20. stogoe says

    Heck, even South Park was smart enough to obscure their production staff’s names on the Scientology episode. Matt and Trey can’t easily be disappeared, but I bet Bob Jones, Trey’s Coffee Getter Guy wouldn’t be as quickly missed.

    Scientology needs to be dismantled. It’s up there in harm-to-society-level with the Mooneys (not the Mooninites, though).

  21. Kilia says

    Something you left out. Keith was actively protesting to expose a young woman’s electrocution. DUH!

  22. says

    Amazing, a man pickets a place where a young lady dies under extremely suspicious cirumstances, is targeted by a cult for letting it be known about the poor victim, and ends up railroaded on a misdermeanor charge perpetrated by a corrupt DA’s office in Riverside County? THEN, he is hounded about a usenet posting he repeated about Tom Cruise and is called a terrorist? Then his financial ruin is set about by the litigious cult of scientology?

    THEN, he flees for his life because the cult of scientology have a long and illustrious history involving suspected murder, extortion, intimidation and conspiricies against the Government, only to be covertly followed by the cult of scientology after 6 years of him being in hiding for fear of his life and is miraculously arrested out of the blue, then is sent to jail, and is then subjected to more corrupt practice by the Riverside County’s DA Office by trying subvert the presiding Hearing Judge into setting Hensons bail high based on a felony that is actually a misdermeanor?

    Hang your heads in shame America! Youve let this filthy disgusting CULT of scientology run its Mafioso styled Organisation for far to long. People have been killed at the hands of scientology and have taken their own lives at the hands of scientology. The time has come for you to dismantle this organisation that is as far from a religion as possible.

  23. says

    1. Deputy District Attorney Robert Schwarz is a scientologist himself, and that explains a lot.
    2. It was not for a crime Henderson was convicted but a misdemeanor.
    3. He fled because scientologist promised he would get killed in jail.
    4. Bail was set on 5000 dollars, not half a million.
    5. He was picketing because of the eloctrocution of a woman and scientologiy wanted it to keep a secret.
    5. The judge at his trial was retired, but only for this case wheeled in, in his wheelchair, and never was judge in a courtcase ever again.
    The whole thing looks as another setup by the most dangerous cult on this planet. Remember Paulette Cooper, who experienced the same, only worse!

  24. BJN says

    Scientology is a cult and a scam. It is, however, built of the exactly the same stuff as any other religion.

  25. says

    Shiftlessbum wrote:

    He followed people. To their homes.

    They were picketing _his_ home, why the hell shouldn’t he picket theirs in return? I realize “they started it!” isn’t a valid legal defense, but if he’s a criminal, then so are they.

  26. JohnnieCanuck says

    Somewhere on the web, recently, I can’t remember right now; IRS documents were posted that were the results of findings against the cult.

    They showed that the cult was repeatedly found not to be a religion and that their income was taxable because they didn’t qualify for the religious tax exemption. If someone doesn’t beat me to it, I’ll try to find the link when I get back, later.

    The court accepted their bluff that they are a religion, but not the IRS. Fishy. Elsewhere on the web an opponent acknowledges that they are a tax exempt religion.

    Can someone clarify?

    It is often alleged ;-( that Scientologists maintain a list of ‘enemies’ that they have declared ‘fair game’. This allows/requires cult members to harass and attack the enemy without regard to the law.

  27. Kseniya says

    Sсіеntоlоgу suсks ← search-engine proof!

    I was pursued by a Scіentоlоgіst. All he wanted (ostensibly, anyway) was for me to keep coming. I can’t honstly call it stalking, but lines were crossed. Based on this experience alone, my distrust of the organization is deep.

    Obviously, far worse stories that have escaped containment. This church cult is a playpen for the rich and powerful, and a dangerous pit for the rest of us.

  28. David Harmon says

    Scientology has a long history of heavy-handed tactics, but as usual, sunlight is the best disinfectant. As far as targeting a USENET post, remember that they broke the original anonymizer, anon.penet.fi in Finland, over a guy who used it to reveal their “sacred texts” — all that stuff with the aliens and suchlike.

  29. Sean says

    If the Idaho religion police haven’t nailed me for the past fifteen years of mass media agitation, then I am pretty sure PZ is safe. Unless he ups his game into physical defacement of another’s property, words are pretty safe under existing Idaho statutes.

    By and large, our conservatives seem to value the old school libertarian style conservatism over this new fangled fundie conservatism. By and large. Yes, there are exceptions.

    In any case, this state is not nearly as bad as its reputation.

  30. Steve_C says


    I saw Dianetics/Stress Test tables in the Union Square subway station saturday.
    I thought about taking a test just to mess with them and try to sway the tester my way.
    I thought about making up a story of being haunted in nightmares my something called Xenu.

    The story of Xenu is covered in OT III, part of Scientology’s secret “Advanced Technology” doctrines taught only to advanced members. It is described in more detail in the accompanying confidential “Assists” lecture of 3 October 1968 and is dramatized in Revolt in the Stars (an unpublished screenplay written by L Ron Hubbard during the late 1970s). Direct quotations in this section are from these sources. (See also Scientology beliefs and practices)

    Seventy-five million years ago, Xenu was the ruler of a Galactic Confederacy which consisted of 26 stars and 76 planets including Earth, which was then known as Teegeeack. The planets were overpopulated, each having on average 178 billion people. The Galactic Confederacy’s civilization was comparable to our own, with people “walking around in clothes which looked very remarkably like the clothes they wear this very minute” and using cars, trains and boats looking exactly the same as those “circa 1950, 1960” on Earth.

    Xenu was about to be deposed from power, so he devised a plot to eliminate the excess population from his dominions. With the assistance of “renegades”, he defeated the populace and the “Loyal Officers”, a force for good that was opposed to Xenu. Then, with the assistance of psychiatrists, he summoned billions of people to paralyze them with injections of alcohol and glycol, under the pretense that they were being called for “income tax inspections”. The kidnapped populace was loaded into space planes for transport to the site of extermination, the planet of Teegeeack (Earth). The space planes were exact copies of Douglas DC-8s, “except the DC-8 had fans, propellers on it and the space plane didn’t.” DC-8s have jet engines, not propellers, although Hubbard may have meant the turbine fans.

  31. PMembrane says

    As far as targeting a USENET post, remember that they broke the original anonymizer, anon.penet.fi in Finland, over a guy who used it to reveal their “sacred texts” — all that stuff with the aliens and suchlike.

    Oft repeated, but false–that had nothing to do with Xenu and pals. The raid on penet.fi was in response to the premature leak of a church press release by an anonymous Scientology insider posting as “-AB-“, the timing of which implicated the church in a botched frame-up attempt against a critic’s ISP.

    The event stirred up considerable outrage at the time, as the authorities far seemed more concerned by this “security breach” than with the churches de facto admission that it was somehow connected to the frame-up.

    Google ‘klemesrud penet raid’ for details.

  32. Kilia says

    Professor Myers, I respectfully ask that you stick to biology, as it’s obvious you know absolutely nothing about the Church of Scientology.

  33. stogoe says

    Kilia is a Scientologist, and she’s gonna SUE YER ASS! She’s gonna SUE YOU IN ENGLAND!

  34. Steve_C says

    Pssst, Kilia. Xenu. ZEEEEE NUUUUUU.

    They’re going to start picketing your house PZ. Or sue Seed. Or something.

    IS the bridge anything like the Cany Mountain?

    Shhhhuuunnn the non believer.

  35. Mothra says

    Scientology is easily defeated- everyone, on every blog, on every website simply post the obvious: Scientology is a cult, based upon a bet made in a bar by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950’s that he could create a ‘religion.’ How deep are their pockets, not nearly deep enough!

  36. says

    Yeah, I have a bug up my ass about these Scienmythologists.
    The law in question says:
    “No person, whether or not acting under color of law, shall by force or threat of force, willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress or threaten any other person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege.”
    As to whether this was in CA or not, I do not know. But it’s a typical example of double-standards.

  37. says

    1. I got to know Keith quite well 20 years ago and he should be remembered as one of the real heroes of high tech, not for this distraction. The list of really interesting stuff he has been involved in before day one is off topic here, but can easily be found by looking.

    2. In even younger days, when we could mostly trust the good intentions of elected governments, Scientology was banned outright in my state (Vic, AU) for what must have been substantive reasons. The undoing of that ban was early in the wave of over zealous political correctness.

  38. says

    stogoe, I am NOT a sceino. I’m almost sure Professor Myers would not have published this if he knew the TRUE harms on the CoS.
    Learn more by clicking on my name below.

  39. JohnnieCanuck says

    Well, after minimal research over at wikipedia, I see that the cult lost their 501(c)(3) status in 1967 and regained it in 1993. Since this is the same status granted to organisations like the Red Cross and American Atheists, it isn’t exactly what the cult alleges; official recognition that they are a religion.

    Given that they aren’t a religion, the charges don’t apply.

    Keith Henson is just one more victim in a long chain of victims. The phrase ‘stop at nothing’ could have been invented solely to describe this cadre of brainwashing criminals.

  40. Graculus says

    Professor Myers, I respectfully ask that you stick to biology, as it’s obvious you know absolutely nothing about the Church of Scientology.

    Where, in “(Scientology) is a collosal joke” did PZ err?

  41. says

    Scientology is easily defeated- everyone, on every blog, on every website simply post the obvious: Scientology is a cult, based upon a bet made in a bar by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950’s that he could create a ‘religion.’
    Hear, hear!
    I’ve blasted them more than once, & I link to xenu.net.
    Screw PC. Let’s ring some bells.

  42. jiggavegas says

    I live wayyyy too close to a major Scientology center for comfort. They’re completely creepy, friends.

    All religions have ulterior motives when it comes to the collection plate, but the Scientologists are a rare breed. How anyone can trust a “religion” that claims to have all the answers to salvation (or whatever), and yet won’t tell you what they are without cash up front, is beyond me. That’s a strain of gullible that’s particularly hard to kill.

  43. Kseniya says

    Whatever Kilia may be about, supporting Scientology doesn’t seem to be it. Her post links to a pro-Keith page that has links to various defense fund sites and so forth…

  44. B. Wood says

    The sad thing is that Hubburd wasn’t even that good a sci-fi writer. Give me Assamov, Clarke, or Sturgon anyday.

  45. Tom Buckner says

    I have been aware of Henson for some time, as an occasional poster on a Singularity mailing list along with him. In Sept. 2004 I E-mailed a Canadian member of Parliament pleading that he be allowed to stay there unmolested. I imagine said official deleted my E-mail after about three seconds.

  46. Weevil says

    I asked a few questions on the old alt.religion.scientology newsgroup, back in my 20s, when the Co$ was implicated in forging a deletion of the newsgroup itself, spamming the newsgroup, etc.

    One of the admitted Scientologists on the newsgroup pretty much proved by his own responses -everything- that his detractors accused him and his ‘church’ of.

    Anyway, I guess I asked a few too many uncomfortable questions. When the Co$ sent all its members a ‘free website!’ offer CD, they also included a hidden bit of software that censored pages and names they didn’t want their members seeing.

    Lo and behold, when the encrypted list of banned sites, phrases, and names was cracked, MY name was on the list!

    That’s right – they sent all their members a CD that loaded a hidden nanny program to stop them from seeing content the church didn’t want them to see!

    They’re a scary bunch, and the more you learn about them, the scarier they get. I think a lot of people think ‘they can’t really be THAT bad!’, and so the Co$ lives on, given a pass by the tolerant. Whenever anyone actually starts to look into their history, follow the course of their actions and litigations – Yow!


  47. Mirele says

    I picketed $cientology with Keith Henson on a couple of occasions in Riverside County back around the turn of the century. To this day, I’m still not sure how I managed to not get arrested along with him. But I am convinced that Keith managed to raise the ire of the leaders of $cientology so much that they were determined to destroy him, and so they’ve used every legal trick in the book. They dragged him and his wife Arel through a patently insane bankruptcy proceeding…for what? Money? Hell no, $cientology uses the legal process to harass (as per L. Ron Hubbard). And these misdemeanors? Keith wasn’t allowed to put on a case, but (and Keith, if you’re reading this, it’s not a slam, I know you were in a difficult position) Keith’s counsel was basically incompetent. But that’s what happens when $cientology enters the picture. Since $cientology practices scorched earth legal tactics, competent legal counsel becomes very scarce in a big hurry.

    Actually, I do know why $cientology hasn’t bothered me over the past several years; I moved to a different state, and at the request of my elderly parents who live in the same town, basically ratcheted down my anti-$cn activity to next to nothing.

    But Keith Henson they want to destroy. Still. Because he made fun of them, more than anything else, and had a good laugh while doing it. The deadly serious people of $cientology can’t tolerate that at all. You joke about them, they’ll go after you. At least that was the case before Tom Cruise, Oprah, couch jumping, Katie Holmes, Suri Cruise and that thing they called a “wedding” over in Italy. Everyone’s laughing at $cientology now. Hopefully Keith will have the last laugh.

  48. Clayton says


    However, no person shall be convicted of violating
    subdivision (a) based upon speech alone, except upon a showing that
    the speech itself threatened violence against a specific person or
    group of persons and that the defendant had the apparent ability to
    carry out the threat.

    So I guess it was apparent that not only did he have a “Tom Cruise missle” but the ability to fire the “Tom Cruise missle”. How can someone have an “apparent ability” to
    carry out a threat with an imaginary weapon. It’s like my threatening you with hell or saying that I’m going to place a hex on you.

  49. Stogoe says

    Clayton, no it’s not. A Tom Cruise Missile is patently absurd. Hell and hexes are really really really truly real I swear omigod swearing really really real. At least that’s what Christians think.

  50. says

    Regarding Keith Henson’s ability to build a simple guided missile: With his background in explosives and engineering, it wouldn’t surprise me if he could pull off something like that. Technology hobbyists in the U.S. can do some pretty impressive tricks.

    I don’t claim that Henson would have tried to bomb the Scientology compound given his technical knowledge; I just think that from the Scientologists’ perspective, it sounded like a plausible threat to try to stick on Henson when they set out to dicredit and silence him.

  51. Steve_C says

    Yes… because a missile is the same thing as a “Tom Cruise Missile”.

    That’s just stupid.

    Everything is a threat to Scientology because it’s a cult based on bullshit.

  52. B. Wood says

    I still have trouble with a “religion” that has all it’s material copyrighted. Just think what’d be like if the bible, koran or buddist sutra’s were all copyrighted. Whole lotta libraries, motels and crazy guys on streets would be in big trouble.

  53. Lewis Padgett says

    What does Sсіеntоlogу have in common with ID? They both know the truth, but won’t show it to you.

  54. says

    I have trouble believing that it is a religion that
    1. has hate sites on people,
    2. picket critics,
    3. put their own in concentrationcamps or on slave labour,
    4. force women to get an abortion,
    5. forbid marriage,
    6. has a leader who, during the New Years Eve event, shows the picture of a handgrenade, followed by the picture of an explosion and ends with a picture of the word OBLITERATION, refering to psychatrists et al,
    7. abuses the judicial system to harras, not to win.
    That is not a religion, that is a cult. And this cult is of a very dangerous kind.