Scientology’s Holy War

The first time I met Gerry Armstrong, I thought he was paranoid. I’d driven down from Vancouver, summer 2007, into the verdant Fraser Valley to Chilliwack, BC, a somnolent, wind-blown town surrounded by jagged mountain ranges. A place as far removed from Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Scientology’s loopiness as one can possibly get. Armstrong and his third wife Caroline live in a walk-up, one-bedroom apartment above a tiny strip mall that’s seen better days.

When I arrived, Armstrong suggested we drive to a nearby park, rather than talk in their apartment. It was a beautiful July day and, except for a couple of stoners milling about out of earshot, the three of us were alone on the manicured grass beside a pond. Now sixty-one, Armstrong is an alarmingly small man, with elfin features, a beaky nose, sallow skin and large limpid blue eyes. The baseball cap he wore to ward off the hot sun made him look even more vulnerable. Amiable, soft-spoken with no trace of aggression, he chose his words with deliberation. Caroline seemed protective of him.

Armstrong’s wariness toward me stemmed from his concern that I might very well be a Scientologist on a spying expedition. This has happened before. Four years ago, a middle-aged man showed up in Chilliwack, rented a storefront across the street from their apartment and tried to ingratiate himself into their lives. He was there for a year and a half before Armstrong and his wife finally figured out that he’d been sent by the Church of Scientology to keep an eye on them. When they confronted him, he said “You turned the tables on me,” and bolted. “And in the middle of the night he disappeared from the office space,” Armstrong told me.