As FEMA struggles to rebound from its botched response to Katrina, another deep-pocketed, better-organized group has eagerly immersed itself in Louisiana’s fetid waters.
According to a press release from The Church of Scientology, the religion’s second-favorite celebrity couple, John Travolta and Kelly Preston, swooped in to Baton Rouge and New Orleans on Travolta’s jet Monday to join the approximately 400-member Scientology Disaster Response Team already in place.
The couple visited shelters and doled out 1,200 tetanus shots to relief workers while Travolta “showed a demonstration of the ‘assists’ that the Volunteer Ministers are giving and which are helping individuals overcome the trauma of loss of homes and loved ones,” the release said.
For those unfamiliar with the group’s recruiting methods, an “assist” is a type of massage that Scientology’s Volunteer Ministers use to lure people into learning about the religion, which, in case you’ve been living in a media blackout, preaches that an intergalactic warlord named Xenu came to Earth 75 million years ago and implanted a race of evil ghosts from which only Scientology can protect us. Church members similarly used assists during their relief work in Southeast Asia following the tsunami, drawing intense criticism from the largely Buddhist population.
A spokeswoman for New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said she was unaware of Travolta, Preston or the Disaster Team’s presence, and a rep for Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco did not return calls for comment by press time. Beth Akiyama, a spokeswoman for Scientology’s Louisiana operation, declined to comment, saying only, “we’re working here—we’re working to help people.”