Scientologists tried to restrict airspace to thwart Tom Cruise prank

EXCLUSIVE: Leaked documents reveal how Scientology execs tried to RESTRICT airspace after learning of college prankster’s plot to fly airplane banner poking fun at Tom Cruise and the church at Mission: Impossible premiere

  • Stephen ‘Josh’ Schofield was the college student behind a thwarted airplane banner prank to embarrass Tom Cruise at 2006 Mission: Impossible 3 premiere
  • Using $3,300 donated from friends on an online forum, Schofield arranged for two planes to fly banners reading, ‘Hail Xenu’, poking fun at the church 
  • Leaked documents obtained by reveal how top Scientologists went to lengths – even using LAPD contacts – to stop the stunt from happening

Top Scientologists tried to restrict airspace around a Mission: Impossible premiere to stop a college prankster embarrassing Tom Cruise with an airplane banner, leaked documents obtained by reveal. 

The documents, passed on by a former top Scientology executive, show the drastic lengths the ‘religion’ went to in order to stop a prank at the 2006 MI III Los Angeles premiere – including using contacts in the LAPD.

The man behind the prank, Stephen ‘Josh’ Schofield, was a 21-year-old student at the University of Central Florida at the time.

Using around $3,300 donated from friends on an online forum, he arranged for two planes to fly banners over the fan screening of the Paramount movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on May 4, 2006, poking fun at the ‘galactic overlord’ Xenu in Scientology’s mythology.

Leaked documents obtained by reveal a college prankster’s plans to embarrass Tom Cruise and ridicule the Church of Scientology with an airplane banner joke at the 2006 premiere of Mission: Impossible III in Los Angeles

Stephen ‘Josh’ Schofield was the 21-year-old  behind the thwarted airplane banner prank which he concocted after receiving $3,300 donated from friends on an online forum

Like many Hollywood movie premieres, the red carpet event for the hit action movie took place at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard 

‘We got the idea probably after the South Park episode [mocking Scientology] came out, to try to prank Tom Cruise for being a Scientologist,’ Schofield told 

‘One plane was going to carry a banner that said ‘Hail Xenu’. It was right after Cruise had a baby, and the other one said: ‘The baby belongs to Xenu.’ Suri, Cruise’s daughter with Katie Holmes, had been born on April 18, less than three weeks before the premiere.

But weeks before the planned prank, top Scientologists were tipped off to it from someone watching posts on the forum Schofield was a member of,

On April 11, the Church’s ‘Watchdog Committee’ from their ‘Office of Special Affairs’ wrote to their team warning of Schofield’s plan to ‘put up insulting banners’, describing them as ‘both anti-Scientology and anti-Tom Cruise’. The committee had been alerted by the church’s attorney Bert Fields.

The third film in the Mission: Impossible franchise was released in May 2006 

The letter ordered ‘Linda’ and the Church’s ‘Director/Commanding Officer in the Office of Special Affairs, International Division’ to ‘find out everything you can about them and let me know at once’.

It included Schofield’s full name, address, cell number, and email, as well as the name and address of a moderator of

A second document obtained by, dated April 27, 2006, is a report from senior Scientologist Kiersten Caetano laying out their extraordinary efforts to thwart the pranksters and ‘ensure that this flyover is killed’.

Scientology’s chief spokesperson Karin Pouw told she had no knowledge of the incident and could not locate any documents 

First they tracked down the banner company, Star Ads, and pilot Mario Lopez at Torrance Airport, Caetano wrote.

Then head of security for the movie premiere Robert Boyland met with the vice president of Paramount Security Services, former LAPD officer Scott Lachase, and both ‘contacted the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] regarding getting the airspace restricted’, her report said.

The FAA declined to shut down the airspace without a ‘credible threat’, so the Scientologists instead prepared a ‘pack’ of information to try to persuade the FAA that the pranksters were a safety concern and Lopez’s plane should be grounded.

Documents obtained by include a copy of the contract between Schofield and Arnold Aerial Advertising for two planes to fly an aerial banner reading: ‘THE BABY BELONGS TO XENU’ – in reference to Cruise’s newborn daughter at the time – and ‘HAIL XENU’  

A letter dated April 11, 2006 shows the Church’s ‘Watchdog Committee’ wrote a letter to the team saying the church’s lawyer Bert Fields had alerted them to the prank

Intent on blocking the stunt, church executives even tracked down the banner company, Star Ads, and pilot Mario Lopez at Torrance Airport 

‘The FAA terminal and the police will be briefed on the internet postings from the organizers where they are talking about arranging people to be in the fan crowds who will create some kind of scene as to attempt to get Tom Cruise to look up at the banners,’ Caetano wrote. 

‘We have found some of the user IDs on the offtopic message board that have donated funds to the renting of the planes are concerning such as cerealkiller, assassinmonkey, organdonor, bomberboy, billthebutcher, gunsnwankers, divine vengeance and killerrobotjews.

‘There are also photos on this message board e.g. photos of guns, bullets and a photo of a baby holding a gun to its mouth which show that this should be taken seriously.’

There was no evidence that the pranksters planned to physically harm anyone. 

The Church’s security wing even consulted retired FBI agent Scott Nelson to find out what would be required to get a plane grounded.

The report said the Church’s then-chief spokesman, Tommy Davis, was planning to ‘brief’ LAPD officer Ron Sanchez, who was head of the Hollywood Police Activities League and friendly with several high-ranking Scientologists, to ‘determine exactly what the police can do to stop this’. 

‘​​The already skittish owner of Star Ads, Mario Lopez, will be contacted by a Security professional and briefed on the situation and handled to have no part of it,’ Caetano added. 

‘If needed, this will be done on Tuesday so Schofield and Fazle don’t have sufficient time to reorganize.’

Caetano signed off the report the initialism ‘MLV’ meaning ‘much love’, a common salutation for Scientologists.

In the end, the weather stopped the prank. 

Lopez and Schofield told that the flight was canceled due to fog that evening, and the college student was refunded the money.


In a report dated April 27, 2006, senior Scientologist Kiersten Caetano lays out the extraordinary efforts to ‘ensure that this flyover is killed’

An April 19, 2006 contract with Lopez’s affiliate, Arnold Aerial Advertising Inc, shared with by Schofield, says the two planes’ flights were scheduled from 5pm to 8pm.

A weather report for Torrance on May 4, 2006 shows a cloudy day in the mid 60s Fahrenheit, until 5:50pm when conditions improved to ‘fair’ through 6:57pm.

‘Just before sunset the marine layer came in and we weren’t able to fly. It was stopped by low clouds and fog,’ Lopez said.

The pilot, now retired, said that he received an odd number of calls that week from people asking if he was available on May 4 – which he now suspects were Scientology operatives trying to uncover the pranksters’ plans.

‘It was really funny because generally we don’t fly during the week. This happened on a Thursday night. 

‘I kept getting calls asking if I was busy on a Thursday night. I found that odd, like somebody was searching for something,’ he said.

Schofield said he was shocked to discover his name and details were written up in a Scientology report.

‘It’s definitely out there. They really tried to control their people, the religion and the narrative,’ he said.

‘You see people talking about their experiences and it’s always that they ‘escaped’ it. I view it as a cult.’

Schofield added that he was not surprised the organization appeared to have a direct line to the LAPD about the incident.

‘With the amount of money that organization has, they can pay to have whoever they want, whether it’s private investigators or wealthy people with connections that can get them access. It doesn’t really surprise me,’ he said.

The screening event ultimately went down without a hitch thanks to bad weather which prevented the plane from flying

Tom Cruise and then-wife Katie Holmes – who had arrived in Bugatti at the screening

Cruise is Hollywood’s most notable Scientologist, even though the church has been publicly criticized by former members 

Scientology’s links with the LAPD are currently under scrutiny after allegations emerged that its officers leaked confidential information to the Church and were embroiled in a cover up of the disappearance of Scientology leader David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly.

Last year former Scientologist turned critic Leah Remini accused former LAPD officer Cory Palka of leaking information about sexual misconduct accusations against ex-CBS CEO Les Moonves to the network.

Palka even allowed Scientologists to set up an ‘informational kiosk’ with a TV and flyers for the Church at the LAPD Hollywood division for a brief period.

Remini also filed a missing person report for Shelly Miscavige, the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige in 2013, six years after she was last seen.

In June journalist Yashar Ali reported that LAPD closed the Miscavige case after taking fingerprints from a woman claiming to be Shelly at a café on August 8, 2013 – despite the fingerprints being too faint for a positive match, and the surveillance footage from the coffee shop being scrambled.

‘Scientology hires off-duty LAPD cops as security and donates to LAPD charities,’ Remini wrote on Twitter in November. 

‘All while instructing their members never to help any criminal investigations involving Scientologists and making it a high crime within Scientology to report Scientologists to law enforcement.’

Remini accused the detective in charge of the missing person case, Lt. Andre Dawson, of having a ‘cozy relationship with Scientology’, showing a picture of him speaking at the organizations Celebrity Center in Los Angeles on December 10, 2014 for an event about human trafficking.

Scientology spokeswoman Pouw the church has no policy reporting criminal activity to law enforcement. ‘Quite the opposite, church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land,’ she said.

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