There is more than salt in the air of the resort city of the Gulf of Mexico.
There's concern about the Church of Scientology, which has chosen Clearwater as a "world retreat center."
The Los Angeles-based church now owns seven buildings -- including the landmark Fort Harrison Hotel -- in Downtown. The buildings were purchased for $8 million, and represent about 10 percent of the downtown taxable propert. The church has been in Clearwater since 1975, when 600 members moved there.
Defying a court order, the church has refused to pay taxes on the buildings, irritating city fathers. But what has aroused the citizenry recently is a disclose that the Scientologists had plotted to "take control" of Clearwater. d
The bizarre scheme was revealed in documents seized during a 1978 FBI raid on the church's Los Angeles headquaters. A federal judge in Washington recently ordered the document unsealed.
The records were seized from church offices as part of an investigation that resulted in the conviction of nine church members for conspiring to steal government documents, infiltrate federal agencies, wiretap meetings and commit other illegal acts.
One of the Scientologist documents released counseled church members to "proff up ourselves against any potential threat by taking control of key points in the Clearwater area." A church investigation was to be conducted so "we can distinguish our friends from our enemies and handle as needed."
Other documents outlined elaborate schemes to discredit enemies, including a former mayor of Clearwater and the executive editor to the Clearwater Sun. Revealed were plans to plant agents in the offices of the Sun, the telephone company, the Clearwater Police Department and a communications center.
The revelations have had a devastating impact here.
Residents have been buying guns in greater numbers and church members have received death threats. Some residents go out of their way to avoid Fort Harrison Avenue, where the church properties are.
An estimated 2,000 Scientologists are in the city on any given week, many of them staying in the now private 275-room Fort Harrison Hotel. Students of Scientology converge on the hotel for classes, staying from one week to six months.
The Scientologists are pursuing training in what church founder L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer, outlined in his 1975 book, "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health."
Scientologist Nancy Reitze, who has been in the church 10 years, blames the conflict in Clearwater on "a few loud individuals who are trying to bring a fascist state in Clearwater." The rest of the people, she claims, "are victims of prapaganda; they've been incited and basically brainwashed."
She is sure the furror over the documents will blow over. But even if it doesn't, she says, the church is in Clearwater to stay.
"We are not going to lose," Reitze said. "The church is going to emerge victorious in this. This city of Clearwater is the loser in this thing. The town has been made a war zone, the city's been made into a center of conflict."
She points out that church members funnel more than $100,000 into the city's ecomomy every week, which she said is much more than the city wants to collect in back taxes.
The campaign against the church has been led by Gabriel Cazares, a former mayor of Clearwater. He was the subject of a plot of undermine his congressional campaign through false stories that he had been involved in a hit-and-run accident in Washington.
Cazares says he won't rest until the chruch has left the city. He calls the four years the church has been in Clearwater a "reign of terror," and complains about "mental aberration on a mass basis."
"I don't see any way they're going to run me off," Cazares said. 'I'll fight them till I don't have a living breath."