On a cool, clear evening in mid-September, the Church of Scientology held a grand opening for its new national affairs office in Washington, D.C. Located in a handsome, 122-year-old mansion in Dupont Circle—a genteel neighborhood populated with embassies and well-appointed homes—the office had been established to lobby on various Scientology pet causes, such as religious freedom, prisoner rehabilitation, and the evils of psychiatric drugs. Three members of Congress showed up to deliver words of welcome, as did a FEMA official, who praised the Church’s volunteer efforts after national disasters like September 11. Finally, Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige, addressed the several hundred people in the crowd. Miscavige is 52 but looks at least a decade younger. Dressed in an expertly tailored suit, his slicked hair parted to one side, he spoke excitedly of Scientology’s goal to have a presence in every city in America.

The message of the event couldn’t have been clearer: The Church of Scientology was directing the full force of its persuasive powers at the Washington establishment. But who the Church courts and who the Church converts is a very different matter. And when Mike Rinder, Scientology’s former chief spokesman, visited the Washington church last year, he noticed something strange. “Half the damn people there were Nation of Islam,” he told me. “[It’s] the weirdest, weirdest thing.”

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