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Ted Reinhard of Cult City Tours. Credit: Ted Reinhard

The man behind Cult City Tours, the walking tours around Church of Scientology landmarks in downtown Clearwater, says he's just trying to demystify the church's presence by laughing at it, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Why it matters: Tension has been growing between Cult City's Ted Reinhard and some city leaders and downtown business owners who want to disassociate Clearwater from Scientology.

  • Reinhard left bad online reviews for several businesses that refused to host a reception for a tour led by several popular Scientology defectors.
  • Business owners told the Times that the church had paid them a visit them prior refusing to host the reception.

The backdrop: Reinhard, whose tour uniform pokes fun at Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's exaggerated military record, joins the front lines of a culture war that has been playing out for years in Clearwater.

  • Scientology first came to the city in 1975, but its pace of expansion has accelerated since 2017.
  • The church, its members and companies they control own 185 properties that cover 101 acres in the center of downtown, the Times' Tracy McManus has reported.
  • Non-church-affiliated proprietors downtown have long held the sentiment that Scientology's outsized presence discourages commerce.

The state of play: The idea for Cult City Tours came from a city councilman who suggested Clearwater should look for Scientology tourism opportunities instead of pretending it isn’t there.

  • Reinhard told Axios that the reaction to the Times' story has been mostly positive.
  • "Anything that brings attention to the situation downtown is a good thing and we’ve got a dozen bookings since 9am," he said.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
1 hour ago - Science

China makes history with successful Mars landing

A model of the Tianwen-1 Mars rover is displayed during an exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing. Photo: Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images

A Chinese lander carrying a rover successfully touched down on Mars for the first time, state media reports.

Why it matters: This is the first time China has landed a spacecraft on another planet, and it launches the nation into an elite club of only a few space agencies to successfully make it to the Martian surface.

2 hours ago - World

UN: 10,000 Palestinians displaced in Gaza as Israel-Hamas fighting escalates

A Palestinian woman walks after she collects her belongings inside her damaged house following an Israeli air in the northern Gaza Strip. Photo: Ahmed Zakot/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The United Nations warned Friday that ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas "has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis," in not only the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, but "the region as a whole."

The big picture: More than 125 Palestinians, including 31 children have been killed in Gaza since fighting began Monday, per the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Eight people, including two children, have been killed in Israel, Reuters reported, citing Israeli authorities.

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