Sep 29, 2015

John Sweeney: Scientologist stalker drove me to public meltdown but now we're best friends
 27, 2015 

Footage of John Sweeney “losing it” with church spokesmen Tommy Davis and Mike Rinder during a now infamous episode of Panorama has attracted more than seven million hits on YouTube.

Mr Sweeney’s meltdown in Los Angeles came after he was put under surveillance while carrying out interviews amid repeated attempts to stop the documentary from being broadcast.

Shortly after it was shown in 2007, Mr Rinder left the church, having been a member since the age of six, rising through the ranks to become its public relations chief.

Last week he featured in a controversial Sky Atlantic documentary called Going Clear, in which he apologised for lying about spying on Mr Sweeney.

Mr Sweeney said: “It was a wonderful moment when Mike was asked, ‘Did you spy on John Sweeney?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I did’.

“I had the screaming match because they kept on saying I was being paranoid but I knew I was being followed. For him to admit that was such a powerful vindication. What’s even stranger is that Mike invited me to his wedding last year, a bit like a vicar inviting Satan to his nuptials. Mike and I are now good friends.”

Based a book by Pulitzer prizewinning journalist Lawrence Wright and directed by Oscar-nominated documentary maker Alex Gibney, Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief stars a string of high-profile defectors.

They include Hollywood director Paul Haggis, the church’s former lead inspector Mark Rathbun and the actor Jason Beghe.

Tom Cruise and John Travolta remain Scientology’s most famous supporters.

The film received widespread praise for its deconstruction of the religion, from exploring founder L Ron Hubbard’s past as a science fiction writer to its first-hand testimony from former members alleging abuse and exploitation. David Miscavage, head of the church and Cruise’s best friend, denounced the documentary and unsuccessfully tried to block its release in US cinemas.

It went on to win three Emmy awards. Mr Sweeney said: “It is a great film. We had a lot more difficulty in 2007, when taking them on felt like a very lonely job. Now the church seems a lot more cowed.”

Mr Sweeney, who wrote a book about Scientology called The Church Of Fear, said his meltdown had made him famous and even helped when arrested in Pakistan.

He said: “The secret police wouldn’t believe I was a BBC journalist so I just said, ‘Go on YouTube’. They watched it and released me. People stop me in the street and buy me pints.

“Practically every time I get in a taxi, the driver will joke, ‘Where to, the Scientology centre?’”

The church has attacked the film as “bigoted propaganda”.

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