Nov 30, 2016

How Leah Remini is trying to expose Scientology secrets in her new docuseries

The Washington Post
By Emily Yahr
November 30, 2106

It’s rare to see a former Scientologist speak out against the Church of Scientology, let alone produce a documentary series that threatens to expose its secrets.

Yet that’s what happened Tuesday night on the premiere of A&E’s “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” Remini, the actress best known for hit CBS sitcom “King of Queens,” has been an outspoken critic of Scientology since 2013, when she split with the church after 35 years as a devout member. As an executive producer of this eight-episode series, Remini plans to “delve deep into shocking stories of abuse, heartbreak and harassment experienced by those who have left the church and spoken publicly about their experiences.” The premiere features an ex-Scientology official who says the church tore her family apart.

In a long letter, the Church of Scientology said the series is “doomed to be a cheap reality TV show by a has-been actress now a decade removed from the peak of her career.” It also says that Remini is an “obnoxious, spiteful ex-Scientologist” who is bitter that she was expelled from the church. Between nearly every act break, A&E airs a disclaimer that the church disputes many of the statements made in the program:

(Image from A&E)

Even though high-ranking Scientology officials say that the church — a multibillion-dollar organization — will go as far as possible to silence its critics and enemies, Remini says she is not intimidated.

“I want to give a voice to these stories, enough that people will be incensed by it to put some pressure on this organization to stop abusing people,” Remini says, adding that she hopes viewers think “someone needs to do something about this cult” and demand answers. “And so I’m hoping that by doing the show, we effect some kind of change.”

In the premiere, Remini says she got deeply involved in Scientology when she was a teenager. She credited Scientology for giving her the confidence to make it in Hollywood, and she was eager to spread the word about her church, one that preached self-knowledge and spiritual fulfillment. As she became a celebrity, Remini became a prominent “opinion leader” in the church, donating millions of dollars.

But, Remini explains, things changed when she attended the glitzy wedding of Tom Cruise (a Scientology superstar) and Katie Holmes in 2006 and noticed that leader David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, was not in attendance. When she started asking questions, the top Scientology clergy members were very upset.

That is when Remini says she started looking up Scientology stories online and was increasingly horrified of allegations of physical and sexual abuse within the church. At first, she had a hard time imagining that she could leave. “Nobody in my family wanted to leave. Nobody wanted it to be true,” Remini says. “I didn’t want to find that what I had done my whole life was a lie.” Then, she says that, as she asked more questions, she and her family were called in for interrogations and that she was accused of committing crimes. Eventually, she publicly split with the church in 2013 and filed a missing-person report for Shelly Miscavige, who reportedly has not made a public appearance in six years.

In November 2015, Remini released a book called “Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology.” Soon, people started reaching out to her, asking whether she could help them with family members still in the church. One person was former Scientology executive Amy Scobee, who wanted to tell her story, along with her mother, Bonny, also a former Scientology member. Remini sent a camera crew to capture Amy and Bonny’s account on video. After seeing their story, she decided to develop a show.

Later, viewers see Remini alongside Mike Rinder (a former Scientology official who also spoke out in HBO’s documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”) going to visit Scobee. Rinder left the church, but his two children are still in Scientology; they no longer speak to him. Remini notes that the church’s biggest weapon is “disconnection,” when you have to cut off contact with someone who is critical of the church. “If I can prevent families being torn apart because of the practices of Scientology … it’s worth making it known and preventing that,” Rinder says.

When they reach Scobee’s house, they sit together as she explains that she used to be in charge of recruiting celebrities for Scientology. The show flashes pictures of famous members, from Cruise to Kirstie Alley to John Travolta. As a member of the church for 27 years, Scobee was first introduced to it by her mother, Bonny.

Scobee says that when she started working at the church at age 14, she had a boss who was 35 and married. He asked her to stay late one night, and they had sex. Scobee alleges that the organization knew about it but refused to tell the police, and said they would handle it internally. Rinder added that the church indoctrinates people to believe that the justice system is corrupt. “This was statutory rape,” Scobee says. “I was too afraid to tell anyone about it.”

Remini calls it a “heartbreaking, disgusting story that makes me want to break his legs,” while Rinder says that although there is nothing they can do legally because of the statute of limitations, they can expose it.

The rest of the episode spotlights Scobee talking about her time in the church, as she left home at age 16 to join the Sea Org, the highest Scientology level. Scobee says that Scientology considers family a “distraction,” and people were encouraged to write letters home only so that family members did not file missing-person reports. As she was promoted higher, she got to sit in on meetings with Miscavige and alleges she saw him physically abusing other members.

Scobee says she tried rationalizing the behavior until she could not anymore. When she became defiant, she says, she was sent to Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), where Scientology sends members who act out and was forced to do manual labor. Eventually, she escaped with her husband, but she was deemed an enemy of the church, otherwise known as a “Suppressive Person” (SP). Active Scientology members are not allowed to communicate with SPs, so for a long time, Scobee could not talk to her mother, Bonny, who was still a member.

Eventually, Bonny became depressed and suicidal without contact with her daughter and decided to leave the church so that they could reunite. “So there, Scientology, don’t you ever break up another family, you bastards,” Bonny says. She turns to the camera. “I know you can’t say ‘bastards,’ but they deserve it.” (Bonny, who had Stage 4 cancer at the time of the interview, died a couple weeks after she filmed the footage.)

Meanwhile, the church of Scientology says there is no evidence for anything Rinder says he witnessed, and it calls Scobee a “pathological liar” who was expelled from the church after “failures to do her job, repeated sexual transgressions and refusals to change her ways.” Although the church will dispute Remini and her show participants every step of the way, Remini is going full-steam ahead with the next seven episodes.

“The church will get exposed,” Remini says. “And I’m not going to stop.”

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