Scientology take-downs rarely come from the top. The secretive California-based religion has a strict hierarchy – the further up you go, the more things go your way. So Leah Remini’s series Scientology and the Aftermath is a big deal. The former King of Queens star and one-time member of the Church of Scientology’s elite is taking on the organisation publicly and repeatedly. It’s safe to say the Church doesn’t like it.
How much they don’t like it became clear earlier this year when a teenager allegedly stabbed and killed a Scientologist outside the Church’s Sydney headquarters. The Church responded by pointing the blame directly at Remini. In a letter sent to the president of A&E, the network behind Scientology and the Aftermath, Scientology spokeswoman Karen Pouw alleged the assailant “spouted vicious religious hatred and propaganda, incited by A&E and the Leah Remini/Mike Rinder series”.
“For years,” Pouw went on to say, “A&E executives ignored our warnings that the series was inspiring bigotry and violence. You knew what you were doing. Your intent was to stir up hate and turn it into cash. Now somebody has been murdered.”
The teenager was visiting the Church centre where his mother was about to undergo a “purification ceremony” – a Scientology drug detoxification process based on saunas and vitamins. No motive has yet been given for the attack. There’s currently no evidence linking Remini or her series to the stabbing.
Where other recent Scientology take-downs like director Alex Gibney’s Going Clear and Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie were made by outsiders, Scientology and the Aftermath is coming from an insider’s perspective. Born in Brooklyn, Remini’s mother joined the Church of Scientology when her daughter was nine. Four years later, they moved to California where Remini became a public supporter of the Church throughout her early career, talking it up in Scientology videos and interviews on CNN.
Her break with the Church began in 2006 when she asked about the whereabouts of the wife of Church chief David Miscavige at Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes. Bluntly told she didn’t have the rank to ask that question, she filed a report questioning Miscavige’s leadership, which led to years of “interrogations” and “thought modification” until she left the church in 2013. Since then she’s publicly returned to the Catholicism of her youth, while also speaking out against Scientology, most notably in her 2015 memoir Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology.
Together with Australian co-host, and former member of Scientology’s Board of Directors, Mike Rinder, Scientology and the Aftermath focuses on ex-Church members’ tales of alleged abuse and harassment for speaking out about their experiences. It’s not like they’re short of material. Scientology has explicit policies towards people who leave the Church – being declared a “Suppressive Person” or SP is the church’s version of excommunication, and Church members are expected to have no further contact with that person no matter how close that friend or family member may have been.
Obviously Remini – now an SP herself – is seen as an enemy by the Church. When she appeared on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show to promote the first series of Scientology and the Aftermath, the Church sent Conan a personal letter seeking to discredit her. They also put together an entire website devoted to discrediting the series, claiming it’s spreading “provable lies which generate hate, bigotry and violence”.
Have Scientology’s attacks shut her down? Not exactly. The original plan was to do a single series of Scientology and the Aftermath, but after a bigger than expected public response and a large number of people coming forward with stories, the series just kept on going. In its second season, it widened its scope to investigate controversies around the Church as well as hearing stories from those who left or were shut out. In the third and latest season, the series is actively questioning whether the Church of Scientology should be considered a religion at all. And if they lose that, they lose their tax-free status.
As for the rest of Hollywood’s Scientology contingent, they’ve largely stayed silent. When directly asked about Remini’s show, John Travolta simply said he’s never seen it and wasn’t interested. Meanwhile, Remini has publicly called out high-profile Church members like Elizabeth Moss and Giovanni Ribisi, and was outspoken when the Los Angeles Police Department dragged their feet investigating rape accusations towards Scientologist Danny Masterton, suggesting the Church had ties to the LAPD.
While Scientology is known for giving its celebrity members extensive media training, maybe some are silent for more personal reasons. It wasn’t so long ago that Remini was part of the Church’s inner circle like them: supposedly she was one of the first people to hold Baby Suri. Now though, all bets are off.
Scientology and the Aftermath airs weekdays at 2PM on SBS VICELAND.
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