How Leah Remini is trying to expose Scientology secrets in her new docu-series – Washington Post
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 an “obnoxious, spiteful ex-Scientologist” who’s 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:
Even though high-ranking Scientology official say that the church — a multibillion dollar organization — will go as far as possible to silence its critics and enemies, Remini says she isn’t 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 affect 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 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.
However, 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, wasn’t in attendance. When she started asking questions, the top Scientology clergy were very upset.
That’s 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, as she asked more questions, she and her family were called in for interrogations and she was accused of committing crimes. Eventually, she publicly split with the church in 2013; and filed a missing persons report for Shelly Miscavige, who reportedly hasn’t 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 if 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 when she started working at the church at age 14, she says, 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.”