Hubbard had always been entranced by Hollywood but it was David Miscavige, the church's current leader, who truly upped the celebrity ante, equating fame with a spiritual value and kowtowing to celebrities accordingly.
-The Guardian, January 2013
By now, most people have heard about former King of Queens actress taking a look around at the Church of Scientology, to which she had belonged for over three decades, realizing some seriously disturbing business was afoot, and deciding thanks but no thanks.
So she quit.
Murky reports of the Church's "fair game" policy, which includes surveillance, scare tactics, and reputation-destroying methods to discredit members who leave and the Church are numerous, but Remini, who is the latest in a list of celebrity members to publicly break up with the Church over the years, has gone on record saying she's "not about to shut up". In the past week, she's become even more of a thorn in Scientology's side, with the news she's planning a tell-all memoir, and even bringing police into the matter by filing a missing person's report on friend Shelly Miscavidge, the wife of Church leader David Miscavidge who has not been seen publicly in over 6 years.
And while the Church is known more for its subtle smear campaigns against those who leave its fold, including using social media and the internet to anonymously spread damaging personal information, and its unspoken policy of "disconnection" from those still in the Church, this latest move of Remini seems to have seriously upset Scientology leaders to the point of them releasing a clearly angry public statement:
Sadly, rather than move on with her life and career, Ms. Remini has aligned herself with a handful of untrustworthy, lunatic tabloid sources who obsessively harass the Church to advance their selfish agendas.
This same Church rep went on to say that Remini had thought up the scheme "with unemployed, anti-religious zealots" and that the actress merely caused "an inexcusable distraction for the LAPD."
She follows in the footsteps of , whose shocking escape and sudden divorce from both and the Church last summer rocked the organization, being described as the "biggest nightmare" for Scientology in its often-troubled history. For a while after Holmes orchestrated her escape, which included Hollywood movie levels of intrigue and clandestine planning, the Church was in full-blown crisis mode, as former Scientology members circled the wagons around Katie to offer their support for her decision to leave for the sake and safety of her daughter. And the media piled on the attacks. Jenna Miscavidge Hill, David Miscavidge's own niece who had left the Church in 2005, was one of the most vocal supporters of Katie:
My experience in growing up in Scientology is that it is both mentally and at times physically abusive. I was allowed to see my parents only once a week at best -- sometimes not for years. We got a lousy education from unqualified teachers, forced labor, long hours, forced confessions, being held in rooms, not to mention the mental anguish of trying to figure out all of the conflicting information they force upon you as a young child...As a mother myself, I offer my support to Katie and wish for her all the strength she will need to do what is best for her and her daughter.
When Holmes blindsided Cruise with the divorce and the Church with how efficiently and completely she had orchestrated the entire escape for her and daughter, Suri, from under their noses, it changed the conversation in the media. Suddenly, the shadowy Church was both exposed and vulnerable. The cloak-and-dagger operation pulled off by Holmes put the Church in the precarious position of not being able to make its usual preemptive strike.
For the first time, the roles were reversed and it was a defecting member who held all the power. It has been celebrities - not the Church - who have been shaping the course of Scientology lately, and not for the better. If Tom Cruise badly damaged the Church's public image while tarnishing his own, and Holmes opened the floodgates with other celebrities widening the gap, then it was Remini who has broken it wide open in the past month. The once cozy relationship between Hollywood and Scientology has been not-so-quietly falling apart at the seams, and Remini's very public departure has only served to speed the process.
So what has wrought this change within their relationship?
Scientology's attack dogs are biting the hand that fed them
Scientology was significantly weakened by the one-two punch of losing both Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, the first in 2004 and the latter in 2007. The pair, long considered to be the second and third most powerful men in the Church behind Miscavige, left due to growing moral and ethical issues with Miscavige's rule.
As the Inspector General of Ethics for the Religious Technology Network, Rathburn's job was to, essentially, make problems for the Church go away. He was the "fixer", so to speak, and charged with everything from hiring the private investigators and thugs that tailed those deemed enemies of the Church, to destroying documents and evidence. He was also the only executive Miscavige trusted to bring Tom Cruise back into the fold when he was estranged from the Church, and was the man directly responsible for keeping tabs on the actor through private investigators.
Rinder, on the other hand, ran the Office of Special Affairs, essentially the covert ops wing of the ultra-secretive Scientology compound. Rinder was the one directly responsible for carrying out the fair game operations under Miscavige's rule, the smear campaigns and attacks against those who spoke out against the Church. He was also the Church's spokesperson and the PR rep responsible for smoothing things over with the public when they went awry.
Both men are now actively working against Miscavige, with Rathburn's blog becoming one of the most damning sources of criticism of Scientology, a medium in which the Church's secrets are being spilled from an intimate insider, and a place where church members disillusioned with Scientology - including celebrities - have gone to air their grievances.
The loss of these two made the impact of ensuing public relations nightmares felt much more acutely by the Church than they were when the pair were still under Miscavige's thumb, working overtime to deflect attacks against Scientology and mitigate the damage done by the increasing scandals. Simply put, no one left within the executive wing of Scientology has the skillset and capability to smooth over the growing number of public missteps and foot-in-mouth moments by the Church, which has become incredibly problematic for moments, which leads to the next major event in their Hollywood decline.
Its star supporter went off the deep end
It's safe to say that the public image of Scientology poster boy went off the tracks on May 23rd, 2005, when he did this:
Oprah's face says it all. During the two-minute long tirade, the traditionally composed and private actor leapt up onto the couch, danced around, and prostrated himself on the ground Tebow-style, over 12 times. In those two minutes, Oprah, and the rest of the world, watched the biggest box office star act like a lunatic. In his over-the-top, nationally televised declaration of love for Holmes, Cruise chose possibly the worst medium to completely lose it. That the May-not-quite-December romance and subsequent engagement happened almost overnight also seemed to put the public off, no matter how intensely excited Cruise seemed to be about the relationship.
Almost immediately after their engagement, the couple announced they were pregnant, with daughter, Suri, born in April of '06. They were married in November of 2006 in a lavish Scientology ceremony in Italy, and the speed with which everything unfolded fueled rumors that it had been a business deal, an arranged marriage orchestrated by Cruise after holding secret wife auditions within the Church. Nor did it help matters that whenever Holmes was photographed in public with Cruise, she almost never flashed her trademark smile, appearing dead-eyed and robotic, causing many to suspect the former Dawson's Creek sweetheart had been brainwashed and indoctrinated.
Things only got worse for Cruise in the public eye when this secret Scientology video of the actor being interviewed was leaked on the internet in January 2008:
The scattered and downright unstable appearance of Cruise in the video did nothing to help repair his fractured public image, nor did it help when , Cruise's former Jerry Maguire costar, created the Funny or Die parody video that went instantly viral and perfectly skewered the actor's bizarre ramblings.
And let us not forget Cruise's personal war on psychiatry, in which he created a snafu when he criticized actress for taking anti-depressants for her post-partum depression, then famously defended his beliefs on The Today Show when he stated to Matt Lauer, "You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do," and claimed he had helped people kick heroin completely in just three days' time with Scientology. It was about that point that the American Psychiatric Association stepped in and said, "Really, Tom? Really?" and released a statement that shot down Cruise's self-proclaimed expertise with actual medical data and fact.
Simply put, Cruise's credibility has been severely damaged, both in the public eye and within the industry. In Hollywood, you can be as crazy as you want, provided you can keep putting people in theater seats. But when the money dries up, so does your image. And with most audiences viewing Cruise as a crazy laughingstock, he's suddenly become far less bankable than he was just a few years ago. Long-time Cruise collaborative studio Paramount saw a sinking ship in 2006 and severed ties with their partnership, with Sumner Redstone at the time stating it was the result of diminished box office returns. This isn't to say Cruise's clout in Hollywood has completely gone away - he does, after all, own his own production company and resurrected United Artists studio; he can still call the shots as he sees them, but his influence does not hold the iron-clad grip it once did. Scientology has long pinned its reputation and image on the celebrities within its ranks, and as its most notable celebrity's star has diminished, so has the Church. In a matter of a few years, Cruise has gone from the ultra-cool celebrity who lent the Church credibility to a liability that makes the Church appear loony.
But it's not simply the Hollywood folks who adhere to the teachings of Scientology that are causing problems. In fact, it's the ones outside the Church who are really doing damage.
Scientology's former members have turned on it with the help of the media
If it were only a matter of losing Rathburn and Rinder, Remini and Holmes as its big names, then Scientology wouldn't have much of a problem on its hands. But the Church has had multiple high-level executives and faithful celebrity flock leave the fold. They've "blown", in Scientology jargon, and they haven't gone quietly. The fractures between Remini and Scientology started way back in 2006, at the wedding of Cruise and Holmes, when Remini innocently asked Miscavige why wife, Shelly, was not at the wedding, and then-Church spokesperson Tommy Davis (who has since disappeared) immediately stepped in, snapping, "You don't have the f**king rank to ask about Shelly." Cue Remini starting to question the Church's practices, with seven years under her belt from then to now to gain insider information while doubting the institution.
And while lower-level celebrities, such as ShamWow spokesperson Vince Offer, have been too scared to talk, other notable celebs with more power and better connections have had no such qualms about speaking out against the Church through various mediums.
Take, for example, Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), who flew the coop in 2009 and sat down for a scathing article with both Vanity Fair and New Yorker shortly thereafter. Though he has endured a massive smear campaign at the hands of Miscavige and Scientology operatives, he nevertheless offered his public support for Remini when she defected last month in an open letter that offered another damning criticism of Scientology from his insider's perspective.
Along with the vocal Remini and Haggis, actor has also become problematic for the Church, with The Village Voice reporting that
The former head of Scientology's Office of Special Affairs, Mike Rinder, told me recently that, other than Marty Rathbun, it is Jason that David Miscavige is most worried about. That says a lot.
Since Beghe, a long-time character actor who has a regular role on Showtime's Californication, left Scientology in 2008, he's not been shy about his feelings toward his former religion. Take, for example, the below interview, which is littered with the Scientology jargon of a newly-blown former member, but is presented in a plain-spoken, blunt way that resonates.
In the above video, "Clear" is the first level a person reaches when they become free of the influence of false memories and past trauma, while "OT" stands for "Operating Thetan", the name for the ten levels above Clear that essentially represent a Scientologist at increasing stages of enlightenment. Putting it in layman's terms, Beghe is asking, "If all of these people, who have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to be audited and raise their levels, are declared 'cured'...then why are so many of them still miserable and sick?"
And with these celebrity defections in recent years, it's that whole concept of how much it costs to be a high-ranking member of Scientology that leads to the last point.
It has lost massive financial support
The Church of Scientology is, if nothing else, a business to make money. Lots of it. Say what you will about other religions, which have their documented flaws, but Scientology demands that members donate thousands upon thousands of dollars to the Church to undergo the auditing the Church dogma states each member requires to reach the higher levels of Scientology.
This is why Scientology does not just prefer, but requires celebrities and the ultra-wealthy to join its ranks. The tithes to simply remain a member are steep, those to advance, ridiculous. Consider the cost of running such an operation, from the sprawling compounds to the private investigators, and it starts to make sense that the Church would require such massive funding. Take this piece by Tony Ortega of The Village Voice, written in September 2011, regarding the fair game siege campaign brought to Rathburn's doorstep by Miscavige as an attempt to intimidate and silence his former right-hand man:
Since April, Rathbun and his wife have been undergoing a daily siege by an intimidation squad sent to film them from just outside their house. It has been established now without any real doubt that this squad has been sent and is being directed by the Church of Scientology. Members of the squad have been flown in from around the country. They are being housed, equipped, fed, and if one whistleblowing videographer's testimony can be believed, paid well. The sheer cost of such an operation -- which includes the use of private investigators and local law firms -- has to be fairly staggering.
Scientology, the famously litigious body, is not a self-sustaining entity. It requires both the donations and the street cred of celebrities to function, and, as Miscavige grows more paranoid as his iron grip on things slips, it has been hemorrhaging more and more money on fair game campaigns, facility construction, court battles, and propaganda. As the slow trickle of celebrity donors leaving its ranks has increased to something like a steady outpouring, the Church can no longer sustain the scope and influence as it once did.
The writing is on the wall. As celebrities leave the Church in waves, the Church loses its power. And the louder its celebrity ex-members yell about the crazy practices, illegal activity, and unbelievable brainwashing they witnessed firsthand, the less likely new celebrities are to join the fold. The clock is ticking for the Church, the sands running out of its hourglass, the drumbeats getting louder. Pick whatever metaphor you'd like, but the ultimate result of all of the above is that
Hollywood is breaking up with the Church of Scientology
Scientology needs celebrities; celebrities don't need Scientology. The organization may provide a boost to up-and-coming actors and actresses wanting to get their foot in the door (as well as providing buffers between actors and the persistent rumors regarding their sexuality; another editorial entirely), but, other than 2000's laughably terrible Battlefield Earth, based on L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, Scientology hasn't contributed much of concrete value to the entertainment industry other than tabloid fodder. Hollywood is a town built on, "What have you done for me lately?" If you're not useful in some way, then a partnership is pointless. And right now celebrities, such as Katie Holmes, are realizing they have no use for Scientology, that being associated with the crazy antics of the Church will actually do more to damage their careers than help them.
As malcontent within and without its ranks continues to grow, Scientology's stranglehold on Hollywood steadily diminishes, its grip weakened. It's an ironic twist worthy of a Hollywood script that celebrities, those pillars the Church once counted on to uphold and support it, are now the very ones undermining its entire foundation. Only time will tell if the underpinnings holding the entire structure up will completely give way, but for now, it's enough that the foundation is leaning and starting to fall.