The two-hour finale of A&E’s Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, which explores sexual assault allegations against That ’70s Show actor and Scientologist Danny Masterson, aired last night after two years of postponement, an LAPD investigation, and an elaborate protest campaign from the Church of Scientology.
The special episode, which ends the three-season show, arrives less than two weeks after Huffington Post contributor Yashar Ali reported that four women had sued Masterson, the Church of Scientology, and its leader, David Miscavige, over allegations that Masterson had raped them and conspired with the church to cover it up by way of “stalking” and “illegal and unethical conduct.”
One of the four women, Marie Bobette Riales, alleged that, while dating Masterson in 2002, he repeatedly drugged her and assaulted her while she was unconscious. Another woman, Chrissie Bixler, who also dated Masterson and lived with him in the ’90s, claimed he was often “controlling and violent,” regularly insulted her appearance, and once dragged her across their bedroom when she didn’t want to have sex. The other two women were not named in the complaint.
Masterson, who spoke to Ali through an attorney, called the lawsuit “beyond ridiculous.” Likewise, both Masterson and the church have denied all charges of assault, illegal activity, and conspiracy. “The Church adamantly denies that it ever ignores any allegations of criminal behavior, especially at the expense of alleged victims,” a spokesperson told The Daily Beast’s Amy Zimmerman. “What is being stated is utterly untrue. This has nothing to do with religion. This story is being manipulated to push a bigoted agenda. The Church follows all laws and cooperates with law enforcement. Any statement or implication to the contrary is false.”
The story of Masterson’s allegations came to light in March of 2017, when reporter Tony Ortega published an article on his website, The Underground Bunker, revealing that Masterson was under investigation from the LAPD for at least three alleged instances of rape. All three victims, identified only as Victims A, B, and C, were Scientologists, Ortega wrote, and reported pressure from the church to avoid contact with law enforcement and refrain from public statements about the accusations. In the aftermath of the story, Masterson was fired from his Netflix series, The Ranch.
Last night’s finale had originally been scheduled to run in November of 2017, but was held after Remini and her co-host, Mike Rinder, met with investigators at the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, who conveyed concern that the episode would compromise their investigation as they considered filing charges against Masterson. Both Remini and A&E agreed to postpone the episode, but by November of 2017, Ali reported that the LAPD investigation into Masterson’s conduct had “inexplicably stalled” despite “overwhelming evidence.”
In July of 2018, The Daily Beast’s Zimmerman obtained letters from the mother of one of the alleged victims to Scientology officials, including Miscavige, dated January and March of 2004, expressing outrage over the church’s lack of action following her daughter’s assault allegation. The letters describe how her daughter, identified as Victim B in Ortega’s original article, filed a “Knowledge Report,” or an internal Scientology document, describing her assault. The letters go on to recount how, following the report, the church issued a “Non-Enturbulation Order”—Scientology speak for a kind of probation, the final step before getting kicked out—against Victim B.
According to Ortega and several of the victims featured, the episode was later expected to run on Feb. 18 of this year. (A&E later denied their accounts: “That was incorrect info that was circulating, but we never announced that date,” a representative told The Daily Beast’s Amy Zimmerman). Either way, the finale was shelved again after a Church of Scientology organization, STAND (Scientologists Taking Action Against Discrimination), sent several letters to prominent entertainment executives, including The Walt Disney Company’s CEO Bob Iger, alleging “religious bigotry.”
The episode opened on several other stories of sexual abuse in the church, including that of Serge Gil, a former Scientologist who claimed he was abused as a child and was then forced to “audit” his abuser, or conduct a Scientology ritual somewhat like talk therapy, as an adolescent. In legal proceedings, the church denied that Gil was abused or forced into auditing. But his story bears similarity to that of Joey Chait, another former Scientologist who was raised in the church and claimed he was also forced into auditing as an adolescent and had a similar experience.
“When I was 13 I had to audit an older man. In one of our sessions, he began to tell me about one of the times when he committed the sin of molesting his 5-month-old niece,” Chait said. “Here’s a 13-year-old kid asking a 50-year old man, ‘What fingers did you use?’...Very specific questions that we were trained to ask him.”
Both Gil and Chait claim that they were unable to report either their own abuses or those of the men they audited because of internal Scientology rules discouraging contact with law enforcement. The church has maintained that it complies with all laws regarding mandatory reporting of sexual assault.
During the second hour, Remini focused on Masterson. In an interview recorded on April 10, 2017, Chrissie Bixler, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Masterson who dated him from 1996 to 2001, recalled going to dinner with Masterson in the late ’90s, drinking a glass of wine, and blacking out.
“Last thing I remember is getting up from the restaurant to go home. Complete blackout,” Bixler said. “The next day when I woke up the back of my head hurt, and I thought I’d fallen. I thought I was poisoned. I didn’t know where I was. He was downstairs sitting at his desk... I went downstairs and asked what happened. He just kind of chuckled. I said, ‘I’m in a lot of pain.’ I was ripped. I was injured. He started laughing. He said “Oh, I had sex with you last night.” I said, ‘Was I unconscious?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’”
Bixler claimed she told an ethics officer at the church, who told her to stop calling it rape, because they had been in a relationship, and that she had done something to deserve it. The officer allegedly also told Bixler that if she reported the rape, she could be declared a “Suppressive Person,” meaning she’d be kicked out of the church. Bixler later reported it to a Scientology chaplain as well, who echoed the officer’s apathy. (The Church denies ever hearing about Bixler’s allegation). “My job as his girlfriend was to give myself to him whenever he wanted,” Bixler said. “I was to lay there and take it.”
“When we met, I was the successful one. He was an out-of-work actor. I was a working model. Then he got his first TV show,” Bixler said. “When I joined, my parents were Suppressive People. So, I disconnected from them and lost 20 years with them. When [Masterson] booked his first show, he made me stop working. I was completely disconnected.”
As Bixler spoke to Remini, Marie Bobette Riales, another plaintiff in the case against Masterson, sat in the audience. “I was one of his girlfriends,” Riales told Remini. “This wasn’t just a one night stand or meet-at-a-bar-type thing. I knew that there was something wrong in our relationship itself. Never once did it occur to me that he was doing this to other girls.”
Riales claims she came forward after hearing Bixler’s story and recognizing it from her own experience. “I thought, there’s no way that you would know that,” Riales said. “That’s my story. That’s my life. And so I spoke.”
The LAPD investigation into Masterson is still ongoing, and investigators told Remini in a statement that they are seeking more information. “Report, report, report,” Bixler said in the final minutes of her interview.
“Scientology likes to pretend that it’s just like every other religion and should be respected like any other religion,” Remini said. “And yet it’s the only business on the face of the planet that has never done anything wrong, never admitted to any wrongdoing in its history.”