In the 1993 legal thriller The Firm, Tom Cruise plays a junior member of a prestigious Memphis law firm that’s secretly steeped in corruption. After a midnight tryst on the beach during a weekend junket to the Cayman Islands, Cruise’s character, Mitch, is confronted by Wilford Brimley at his most unctuous, playing the firm’s enforcer, who shows him surveillance photos of his dalliance that could wreck his marriage.
“That’s just the kind of stuff the FBI could use for coercion, Mitch,” says the Brimley character. “So you watch yourself. I’ll do my best to protect you, and I know you’ll do your best to protect the firm.”
With a few key words changed, that’s as succinct a description of Scientology and its powerful hold over its credulous practitioners as one could hope for. Through its doctrinal “auditing” process, the church learns everything it possibly can about new members, filing the most damaging bits away as leverage, which it deems a form of protection. Routine sec-checks, i.e., security checking, are performed on children as young as 6.
Which, coincidentally, is the age of Suri Cruise, sole issue of Scientology’s “first couple,” Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes–Cruise being widely considered the handpicked successor to church leader David Miscavige, who served as best man at their wedding.
Having filed for divorce in New York while her husband was in Iceland filming Oblivion, Katie Holmes set off her own media H-bomb when friends leaked to gossip site TMZ that she feared Scientology was following her. As was helpfully confirmed by TMZ photographers, who were in fact following her at the time, she was in fact being trailed by men in SUVs, though their employer remains unconfirmed. (A Scientology spokesman denies involvement.) Reports that Holmes had removed Suri from her Scientology preschool in L.A. and enrolled her in a Catholic school in New York must be particularly galling to church elders.
“The public relations of Katie actually leaving Tom Cruise is devastating for Scientology,” says Skip Press, for two decades a staff member at Scientology’s Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, and now a writer for Cruise biographer Andrew Morton’s online Morton Report. “[Founder L. Ron] Hubbard said, ‘It’s a PRO [public relations officer] world.’ Katie wanting to leave would be handled under the policy Tom blabs about on ‘the crazy tape’—KSW, or Keeping Scientology Working.” (Full disclosure: I was the one who leaked the tape, the widely disseminated “indoctrination video,” to Gawker.)
Elaborate protocols, beginning with Chaplain’s Court, a kind of extrajudicial marriage counseling await the prospective SP, or “suppressive person,” that is, any enemy or critic of the religion, its principles and personnel, and the worst thing in Scientology you can be.
“They sit down with an ordained Scientology minister, more like a resident Scientology judge, who tries to get them to resolve their differences,” says Press. “Usually, with a marriage, it’s designed to keep them together. Then they [would] run something on her called ‘the doubt formula,’ which is rigged: Katie wants to leave Scientology; for her to use the doubt formula she’s in effect practicing Scientology, so it’s self-defeating because all roads lead back to Scientology indoctrination. In Tom and Katie’s case though, Miscavige would have to handle this court, and I’m sure she’s sick of him by now.”
The next step–disconnection, or the severance of all ties with the excommunicated–will likely be less severe than it would be if the whole world weren’t watching.
“They can’t push her around like they would a normal Scientologist,” says Press. “They’ll be treating her with kid gloves and trying to coerce her back into the fold. The main threat would be what happened to Nicole and her adopted kids, who are by now convinced that their adoptive mother is a suppressive person. They won’t declare [Holmes] a suppressive person because she can use that in court to soak the living shit out of Cruise. So once they’ve exhausted pushing every emotional button they believe she has, which they already know about her from her auditing, Tom will say, ‘Look, she handled this covertly.’” That’s code for “covertly hostile.”
“They’ll do everything they can to demonize and discredit her. They take every opportunity to put out fire with gasoline,” says a former Sea Org (Sea Organization, a fraternal order in Scientology whose members are found in the organization’s central management and other churches) member who wishes to protect her identity but whose experience fleeing the church with her children echoes that of Holmes. “She probably won’t say anything that will make her a target. When I took my kids and ran away, I would not speak ill of the church for the longest time, for fear of making the organization look bad.”
Hollywood insiders say other former Scientologists have been encouraging Holmes through her Roman Catholic family to question her relationship with Scientology. “She was in deep, because she was Cruise’s wife and they had the resources to push her up the bridge [Hubbard’s mythical Bridge to Total Freedom] quickly,” the former member says. “As she moved through it, it must have gotten scary for her. I mean, imagine what it’s like for a good Catholic girl getting to the part where Hubbard declared as doctrine that there was no Christ, or that Jesus was an alien ‘implant.’”
Marc Headley, another Scientology apostate and author of Blown for Good, his memoir of leaving the church, also claims to have sent his book to Holmes’ father with a cover letter. “I told him I was there when we were trying to recruit girls [i.e., prospective wives] for Tom, and when Katie was the one to get picked,” says Headley. “When I was being interviewed as a source by Life & Style and US Weekly, [Holmes’ dad] was talking to journalists and trying to figure out how to get declared suppressive so Katie would have to disconnect from Tom for being connected to a suppressive.” (Holmes is not doing interviews, and her father has not responded to requests.)
But all of this promises to be a pale foreshadowing of the Cruise–Holmes showdown in court, should it come to that—a billion-dollar religion pitted against world opinion.
“Tom cannot do anything,” says Headley, somewhat breathlessly, from his remote residence in Colorado. “They need to back off. If they don’t, everything will come out—Tom’s rage, his 'bromance' with Miscavige; it will all get aired in the press. She’s not even allowed to wear high heels, dude!”
“Enrolling [Suri] in a Catholic school demonstrates that [Holmes is] not only trying to get herself and her daughter out of Scientology, but she may well be pulling a Kramer vs. Kramer toward solidifying New York City residency,” says Press. He notes that Holmes’s father, Martin Holmes Sr., is a family-law attorney. Katie Holmes has petitioned the court for sole custody, and Cruise has counterfiled for divorce in California to establish jurisdiction.
Actress and former Scientologist Cathy Schenkelberg, who estimates she spent close to $1 million on pursuing Operating Thetan status (the prescribed pathway to enlightenment in Scientology) was similarly sued by her ex-husband for sole custody, and a court-appointed guardian ruled that Scientology was a destructive force in the life of her daughter. “They will defame her and try to make her appear wrong,” says Schenkelberg of Holmes, “which will be extremely difficult in the age of the Internet and social networking.”
“Katie is in a unique position,” says Headley. “They still think they’ll be able to push her around a bit, but she’s already played hard and fast. She’s not going to get pushed around by these bullies. That’s all they really do—they intimidate. If you cut them down to size, they’re forced to play on even ground. I would tell her, ‘They underestimate you. Change that.’"