Leah Remini on Why Jennifer Lopez Said No to Scientology and How the ‘Cult’ Can Be Stopped
The co-host of ‘Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath’ opens up about the controversial church’s alleged abuses and its aggressive courtship of celebrities.
In the three years since her bestselling memoir Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology hit stores, Leah Remini has emerged as the face of Scientology whistle-blowing.
The former King of Queens star, who defected from Scientology in 2013, has made it her personal mission to expose the alleged abuses (both physical and psychological) and harassment perpetrated by the cult-like religion’s leadership—including its chief David Miscavige and his best pal Tom Cruise. Her primary platform is Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, an Emmy-winning A&E docuseries that brings the horror stories of ex-Scientologists to light.
Co-hosted by Mike Rinder, a former senior executive of the Church of Scientology International and Sea Org, its fraternal religious sect whose members sign billion-year contracts, the show’s third season will, in the words of Remini, tackle “how they use their millions of dollars in tax-exempt money to bully, harass and attempt to silence those that are speaking out.”
She laughs. “I can’t even tell you the amount of legal threats we’ve received for this season. We’ve received legal threats about people who aren’t even going to be on the series.”
Indeed, the biggest development for Scientology was when the IRS designated it as a religion, thereby granting it tax-exempt status, in 1993—after the church waged an aggressive campaign of bullying, harassment, and legal threats against those in the government agency. The label has allowed the Church of Scientology to pour the millions it receives from its members into tax-free real estate, accumulating dozens of valuable properties across the globe.
“They say that these buildings are ‘needed to service the public,’ but that is absolutely a lie,” Remini tells me. “There’s more staff in those buildings than there are people walking into them.”
“Scientologists pay for it because they’re being told they’re saving the planet—that they’re reducing criminality, preventing people from overdosing on psychotropic drugs. So Scientologists are giving the money, like I did, thinking that Scientology is changing the world for the better. I wish it were true,” she adds.
Their biggest chunk of real estate is the Super Power Building in Clearwater, Florida, the “spiritual headquarters” of Scientology that took 15 years and an estimated $145 million to build. Recently, People magazine reported that none other than Tom Cruise has been renovating a pricey Penthouse condo near the Super Power Building to serve as his new “home base.”
“I’m not surprised,” says Remini. “There’s a long history of Scientology in Clearwater, and we cover that in one of our episodes coming up. Clearwater was targeted as one of the towns to make a Scientology city, and there is clear collusion between Clearwater officials and Scientology.” (Scientology has repeatedly called Remini’s claims “absurd,” while citing no hard evidence to refute them; Cruise did not respond to requests for comment.)
The trouble began for Remini at Cruise’s 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes in Italy, where Miscavige served as best man. Remini not only kept asking attendees why Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, was noticeably absent from the ceremony (she has not been seen publicly since 2007), but also alleges that church officials attempted at multiple points throughout to separate her from her pal Jennifer Lopez, whom she’d been pressured to invite by the church.
“They were trying to extract me,” Remini told 20/20. “I can only assume because they wanted to make Jennifer a Scientologist. Maybe I was barring that road for them.”
And Remini, who met Lopez through her former partner Marc Anthony, contends that despite the church’s best efforts, Lopez saw right through the “cult.”
“I didn’t save her from anything. Jennifer is a very strong-minded female, and is a seeker of spirituality. She’s Catholic—always has been—and her father is a very indoctrinated Scientologist, and has been for quite a long time. He’s achieved the confidential levels of Scientology. But Jennifer makes her own decisions,” Remini explains.
“Yes, I did [run interference], but she disagreed with the disconnection policy, so she wasn’t going to submit to any pressures from anybody regardless, and she was a really good friend to me through all that.”
The aforementioned “disconnection” policy is one of the more odious aspects of the religion—wherein escapees are branded “Suppressive Persons” who cannot be contacted by other Scientologists, thereby separating the apostates from their family.
Another problematic practice emerged during the recent wildfires that ravaged California. People reported seeing Scientology Volunteer Ministers on the scene, distributing water and pamphlets.
Scientology Volunteer Ministers have been described by Miscavige as the “world’s largest independent all-volunteer relief force”—a demonstrably false claim—and, according to The Underground Bunker, operate as a part of Scientology’s Religious Technology Center with a mission to provide “educational services” and “pastoral counseling” on behalf of the religion (in other words, proselytize).
“What that is, is following [Scientology founder] L. Ron Hubbard’s policy to ‘make your good works known.,’” says Remini. “Have you ever, in your lifetime, seen an organization that’s only there to help people show up with a dolly track? Do you know how much money it is to rent a dolly and a dolly track, and to transfer that to a disaster location?”
“It’s not just showing up with a camera—this is all part of their front,” she continues. “I’m not saying that they’re not handing a bottle of water out, but their true intention is for a photo op, and to align themselves with legitimate organizations who are actually trying to help people. Like, they’re out there handing out booklets filled with Scientology propaganda!”
In addition to their team of volunteer ministers that they dispatch to disasters for missionary work, the Church of Scientology has a disturbingly close relationship with the LAPD.
“They have a policy called ‘the public image,’ and it says to align yourselves with ‘real’ organizations and ‘safe-point’ them,” Remini explains. “So they’re safe-pointing police departments by paying them a lot of money to do off-duty work, they love-bomb them with awards, and you’ll see detectives and police officers in uniform giving speeches on human trafficking at the Scientology Celebrity Centre. This is what they do all the time to present themselves as a group that is in line with the rest of society, and they are not.”
Remini has previously voiced her frustrations to me about the rape allegations against the actor—and prominent Scientologist—Danny Masterson, including how the Church of Scientology is alleged to have attempted to silence his accusers (who were also Scientologists), and the LAPD’s handling of the case.
“There’s one of the captains there, Cory Palka, who’s very much aligned with the [Scientology] Celebrity Centre. And when I went to the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, there was a picture of a very prominent Scientologist, [actor] Michael Pena, framed in one of their offices; they put in a Scientology kiosk in the Hollywood Division; and when I was there Palka had a letter from Celebrity Centre and a gift certificate inviting him and his wife to the Renaissance Restaurant at the Celebrity Centre.” (The LAPD did not respond to a request for comment.)
“It’s still at the District Attorney’s Office and I’m just speechless about it,” she adds of the Masterson case. “The victims have spoken to Scientology when they were Scientologists, and Scientology obviously knew all about it and covered it up, not reporting it.” (The church “adamantly denies” this.)
Last year, Remini made headlines when she told me that Jada Pinkett Smith was a Scientologist, saying that she’d spotted the actress at their Los Angeles Celebrity Centre “all the time,” and that Pinkett Smith—along with her husband, Will—had opened “a Scientology school,” the New Village Leadership Academy, which administered Scientology teachings to young children and has since been shuttered. Pinkett Smith fired back with a long Facebook post saying that she’s dabbled in most religions and, “I have studied Dianetics, and appreciate the merits of Study Tech… but I am not a Scientologist.”
Remini appeared on Pinkett Smith’s Facebook series Red Table Talk last month to bury the hatchet.
“I only wanted to take responsibility for putting [Jada & Will] in a position to be questioned about it, and to feel that they had to defend themselves against me, and I didn’t want that to be the focus. I wanted the focus to be on the people who were speaking out against the abuses in Scientology,” Remini tells me.
But the fact remains: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith operated a Scientology school for young children, and they’ve never fully addressed or reckoned with that part of their past.
“That’s really up to them to do that,” says Remini.
As for the 48-year-old actress, she’ll appear alongside her BFF J. Lo in the upcoming film Second Act, hitting theaters on December 21 (“I’m so glad it’s finally happened,” she says of acting alongside her BFF), and she’s hoping that the new season of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath will inspire the IRS to reevaluate Scientology’s tax-exempt status.
“We hope to present the case to the FBI and IRS, and hope that there are changes made to protect people in that organization that calls itself a ‘religion,’” she says. “Some of it might seem critical, but it’s for a purpose. And we’re hoping that this will be it, and that people will not continue to be hurt, harassed or bullied.”