On Tuesday night, King of Queens star Leah Remini will launch the latest volley in her crusade against the Church of Scientology, from which she publicly split in 2013 after spending 35 years as a devoted member. And this time, Scientology’s most high-profile celebrity defector brought the battle to her home turf—television—with reinforcements.
Joined onscreen by former Scientology exec Mike Rinder and more high-profile ex-Scientologists, the actress premieres the first of her eight-part A&E limited docuseries Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath amid attempts by lawyers for the church to discredit its allegations. Included in the hourlong program are snippets of letters from the church dated as recently as September and November featuring some variation of the same legalese denials: “The church disputes many of the statements made by those appearing in this program.”
Remini’s objective, she explains in the first episode, is to show the outside world all the damage that Scientology has wrought upon the lives of its members in order to stop the organization from abusing others.
“Somebody needs to do something about this cult,” Remini declares.
Once upon a time, Remini was one of Scientology’s most loyal young Hollywood devotees. She recalls how she drank the Kool-Aid for nearly four decades, crediting Scientology’s self-help programs for her career and blaming herself, as the church taught her to, for not being devoted enough when she failed. Flashing back to a red-carpet interview she gave long ago, we see a young Remini eagerly proselytizing to the masses: “We are the most ethical group you’re ever going to find.”
A year ago, the actress, host, author, and comedian told all in her bestselling memoir Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, which detailed how being invited to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’s dream wedding in Italy—a Scientology production—was the beginning of the end for Remini. She shared more shocking secrets from her time in the church, as well as the troubling events leading up to her defection, in a widely viewed 20/20 interview last October.
But in Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, the outspoken Remini recounts her own past with the church while visiting with other ex-Scientologists to hear their heartbreaking stories of alleged physical and emotional abuse and exploitation at the hands of the very organization they dedicated their lives to.
There’s Rinder, a Scientologist for 46 years who once served as the organization’s international spokesperson-slash-fixer and explains that his job was to discredit anyone who dared to speak out against the church. Future episodes will feature familiar anti-Scientology figures previously seen in Alex Gibney’s Going Clear or Louis Theroux’s upcoming 2017 documentary My Scientology Movie, like Tom DeVocht and Marc Headley, who’ve both claimed that they were physically abused by Scientology head David Miscavige.
Remini, whose mother also appears in the series, explains more about that Cruise-Holmes wedding day that landed her in hot water with the church. Her growing TV sitcom cachet earned her an invitation to the big day. But after bringing J. Lo to Italy at the church’s behest (“I can only assume because they wanted to make Jennifer a Scientologist,” Remini told People magazine), the trouble began when Remini couldn’t find Shelly Miscavige, the wife of David Miscavige who hasn’t been seen publicly since 2007, and started asking questions.
“Their reaction was, ‘You really shouldn’t be asking about that,’” says Remini, who, years later, would file a missing-persons report on Shelly Miscavige with the LAPD. After the Cruise wedding, Remini criticized Cruise and Miscavige in a “knowledge report” she has said sparked an internal investigation into her and her family. Her own personal war against Scientology led to Remini quitting the church in 2013.
The majority of Remini’s accusations are still jarring but nothing new. The stronger focus of the first episode is on the different kind of violence that Remini & Co. argue their church committed against its own: destroying families in order to protect Scientology.
Amy Scobee, like Remini, was a teenage convert who joined the Church of Scientology in the 1970s when her mother brought her in. Like Remini, she quickly rose in the ranks. She trusted so much in the church and was so thoroughly conditioned to distrust the outside world that she says she stayed even after a 35-year-old fellow Scientologist raped her at 14. She claims the church kept it secret from the police and her parents “because it would be bad PR for Scientology.” Two years later, she became a member of the church’s elite Sea Org unit, signing a contract for one billion years.
Like Rinder, Scobee was a high-ranking Scientologist who worked closely with Miscavige for years, and a well-known face in Scientology-watching circles. She ran the church’s valuable Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, tasked with recruiting famous and influential celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, who is seen in archival footage waxing ecstatic about the church at a 2003 Scientology gala. And she only left the church after being sent to the prison-like RPF (Rehabilitation Project Force), departing in 2005 with her husband.
She recalls working under Shelly Miscavige with a cadre of Sea Org members to make sure every need of their star parishioner, Tom Cruise, was taken care of—often, she claims, tantamount to slave labor. “They wanted him to be in Scientology 100 percent,” says Scobee. She describes witnessing David Miscavige, the church’s notoriously elusive and reportedly volatile leader, punching or choking other male subordinates “on at least a dozen occasions.”
“He’s a very angry man,” says Scobee. “I saw abuse and punchings and wrestling around and I would internalize it all.”
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath is more like Scientology 101 for Beginners, here to explain terms like “disconnecting,” in which all ties to a former member deemed hostile to the church are forcibly severed, and “suppressive person,” the name Scientologists give to said enemies of the organization. But the story of how Scobee left the church—and lost her relationship with her mother, Bonny Elliott, who chose to remain with her husband—underscores the emotional cost to anyone who dared to question, or leave, Scientology.
Eventually Scobee reunited with her mother, who passed away after sitting for an interview with Remini. But almost every high-profile Scientology defector reports similar retribution—that their own families were used against them and in some cases like Remini’s, she says, punished in order to punish them.
Disconnection, Scobee remarks, “is the church’s biggest weapon.”
Money and public exposure might be Remini’s: In response to several letters issued from the Church of Scientology to A&E discrediting Remini, Rinder, and Scobee, and published online by journalist Tony Ortega, Remini’s own attorney hit back demanding the Church pay her $500,000 for defaming her to the network “as at least partial compensation for the past, present and ongoing reputational, emotional and economic injuries and damages she has suffered, and continues to suffer, as a result of this malicious conduct.” When the Church responded by calling Remini “a failed ‘celebrity’ seeking to make a buck off of her former religion,” she upped her demand to $1.5 million.