One Woman’s Daring Escape From Scientology: ‘I Wanted to End My Life’
In the Season 3 premiere of ‘Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,’ an ex-member of Scientology’s inner circle details the church’s alleged abuses—and her miraculous escape.
The third season premiere of A&E’s Emmy-winning docuseries Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath has faced a barrage of legal threats from the Church of Scientology—so much so that a screener of the episode was only made available to press mere hours before its airing Tuesday night.
And as notoriously litigious as the church is, they had reason to be nervous, as the episode featured the exclusive testimony of Valerie Haney, a woman who was born into Scientology and not only served 22 years in the church’s fraternal religious order Sea Org, whose members are required to sign billion-year contracts, but was also the personal aide to Scientology leader David Miscavige’s wife Shelly, who hasn’t been seen publicly since 2007. Haney says that she last saw Shelly in 2006, crying and entering a car that then departed Scientology’s International Headquarters, or “Gold Base”—a compound on the outskirts of Riverside County, California.
“What [Miscavige] is doing with his wife, hiding her and not having her anywhere around, I don’t get it. That is heartless to me,” claims Haney.
Remini famously filed a missing-persons report on Shelly Miscavige’s behalf in 2013, and the LAPD claimed to have performed a wellness check and found Remini’s claims to be “unfounded.”
“What matters to me is that I have not seen proof that this woman is alive, or doing well, so I can give a shit what the LAPD said as their bullshit statement that they put out, because I haven’t seen her face,” Remini told me. “I’m calling bullshit on it. I did everything that I could with my lawyer, and they gave me the run-around. They said the only thing I could do is start a lawsuit. That would have been a huge cost to me.”
I also spoke with then-LAPD Detective Kevin Becker, who filed the missing-persons report for Miscavige on Remini’s behalf, and told me, “I and many other detectives believe that the ‘investigation’ was VERY poorly handled and LAPD fell way short on this one.” (Becker has since retired from the force.)
In the Aftermath episode, Haney says that Shelly was “in more disagreement” with the way her husband was running Scientology and treating its staff. “I saw David Miscavige punch [Remini’s Aftermath co-host and ex-Scientology exec] Mike Rinder, and I remember one time Dave ordered someone to get smashed into the wall and [have] water poured on their head,” Haney says. She further alleges that when she left the church in November of 2016, there was still a Hole—a sort of hybrid reeducation/torture facility in two double-wide trailers on Gold Base—where many once high-ranking Scientologists resided because “they all witnessed David Miscavige beating people up and that is why they are still there, and that is why they’re still controlled.”
Haney says that Shelly was removed from her post after confiding in her, while Haney was reassigned to “deck work,” or heavy physical labor (in her case digging ditches). “I wanted to end my life,” she tells Remini in the episode.
Haney says she endured “deck work” for four months, and was then transferred to a video production unit, where she served as a casting director working on pro-Scientology propaganda videos.
“We were shooting a film that was about the Korean War and about brainwashing—what brainwashing is, and how it is done—and then I went, ‘Oh my gosh… that is what Scientology is,’” she recalls in the episode.
When Haney asked if she could leave the church, however, she claims that she was told, “Oh no, you worked with David Miscavige, you can’t leave!” as well as forwarded the story of a Gold Base captain who tried to flee in a vehicle with his wife and children only to be turned away by guards.
So one night, she packed her things, crawled into the car trunk of one of the actors on the film production who wasn’t in Scientology, and made her escape. Once she emerged, Haney flew to Portland to be with her father—only he was still in Scientology, and convinced her to return to the church and “leave correctly,” which in Sea Org means you must be “routed out,” or forced to sign an NDA and participate in a recorded exit interview.
In the NDA and recorded exit interview, which the church submitted to the show as evidence against Haney (along with the fact that she currently works as a paid assistant to Remini), Haney said that nobody “coerced” her into saying anything or “forced” her into signing anything, and that David Miscavige never mistreated her or anyone else. She also says she had to promise she wouldn’t speak out against the church or associate with ex-members.
“If I didn’t do and say exactly what [they] wanted me to do and say in that interview, then I was better off dead, because I probably would have killed myself if they didn’t let me leave right at that moment,” Haney says in the episode. “I felt like if I didn’t give them exactly what they wanted then they wouldn’t let me leave… that was the last test in order for me to go see my family and be a normal person.”
It didn’t end there. Haney claims that she was served a threatening legal letter in the middle of the night by a large mystery man, and that she’s constantly “followed” by agents of the church. She also says that the church turned her brother, who is still a Scientologist, against her, and “manipulated him” into disconnecting from her.
“They’re doing everything they can to try to shut me up because they know what I know is what abuses have happened in Scientology,” say Haney.
Still, she refuses to remain silent: “I feel that people need to know the truth, and I cannot keep living a life where I’m scared every second.”