Actress Leah Remini left the Church of Scientology in 2013 — after 35 years as a devout member — and ever since, she has been on a crusade to expose the controversial organization’s secrets. On “Scientology and the Aftermath,” her new series on A&E, Remini seeks to “delve deep into shocking stories of abuse, heartbreak and harassment experienced by those who have left the church and spoken publicly about their experiences.”
Tuesday night’s episode had a theme: Disturbing stories about the organization’s leader David Miscavige, whom ex-members refer to as “the pope of Scientology,” as well as the “undisputed dictator.”
As usual, A&E put up a disclaimer at the beginning of the episode and between each act break, given the religion’s leaders harshly condemned the series and denied many of the claims. The church also has called Remini an “obnoxious, spiteful ex-Scientologist” who is angry that she was expelled from the church, and that she’s doing the series for money; they also said the show is “doomed to be a cheap reality TV show by a has-been actress now a decade removed from the peak of her career.”
Remini is well aware of how the church feels — each time she interviewed a new person during the episode, she read excerpts from a letter that the church sent to discredit them. One of these people is actually Ron Miscavige, David’s father. Remini and Mike Rinder, another former Scientologist, visit Ron and his wife, Becky, to hear their side of the story.
Ron Miscavige says he taught his entire family about Scientology in the 1970s. One day, his son David said, “Dad, I don’t want to go to school anymore . . . I want to go help L. Ron Hubbard.” (Also known as the science fiction author and Scientology founder.) Ron figured it was similar to joining the Marines as a teenager, and figured, why not? So when David was 16 years old, Ron bought him a plane ticket, and his son flew down to Scientology headquarters in Clearwater, Fla., to join the Sea Org, the highest level.
According to Ron, David quickly rose through the ranks and within nine months was working with Hubbard himself in California. When Hubbard died in 1986, Ron says, David saw an opportunity and moved into a more powerful position.
At this point, Ron says, he had also joined the Sea Org — and quickly realized that his son, an influential leader, had no time for him. David called him “Ron,” Ron called his son “sir.” Ron explains to Remini that in Scientology, “family connections were considered a false dynamic,” because no spiritual being can be the father of another spiritual being.
Ron rarely saw his son, and he and his wife had a very limited existence, living at a Scientology base with intense security. They had almost no access to the Internet, but that all changed when David gave his father a Kindle and forgot to turn off the WiFi. Ron looked up Scientology and was stunned to read all sorts of horror stories, and realized that the outside world considered it a cult.
Ultimately, with six months of planning, Ron and his wife escaped. Afterward, Ron says, they were tailed by a private investigator hired by the church, according to police. The most devastating part: Once, investigators were secretly watching Ron when he was at the grocery store, and mistakenly thought he was having a heart attack. So the investigators called Scientology headquarters asking what they should do. Then, a man who identified himself as David Miscavige got on the phone and said, “If it’s his time to die, let him die. Don’t intervene. Don’t do anything.”
Even knowing that his son didn’t want to prevent his theoretical death, Ron (who wrote a book about his Scientology experiences this year) still wants to see David again. “I was there when he was born,” Ron says to Remini, becoming too emotional to speak. Like many Scientologists who leave, Ron is cut off from family members who are still in the church, which includes his daughters and grandchildren.
In response, the church disputes many of Ron Miscavige’s statements and says that he physically abused his wife and daughter, was arrested for attempted rape, and has a history of anti-Semitic and racist comments.
Remini also interviewed people about David Miscavige’s alleged physical abuse against his staff, including Jeff Hawkins, who was the Scientology “marketing guru” for years. He joined because as a self-proclaimed hippie in the late 1960s, he liked the idea of Scientology’s antiwar stance and spiritual component, particularly the strong belief about the afterlife.
So Hawkins signed a billion-year contract and started working closely with Miscavige. Then, he says, Miscavige assaulted him several times. During one incident, he explains, Miscavige once started making fun of him in a room full of people, and when Hawkins asked him not to, Miscavige took that as a sign of disrespect and started hitting him in the face.
Hawkins says that he, as well as everyone in the room at the time, was too afraid to fight back. Initially, he thought the bad times would pass, but when he realized Miscavige would be running Scientology for a very long time, he left the church.
In response, the church disputes many of Hawkins’s statements and says he is an “obsessed anti-Scientologist” who was expelled for “unsavory personal conduct,” and has a long record of malfeasance, and that he fabricated stories about violence from a staff member.
Remini also interviews Tom DeVocht, another high-ranking former member. DeVocht says Miscavige abused him, once when he wasn’t able to secure permits to block Scientology protesters. DeVocht says upon learning that he didn’t complete the task, Miscavige jumped across a table and choked him.
What eventually drove him away, DeVocht says, was realizing that Scientology’s ideas of the afterlife were a “farce.” Over drinks, he says, Miscavige confided that he had Hubbard’s worksheets about the highest spiritual level a Scientologist could go, but he would have to finish them himself. That’s when DeVocht realized his religion wasn’t as spiritually fulfilling as he originally thought.
“The idea of walking away . . . and becoming a homeless bum — or even dead — was better, more palatable, than staying in the organization at that point,” says DeVocht. “It was that bad.”
In response, the church disputes many of DeVocht’s statements and calls him a “violent, admitted liar” who left Scientology after an investigation into his waste of church funds. They call DeVocht’s claims of abuse “outrageous” and say that he is actually an abuser himself.
Also in the episode: Remini, who has been vocal in Scientology superstar Tom Cruise’s role in the organization, includes a brief video of Cruise gushing over Miscavige at a 2004 Scientology event.
“I have never met a more competent, a more intelligent, a more tolerant, a more compassionate being. And I’ve met the leaders of leaders,” Cruise says in the clip. “So I say to you, sir . . . we are lucky to have you.”