On the heels of the release of the Going Clear documentary, one of the journalists at the forefront of covering Scientology, Tony Ortega, released a book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely. It profiled a woman, Paulette Cooper, who courageously faced off against Scientology when it was in its infancy. After Cooper began writing about the group, Scientology took aim, hell bent on destroying her life.
She was framed for sending bomb threats, arrested and faced ten years in prison. Fighting that legal battle, and many others, was financially ruinous. Cooper’s personal life was infiltrated by Scientology loyalists and followers and the “church” even went so far as to plant their agents as her roommates and best friends. Cooper places the blame for marrying late in life on the group, explaining her inability to be financially and emotionally stable because of the group’s campaign against her.
A generation later, there’s a new and unexpected warrior against Scientology, and she has two weapons Cooper never had: fame and a deep inside knowledge of the group, having been raised in it. Leah Remini is best known for her role on the King of Queens sitcom and now as the star of her own TLC reality show Leah Remini: It’s All Relative.
Why Remini Ended Her Relationship With The Cult
For the last few years, Scientology watchers have observed Remini’s detachment from the group, one of its most high-profile defections. This detachment seems to have begun at the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, according to Tony Ortega. He maintains a blog devoted to Scientology news and wrote:
In November 2006, when the Cruise/Holmes wedding occurred, it was still surprising for Remini to see Miscavige at such a major event without his wife. When she asked about it she was told to shut up, as if the question itself was out of line. That did not sit well with the actress, who is known for speaking her mind. When she returned from Italy, she did what Scientologists are told to do when they see something that they consider against the church’s rules — she wrote a “Knowledge Report.”
Remini’s report, we’re told, included criticisms of Miscavige, his personal “communicator” Laurisse Stuckenbrock, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, and other members of Scientology’s upper management. She also “had it out” with Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw, church execs Mike Sutter and Hansueli Stahli (who, with another executive, Marion Pouw, have been used as a kind of barnstorming committee, traveling around the country to quiet exmembers with large payments and confidentiality agreements), as well as media handlers Tommy Davis and Jessica Feshbach, accusing them of lying to the press about Scientology’s toxic “disconnection” policy and the excessive interrogations of church members. Remini then filed her report.
Let that sink in: Leah Remini wrote up David Miscavige, the leader of Scientology, and submitted it for action.
After this incident Remini filed a missing person’s report for Shelly Miscavige, who was apparently successfully located by the Los Angeles Police Department, which closed the case. Despite the friends and family still embedded in the group, which requires its members to practice “disconnection” from those who stray or are critical of it (called “suppressive persons” or SPs) Remini ended her relationship with the cult.
Much of this news, while titillating to Scientology buffs and those who follow the news closely, has fallen off the radar of the average American, if it was ever on it to begin with. Most Americans know nothing of Scientology, as evidenced by the dozens of tourists volunteering for “free” e-reading sessions at tables set up in the Times Square subway station.
Remini’s Show Rocks The Boat
Enter: Remini’s new season of her TLC reality series It’s All Relative. In the first episode of the new season (available on Amazon Instant Video) the normally comical show gets serious when Remini discusses her departure from the cult and what it has meant for her and her family. This is one of the first popculture introductions to the real nature of the organization founded by L. Ron Hubbard. For the first time in detail, Remini opened up about what exactly happened when she decided to leave.
While sitting next to her stoic mother, who was also once a member and who “got [her] into the organization,” Remini said “This whole thing with the Church of Scientology began because of the things that I saw and started calling people out in the Church about not following their own policy. And because of that they put me through major interrogations. Then they go after your family and try to get your family to go against you to put pressure on you to ‘straighten up.’ It was getting to a point where we all couldn’t subscribe to these policies anymore.”
At a group therapy session with Remini’s family, members of the tightknit clan open up about what Remini’s defection meant for the rest of them. One of the most jarring moments in the episode was when Remini’s brother-in-law discussed leaving the “church.” He said he lost his father, sister and some really good friends, telling the group:
The conversation with my dad where he said ‘we’re never speaking again’ was like: ‘hey, are you divorcing Shannon because of what Leah is doing?’ I was like ‘you’re insane!’ And he said ‘I can’t ever speak to you again.’… How could my dad leave me the same way you would discard a tshirt you really loved but is torn up so now you have to throw it out? That’s the emotional extent of our breakup.
Remini goes on to apologize to him and the group, telling her family that she feels responsible for the family’s departure and the disruption and heartache it caused in their lives — which was, of course, exactly how the “church” wanted her to feel.
What Happens When You Challenge The Status Quo
Remini was used as an example by Scientology. She was what happens when you ask too many questions, when you challenge the status quo. She wasn’t too famous to avoid interrogations or have her and her family shunned. Clearly, that strategy has backfired as Remini becomes more and more outspoken about life in the “church” and her life after leaving.
While Remini may have Paulette Cooper’s bravery, her fate will be quite different. The “church” has far less control over its detractors than it once did. While in Cooper’s day every copy of a book or magazine could disappear off of shelves when its pages were critical of the organization, there’s no stopping the spread of information now. Paulette Cooper has been called “Scientology’s first victim.” Times have changed, and Remini is proving that while she may have been targeted by the organization, their ability to victimize their opponents is quickly disappearing.