A year ago, we brought you the story of a family ripped apart by Scientology’s ‘disconnection’ policy. Gayle Smith had been a longtime staff member in the Philadelphia org who found herself “declared” a “suppressive person” in 2011, cutting her off from the church and everyone in it. That included her son, Aaron Smith-Levin, and his three children. But she defied the church, continued to see her son and grandchildren, and that ended up getting Aaron tossed out of the church and his kids kicked out of a Scientology school.
Also last year, Tampa Bay Times journalist Joe Childs reported another stunning case of disconnection. A woman named Sara Goldberg was forced by church officials to choose between her son, Nick Lister, who had been declared, and her daughter, who remained in the church. Her dilemma became a key highlight of Alex Gibney’s documentary, Going Clear, which began airing on HBO last month.
Now, the two young men from those stories, Aaron Smith-Levin and Nick Lister, are teaming up to create a new YouTube channel that will feature the stories of other young Scientologists who grew up in the church and believe they have a unique view of it.
Gibney told us that his first cut of Going Clear was four hours long, and there are many stories he wanted to tell besides what fit into the final, two-hour version. Young Scientologists and their stories of growing up in the church was one area Gibney said he would like to have had more time to tell.
In 2008, several members who had grown up in the church started a website, Ex-Scientology Kids, which had a big impact on the media, and helped shift the public narrative about Scientology from something that was purely the subject of ridicule (as seen in a South Park 2005 episode, “Trapped in the Closet”) to an approach that was more about the abuses and control experienced by second- and third-generation church members.
Smith-Levin, who does research for hedge funds, has the resources to match his ambitions, which are, he told us, not only to interview other former Scientology kids, but also to try to correct a lot of misinformation in the media about the Scientology life.
“I want to describe why people get in, what they get out of Scientology, and what makes them stay in so long — and not just the controversies and abuses that so much of the media is about,” Smith-Levin tells us.
He filled us in on what’s happened in his life in the last year, when we wrote about him but he couldn’t, at that time, talk for publication.
“My wife Heather was given the ultimatum to divorce me or be declared. She said she wouldn’t divorce me, so she was declared,” Aaron says. “Then her mother and father were forced to disconnect from her. They live a mile down the street from us, but I haven’t seen them in a year. Heather was also fired from her job at a local Narconon [a Scientology drug rehab facility], and our three kids were kicked out of their Scientology school, the Washburn Academy.”
Heather’s parents own the house across the street from them, and about a month ago, Aaron says, he and Heather spotted them there. “Heather crossed the street to talk to them, and her mother refused to come out of the house.”
Now, Aaron wants to tell similar stories about what former Scientology kids go through. His first interview: Nick Lister.
Nick’s story is a powerful element of Going Clear, even though he doesn’t appear on camera. His mother, Sara Goldberg, talks about sticking by him even though it meant her daughter chose to disconnect from the both of them.
Nick, 27, has many more experiences in Scientology than the family drama shown in Going Clear — he spent years on staff, for example, and at one time tutored the sons of Bob Duggan. “The entire experience of Scientology is fascinating, whether you were born into it or joined,” he says. “For me, this project is personal. It’s about redemption. And it’s about getting knowledge about the church out there. Aaron and I want it to be entertaining and humorous and not only about the abuses. It’s not going to be like True Detective.”
Aaron and Nick are in Florida, but they’ll be getting post-production help from former church members Nora and Cameron Crest, who are in California. Although Aaron has the resources he needs to fund a YouTube channel, Nora and Cameron are raising money to cover their equipment costs, and yesterday revealed crowdfunding projects at Kickstarter and Indiegogo, posting a teaser trailer which shows the high production values they’re going for…
Smith-Levin says the first interview video should debut in about a month. We’re looking forward to it.
L. Ron Hubbard on your TV
We’ve been hearing from folks that they’re seeing a “new” Scientology ad about L. Ron Hubbard playing on their televisions. Here’s the video that Scientology put on its YouTube channel last month…
But we’re pretty sure this is just a warmed-over version of a Hubbard ad that Scientology actually put together a couple of years ago. Everything in it is very familiar. And hilarious.
Larry Wright and Alec Baldwin on ‘Going Clear’
Baldwin was in the audience on opening night at Sundance, so you just know he’s been itching for this interview…
Bonus photos from our tipsters
A Russian Scientologist gets her US citizenship…
Meanwhile, in Mexico City, it’s like there’s a fundraiser every week. This time, the costumes included a Frida Kahlo!
Scientologists are using social media more than ever. Drop us a line if you spot them posting images to Instagram or Facebook!
Posted by Tony Ortega on April 14, 2015 at 07:00
E-mail your tips and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield