Maybe it’s all our fault. In the spring of 2012, Academy Award-winning producer Simon Chinn (Man on Wire, Searching for Sugar Man) took us to lunch at the Dos Caminos restaurant on Houston Street in Manhattan to talk about Scientology.
He told us he was planning to make a feature film on the church and had decided to cast BBC presenter Louis Theroux in it. But he was still trying to figure out what aspect of Scientology to cover.
Oh, that’s easy, we told him. If you wanted to understand what was happening with Scientology in 2012, you needed to consider former high-ranking Scientology executive Marty Rathbun, we said, and we told him all about the Squirrel Busters, and Rathbun’s blog.
Chinn probably would have got there on his own without our advice, but he and Theroux did make Rathbun a big part of their film, My Scientology Movie. In fact, Rathbun is the film’s most important figure after Theroux himself. But now, four years after we had that meeting and just two days before Chinn and Theroux’s movie opens in theaters in Australia on Thursday, Rathbun has denounced My Scientology Movie and its filmmakers.
Less than a week after he tore into Ron Miscavige’s memoir Ruthless for its harsh portrayal of Ron’s son, Scientology leader David Miscavige, Rathbun has now published a lengthy and detailed takedown of how My Scientology Movie was made, accusing its makers of being dishonest. (Theroux’s movie opens on October 10 in the UK, and in the US in January.)
Rathbun writes that in 2012 he had extracted a promise from Chinn that the film would take a sober look at Scientology’s “origins, its historical and philosophical context,” but Theroux instead “used” Rathbun as bait to “incite the wrath of the Church of Scientology.”
In press reports (and in the film itself), Theroux, who is known for his interviewing ability, has admitted that he had to take another direction when he couldn’t get access to Scientologists or church leaders. So he came up with very creative ways to examine Scientology’s controversies (you can see our original review of the film here). And along the way, he found himself being stalked numerous times by Scientologists, who were filming Theroux as he was trying to film them. (You get some sense of the nuttiness of it in the movie’s trailer.)
Rathbun is now saying that Chinn had made promises to him that the movie wouldn’t include such scenes. He says that Theroux and director John Dower assured him that “baiting” Scientologists for a reaction would not be a part of the finished film. When he began to suspect that they would go back on that promise, Rathbun says, he threatened to stop working with them.
Chinn then flew to Los Angeles where scenes were being filmed to reassure Rathbun that what he had originally promised about the movie would be “fully honored.”
Rathbun says he warned all three of them — Chinn, Dower, and Theroux — that their “antics” reminded him of a previous BBC production that he’d worked on, a 2010 BBC Panorama episode by journalist John Sweeney, which Rathbun characterized as “consisting almost entirely of [Sweeney] attempting to poke sticks in Scientologists’ eyes to get them to react on camera.”
Rathbun says the three were offended that he would compare them to Sweeney, who they called a “publicity hound,” and they promised him that the finished movie wouldn’t be about baiting Scientology the way Sweeney had. (We traded messages last night with Sweeney, who said he didn’t want to comment.)
Last year, just before Theroux’s movie made its worldwide premiere at the London Film Festival, Rathbun was shown a copy of it via a private Internet connection.
We attended that London premiere, and Dower told us that Rathbun had said he liked the movie (and Dower sounded relieved). But now Rathbun says that seeing the film last year confirmed for him that Simon Chinn was a “tabloid hack,” Theroux an “ass clown,” and Dower a “rimless zero.”
Rathbun complained that in their publicity for the movie, the three filmmakers were being dishonest in interviews. They tried to differentiate their movie from Alex Gibney’s hugely successful 2015 HBO documentary, Going Clear, by intimating that Gibney and Lawrence Wright had taken a predictably critical stance, and that My Scientology Movie had worked harder to understand the Scientology experience and present it in a more positive light.
Rathbun disagrees, saying that the filmmakers set out to do a critical film and never tried to understand Scientology properly. And even though they had worked hard to provoke reactions from the church, the filmmakers pretended that they had been “stalked and harassed” for no reason at all.
And one of the most potentially damaging allegations by Rathbun: When Theroux and Dower were unable to provoke the church into stalking them, they simply pretended that it was happening.
Meanwhile, Rathbun claims, the filmmakers were describing Rathbun’s involvement in the project in letters to Scientology attorneys, hoping that it would provoke the church into acting. The result, he says, was the 2014 encounter at the Los Angeles International Airport when three high-level Sea Organization executives surrounded Rathbun and taunted him, while Rathbun captured it on tape.
Rathbun says that Theroux and Dower were thrilled, and that Chinn admitted that footage of the encounter shot by Rathbun would save what might have been a “potentially failed project.”
Rathbun criticizes news organizations that have portrayed Theroux as brave for taking on Scientology, even though Theroux’s attempts to bait the church were largely ignored by Scientology.
And, like in his earlier piece about Ron Miscavige’s memoir Ruthless, Rathbun saves for last what he considers his most devastating allegation, which should call the entire project into question. In the case of Ruthless, Rathbun tried to undercut the book’s claim that private investigators had been told by David Miscavige to allow his father to die of a heart attack: “If he dies, he dies,” David Miscavige reportedly told them, and Ron originally made that the title of his book. Adopting the language of the Church of Scientology itself, Rathbun called the story by the private investigators “provable bullshit.”
In the case of Theroux’s film, Rathbun says that the movie’s key scene recreating what it was like to be in Scientology’s notorious “Hole” was unfair to David Miscavige.
On a sound stage in Los Angeles, the filmmakers recreated the conditions of The Hole, where some church executives were held as prisoners for years. Theroux says in the movie that Rathbun had written a script in order to recreate what it was like to be subjected to the wrath of David Miscavige, and during the scene’s filming Rathbun looks on approvingly as actor Andrew Perez goes nuts, verbally abusing the other actors, who are portraying prisoners.
But now, Rathbun says that the script he wrote for that scene wasn’t “lurid and shocking” enough for Theroux, and so the scene was largely ad-libbed by Perez.
As for his looking on approvingly, Rathbun now says that he’s come to realize that what had been recreated wasn’t a meltdown by Miscavige, but a portrayal of what Rathbun himself had been like in the Sea Org.
We found that assertion by Rathbun to be highly significant. As in his attack on Ruthless, Rathbun has managed to find a way to adopt Scientology’s own language. Rathbun denounces My Scientology Movie in exactly the way the Church of Scientology has attacked questions about David Miscavige’s alleged abuse of his employees.
When journalists ask the church about Miscavige physically attacking his lieutenants and they cite testimony by Marty Rathbun, church spokespeople have claimed that it was Rathbun, not Miscavige, who was doing the beat-downs and dishing out abuse.
Now, remarkably, Rathbun is echoing the Church of Scientology in what feels like a last-minute attempt to sabotage Louis Theroux’s film.
One of the first things we did last night after reading Rathbun’s blog post was put a call in to Tom DeVocht in Seattle. DeVocht was also a longtime Scientology executive and spent a lot of his time working directly with David Miscavige. DeVocht has a short appearance in My Scientology Movie, and he also spent time as a prisoner in the Hole. He has seen the movie, and we asked him, was the portrayal of Miscavige abusing people in the Hole, as portrayed by Andrew Perez and overseen by Marty Rathbun, an accurate one?
Yes, he told us, but then he said the scene only began to portray Miscavige’s depravity. “There were times it got so much more intense, and so much uglier, you wouldn’t believe it,” DeVocht says. And he can’t understand why Rathbun would try and convince people that Miscavige was any less violent than the film portrays.
“It’s ridiculous that he’s saying that. How many of us were there and can tell you that’s the way it actually was?” DeVocht says. “Marty’s lost it. All of those statements he made are bullshit.”
Jefferson Hawkins, who also appears in the film and was someone who experienced Miscavige’s violent behavior first hand, agrees with DeVocht’s assessment of the scene. “There is no way that the ‘Hole’ scene is anything but Marty’s creation,” Hawkins says. “I was not there for the filming, but watching the scene, it is eerily accurate. Perez nails David Miscavige, and the scene is a convincing re-creation of what Miscavige and the Int Base are like. That could not have come from Theroux or Chinn – Marty was the only insider who was there. You can clearly see in the film that it is Marty creating that scene, and taking satisfaction in its accuracy.”
Steve Mango tells us that what especially surprises him is Rathbun’s assertion that the scene portraying the Hole was not done just as he wanted it.
Mango is a former Scientologist who appears in the film, talking about how much money the church drained from him. But he was also asked to portray one of the Sea Org workers in the Hole scene. And he was present at the Los Angeles studio where several other scenes were shot.
He says that not only did the Hole scene reflect in general what Rathbun had scripted for it, but that Marty was largely in control as the scene was being filmed.
“Marty would give line readings and tell the actors to say or do something in the scene. Marty was 100 percent in control, even telling them when they got the right take and when to move on,” he says. “There is no denying that Marty was involved in those scenes in their entirety.”
Mango does confirm that there was tension on the set as Rathbun blew up at the filmmakers. “I broke up a big argument between Louis, Simon, and Marty, where Marty almost stormed off and quit filming for good and Louis was just trying to understand it all,” he says. But the one time when Marty seemed most satisfied was the filming of the Hole scene and Andrew Perez’s portrayal of Miscavige.
“Marty was smiling with pride as Andrew portrayed Miscavige,” he says.
We reached Theroux, who said he didn’t want to comment. Dower said the same on behalf of himself and Simon Chinn. We sent a question to Marty Rathbun about his recent posts, and he accused us of “cognitive dissonance and paranoia.” He didn’t respond when we told him that Tom DeVocht found the film’s portrayal of Miscavige to be a fair one.
At his blog, Rathbun explained that his recent posts have been intended as “housecleaning” as he intends to “leave the place,” apparently a reference to ending his writing about Scientology, or something.
Unless he plans to take down his archives (and even then, they’ll be backed up somewhere), Rathbun may have a hard time explaining how his recent writings compare to what he’s said in the past.
If today John Sweeney is a “publicity hound” whose 2010 BBC film, “The Secrets of Scientology,” was dishonest baiting of the church, here’s what Rathbun said about the film when it was about to come out.
I am doing no interviews on the subject until the BBC Panorama investigation has aired. It is BBC’s exclusive as far as I am concerned. The reason is that Panorama’s John Sweeney actually connected the dots on all this. Sweeney can investigate, folks. Why do you think DM worked so hard utilizing reverse Scientology tactics to make him snap? Do you realize the crux of Sweeney’s 2007 investigation was evidence that Miscavige beat people on a regular basis? The effort and money that Miscavige devotes to discrediting Sweeney is directly proportional to the investigative skills and persistence of Sweeney. Stayed tuned.
Stay tuned we have, since 2009 when Rathbun first started blogging. And the current picture is getting awfully blurry.
UPDATE: Steven Mango has posted a video addressing Marty Rathbun’s allegations about Theroux’s movie.
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. 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
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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