Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, the A&E series that begins airing Tuesday night at 10 pm, opens with Leah Remini talking directly to you against a black background.
It’s an unusual start for a show that wants to explain itself as it goes along. Throughout the first hour of the series, Leah narrates almost as much about how and why she’s doing the program as what’s happening on screen. We found this quality of self-awareness to be one of the episode’s strengths.
And in order to explain how we got here, Leah quickly fills in viewers on her background in Scientology, how she became disaffected, and how she left the church and then wrote a book about it, her bestselling 2015 memoir, Troublemaker.
But getting herself out of Scientology (with her family thankfully intact) didn’t end the questions she had about the organization that had treated her as one of its shining celebrities. (Cue fun archival footage of the King of Queens star giving earnest testimonials about Scientology at Celebrity Centre galas from the past.) Going public with her defection only put her in contact with many more people who had suffered from their association with the organization.
Publishing a book wasn’t enough. Even though she had spoken out, as had so many others just in the last seven years since an epic 2009 Tampa Bay Times series had opened a floodgate of coverage about Scientology, nothing has been done about the organization’s well-documented abuses, and the church continues to split apart families and bully former members who dare to speak up.
So Leah hooks up with her sidekick, the mellifluous Australian who was Scientology’s international spokesman, Mike Rinder, and the avenging duo set off to tell the tales of the victims Scientology has left in its wake.
Their first stop: The Pacific Northwest, where they speak with Amy Scobee and Mat Pesch, two former Scientology “Sea Org” members who are now out of the church and married to each other. Leah also has footage of interviews she did of Amy’s mother, Bonny Elliott, who describes the stunning choice Scientology forced her to make.
If you’ve read Amy’s book, Abuse at the Top, you know that she went to work for Scientology in 1978 at only 14 years of age. And that first year, she says she was raped by a 35-year-old married Sea Org member, who admitted it to his superiors — but the church, Amy says, swept the whole thing under the rug, not even informing her mother. Two years later, at 16, Amy joined the Sea Org herself, signing its billion-year contract. She would go on to become a high-ranking official in the organization, and even ran the Hollywood Celebrity Centre. Her duties included staffing Tom Cruise’s home with Scientologist workers to make sure that Tom was kept in the church’s influence as much as possible.
Like many other Sea Org members, Amy was eventually found deficient in some way, and she was then shipped off to the Rehabilitation Project Force, Scientology’s harrowing prison program. It was while in the RPF that she met Pesch, and she credits Mat with finally helping her escape Scientology entirely, in 2005. Four years later, Amy was part of the group of former top officials who spoke to the Tampa Bay Times for its series.
Meanwhile, her mother faced a terrible choice. As a perceived enemy of the church, Amy was declared “suppressive,” and that meant that Bonny would have to “disconnect” from her own daughter if she wanted to stay in the church. And Bonny’s number one motivation for remaining a member was that her husband Mark was still an enthusiastic Scientologist.
Bonny explains in heartbreaking detail how Scientology forced her to make a decision between her husband and her daughter — the two people she loved more than anyone else in the world.
It’s a gut-wrenching segment, and a strong way for Leah to begin her series.
We asked her, for viewers who are as affected by Amy and Bonny’s story as much as we were, what would you like them to take away from that experience? What are you hoping they do about the abuses of Scientology?
“I hope people thinking about leaving Scientology heed Bonny’s advice. And that was, don’t let Scientology or any religion get in the way of your family. I hope people who are considering leaving take the leap. Fight for your family members who are in. Get yourself out,” she told us.
“As for Amy’s story, hers isn’t the first I’ve heard of sexual abuse and the church not doing anything about it. I hope the government agencies get their heads out of their asses and start to look into these allegations of fraud, sexual abuse, and physical abuse. I can only do so much,” she added. “The fact that the church continues to victimize people is diabolical. They, their lawyers, their private investigators, should be ashamed of themselves.”
We think Scientology watchers, whether they’re newbies or oldtimers, will find this to be a surprisingly strong opening episode. We look forward to live-blogging the episode with you on Tuesday night.
(In the interest of full disclosure, we were interviewed on camera for a segment that may or may not be included in the latter part of the series.)
Aaron Smith-Levin talks Scientology with Mike Rinder
They’re back. Rinder and Smith-Levin have put together another video in their “Growing Up in Scientology” series. We asked Aaron for a rundown.
We talked about…
— What were you taught to believe about L. Ron Hubbard’s history that explained why he, and only he, was able to develop Dianetics and Scientology.
— Are Scientologists, as they move up the Bridge, simply being conditioned to be more like Hubbard?
— Did you grow up believing LRH could exteriorize from his body at will, and how did this affect your view of Scientology?
— What was your understanding of “Clearing the Planet” and how such a thing was supposed to happen?
— What were you taught to believe about homosexuality and what Scientology could do about it?
— Why has no one ever been expelled from Scientology for “ethical lapses”?
— What reforms have occurred as a result of former members speaking out about abuses?
— How does Scientology cover up sexual abuse of minors within the organization?
— Does the Church have a legal obligation to report sexual abuse of minors when such abuse is “confessed” in an auditing session?
Chris Shelton on ‘Scientology’
Brian Sheen on the fraud of Scientology
Here’s a second video from Brian Sheen, whom we first wrote about last year…
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated 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 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