Last night, A&E fed the huge fascination for its new series, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath with a remarkable sneak peek of tonight’s third episode. The network played the first fifteen minutes of the episode, which featured Remini and Mike Rinder explaining to executive producer Alex Weresow how Scientology’s “Bridge to Total Freedom” was laid out, including the ludicrous prices that Scientologists are expected to pay.
We’re super impressed with how Remini and Rinder have convinced a bunch of reality-TV folks used to less serious fare (Weresow’s previous credits include Celebrity Wife Swap) to create a show that is methodically and systematically taking apart the Scientology story, from how it sucks people in and takes over their lives to how it rips families apart.
In tonight’s episode, Remini and Rinder keep the education going with their explanations about how Scientologists must pay enormous amounts, often for courses that they’ve been forced to redo, or for books that they already own copies of. Members also pay ridiculous amounts to be interrogated so that the church has a file of their most damaging secrets. “You may be paying someone $800 an hour to sit and interrogate you,” Rinder says. “If you keep doing that to someone, you get them to the point where they will say basically anything in order to put an end to it.”
But the real star of the episode is Florida mom Mary Kahn, who surprised us with how wretched her situation turned out to be. Mary told her story at Mike Rinder’s website two years ago, and last year she held a reception for us in her Clearwater home when we were in town with Paulette Cooper for our book tour.
Based on what she’d written at Rinder’s site, we knew that she’d had a familiar story of joining Scientology enthusiastically in her twenties in 1973, then going up the Bridge (twice, because of re-dos), until the disillusionment set in during the David Miscavige era. Her experience on Scientology’s private cruise ship, the Freewinds, for OT 8 was particularly dreadful. And then, like so many others, Mary was energized by Debbie Cook’s infamous 2012 letter about Miscavige’s shortcomings.
What we didn’t realize, however, was how tortuous Scientology made it for Mary to finally leave the organization. For more than a year after she left in May 2013, Scientology operatives tried to convince her husband, David Kahn, to divorce her and stay in the church. In the show, he admits that he considered it, if only because he didn’t want to lose contact with their younger son, Sammy, who was a dedicated Scientologist. (Their older son, Michael, was not a Scientologist.)
Mary tells a visibly disgusted Remini and Rinder how she managed to get through a final showdown with church officials at Scientology headquarters, which resulted in her being “declared” a “suppressive person,” an enemy of the church. David Kahn explains how he “strung along” the same church officials for as long as he could before he, too, was declared last year.
And that’s how they both lost their son, Sammy, who has now disconnected from them. Despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in Scientology and being a member for 40 years, Mary Kahn couldn’t keep her family from being ripped apart. And she can barely keep it together as she describes the anguish she experienced at the hands of church officials, calling it mental abuse.
And then, on camera, there’s an emotional breakdown that stunned us.
We won’t tell you more about it except that it was a moment we weren’t expecting, and it drove home for us how much pain many former Scientologists are carrying with them.
It’s a powerful hour of television, but we were left with a few questions after it. So last night, we called up Mary and David Kahn and their son Michael to ask them to fill in a few details.
We asked Mary to tell us a little more about her son Sammy. He’s 25, and he’s a very dedicated church member (he’s reached the mid-range goal of “Clear”), but he doesn’t work for the organization. Mary explained that Sammy joined the Sea Org briefly, but didn’t finish its brutal monthlong boot camp, the Estates Project Force. Then he was on staff at the Belleair mission, but that didn’t last long either. Today, he’s living in Virginia and working for a company that’s owned by a Scientologist. He moved there, Mary says, to get away from his parents.
He was still living with them as recently as three years ago. “We had Christmas with both Sammy and Michael in 2013,” Mary says. But even then, she could see that he was pulling away from her. He told her repeatedly that she needed to “handle” her problems with the church.
“In early February 2014, he hugged me goodbye. ‘Don’t do anything weird, mom,’ he said. He hugged me, but it was pretty cold,” she says. She hasn’t seen him since.
In March 2014, Mary posted her story on Rinder’s blog.
For another year, she says, the church worked at David, trying to get him to divorce her.
“I was stringing them along,” David says. “I was trying to walk the thin narrow line, but ultimately that wasn’t possible.”
They say that the church drew a line in the sand in July 2015: Divorce Mary, or David would be declared as well. He finally stopped acting like it was a possibility and stood by his wife.
Since then, Michael, 28, is the only one who has heard from his brother, because he’s not a Scientologist and hasn’t been declared an SP.
“I haven’t talked to my brother much since this happened, even though I’m the one who can, technically,” Michael says. “I’m mad at him. But I’m afraid if I said what I really think he’ll disconnect from me. And there’s some pressure on me to stay the only link to him.
“At one point I was being more direct. I was telling him how I was ashamed of him and I couldn’t believe what he was doing,” Michael adds. “He said that mom can just go back in and it will be all over. But I told him it’s like torture for her. You’re asking her to give up to the torturer. She’s never going to do that. it’s ridiculous.”
We were struck by how Scientology has such a hold over a young man who is only 25 years old, does not work for the organization, and who doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in it like his parents did. We asked them, what keeps Sammy so firmly inside Scientology that he would turn his back on his own family?
“He doesn’t know how to live without it,” Mary says. “And he thinks that there’s something in the OT levels that he’s really going to like.”
“He’s being manipulated by the way the thing is set up,” David says, “He’s convinced that he’ll lose his ‘eternity’ otherwise.”
David says that before his son disconnected, he tried to bring up with him the news about the organization that has been leaking out about it in recent years.
“I tried to have a conversation with him about the fact that the church wasn’t expanding. I said, either the technology is good and it’s being misused, or the technology doesn’t work. Either way, it’s a problem,” he says. “Sammy didn’t want to have that conversation. He had promised to have it when it looked like I was going to get declared. I ran into him about six months later, in a grocery store, and he denied that he promised to have that conversation.”
So for now, they sit and wait, hoping that their son begins to see what’s really going on with his church. They can only hope that he tunes in tonight.
We’re looking forward to your comments as the show airs. Please join us in the comments at 10 pm Eastern for the show, which airs on the A&E network.
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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