On Friday, Louis Theroux’s unconventional documentary My Scientology Movie opens in select U.S. cities after a successful run in the U.K. and Australia. The movie was largely shot in Los Angeles in 2014, and besides featuring Theroux himself it spends much of its time considering the veracity and perspective of former Church of Scientology official Mark “Marty” Rathbun.
Rathbun was once Scientology leader David Miscavige’s top “enforcer” for an organization that is known for its disinformation campaigns. So Theroux challenges Rathbun: Given that background, why should we accept what he was saying as a critic of Miscavige after leaving the church in 2004? Those questions produce a couple of the film’s most contentious and entertaining moments.
When Theroux’s movie had its October 2015 worldwide premiere in London, Rathbun didn’t attend, but director John Dower said in a Q&A after the film that he’d received an email from Rathbun saying that he liked the movie. By the time we saw the picture again at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival here in New York, it was obvious that Rathbun was no longer singing the movie’s praises.
Meanwhile, at his website, Rathbun attacked readers who raised questions about why his wife, Monique Rathbun, had suddenly fired her legal team in January 2016 and a few months later dismissed a lawsuit against the Church of Scientology that her attorneys had been litigating for more than two years and that they were clearly winning. Documents Monique submitted to the court blamed her attorneys for bungling the suit and for telling her there was no money in it — two things that didn’t comport with reality, according to our legal experts. When Marty was asked repeatedly for a more believable reason, he said the court documents spoke for themselves, and he denied that there was any kind of financial settlement to end the case. (If there had been, the fired attorneys would be entitled to a substantial percentage of it. They, too, were told that no settlement had occurred and that the Rathbuns had simply walked away from a lawsuit that realistically could have resulted in a payoff from the church of several million dollars.)
And then, last September, another stunning development just a few days before Theroux’s movie was having its first theatrical run, in Australia: Rathbun, at his blog, denounced the film, calling Theroux and his producers dishonest and deceptive. (And, for good measure, he called producer Simon Chinn a “tabloid hack,” Theroux an “ass clown,” and Dower a “rimless zero.”) Just days earlier, Rathbun had made a similar broadside against Ron Miscavige Sr. and his memoir, Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me. In both essays, Rathbun defended David Miscavige from what he characterized as unfair attacks. Rathbun also wrote pieces criticizing former church members like Jefferson Hawkins and Chris Shelton (and also this website). And to ABC, for a recent 20/20 episode, Rathbun refused an on-air interview but sent a message criticizing what he characterized as an “anti-Scientology cult” that he said was capable of worse acts than anything perpetrated by the Church of Scientology.
As we told ABC, it was a shocking turnaround, a “180” in perspective that was hard to reconcile. After leaving Scientology in 2004, Rathbun had started up a blog in 2009 that for the next four years savaged David Miscavige on nearly a daily basis as it became a rallying point for a growing number of defectors and “independent Scientologists.” After 2013, however, and as his wife’s lawsuit took up much of his time, Rathbun’s criticism of Miscavige had dropped off. But to see him actually defending his former nemesis while he attacked Ron Miscavige and Louis Theroux seemed, at least to some of us, hard to believe.
And now, there’s another new development that may stun Marty Rathbun’s many former readers.
It took place in, of all places, a courtroom in Tel Aviv, Israel.
A trial has been taking place there that we expect to tell you much more about in the coming days. The two sides are reportedly in settlement talks and will soon bring to an end what has been a running battle between Dani and Tami Lemberger and the Church of Scientology.
You may remember the Lembergers as the Haifa couple who, in 2012, made news by pulling their Scientology mission entirely out of the church’s orbit and going independent. Like many other longtime Scientologists, the Lembergers were dissatisfied with the leadership of David Miscavige, and they convinced nearly everyone at the mission they run as a partnership, the Dror Center, to declare their independence. The Lembergers even made a trip to Texas to visit with Rathbun, who was then at the high point of his shepherding of an active independent Scientology scene. On their way back to Israel, we interviewed Dani during a stopover at Newark airport. Since then, we’ve kept in contact with him and we’ve also visited the Lembergers in Haifa. So we were aware that they had filed suit against the church for libel and fraud in 2014. Since they had taken the Dror Center independent, they alleged, the church had harassed them and spread libelous statements about them in a “Suppressive Person Declare,” and were trying to keep them from doing Scientology independently.
On February 20, Dani Lemberger took the stand for testimony in the trial, and we had an observer in the courtroom. On his cross-examination, Dani was questioned by attorney Mattan Ben Shaul, who represented Scientology’s Israel operation.
And during that cross-examination, Ben Shaul said something startling. Stunned by what our courtroom observer told us, we obtained the hearing transcript to make sure we had it right.
Mattan Ben Shaul: I am telling you that I contacted Marty Rathbun, that enemy of Scientology that you visited in 2012. And I received from him an email that you sent him in 2013. Please confirm that you sent an email to Marty in April 2013? I will read to you what you said about Mr. Hubbard. Admitted into evidence as N33.
Ben Shaul went through the email with Lemberger, asking him about something that made Lemberger laugh in the courtroom.
Ben Shaul: In the email I’ve shown you, you are presented as a “squirrel,” and that makes you laugh? Why does that description of you as a squirrel make you laugh?
Dani Lemberger: The person who distorts Scientology is Miscavige, and he is designating me as a “squirrel,” but he is the master squirrel. ‘Judge not lest ye be judged.’ And he says about me that I’m a squirrel? That’s laughable, he is a big criminal.
And then, Ben Shaul read from Lemberger’s email something Dani had supposedly said to a Scientology auditor in a confessional setting.
Ben Shaul: I’m continuing with the same email, reading it to you. You said in that email that if you had a pistol, with just one bullet you would put it in Miscavige’s head. You said this at Flag. When were you at Flag.
Lemberger: I didn’t say it at Flag. I said it to my personal therapist in the course of therapy, privately. That is forbidden from publishing…
Ben Shaul: But it’s your email. Did you write it?
Lemberger: My email is my private email and I don’t know if he [Marty Rathbun] was allowed to give it to you, without my consent. But the fact is that he gave it to you.
At his website, Marty Rathbun has criticized former Scientologists like Ron Miscavige and Jefferson Hawkins, and filmmakers Louis Theroux and John Dower, accusing them of being even worse than the Church of Scientology while he, Rathbun, has pulled back from the fray in a neutral position — the “middle path” he has called it numerous times on his website.
But this exchange in a Tel Aviv courtroom suggests that Rathbun is not neutral. If Scientology’s attorney is to be believed (and he said it under oath), Rathbun has actively helped the Church of Scientology in litigation against a former member, and turned over an email not only sent in private, as Lemberger testified, but which contained the inflammatory detail that Lemberger had talked (probably jokingly) about assassinating David Miscavige.
Marty Rathbun, of all people, would know exactly what a weapon such an email would make in the hands of the Church of Scientology.
After confirming the court exchange, we sent Rathbun a message.
“Are you cooperating with the Church of Scientology in litigation with a critic of the church? Are you being paid by the Church of Scientology for your cooperation? Was the dismissal of Monique’s lawsuit part of a deal for the church to pay you?”
He sent us a response.
“You are admittedly clueless. Given your serial, repeated representations that you know what ‘really’ happened, that also makes you admittedly fraudulent.”
We then sent him a copy of the court transcript to make sure that Rathbun knew exactly what had been said. He didn’t respond.
According to Texas law, Monique Rathbun’s former legal team — Ray Jeffrey, Marc Wiegand, Elliott Cappuccio, and Leslie Hyman — would be entitled to a substantial portion of any settlement made, even in secret, between the Rathbuns and the Church of Scientology.
Those who speculated that Rathbun had secretly settled will be feeling justifiably smug today.
And everyone who ever sent him an email that they didn’t want the Church of Scientology to see?
It may be time to rue the day.
UPDATE: When we posted this story, Dani Lemberger was unable to comment because his lawsuit was still in settlement negotiations. The next day, however, those negotiations were completed (the terms of which are not being disclosed), and Lemberger sent us this message about Rathbun turning over his private message for the church to use against him.
Hey Tony, Shabbat Shalom,
Not much I can say about Marty. I was surprised by the Church’s attorney presenting the email from Marty but I don’t see it had much impact. It gave them satisfaction that they had something on me. I laughed at the very bizarre twist.
The next day I wrote Marty an email, see below. He didn’t respond. He did answer you when you asked him about it.
Marty and Tami and I spent a week together at their home in June 2012. That got us declared. I stayed in comm with Marty the next year or so, until mid-2013. He became weird and “anti-Indie Scientology,” so the correspondence ended.
There was never a real upset between us, he has no reason to want to hurt me. Only if he is now working with David Miscavige and being paid by Miscavige would he give any info to a lawyer in Israel he doesn’t know.
That’s all I know about this. Regards, Dani
Hello Marty, how are you?
It’s been a long time since we were last in comm.
A lot has been happening at my end, Tami and I have a lovely granddaughter, Dror Center is busy, we are doing well and are still working hard trying to make a better world.
How are you? How’s Mosey and your son?
I have finished reading some time ago your book, Memoirs of a Scn Warrior. What a story! I know you’ve been through a lot, I hope you are well and life is comfortable.
As you know, my lawsuit is going through the court in Israel. There was a hearing yesterday with myself cross-examined by the Church’s lawyer, Matan Ben-Shaul. He took me by surprise when he mentioned he had been in comm with you concerning the lawsuit and then presented to the court an e-mail I wrote to you in 2013. In this mail I told you of something that came up in my auditing at Flag, concerning David Miscavige.
I don’t think this e-mail has a major impact on the proceedings. Still this was upsetting to me since I did not expect you would act in any way to hurt me or help the Church against me. I’m just wondering about this, what made you give them my private letter to you. Of course, you have a right to do with your correspondence as you see fit but maybe you can tell me more about this.
Please let me hear back from you. Best reagrds, Dani
Chris Shelton on Sea Org recruitment
Says Chris: “Back in 2014 I wrote an article for Mike Rinder’s blog about Scientology recruitment, specifically focusing on how the Sea Org recruits new staff. This has surprisingly not been a topic that has been covered in much detail. So after seeing a few bits and pieces here and there, I thought it was time to download most of what I know about this topic and especially combine this with the conspiracy theories that Scientologists get into following because of L. Ron Hubbard’s wacky beliefs. Anyone who follows my channel knows that I’m not big on global/international conspiracy theories and the reason for that is because I’ve been all the way down that rabbit hole and I clawed my way back out of it with a lot of study and critical thinking. That experience left me very impatient when someone starts talking about blood-drinking lizard people from outer space or centuries old plots by gangs of old men trying to subjugate the planet to their evil will. There’s enough real world nonsense, including real conspiracies, to worry about without having to dream up that psychiatry is trying to lobotomize all of us. So with that, here is my video on recruitment methods which I think may surprise some of you. This was actually one of the harder videos for me to produce in quite a while. Enjoy!”
HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.
Scientology disconnection, a reminder
Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,685 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,788 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,282 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,322 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,034 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 501 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,619 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,789 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,109 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,084 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 440 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,742 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 849 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,251 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,124 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 705 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,210 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,454 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,563 days.
E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.
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.
The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)
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