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Tonight, Paul Haggis calls out Scientology’s celebs: ‘Damn them for being purposely blind’

We’re of two minds about Scientology’s glittering celebrities. On the one hand, there’s no question that Scientology’s pursuit of celebrated actors and other artists is the major reason such a small group (the church claims millions, but the real figure is in the tens of thousands) gets such major press, and why the subject draws so much interest from the public. That abiding public fascination is what, frankly, helps a website like this get so much traffic.

On the other hand, the public’s obsession with celebrities is a major pain in the ass, and can make it difficult to get anyone to care about things that really matter, like Scientology’s toxic policy of disconnection, its extortionate hunger for cash, and the vile way it smears and “Fair Games” defectors and critics.

But increasingly, what was once a winning strategy for Scientology is turning into one of its biggest liabilities as celebrities like Leah Remini and Paul Haggis come out and speak publicly about Scientology’s abuses.

If celebrity members have the power to burnish Scientology’s image, celebrity defectors have the power to tarnish it like no one before them.


That said, during her first season of A&E’s Scientology and the Aftermath, Leah barely mentioned the church’s celebrities at all.

She and Mike Rinder told us they were wary of talking about Tom Cruise and the church’s other celebrated figures on the show, hoping to keep the focus on Scientology’s controversies that mattered.

This season, however, Leah has already dived headfirst into another subject she previously avoided — Scientology’s beliefs as they are encountered on the “Bridge to Total Freedom,” which she explored in week four.

And now, in week six, she’s taking on the subject of Scientology’s celebrities head on, and the result is explosive.

She chooses two people to take us into the world of Scientology celebs. First, she and Mike sit down with Karen Pressley, who, until she left Scientology in 1998, was responsible for helping to recruit actors and directors and artists to the Hollywood Celebrity Centre.

Pressley confirms that celebrities who managed to be recruited were themselves expected to bring in other notables — one major coup that happened during her tenure was actor Mimi Rogers bringing in the man she was dating, Tom Cruise, in 1986.

And Pressley adds that because Cruise was such a big catch, he was the reason that the Hollywood Celebrity Centre got a renovation, so that it would look good for the other A-listers that Cruise was expected to bring in.


[Karen Pressley]

Leah then confirms that special pampering of these big names is hierarchical: She was given access to certain parts of the Celebrity Centre and could spend time in proximity to Cruise only after she had made a donation of a million dollars to the church. And she says Cruise rode herd on the other celebrities about what they were doing to bring in even more people — she says he would pester them about who they were bringing to the Hollywood Celebrity Centre’s annual August gala, for example. And Leah was under plenty of pressure to proselytize her King of Queens co-star, Kevin James.

She wasn’t interested in doing that, but Leah’s hefty donations did get her thank you notes from David Miscavige, Tom Cruise, and Jenna Elfman, which Leah managed to keep — and she gives us a glimpse of them. Here’s just one portion, from Miscavige:

Dear Leah,

I got your recent message regarding the event, only to be followed by your latest and overwhelming contribution. Well — I was both stunned and BLOWN AWAY! Congratulations and thank you. What you’re taking responsibility for and doing is damned heroic…I very much consider you a personal friend.

Money is everything in Scientology, and Karen Pressley reminds us that not only was Miscavige happy to keep the donations coming in, there was plenty of motivation to get others to donate as well. Scientology paid her a ten percent commission on anything she could get the celebrities to fork over.

There promises to be much more about Karen’s experience in Scientology and her career with the church’s celebrities in her new memoir, Escaping Scientology, which came out just this week.

The majority of tonight’s episode is spent with director Paul Haggis, whose story is already somewhat familiar if you read Lawrence Wright’s 11,000-word New Yorker story in 2011 about the Crash director leaving Scientology, or if you read Wright’s 2013 book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, or if you saw Alex Gibney’s adaptation of the book in his 2015 HBO documentary, also titled Going Clear.

But even if you think you’re familiar with Paul’s story, you haven’t seen him take on his former colleagues in Scientology like this.

Along the way, Haggis and Rinder and Remini talk about Scientology’s homophobia, its smear attacks, and the slimy way the church turned Paul’s sister against him.

“One of the things I regret most is getting my sister in Scientology,” Haggis says about Kathy Slevin, who disconnected from her famous brother, and then died of cancer without ever reconciling with him.

Haggis admits that when he first left the church, he tended to give his former friends a pass. He recounts how actor Anne Archer and her husband, producer Terry Jastrow, and film composer Mark Isham and others tried hard to change Paul’s mind after he wrote a scathing resignation letter to church spokesman Tommy Davis.

But now, some eight years since he walked away, Haggis says he has a different attitude about the celebrities who remain in Scientology even after all of the publicity about its abuses.

“I’m sorry. At the beginning I excused them. They were my friends and I excused them,” Haggis says. “You know what, damn them now, for being purposely blind.”

Haggis says that Scientology’s celebrities are “actively participating in a cover up,” and they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt that the press usually gives them. Celebrities need to be challenged about their involvement, even if that means putting their careers through a major shake-up.

“It shook my entire life, and that’s a good thing. And I’m ashamed I didn’t do it earlier,” Haggis says.

It’s a harsh calling out, and one echoed by Leah Remini, who makes this one of the most accusatory episodes of the series we’ve seen so far.


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,878 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 24 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,087 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 1,861 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,635 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,981 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,475 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,515 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,227 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 753 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,842 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,982 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,302 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,277 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 633 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 4,935 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,042 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,444 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,317 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 898 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,403 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,647 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,756 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on September 19, 2017 at 07:00

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 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


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