A&E

Is Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath Making The Church Seem Less Scary By Showing Sea Org-ers Using Flip Phones?

And more not-quite-burning questions about 'Fair Game.'

If you were Mike Rinder, would you live in Clearwater?

After a few references to him in the premiere, Mike Rinder makes his true on-camera début in the latest episode of Scientology And The Aftermath when the titular Leah Remini journeys to Clearwater, Florida to visit him at home. My first note: "Mike Rinder still lives in fucking CLEARWATER???" As Remini explains, Clearwater is "the Mecca of Scientology": the church's Flagship base (a.k.a. Flag) is located there, and based on the footage we see as they drive through town, Sea Org members -- as Remini herself used to be -- are buzzing around everywhere. Clearwater is so much a company town that Remini comments that, as soon as she heard one of the sound guys in the show's crew is from there, she started wondering whether he was connected in some way to Scientology. He promises her that he's a Christian and she's like, "We'll see" before cracking up, because she is very charming and likable.

Anyway: for those unfamiliar with Rinder's bio: he formerly ran Scientology's "Office Of Special Affairs," which he says involved his handling PR and governmental relations, as well as retaliating against enemies of the church. So given how highly placed he was within the organization, he's a bigger target than most for getting "Fair Game"d -- relentlessly harassed by church operatives. And not to say that he'd escape this treatment if he lived somewhere else (Scientology apostates even get chased when they travel on vacation), but if you were him, would you post up in the same city as Scientology's most sprawling headquarters? He eventually explains that the reason he stays close is that he's still hopeful his loved ones who are still in the church -- his son, daughter, and brother -- will eventually leave, and he wants to be nearby if it happens. Which I get, I guess? I'm fortunate never to have been in a situation where I or a loved one was involved in any church that's generally regarded, by people outside it, as a cult, so I have no idea what I would do if I were Rinder. But I think living in the midst of dozens of signs and symbols reminding me of the hell I escaped, and in which my closest family members were still trapped, would be too much for me to take. (To say nothing of the harassment Rinder has experienced from all the Scientology operatives who can just take the bus whenever they want to bother him.)

Were those shots of Scientology personnel/plants talking on flip phones supposed to make them, and the church, seem less scary?

Maybe using burner phones makes them more scary? But maybe seeing these villains trying to get by with such outdated tech is serving the mission I described in my post on the premiere: to prove to anyone watching who might be pondering a break with the church to believe that its goons aren't actually that powerful; they're not even powerful enough to use the device in their pockets to look up movie times or restaurant reviews.

Should the episode have been harder on Rinder?

I know from the season trailer that, in at least one future episode, Remini and Rinder hit the road together to meet with other ex-Scientologists, so between that and the fact that Rinder is one of the most famous Scientology apostates who isn't also a famous entertainer, Remini and/or the producers might have made the calculation that it was more important to air the version of his story that put him in the best light. We have no idea whether Rinder himself was more blunt about the role he played, as a Scientology executive, in ruining other people's lives when they left the church, but the hour we spent with him seemed heavy on his fears for his blood relatives and light on his self-reflection about his complicity in the system in which they're still trapped.

Can we talk about a hypothetical Mike Rinder biopic?

Though I knew who Rinder was, I didn't know about his backstory. And what a cinematic tale! His parents were early converts to the church -- and in Australia, where attempts were made as early as the mid-'60s to ban it. Rinder was groomed to be an executive and married a fellow Sea Org member, eventually having two children who were born into the church, are still active members, and have denounced their father on camera in Scientology-produced videos. After leaving Scientology, Rinder managed to maintain a relationship with his mother, Barbara Jean, which worked because they never discussed Scientology, though even that ended when he participated in "The Truth Rundown," a groundbreaking exposé. Barbara Jean never communicated with Rinder again, and no one in his family even told him when she passed away.

...I see Russell Crowe in the lead.

What do you most want to see as the series goes on?

I'll start! Remini alludes to the Scientological tenet that, because church members will lead many lives and therefore have (for example) "many mothers," ties to family members -- even between spouses -- tend to be loose, because no relationship is more important than that of the parishioner to her church; I want more detail about how that works, particularly for couples.

Mention is made in passing to Monique Yingling, a lawyer for the church; other than her bio on her law firm's website and her wedding announcement in the New York Times (!!!), it takes until the third page of results for Google to return something substantial from a source other than an anti-Scientology message board or blog. I need to know more about that lady.

Finally, I want to know more about what life is like for actual children who are born into the church and whose education is deliberately limited, so that they grow up without real-world life skills, requiring that they remain dependent on the church. Rinder alludes to that in this episode -- that people don't even consider leaving the church because they literally don't know who'd feed or house them if they did; that's a story I want to hear.

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