Kevin James Was Never A Target For Recruitment And More Wonders Of Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath's Latest 'Ask Me Anything' Special
We're invited to ask her anything but no one's got questions about her nails?!
Setting The Table
Though a brief shot of Leah Remini getting fixed up by her glam squad -- NOT THAT SHE NEEDS IT; SHE IS PERFECT -- almost makes this worth it, we start out kind of slow and there's nothing in this first chunk that you really need to worry too much about. The first question is about the difference between the way the church treats celebrities as opposed to regular church members who join Sea Org and get beaten by David Miscavige. Remini acknowledges that this is definitely true: she cites one instance when she posed for a cheesecake photo spread in Stuff (oh, the past) and was removed from her position on a float in a Scientology parade. Mike Rinder gets mildly pervy about wanting to see the pictures, which Remini shuts down firmly and with a quickness (plus a little good humour): "That's disgusting, Mike." They do discuss how much celebrities are touted by the church, to give the impression that they owe their success to the church. Remini admits that her choice not to try to lure her King Of Queens co-star Kevin James away from "his religion" (which, decorously, she does not identify) is something she felt "was an acceptable transgression against mankind." James would probably agree?
The next question is about the racial makeup of the church, which Rinder says is "99.9% Caucasian." He says that L. Ron Hubbard's message was always more appealing to the middle class, and I'll spare both him and all of you my class warfare digression about what "middle class" might actually mean. Not until church member Isaac Hayes told David Miscavige to do more outreach to communities of colour did the church acquire property in Inglewood (in Los Angeles) and Harlem, but to hear Rinder tell it, those centers aren't actually staffed by people from those communities. He does discuss an initiative to try to form some kind of partnership with the Nation of Islam, though now that he's out of the church, he doesn't have to act like he thinks it has much of a future: per the infamous IRS ruling, the church doesn't allow members to practice any other faith in concert with Scientology...which is weird because Katie Holmes claimed not to have given up her Catholicism during her marriage to Tom Cruise? Another instance of rules applying differently to stars, I guess.
This segment ends on a question about the church's stance on homosexuality. LEAVING ASIDE the speculation about certain members remaining active in the church due to potential blackmail material they may have disclosed during auditing because WHO CAN KNOW: officially, the church doesn't take a position. Privately, homosexuality is regarded as deviant by the church, but it can be addressed with Scientology: "The gayness will be audited out." I might have liked to see a more strenuous showing from Remini or Rinder that they don't believe this themselves anymore -- particularly given that, later, Remini says she still has moments when she needs to check in with herself as to whether a thought she has is truly hers or is left-over church programming -- but maybe they assume it's obvious.
I don't care if this whole segment is just product placement for Going Clear, Wright's book about the church, and the HBO documentary based on it. It's worth it. He tells the whole story of how he and a room full of New Yorkers (paratroopers of truth, really) backed infamous church spokesman Tommy Davis (seen in last week's episode in old footage screaming at John Sweeney) into giving up all kinds of paperwork regarding L. Ron Hubbard's purported medical records from his military service. Once Wright and company had documents, it could file suit under the Freedom Of Information Act for his real records, and prove that the official, sainted Scientology papers were fraudulent -- as were injuries Hubbard claimed to have (a) suffered during his service and (b) healed, himself, using techniques in Dianetics. Also? Pictures of Hubbard's various fake medals. It's pretty amazing.
With Wright present, they take a viewer question about rumours of a mansion in California that's kept staffed and stocked with groceries and other necessities of life in the event that L. Ron Hubbard ever comes back and needs it. Wright knows the answer but throws it to Rinder, who confirms that it's true -- and not only that, there are actually two such mansions in California -- one in Creston, and the other on the compound which he's careful to say, after a fact-checking tweet from the municipality of Hemet, is on the Scientology compound that's actually outside Hemet, on unincorporated land. Not only are there groceries; there's also Hubbard's favourite cigarette (Kools), his preferred sandals from Thom McAn, and paperbacks by Louis L'Amour. All of this is, hilariously, news to Remini. Wright also mentions that there's a landscaped feature in the shape of the Kool logo's interlocked "o"s so that if he's flying around, Hubbard can see it from the air and know where to touch down. Rinder didn't know about that, but even as high as he got in the church, there's always more information held back from everyone who hasn't "attained the appropriate level." You get the feeling Wright and Rinder want to turn the cameras off and start comparing notes on the crazy shit they've each heard about.
Jeffrey is Rinder's lawyer now, but originally got involved with this whole circus when he defended Wayne Baumgarten and Debbie Cook (now...Debbie Baumgarten) for leaking damaging information about the church in violation of an NDA they'd signed. We get to see footage of Debbie's testimony as she described physical assaults, inhumane conditions, and degradation she experienced in The Hole -- stories so harrowing that, we're told, the church "abandoned" the case after one day of her testimony. Even given his win in this case -- Debbie and Wayne settled with the church, though on the condition of a strict gag order -- Jeffrey has continued to take Scientology-related cases because he's been so shocked by the way the church attacked him personally. As a lawyer, Jeffrey's stories are delivered calmly, but the footage of Debbie's testimony is a must-see.
Steve Hassan is an author, therapist, and cult deprogrammer. How did he get into that last line? WELL, HE USED TO BE A MOONIE. I realize that his specific story isn't that germane here, other than in the sense that he can speak to the characteristics all cults tend to have in common, but I wanted to hear so much more of his story, particularly given how restrained he is: Rinder tries to set him up to say that Scientology is engineered for maximum effectiveness as a mind control operation, but Hassan -- while not disagreeing -- basically won't let Rinder simplify the whole landscape of cults that way.
Hassan also earns my love forever by getting emotional as he tells Remini how much it has meant to him to watch the show, and that he's cried at every one. This also makes Remini cry, and while I find it alarming to see those pointy nails so close to her eyes, I love her having a real human moment with Hassan. Remini and Rinder are an okay team, but I kind of wish they could add Hassan as a third co-host.
What Have We Learned?
With all three experts joining Rinder and Remini, this is more of a lightning round for questions than what's led up to it. Hassan describes the cult mindset and why members aren't more desperate for escape. Jeffrey describes rebukes the church has received for abusing the court system and how lawyers who've followed can use this precedent against it in future cases. Hassan also disputes Remini's notion that she has to let people in the church figure out on their own that they need to leave, via their own personal breaking point of a bad experience: Hassan doesn't feel that a "rock bottom" moment is necessary for people to reach, and that ex-church members can help lead people who are still active to realizations by talking with them and being honest about their own journeys. The main duty that Remini and Rinder have is to use the show to dry up the pool of future recruits to the church by helping ex church members to get past their own pain and shame and come out of the shadows. It's powerful stuff, and it also reminds us that, for a lot of reasons, Rinder might not be the very best sensei for Remini; he doesn't have any more objectivity about all this than she does.
While a price list for Scientology course work is pretty shocking, and it's fun to imagine what Remini would say at a sit-down with David Miscavige that will never happen, this is unnecessary. Particularly since it's the end of the hour and we're supposed to believe Remini didn't get a single viewer question about her gorgeous nails. AS IF.