A&E

Why Did It Take Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath So Long To Bring Journalists Into The Conversation?

And more questions sparked by 'Enemies Of The Church'!

...Hate speech?

In my post on last week's episode, I questioned how much difference it would really make to the average member of the Church of Scientology that it regained its tax-exempt status. But was the issue that the tax fight went on to become the basis of treating criticism of church practices (like allegedly charging members exorbitant amounts of money to belong, signing them to draconian service contracts, and physically assaulting them) as hate speech against the church?! If so, how is it the IRS that gets to make the judgment of what constitutes a legitimate faith? If not, how does the church get away with accusing Leah Remini of using hate speech when she publicly describes or publishes her own bad experiences as a church member? I guess what I'm asking is what is the actual government body that determines whether an organization is a church, or a cult, or a gang?

How many more Brandon Reisdorfs are being abused by the church?

This week's story focuses on the Reisdorfs. Gary and Lois met in the Sea Org, married in 1976, and left six years later to start a family, eventually raising three sons. Post-Sea Org, they sort of soft-pedaled their church involvement: they didn't formally depart, but they didn't raise their boys in the church either. But some doctrine may have seeped in by osmosis, because Brandon and Craig both joined the church when they got older. Unfortunately for everyone, Brandon had bipolar disorder, and because of the church's rejection of psychiatry, no one close to him knew it, and there was no structure for him as a Scientologist to be properly diagnosed or treated. Instead, he submitted to what's known as an Introspection Rundown: as he describes it, he was brought to the home of two Scientologists who were trained in the process, and over the course of six weeks, they took turns watching him 24 hours a day while he was locked in a room, "experiencing craziness in [his] mind...colors and pictures."

Rinder breaks in with a talking head to explain that L. Ron Hubbard "developed" Introspection Rundown after isolating a single individual in the midst of a psychotic episode, keeping everyone around him from talking to him, and pronouncing him cured after a week; on the basis of this somewhat small and unscientific sample, Hubbard claimed he had found the universal cure for psychosis. Brandon, however, says he...still had bipolar disorder after his IR and should have been in a psychiatric hospital -- and one of the subsequent times he found himself in a manic episode was after his parents were declared Suppressive People for secretly staying in contact with SP relatives. Brandon was given the choice of staying in the church and disconnecting from them or being declared himself; he chose the latter. But his brother Craig was still in the church; Brandon cycled through sadness to a desire for vengeance, and acted on that feeling by driving to Los Angeles from San Diego and throwing a hammer through the window of a Scientology church there. After spending nineteen days on a psych hold and allowing himself to be treated with drugs only when the police got a court order (his anti-drug indoctrination had deep roots), he was released, and immediately arrested. The church pushed for it to be prosecuted not as misdemeanor vandalism, but a hate crime, because he had broken the window of a church. And church officials implicated Remini in Reisdorf's case, sending her a letter accusing her of inciting him to violence against the church with the hate speech in her book, though Reisdorf says he didn't read it because he didn't need to -- he lived it. (It seems he was convicted, because he says, "Now I have a felony on my record," though he also talks about what could happen if it were ever to come down to a misdemeanor or be expunged, so maybe there are appeals ongoing, although if that were the case I would think his lawyer wouldn't want him talking about it on camera, but what do I know.)

Is it wrong to damage other people's property? Of course. But can't we class this as civil disobedience? Particularly if the reason the church gets away with so many of its abuses is that the state sanctions them as church practice and thus untouchable under the First Amendment protections of freedom of religion? More to the point, how many more Brandons are there with undiagnosed, untreated mental illnesses, being prevented by church doctrine from living full lives? And why isn't the church legally culpable for their situations?

Why did it take the show so long to bring journalists into the conversation?

John Sweeney, Mark Bunker, and Tony Ortega have probably been on the Scientology beat longer than anyone else; even though the show is presented through the lens of Remini's personal experience, I'm sure their reporting has been enormously informative in the research that has gone into making the show; I wish we could have seen more of their comments (and even gotten THes from them like Rinder's and Remini's). But maybe now that Remini's broken the seal, there will be more Scientology documentary series to come.

What happens next?

We close on Remini and Rinder travelling to New York to meet with a lawyer (off-camera) about what cases they might be able to bring against the church based on the stories they've collected, and a "To be continued" card promising more -- even though this was sold to us as an eight-episode "event" and this was only the seventh. I'm not mad -- however much of this there is, I'll watch it -- but it's hard not to be pessimistic. If it were possible to do really high-profile damage to the church in the courts, wouldn't that have happened by now? Is the difference that a case driven by Remini's celebrity might be more likely to get press attention -- particularly since the existence of the series proves she's not going to be moved by the intimidation tactics it normally employs? Will the secret be honing in on some arcane area of vulnerability, like how Al Capone was brought down by his tax evasion? Will it...actually be tax evasion, again? I can't wait to see, and I hope whenever the show returns, in whatever form it takes, Remini gets to use her gorgeous talons to claw someone's eyes out. With what she's been through, she's earned it.

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