A&E

Will Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath Find A More Sympathetic Apostate Than Ron Miscavige?

Yes, he's related to that Miscavige. We've got questions about 'A Leader Emerges'!

You guys have seen the video of Tom Cruise accepting his Scientology Freedom Medal of Valor, right?

First of all, we need to talk about that name: "Scientology Freedom Medal of Valor"? I invite the church to look at that unwieldy phrase in the mirror and take one thing off. (I vote "Freedom.")

Second: this ceremony is WILD. If Scientology And The Aftermath has gotten you interested in the workings of the church and particularly in how members talk when they're alone, it's unmissable. It's also in a whole bunch of parts, but trust me. Also seeing this much David Miscavige is good supplementary media for this week's episode.

Can we get more discussion of what specifically draws members to the church?

I understand that, as Mike Rinder explicitly says in this week's episode, he feels the mission of the series is to shed as much light as possible on the church's abuses and on the fact that escape is possible: both extremely worthy. I also understand Remini's emphasis on making sure those viewers (hi) who've never been in the church have empathy for those who have been seduced by it and ruined their own lives as a result -- and as I wrote last week, I absolutely do. But I would also like to find out more about each individual interview subject's Scientology origin story, if you will.

For example: Jeff Hawkins, who had been a highly placed executive within the church working directly under David Miscavige -- he's the one responsible for the Dianetics ads you might remember running on TV in the '80s -- before leaving after twenty-eight years, says he was attracted to the idea of transcending the limitations of his physical body. Those of us who've read about the church know that this is a promise dangled in front of members to get them to continue paying for more courses to reach ever higher Operating Thetan levels and claim this power themselves...but how does a person who presumably has a basic understanding of how biological matter works come not only to accept the idea that he could die without dying (as, we're reminded in this episode, David Miscavige told church members L. Ron Hubbard had done, as opposed to succumbing to a stroke) but to change the entire course of his life pursuing it? How do church recruiters convince their marks that what they know to be true actually isn't?

How has David Miscavige evaded prosecution thus far?

After hearing some of Hawkins's stories about being physically assaulted by David Miscavige, in front of witnesses, Remini reminds us that sometimes victims can't report Scientologist-on-Scientologist crime until they've escaped from the church, after the statute of limitations has expired. But that can't possibly be true in every case. Is it that the victim's report isn't enough when the rest of the witnesses who remain in the church close ranks and fail to corroborate it? Or has the church's legal counsel developed specific strategies to fight such claims -- and if so, can we find out more about what those are? Surely there are prosecutors who would go on the record about cases that have already been covered in the media. I hope we'll get to hear some of that in the back half of the season.

Will the show ever offer us a more sympathetic apostate than Ron Miscavige?

Ron Miscavige is David's father. He got his whole family involved in the church, and when his son David expressed the desire, at age fifteen, to drop out of high school and join the Sea Org, Ron refused...until the day he turned sixteen. Then he gave David a ticket to Clearwater and sent him off with his blessings, on the grounds that Ron had left school to join the Marines, which had ended up being the right path for him. And David was, apparently, well suited to Scientology: after just nine months, he was working directly with L. Ron Hubbard as a camera operator on his films. His intimate proximity to Hubbard meant he was the one who delivered the story about Hubbard's having "discarded the body he used in this lifetime" to achieve OT levels no one else could fathom. He then installed himself as the church's de facto pope/dictator, and the worst offenses the church is guilty of all seem to originate with him.

Ron remained in the church under his son's brutal rule even as David shrugged off the familial bonds between them (which Scientology teachings consider a "false dynamic" anyway, as we've already heard, because they compete with members' commitment to his connection to the church): David called his father "Ron," and Ron called his son "Sir." For his work on the compound, he was granted a salary of $50, double what many Sea Org members get -- when he got paid, which wasn't consistent. And like all Sea Org members, he was cut off from the outside world -- every piece of mail was checked by church security -- until David gave him the gift of a Kindle and forgot to disable its internet access. Discovering he could use it to get on the web, Ron curiously Googled "Scientology," excited to find out how grateful the rest of the world was about the work that he and his fellow church members did. NEEDLESS TO SAY THAT IS NOT QUITE HOW THE RESULTS SHOOK OUT. Remini marvels that it took "literally one Google search for [Ron] to be deprogrammed," and that seems to be the case. He resolved on the spot to leave the church, but he and his wife had to plan their escape for six months. After his departure, he found out from a detective that he had been followed by a PI for eighteen months. Ron thought maybe David had hired the investigator to keep an eye on him and make sure he was okay, until he got to meet the man, who told a story of reporting (erroneously) that Ron was having a heart attack and David said the investigator should let him die.

Despite all this: Ron still hopes there is a chance that he and David will meet again, and that he'll be able to forgive his son and have a relationship again. Maybe this is just a sweet cover story to make us want to buy his book and find out exactly how he can maintain such reserves of mercy and love. Maybe Ron can say such things because he knows there's no chance his son will ever leave the church or agree to contact with a Suppressive Person like Ron again, under any circumstances. Maybe Ron can imagine a situation in which he and David connect again because he still feels guilty for having brought David into the church in the first place -- and he kind of should, given that David has caused so much pain to so many people -- not least his own wife, who may have been spotted in public this month for the first time in years. Still, Ron is DAVID MISCAVIGE'S FATHER, and still fled the church and lived to tell about it -- a hyperbolic phrase most of the time but literally true (and amazing, and difficult) in this instance. Giving him a platform to tell his story gives Scientology And The Aftermath a whole new level of credibility, but I can't imagine their finding anyone whose story will be more affecting. Though I guess with a show like this, I shouldn't doubt that there are sadder stories yet to tell.

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