A Celebrity’s Experience in Scientology

Wendy M. Grossman

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. By Leah Remini. Ballantine Books, New York, 2015. ISBN 978-1-101-88696-0. 234 pp. Hardcover, $27.

The actress Leah Remini, known for playing outspoken, ballsy characters—most famously in the long-running sitcom The King of Queens—always seemed miscast as a Scientologist. Not that actors have to be like the characters they play, but it seemed a pity.

As it turns out, like many other Scientologists her age, Remini was brought into the Church by a parent, in her case at seven when her divorced mother’s new boyfriend was a member. The boyfriend didn’t last, but Remini liked that he listened seriously to her and her sister. When they began taking introductory courses and doing drills, she found this approach permeated the Church. She liked feeling equal to grown-ups, and she believed that Scientology was a way of helping people and doing good for the world, which Remini says is common to many members. When her mother proposed moving to Florida to become part of the Church full time, Remini and her sister went willingly.

In her new book, Troublemaker, written with Rebecca Paley, Remini interweaves stories of her personal and professional life with her history in and growing doubts about Scientology. Paley deserves a lot of credit for helping keep Remini’s voice. Remini also seems content to discuss her own flaws and mistakes.

The tranche of books about Scien­tology that began in 2011 with Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology (reviewed in SI, January/February 2012) and continued in 2013 with Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear (now a movie), Jenna Miscavige-Hill’s Beyond Belief, and John Sweeney’s The Church of Fear 
(see my review of all three in the May/June 2013 Skeptical Inquirer, online at http://www.csicop.org/si/show/clear_and_fear_scientology_under_review) all had new revelations to make about the worst abuses the Church of Scientology has heaped on its most devoted members. These books revealed the existence of the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), Scientology’s equivalent to prison, the autocratic behavior of Church leader David Miscavige, and the lengths to which the Church will go to keep its best-known adherent, Tom Cruise, happy. Remini’s book does not contain new information on this level. Instead, it paints an intimate picture of the lives of dedicated Scientologists, those who are close adherents but not deep insiders. Remini was not, after all, a celebrity for half her time in Scientology.

As a result, many practices are outlined in a new kind of detail. L. Ron Hubbard’s “tone scale” has been described from Hubbard’s writing by, for example, Reitman and Wright. Remini talks about what it was like learning to use it by being required to stop complete strangers on Hollywood Boulevard, ask them questions, and assess the tone of their answers. She similarly discusses what it feels like to go through auditing and security-checking, and how the Church’s manipulation works when you’re the person on the receiving end. You are, she writes, encouraged to report the misdeeds of others—but doing so is likely to open you to extra auditing as well. She also writes about the extensive financial burden Scientology places on ordinary families, “helping” them raise their credit limits to donate the maximum to the Church.

In one section, Remini recalls her interview with John Sweeney for his 2007 BBC documentary, Scientology and Me. “The guy is crazy,” Church spokesman Tommy Davis warned her. Sweeney then startled her by asking, “Does David Miscavige hit people?” As she tells it now, she was deeply upset by the way Davis and his fellow Church PR person, Mike Rinder, treated Sweeney, pushing him to the limit until he exploded (an incident the Church recorded and placed on YouTube). She regretted that he apologized for that explosion. “The BBC,” she writes, “had no idea of what this man had to endure.” By 2010, Rinder had left the Church and was telling Sweeney the truth on his follow-up documentary, The Secrets of Scientology.

“I don’t go on the Internet,” she told Sweeney in 2007 in an interview that didn’t air (but that both recount in their books). In late 2012, inspired by an email sent by former Scientology member Debbie Cook outlining the abuse that actually happened within the Church, she finally did.

Remini left in 2013. In contemporaneous interviews, the reason seemed to boil down to her years-long inability to get an answer to a single question: What had happened to Church leader David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, who had vanished from public view? Troublemaker makes it plain that this particular question was one Remini kept picking at. But she had other doubts, raised by what she saw of Cruise’s behavior and the Church’s slavish efforts to keep him happy (which included forcing Remini to write myriad reports and apologies for tiny infractions at his wedding).

As far as Remini could see, the latter violated L. Ron Hubbard’s own policies, and besides, what kind of role model Scientologist was a three-time divorcee? Meanwhile, her mother had reached the high-level status of OT VIII and class VI auditor and found “she couldn’t move objects with her mind or cure cancer by the force of her will. She was still just herself.” In a situation where many families choose to stay with Scientology when one member leaves, Remini was lucky: most of her family left with her, as you can see in her reality series, It’s All Relative.

Now, two years later, Remini sums it up: “Despite its claims to the contrary, the practice doesn’t help you better the world or even yourself; it only helps you be a better Scientologist.”

Wendy M. Grossman

Wendy M. Grossman is an American freelance writer based in London. She is the founder of Britain's The Skeptic magazine, for which she served as editor from 1987-1989 and 1998-2000. For the last 30 years she has covered computers, freedom, and privacy for publications such as the Guardian, Scientific American, and New Scientist. She is a CSI Fellow.