Jason Beghe tried to get inside the Scientology building on E. 46th Street yesterday, but was turned away by three beefy security men who told him it was their job to keep him out.
The confrontation happened while a contingent of about 50 protesters from the anti-Scientology “Anonymous” movement cheered on Beghe from across the street. Members of Scientology itself didn’t make an appearance during the late afternoon protest.
Beghe, who had tipped off the Anonymous activists that he’d be making the attempt to talk to Scientology officials, was pleased with the turnout, but disappointed that he didn’t get to discuss Scientology with any church members.
A native New Yorker, Beghe flew out from Malibu this week for a short trip to his home town. Wednesday, he stopped by the Voice offices to discuss what he’s been doing since his attention-grabbing public defection from Scientology occurred in the form of a series of videos that hit the Internet in April.
The veteran film and television actor (he shared a bubble bath with Demi Moore in 1997’s G.I. Jane, played a quadriplegic with a psycho primate pet in 1989’s Monkey Shines, and over the years has made many television appearances in shows like Melrose Place, Everwood, Numb3rs, CSI:NY, and the recently-cancelled Cane) was a pampered celebrity in Scientology, which covets famous actors like Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
Other celebrities have abandoned Scientology in the past, but did so quietly—Nicole Kidman, for example, has never spoken about leaving. Beghe is the first to bolt and then be so public about his criticisms of Scientology. And now, he wants to make even more noise.
So he let Anonymous members in on his plan to confront the NY “org”—the local Scientology headquarters, which is just west of Times Square. A march from Bryant Park was hastily planned at enturbulation.org, an online Anonymous forum.
(Anonymous grew out of a leaderless group of Internet pranksters that, since February, has staged monthly demonstrations in cities around the world. Scientology characterizes Anonymous as a dangerous cabal of anti-religious bigots and terrorists, but over the years that’s how the church has characterized practically anyone who dares to point out that Scientology is actually a money-making scam that promises the gullible human superpowers and then doesn’t reveal until a believer has forked over about $100,000 that the secret to immortality is through ever-more-expensive therapy to remove invisible space-alien souls from the human body.)
At 5:30 pm, Anonymous members gathered in Bryant Park, prepared their disguises and picket signs, and shared some cake.
They were still buzzing over what they perceived as a huge “win” earlier in the week. (Anonymous kids—most appear to be in their early 20s—adopt Scientology-talk as a way of mocking it. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s quasi-corporate jargon includes describing a breakthrough as a “win,” and an even better development as an “epic win.”) At a sidewalk protest on Monday, Scientology’s NY org chief John Carmichael had confronted Anonymous picketers and, in a strange attempt to intimidate one young man carrying a camcorder, leaned into him and said, “I smell pussy, you in particular.”
“We smell cult, you in particular,” the protesters chanted yesterday, after their march arrived at the Scientology building.
About fifteen minutes later, Beghe showed up and shook hands with admiring Anonymous members.
“You guys are hard ass, you’re not even anonymous!” he said in surprise. In other cities, protesters often wear disguises—Guy Fawkes masks are popular—in an attempt to shield their identities from Scientology, which is notorious for its harassment of critics. But arcane laws originally intended to foil the Ku Klux Klan make it illegal for demonstrators to wear masks in New York, and the NYPD, which was on the scene of the protest in minutes, is vigilant about the law.
“What you guys are doing means so much to me, and so much to these people…It just kills me. It makes me want to cry. You don’t know what kind of good you’re doing,” Beghe told the activists, one of whom gave him the last cake from the gathering in Bryant Park.
Another told Beghe that he’s been criticized for protesting Scientology rather than something like the war in Iraq.
Beghe said he understood. “It’s not Darfur, but it’s our own slice of Hell.”
After chatting with the protesters, Beghe then walked across the street and attempted to enter the Scientology building itself. He told the Voice that since he’s left Scientology, all of his former friends in the organization have ‘disconnected’ from him. But he’s looked forward to talking to other Scientologists to see what would happen if he told them about his new concerns.
Standing in the way of the building’s rotating doors were three large men, who made it clear Beghe wasn’t going inside.
“They don’t want you to come in,” said one of the hired guards.
Beghe tells the Voice it was clear to him that these weren’t Scientologists—they were hired muscle, perhaps off-duty policemen. But he wanted to be sure. He asked them what their job was with the organization.
“To keep you out,” one answered.
Beghe explained that he believed he had a right to go through the doors and talk to Scientologists inside. “I paid a million dollars, and I want to go in,” he said, referring to the total amount of money he estimates that he paid Scientology in the 12 years he was a member. But that appeal fell on deaf ears.
Beghe asked the one who seemed to be the leader, an African-American man wearing wire-rim glasses, whether he was familiar with Scientology beliefs.
“I don’t know much about it,” the man answered.
“Do you understand what you’re protecting?” Beghe asked, sounding incredulous.
At that point, the tallest of the men seemed to get impatient, and told Beghe to go back across the street in what sounded like a Brooklyn accent.
Beghe, who’s played plenty of tough characters over the years, assumed a hard edge in his voice. “I’m supposed to take orders from this guy? I can talk loud, too.”
Further confrontation seemed futile. Beghe turned to leave, nodding to the tall guard.
“Nice to meet you, tough guy.”
And as he stepped away, he muttered. “I smell pussy.”
Back among the protesters, Beghe attempted to telephone the church. “I called and asked for John Carmichael and said I was Jason Beghe. Then they hung up.”
The actor stayed and talked with more of the protesters, some of whom he’d already been communicating with in posts at enturbulation.org and other websites. He told them that he’s making plans for other ways of publicizing criticisms of the church, and assured the picketers that he’d keep Anonymous informed.
Then he walked away, while Anonymous kept up chants like “Scientology kills!” and “Pay your taxes!”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 27, 2008