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There was an electric moment last night at Book Court in Brooklyn when Janet Reitman’s first public appearance to support her book, Inside Scientology, was interrupted by a disruptive scene between a Scientologist and a church critic.
A Book Court employee had to step in when the two men appeared oblivious that they’d hijacked Reitman’s talk for their own debate. But afterwards, Reitman expressed some excitement about the scene.
The author had told us that she was hoping this first appearance, on the date her book was officially on sale, would be a quiet affair more for close friends, who had showed up in strong numbers. It’s next week’s reading at Half King where she is expecting fireworks might go off as members of Anonymous have told her they plan to show up en masse.
But last night’s scene was remarkable in several ways. Afterwards, we caught up with both men who stopped the event in its tracks.
Reitman had started the event by reading the opening pages from her book to a group of about 40 people who mostly filled Book Court’s area for public events. She then gave some background on how she came to write the book before asking for questions. (See our own review of her book and interview with Reitman.) Reitman made the case to her listeners, as she did with us, that she did her best to bring an objective point of view that described Scientology’s appeal as well as the controversies it has endured over the decades.
Reitman handled such questions as “What are the core beliefs of Scientology?” and “Why do celebrities join the church?” before a middle-aged man raised his hand.
“I’ve been in Scientology for more than 20 years. I’m now trying to figure out my relationship to the church. But I read your book and I really enjoyed it,” he said. He then asked whether Reitman had really experienced much auditing during her brief foray into the New York org at the beginning of her research. Did she really know how helpful auditing could be, he wanted to know.
Reitman seemed both thrilled that a Scientologist had showed up and asked a question, but also taken aback by the question. She had to admit that she’d done very little auditing, and only in a group setting.
The Scientologist then responded that auditing could be very helpful. But, he added, “You shouldn’t go to a church to get it. You should find an independent auditor.” [Reitman reminds me that the man also then looked around the room, saying that he was worried someone else from Scientology might be there.]
An Indie! As we’ve been writing in numerous stories lately, this is a fascinating time to be watching Scientology because of the growing number of longtime, disaffected Scientologists who are leaving the official church without abandoning their affinity for founder L. Ron Hubbard’s ideas. These “independents” are quickly becoming Scientology leader David Miscavige’s biggest PR problem. And one of them, apparently, had come to Reitman’s talk to speak up (and risk very much, if there were any active Scientologists in the crowd; if there were, none made themselves known).
But this scene was just warming up.
Another man, this one dressed in business attire, raised his hand to talk. When Reitman called on him, however, he said, “I want to ask that guy a question,” he said, indicating the Scientologist. Reitman encouraged him to ask his question.
“Independents don’t seem to get that the totalitarian structure of Scientology comes from Hubbard himself. He created the RPF, didn’t he?”
The Scientologist answered that the Rehabilitation Project Force — a notorious sort of internal prison — was a wing of the Sea Org. In other words, official bodies in the official church, and not what Independents concern themselves with.
The other man kept up his pointed words about how it was Hubbard who was responsible for Scientology’s worst practices, when the Book Court employee asked them to stop arguing with each other and allow Reitman to regain control. [Reitman herself wasn’t perturbed, and said she was happy to allow the interruption to continue.]
For this Scientology watcher, it was an absolutely classic moment that almost perfectly represents what is most rocking the religion today — longtime members falling away to become Independents, and critics like the folks in the Anonymous movement who howl at claims by Independents that they are leaving behind everything toxic about Scientology.
After the talk, I caught up with both men.
The Scientologist, who was visiting New York from Los Angeles, said he was being drawn into the Independent movement because, he said, “it bypasses the corruption of the church.”
Ironically, he said that he’d come to that conclusion by judging Scientology by some of Hubbard’s own policy letters.
He knew that speaking up at Reitman’s reading was risky, but felt compelled to do it after reading the book. He was also very familiar with this blog, and said that Scientology is, too.
The other man also asked not to be named for this article. He described himself as simply a critic of the church who had never been involved in it but reads about it voraciously. Like other critics, he’s wary of the Independent movement.
“I don’t trust Marty Rathbun or Mike Rinder. But I do see that many of them seem sincere. There have been other independent movements in the past,” he pointed out. But Rathbun and Rinder, who until a few years ago were high-level executives in the church — “they were the ringleaders, and they’re just trying to get David Miscavige out so they can get control again,” he said.
After we interviewed the two men, they went to a bench in front of the store and appeared to have a calm and lengthy discussion.
Now that’s inspiring.
Update I talked to Reitman this morning, and she said the scene was the talk of her friends after the event: “The fact that the guy said what he did, and then he was looking around, expressed paranoia that someone in the room was after him — that was such a confirmation of everything that I’ve been reporting and writing about. Just that alone should have answered a lot of questions for the people in the room.”
Second Update Marty Rathbun just sent me this reply to the critic’s accusation about him wanting to replace Miscavige: “If I wanted to take over the church of Scientology I would have done so long ago. The church is dead. The only hope for the subject is humane, independent practice.”
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard’s organization:
The Larry Wollersheim Saga — Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud
The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story — How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself
The Jason Beghe Defection — A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue
The Paul Haggis Ultimatum — The ‘Crash’ Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape — ‘Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle’
The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation — Scientology’s former PR genius comes clean
The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross — Scientology lures a young defector into a trap
A Church Myth Debunked — Scientology and Proposition 8
Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back — Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits
When Scientologists Attack — The Marty Rathbun Intimidation
A Scientologist Excommunicated — The Michael Fairman SP Declaration
The Richard Leiby Operation — Investigating a reporter’s divorce to shut him up
The Hugh Urban Investigation — An academic takes a harsh look at Scientology’s past
Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh — A precedent for a Scientology-Branch Davidian link
Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology — A masterful telling of Scientology’s history
The Western Spy Network Revealed? — Marty Rathbun ups the ante on David Miscavige
Scientology’s Enemies List — Are You On It?
Inside Inside Scientology — An interview with author Janet Reitman
Scientology and the Nation of Islam — Holy Doctrinal Mashup, Batman!
Scientologists — How Many of Them Are There, Anyway?
Roger Weller’s Wild Ride — Scientology When it was Hip