UPDATE: After the jump, former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder helps us understand the insanity of Freedom magazine.
Six months ago, The New Yorker uncorked a delicious 24,000-word takedown of Scientology in the form of a profile of Paul Haggis, the Crash director who defected from the church in 2009.
Six months later, after a hell of a lot of effort and (clearly) a lot of money, Scientology is striking back with the most bizarre, utterly stupid, and breathlessly vacuous slime job imaginable.
But the art looks good.
If you dare, follow us into the realm of jackassery writ large…
To save time, you might want to start with a couple of movies that came with this special package. I would embed them here, but Freedom isn’t making that option available (a pity).
In the first one, the smarmy narration is hard to take as Freedom attempts to take down America’s best magazine for its fact checking practices. Or something. As with all Scientology attack videos, it’s really hard to understand who the audience for this is. And as with all Scientology attack videos, the answer to that question is always the same: these videos are made for the pleasure of church leader David Miscavige, who is the only one who could possibly enjoy them.
Scientology tries to make The New Yorker fact-checking process seem scandalous or at least misleading, but who cares how the magazine got to its final product? The point is, Lawrence Wright’s story was a masterpiece of research and narration, one of the best takedowns of Scientology ever. And this silly movie doesn’t raise a single issue with what the magazine actually published.
Once you’re finished with that masterpiece, take a look at the second movie for a more traditional Scientology attack piece. Snippets of Paul Haggis statements on video are used to smear him as a has-been, jackass, and hypocrite, all of which is inconsistent and adds up to a pile of nothing. The movie then goes through the usual unfair sliming of various ex-Scientologists (Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe, Amy Scobee, Tom De Vocht, and others), while never actually naming them. All of them are “apostates” and liars and thieves.
It’s the usual treatment of people who, just a few years ago, were among the highest executives and most-trusted members of Scientology itself.
But there’s no point in unraveling this stuff. It’s incoherent, it’s maddeningly contradictory — but man, what production values. Imagine how much of parishioner dues went into this thing!
I can only imagine how fun the Janet Reitman issue is going to be.
UPDATE: Just got off the phone with Mike Rinder, who helped me try to understand the nuttiness of Freedom magazine.
He also watched the videos last night, and was struck by how long it took the church to put together a response to a story that came out six months ago. “It takes them so long to get anything together and approved by Miscavige. I mean everybody had forgotten about the New Yorker piece, but now they’ve brought it all up again for everyone to think about,” he said with a chuckle.
I told him that I’d been puzzled by the audience for these bizarre attack videos. He agreed that it made no sense. “Who do they think the public is for this stuff? It’s certainly not any non-Scientologist. Any non-Scientologist sees that or the Squirrel Busters and thinks, ‘These people are fucking nuts’,” he said.
But if they aren’t meant to sway people outside the church, they also aren’t meant for the consumption of people inside Scientology either, Rinder explained. In fact, there’s a real risk that Scientologists will see these incoherent attacks, and it will make them curious to look online for more information about people like Rathbun, Haggis, or Rinder himself — and that kind of curiosity is leading to more and more people leaving the organization.
There were only two targets in mind for those videos, Rinder told me. “They’re hoping that you or me or Larry Wright will see this and simply give up,” he said. “But the real public for those things is David Miscavige. He looks at them and chuckles. And he has spent hours and hours talking about the New Yorker and Larry Wright and Paul Haggis and Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder. And it’s all transcribed. And it gets distributed around to all the minions in OSA or wherever, and they then try to do what COB [Miscavige] said. So he effectively wrote half of that.”
Also, Rinder said that the magazine reeks of panic. “I believe it is a measure of the depths of desperation that they have, and Miscavige in particular has, because all he can do is try, through twisting and distorting photographs and distorting facts, to make the people that are exposing him seem like they’re unreliable. And that’s it. He won’t go out in the media himself and say, ‘No, that’s not what happened.’ He won’t do that. He wants to snipe from the bushes and hope that people will think, ‘These people can’t be trusted.’ Well, he is losing whatever shreds of credibility he has because he won’t come out himself,” he said. “The reactions you see are indicative of the turmoil and chaos within the ranks of the church.”
And for Scientology to make noise in such a bizarre way carries risk, he pointed out. “I’ve talked to at least ten people in Clearwater, most of whom remain under the radar who say what got them to look elsewhere on the Internet was the Freedom magazine issue about the St. Pete Times.” And that issue, a similar smear against reporters Joe Childs and Tom Tobin after their landmark series, “The Truth Rundown,” wasn’t nearly as slick as this current one.
“I know someone [a regular, public Scientologist] OSA asked to read [the St. Pete Times issue] to gauge the local reaction in the community, and that person said ‘Oh my God, this is insane,’ and then went to Marty’s blog, and then left the church and pulled out their family.” He predicts a similar exodus after this current issue.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics)
#16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church’s HQ
#17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano
#18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church’s other thugs and goons)
#20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures)
#21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church
#22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members)
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
#24: David Touretzky (and other academics)
#25: Xenu, galactic overlord
See all of our recent Scientology coverage at the Voice
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
The Marc Headley Infiltration — A Scientology Spying Operation Revealed
Placido Domingo Jr: Scientology’s Retaliation is “Scary and Pathetic”
An Interview with Nancy Many, Former Scientology Spy
The Paulien Lombard Confession — A Scientology Spy Comes Clean
The Deputy Benjamin Ring Hard Sell — Scientology wants your 401K
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology — the whole series!
The Squirrel Busters Busted — Unmasking the Scientology PI in Charge