On August 5, we started a countdown that will give credit — or blame — to the people who have contributed most to the sad current state of Scientology. From its greatest expansion in the 1980s, the church is a shell of what it once was and is mired in countless controversies around the world. Some of that was self-inflicted, and some of it has come from outside. Join us now as we continue on our investigation of those people most responsible…
#9: Jason Beghe
“Jason Beghe is cool. Just listen to the way he says ‘Let me meet a mutherfuckin’ Clear’,” says Mark Bunker, when I ask him to tell me about Beghe. “It’s a distillation of Scientology criticism delivered with the earthy poetic power of George Carlin. It’s something I couldn’t say with my small town Midwestern upbringing but it rolls off Jason’s tongue like a witty bon mot written by Noel Coward.”
In 2008, Beghe went to Bunker to film his public coming out — he’d been a Scientologist for about 13 years, had left, and was now ready to spill his guts. Bunker told me how it went down:
He’s got the balls to stand up and confront Scientology head on knowing full well what they can throw at him. For many actors, the fear of what Scientology could do to ruin their careers prevents them from following Jason’s lead. Look at how Scientology viciously attacked Oscar winner Paul Haggis in Freedom magazine. Scientology had no qualms smearing a talented man who had been a parishioner for decades and a big contributor to their organization. Jason didn’t hesitate.
When I went to his home to interview him in 2008, I didn’t know what to expect. He was gracious and charming and we talked on tape for several hours. When I went home to San Diego to edit the material, my Avid system died on me. Marc Headley invited me up to Burbank to edit the footage at one of his company’s edit bays. I decided to start with a three minute teaser that I uploaded to YouTube. As I pulled an all-nighter to edit the full interview, I would check back every couple hours to see the reaction the teaser was getting and I was floored. It kept going up by tens of thousand of views every time I looked. After a few hours it had been picked up by Gawker and Radar and was getting coverage around the world including in the Village Freakin’ Voice.
And here’s where Jason really impressed me. The press wanted me to get them in contact with Jason. He was getting deluged with people wanting to exploit his story. He agreed to do a video interview with a show like Inside Edition or Extra and the crew was at his house setting up when he decided to call it off. The producer called me and wanted me to intercede and convince him to go on camera. I talked to Jason and he explained that he didn’t want to become just a disposable bit of media fluff that gets attention for a news cycle and then gets tossed aside as crews chased a granny who stopped a robbery with her umbrella. (I’m paraphrasing wildly here.) He wasn’t interested in getting the ego boost of press attention. He wanted to step back and really think about what this experience was all about. He decided it was more important to work behind the scenes to curb Scientology’s abuses than to seek out publicity.
The former head of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs, Mike Rinder, told me recently that, other than Marty Rathbun, it is Jason that David Miscavige is most worried about. That says a lot.
Fortunately for me, one of the people who helped Beghe meet with Bunker and make that video was Tory Christman, who I had known since I wrote a story about her in 2001. After Beghe cancelled that first TV interview, Tory e-mailed me and asked me if I wanted to do Beghe’s first press interview. You bet, I answered.
The first thing I did was look up his background — he had appeared in several television series (Melrose Place, Picket Fences, Everwood), had a lead role in the 1988 movie Monkey Shines, and also had roles in G.I. Jane and Thelma and Louise, and has many other credits in television. (He’s now a regular in the upcoming Californication season.) Like many others in Hollywood, he’d had a long and successful career, even if he wasn’t a household name. And he was known inside Scientology as much for his gung-ho attitude as for his celebrity status: his dedication to moving up “the bridge” of Scientology’s technical levels endeared him to church leader David Miscavige and also made him popular with rank-and-file parishioners. Beghe also lent his talents to official church videos — he can still mimic the way he did voiceovers in a dramatic style.
If Beghe was popular inside the church, he wasn’t its most well-known celebrity by any means. But here’s what set him apart: other celebrities have left Scientology over the years, and they tend to do it quietly (even Tom Cruise was away for nearly a decade without it making news at the time). But Beghe wanted to make noise. First, he made those videos with Mark Bunker, and when they took off, he had something else in mind: network television.
After I had written a couple of stories about him, Beghe let me know that he was flying out to New York to do an interview with ABC’s 20/20. We both knew this could be huge, but he had concerns, which we talked about when we met at a restaurant. For someone like me who had been reading and writing about Scientology for more than a decade, it was immediately obvious why Beghe’s defection and speaking out had potentially major consequences for a church that received so much of its public perception through its celebrities. But it was clear to us both that ABC wasn’t quite sure what it had on its hands — and sure enough, to this day it has never aired the hours of interviews it did with Jason, even though, he’ll tell you, he gave them “killer stuff.”
From New York, Beghe said he was headed to Washington D.C. by train to see his parents, and from there, he told me off the record, he was beginning a journey to look up powerful former members of Scientology. This seemed important enough that I asked to tag along, at least to D.C.
We rode the train together, and he continued to tell me about his years in the church, and about his fellow actors. Kirstie Alley, he told me, was genuinely funny and warm, and he didn’t care that she was still in the church — he still considered her a friend.
In D.C., we had a beer with Arnie Lerma, and for me it was a very symbolic moment. Lerma, who had been through so much back in the day, fighting to get the truth out about Scientology’s abuses as the power of the Internet was becoming clear. And Beghe, now part of a new kind of movement, one that involved much more visible and powerful figures in Scientology. It felt like a torch had been passed.
I can finally say now what I couldn’t say then — after we parted ways, and I headed back for New York, Jason Beghe continued on his journey to Virginia, where he had a reunion with three key former members of Scientology: Ronnie Miscavige (the brother of current church leader David Miscavige), his wife Bitty (short for Elizabeth) Miscavige — who had once held the #2 post in Scientology that Marty Rathbun later inhabited — and Jonathan Horwich, who had once been married to L. Ron Hubbard’s daughter Diana.
It was there, Beghe says, that he first learned that Marty Rathbun was still alive. There had been numerous rumors about Rathbun’s demise since he’d left Scientology in 2004 and then vanished. The Miscaviges and Horwich told Beghe that not only was Rathbun still among the living, but that now, another major executive had also “blown.” Mike Rinder, the former chief spokesman and the executive who ran the Office of Special Affairs, the church’s covert operations wing, had also defected — this was the first he’d heard of it, Jason says.
After he returned home, Beghe reached out to Rathbun, and they began talking two, three times a day for an hour at a time, for more than a month. (Rathbun told him that he’d actually tried to reach Beghe earlier by posting a comment on his YouTube interview with Bunker, but Beghe admits that the Internet was still something of a mystery for him at that time, and he didn’t see the overture.)
After more than a month talking with Rathbun, Beghe then traveled to see him. Rathbun tells me that he’d already met with Amy Scobee and her husband Mat Pesch, and had already decided to surface again and help others who were leaving Scientology. But it was after meeting with Beghe, Rathbun tells me, that he “really started to think big.”
“Thinking big” meant talking to Joe Childs and Tom Tobin at the St. Pete Times for their “The Truth Rundown” series, for which Rathbun also convinced Mike Rinder to cooperate.
That newspaper series, Rathbun’s blog, Rinder on television in Australia and the UK, Beghe’s trip to Germany, and now Rathbun’s trip to Gemany: taking nothing away from the immense impact by Anonymous, there’s also been a big change in the way Scientology is perceived because of the way these former high-level executives, and one experienced television character actor, came out and turned up the heat on the church. Until now, I don’t think Jason Beghe has received as much credit as he deserves for helping to light that fire.
And he’s paid the price. If Beghe has largely worked behind the scenes, he’s also been quiet about the hellacious harassment he’s been going through. Scientology’s private eyes and goons have a time-tested strategy of harassing critics until someone gets shoved or a punch is thrown — then Scientology’s attorneys go medieval and turn everything into legal morass. Beghe is currently serving a year’s probation after a misdemeanor assault for the way he chased a process server off his Malibu estate. If Marty Rathbun gets more attention for the way OSA works to make his life “a living hell,” you can bet that it’s doing nearly as much to do the same to Beghe, even if you’re not hearing as much about it because Beghe would rather keep it to himself.
But today, at least, his efforts should get some recognition.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#1: L. Ron Hubbard
#2: David Miscavige
#3: Marty Rathbun
#4: Tom Cruise
#5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin
#7: Mark Bunker
#8: Mike Rinder
>#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#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
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin’ Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing “disconnection”]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun’s open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun’s cause] | [Squirrel Buster’s claim to be making a “documentary”] | [VIDEO: “On a Boat”] | [“Anna” sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology’s highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND “FAIR GAME”
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology’s West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology’s enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard’s remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to “handle” the Voice]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
[“Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | [“Tom Cruise not a kook!”] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his “suppressive person” declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology’s retaliation is “scary and pathetic”]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo’s “Turnaround King”: [Doing Scientology’s dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone’s smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]
JANET REITMAN’S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman’s first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn’t like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman’s print reviews, and why isn’t she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN’S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
[Marc Headley: “Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman’s Story] | [Jeff Hawkins’ Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology singalong, “We Stand Tall”] | [Captain Bill Robertson and “Galactic Patrol”]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The “Ideal” dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York “org”]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist’s letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth]
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]