One night about seven years ago, the actor Jason Beghe stumbled upon his own Wikipedia page. At the bottom he found a four-word phrase that nauseated him: "Public supporter of Scientology." Beghe, who currently stars in the hit NBC show Chicago P.D., had left the church in disgust months earlier, though he hadn't yet made that public. "I wrote a non-confrontational assertion that I wasn't a Scientologist anymore, and Wikipedia kept rejecting it," he says. "My buddy explained the information had to be verified."
Beghe decided to take more dramatic action. He posted a two-hour video on YouTube in which he claimed the organization was "very dangerous for your spiritual, psychological, mental, emotional health and evolution." The video shot around the world. It also put him in Scientology's crosshairs. (They call Beghe "unreliable, dishonest and biased," and group him with other former members who have spoken out against the church. Click here to read a detailed letter where they respond to the allegations that Beghe makes in this Q&A.)
A journeyman character actor who's had roles in everything from Thelma & Louise to G.I. Jane, Beghe is the most charismatic talking head in Going Clear, the new Scientology documentary from director Alex Gibney. In the film, Beghe rails at the church in a raspy tough-guy voice (it was damaged after he yanked tubes out of his throat while hospitalized for a 1999 car accident). But Going Clear reveals only part of his story, and he phoned up Rolling Stone to tell us more.
What did you think of Going Clear?
I've only had time to see a rough cut on my iPad. I'm also not the guy to ask since it's all old news to me. I suspect it's going to be effective as a movie and parts are really eye-opening. I think it provides useful evidence and information to make people think twice about getting involved in Scientology. And hopefully if someone is involved, this might start greasing the path for them to get out.
I think a lot of people who see this will learn things they never knew.
The funny thing is that it's all out there, but it's in Lawrence Wright's book or these small chatrooms. People find movies more accessible.
I suppose before the Internet it was a lot easier for anyone to suppress information.
Yeah, they tried in the beginning, but they're so incompetent at handling these things. They always use a hammer. They don't have any fine tools. They're very rough. There was a great description of them by a guy in Anonymous. He said they're constantly shooting foot bullets. Every time they try to handle something, they shoot themselves in the foot. You can almost count on them to do it.
They must be doing something right if they're continuing to make all this money.
Well, yeah, if you find that rewarding. There's easier ways to make money. I just think there's some kind of evil intention at the root of it if that's how you chose to do it.
Did you worry that by speaking out like this they'd come after you?
Not really. As soon as I posted that video on YouTube they contacted me. It's interesting because they're very adept at pushing buttons. I thought, "Huh, it'll be interesting to see how they'll try and do this with me." The first thing they did was send my quote/unquote "friends" to call me all hurt. They were like, "Golly. . .You know. . .Golly." It was interesting since it showed they thought I cared about other people.
After that I started to do more research and I learned stuff I didn't know when I made the first video. It was one thing to take money and rip me off, but when I heard about the shit with the Sea Org, the violence and the cruelty. . .It's one thing to take someone's bread. It's another thing to take their soul. I felt like I had something to do with it, so I became a little more active. For a couple of years I became a real pain in the ass to them, so they started to attack me with phony lawsuits. They tried to bankrupt me and they came close.
What was the lawsuit?
They sent someone to my house and they filed this lawsuit saying I beat the shit out of him, which is not true.
Was he a Scientologist? What happened?
No. He was some process server that they hired. They know how to push my buttons. If I tell you to leave my property, and you don't and I've screamed at you about five or 10 times, I'm going to escort you out, which is what I did. But they said he was hospitalized and all this stuff. They forced him to go to the hospital and do all this stuff, but there was nothing there. And I didn't beat the shit out of him. I mean, I probably scared him.
They probably spent millions of dollars. They just wanted to lose my attention and all my money. It probably cost me something like $250,000. [The process server's attorney tells Rolling Stone that Beghe pleaded "no contest" and says the actor's version of events here is false.]
In the meantime, you have people showing up like the head of Child Protective Services and the head of the Special Victims Unit of Los Angeles investigating an anonymous tip that I abused my children.
Then they have to talk to the principal, and the doctor, and the best friend's parents and all this shit. Also, I probably had five P.I.'s following me for a year or two. My kids would go to school and they'd say, "Oh, there's Beghe and his P.I." Everybody at the Malibu Elementary knew what a P.I. was.
What were they trying to do with all that?
I don't understand what their intention was. I think they just want you to think about them. What's ironic is they have this whole big thing about disconnecting from people outside of Scientology, but if you fucking disconnect from them, those bitches will not let you go.
To go back a bit here, why did you leave the church in the first place?
I think the word would be "attrition." My last 10 years in the organization was really the worst time of my life. I think my breaking point came when my wife got pregnant. I was like, "Holy shit. I'm going to be a father." I wanted to be a good father, so I started thinking about what what meant. I thought maybe I'd try to make a lot of money, but I knew rich people growing up and their kids were unhappy.
I figured out the best thing I could be was myself, so I did a fearless inventory of all the bullshit in my life. At that point, I realized that Scientology wasn't me. The next day I walked in and said, "I gotta get out of here. I can't maintain my own integrity and remain a member of this organization. It's possible to have an amicable divorce, and I think it's in both of our best interests we part ways."
They were insistent that I stay and talk to some people. I said, "I'll talk to whoever you want, but I can be pretty convincing. If you send someone to talk to me, I'm probably going to at least put some doubt in their universe." I think that four of the six people they sent to convince me to stay ended up leaving after talking to me. So, anyway, they hate me.
The movie says that their membership rate keeps declining. Why do you think that's happening?
Well, because they aren't running it well. [Church leader David] Miscavige is a sociopath. I mean, I had an idea to make them some fucking money and get a lot of people involved! I used to say, "This is bullshit! How are we going to clear the planet with these prices?" I think my line was, "You can't clear Beverly Hills with these prices!" If they were smart, instead of trying to be Gucci, they'd be Walmart. They should let you go clear for $200.
Did you go clear?
Oh yeah! I'm Operating Thetan V. I'm auditor. I could clear you!
Did you ever see any of the violence they talk about in the movie?
No, no, no, no. I saw some things that were ugly sometimes, but not violent. It was emotional violence and I always complained about it.
How did you react when they told you about Xenu?
Well, I looked at it like a story. It's kinda like the Immaculate Conception. Whether it's symbolic or not, it's just a way of understanding something. I was an auditor, so I'm looking at it as an auditor. That's just a background story in order to help you facilitate the task at hand.
Leaving the church didn't seem to hurt your career at all. Chicago P.D. is a huge hit. You're doing better than ever.
I think getting out was good for me career-wise. My finances were drained and I had a family. I said, "OK, I gotta get a series or something because that's good money." And so that was that. I've never been that ambitious. I've always been kinda lazy, but I finally have more time and attention that I can put to things that are more creative and rewarding.
It must be gratifying to star in a show that's doing so well and seems to have a long future ahead of it.
I don't think like that. I mean, it's good. I just try to do a good job. I always try to make the show better. It's just funny. I know [the Scientologists] hate me so much. Their entire scripture says that if you leave Scientology, you're going to fall apart and die. The fact that I kicked their asses and have these tough guys posters saying "Don't Fuck With Me" all over the country, there was a little bit of a giggle in that for me.
Once again, you have no fear that they're going to just keep coming after you if you speak out like this?
What are they gonna go? Whatever happens, I'll deal with that when I deal with it. I can't live my life in fear. And I don't really think about those guys. Everybody wants to talk about this and I'm like, "I'm done. I'm over it." If somebody does something to hurt me or my children or my wife or my friends, even you, then I will respond however I respond.