This week's episode of A&E's Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath focused on the story of Aaron Smith-Levin, a Scientologist for 29 years who left the Church in 2014. Here are five things we learned from last night's show, courtesy of Mr. Smith-Levin's story.
1. Winning tax exemption from the IRA legitimized Scientology to some of its own followers
Like many longtime Church members, Smith-Levin joined as a child when his mother started taking courses and working for the organization. He told Remini that he distinctly remembers becoming actually invested in the religion himself in 1993, when Church leader David Miscavige announced that Scientology had won tax exemption status from the IRS and was now recognized as a religion. Smith-Levin distinctly remembered the promotional video that Scientology released, which touted "The War Is Over."
According to former Scientology exec Mike Rinder, the Church had accrued over one billion dollars in back taxes at the time; he's alleged that without the exemption, Scientology would probably still exist, but it wouldn't be nearly as powerful as it is now. In addition to making all of their contributions to the Church tax deductible, many Scientologists felt that finally, the government was actually legitimizing the work that they were doing to Clear the planet and save humanity.
"The IRS had finally acknowledged we were a real religion, a real Church," Smith-Levin says, suggesting that it took the sting out of many of the attacks that had been hurled at Scientology over the years. "You must stop attacking us."
"That's a powerful message to be sending not just to parishioners, but to children," Remini says on the show.
2. Children can become Scientology Auditors
At age 12, Smith-Levin's mother moved him and his twin brother, Collin, down to Clearwater, Florida, home to the Church's "Spiritual Headquarters," known as the Flag Land Base. The three of them began training to be auditors, learning how to read the "e-meter" and administer Scientology "technology."
The first step in any Scientologist's spiritual journey is to purge oneself of the part of their brains that is reactive, i.e. that causes you to think bad thoughts or make bad decisions. An auditing session can be sort of like therapy or confession, and the process is said to involve clutching two metal cans which are connected to a device called an e-meter, which has a needle that supposedly registers subconscious emotions. As the person being audited answers questions, the movement of the needle tells the auditor whether or not the subject's reactive mind is still getting in the way.
Smith-Levin claims that he and his brother, barely teenagers at the time, were being trained to audit not just children, but adults – and specifically, adults who came from far and wide to receive auditing at Flag, home of the Church's very best auditors.
Remini, who joined and began working for the Church of Scientology as a teenager herself, says on the show that this kind of responsibility can be a real "mindfuck" for kids, who believe they're doing something really important and "powerful"; Smith-Levin claimed like he felt he was "on the crest of a wave. I really embraced it!"
3. The "Golden Age of Tech"
Smith-Levin explained on Aftermath that he and his brother began training as auditors during a period of Scientology's history allegedly known as "the Golden Age of Tech." Having assumed leadership of the Church following Hubbard's death in 1986, David Miscavige supposedly declared that the way auditors had been trained for the last 50 years was "all wrong." Every Scientology auditor would have to be retrained, with would-be auditors conducting mock sessions on video,. The drills were allegedly reviewed and scrutinized all the way up the Church ranks
Smith-Levin's brother Collin had been one of the best auditors-in-training at Flag and excelled at these new training drills, becoming the first person to operate the e-meter "perfectly," and a sort of a mini-celebrity at Flag.
According to Aaron, however, Miscavige the declared that the drills were wrong, however, and so he adapted them to be much longer and more difficult. When Collin retested, he supposedly failed.
4. If Scientology doesn't work for a member, it's their fault
"Scientologists believe that if you're not doing well in your courses, it's because you're doing something unethical that you're not being honest about," Smith-Levin explains on the show. "They describe it as 'If ethics is in, then the tech will go in.' So if the tech doesn't seem to be working well, it's because you are being unethical and you haven't come clean about it."
Once a star at Flag, his brother Collin was suddenly under intense pressure because he couldn't get through the new drill – and one day, he allegedly called his dad (who was not a Scientologist) and said he wanted to leave. To "blow" is considered a crime; while his mother was able to convince Collin to return to Clearwater, it was all downhill for him after that.
"Scientologists believe that people leave the Church for one reason and one reason alone – they have crimes," Rinder explains. "They have transgressed against the good of Scientology. It is their moral obligation to unburden the person of their crimes for having left."
As soon as Collin "blew," the 14-year-old was supposedly put through intense interrogations on the e-meter, which Aaron claims lasted hours and days. "What does it do to a person who's continually put on an e-meter and asked, 'What are your crimes? What are you hiding from me?'" Remini asks. "That has to do some damage to a person's mental state."
At 15, Collin was apparently demoted and sent to work for the Church in Philadelphia – by himself, as his mother was expected to stay in Clearwater instead of going with her still-teenage son. "I think he was scared and apprehensive about being sent back on his own," Smith-Levin recounts. "I feel he would have been embarrassed to ask my mom to stay with him."
5. Disconnection has a domino effect
While Aaron Smith-Levin continued to train in Scientology and eventually joined the Sea Org, Collin eventually went off to college and became an honors student, and was apparently writing papers about Scientology being a cult. According to Remini and Smith-Levin, considering Scientology a cult is "insanity" to the Church's members.
"You stop being my mother, my sister, my cousin, and you become a crazy person in our eyes," Remini says about her outlook on critics during her time in the Church.
"I would compare my state of mind at the time to the Hitler youth," Smith-Levin says. "It's just blind, unflinching allegiance and no remorse." He claims that he wrote up a Knowledge Report on his brother, alerting Church officials that Collin had committed suppressive acts for a long time by publicly attacking Scientology. Collin was allegedly declared a Suppressive Person.
Declaring someone a Suppressive Person sets off a chain reaction within Scientology families, where maintaining any communication with an SP is considered a suppressive act. "How do you take disconnection to that level?" Smith-Levin asked. "You can't get married because you talk to your dad who talks to your brother – it's incredible."
When Collin died in an accident (before the twins were ever able to reconcile), Smith-Levin had to fight to attend his funeral, claiming that his commanding officer scoffed, "He's just an SP – why would you bother taking time off of post to go to an SP's funeral?"
Smith-Levin and his wife left the Sea Org in order to start a family in 2006; along with his mother, they have since been declared Suppressive Persons.
The Church of Scientology has requested that we include the statement below in this recap:
"Leah Remini is doing this for the money and now tries to pretend otherwise. Ms. Remini is being compensated for this show, just as she profited from her book. In addition, she attempted to extort the Church by first demanding $500,000, followed by an additional $1 million, because the Church invoked its First Amendment right to respond to her false claims with the truth. This shows the extent Leah Remini is willing to go to in order to distort the truth about Scientology.
"Remini has repeatedly disparaged and exploited her former faith for profit and attention through a series of failed publicity stunts, culminating in her reality TV show featuring [former members] who have been telling differing versions of the same false tales of abuse for years."