Scientology Defectors: A Timeline – Rolling Stone
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Scientology Defectors: A Timeline

From allegations of abuse to lack of support for LGBT rights, a look into why 10 former Scientologists decided to leave the church

The Church of Scientology might be one of the most secretive organizations in the country, but there's one thing it can't seem to keep quiet: defections. Since its creation in 1953, a string of celebrities and higher-ups have left the church. For years, those who defected largely kept quiet about what they'd seen on the inside – but increasingly, that's changed.

In 2009, a St. Petersburg Times series revealed a host of former high-level executives who shared their stories. Then, in 2015, an HBO documentary called Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief – based on a 2013 book by journalist and screenwriter Lawrence Wright – told the stories of many of these defectors. Just months after that film was released, sitcom star and former Scientologist Leah Remini wrote a book about her 30 years in the church, and this year, followed it up with her A&E show Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, in which she tells her story and interviews fellow defectors. 

Now, it seems, Scientology's greatest blessings – its celebrity followers and devoted lifers – have become their biggest liability. But how far back do the defections go? Here, 10 people whose lives revolved around Scientology –then made the conscious decision to leave. 

Maurice Rivenbark/ZUMA

Amy Scobee

Who she is: Amy Scobee was a Sea Org member and executive once responsible for bringing celebrities into the church. She joined in 1978, when she was 14 years old, against the wishes of her father. They both told their stories in Going Clear.

Cause for Defection: She and her husband left in 2005, after she spent repeated stints in the Rehabilitation Project Force, which ex-Scientologists often refer to as "the Hole." Scientology denies any such place existed, but Scobee described it as "a slave labor program." 

"You're under watch, you're under guard," she said. "You have no communication lines to outside family. Within the church, you're meant to call everybody sir. And you do renovations projects."

Most WTF Scientology Moment: In Remini's show, Scobee revealed that her departure almost cost the whistle-blower her family. Scobee's mother, interviewed just before losing a battle with terminal cancer, explained why she briefly chose the church over her own daughter – a Scientology policy called disconnection, which she said calls for family members to cut off contact with those who have left or spoken ill of the church. The church denies the policy exists.

Charley Gallay/NBC/Getty

Jason Beghe

Who He Is: Jason Beghe – the Thelma and Louise actor who's more recently made his living in cop dramas like Chicago P.D. – ended his involvement with Scientology in 2008 after more than a decade with the organization. In a lengthy YouTube video from around that time, he explains that he joined Scientology in the early 1990s because he wanted to experience a spiritual journey.

Cause for Defection: In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Beghe said that when learned he was going to have a child in the mid-2000s, he "did a fearless inventory of all the bullshit in my life" and realized Scientology was included in that list. He called Miscavige a "sociopath," and accused the church of "emotional violence" that he objected to. Scientology responded in a letter to Rolling Stone, claiming that Beghe joined to get "help with his anger issues in 1994." It accused him of multiple acts of violence towards its staff and others, and calls him "unreliable, dishonest and biased."

Most WTF Scientology Moment: "As soon as I posted that video on YouTube [church officials] contacted me," Beghe said in the same 2015 interview. "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." In response to the legal question (and Beghe's claims that they hired private detectives to tail him), Scientology wrote: "The church has applied its lawful rights to defend itself through counsel."

Sonia Recchia/Getty

Mike Rinder

Who he is: Former Scientology executive Mike Rinder was was brought into the church as a child by his parents, and joined the Sea Organization after graduating from high school in 1973. He then worked his way to becoming a high-ranking member of Miscavige's inner circle. Before his departure in 2007, the native Australian was one of the church's few public faces. 

Cause for Defection: Though Rinder had vehemently denied he was ever physically abused by Miscavige while he was in the church, he told the St. Petersburg Times in 2009 that, in fact, he had been. In the biography on his website, he writes that he left in 2007, "when I finally decided there was no way I could change the culture of violence and abuse that had become endemic under the 'leadership' of David Miscavige." He's said his first wife and his two children from that marriage broke off contact with him as a result.

Most WTF Scientology Moment: In a March 2015 post on his website, Rinder recounted an event that happened after he'd already left the church behind. As he was waiting for his wife in his car outside the doctor's office, coincidentally talking to a journalist, his ex-wife, daughter, brother and a handful of Scientology officials surrounded him, screaming various insults, which eventually prompted him to call police. (A website run by the church accuses him of bloodying his ex-wife's hands during the altercation, a charge Rinder has denied.)

James Borchuck/ZUMA

Tom De Vocht

Who He Is: Tom De Vocht is another former executive, who was once managed a Scientology facility in Clearwater. He joined Scientology in the early 1970s, and became a trusted member of Miscavige's team. 

Cause for Defection: De Vocht left in 2009, citing "repeated physical abuse" as his reason, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Most WTF Scientology Moments: De Vocht claims he was once ordered by Miscavige to turn to rubble sidewalks surrounding the Scientology facility in Florida, in order to ward off protesters. After DeVocht tried unsuccessfully to get a city permit for the renovations, he accuses Miscavige of grabbing him by the necktie until "I couldn't breathe." Representatives for Miscavige have repeatedly denied to the Times and other outlets that any incidences of abuse ever took place.

Multiple sources told the St. Petersberg Times that De Vocht was the loser of that musical chairs game, claiming Miscavige "threw [De Vocht] to the ground and delivered more blows. De Vocht took the beating and the humiliation in silence – the way other executives always took the leader's attacks." (Again, the church has denied this game took place and that its leaders engage in violence.) 


Paul Haggis

Who he is: Canadian director and screenwriter Paul Haggis, best known as the writer of Million Dollar Baby and Crash, told his Scientology story in Going Clear. He was in a troubled relationship in the early 1970s, he says in the documentary, and became convinced Scientology could save it.

Cause for Defection: He left publicly in 2009, saying that the church failed to come out harshly enough against California's Proposition 8, which made gay marriage illegal in the state. In his resignation letter, Haggis wrote, "Despite all the church's words about promoting freedom and human rights, its name is now in the public record alongside those who promote bigotry and intolerance, homophobia and fear."

Most WTF Scientology Moment: In the letter, Haggis also details how his wife was "ordered to disconnect," or cut off all contact with, her parents based on their perceived crimes against Scientology. In response to Haggis' comments, specifically the ones regarding disconnection, the church used his prior statements against him. When he was a member of the church, Haggis wrote that the policy is a "self-determined decision." The church has also dismissed the Prop 8 issue as an isolated occurrence and that the church avoids taking "overt" political stances.

Dan Callister/ZUMA

Ron Miscavige

Who he is: In his 2016 book Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me, Ron Miscavige relays how he introduced his son David to Scientology in the early 1970s. Father and son both hoped it would cure David's asthma.

Over the next decade, David rose up the ranks considerably. In 1985, when Ron was accused of attempted rape, his son was able to use Scientology's resources to help Ron. After he was acquitted that same year, Ron joined the Sea Org.

Cause for Defection: Miscavige blamed conditions in the Sea Org – which he said included long work days and little privacy – for his eventual departure from the church in 2012.

Most WTF Scientology Moment: Ron has accused the church of hiring private investigators to tail them. He claims one such PI, who briefly suspected Ron was having a heart attack, was told by David to "let him die and not intervene in any way," if that was the case. (The church has denied this incident occurred.)

Miller Mobley/A&E

Leah Remini

Who She Is: King of Queens actress Leah Remini joined the church at her mother's urging in the early 1980s. She spent three decades as a Scientologist, and claims to have spent millions of dollars on books, classes, and auditing.

Cause for Defection: Remini left the church in 2013, after a series of run-ins with Miscavige and his close friend Tom Cruise. Though she was initially quiet about her reasons for leaving, in her 2015 book, Troublemaker, she says she was reprimanded by church officials for asking about Miscavige's wife (who hasn't been seen in public for a number of years), and for several other infractions she says she committed at Cruise's 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes. Those conflicts, and the possibility of her own young daughter disconnecting from her, prompted Remini's departure.

Most WTF Scientology Moment: Remini claims the church once asked for her help killing what it saw as an unfavorable 60 Minutes segment. Cruise, she said, asked her to call CBS chief Leslie Moonves and convince him to squash the segment. She tried, but didn’t happen. In response to this story and her new show, the church has said that she is "in it for the money and now tries to pretend otherwise," and that she tried to extort the church for $1.5 million, "because the Church invoked its First Amendment right to respond to her false claims with the truth."

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