The second episode of Scientology and the Aftermath, Leah Remini’s A&E documentary series about the Church of Scientology (which she left in 2013), focused largely on the story of Mike Rinder, the organization’s former spokesperson. Rinder was a Scientologist for 46 years and worked alongside current Church leader David Miscavige for 25 years before “blowing” — the Scientology equivalent of “see ya!” — in 2007. He no longer has contact with his children, who remain devout Scientologists. As a former high-level executive, Rinder claims that he was both party to and victim of what he says is an authoritarian organization from which he had to eventually “escape.” Here’s what we learned from his story last night.
1. The concept of “fair game”
Anyone who is an enemy of the Church of Scientology, Rinder explains, is considered “fair game” – a policy that he translates as meaning they “may be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.” While the Church maintains that this policy was canceled in 1968, Rinder claims that it’s very much still in play. As Remini alleges, “If you are attacking or criticizing Scientology, you are evil. Period. No gray area.”
If someone is deemed “fair game,” Rinder claims that Scientologists have a free pass to go after them in any way they choose and can use Church policy to justify it. “If the Church decided someone was an enemy and needed to be silenced or destroyed, it was my job and I did it,” Rinder alleges. “Everything from following them 24 hours a day to having people camped outside their door, to being vilified on the internet, to following them wherever they traveled, I was the guy [that did it].”
2. Rinder was responsible for handling journalists who were critical of the Church
Rinder’s role as the Executive Director of the Office of Special Affairs involved being the chief spokesperson and representative of the Church to the media – which was the case, for example, when Rolling Stone contributing editor Janet Reitman wrote her 2006 feature, Inside Scientology, and he was managing the Church’s response to the magazine’s reporting efforts. As Rinder claims on Scientology and the Aftermath, members of the media found themselves on an enemies list, alongside many other critics of the Church. One such target, he says, was journalist John Sweeney, the writer, director and star of the TV documentary Scientology and Me released on the BBC in 2007. Rinder says he was sent all the way to London to not only make sure that Sweeney didn’t show up to the premiere of a John Travolta movie but to discredit Sweeney in any way that he could.
3. Rinder fully bought into the “us against the world” mentality
Rinder offered an interesting perspective on how Scientology uses the criticisms leveled against them in order to demand the unquestioning devotion in its members. During his early years as a Scientologist, he notes that the Church was being investigated by various governments for numerous reasons. Looking back, Rinder claims that the Church positioned those “inquiries” as attacks to fuel the notion internally that “it’s us against the world.”
“This was ultimately why I joined the Sea Organization when I was 18,” Rinder explains about signing his billion-year contract with Scientology’s clergy. “I joined with the idea that I was going to be trained as an executive in Scientology and to defend it.”
Rinder left his native Australia to live aboard L. Ron Hubbard’s ship, the Apollo, the floating headquarters of the religion from which the Sea Org operated. He became one of the first members of the Commodore’s Messenger Organization, and quickly rose up the ranks to his position as Head of the Office of Special Affairs, an elite position that he says put him by David Miscavige’s side as Hubbard’s health declined.
By that point, this “us vs. the world” mentality had so deeply burrowed itself with Rinder’s brain that he says he found himself willing to do things in defense of Scientology that he’s now ashamed of. It is also what convinced him that he not only deserved the abusive treatment he increasingly endured, but that it was somehow for the greater good of the religion itself.
4. Rinder claims that you did not want to get sent to “the Hole”
For 25 years, Rinder worked under David Miscavige, who he claims had motivations that were “way less of a spiritual activity” and more about making money. “It was very, very Stalin-esque,” Rinder alleges. “In the year 2000, things really started to go downhill and the conditions became incredibly oppressive. A couple years later, ‘the Hole’ started.”
Rinder alleged that the Hole is a building in Hemet, California, where those who had fallen out of favor were sent to live. He claims that eventually over 100 people were locked inside the two double-wide trailers, “sleeping on the floor, eating slop 24/7, in a building that had a security guard at the front door and bars on the windows to prevent anybody from escaping …. The reasons for that could have been anything from answering a question wrongly, not answering a question, a facial expression that was inappropriate, falling asleep after being up for a couple of days … anything.”
In 2007, Rinder says he had been living in the Hole for over two years when he was suddenly pulled from his prison and sent on that mission to London to defend the Church against John Sweeney’s film. It was then, he says, that confrontation between him and the filmmaker, which was caught on camera, resulted in a moment of clarity. A short time later, when his Scientology handlers weren’t paying attention, Rinder claims that he walked onto a subway, watched the doors close behind him and never looked back.
5. The former Scientologist says he’s paid a price for sharing his experiences
Rinder says he tried to maintain relationships with his family members who stayed behind, including his children and his mother. But as the media attention increased, he began sharing his experiences, albeit off-the-record. Soon, he alleges he received a series of letters from several family members who were still in the Church, and they made it clear that there was no longer any chance of a relationship. Realizing he had nothing left to lose, Rinder began speaking out publicly about what he witnessed for 25 years. His participation in Leah Remini: Scientology an the Aftermath is his most public stand against Scientology yet.
A spokesperson from the Church of Scientology was contacted about this article and responded with the statement below:
“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.”
Regarding Mike Rinder: “Spreading lies and misinformation about Scientology is how [he] makes his living. Mike Rinder has not stepped inside a Church in nearly a decade. The Church expelled him for severe malfeasance and has had nothing to do with him since …. The truth is that current Church leadership never has and never would tolerate unethical conduct, which is why individuals like Rinder were removed.”