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Paul Haggis and the New Yorker Scientology piece: What will be the fallout?

February 8, 2011 | 12:49 pm

Haggis

Paul Haggis might not be writing a book about Scientology, but he might not need to after Lawrence Wright's 26-page story in the New Yorker about the director and his decades-long relationship with the religion.

It took us nearly a day to find the time to read the thing, so we won't bother to recap all the details at this point. (Vulture has a good Cliffs Notes version here.)

There's a lot of grist on Haggis, the church, founder L. Ron Hubbard, the religion's celebrity roots and everything else Scientology. The piece details Haggis' attraction to the religion and why he didn't question it for more than three decades (it was a combination of laziness and fear; he also assumed that others higher up than he had tested theories he didn't test).

There are details about celebrities including Tom Cruise and John Travolta; in one particularly bizarre story (denied by the actor), Travolta healed a wound on Marlon Brando's leg at a dinner party using Scientology principles.

But the three juiciest -- and by far the most charged -- allegations have nothing to do with the Haggis aspects of the story. They can be boiled down to three items:

a) That current church head David Miscavige has physically abused adherents
b) That the church engages in human trafficking and under- or unpaid labor, primarily through its Sea Org program at its Gold Base facility in Southern California
c) That the FBI is investigating the organization for alleged trafficking and child-labor violations

In a statement Tuesday, Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis responded to the piece, calling it a "stale article containing nothing but rehashed unfounded allegations" and citing another journalist's account that the FBI has closed the investigation into child labor law violations and human trafficking.

For all the disclosures and criticisms,  Wright and his primary subject aren't actually always critical of  the religion.

Wright, who is also developing a book on Scientology, does offer the testimony of several adherents who talk, not always unconvincingly, about the religion's commitment to elevating the world. The writer also spares Hubbard (somewhat) by describing him as a more layered man than his popular image has it. "To label him merely a fraud is to ignore the complexity of his character," he writes.

Haggis, meanwhile, is still clearly enraged at the church for its refusal to come out against Proposition 8 -- the motivating act for his resignation in the summer of 2009 -- as well as its policy of "disconnection" that allegedly requires church members to cut off certain family members deemed problematic. Haggis also notes what he found to be the "madness" of the revelations when he reached the upper echelons of the Operating Thetan level.

But he also describes the appeal of certain conflict-resolution techniques that he still uses, and he says he still believes psychotropic drugs are over-prescribed for children, which is of course one of the cause celebre's of Scientology.

Then again, that all may be wiped out by the portrait of Miscavige's behavior. The general picture Wright paints is of someone with secretive and megalomaniacal tendencies who is not above playing head games with those beneath him.

More specifically, the article suggests the possibility that the church under Miscavige has threatened members who would leave (by handing them "bills" for as much as $100,000, among other things) and cites "billion-year" contracts signed by children who go on to engage in labor-intensive activities for the church for very little money. "I would gladly take down the church for that one thing," Haggis said of the child-labor issue.

What effect all this actually has on the public perception of both Haggis and Scientology remains to be seen. In a way the article is a victim of its own denseness -- it layers on so much history and folds in so much background that it can be hard to separate out what's new and shocking about it.

On the other hand, Scientology has become such a punch line that it's also possible many have yet to fully delve into its beliefs. The intergalactic aspects don't get short shrift here, and won't help the religion's cause.

Neither will Wright's descriptions of Gold Base as a place where there's "confinement" and exploitative activities, including a disturbing game of all-night musical chairs in which Miscavige was alleged to have threatened with exile all but the one person who won. A violent game ensued. Cruise may be Scientology's highest-profile adherent and Haggis its highest-profile defector. But these days, Lawrence Wright could exact the highest-profile damage.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Paul Haggis. Credit: Nathan Denette / Associated Press

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Comments () | Archives (46)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Xenu is finally out of the closet. I just love how that must sting for the Clams. The last ones still in the cult are just the most stubborn, wasting their lives going down with the ship. Clams on the way back to the bottom of the ocean....

Has it occurred to anyone that this might be a marketing ploy on behalf of Mr. Wright to boost his book sales? Its like a good trailer for a terrible film...a teaser yet ultimately full of crap.

Besides, there is no such investigation happening:

"A federal law enforcement source told AOL News the investigation has fallen short and no criminal charges are expected to be filed"

The fallout will be heavy damages to pay, by The New Yorker and probably other "media".

The New Yorker turned tabloid now, actually worse. They started spreading outright lies, something that can be often noted when observing anti-scientology rants. One example: The New Yorker press release and Lawrence Wright’s profile on Paul Haggis, “Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology,” released Monday, reported on an alleged federal investigation. The New Yorker was well aware the Church knew nothing of the investigation but had refuted the same claims based on a case already thrown out by a Federal Court Judge. Nonetheless, The New Yorker irresponsibly used the same sources who were discredited in the dismissed case to claim an “investigation” so as to garner headlines for an otherwise stale article containing nothing but rehashed unfounded allegations.

Allan Lengel, a former Washington Post reporter who writes for AOL News on federal law enforcement matters, filed this late today in a breaking story on Wright’s allegations: “The author cites two sources in the FBI who ‘assured me that the case remains open.’ However, a federal law enforcement source told AOL News the investigation has fallen short and no criminal charges are expected to be filed.” Click here for the article: http://www.aolnews.com/2011/02/07/church-of-scientology-faces-controversy-over-latest-abuse-allega/.

Obviously, this contradicts what Wright wrote in The New Yorker. If you published Wright’s account, this contradiction should be made known to your viewers and/or readers.

The New Yorker article is just another thinly veiled tabloid piece repeating old and new rumors from people with an axe to grind with the Church of Scientology. The New Yorker author Lawrence Wright could not come up with a single line that has not been discarded as the work of fanatic anti-religionists a long time ago. This piece actually sheds a new light on him as a researcher and writer. How much does his obvious hate against religion taint his judgment? This piece has been written by someone with a deep-set hatred against religion and spirituality. Just like the Hollywood dude Haggis, who openly confesses that he makes a living putting his personal life traumata in movie scripts, Lawrence Wright lives his anti-religious hatred in writing one-track minded articles and books. The New Yorker, putting on tabloid colors for a moment, has allowed him to air his therapy sessions and that is their choice but one really has to ask: I don't really want to waste my time reading something like this.

There is no such thing as a for profit "religion." Bye bye tax exempt status.

Louanne is a Scientology plant. She posted the exact same reply on an article at CBS News.
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31749_162-20031055-10391698.html

If I'm reading about so-called controversial issues, I often read from multiple sources before I get a well-rounded opinion. I often read comments to better understand how the majority or minority might feel about the situation.

That said, this Louanne character has been dumping the same comments on every online comment board I have read today. I know I've seen her on LA Times, Washington Post, NY Times, CBS news, etc. She is obviously working for that Scientology group.

Please don't take her seriously, no matter what side she is on for this topic. Especially when she says "I don't really want to waste my time reading something like this." She has taken the time to read just as much as I have to rigorously defend her cult. If someone is that defensive and high-strung about their beliefs, I think that can only show weakness for what she believes in the first place.

Let's face it, Scientology's sun began sinking with the web and the first open public discussion about them on Usenet. They simply lost control of their secrets, and the ability to control the 95% of their membership who quit after trying it. Over a thousand have spoken out about the control and abuses.

The release of the Tom Cruise video was devastating for them, and someone should ask Anne Archer if her son Tommy Davis was born with his foot in his mouth.

Seriously, in the article, did you read Scientology's defense of Hubbard being involved in Jack Parsons' "sex-magick" Crowley-like Satanist group? The cult claims he was undercover for naval intelligence, and ended black magic in America. LOL

In addition, Hubbard is on YOUTUBE talking about his admiration for Parsons' famous mentor Aleister Crowley. Just Google: Hubbard Crowley.

Wright blew that one out of the water along with other cult lies, one by one.

Wake-up Hollywood Scilebutants! Haggis woke up and you can too.

It took you nearly a day to find the time to read it? Dude, it's only 26 short pages. We're not talking War & Peace here.

Bravo, Paul, for giving a voice to the countless people who have suffered at the hands of David Miscavige's Cult of Scientology.
I read the entire New Yorker piece. It is unbiased and backed up with 10 months worth of fact-checking by the New Yorker's attorneys. Lawrence Wright is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. This is the most damaging and accurate article written on Scientology to date.
Kudos to the New Yorker and Lawrence Wright for exposing the cult.

Excellent and well researched piece of journalism. Not that it contains any new facts - the crimes of this scam-"religion" have been repeatedly documented over the past decades. By now, almost everybody should know what this cult is really about. Except for those who are still trapped in it. Anyway... An excellent read.

Thanks for this summary. For LATimes readers that want a short synopsis, I recommend the Washington Post interview article with Rich Leiby from 07 July 2005. http://www.xenu-directory.net/topics/richardleiby.html

Rich Leiby's 30 August 1981 Clearwater Sun article about Scientology documents some of the strange beliefs apparently peddled by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. http://www.lermanet.com/scientologynews/clearwatersun/sun-leiby-083081.htm

Give me a break! Every downtown mission in Los Angeles is using free labor (room and board) to run their organizations. The "clients" are recovering and the work load is part of the therapy. That's common practice. Church of Scientology or downtown missions...they're all trying to raise dollars for their causes. Some worthy, some not so worthy.

mike t.

THE USER LOUANNE IS A PLANT BY SCIENTOLOGISTS.

This is the third site I've seen her post under that username for damage control. I can even link you to where she posted on Newser pretending to be an open minded individual defending Scientology against this article.

She is EVERYWHERE.

I commend Paul Haggis for taking the time to find out what the roundly discredited ex-Scientology "malcontents" have been saying. It takes courage to question and stand up for human rights particularly within an organisation which manipulates, lies, obscures and bullies. I was born into Scientology and lived and worked on those ships as a child and fully corroborate what former Scientologists have said about working conditions and child labour - not to mention its stalking former members. That Haggis took the time to investigate 'the other side' earns kudos from me. I feel sorry for Tommy Davis. I actually think he believes ...

One bit of "fallout," which I hope the Times will cover, will be Scientology's public response to the New Yorker piece, which will probably include a special issue of "Freedom" magazine that attacks the credibility of Wright, the New Yorker and Paul Haggis. They have posted (http://freedommag.org) hilariously preposterous articles and videos devoted to other recent press criticism, from the St. Petersburg Times, the BBC Panorama show and Anderson Cooper. Always, their strategy is to defame the messenger and to declare that the real story is Scientology's shiny new buildings. Never do they rebut substantive criticisms, except to engage in blanket denials.

A terrific piece of journalism . Detailed, researched with facts and backed-up with iron tight testimony .

Finally this fraud has been exposed , they will start to see the fallout as they're funds dry up over the next few years.

What actor or hollyhwood personality could seriously want to be associated with a crazy psychopatic cult which is quite possibly doing many illegal and serious crimes.

@Louanne

About calling the New Yorker Pulitzer prize winning journalist's article on your cult "tabloid." How would you know? Did you ever read the New Yorker or a tabloid? Whom do you think you're fooling?

Blown from the Sea Org and taken in by Jason Beghe, Daniel (19 y.o.) had never heard of Robert Redford or watched TV. I think that was mentioned in the article. You can imagine what his cultural IQ is on Shakespeare and Hemingway, worse than Tom Cruise's probably. At least he gets to read scripts. Night and Day was a masterpiece to you cult people.

Haggis only read 30 pages of Dianetics, finding it "impenetrable." People who read only Hubbard books, if that's all they are allowed while enslaved in the Sea Org, wouldn't know quality writing.

Thank you Anne Archer

... for finally waking up instead of the robot comments you & your husband made in the interview :-)

Paul .. good on ya! This these criminal activities have been going on for years in the 'Church'. Wait til the FBI gets to the financial crimes, offshore money & the IAS slush fund

This is just the top of one big can o' worms.

i plan to openly celebrate the coming fall of this cult kindly referred to as "$cientology." It will take some time as they cowardly shrink into the shadows but it will happen. This fool, Louanne, is a scientology plant and example how they aggressively attack all criticism. There is no debate to be had with these people

Anyone who wants to know more about Scientology can start here - just google the name Lisa McPherson. Scientology - it's worse than you realize!


Louanne:

So an "AOL News" reporter cites one measly "law-enforcement source" saying that no charges are "expected" to be filed. Does this source have decision-making power? There is no indication that the source does. He's not described as a "high-ranking official in the FBI" or "someone close to the investigation." So this person may well have no idea about the current status of the investigation. Whereas the New Yorker reports that two sources CLOSE TO THE INVESTIGATION say it is ongoing. It seems like they have much better sourcing.

Moreover, perhaps this powerful article will give the two FBI agents on the case the political momentum they need to proceed with their investigation. It seems like there's an awful lot to look into.

In sum: The New Yorker reported, correctly, that two FBI agents began a major investigation of Scientology. That ITSELF is news. I don't believe that the FBI has looked into the Methodist Church's possible involvement in human trafficking!!! And the magazine even gives the names of the two agents who flew to Florida to open the case. I'd say that the magazine's report still stands.

Dear Trolls,

please stop finger pointing. Look at your hateful user names and your postings. Do you really think anyone is taking you serious? I don't.

What's serious is that a "paper" like the New Yorker is spread long disproven lies and what's worse is the uneducated "media" parroting those obvious lies all over the internet. Like this one here.

It's worth taking off from work to do something about that.

See you at the next one.

- L

Boy, it is good to see Anne Archer here and out of the cult. Maybe she can emeter some sense into her little boy Tommy. He's not in short pants anymore.

What about her husband Jockstraw though? Does he still think the St. Petersburg Times' TRUTH RUNDOWN on David Miscavige's violence, what Haggis wanted them to read, would be like reading MEIN KAMPF?

Since THE TRUTH RUNDOWN is all about interviewing former Scientologists -- and two that are still very much Hubbard beweevers -- what does that have to do with Mein Kampf!

Hollywood people! There's a Hollywood bubble, and there's a Scientology bubble. Hollywood celebrity scientologists, getting through their bubbles would be like trying to reach Mars in a Buick.

Of course, L. Ron Hubbard traveled freely throughout space and time, and had complete control over the aging process. The only reason he dropped his body at age 74, was to do special research on the next OT levels.

I hope when he comes back, he makes the levels for celebrities only, and they cost 50 million each. And for Xenu's sake, make some tech about smoking cessation and weight control. I hope L. Ron realizes it's 2011 now, not 75 million years ago.

Louanne, that's what months of fact-checking does: it traces claims to make sure they're reliable. That they're truthful. It's done by lawyers because you can get sued for printing lies.

Just to single out one item: Scientology have a fraudulent set of LRH military records they wave around. In the article, the author actually goes to the military archives and requests the LRH originals. Nine hundred pages later, and it turns out that he never earned the medals he's pictured wearing, that his "injuries" were nowhere near the severity Scientology claims. Scientology's response is that some random spook cleaned up those files. Seriously? Even the name of the officer on Scientology's so-called cleaned-up files is a fake. Archivists declare the Scientology set of records has been faked. And Scientology's only recourse is to claim that a spook did it. How many times are you going to allow Scientology to dip back into the conspiracy well for an explanation of their hair-brained attempts at hoodwinking the public?

And the hilarity of Tommy Davis claiming that LHR's audio recordings were unbiased, but that some random underling inserted bigoted and homophobic language? PLEASE.

I mean, I get it. If you allow yourself to consider the possibility that the entire Scientology thing is a racket, then you're going to get Sec Checked, and then you start spiraling down. But that's the point of the human trafficking investigation: when you are terrified of exercising independent thought because an organization will be able to punish you financially, socially and possibly physically, you're being controlled by fear. You're being trained not to think for yourself, and it's sick.

Tory Christman used to be just like you, Louanne. But extended exposure to critics got her thinking and woke her up. Fingers crossed you're not too scared to do some critical thinking yourself.

Louanne, I'm genuinely curious - how does what you're doing here help toward clearing the planet? Isn't that why you joined in the first place? How does spending fruitless hours at the keyboard pasting the same repetitive block of text advance human survival? If you have the "inalienable right to think freely" then why aren't they letting you read the New Yorker article?

Louanne, whoever you are, you deserve to know the truth. Scientology is in a condition of danger, heading inexorably toward non-existence. David Miscavige is the SP. Now is the time to leave and join all the people you know who have just disappeared out of your life, the thousands who have left Scientology as a constructive act of survival. It's time to have fun again, Louanne. The way out is the nearest door.

Much love,
an anonymous wellwisher

 
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