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What You Need to Know About The New Yorker’s Paul Haggis–Scientology Article

The New Yorker has finally published Lawrence Wright's controversial, nearly 25,000-word exposé on Scientology through the eyes of its high-profile Hollywood defector Paul Haggis, and it is a doozy. Haggis provides more insight into why he became disillusioned with the church — the father of two lesbian daughters, he was livid when Scientology didn't properly condemn Proposition 8 — and unloads all of his own personal failings before the notoriously vindictive organization can beat him to the punch. It's a powerhouse piece, and while there's plenty discussed about Scientology that will seem familiar to anyone who's Googled the religion before (Xenu, Sea Org abuses, etc.), there's a minor bombshell that the FBI is investigating Scientology for human-trafficking abuses, and several more unusual anecdotes and revelations where that came from. Here are eight of the most striking, including the scariest game of musical chairs ever.

• Those special schools that use Scientology tech (including a Calabasus campus built by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) may not work as well as they advertise, according to Haggis's daughter Lauren. "I was illiterate until I was eleven," she told Wright, and the article notes that many of the most high-profile Scientologists were school dropouts, including Haggis himself.

• After Marlon Brando came to a dinner party complaining about a cut on his leg, he was healed by an eager John Travolta, claims Josh Brolin. "I watched this process going on — it was very physical," said Brolin, who says that Travolta placed his palm over Brando's leg. "I was thinking, This is really fucking bizarre! Then, after ten minutes, Brando opens his eyes and says, 'That really helped. I actually feel different!'"

• Though Haggis and Tom Cruise were both successful, high-profile Scientologists, Haggis had met the movie star only twice before he and Clint Eastwood paid a visit to the set of War of the Worlds, where Cruise had erected a Scientology-espousing tent on set. Spielberg pulled Haggis aside to remark on how nice he found most Scientologists to be, and Haggis cracked, "Yeah, we keep all the evil ones in a closet." When Cruise found out about the joke (did Spielberg rat the guy out?) and took major offense, Haggis was summoned to the religion's Celebrity Centre to atone for it in front of church officials.

• Still, at least Haggis didn't have it as bad as Tommy Davis. The head of the Celebrity Centre (and son of Anne Archer) is well liked inside the organization and often serves as a liaison to the media, but when he botched a project having to do with Cruise in 2005, he was sent to a Scientology boot camp in Clearwater and forced to scrub out Dumpsters with a toothbrush until four in the morning.

• The villain of the piece? Undoubtedly David Miscavige, the 50-year-old leader of the church, who allegedly beat his employees and sent doubters into exile. "In June, 2006, while Miscavige was away from the Gold Base, his wife, Shelly, filled several job vacancies without her husband's permission," writes Wright. "Soon afterward, she disappeared. Her current status is unknown. Tommy Davis told me, 'I definitely know where she is,' but he won't disclose where that is." Certainly not creepy in the least!

• The article's most striking, cinematic moment comes when Miscavige pays a visit to a pair of double-wide trailers (ominously nicknamed "the Hole") in Scientology's remote Gold Base, where almost a hundred members of the church were required to do group confessionals all day and night for atonement. In a twisted variation on They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Miscavige began to blare "Bohemian Rhapsody" over a boom box and announced that the group would play musical chairs, with only the winner allowed to stay on the base. Faced with the threat of marriages torn asunder, "the church leaders fought over the chairs, punching each other and, in one case, ripping a chair apart."

• When Haggis left Scientology, he said that Scientologists would arrive at his office during pre-production of his film The Next Three Days, determined to draw him back into the fold. The writer/director mentioned Miscavige's abuses to them, which he had read about in the St. Petersburg Times, and though he generously drew a comparison to Martin Luther King Jr. (whose extramarital affairs, Haggis noted, meant he was fallible), the church officials were shocked. "They thought that comparing Miscavige to Martin Luther King was debasing his character," said Haggis. "If they were trying to convince me that Scientology was not a cult, they did a very poor job of it."

• Also, get ready for this! "These people have long memories," Haggis warned Wright. "My bet is that, within two years, you're going to read something about me in a scandal that looks like it has nothing to do with the church."

The Apostate [NYer]

Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images