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Posted at 2:09 PM ET, 02/ 8/2011

Paul Haggis on leaving Scientology: 'I was in a cult for thirty-four years'

By Liz Kelly

Former Scientologist Paul Haggis. (Mary Ellen Mark for The New Yorker)

"These people have long memories. 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."

So says Academy Award-winning writer/director Paul Haggis ("Crash," "Million Dollar Baby," "Casino Royale," "In the Valley of Elah," "The Next Three Days") who recently walked away from Scientology after more than three decades as a member of the church.

In a wide-ranging profile/investigative piece in this week's (Feb. 14) New Yorker, writer Lawrence Wright interviews Haggis about his disillusionment with the celebrity-courting organization started by "Dianetics" guru L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s and talks to scores of defectors about the ubiquity of abuse -- including human trafficking, unpaid labor and physical violence -- that allegedly start with current Scientology leader David Miscavage and trickle all the way down to the group's most powerless members, some of them children.

Wright also interviews celebrities, including Anne Archer, still very much in support of their spiritual path and who, like Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis (Archer's son) discredit Haggis as someone who remained in the church only to advance his career.

Warning: Set aside at least an hour to read the meticulously detailed article and explore the supporting materials -- including audio and legal documents -- online. But, if you don't have time, here are just a few of the revelations that have Scientology adherents (including, we presume, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kelly Preston and Kirstie Alley) in an uproar:

>> Haggis left the church after the public affairs arm refused to take a public stance against California's Proposition 8, which asserted that the State of California should sanction marriage only "between a man and a woman." Two of Haggis's daughters are gay.

>> Tom Cruise and other high-profile Scientologists are the recipients of special favors and gifts from the church. Cruise, said one defector, benefited in several ways -- including receiving gifts of motorcycles and even having Scientology remodel a private airplane hangar. This while the group's bottom-rung members, so-called Sea Org volunteers, are sometimes paid as little as $13 a week.

>> Spending part of 2005 doing manual labor in Florida, Tommy Davis, Archer's son and now the public face of Scientology, allegedly confessed to a now-defected member of the church that he was being punished because, "I got busted. I [expletive] up on Tom Cruise's lines."

>> Josh Brolin, who admits he dabbled in Scientology when he was trying to kick-start his acting career, describes to Wright a Scientology dinner he once attended:

Brolin says that he once witnessed John Travolta practicing Scientology. Brolin was at a dinner party in Los Angeles with Travolta and Marlon Brando. Brando arrived with a cut on his leg, and explained that he had injured himself while helping a stranded motorist on the Pacific Coast Highway. He was in pain. Travolta offered to help, saying that he had just reached a new level in Scientology. Travolta touched Brando’s leg and Brando closed his eyes. “I watched this process going on -- it was very physical,” Brolin recalls. “I was thinking, This is really [expletive] bizarre! Then, after ten minutes, Brando opens his eyes and says, ‘That really helped. I actually feel different!’ ” (Travolta, through a lawyer, called this account “pure fabrication.”)

>> Many celebrities were reportedly drawn into the organization through the Beverly Hills Play House, whose resident acting coach was a devout Scientologist and, according to interviewees, acted as a recruiter for the church.

The Church of Scientology issued an official statement in response to Wright's article, calling it "irresponsible" and citing Wright for allegedly rehashing already disproved allegations to "garner headlines for an otherwise stale article."

Here's another link to the full article at the New Yorker.

Related: Read Post staff writer Rich Leiby's investigative pieces about Scientology.

By Liz Kelly  | February 8, 2011; 2:09 PM ET
Categories:  Celebrities  | Tags:  Scientology  
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How long before their eager little beavers pop up here to defend their "religion"? 5-4-3-2...

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | February 8, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the heads-up- I'll be checking out this article tonight. These people are creepy as hell.

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | February 8, 2011 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Here is my favorite bit of humor about Scientology and Hollywood:

When the movie "Battlefield Earth" (which starred John Travolta and was based on an L. Ron Hubbard novel) opened in May 2000, the film critic Elvis Mitchell included this line in his review in the New York Times:

"It may be a bit early to make such judgments, but ''Battlefield Earth'' may well turn out to be the worst movie of this century."

Posted by: HughBriss | February 8, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Today's "Fresh Air" on NPR features an interview with the article's author. If you miss it, I think you can proably find a podcast of it, or a transcript, afterwards. Should be interesting.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | February 8, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

You probably should have read the article more carefully, Liz (or maybe put in 2 hours instead of just 1). The whole Haggis brouhaha started when the San Diego chapter expressly supported Prop 8 (a staff member signed a pro- petition); you make it sound like Haggis was looking for a fight, and that the church did nothing to bring it on. The staff member was 'disciplined', but the church didn't do much else to walk away from Prop 8. Later in the article- which is an outstanding read- the writer, Lawrence Wright, calls out Tommy Davis for the anti-gay bigotry rife in L. Ron Hubbard's writings, which the church is based upon.

Posted by: steelers_rule123 | February 8, 2011 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Does this guy Haggis happen to be Scottish?

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | February 8, 2011 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Hey Sas, ya know that old joke that ends:

"There's a moose in the hoose."
"Are you Scottish?"

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | February 8, 2011 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Paul Haggis is Canadian but of Scotich heritage. He was the creator of the 90s show Due South before he got into movies. I became a fan of his work after falling in love with the show back when it was on CBS.

So glad he wised up and ditched that creepy cult.

Posted by: HokieAnnie | February 8, 2011 3:35 PM | Report abuse

As I said earlier when Nosy first posted the link, it's a long read but worth it.

Wanna know what the $cientolo-pod-people will say when they read the whole thing IF they read the whole thing?


That's their usual defense along with some snide remarks about the character of the people that are being deprogrammed, like "Well, you know he/she was a drug addict/thief/pimp/prostitute/etc., so you know you just can't trust what they say or do."

There's just no way that hundreds, probably thousands of former "church" (aka CULT) members are ALL lying.

Posted by: wadejg | February 8, 2011 3:54 PM | Report abuse

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:
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.

Posted by: LouanneLee | February 8, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

All those Sci-kult-ologists will call Haggis a "sheep's stomach."

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | February 8, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

steelers_rule123, I appreciate the critique, but it wasn't at all my intention to minimize Haggis's complaint with Scientology re: Prop 8. It's not my job to agree or disagree with Haggis, but he has a valid grievance re: the Church's refusal to make a public stand. Though, if you read the article, Tommy Davis takes pains to point out that it was one "rogue" San Diego chapter adherent who signed on in support of the bill and he felt it would only bring more attention to come out firmly against it. So, like you said, better to read the full article.

Posted by: Liz Kelly | February 8, 2011 4:04 PM | Report abuse

When are the Muslims going to wake up and realize the same thing?!!

Posted by: ChuckSteak | February 8, 2011 4:12 PM | Report abuse

wadejg, the troll showed up right after you posted ;-)

One of the most amazing revelations on the authors interview on today's "Fresh Air" (presumably in the article) is that founder L. Ron based his dianetics philosophy on the way he claimed to have cured his alleged WW II battles injuries, including blindness (referring also to having been highly decorated).

However, reporter Wright fully investigated Hubbard's service record, and guess what? These claims are FALSE. And the supposed separation-from-service document for Hubbard that the $cientolocult produced purporting to substantiate their side of the story is in fact signed by someone who wasn't even in the service!

Sure is a shame when facts get in the way, isn't it?

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | February 8, 2011 4:33 PM | Report abuse

As a matter of fact, the $cientolocult's reaction to all of the author's documentation on this matter reminds me of nothing so much as the Birthers' denials of the legitimacy of Obama's birth records, while proffering preposterous alternate for his supposed foreign birth.

Guess ya just can't cure stupid.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | February 8, 2011 4:37 PM | Report abuse

...alternate SCENARIOS...

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | February 8, 2011 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for this story. For WaPo readers that want a quick summary, I recommend the WaPo Rich Leiby interview article from 07 July 2005 cited at the end of the article. Leiby's 30 August 1981 Clearwater Sun article about Scientology is excellent as well.

Posted by: Dr_Gene_Nelson | February 8, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Nosy, I'm surprised it took that long!! :-)

Off to read the Clearwater article posted by Dr. Nelson up there.

Posted by: wadejg | February 9, 2011 8:18 AM | Report abuse

From Highlander:

Ramirez: Haggis? What is haggis?
Connor MacLeod: Sheep's stomach, stuffed with meat and barley.
Ramirez: And what do you do with it?
Connor MacLeod: You eat it.
Ramirez: How revolting!

Posted by: MyPostEgo | February 9, 2011 9:15 AM | Report abuse

There's apparently a lot of difficulty disproving Scientology because they always go after L Ron Hubbard's character. But Scientology stands alone regardless of Hubbard's faults.

Scientology purports to contain wisdom and instructions for living. Why don't you go through those instructions and debunk them?

For example, why don't you go through the tenets in the Way to Happiness booklet and describe for us all the evil stuff in there?

I am especially interested in Marlan Brando's experience. OMG, he said he felt better after Travolta's "treatment." Is that supposed to be scary? What's scary when he felt he had been helped?

Larry Wright is not going to investigate that. He's going to go after Hubbard's character because that's the only thing that will stick. But the ideas in Scientology will persist regardless because it is a separate subject from it's founder's personal life.

Posted by: spyglass1 | February 9, 2011 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Paul Haggis, instant Liberal Hero!!! 35 YEARS later, but who cares. Lets listen to this brainiac spout on his Liberal friends and his thoughts about the war for some insight into this deep thinker.

Adding to his concern about stereotypes in LA was the general sentiment at the start of the war with Iraq:
All of my good liberal friends were saying, ‘We have to invade.’ They’d say, ‘He’s a terrible, terrible villain.’ Well, I’m sure he is. He gasses some people. We did get him that gas, but he did all the stuff. But why him? Why invade this country and not let’s say some of the countries with dictators we support? Why? Because he looks like a villain. His swarthy dark skin, he has pock mark skin, he has a big mustache; looks like a villain. We judge people by the way they look, especially if their skin looks a little different than ours.

Yes, Paul Haggis, creator of Crap, I mean Crash, deserves all the spotlight that can placed upon his wonderous mind. He is simply, so FULL OF IT. 35 YEARS PEOPLE. He needs to sell a movie people. His record after that Valley of Elah is hanging on it. $$$$$$$. As a Canadain, can we just pretend he is from Scotland?

Posted by: skscottkeyes | February 9, 2011 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I think everyone is missing the point here. For those who are interested they should seek out their nearest Church of Scientology and go and visit themselves. Listening to others rant and rail and quote each other and spread misinformation only adds to the confusion. Scientology has an enormous amount to offer. One only needs to find out for himself. The Washington DC Church is located at the corner of 16th and P Streets NW and visitors are welcome 7 days a week.

Posted by: suetaylor1 | February 9, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Everyone Should investigate Scientology for themselves and make up their own mind. I have just started studying it because I think that some aspects do help you with your life.

Everyone Complains about the Sea Org members doing lots of work for little pay but it is overlooked that they are VOLUNTEERS! I believe they get a small amount of money and living quarters. They are people whom are fully devoted to the church just like nuns or monks in any other religious sect

Posted by: tbagwell1 | February 9, 2011 12:29 PM | Report abuse

That's fine, Liz; I just wanted to point out that I do think your write-up minimized what the San Diego church did, and how they started this firestorm, not Paul Haggis. If you read - and understood- the article, you'd see that this really isn't some isolated instance of a $cientologist spouting off, but that Dianetics slurs LGBT people constantly- and since it's based on Hubbard's writings, it's no small leap to see that a consistent ant-gay bias runs through $cientology.

As for 'not your job', you seem to have no trouble weighing in with your opinions on other celebrity matters; since you are a blogger/columnist, not a journalist, that is your right. But to mischaracterize and misconstrue an article- something that didn't even require shoe leather reporting on your part, you just had to read it- is shoddy work on your part.

Posted by: steelers_rule123 | February 9, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse

There is a great website that deals with "Cults" at:

Posted by: SilverGladiator | February 9, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

LouanneLee,suetaylor1 and tbagwell1 are the Scientology Office of Special Affairs internet handlers, and sock-puppets, sent here to "handle" this article. If she's for full disclosure why doesn't she mention who she works for?

Posted by: rotalubrutne | February 10, 2011 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Sue Taylor is a local long-time PR hack for the international criminal organization maquerading as a religion known as "Scientology". Yes, please go visit the local "org", and ask, if Scientology really delivers what it promises, why did long-time parishoner (and staff member) Gib Campion commit suicide? Why wasn't his depression treated? Was it because it was induced by application of "the technology?" Why didn't Scientology "work" for him? Don't forget the criminal indictments against Church leaders in the 70's, including the wife of the Founder. Did they not learn from that time around? Ask Sue Taylor when you visit, she was there, and her husband at the time was alledgedly involved as well.

Posted by: jiji1 | February 10, 2011 8:04 PM | Report abuse

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