Sundance: Alex Gibney’s ‘Going Clear’ Takes on Scientology

Going Clear Scientology and the Prison

Filmmaker Alex Gibney took the stage Sunday flanked by former Scientologists and journalist Lawrence Wright after “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” debuted to a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival.

The documentary is a broadside against the controversial religion. It argues that Scientology exploits its tax exempt status to amass millions of dollars in property and donations, behaving more like a business than a charity.

It also claims that the church mistreats its members, in some cases physically abusing them, and threatens and harasses those who leave the faith. Scientology’s reputation as a litigious organization has dissuaded former members from speaking publicly about their harassment and has prevented media from shining a light on its practices.

“The kind of threats that I’ve received as a reporter and Alex has subsequently received as a filmmaker have been predominantly legal, and they have been manifold, but they are not the kinds of things that have been trained on other people who have left the church,” said Wright during a Q&A. “What I want to underscore is the tremendous amount of courage it took for people to come out.”

When asked if he had received any legal threats while making “Going Clear,” Gibney joked, “We have received many cards and letters.”

Gibney’s doc is based on Wright’s 2013 book of the same name, and he said he hoped that it would inspire more investigative reports of a similar nature.

“We hope that this film and Larry’s book will start the process where more media will say well we don’t care anymore,” said Gibney. “We’re going to pursue this no matter what.”

For its part, the church is denying the book and film’s claims.

In a statement, it says, “Their sources are the usual collection of obsessive, disgruntled former Church members kicked out as long as 30 years ago for malfeasance, who have a documented history of making up lies about the Church for money.”

Gibney said that Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon is pressing the IRS to review Scientology’s tax exempt status, but most of the people gathered onstage seemed skeptical that change would come from government agencies.

“If you are a U.S. Attorney or any form of prosecutor in the United States and you want to take on the Church of Scientology in a case like this, make it your career,” said Mike Rinder, a former senior executive in the Church of Scientology.

“There is a cost benefit analysis that every prosecutor and every overworked law enforcement agency goes through to decide are they going to devote enormous amounts of time and resouces to attempting to prosecute this sort of crime or are they going to get murderers off the streets,” he added.

Part of the issue is that members are so thoroughly influenced by the church’s teachings and by the aura of infallibility created around its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, that many people would rather endure abuse than leave the religion.

In some cases, the bond between believer and religion starts so early, it’s difficult to sever, said Sylvia “Spanky” Taylor, a former church member.

“I particularly was really young and I had never read a book,” said Taylor. “I almost literally grew up thinking L. Ron Hubbard invented the wheel, so I had no idea what a charlatan he had been.”

“Going Clear” will air on HBO beginning on March 16. Rinder and other Scientology critics are hoping the doc will inspire calls for action.

“You change attitudes in society against abusive practices by raising public awareness, and ultimately it becomes something that everyone agrees something needs to be done about,” said Rinder.

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  1. Laura Flynn a.k.a. AnonMomAnon says:

    Member of Clearwater Chanology Cell since February of 2008 here. I was watching tv this afternoon here in the Tampa Bay/Clearwater area and I saw something I haven’t seen for a while: a cult of Scientology commercial! I guess I can thank Lawrence Wright and Alex Gibney for the cult’s latest PR campaign! Good job! lol

    I can no longer protest Scientology in Clearwater because the litigious Scientology organization has attached me to an old injunction here in the 6th District in Florida. I have to pay a whopping retainer and legally fight Scientology to CLEAR my name. I won’t be doing that since I’m not rich. Only rich people can fight Scientology these days.

    I bought Mr. Wright’s book when it first came out. I took it to downtown Clearwater and stood in front of Scientology’s Super Power Building with the book. Maybe someday Mr. Wright will see that image.

    Congrats on the book and the film’s debut at Sundance!

  2. Stephen says:

    All religions were created by humans – most of them benefit very few people. Please join my agnostic church, the Church of Okay Fine. No dues required but please bring snacks.

  3. Mary McCarran Kahn says:

    Thank you to Alex Gibney and all of those who speak out against this horrible church. I know the courage it takes to do so. I have lost my son because I spoke out and refused to abide one more day under this church’s thumb.
    This group does not deserve tax exampt status

  4. Smokey Wasilla says:

    Anybody that cites Freedom magazine as a source for information instantly looses any and all credibility. An organization with a policy like Fair Game and that teaches it’s members to lie convincingly (TR – L) isn’t above manufacturing claims out of whole clothe, wildly over dramatizing small incidents, twisting supposedly “confidential” information gathered during auditing in Scientology’s Freedom Mag or website.

    • scnethics says:

      Indeed: Domain Name:FREEDOMMAG [DOT] ORG
      Registrant Name:CSI DOMAIN DIRECTOR
      Registrant Organization:Church of Scientology Int’l
      Registrant Street: 6331 Hollywood Blvd
      Registrant City:Los Angeles
      Registrant State/Province:California
      Registrant Postal Code:90028

  5. Eclipse-girl says:

    This article has already been infiltrated by scientologists.

    They can not add to the information.
    They will direct to you to read character assassination published by scientology and call it fact.’ ‘It is not.
    It is called an Ad Hominem Attack.

    Scientology can never debate an issue on the merits of the issue.
    They ALWAYS logical fallacies.

  6. marc cabian says:

    Miana,you should read about Paulette Copper,Debbie Cook,Mark Headley,Lisa McPherson,Nancy Many and the hundreds of other ex members who have been harassed,hurt and even killed by your “church”.
    Once you do that I will read freedom magazine and we can have a chat about it.

  7. Miana says:

    You should read for the church’s expose on the “witnesses” used in the ‘Going Clear’ documentary. They have zero credibility.

    • Miss Tia says:

      Hi Miana, I see you’ve taken over Alicia’s shift. Freedom Mag is published for Scientologists by Scientology to keep them in ‘the bubble’. Your church is not going to admit, especially to current members, the atrocities that have been carried out against others. Think of your time with them, think of things you might have seen or heard that you KNEW were ‘wrong’ but you suppressed that feeling as you had been trained to do. Please think freely. Please go and read outside sources—if you aren’t ‘allowed’ to, question why? Aren’t you able to handle things? To think for yourself?

      Miana I don’t blame you for your comment. You are doing what you have been told. I cannot even imagine the situation and circumstances you and others are being subjected to right now. Please know that there are many many people who are concerned about your and others’ well being. Can you freely pick up a phone and call anyone? Go out to a store? Have money to go to a store? Do you get enough sleep? Enough to eat? Most Sea Org members work 100+ hours a week, get less than $50 (if anything at all) and live in horrible conditions. Mail is censored, phone calls–if approved—are monitored. That isn’t LIFE, that is living in a gulag.

      Have your personal beliefs, that is what makes this country great. But when those beliefs infringe on a person’s FREEDOMS? That’s one conflict of interest when FREEDOM will win. People, including YOU, should be FREE to watch what they want, go to websites that they want, talk to who they want, remain with their spouse/parents/children and not be forced to be disconnected, to earn a living wage—meaning the federal minimum wage AND benefits. Please think about this. As with Alicia, I wish you the best Miana. May you some day be free, I hope soon.

    • scnethics says:

      If you mean that your church and their creepy magazine have zero credibility, then I agree with you.

  8. scnethics says:

    It’s difficult to explain to people how I could have fallen for scientology and even more difficult to explain to them just how bad it is. Can’t wait to see this on HBO! Bravo to Gibney, HBO and everyone who had a hand in making this movie happen! It took courage. Scientologists are completely amoral when it comes to attacking those that dare to oppose them.

    • Eclipse-girl says:

      Freedom magazine is published by scientology for scientology. Very few people outside of the cult ever even see the magazine. It is not a reliable source of biographical information about any of the people interviews.

      Tony Ortega is journalist who has been following scientology for close to 20 yrs.
      He is an ethical journalist and scientology has never sued him for libel or defamation.
      It is because he can document every statement he makes.

      Why hasn’t Scientology sues Mike Rinder or Marty Rathbun for defamation or libel?

  9. Eclipse-girl says:

    Freedom mag is an in house magazine printed for scientologists. Why would Alicia be aware of it?

    Mike Rinder has never assaulted his wife. His wife and many other other ambushed him when he was in a MDs office. Charges were never pressed and the scientology crew scattered when the Clearwater Police showed up.

    • Miss Tia says:

      And that encounter was captured via a phone call with John Sweeney of the BBC! John Sweeney’s first Scientology documentary actually, inadvertently, helped Mike escape ‘the hole’ and Scientology itself.

  10. Wait a moment, is that the same Mike Rinder known as the Lady Killer, an admitted liar and a violent individual with a history of contradictions and misconduct?

    • Hipslikecinderella87 says:

      Alicia, I hope someday that you can see the truth instead of the lies $cientology is feeding you. Us wogs are caring, helpful people who want to help you break free from the chains this organization has made you wear. Plus we have cake….which is so much tastier than kool-aid 😊

    • TheOracle says:

      “Alicia”, you are hitting every blog out here with “justifers” to this testimony from former members. Again I ask, why is it that testimony of anyone who shares unfavorable information should be discounted as “bitter” and “disgruntled” and their testimony carry no weight? Is this testimony presenting you with a personal inconvenience?

    • Jael says:

      Oh Alicia, surely there are better ways to make a living, than doing your ‘I’m really not a member of Scientology/OSA’ act – because you’re not very good at it. Blow. Freeloader debt is unenforceable. Get out while you still can.

    • WOG3232 says:

      OSA as usual, subtle as a bag of hammers…You don’t understand how the Internet works and you certainly don’t understand the “age of information” that we live in. Anyone and everyone with half a brain and at least 2 minutes of free time can easily find out the truth for themselves. $cientology wasn’t designed to evolve and adapt and like the dinosaurs it will one day become extinct.

    • Gim says:

      Hi OSA,

      Your trying to criticize a world famous film director, who is working with a world famous author. Do you have any ground to stand upon?

    • Straight Diet of Kerbango says:

      Good try, you nasty little Office of Special Affairs troll.

      I would advise anyone against clicking on that link unless it is through a proxy. You don’t want the Scientology cult logging your IP.

      Here let me help you out, Alicia: People, also be sure to visit the Scientology cult’s smear website about Rinder, whoismikerinder DoT com for a creepy experience. (Also through a proxy.) Yes, that’s right. A “major world religion” spends tax exempt money on bizarre smear websites.

    • marc cabian says:

      Its the same Mike Rinder who left a greedy,amoral,abusive cult then went on to start his own blog to point out the degenerate and criminal practices of said cult.
      I can provide you with more info,just ask.
      Also dead agenting doesn’t work,change your playbook osa

    • Miss Tia says:

      Freedom Mag is published by Scientology for Scientologists, to keep them in ‘the bubble’. Mike Rinder has his own website and he has given extensive interviews about his time in and how he finally decided and was able to escape.

      Alicia, I don’t blame you for your comment, I know you are doing what you’re told, but please think for yourself. Please ask why you can’t freely go to ‘entheta’ websites and why disconnection exists. Question the veracity of the expansion claims—the evidence shows that buildings are bought, then sit empty. Please know Alicia you can live a life freely. I wish you the best in life.

    • btee2 says:

      Thank you for that great example of the cult practicing its fair game policy.
      ” those who had been declared enemies of the Church, called “suppressive persons” (SPs), “May be deprived of property or injured by any means…May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed”. (taken from HCOPL Oct. 18, 1967 Issue IV, Penalties for Lower Conditions”

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