Scientology Lawyer Compares Leah Remini to Jason from Friday the 13th For Asking About Location, Safety of Shelly Miscavige

Remini in September 2018.
Photo: Getty Images

No one seems to dispute that Shelly Miscavige, wife of David Miscavige, Scientology’s Chairman of the Board, has not been seen in public since 2007. And no one has more persistently, vocally wondered where she is than Leah Remini, ex-Scientologist turned host of an A&E show, Aftermath, that vigorously criticizes the church and features interviews with ex-members. The most recent episode of the program focused entirely on Shelly’s alleged disappearance; the church, in response, did two things, one predictable and one a little strange.

Remini has repeatedly claimed over the years that Shelly Miscavige is “missing,” after she failed to show up at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’s 2006 wedding and didn’t respond to repeated efforts by Remini to contact her. (Remini has said the two previously had a cordial relationship and exchanged occasional letters.)

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In 2013, after leaving the church, Remini filed a missing person’s report with the Los Angeles Police Department. That report was called “unfounded” by the department and dismissed, with Detective Gus Villanueva telling E! News that detectives had met with the Miscaviges and seen Shelly in person at an undisclosed date.

That did very little to quiet speculation, however, which has persisted in the 11 years since Miscavige has been seen in public. The A&E episode rehashed Miscavige’s long public absence and Remini’s efforts to locate her, questioning why the FBI and local law enforcement haven’t acted more aggressively to make sure Miscavige is wherever she is of her own free will. (On the show, Remini speculated that David Miscavige would “never allow Shelly to be in public, to be subpoenaed, because of what she’s witnessed.”)

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Scientology has responded to each episode of Remini’s show in two ways. First, they’ve sent apparently voluminous legal letters, portions of which A&E dutifully airs during the episode and puts on their website. This round called Remini a “foaming anti-Scientologist” and likened her to Jason from Friday the 13th. It also claimed that Shelly believes Remini is “intentionally engaged in provoking hate crimes against her husband and her Church.”

Screenshot: A&E
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Screenshot: A&E

But typically, as journalist Tony Ortega points out, Scientology also responds to Aftermath episodes by posting counter-videos on their own dedicated anti-Aftermath site. Those videos often feature relatives of the people who were interviewed on Aftermath, people still in the church who loyally defend it. (Scientology is believed to practice “disconnection,” in which ex-Church members are shunned by their families.)

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The church has previously said that Remini has “stalked” Shelly Miscavige for years, and the official Aftermath response site has previously responded to the Shelly story in 2017 by calling it a “con” cooked up by Remini and Mike Rinder, an ex-church executive who is Remini’s co-host. (Each person associated with the show has their own attack site created by Scientology; Rinder’s accuses him of domestic abuse, calling him a “wife beater” and “father from hell.”)

But in this case, Scientology didn’t do that: there’s no video featuring Shelly Miscavige denouncing the lies against her. There’s no written interview with her, even, proclaiming her well-being in her own words. All of which, you’d think, would be easy enough for the church to do, and would certainly be in keeping with their standard practices.

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Other media outlets have also pursued the story with little apparent success: the Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern reports receiving what he termed a “threatening letter” from a law firm associated with Scientology when he inquired as to Miscavige’s whereabouts:

In a threatening letter to The Daily Beast, Glassman Media Group, the law firm representing the Church of Scientology, called Remini and Rinder’s claims “false,” said they haven’t provided any evidence of Shelly’s whereabouts because they don’t want to “dignify the preposterous allegations,” and alleged, “Mrs. Miscavige has never been missing and is living her life to her choosing.” (They declined to provide any information on her current state or her whereabouts.)

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There are a few allegations as to where Shelly might be. Journalist Tony Ortega, who has covered Scientology critically for decades, reported in 2016 that Shelly had been spotted near Crestline, California looking “frail.” (Full disclosure: Ortega was previously an editor at the Village Voice, where I also worked, several years after his tenure.)

More recently, Ortega has written that an ex-Scientologist and other sources have alleged that Miscavige was sent into forced exile during a period of increased marital tension with David. His sources have told Ortega that she continues to live in Twin Peaks, a small town in Southern California, near the Church of Spiritual Technology, the arm of Scientology which owns all the copyrights to founder L. Ron Hubbard’s work. (CST’s mandate is to preserve Hubbard’s work, which it does, naturally, by digging vaults, Ortega writes: “His words are etched on stainless steel plates which are held in titanium boxes filled with inert gases, and then stored in the underground vaults, three of which are located in California, and one is in New Mexico.”)

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Rebecca Kaufman, an attorney for Scientology and frequent public spokesperson for the church, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did the Church’s official media relations arm. We’ll update should we hear back.

Update, December 21, 2018:

After running both this story and a followup, on a legal letter Jezebel received from Shelly Miscavige’s attorney, we received a response from Rebecca Kaufman. She disputes the characterization that she’s acted as a spokesperson for the church: “I am one of several outside counsel for the Church; I am not a Church spokesperson and never have been.” (Kaufman’s Glassman Media Group bio does read, in part, “Ms. Kaufman regularly advises and advocates for the Church of Scientology, a target of persistent media attacks.”)

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Kaufman adds:

To answer your question: After someone made a false statement that Shelly Miscavige was seen in public looking frail, I met with her in my capacity as Church counsel. The report was false. I found Mrs. Miscavige to be in good health and spirits, aside from her frustration and anger that she is the subject of false reports. Mrs. Miscavige expressed her desire for law enforcement to put an end to this harassment.

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Correction: An earlier version of this piece misidentified Twin Peaks as located in northern, not southern, California. The date Leah Remini filed a missing persons report has been corrected to 2013, not 2015.

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About the author

Anna Merlan

Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.

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