Scientology is commonly known as the religion of the stars. Its reach inside Hollywood is deep, and celebrity recruitment is a huge component of the group’s marketing strategy. It sounds strange to describe the proselytizing efforts of a religion as a marketing strategy, but Scientology is unlike any other American religion. It operates as a business at best and as a cult at worst.
In Los Angeles, Scientology’s most expensive outpost is the Celebrity Center. At a 1999 fundraiser for the Center, actress Leah Remini said, “Celebrity Center is my second home, and there is not a person here that I can’t go to when I am having a problem in my life, or I’m, you know, things are not going well. There is something here for everybody.” Remini is now arguably the group’s most famous defector. In the A&E docu-series Scientology and the Aftermath, she is shedding light on the abuses of the organization that calls itself a church.
Remini has covered child abuse, child labor, coerced abortions, and more in two seasons of the A&E special. For the first time, many Americans are coming to know Scientology as something other than the religion of Tom Cruise; they’re getting a look at its sinister components as well.
Remini takes pains to chronicle how and why the organization’s power and reach are incredibly troubling. She exposes the influence the group has over law enforcement (most notably, the Los Angeles Police Department) and local political officials in Los Angeles and Clearwater, Fla., where the group is headquartered. Scientologists use this power to prevent investigations into strange disappearances, including that of Shelly Miscavige. The wife of Scientology’s leader, Miscavige has not been seen in ten years. Also under wraps is the case of Lisa McPherson, a young member of Scientology who died under highly suspicious circumstances in Florida more than twenty years ago.
There is yet another component of Scientology that has gone almost entirely unreported: its deep relationship with another troubling religious group, the Nation of Islam (NOI). The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, explains why the NOI is so troubling, especially for American Jews:
Under Louis Farrakhan’s leadership, the Nation of Islam remains one of the country’s leading purveyors of anti-Semitism. In speeches and through the Nation of Islam’s network of mosques, newspapers, and social media, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories remain a core component of their ideology. It is concerning that Minister Farrakhan and his supporters continue to peddle some of the most historically virulent stereotypes about Jewish people. . . . Anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are core components of the Nation of Islam’s ideology. In speeches by Louis Farrakhan and other NOI leaders, as well as in publications from the NOI “Research Group,” Jews are routinely described as the “Synagogue of Satan” and the architects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and are cast as a hidden force bent on undermining African American communities. In a recent speech at a public Mother’s Day panel, NOI spokeswoman Ava Muhammad described Jews as “godless” and as “bloodsucking parasite[s].”
Recently Farrakhan has been in the news for his relationship with several founders of the Women’s March, and he has doubled down on his anti-Semitism.
Scientology chronicler Tony Ortega first outlined the relationship between the two problematic groups from his perch at the Village Voice. Seven years ago, he wrote:
We’ve been watching warily as members of the Nation of Islam are spending their spare time with e-meters, engrams, and the writings of L. Ron Hubbard. Holy Doctrinal Mashup, Batman! Over the last few years, Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan has been encouraging his members to read Hubbard’s book Dianetics, and even to get enough training in Scientology to become auditors.
Ortega isn’t the only journalist to delve into the relationship. Writing for The New Republic in 2012, Eliza Gray shows us where the love affair between the two groups first began:
The first large-scale introduction of Scientology to Nation members took place in August 2010, when hundreds of believers from around the country traveled to Rosemont, Illinois, near the Nation’s headquarters, for a seminar in Dianetics, a foundational belief system of Scientology. There, they were guided through auditing sessions — a kind of hybrid between hypnosis and confession — in which a Scientologist purges painful experiences from his subconscious in the presence of an “auditor.” At the end of the seminar, Farrakhan told the group he wanted everyone in attendance to become a certified auditor.
And now, Scientology and the Nation of Islam are working together even more closely. An independent Scientology news service, @IndieScieNews, first tipped me off to the connection. On October 20, the Church of Scientology honored the Nation of Islam’s Tony Muhammed with its Freedom Award in Inglewood, Calif., in recognition of his “humanitarian” efforts. What, exactly, are those efforts? Muhammed travels the world showing a documentary on vaccines, claiming they cause autism. Just this week, Nation of Islam members held a blessing and naming ceremony for Tony Muhammed at the Scientology Land Base Chapel in Clearwater, Fla.
The individual behind IndieScientologyNews told me:
The extent of the integration of Scientology into the Nation of Islam is demonstrated by the fact that members of the Nation of Islam are not only practicing the religion of Scientology, they are also becoming Ministers and Ministers-in-Training of the Church of Scientology.
The connection between the two groups goes far deeper than just a gala or a naming ceremony. One of the stars of Leah Remini’s docuseries, Aaron Smith-Levin, laid out the financial connection and the incentive for Nation of Islam members to become involved in the Church of Scientology, and vice versa. Smith-Levin explained to me:
Louis Farrakhan is entitled to personally receive a 10% commission on all money NOI members pay for Scientology auditing and a 15% commission on all money NOI members pay for Scientology courses. I don’t know what Farrakhan’s compensation plan is within the NOI, but with ~40,000+ NOI members, the relationship between the NOI & the Church of Scientology, Farrakhan stands to personally earn an awful lot of cash.
During his keynote address to members of the Nation of Islam last year, Farrakhan seemed to take aim at Remini. Writing at his blog, Ortega explains,
He then cited a chapter from the Koran, and used it to say that he was interested in useful knowledge, whatever its source.
“I’m just setting the record straight. I’m not a Scientologist but I respect L. Ron Hubbard. I know that this is the time that they’re making an all out move to destroy Scientology. But what I ask Mrs. Remmy, or whatever her name is, she’s going in hard. She’s hurt, by something.”
Farrakhan then seemed to go on a tangent, talking about his followers looking for understanding but worrying that it was coming from sources that weren’t “perfect.” It was difficult to tell whether this was another reference to Hubbard and Scientology. But he concluded this section of remarks with this line: “The more we strive to make ourselves better, the better we will become in being disciples of Christ or Muhammad or anybody we think we should follow.”
The message seemed pretty clear: Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam will stand by the Church of Scientology as it is marked for destruction by a hurt Leah Remini.
The comingling of these two organizations, troubling and powerful in their own ways individually, should send a chill down our spines.
With the bad PR that Scientology has received thanks to the Remini series and other exposés, its recruitment efforts have taken a serious hit. Anyone interested in joining the organization is faced with a great deal of negative information on the front page of Google. Which is why, one Scientology insider told me, he believes that the bulk of Scientology’s new recruits are members of the Nation of Islam. Few groups are as familiar with bad publicity as the Nation of Islam, so recruits from that organization are probably undeterred by being disliked by most Americans.
The leaders of the Nation of Islam are active members of Scientology, and they are pocketing commissions in exchange for urging NOI member to practice Scientology alongside Islam. In turn, the Nation of Islam has access to the power that Scientology wields, including its vast real-estate holdings and the infrastructure it uses to attack its defectors and opponents. The comingling of these two organizations, troubling and powerful in their own ways individually, should send a chill down our spines.