Even by Hollywood standards it was an opulent affair, with millions splashed on a 15th-century castle, crystal-laden Armani dresses, and a performance by crooner Andrea Bocelli; the guest list, meanwhile, was a paparazzo’s dream, boasting the likes of Will and Jada, Posh and Becks, J. Lo, and scores more. But Tom Cruise’s 2006 Italian wedding to Katie Holmes will be remembered for another reason entirely, according to Mike Rinder.
“It was a very significant moment in the history of Scientology, because it changed a lot of the media focus about Scientology,” offered Rinder on Scientology and the Aftermath.
Rinder would know. For 25 years, the Aussie served as a senior executive for the Church of Scientology and its fraternal religious order, Sea Organization, as well as the executive director of its Office of Special Affairs (OSA), which oversees the church’s myriad legal tussles, public relations, and internal investigations into members’ behavior. He left the controversial religion in 2007 due to, he says, the abusive practices of leader David Miscavige, and now co-hosts A&E’s Aftermath alongside another ex-Scientologist, Leah Remini.
But back to those star-studded nuptials. While Cruise had already raised plenty of eyebrows with his Matt Lauer mano a mano and couch-jumping on Oprah, the wedding was his big Scientology coming-out party—a traditional Scientology ceremony conducted by minister Norman Starkey, the executor of its late founder L. Ron Hubbard’s estate, with Miscavige serving as best man. And it was there that Remini, who was still a member of the church at the time, began questioning the church’s officials over the whereabouts of Miscavige’s wife Shelly, who was nowhere to be found. Remini is alleged to have received a tongue-lashing at the event from Tommy Davis, a Scientology executive who acted as Cruise’s personal handler.
“I mean, look at that famous quote from Tommy Davis to Leah [Remini] about Shelly at the Cruise wedding, ‘You don’t have the fucking rank to ask about this.’ They believe the world doesn’t have the fucking rank to ask about this; that nobody has the fucking rank to ask about this,” Rinder tells me. “It’s an interesting look at the mindset of Scientologists, and how out of touch with reality they are. They’ve lost touch with the world.”
Remini left Scientology in 2013, and has since become the face of Scientology whistleblowing. Things got worse for Cruise in Jan. 2008, when Gawker published a leaked version of his Scientology indoctrination video where the actor claimed, among other things, that Scientologists are the only ones who can help people who get in car accidents. Then came Going Clear, detailing the church’s alleged efforts to break up Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the Vanity Fair exposé about the church’s wife-auditioning for Cruise prior to arriving at Holmes, Remini’s allegation that Cruise personally punished fellow Scientologists, etc. And still, Cruise has somehow remained an A-list Hollywood star, with his recent blockbuster Mission: Impossible – Fallout grossing nearly $800 million worldwide, and the actor currently shooting a hotly-anticipated sequel to Top Gun. Rinder feels that the press is complicit.
“If you go on a movie press junket with Cruise you are required not to ask about Scientology, and a lot of journalists participate anyway. This is a really sad indictment of the Fourth Estate,” says Rinder.
He adds, “I still think that too many media do treat Scientology with kid gloves, and too many media are operating on the old view of the ‘power’ of Scientology to threaten and intimidate them. To a large extent, the threats and intimidation have increasingly been demonstrated to just be a bunch of hot air. It’s become a part of the routine to expect a legal letter if you do anything about Scientology, but Scientology hasn’t sued the media since TIME magazine back in 1992. And they lost that case.” (Cruise did not respond to requests for comment for this story; the Church of Scientology, through their spokesperson, called Rinder’s claims “false,” branded him a “liar,” and accused me of “religious prejudice and bias.”)
Cruise’s camp would argue that it’s unfair to delve into someone’s religious beliefs—except the actor, Rinder explains, “used the fact that he was a movie star to promote Scientology for years.”
In addition to the indoctrination video, made in honor of Cruise receiving the Freedom Medal of Valor from Miscavige for being the world’s biggest disseminator of Scientology, there was the time he infamously erected Scientology tents on the set of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, attempting to convert cast and crew members to the controversial religion.
“He had a volunteer ministers’ tent on War of the Worlds. It’s totally crazy,” says Rinder, who was still a high-ranking Scientology exec at the time. “You know, you can’t for years be the biggest proselytizer of Scientology because you’re a movie star, and even do it on the set of movies, and whenever you’re being interviewed about a movie you have to pop in something about L. Ron Hubbard or Scientology, and when it becomes a bit more inconvenient and prickly, and the subject matter isn’t what you want it to be, to go, ‘You’re not allowed to ask anymore,’ is wildly hypocritical.”
“He is very aware,” Rinder says. “In fact, David Miscavige used to tell people when he was displeased with people in the Hole—and I was there when he said this—‘If you motherfuckers don’t get your shit together, I’m going to bring Tom down here and I’m going to have him beat you up.’ Tom is an insider. He is privy to all the bullshit that Miscavige has been up to. And many people outside of the Sea Organization are not, but he is because they are like two peas in a pod.”
Cruise, of course, is not the only celebrity who’s a prominent member of the Church of Scientology. There’s John Travolta, Danny Masterson, Elisabeth Moss, Michael Peña, Juliette Lewis, Laura Prepon, Kirstie Alley, Beck, Giovanni Ribisi, Greta Van Susteren, and more. And this is apparently by design.
“Miscavige has always viewed—and so did Hubbard—celebrities as being the most effective way of gaining acceptability for Scientology and encouraging new people to get interested and participate. And of course the larger the celebrity, the greater the impact. For a time, Tom Cruise was the biggest movie star in the world, and the ultimate manifestation of that philosophy,” claims Rinder. “Cruise came along during the Miscavige era, he was his first major accomplishment, and Cruise has a very similar personality type to Miscavige—just over-the-top about everything, so Miscavige saw him as the perfect vehicle to be molded into the perfect representative for Scientology.”
Rinder chuckles. “So, it is very ironic that the Big Fish became the Big Stinking Fish, because that wedding—and the fallout from that wedding—changed everything.”