Last week, The Daily Beast published a statement from Chrissie Carnell Bixler, one of at least four women who is accusing the actor Danny Masterson of rape.
Bixler, 39, alleges that when she reported her rape to officials at the Church of Scientology, which at the time counted her and Masterson as members, she was “made to feel like I didn’t matter,” and was told that she couldn’t have been raped by a man she was in a relationship with.
“Danny Masterson is a celebrity. He flourishes and prospers in life. You protect that and reward that,” she claims a church ethics officer told her, guiding her to silence.
But Bixler will remain silent no more. “I’m going to be an amazing woman who will NOT shut my mouth when I find out my rapist raped countless other women. I will not shut my mouth when Netflix tries to make us feel like we don’t matter. We DO matter. We ARE important. We will see justice for what was done to us, and is continuing to be done to us,” she wrote.
Masterson, 41, is a prominent Scientologist who currently stars in and produces the Netflix series The Ranch, alongside his longtime pal (and former That 70’s Show co-star) Ashton Kutcher. Though the streaming service took swift action after disturbing allegations emerged against stars Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) and Louis C.K. (Louis C.K. 2017), severing ties with both, it has refrained from doing so with Masterson. “We are aware of the allegations and the subsequent investigation, and will respond if developments occur,” Netflix said in a statement. The Ranch Part 4 is set to premiere on Dec. 15, while Part 5 is currently filming.
Back in March, journalist Tony Ortega broke the news on his blog The Underground Bunker that the Los Angeles Police Department was investigating Masterson for “at least three alleged cases of rape or sodomy of women who were also Scientologists and who claim they were pressured by the Church of Scientology not to contact police or go public with their accusations.” Ortega provided partial copies of the police reports. Bixler’s read, in part: “Victim and suspect lived together for 6 years, but were not married. Vict went to bed and when she woke up and was bleeding from her anus. Vict confronted the suspect, he laug[h]ed at her and told her he had sex with her in her anus.”
Ortega’s story was confirmed by the LAPD in a statement reading, “The Los Angeles Police Department Robbery Homicide Division, Sexual Assault Section, is conducting an investigation involving the actor Danny Masterson. Three women have come forward and disclosed that they were sexually assaulted by Masterson during the early 2000s.”
This month, HuffPost’s Yashar Ali reported that despite “what one law enforcement source described as ‘overwhelming’ evidence,” the Masterson rape case—now up to four accusers—appears to have stalled, and “the charges have not been approved for filing.”
He added, “The evidence includes audiotapes, emails sent to and from Scientology officers at the time the alleged rapes happened, forensic computer evidence and a threatening handwritten letter Masterson sent to one of the alleged victims, according to two people with knowledge of the evidence in the district attorney’s possession.”
When The Daily Beast pressed Masterson’s publicist, Jenni Weinman, for comment on the rape allegations after discussing them with the actress and ex-Scientologist Leah Remini, she replied, “I could only imagine that continually talking about Danny and others is an attempt to boost declining ratings of her show. It’s pretty gross (or irresponsible) to self promote on the tails of someone else’s name for allegations that are not proven to be true.” (Masterson has previously denied the rape allegations against him.)
This reporter also received a hostile 20-minute phone call from Weinman and a lawyer from Masterson’s law firm, Lavely & Singer, with the former claiming to have a close relationship with The Daily Beast (we do not, and have not interviewed Masterson in my seven-plus years here), and the latter issuing legal threats. Masterson is represented by Hollywood power attorney Marty Singer, who’s also represented accused sexual predators Bill Cosby, Brett Ratner, Charlie Sheen, John Travolta, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bryan Singer.
Weinman, however, occupies a unique space in the ongoing Masterson saga: In addition to serving as the actor’s longtime publicist (and staunch defender), she is also listed as a witness in the police report of one of his accusers, who claims it was none other than Weinman who took her to the party at Masterson’s home where he allegedly raped her.
On a nondescript side street in Bethpage—a tiny hamlet in Long Island—lies Gold Coast Studios, a sprawling complex comprising six sound stages totaling 105,000 square feet of space, as well as a Times Square backlot and a replica Subway car. Productions from HBO’s The Leftovers to John Wick: Chapter 2 have shot on its stages. Currently, two of its stages are occupied by the CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait, starring the duo of Kevin James and Leah Remini, who for close to a decade entertained stay-at-home audiences on the hit series King of Queens. Security at the front gate is tight, and for good reason: Remini, a Scientology whistleblower, has been targeted by members of the church for years.
“It’s ridiculous,” she says. “We have people following our cameramen from shoots, trying to intimidate people. They followed the son of my makeup artist on the show.”
It’s a brisk afternoon in late September, and Remini is seated with me in her dressing room off one of the sound stages in between filming scenes for Kevin Can Wait. I’m not here to discuss the show, but rather her critically acclaimed A&E reality series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.
On the show, Remini—whose mother raised her in the Church of Scientology since the age of 9, and who left in 2013 following an alleged pattern of intimidation, manipulation, and harassment by church officials—primarily examines the experiences of those who have defected from the church, including their stories of purported abuse they suffered at the hands of church officials, Scientology’s cruel policy of “disconnection” (severing all ties to those who leave the church and/or oppose its beliefs), and the tyranny of church leader David Miscavige.
Remini, now 47, says she broke with the Church of Scientology four years ago after being “punished for asking questions” about Miscavige, his best pal/fellow Scientologist Tom Cruise, “disconnection,” and The Hole, a mysterious prison facility on Gold Base (Scientology’s international headquarters) in San Jacinto, California, that was described in an eye-opening 2013 Tampa Bay Times exposé as “a place of confinement and humiliation” where Scientology leadership were forced to go “at each other with brutal tongue lashings, and even hands and fists. They intimidated each other into crawling on their knees and standing in trash cans and confessing to things they hadn’t done. They lived in degrading conditions, eating and sleeping in cramped spaces designed for office use.” (Despite numerous former members sharing horror stories of their time in The Hole, the church denies it exists.)
“It got progressively worse, and harder and harder for me to justify staying when there was more than one executive speaking out about The Hole and being physically and mentally abused by David Miscavige,” Remini tells me. “It was becoming clear that if I continued to be in it, I was condoning it. And I was receiving pretty harsh security checking of my own—their version of the lie-detector test—being interrogated for months, just for asking questions. More so than brainwashing, it’s being punished for asking questions, or being critical of Tom Cruise or David Miscavige.”
The question that haunted Remini the most was the whereabouts of Shelly Miscavige—her friend and the wife of Scientology honcho David Miscavige, who hadn’t been seen publicly since August 2007 at her father’s funeral.
In Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright claims that Shelly not only served as Miscavige’s assistant, but also as a handler to the fringe religion’s most VIP member: Tom Cruise. According to Wright’s tome, Shelly oversaw both the auditing of actress Penelope Cruz during her time dating Cruise following his split from wife Nicole Kidman, and the search for the Mission: Impossible star’s post-Cruz partner, eventually landing on Katie Holmes. (Cruise, through his attorney, has denied that the Church of Scientology set him up with girlfriends.) Remini’s problems with the church began around this time, when she questioned why Shelly wasn’t in attendance at the 2006 wedding of Cruise and Holmes, where Miscavige served as best man.
Shortly after cutting ties with the church, and deeply concerned for her friend’s health and well-being, Remini filed a missing persons report in 2013 for Shelly, questioning whether Shelly is free or being “punished for her own shortcomings.” After conducting an alleged safety check, Detective Gus Villanueva stated, “The LAPD has classified the report as unfounded, indicating that Shelly is not missing,” though they refused to provide any additional details as to the state they found her in, or where exactly she is.
“A missing person’s report is an imperfect way, because she’s not ‘missing,’” Ortega, the world’s premier reporter on Scientology, told me in 2015. “The police contacted the Church, and the Church no doubt whisked them up to the compound. I talked to the cop, Lt. Andre Dawson, and he said that they made contact with her. I asked him if she was in the presence of church officials, and he said, ‘That’s classified.’”
Ortega believes that Shelly has been kept at the Church of Spiritual Technology (CST), a complex near Lake Arrowhead, California, comprised of vaults and nuclear shelters where Scientologists are readying themselves for Armageddon, since 2005. The belief is shared by Mike Rinder, a former senior executive in the Church of Scientology who now co-presents Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.
“Mike and I are pretty positive that in 2005, once Dave [Miscavige] had his blow-up with her, he sent her up there to be a non-person,” shared Ortega. “They let her out for a couple of days for her father’s funeral in the summer of 2007, and nobody has seen her since. I’m positive she’s still there, and I have my sources saying that she’s still there.”
When I bring Shelly’s name up with Remini, her hands begin to shake. “What matters to me is that I have not seen proof that this woman is alive, or doing well, so I can give a shit what the LAPD said as their bullshit statement that they put out, because I haven’t seen her face. I’m calling bullshit on it. I did everything that I could with my lawyer, and they gave me the run-around. They said the only thing I could do is start a lawsuit. That would have been a huge cost to me,” she says.
Remini claims that one of her friends in the LAPD, Detective Kevin Becker, whom she calls a “very decent human being,” filed the missing persons report on her behalf and requested that he personally lend a hand in the investigation into Shelly’s whereabouts, but was told by his higher-ups to “let it go.”
The Daily Beast managed to reach Detective Becker (of the LAPD’s Hollywood division) who corroborated Remini’s account. He says that while he did file the missing persons report for Shelly—and offered to spearhead the search—he couldn’t investigate it himself because missing persons reports “are handled by the Missing Persons Unit downtown” and not the Hollywood division.
“It is true that I said I would have liked to have handled it because I assure you it would have been done differently, but again, LAPD is a very big department and we have protocols and policies and we just don’t get to do whatever we want,” Becker told me, also pointing to the “perception issues” his potential involvement would raise given his friendship with Remini.
But Becker ultimately questions how the Shelly case was conducted: “I and many other detectives believe that the ‘investigation’ was VERY poorly handled and LAPD fell way short on this one.”
Remini believes there’s a reason why the Shelly case—and others concerning the Church of Scientology, like Danny Masterson’s—are “poorly handled”: the curiously close ties between the LAPD and the church.
Since defecting from the church in 2013, Remini has, much like Rose McGowan and the sexual-assault epidemic in Hollywood, become the face of Scientology whistleblowing. In November 2015, she released her memoir Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, and a year after that began hosting Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.
When reached for comment for this story, Karin Pouw, spokesperson for the Church of Scientology, issued a multi-page statement to The Daily Beast that read, in part: “Giving Remini a forum is the same as providing a forum to the KKK to spread their racial and religious hatred.”
Last October, the #WhyWomenDontReport began trending on Twitter. The hashtag began circulating in response to sexual misconduct allegations against then GOP candidate Donald Trump, who, after he was accused of sexual harassment or assault by over a dozen women, attempted to discredit his accusers by criticizing their appearance. “Look at her… I don’t think so,” Trump said of one of the women. To make matters worse, Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs tweeted out the phone number and home address of one of Trump’s accusers.
The trending hashtag prompted Chrissie Carnell Bixler to send several tweets, including one that read, “Because your boyfriend tells you it’s not rape if you’re in a relationship and then his church covers it up. #WhyWomenDontReport,” and another about an unnamed “rapist actor” that tagged Danny Masterson, whom she’d dated for six years, from 1995-2001.
This led Masterson’s attorney, Marty Singer, to send a harshly worded cease-and-desist letter to Bixler’s husband, The Mars Volta frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala, accusing her of “defamation,” and threatening potential “multi-million-dollar damages.” The letter was later published by Ortega on The Underground Bunker.
Remini says she knew of another woman who claims to have been raped by Masterson. This unnamed woman alleges she was raped by Masterson at a house party in 2003, and that she was escorted to the residence by none other than the actor’s publicist, Jenni Weinman. She filed a police report in 2004 that read, in part: “SUSP (acquaintance) sexually assaulted the victim while she was passed out. The victim woke up while the suspect was having sex with her and struggled with him. The suspect choked the victim until she passed out.” But according to Ortega “that investigation was closed when witnesses—who were Scientologists—contradicted the victim’s testimony.” (A Scientologist who rats out another Scientologist can be branded a “suppressive person,” and thus subjected to harsh interrogations or expulsion.)
“There was a hashtag #WhyWomenDontReport, and [Bixler] had tweeted about her rape. I knew nothing about it. So she didn’t reach out to me and I didn’t reach out to her. But I knew somebody else who was also saying she had been raped by Danny Masterson who did know [Bixler]. They had reached out to each other to console each other. They hadn’t known that each other had the same experience. And then another person who knew both of them connected them, and said, ‘Did you know this person is saying she was raped?’ They all thought they were the only ones,” Remini recalls.
When Bixler and the third alleged rape victim filed reports with the LAPD against Masterson in October 2016, they decided to reopen the 2004 case. Remini subsequently met with the LAPD and told them that “these victims deserve to be heard.” Shortly thereafter, Bixler left the church and sent Remini a tweet that read: “@LeahRemini I just wanted to thank you for everything you’re doing. Gave me strength to leave [Scientology]. You wouldn’t believe what they did to me.”
“I always encourage people—no matter who it is—to go to the authorities, because that’s where it belongs. I’m not a therapist. I don’t know how to handle these things,” explains Remini. “So I said to this other person that I did know, ‘I hope that she went to the authorities.’ What I later found out was that [Bixler] had called the RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network] hotline on her own when this #WhyWomenDontReport hashtag was circulating, because she felt scared, she felt alone and didn’t want to talk to anybody. She talked to somebody on that hotline, explained her situation, and they said, ‘That’s rape. You should talk to the authorities.’”
When Ortega published his bombshell report on the Masterson rape allegations in March, accompanied by portions of police reports with the names redacted, Weinman took it upon herself to reveal that Bixler was one of the accusers. “It was a pretty fucked-up thing to do,” Remini says.
According to Remini, the broader problem when it comes to the cases of Shelly Miscavige and Danny Masterson are the close ties between the Church of Scientology and the LAPD’s Hollywood division.
“The captain of that department, Cory Palka, goes to the Scientology Celebrity Centre often. There are pictures of him hanging at Celebrity Centre,” she says.
After dozens of emails and phone calls to the LAPD, The Daily Beast received the following message via email: “Captain is not making any comments.” But a source inside the LAPD’s Hollywood division informs us that officers wonder about Captain Palka’s seemingly cozy relationship with the Church of Scientology.
In 1995, the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, located in the heart of Hollywood, became a fundraising partner for the Hollywood PD’s chapter of the Police Activities League (PAL), which describes itself as “a community-based crime prevention program [that] provides young people with positive alternatives to gangs and drugs.”
“Celebrity Centre helped PAL produce a fundraiser in February 1996, enlisting the participation and support of celebrities and raising more than $20,000. Throughout the rest of 1996, Celebrity Centre sponsored a range of activities for PAL and its youth-oriented programs. This included organizing PAL’s 1996 Christmas party, funding excursions and athletic tournaments, and purchasing athletic equipment,” according to Scientology’s own Freedom Magazine.
Freedom further claimed: “Early in 1997, in recognition of the Church’s continuing assistance, Hollywood PAL officers nominated Celebrity Centre as ‘Organization of the Year.’ This annual award is presented to one group, selected from the many civic and charitable organizations and businesses throughout the state that support Police Activities League programs. And in February, out of the many organizations and corporations nominated, the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre was selected as Organization of the Year for 1996 for ‘their outstanding contribution to their community through the LAPD Hollywood Police Activities League.’”
The Church of Scientology’s fundraising partnership with the LAPD’s Hollywood division through the PAL continues to this day. And one of the Scientology-affiliated celebrities who regularly participates in these PAL fundraising events is Danny Masterson.
“Scientology is very slick in that it’s partnered in this Police Activities League with the Hollywood division, and every year around Christmastime Celebrity Centre International right on Franklin presents the Hollywood Police Department with a check for this Police Activities League, which gives back to children,” says Remini, shaking her head. “What it’s done is it’s aligned itself as per its policies, because there are Scientology policies that say, ‘Safe-point yourself to the area police department because then nobody will attack your good works,’ so it’s all very pointed and calculated.”
The evening of Sept. 9, 2017, is one that Remini won’t soon forget.
That night, Remini—accompanied by her mother, her husband, her co-host Mike Rinder, and several ex-Scientologists featured on her show—attended the Creative Arts Emmys at the Microsoft Theater in Downtown Los Angeles, just six miles from the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International. Their A&E reality series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath was nominated for Outstanding Informational Series or Special.
“We were all getting ready at my house, and my mom was like, ‘I’m so nervous!’ and I was like, ‘You’re nervous?!’” remembers Remini, cracking a smile. “It’s one thing to be nominated for yourself, but it’s the show that’s been recognized, and these people’s stories. I just wanted them to receive it. I wanted them to feel validated for the pain that they’ve been through, and continue to deal with.”
And then it happened: They won.
Remini, dressed in a stunning floral-printed gown, stood in the press room and, flanked by close to a dozen fellow former Scientologists, delivered an acceptance speech, her voice cracking with emotion.
“I am so happy to share this. This really belongs to them. It’s not an easy job to do, but they’re the ones putting their stories out there for everyone to hear and to experience, and for that we’re so honored to be the vessel to tell that story,” she said.
Immediately after winning the award, Remini says she escaped outside with her husband to cry away from the cameras and personally thank everybody.
“It was magical,” she recalls. “I’ve never felt so loved and supported by Hollywood. Hollywood has a voice. You see Hollywood speaking up about different things, and Hollywood has no problem making their voice known about other things, so this, in my opinion, was Hollywood’s way of speaking.”