Ordinarily, the Church of Scientology is shrouded in secrecy and intrigue. That's exactly why a brand new expose on the group -- which makes some frank, not to mention startling, accusations against some of its famous members including Tom Cruise and John Travolta -- is proving to be such a page-turner.
The article published in this week's The New Yorker focuses on Crash director Paul Haggis and his decision to quit the (his word) cult after 34 years. But in the telling of his story, author Lawrence Wright divulges some seriously frightening details about the organization that were told to him by the church's defectors during his investigation.
And let me just preface this by saying, it's much worse than jumping up and down like a crazy person on a couch ...
By far the most shocking information to come out of the piece is that the FBI is investigating whether the Church of Scientology has engaged in human trafficking and has enslaved members.
John Brosseau, a member who has since left the church, said he was involved in several hours of unpaid labor for Cruise. Specifically, he was asked to perform several jobs for Cruise -- customizing motorcycles, repairing an airplane hangar -- which should have cost thousands of dollars; yet, he was only paid $50 a week.
Both Cruise and the church have denied these allegations. Here's a statement from church spokesman Tommy Davis:
Church staff, and indeed Church members, hold Mr. Cruise in very high regard and are honored to assist him. Whatever small economic benefit Mr. Cruise may have received from the assistance of church staff pales in comparison to the benefits the church has received from Mr. Cruise's many years of volunteer efforts for the church.
And with so many celebrity backers in the Church of Scientology, one can only suspect there might be more stories just like this one.
Other claims made by the magazine are a bit more murky:
One of the church leaders, David Miscavige -- who was best man at Cruise's and Katie Holmes' wedding -- is accused of repeated physical violence and punishments (including beatings, confinement, and manual labor) toward staff and members.
Other defectors complained that they were told to disown friends and family who criticize Scientology under the church's notorious "disconnection" policies.
The Church of Scientology for its part is denying the claims and dismissing them as being made by "discredited individuals" who held a grudge against them.
Truth be told, the article is high on allegations and low on actual proof beyond the defectors' testimonies. But if it doesn't give you nightmares, then I don't know what will.
Image via Fibonacci Blue/Flickr