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Katie Holmes 'Biggest Nightmare' in Scientology History, Say Experts

UPDATED

In filing for divorce from Tom Cruise -- and apparently blindsiding him -- amid indications she doesn’t want her daughter raised a Scientologist and is seeking sole custody, Katie Holmes has made it clear that she is taking a very different tack from Nicole Kidman, who split up with Cruise in 2001.

Kidman effectively lost the two children she adopted with Cruise when the kids chose to live with their father after the divorce. She has said it was the kids’ decision to stay with Cruise but has never explained why.

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"With Katie, it's like she’s taking a leaf from [Church of Scientology founder]  L. Ron Hubbard's own playbook," says Marc Headley, an ex-Scientologist who fled the church with the help of police in 2005 after years spent working closely with Cruise and his close friend, Scientology's powerful and feared chairman, David Miscavige. "Hubbard always said, 'Attack, don’t defend.' "

Holmes appears more aggressive and fearless than those who have taken steps to distance themselves from the church or have "blown" -- Scientology parlance for leaving the church -- according to one-time key members of the church who have left, many after years of soul searching, and endured what they claim was often harassment, intimidation and being cut off from their families.

But some of Holmes’ apparent courage could stem from the fact that many of the high-ranking Scientologists who ran interference for Cruise during his marriage to Kidman and often discouraged or intimidated mainstream media from reporting on Scientology have left the church. A number of them are now actively working against Miscavige and Cruise by spilling church secrets to the very reporters they once threatened.

Even Jenna Miscavige Hill, David Miscavige's niece, who left the church in 2005, issued a statement Tuesday in support of Holmes and any concern she has over her daughter's involvement in the church.

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"My experience in growing up in Scientology is that it is both mentally and at times physically abusive," Jenna said. "I was allowed to see my parents only once a week at best -- sometimes not for years. We got a lousy education from unqualified teachers, forced labor, long hours, forced confessions, being held in rooms, not to mention the mental anguish of trying to figure out all of the conflicting information they force upon you as a young child. ... As a mother myself, I offer my support to Katie and wish for her all the strength she will need to do what is best for her and her daughter."

Still, Holmes’ decision to file for divorce from Cruise in New York state and ask for sole legal custody and primary physical custody of their 6-year-old daughter, Suri, sent a strong message, ex-members say, that she isn’t cowed by Cruise and his reputation as a prominent member of what has long been considered a powerful and litigious organization. Holmes has hired Allan Mayefsky, a high-powered matrimonial lawyer with experience handling difficult divorces who is known to play cases out in the media, as well as New Jersey divorce lawyer Jonathan Wolfe.

Requests for comment from Holmes attorneys were not immediately returned.

"Katie ambushed Tom Cruise and in so doing outwitted some of the most controlling people on Earth," says Karen De La Carriere, who was once one of the most powerful executives in Scientology and was married to Heber Jentzsch, Scientology's longtime president who mysteriously hasn't been seen in years. De La Carriere shocked the church by leaving in 2010 and telling secrets in anti-Miscavige blogs -- including her claim that she was kept for six months against her will at the secretive church base camp near Hemet, Calif. "I have no doubt that she’s being tailed by them. It's par for the course. But she had to have planned this very carefully, right down to using disposable cell phones and laptops to throw people off her trail. It had to have been a very cloak-and-dagger operation."

A former Scientologist with close ties to members of Cruise's family says his adopted daughter Isabella worked for Holmes at her clothing line, Holmes and Yang, and was abruptly fired about two months ago.

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"There was never any trouble between them," says the source. "Bella called Katie ‘Mom.’ She was fired out of the blue, and once Katie filed for divorce, it all made sense. This was a carefully planned ambush. Katie didn’t want Bella working for her anymore because she was Tom’s kid."

Backed by her family, according to sources, especially her father, who is a divorce attorney, and perhaps emboldened by the increasing critiques and exposés of the church by former top members, Holmes is standing up to Scientology in a way that was almost unthinkable in 2001.

"This was a very bold move on Katie’s part, but at the same time she knows these are different times and she has more support," says De La Carriere, who joined the church’s elite and secretive Sea Organization in the early 1970s at the invitation of Hubbard, who died in 1986, and is the last surviving top "auditor" to be trained by him. (Auditing is a form of counseling central to Scientology philosophy.)

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"By filing for sole custody of Suri, she’s making it very clear she’s not going to let what happened with Nicole Kidman happen to her," says De La Carriere.

Holmes has the advantage of going up against an organization that has been significantly weakened during the past decade, as an increasing number of high-level Scientologists such as Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder have defected. Together, Rathbun and Rinder were considered the second- and third-most powerful church officials under Miscavige and took care of troublesome legal and media issues, among them Cruise’s divorce from Kidman. The pair have been described as one of the church’s most effective weapons by ex-Scientologists and in many media accounts.

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"They don’t have the resources or the people to help them attack the way they used to because so many key people have blown," says Amy Scobee, whose mother signed her over to Scientology when she was 15 and who went on to run the church’s Celebrity Centres before leaving in 2005 because she did not like Miscavige. Scobee also knew Cruise well and hired his household staff (who were Scientologists) when he was married to Kidman.

"Marty and Mike are irreplaceable," says Scobee. "They were tough. They understood Scientology, and they knew how to take care of business. Scientology can hire all the lawyers they want now, but they won’t hold a candle to Marty and Mike. The people Miscavige needs to help him with the Tom and Katie mess are now on the outside working against them."

In response to previous reports in The Hollywood Reporter that cited Scobee’s accounts of her experiences, the church attacked her credibility, saying she was dismissed from the church for gross malfeasance.

Hundreds of people including high-level leaders have left -- or tried to leave -- the Church of Scientology, especially in the past six to seven years, as dissatisfaction with Miscavige has intensified. Many defectors, most of whom remain loyal to Hubbard’s legacy and teachings, have accused Miscavige -- variously in the press, in books and, in the case of Headley, in a lawsuit filed in 2009 -- of being violent, of abusing adult and child labor laws at the Hemet base camp and of focusing too much on fund-raising.

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Even Rupert Murdoch tweeted this week that the church was "evil" and "creepy" in a move some saw as proof that the media should no longer fear reporting about the church. Fox News' Geraldo Rivera followed the boss’ tweet with one of his own on Monday, asking, "Does Scientology have special program to provide cover for closeted gay superstars?"

Holmes has not commented yet on why she decided to file for divorce from Cruise, but the actor's camp has indicated it was Holmes’ decision. Cruise issued a statement saying he was "deeply saddened."

In contrast, Kidman has said that she was the one who was shocked by Cruise’s divorce petition in 2000, though she never took to Scientology during their 10-year marriage. She told Vanity Fair in 2002 that she was so upset by Cruise dumping her that she lay "crying in the fetal position on the floor" at one point.

Unlike Kidman, who kept quiet during her divorce from Cruise and has rarely commented publicly about it since, Holmes already has made a statement of sorts by filing her petition in New York and saying she wants full legal custody and primary residential custody of their Suri.

"Katie could blow Scientology wide open," says Rathbun, who was in the church for 22 years before leaving in late 2004. Rathbun, who calls himself an "independent Scientologist" and writes a candid blog popular with former members, was Cruise’s auditor and handled Cruise’s divorce from Kidman.

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"If Tom’s smart, he won’t fight her on anything, even custody. He should just try to settle his way out of it," says Rathbun. "She could press this sole-custody issue and litigate it, and that would be the biggest nightmare in the Church of Scientology’s history. It would be a circus they couldn’t survive."

When THR cited Rathbun’s experience with Scientology in a previous article, the church also attacked his credibility, focusing partly on alleged personal transgressions.

In a statement regarding the defectors who spoke on the record to THR, Gary Soter, a Calabasas, Calif.-based attorney representing the organization, said: "All of these people are ex-communicated self-promoters who are sadly exploiting a private family matter for their own personal financial gain. The Church stands by its previous statements with respect to all of them. They cannot be believed given they have acquired no firsthand knowledge of the Church for many years and have a record of making false and/or misleading statements about the Church."

Says Headley, who was once the head of film and video production for Scientology: "The church may be underestimating Katie. She knows how to play Tom, and she’s been doing it brilliantly. She knows he’s locked down up in Iceland shooting his movie and he can’t fly back to the U.S. to handle this."

Cruise was filming Oblivion in Iceland but flew back to the U.S. on Tuesday, his 50th birthday. His longtime lawyer Bert Fields did not respond to requests for comment, but it has been reported that Cruise has hired Dennis Wasser to represent him in the divorce -- the same attorney who represented him in the split from Kidman.

When asked if the church is advising Cruise in this matter, Soter responded: "The Church doesn't comment on any individual parishioner or his or her spiritual journey. This is a private matter, and it is inappropriate for comment. The Church has respected and will continue to respect the privacy of both parties during this difficult period."

Two former Scientologists who say they have a connection to both a member of the Holmes family and people still inside the church claim that Holmes’ family has been wary of Scientology from the start.

One reason for their concern might have been that it is a common Scientology practice to order members to cut off or "disconnect" from family members who disapprove of the church.

"Katie was monitored as if she lived under the Stasi," says Rathbun. "It was not quite as bad for Nicole. But that’s how it is now."

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Because of Rathbun’s former status in Scientology, he says he is the go-to guy for people leaving the church. He told THR he got information about how Holmes has been spied on and reported on by Scientologists from people who defected as recently as three months ago. His well-read, no-holds-barred blog also contains detailed comments by many of them, a number of whom state their names.

"Church members are required to report on one another, especially if they see any infractions to the way the church believes you should lead your life," says Rathbun. "Tom’s personal staff including his sisters are much more afraid of Miscavige than they are of Tom. They’ve reported every detail of Tom’s life to Miscavige for 15 years. Katie was always being watched. So is Tom."

But even if Scientology is in a more precarious state than it was 10 years ago, these former members do not expect the church to necessarily abandon its trademark moves when it comes to trying to crush what it sees as the opposition. Nor does the church necessarily realize how the 24-hour news cycle and breaking-news gossip sites like TMZ have made some of its practices more transparent, ex-members say.

"Scientology is going to do to Katie what they always do in these situations," says Headley, who wrote 2009's Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology. "They’re going to put a thousand private investigators on her tail and dig through her garbage and talk to her staff even though they don’t have any real dirt on her."

Adds Headley: "Scientologists don’t know the world has changed. Miscavige lives in a bubble. They are still using Hubbard’s playbook for strategy that was written in the 1950s and doesn’t work too well in the age of the Internet."

On the allegations that Holmes has been being followed by the organization, Soter wrote: "There is no truth whatsoever to the reports that the Church of Scientology has sent anyone to follow Katie Holmes. The cars and individuals widely reported in the media as looking suspicious were not sent by the Church.

"We understand that the media has now confirmed that the 'suspicious' men outside of Katie Holmes’ residence were actually working for Katie Holmes (see, e.g. latest Inside Edition report)," he wrote. "Yet, one of the people that you interviewed confidently reported on his blog that the Church had hired security guards to follow Katie Holmes and that the Church and its attorneys were engaged in artful lying. I would consider any re-publication of alleged information from these sources to be made in reckless disregard of the truth."

Rathbun, Rinder, De La Carriere, Scobee and Headley told THR they are still sometimes confronted, threatened or followed by people sent by the church years after having left Scientology. All of them, as well as other ex-Scientologists who did not want to go on the record, say they have been disconnected from family members.

Says Rinder: "What Katie is doing is going to drive a wedge in a door that Scientology was trying to keep closed. She is going to stir up a media frenzy, and a lot of people are going to find out what a lot of us have known for years."

Scobee says that the impending divorce -- Cruise’s third -- will be an embarrassment to Scientology. "The church is supposed to be about people improving their lives," she says. "It’s supposed to help people with their marriages, not get divorced three times."

De La Carriere says Holmes may be legitimately scared for her daughter because she claims Scientology deliberately turned the two adopted children of Cruise and Kidman against Kidman during and after the divorce.  

One anti-Scientology activist who has worked with church members after they left the organization recalls that Kidman called him during her divorce from Cruise. "Nicole reached out to us because there was really no one else to go to," the source says. "It was very different back then, and she didn’t have anyone to go to for help and answers."

Rathbun says Cruise was a "total gentleman" during his divorce from Kidman, and they split everything 50-50, including custody of their adopted daughter Isabella and son Connor.

But Rathbun says that then the organization, including all the staff members who work in Cruise’s Los Angeles home, began to quietly turn the kids against Kidman.  

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Rathbun says he witnessed Tommy Davis, head of the church’s Celebrity Centre and the son of actress Anne Archer, feeding Isabella and Connor Cruise false information about their mother so as to turn them against her.

"Tommy told them over and over again their mother was a sociopath, and after a while they believed him," Rathbun says. "They had daily sessions with Tommy. I was there. I saw it."

Soter sent the following statement attributed to Davis:

"Marty Rathbun never witnessed conversations between me and Isabella and Connor Cruise about their mother because no such conversations ever occurred. I have never spoken with Isabella or Connor about their mother and never would as it is none of my business."

Aaron Moss of Greenberg Glusker, the law firm that represents the Cruise family, sent the following statement:

"These stories are completely fabricated and are nothing more than an attempt by Mr. Rathbun, an individual with a well-documented vendetta against the Church, to drive a wedge between Bella and Connor and their mother, and the religion her children practice. Connor is a minor and Bella is only 19."

A number of former Scientology members say Holmes must know that as Suri gets older, the church might start exerting more of an influence on her.

"She’s at the age where the kids get indoctrinated," says Headley. "It’s like, playtime over. You’re a Scientologist now. And they really de-emphasize the family. Katie becomes a lot less important as a mother. It’s all about the organization over the individual."

Soter compared the religious training of children to the practice in Catholicism of beginning to receive Holy Communion at age 7. "Parents may choose to begin educating their children about religion at any time, much as in any other religion," his statement said. "There is nothing unusual here."

Headley, who began working 100-hour weeks at the Sea Org base in Hemet when he was 16, often for no pay, was shunned by his Scientologist mother when he left in 2005. 

"You're either in or out when it comes to Scientology," says Headley. "That’s why Katie is making custody such an issue in the divorce petition. If you’re out, the way she seems to be, they want to cut you off from everyone, including your kids."

Rinder says his biggest regret about leaving is that his son, daughter, mother, sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and several nieces and nephews refuse to speak to him.

Rinder’s 34-year-old daughter works at the Sea Org base near Hemet, where Miscavige has ruled in recent years that no one can marry or have children. His son, 29, works at the Clearwater, Fla., base, from which Rinder was turned away recently and accused of trespassing when he tried to see his son, who may have cancer.

"I feel bad because I put them there -- they were born in the Sea Org," says Rinder. "They’ve been in it their whole lives. At the same time, they’re adults now, and I wish they’d come to their senses."

Rinder’s children might not, as he says, "come to their senses" as Scientology forbids reading stories about the church on the Internet. 

But despite the enormous amount of negative reports online about Scientology -- whether written by ex-members, church opponents or investigative journalists such as Lawrence Wright of The New Yorker, Tony Ortega of The Village Voice or the staff at The Tampa Bay Times -- none of it has really seemed to stick to the church, Rinder says.

Ortega, for example, writes about Scientology at least once a week and broke the news last week that Miscavige’s father, Ron, and a niece of Hubbard escaped from the Sea Org base camp in Hemet sometime this spring after decades with the church.

“I think Tom and Katie, along with Rupert Murdoch’s tweet, is what is going to open the floodgates,” says Rinder. “Murdoch basically telling all his own reporters that it’s open season on Scientology. It means Rupert isn’t scared of them and their reputation for litigiousness. That’s not good news for Scientology.”

It is good news theoretically for Holmes, who might be more successful holding on to Suri after her divorce than Kidman was with her two adopted children if she wins the press over to her side and is able to force some transparency in her divorce negotiations with Cruise.

This story has been updated with statements by Tommy Davis and Aaron Moss, an attorney representing Cruise's family.