Inside Scientology at Inkwood: Fears and frustrations come out

Janet Reitman's reading became a sort of encounter group for ex-Scientologists.

Inside Scientology has been praised for presenting an objective, fair-minded narrative of the history of the organization and its leaders, L. Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige.

The author began the evening by giving a reading from the chapter called "The Bubble," which features a then 17-year-old "third generation" Pinellas County-based Scientologist named Natalie Walet, whom Reitman considers a friend from the many times she has spoken to her over the years. Reitman said she had hoped Walet would be in attendance on Monday night, but said she was away on vacation.

Though she adamantly insists (and the book shows) that she is not a professional critic of the church or its organization, Reitman's harshest statements made against the organization involved the fear factor that she said has been instilled, to the extent that some of the people she interviewed for her book who reside in the Tampa Bay area did not show up for the reading, even though they are no longer associated with the church.

"There were people who were invited here tonight who are not here. And they're not here because....even though they have left the church, the church may not know they may have left the church. Or someone in their family is still in the church ... and they are so nervous about being at a book reading. " Reitman then paused, seemingly incredulous at the idea that could happen in 2011.

"A book reading, everybody. In the United States of America. In Tampa. That they won't show up for this, even though they've known me for years and we've discussed everything in this book and they were key sources for the book."

Shortly after Reitman finished speaking, a red-headed woman sitting just off to the right side in front of her said dramatically, "I am one of those people," before tearing up slightly. "I worked with Jeff Hawkins for 10 years at Gold," she said, referring to Gold Base, which is the international headquarters of the church in Riverside County in Southern California. Jeff Hawkins was a longtime member of COS who was a key source for Reitman and the St. Pete Times in their blockbuster stories about Scientology leader David Miscavige. The woman, Anne Gollert, said she left the organization in the middle of the night in 2007, and said this was the first night she had ever been out in public identifying herself as a former COS member.

"What you're saying is exactly true," she said tearfully to Reitman about the fear that many ex-Scientology members still live by. The audience sympathetically applauded. "Everything in there is true," Gollert went on to say to the crowd of Reitman's book. "Both good and bad."

Shortly after that, Rinder and DeVocht, with a couple of guests, suddenly appeared in the back room at Inkwood, which seemed to simultaneously surprise and delight the writer, who is also a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and said she will soon have an article out about the reconstruction efforts in Haiti (Reitman has also reported from Iraq, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Zimbabwe).

Although there were only around 25 or so people in attendance, those who spoke were very familiar with Scientology. Later on another man in the audience named George White said he joined the church in 1973 and achieved the level of "OT 8" in 1989, but said he hasn't practiced Scientology since then, instead switching to Buddhism.

He said that when he joined the church in the early '70s, "It was great. It was a self-help environment of people helping each other." He said that L. Ron Hubbard's book Dianetics was a revelation in that era because there wasn't anything else like it out in the market at that time. But he also talked about what Gollert had referred to as an imbalance with the organization. And he said, when management of the church changed in the 1980s, "The whole environment changed. " He said during the mid 1980s, as leadership changed from Hubbard to Miscavige, many of his longtime friends with the church got "fed up and left."

The Church of Scientology has officially weighed in on Inside Scientology, and as you might imagine, they're not big fans of the work. You can find their response on our website here.

  • Janet Reitman

Inside Scientology author Janet Reitman's highly anticipated appearance at Inkwood Books in South Tampa on Monday night did not disappoint, as she spoke to an audience that in some cases knew as much if not more about the inner workings of the church and its dark side than the author herself.

The reading also was sparked by the entrance midway through her discussion of two well-known former members of the church's hierarchy, Mike Rinder and Tom DeVocht, both of whom were formerly close to Church of Scientology (COS) head David Miscavige, but made claims in recent years about his violent actions (DeVocht is cited frequently as a source for the book), leading to angry denunciations about their own personal character by COS officials.

And perhaps most dramatically, a former Scientologist at the reading announced that it was her first night coming out, as it were, as a former member of the church.

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