As a Scientologist for three decades, Leah knew well the consequences of bigoted and incendiary speech about religion and made no bones about it.
After speaking to a reporter about people “who want to sit around and put crap on the Internet” about Scientology and who attack her religion, Remini said, “I get scared of people who run around making this their mission in life. It’s like, please. It’s crazy, man. It’s insane. We have enough going on in this world without adding to it and adding negativity.”
But, once Remini lost her welcome at the Church of Scientology for her unethical and antisocial conduct, she turned her vengeance into aggression she once labelled “insane,” with ramifications she shamefully ignored.
Disturbed fanatics began galvanizing around her inflammatory lies and hate.
One provoked woman, Erin McMurtry, smashed her car through the glass front of the Church of Scientology in Austin, Texas, narrowly missing staff members and blasting glass into the children’s nursery. McMurtry backed out, flipped the bird at stunned staff, and drove off.
Upon her arrest two hours later, McMurtry—who had no prior affiliation with Scientology—admitted her crime and disclosed her motivation, corroborated by postings on her Facebook page: “Leah Remini,” she gushed, “is a true inspiration!”
McMurtry was convicted of felony destruction of a place of worship.
Another individual incited by Remini, Andre Barkanov, placed calls to a Church of Scientology in Los Angeles, threatening to assassinate Scientologists and the Church’s ecclesiastical leader. When police identified Barkanov and raided his home, they confiscated live ammo, a holster and a magazine. Barkanov, who had a record of 24 prior arrests, had no firsthand knowledge of Scientology. He told police he had targeted the Church after seeing “the King of Queens lady”—Leah Remini—on TV.
Barkanov was convicted of felonies, served time and is under a 10-year stay-away order from the Church’s leader and Church staff.
“The King of Queens lady” only ratcheted up her inflammatory speech and slander. After each episode of Remini’s subsequent anti-Scientology TV series on A&E, threats, hate and violence from her volatile fans kept climbing, along with her profits.
Remini went so far as to bring one incited individual onto her show, fresh from a criminal conviction.
Brandon Reisdorf, a former Scientologist in San Diego, warned in April 2016 he would be “packing heat (gun on waist)” before driving to the U.S. headquarters of the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles, where he twice hurled a hammer into the plate-glass front window and fled.
Police apprehended Reisdorf and placed him in a psychiatric facility. While detained, Reisdorf threatened the life of the Church’s leader. Officials issued a Tarasoff warning, an alert required by law when a patient issues a serious threat of harm to an identifiable target.
Following Reisdorf’s release from psychiatric lockdown, he was arrested, charged and convicted of felony vandalism of religious property, a hate crime. The court also issued a criminal restraining order, enjoining Reisdorf from coming within 100 yards of the Church’s leader and all Churches of Scientology in Southern California.
Under those circumstances, Remini featured Reisdorf as a guest on her show, suppressed the majority of facts about his crime, defended him and condoned his violence as a piteous act of retribution against the Church. (Since that time, Brandon Reisdorf was arrested and jailed for violations of his probation and criminal protective order, then arrested following a burglary unrelated to the Church, convicted and sentenced to a psychiatric facility.)
Remini’s series generated unprecedented waves of hate and threats against Scientologists, the Church and its leadership in the hashtag name of #LeahRemini and/or her TV show and its incendiary bigotry, including threats of bombings, arson, assassinations and mass murder. The warnings were punctuated by realized violence, including gunshots fired at a California church, criminal vandalism of a Florida church, and fire set to a Minnesota church while parishioners attended services inside.
The Church’s repeated letters to Remini’s producers and A&E, warning of the potential for serious injury or worse, were ridiculed and went unheeded.
Six-hundred hate messages, threats and acts of violence later, the worst fears were realized. In January 2019, a deranged teenager, incited by Remini’s hate campaign, attacked and stabbed to death a 24-year-old member of the Church’s religious order in Sydney, Australia.
A&E cancelled Remini’s show in the aftermath of the murder and international media on Leah Remini, citing “blood on your hands.”
The events provided a tragic demonstration of the power of words Remini herself had once described.
“Just because we have freedom of speech, doesn’t mean that I should say anything that comes to my head or abuse people or hurt them with my words,” Remini told a BBC interviewer in 2007. “It’s a point of responsibility. We all have a responsibility sometimes to not say things that are hurtful and degrading. Do you know what I mean?”
Remini certainly knew what she meant. A year after that interview, she was affronted by personal “takedowns” that also targeted her Scientology religion. She consequently posted about the “damaging” aspects of media and the Internet that have “allowed people to be bigots (a narrow-minded person who is prejudiced against other religions, opinions, etc.), racists and generally judgmental and hateful, with no real consequence or responsibility for their words or actions.”
Leah Remini knows the power of words. But, once she was the one doing the talking, the profitable end justified the irresponsible means—and the violent consequence isn’t just “insane,” it is malicious.