Paul Haggis intends to call to the stand Mike Rinder, a former prominent Scientologist who became a vocal critic of the church, as a defense witness in the “Crash” director’s civil rape trial, TheWrap has learned.
Haggis is accused of raping former freelance events publicist Haleigh Breest after the 2013 New York premiere of “Third Person.” Haggis says the sexual encounter was entirely consensual, and his legal team has indicated its intention to argue that Scientology cooked up the allegations to get back at Haggis, also a former prominent church member-turned-critic.
Rinder, who has written in support of Haggis on his blog, would be the first to give testimony in the civil trial in New York focused on Scientology. Witnesses for the prosecution, including three women who each said they were assaulted or aggressively pursued by Haggis, were set to wrap up Friday, giving way to the defense.
Each of the women was asked under oath whether they had any connections to, or were receiving support from, the Church of Scientology. Each flatly denied that they had.
Rinder was one of a handful of defense witnesses expected to appear in the coming days. Others included Daniella Virgilio, an Italian actress who appeared in “Third Person,” which Haggis wrote and directed; Sarah McNally, founder of independent bookseller McNally Jackson Books; and Alyssa Haggis, Paul Haggis’ daughter.
That list is likely not complete, and it wasn’t immediately clear whether Haggis himself would testify. But Rinder’s presence is a strong indicator that a vigorous “Scientology defense” is nigh.
Rinder is the co-host of the docuseries “Scientology and the Aftermath,” along with Leah Remini. Rinder says he rose to the highest ranks of Scientology before abruptly leaving the church in 2007, and told Rolling Stone in 2016 that he played the role of enforcer in the church’s infamously aggressive apparatus for handling “enemies.”
“If the Church decided someone was an enemy and needed to be silenced or destroyed, it was my job and I did it,” he told Rolling Stone. “Everything from following them 24 hours a day to having people camped outside their door, to being vilified on the internet, to following them wherever they traveled, I was the guy.”
Rinder was expected to take the stand sometime after the plaintiff’s final witness, psychological expert Dr. Lisa Rocchio, gave testimony Friday.
A continent away, at the criminal rape trial of current Scientologist Danny Masterson, an ex-girlfriend of the “That 70s Show” star who accused him of rape began hyperventilating Thursday on the stand as she described an “ongoing” campaign of harassment and intimidation from the her former church, which she has separately sued in an attempt to stop the treatment she alleges.
Asked about the civil lawsuit, she said, her voice rising and breaths coming fast: “It’s related to the terror campaign that this criminal organization has put upon me daily … It didn’t matter how many police reports or FBI reports [there were], they continue doing it to this day.”
The church has vigorously denied any involvement in either case, saying only that it demands its members follow the law.