With two recent public confrontations, a year-long, highly publicized drama in the world of Scientology has spilled into the streets of Clearwater.
The latest incident occurred Friday afternoon as seven members of the Church of Scientology — including five senior members of its California-based international management team — surrounded and screamed at a former church executive, then loudly carried the dispute into the office of an unsuspecting and startled doctor.
The former executive was Mike Rinder, 55, Scientology’s longtime spokesman, whose accounts of violence and abuse at the church’s highest levels have grabbed headlines. Three in the group were Rinder’s family members: his estranged wife Cathy Rinder, his brother Andrew and daughter Taryn.
Mike Rinder says it was Scientology’s attempt to intimidate him. Scientology says that it was a family matter, not a church matter, and that Rinder responded violently when approached by relatives he abandoned.
Rinder was standing near his car, chatting on his cell phone, he said, when he noticed all seven marching toward him, loudly chastising him and hurling profanities.
He said they took the keys from his ignition and tried to hold his car door closed as he struggled to get out. Three followed him into the office of Holly Johantgen, a doctor of oriental medicine who was treating Rinder’s girlfriend with acupuncture.
Johantgen said the three pushed past her as she let Rinder into the office. She told them to leave and tried to close her office door but was ignored.
“You wouldn’t have expected to hear these things coming out of their mouths,” Johantgen said, noting that all seven were middle-aged and dressed in business attire. “It was just so aggressive, very much in-your-face, arms in the air, like ‘F— you’ … It was surreal. Unbelievable.”
The Pinellas Sheriff’s Office account of the incident released Tuesday said Rinder’s relatives and church executive Sue Wilhere were given a warning that if they trespassed again, they could be charged.
Three of the international executives — David Bloomberg, Guillaume Lesevre and Jennifer Linson — left before deputies arrived.
Special report online: Read “The Truth Rundown” and other coverage of the Church of Scientology at tampabay.com/scientology