Paul Haggis, winner of Hollywood’s most prestigious trophy and sometime darling of liberal commentators for his efforts to expose the Church of Scientology’s nefarious methods of controlling its members, allegedly raped three women who worked for him multiple times between 1996 and 2015, the Associated Press reports.
The new and detailed accounts follow two weeks after Haggis’ first accuser, Haleigh Breest, filed a civil suit alleging Haggis had raped her in his apartment in 2013. The AP did not name the three women who recounted similar assaults dating back more than 20 years, but says it corroborated their stories with friends.
Haggis, who denies Breest’s accusation as well as the new allegations, sued her for extortion. Her counter-suit alleges he forced himself on her at his home after a movie premiere. She has filed an amended complaint incorporating the new, similar allegations reported by the wire service as evidence of a pattern of behavior.
Two of the three new accusers say they were ultimately able to escape Haggis’ advances by getting into cars and leaving after he forcibly kissed them. In one of those cases, Haggis allegedly jumped into the woman’s taxi and kissed her again on her doorstep before she was able to get inside and lock him out. He then “sent her harassing text messages for the next 24 hours, until she blocked him,” according to the AP.
The third woman says Haggis explicitly threatened her career in film and television, then raped her on the floor of his office. She was working for him on a TV show at the time, in 1996, and recalls him saying, “Do you really want to continue working?” when she tried to escape his grasp.
Haggis cuts a somewhat different figure in Hollywood than Harvey Weinstein, Bret Ratner, and other prominent industry power-brokers who have been accused of serial sexual predation and assault in recent months. Ratner and Weinstein had long-simmering reputations for exploitative and abusive treatment of women whose careers they could make or break, and were seen as successful businessmen but not necessarily revered for their artistic output. Haggis is not of their prominence — but has built a decades-long career based more on the sense that his work is interesting than on the reputation that he holds the keys to lock or unlock doors all across the industry.
Crash, his 2004 movie depicting racism in saccharine, simplistic vignettes featuring a bevy of well-known actors, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Million Dollar Baby, which Haggis wrote, had won the award the prior year. He went on to write two other screenplays directed by Clint Eastwood and two entries in the James Bond franchise, with each film being received by critics as a serious, high-brow piece of work.
Haggis has had his turn in front of the camera, too. When acclaimed documentary director Alex Gibney set out to adapt Lawrence Wright’s book-length investigation of the Church of Scientology, he made interviews with Haggis the centerpiece of his film — which shows the Crash director grappling bluntly with his own long ties to the organization and describing it as a subtly exploitative and frighteningly aggressive power-behind-the-throne across the entertainment business.
Haggis now accuses the women accusing him of rape and assault of potentially doing Scientology’s bidding. “Mr. Haggis also questions whether Scientology has any role here, which he notes has been attacking him for years with false accusations,” attorney Christine Lepera told reporters following the second wave of allegations.
While the tax-exempt global organization does have a reputation for using nefarious tactics to keep tabs on apostates, Haggis and Lepera have not put forth any evidence of connections to support their public speculation about the women’s motives and ties. The AP notes that each of the women interviewed denied any connection to the organization.
Hollywood is Scientology’s base of power. Since being founded by L. Ron Hubbard more than half a century ago, the organization has primarily trained its mix of basic psychology practices and pseudo-science “stress tests” on would-be entertainers.
John Travolta, Tom Cruise, and scores of other prominent filmmakers, actors, musicians, and backstage moguls have seen career success while under the sway of Hubbard’s tortuous scriptures. Gibney’s documentary depicts the group as latching onto such men and women early in their careers, tapping into their darkest fears and insecurities, then keeping a hold on their minds by associating the individual’s success with their involvement in the group’s practices — including the financial requirements that Hubbard’s organization used to amass a gigantic global real estate empire.
Breest’s attorneys, who come from a firm prominent both for its civil rights work and its litigation on behalf of television and music industry stars, blasted Haggis’ counter-suit and extortion claims in a statement.
“In an act of remarkable hubris, Mr. Haggis has the temerity to claim that he, not her, was the victim. It is a preposterous and transparent PR stunt that will not succeed,” attorney Jonathan Abady said.
“This case has nothing whatsoever to do with Scientology. It has everything to do with Paul Haggis,” Abady’s partner Ilann Maazel said.