A smiling Katie Holmes uttered her first public words Wednesday after declaring her independence from estranged hubby Tom Cruise.
"I'm all right," the 33-year-old actress told the Daily News as she pushed a shopping cart carrying the couple's adorable daughter Suri.
"Thank you," she said graciously.
Holmes flashed a grin as she strolled the aisles of a Whole Foods grocery store in Chelsea and picked up the ingredients for a Fourth of July feast: ground beef, hamburger rolls, strawberries and bananas.
Holmes also grabbed a new sun hat, which a laughing Suri plopped on her head to mug for her appreciative mom.
The twosome was accompanied by a security guard on their Wednesday morning shopping spree.
As they left the store, 6-year-old Suri gave her doting mother a big holiday hug.
With Katie, it's like she’s taking a leaf from L. Ron Hubbard's own playbook," says Marc Headley, an ex-Scientologist who fled the church with the help of police in 2005 after years spent working closely with Cruise and his close friend, Scientology's powerful and feared chairman, David Miscavige. "Hubbard always said: Attack, don’t defend."
Holmes appears more aggressive and fearless than those who have taken steps to distance themselves from the church or have "blown" -- Scientology parlance for leaving the church -- according to onetime key members of the church who have left, many after years of soul searching, and endured what they claim was often harassment, intimidation and being cut off from their families.
But some of Holmes’ apparent courage could stem from the fact that many of the high-ranking Scientologists who ran interference for Cruise during his marriage to Kidman and often discouraged or intimidated mainstream media from reporting on Scientology have left the church. A number of them are now actively working against Miscavige and Cruise by spilling church secrets to the very reporters they once threatened.
Even Jenna Miscavige Hill, David Miscavige's niece, who left the church in 2005, issued a statement Tuesday in support of Holmes and any concern she has over her daughter's involvement in the church.
"My experience in growing up in Scientology is that it is both mentally and at times physically abusive," Jenna said. "I was allowed to see my parents only once a week at best -- sometimes not for years. We got a lousy education from unqualified teachers, forced labor, long hours, forced confessions, being held in rooms, not to mention the mental anguish of trying to figure out all of the conflicting information they force upon you as a young child. ... As a mother myself, I offer my support to Katie and wish for her all the strength she will need to do what is best for her and her daughter."
Katie ambushed Tom Cruise and in so doing outwitted some of the most controlling people on earth," says Karen De La Carriere, who was once one of the most powerful executives in Scientology and was married to Heber Jentzsch, Scientology's longtime president who mysteriously hasn't been seen in years. De La Carriere shocked the church by leaving in 2010 and telling secrets in anti-Miscavige blogs -- including her claim that she was kept for six months against her will at the secretive church base camp near Hemet, Calif. "I have no doubt that she’s being tailed by them. It's par for the course. But she had to have planned this very carefully, right down to using disposable cell phones and laptops to throw people off her trail. It had to have been a very cloak-and-dagger operation."
A former Scientologist with close ties to members of Cruise's family says his adopted daughter Isabella worked for Holmes at her clothing line, Holmes and Yang, and was abruptly fired about two months ago.
"There was never any trouble between them," says the source. "Bella called Katie ‘Mom.’ She was fired out of the blue and once Katie filed for divorce, it all made sense. This was a carefully planned ambush. Katie didn’t want Bella working for her anymore because she was Tom’s kid."
Backed by her family, according to sources, especially her father who is a divorce attorney, and perhaps emboldened by the increasing critiques and exposés of the church by former top members, Holmes is standing up to Scientology in a way that was almost unthinkable in 2001.
"This was a very bold move on Katie’s part, but at the same time she knows these are different times and she has more support," says De La Carriere, who joined the church’s elite and secretive Sea Organization in the early 1970s at the invitation of the late church founder Hubbard and is the last surviving top "auditor" to be trained by him. (Auditing is a form of counseling central to Scientology philosophy.)
One anti-Scientology activist who has worked with church members after they left the organization recalls that Kidman called him during her divorce from Cruise. "Nicole reached out to us because there was really no one else to go to," the source says. "It was very different back then and she didn’t have anyone to go to for help and answers."
Rathbun says Cruise was a "total gentleman" during his divorce from Kidman, and they split everything, including custody of their adopted daughter and son, Isabella and Connor, 50-50.
But Rathburn says that then the organization, including all the staff members who work in Cruise’s Los Angeles home, began to quietly turn the kids against Kidman.
Rathbun says he witnessed Tommy Davis, head of the church’s Celebrity Centre and the son of actress Anne Archer, feeding Isabella and Connor Cruise false information about their mother so as to turn them against her.
"Tommy told them over and over again their mother was a sociopath and after a while they believed him," Rathbun says. "They had daily sessions with Tommy. I was there. I saw it."
Tom Cruise's lawyer says his client will file a rival divorce case but will not reveal where.
Bert Fields also revealed he's allowing Katie Holmes' legal team to "play the media" before allowing Cruise to tell his side of the marriage breakdown.
Fields said that Tom Cruise was "very sad" about the breakdown of his five-year marriage.
"We are letting 'the other side' (Katie and her team), play the media until they wear everyone out and then we'll have something to say.
"It's not Tom's style to do this publicly. He is really sad about what's happening.