When Benjamin Rinder was a kindergartner, he wrote a letter to his dad telling him about school and going swimming. In a young child’s scrawl, the salutation is “Dear Mike Rinder.”
Benjamin’s sister, Taryn, five years older than her brother, has kept the letter all these years and says the salutation is very telling. “He didn’t think to say, ‘Dear Dad.’ I think that’s because he really did not consider he had a dad, and I think he didn’t consider him worthy of the title ‘Dad,’ even at that age,” Taryn said. She kept other letters from Benjamin with the same greeting to their father. “That was our life, with ‘Dad’ Mike Rinder.”
Benjamin ‘Ben’ Rinder, now an adult, long ago came to grips with the fact he did not have a father he could turn to—a lesson learned through some of his life’s most weighty, and deadly, events.
“I did not find him as someone I could confide in or talk to or [get] help to deal with my problems at all,” Ben says about his childhood with Mike Rinder. To the contrary, his mother’s account portrays a boy under the strain of a father who was mostly cold and indifferent, and who tried to force his son into his own image and ridiculed him as a “wuss” and a “pussy” when he did not meet expectations. Said Ben, “The idea I got was that he was very not interested in my well-being, what I did or anything.”
The negative relationship Ben endured throughout his childhood hit a new low in June 2007 when Mike Rinder deserted his family and dropped all contact with his children. Nine months later, in early 2008, it sank to a new depth again for Benjamin when, at age 24, a growth below his right eye was diagnosed as desmoplastic melanoma—one of the rarest and most aggressive types of invasive skin cancer.
“I was diagnosed with cancer and that’s a rough time for someone,” recalled Ben, whose doctors gave him the grim prognosis that he had only several years to live. “To have to think about that and think about the decisions and then not have a father figure there for you—I find it, I don’t know, maybe I’m selfish, but [it’s] selfish on his part that there’s absolutely nothing.”
The prescribed medical course to increase Ben’s chances of survival consisted of multiple disfiguring surgeries and rigorous, painful treatments. Ben, a member of the Church of Scientology religious order in Clearwater, Florida, was afforded the best of care, including the foremost specialists and treatment in malignant melanoma to save the young man’s life.
Ben’s first surgery was in March 2008. There was another surgery in April and yet another in July, after more cancer was discovered, followed by intensive radiation treatment.
“They made him an iron skull and for six weeks, every single day, he had to go get the highest level of radiation treatment in his eye, his whole face,” Ben’s mother, Cathy, recalled.
After that came reconstruction. “Most of the right side of his face was removed to the bone,” his mother said of the procedures leading to his fourth and final surgery in April 2009. “His face was reattached to his eye socket, and his eyelid and face were reconstructed with plastic surgery.”
— BENJAMIN RINDER
It had been 13 horrendous months. But “Dear Mike Rinder” was nowhere to be found. He was by then living in Denver, Colorado, with a girlfriend. His wife, Cathy, even traveled to Denver to make him aware of their son’s situation, only to learn that Mike was adamant he did not want to speak to her.
Two months later, in June 2009, Cathy was interviewed by a St. Petersburg Times, Florida, reporter preparing a story involving Mike Rinder. Cathy put on the record that Rinder was so out of touch with his family he did not know his son was ill. The reporter also spoke to Rinder and published the fact that since he left the Church in 2007, “Rinder has had no contact” with his family “and didn’t know their 24-year-old son battled cancer the past 18 months.”
Still Rinder made no attempt to get in contact with his family.
“So I could have died, he wouldn’t have even known,” said Ben of his father. “I guess I would say I felt irrelevant to his life.”
Ben was in recovery in late 2009 when Mike Rinder took up a job offer in Florida’s Tampa Bay area. Rinder moved first to Safety Harbor and then to Tarpon Springs, both cities in a 15-mile radius of his son, who worked at the Church’s Fort Harrison religious retreat in Clearwater.
Mike Rinder again made no attempt to contact Ben, or even to find out from Cathy about his condition. But when Ben’s horrifying ordeal was nearly over, Mike Rinder did carry out one of the most shameless scams any father has ever pulled on their child.
It was April 2010, 10 months since Mike Rinder knew of his son’s cancer from the St. Petersburg Times. By now the Church had supported the family through the preceding two years, seen to the treatment that saved Ben’s life, and arranged for every aspect of his full recovery.
But “Dear Mike Rinder”? He by now had fully entrenched himself in a posse of bitter anti-Church malcontents, led by expelled former Scientologist Mark “Marty” Rathbun.
Rathbun later recounted in a 2017 YouTube video: “Rinder took great offense to the fact that the Church was responding to him attacking the Church by saying, ‘Well, he left his kids behind and doesn’t care about them.’ And he would bemoan that over and over and over again.
“And so I said, ‘Hey, if it bothers you that much that people are saying that, why don’t we go down and attempt to go see your kid?’” Rinder jumped on Rathbun’s proposition, which included capturing the attempt on video.
Knowing the Church would not open its doors to a video ambush, much less by hostile apostates Rinder and Rathbun, was exactly the reason they hatched the plan. “The Church isn’t going to let us, and therefore we can put it on tape,” Rathbun further recounted telling Rinder. “And it can show that you did have concern for your kid but they didn’t allow it to happen.”
So Mike Rinder hooked up with a tabloid TV reporter friend, arranged for a videographer, and on April 14, 2010, he and Rathbun stormed up to the Fort Harrison—camera rolling—to “see Benjamin.”
Rinder was staging the charade like a cosmetic operation, attempting to rebuild his image in much the same way physicians had used plastic surgery to rebuild Benjamin’s face. Unfortunately for Mike Rinder, his operation was a total failure.
When the unwelcome crew trespassed on the Church facility, police were called. Rinder claimed he was being prevented from seeing his son. But from there, his plan began falling apart when an officer then offered to personally inform Benjamin his father was outside and to escort the young man out.
“Rinder’s like, ‘No, no, that’s okay,’” recounted Rathbun. “He didn’t want to do it. I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Benjamin Rinder, who was inside in a sauna, recalls the scene: “Two policemen come in, ‘We need to see you.’ So I got up, out of the sauna. They said, ‘Your dad is at the front of the building and he wants to see you, he’s waiting for you.’” Ben was informed of the circumstances of the visit, including the video camera.
“For a moment you can think, ‘Oh, maybe there’s a bit of compassion there or care.’ But then you think, ‘Well wait a sec—what’s the only reason he would be standing in front of the Fort Harrison with a camera crew trying to come and get me, getting the police involved?’
“He is just trying to make himself right maybe, or prove a point…and to create a fabricated story or something. And I said, ‘I want nothing to do with him, I don’t want to talk to him, I don’t want to see him. I want nothing to do with him. I’m living my life and I’m figuring it out, and he can live his life and he’s on his own with that.’”
When an officer informed Mike Rinder his son did not wish to speak to him, Rinder’s response? “Okay, good.” Then, turning to a Church staff member on the scene, he imparted his final words: “Stop telling the media that I refuse to talk to [Ben].”
After the group was directed by the police to leave, Rinder began to flaunt his public charade that he was being refused the right to see his son. Yet the very next day, he dropped any pretense of fatherly indignation and gave away his scam in a blog post: Rinder admitted he went to the Fort Harrison only because media had been asking him about his neglect of Benjamin, and were it not for that, he asserted, “I would not have bothered going to the Fort Harrison at all.”
As of a decade later, Rinder had manufactured a new account of events. In a podcast in March 2021, he now asserted that after he learned from the St. Petersburg Times that his son had cancer, “[T]he following morning…I drove to the Fort Harrison, with Marty Rathbun, to see my son—or ask to see my son.” In fact, far from “the following morning,” a full 10 months passed before Rinder and Rathbun staged their video-ambush stunt to try to save Rinder’s reputation.
Benjamin Rinder added a postscript to the story:
“If he cared about me, he would have shown that maybe 25 years ago or 20 years ago or whatever. It was definitely a stunt.
“At this point in my life I think the ship has sailed in terms of me needing a father. I’ve come to terms with that, and that’s the way it is for me. I’m doing totally fine.
“I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and I was supposed to have five years to live and I made some changes….Doctors say, ‘You’ve recovered better than you should have.’ I went from 125 pounds to 180. You know, I’m able to do physical activity. I run. I do exercise four times a week….I’m married and I’m doing totally fine.
“I’m doing awesome, pretty awesome I think.”
And Dear Mike Rinder is still doing all he can to save his own face.