For a lot of his life, L Ron Hubbard believed that "they" were out to bring down Scientology – and him. Mostly, it was the work of the same overactive imagination which made him a successful science fiction writer and, many would agree, created the Church of Scientology itself. But were Hubbard alive today, he would have sound backing for his anxiety. A group with the suitably sinister-sounding handle of ‘Anonymous’ has declared war on Scientology.
For long-term followers of the saga that is "Scientology versus the Internet", this is nothing new. This latest chapter arose as a rejoinder to the release of a video depicting Tom Cruise giving a bizarre speech at a Scientology awards ceremony. The Church of Scientology (CoS) responded with a series of takedown notices and claims of copyright violation in an attempt to remove the video.
Taking this as an attack on free speech and freedom of information, Anonymous retaliated by posting a number of provocative videos, and launching Denial of Service (DoS) attacks against Scientology-owned websites. Since these actions in late January, the campaign has evolved into co-ordinated protests and information dissemination of a more sophisticated bent.
The Anonymous movement maintains a regularly updated wiki-style site as well as a number of chatroom "hubs". One of the more prominent of these is Enturbulation.org, a site designed "to assist people with information concerning the Scientology Organisation and to encourage activism in spreading awareness". Part of this involved hosting forums in order to assist with the co-ordination of a worldwide protest outside Scientology offices on 10 February.
Anonymous has made some fairly provocative statements towards the CoS. These include allegations of active misuse of copyright and trademark law "in pursuit of its own agenda", and that they, "attempted not only to subvert free speech, but to recklessly pervert justice to silence those who spoke out against them".
For a number of Anonymous members, another major concern is the CoS’s use of threats of litigious action to cow mainstream media outlets into toning down their coverage. Other known avenues of harassment include the covert videotaping of "suppressive persons", which Enturbulation.org webmaster "tamphex" claims he has recently been subject to.
"There are certainly a lot of more-than-justified reasons for the attention now turned onto them," says tamphex. "Harassment of outspoken critics; a tax exemption which no other religion around the world has access to; offering ‘religious scripture’ (referred to as ‘Tech’) which has outrageous claims of total salvation.
"However, if I was to place my finger on the one glaringly obvious reason why the CoS needs to be exposed on a worldwide basis, is the victimisation of their very own followers. It is only through a series of "auditing", book buying, tape buying, movie buying, more auditing sessions, rinse and repeat, can a follower expect to reach the state of ‘Clear’ (Cos notion of enlightenment). Unlike other religious organisations around the world, all of this comes at a price. Not just thousands of dollars, but actual forced disconnection from family and friends if they also do not decide to join the ‘Church’."
Andreas Heldal-Lund runs Operation Clambake, one of the best known websites claiming to "undress the Church of Scientology". He has publicly criticised the attacks by Anonymous: "Freedom of speech means we need to allow all to speak – including those we strongly disagree with. I am of the opinion that the Church of Scientology is a criminal organisation and a cult which is designed by its delusional founder to abuse people. I am still committed to fight for their right to speak their opinion."
Asking tamphex whether the DoS attacks achieved anything, he answers:
"As far as the DoS attacks go, I was not involved in any form whatsoever so cannot comment on that directly. But I will say this: the media likes to throw the word ‘attack’ around quite a lot, as they know the public’s ears will prick up. A few thousand people all going to a website at once does not bring up the same visuals if I was to say the CoS has been known to beat its followers if they fail during extensive OT (Operating Thetan) auditing sessions, does it? One of these things is harmless, the other is not."
Is Scientology as big a menace as it’s made out to be, and if so, the question must surely be: what next? What, in tamphex’s view, is Anonymous trying to achieve?
"The goals are ambitious, very much so. I doubt any of us are unfortunately ever going to bear witness to [the downfall of the CoS], but what we may see and I think [are]capable of accomplishing is the total revoke of their tax exemption status. They can believe in space aliens in volcanoes, that’s not our concern – that’s not what we’re attacking. What we are attacking is the fact they dare call themselves a church, a religion. That needs to change."
With all of that on the table, is it worth the risk of Anonymous being seen as a just a bunch of mischief makers? Indeed, might the whole exercise not prove counterproductive, by increasing publicity for the CoS?
The response is emphatic. "No, definitely not. The CoS could be viewed as an amusement, a traveling Victorian Freak show, a fascinating example of human insanity – if not for the victims they leave in their wake. It is these people that concern me and many, many others. The CoS with their million-dollar lawsuits to silence ex-Scientologists, slander in websites designed to dirty their name, calling employers and getting them fired, telling neighbours that they are paedophiles or drug dealers. This is only the tip of a very dark iceberg and we plan to turn that iceberg upside down for all the world to see."
For further reading on Scientology, see this intriguing chart.
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