February 19, 2008

Are illegal tactics against Scientology justified?

I have been closely following the exploits of Anonymous with no small amount of fascination. For those living in a cave on Venus, Anonymous is a hacktivist group that made headlines late last month by declaring war on the Church of Scientology and by launching several initiatives to that end - some legal, some not so legal.

At first I was delighted by the news. Finally, I thought, somebody is actually doing something about this blight. As my readers know, I'm no fan of Scientology. I've spoken out against their unscrupulousness for some time now. I have friends who have been persecuted by the cult and know of others who have been caught in their brain-washing web. I’ve also had my own run-ins with the group and their drones.

But the more I consider the actions of Anonymous, the more I am convinced that they're going about their campaign in the wrong way. Yes, there are advantages to a devil-may-care approach and its attendant publicity, but ultimately I think their strategy will fail. By stooping down to the level of the Scientologists and engaging in illegal activities, Anonymous puts itself at considerable risk. At the same time they undermine more legitimate efforts to see Scientology finally branded as the anti-social money-grubbing racket that it is.

The story so far

Anonymous first emerged this past January in response to Scientology’s rather laughable effort to ban a scandalous video of Tom Cruise enthusiastically praising the virtues of Scientology. Anonymous launched their campaign, called Project Chanology, by publicly launching a creepy-as-hell YouTube video titled, “Message to Scientology” on January 21, 2008. In the video Anonymous accused Scientology of promoting internet censorship while declaring their own goal of working to see Scientology expelled from the internet. Anonymous, which appears to be made up of a disparate collection of hackers and activists, state that they are "everyone and everywhere" and have "no leaders."

Following the release of the video, Anonymous launched a number of denial-of-service attacks, black faxes, prank calls, and other measures meant to disrupt Scientology’s operations.

Earlier this month, Anonymous shifted to legal methods, including an attempt to get the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to investigate the Church of Scientology's tax exempt status.

Anonymous also organized a number of world-wide protests. Participants were invited to put on a mask (to retain anonymity) and protest outside Scientology centers. Much to my amazement, the Toronto rally attracted nearly 50 masked protesters. Similar scenes were played out in over 90 locations around the world and involved over 7,000 protesters.

Pros and Cons

Without a doubt, Anonymous has done more in the past two months than any other group to make it socially acceptable to protest against Scientology. By disingenuously hiding behind the shield of religious freedom, and by relentlessly harassing its critics, Scientology has thus far successfully quashed any attempt at protest and action.

Anonymous is changing this. Thanks to their high-profile campaign – illegal or otherwise – they have raised awareness and made it possible for people to feel that they can organize and protest against the cult. And this may in fact turn out to be Anonymous’s greatest victory. The publicity spawned by their efforts may eventually instigate political action.

And it has been the utter lack of political action in North America that has forced a clandestine vigilante group to emerge in the first place. While European countries like Germany and France are working to ban Scientology on the grounds that they violate human rights and take advantage of the vulnerable, it is a vastly different story here in North America. Our misguided mandate to unquestioningly honor all forms of religious expression has created a loophole for Scientology enabling it to spread its memetic cancer. And virtually nobody does anything about it—and those few who do are ignored or declared to be intolerant.

Which is why Anonymous has emerged and why they feel they have had to take matters into their own hands. Unfortunately, they have decided to launch some questionable practices of their own, namely illegal tactics like denial-of-service attacks.

While there's a certain satisfaction in seeing Scientology on the receiving end, this is not a viable long-term strategy. It's clearly a form of harassment; the authorities have already been involved. A worst case scenario may see Anonymous’s members being charged with instigating hate crimes (should its members be uncovered, of course -- which brings to mind another issue: given the distributed and collaborative nature of the group, can there such a thing as distributed guilt?).

These approaches may also perpetuate a persecution complex among Scientologists and prompt them to defend their religious freedoms even further. As Scientology critic Andreas Heldal-Lund has said, "Attacking Scientology like that will just make them play the religious persecution card ... They will use it to defend their own counter actions when they try to shatter criticism and crush critics without mercy."

What’s next?

Ultimately, Anonymous’s goal of wanting to have Scientology wiped off the internet will fail. As showcased by the Tom Cruise video, when an attempt is made to remove something from the internet, the opposite actually happens – what’s known as the Streisand Effect.

Moreover, illegal tactics will only take away from those genuine efforts that could actually work to see Scientology legislated into oblivion. If France and Germany can work to do it, so can the United States and Canada.

Finally, because Anonymous has proven effective at generating publicity and for its masterly methods at organizing dissent, they should concentrate their energy and skills in this area. By getting people out into the streets, and by broadcasting the sins of Scientology, political and legal action may soon follow.

This is a process that will require patience, persistence and action. As Trey Parker and Matt Stone have proclaimed, the "million-year war for Earth has only just begun.”


zeus said...

Good article. You must of course remember that the protests and such are trying hard to remove themselves from the illegal activities that some seem to have taken.

one need only look at http://www.youfoundthecard.com/ or some of the other organisational wiki's to see what emphasis they are putting on staying safe & legally protesting. (which actually has a fair few restrictions in the UK)

Such is the nature of anon though, that there will always be those who do things in the name of anon with best ideologies at heart, but not in the most... legal, of ways.

however, anon is educated, well informed, tech savy, and may well be something good that's spawned from the "internet hate machine", if only to give Scientology the bad press it so deserves.

zeus said...

oh oh, I completely forgot to answer the post title:

illegal activities are not justified, more importantly though, they are no needed to bring attention the the problem.

illegal activities should be avoided if only to demonise and further highlight the volume of illegal/immoral activities perpetrated by the "church"

Anonymous said...

One thing you're not really considering here is that COS kills people. They're making greater and greater inroads into the goverment and municipal establishments in Florida and, I understand, in Washington, DC. Enough is enough.

justin said...

Without a doubt the illegal and tasteless actions that Anonymous has taken shouldn't be condoned or encouraged. Anonymous is simply a popular internet fad that is attracting new-age kids by planning a protest and inviting them to re-enact the V for Vendetta movie.

Also, in regards to the Church of Scientology killing people . . . the Church of Scientology is not a death machine, and has actually helped hundreds of thousands of people. I've experienced first hand a great group of Scientologists that were also teachers (at a school) take their own time and teach for two weeks kids and teachers in Thailand English and exchange learning methods (both the Scientologists and the Thai teachers swapped learning methods and ideals).

For those looking for impartial answers concerning many hot Scientology topics I would recommend http://www.scientologymyths.info That website doesn't pull information from official Church of Scientology websites, nor from criticizing websites but from third party and independent sources (such as court documents, university studies, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is related to 4chan which is full of pretty much the sickest stuff you will ever see on the internet. From cartoon images of furries having sex to women being cut up. This is another one of their attempts to get lulz. Scientology just happened to get under their skin for whatever reason so they took it to the next level. Eventually they will get bored and move on to something else. It's not some organization of hackers and activists working towards anything, although they might have picked up a few of those at the protest. They are a bunch of fat internet nerds who harrass innocent people for a laugh. It just so happens that their current target is a business cult disguised as a religion.

John said...

Scientology is crazy... I watched a BBC Panorama documentary on it. Off topic: I love the V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks... I watched that movie again the other night, brilliant... I'm wearing that costume for Halloween this year :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous' new tenet is "Do nothing illegal" ever since Mark Bunker stated his opinion on the DDOS attacks against Scientology.

The Anons have discovered the true way of Peaceful Activism and come March 15th they will gather all across the world to get their messages out.

Anonymous said...

Alright, in response to the hacking, Anonymous has officially backed off DDoS... which, to be honest, isn't hacking. It's running a script anyone whose taken Computer Science 3 can make. Its the internet equivalent of tp'ing someone's house: it looks bad, takes a while to clean up, but leaves no permanent scars. It should be noted, though, that in a group as vast as Anonymous, we have trouble keeping everyone in line. We are as a whole dedicated to the idea of protesting peacefully though.

Any of you who are declaring anonymous are a bunch of fat nerds sitting in their basements, well, you can kiss my 'pale white butt', so to speak. We are a lot more varied than you simply want to believe, we have scientology on the defensive, and Anonymous NEVER accepts defeat. Anonymous will ALWAYS deliver.

We are Anonymous.
We are legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.

Expect us.

Anonymous said...

scientologymyths.info is a Scientology-run site.
The Church of Scientology, in its seeming obsession to distribute disinformation, has many front groups that range from Narconon to the "Citizens Commission on Human Rights" (CCHR). Many of its "facts" and "proof" are self-generated, not open to peer-review, and generally outright fabrications.
"The only way to control people is to lie to them," -L. Ron Hubbard

Bob Mottram said...

Frankly I'm not interested in scientology and utterly bored by the whole thing. All the hoo-haar is merely giving this cult media coverage and probably boosting their recruitment, whilst distracting people's attention from far more important issues.

1hundredwords said...

Whilst I believe that Scientology is malevolent and not to be encouraged I do believe that censorship and taking illegal action is wrong.

Where do you draw the line with these things? Russia is using the same arguments as the Germans and French use against Scientology to ban Evangelical Christians and Catholics. Is it OK to bomb Scientology centers just like abortion clinics?

Protest by all means and use rational debate and education as persuasion.

As soon as something is banned it goes underground. Immediately it has a greater cache and attraction particularly for the young.

AF said...

"For those looking for impartial answers concerning many hot Scientology topics I would recommend http://www.scientologymyths.info ..."

And thus we know that Justin is a Scientology shill, because anyone who does the slightest bit of research quickly discovers that scientologymyths.info exists only to repeat the "Church" of Scientology's favored lies. A few examples, easily found:


"It has been alleged falsely that a former member could be declared Fair Game, meaning that illegal actions could be taken against these persons with impunity.

The policy of Fair Game does not currently exist within the Church. There was an early policy on Fair Game that was cancelled in 1968. The purpose of that policy was to make it known that a person who has left the Church was no longer entitled to the privileges of membership."


* L. Ron Hubbard declared the policy of Fair Game in the following words: "May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed." It is ridiculous to think that this policy was to be read as "you can deprive them of property, but only in legal ways. you can injure them, but only in legal ways. you can destroy them, but only in legal ways."

* The 1968 policy letter which Scientologists falsely claim cancelled the policy of Fair Game read as follows: "The practice of declaring people FAIR GAME will cease. FAIR GAME may not appear on any Ethics Order. It causes bad public relations. This P/L does not cancel any policy on the treatment or handling of an SP." It's right there in black-and-white: the only thing that has changed about the Fair Game policy is the name, and the only reason is bad public relations.

* The Church does not just deprive former members of "the privileges of membership" but takes active retributive action, much of it illegal. In Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology (1989) the Court found as fact that the Church had given orders to Scientologists who had previously done business with Wollersheim that they were to illegally renege on any payment that they owed to him, to cause him economic harm. The Court found that "[Wollersheim] was bankrupted by a campaign his former religionists carefully designed with the specific intent it bankrupt him. Nor was this campaign limited to means which are arguably legal ..." It is worth noting that the Church's primary defense was not claiming that the "Fair Game" policy had not existed since 1968 -- the Church's primary defense was to claim that its "right" to take retributive action against former members was a "core practice of Scientology" and as such should be considered protected religious expression. (The Court, of course, disagreed.)


"Was L. Ron Hubbard involved in a satanic cult before he founded Scientology?

This is an odd myth, but it makes its rounds, so I dug up some information on it. This has to do with Aleister Crowley. The facts: Hubbard was not involved in the group, but was sent in to investigate it. The following from the Times explains it all."


* Here is the first paragraph of "the following from the Times", verbatim:

"ON 5 OCTOBER, 1969, Spectrum published an article "The odd beginning of Ron Hubbard's Career." The Church of Scientology has sent us the following information:"

The supposedly "impartial answer", the "facts" that scientologymyths.info claims to deliver ... turns out to be a Church of Scientology press release. And as it happens, the original of the statement sent to the Times was entered in evidence during the 1984 Armstrong trial. It was in L. Ron Hubbard's own handwriting.

* Many of the claims made by the CoS press release are contrary to known fact. For instance, the house was not torn down. The black magic group which was operating in Jack Parsons' house in Pasadena, California, continued to operate even after Hubbard ran away with Parsons' girlfriend (later his second wife, by a bigamous marriage) and much of Parsons' money; it was hardly "dispersed and destroyed and ... never recovered" as Hubbard falsely claimed.

* If the 1969 press release by the Church of Scientology were to be taken at face value, then we would have to conclude that in 1946, when Hubbard went on his supposed "mission" to rescue nuclear physicists from the influence of "the infamous English black magician Aleister Crowley", that he was opposed to Crowley -- according to Hubbard, though Crowley was not there at the Pasadena house but still over in England, even the indirect influence of Crowley from across the Atlantic was so baleful that the "nuclear physicists" had to be rescued from it. And, of course, we would have to think that Hubbard held the same view in 1969, since he describes Crowley as "the infamous English black magician", not as someone who was believed to be that at the time. Yet between Hubbard's purported "mission" in 1946 and his account of his "mission" in 1969, Hubbard referred to Crowley in a 1952 lecture as "the late Aleister Crowley, my very good friend". (Philadelphia Doctorate Course lecture 18, Conditions of Space/Time/Energy) Does the Church of Scientology explain how Crowley went from being the "infamous" figure who necessitated Hubbard's "mission" to being Hubbard's "very good friend" just six years later, and then back to being "the infamous ... Crowley 'the beast 666'"?

It should be noted, by the way, that Crowley and Hubbard never met or corresponded, and Crowley's correspondence refers to Hubbard as a "lout" who was playing "the ordinary confidence trick" on Parsons. Calling Crowley "my very good friend" was just another of Hubbard's lies.


"Is auditing a cure for cancer?

Many people have had tremendous spiritual and physical improvements from auditing. But auditing is not, nor does it claim to be a cure for cancer, or a cure of any illness."


* Hubbard claimed auditing to be the cure for a great many illnesses, including cancer. This was well-established in the 1965 Report of the Board of Enquiry into Scientology by Kevin Victor Anderson, Q.C., also known as The Anderson Report. Chapter 19 quotes Hubbard himself in A History of Man: "Cancer has been eradicated by auditing out conception and mitosis". It could not be clearer than that.

* Auditing is still being claimed as a cure for illness. The CoS, after all, is still publishing on the dianetics.org website the following claims by Hubbard:

"[The reactive mind] can give a man arthritis, bursitis, asthma, allergies, sinusitis, coronary trouble, high blood pressure and so on, down the whole catalog of psychosomatic [sic] ills, adding a few more which were never specifically classified as psychosomatic, such as the common cold. And it is the only thing in the human being which can produce these effects. ... Discharge the content of this mind’s bank [i.e., through auditing] and the arthritis vanishes, myopia gets better, heart illness decreases, asthma disappears, stomachs function properly and the whole catalog of ills goes away and stays away."

No one who was actually trying to provide fact-based, impartial information about Scientology would make a ludicrous claim such as "auditing is not, nor does it claim to be ... a cure of any illness."


"Does Scientology have a drill called TR-L that teaches people how to lie?

No. Scientology tries to help people live better and more honest lives, not the opposite."


* Scientology does indeed have a training routine, or "TR", whose purpose is "To train the student to outflow false data effectively." This document was entered into the court record by High Court Justice Latey in a 1984 custody trial.

* Not only does Scientology have a drill called "TR-L" which teaches the student "how to outflow false data effectively", the Church of Scientology itself has brought this to the attention of the courts, when it has been advantageous. When former Scientologists were to testify to a Canadian court in 1992 about their roles in Scientology's illegal government infiltration plan "Operation Snow White", Scientology's defense lawyer said that their testimony could not be trusted as they had taken special training in how to lie.

* Note that the false answer given to this question does not even attempt to discuss the facts of the matter, but instead tries to substitute an "answer by aspiration": an "answer" that would only be an actual answer if everyone in the world were 100% faithful to their external declarations and 100% faithful to their internal resolutions. If the question was "Have Roman Catholic priests ever sexually molested children?" it would of course be contrary to fact to respond "No." It would be not just false, but perhaps indicative of an intent to deceive, to respond "No, the Roman Catholic Church forbids its priests to have sexual contact, and molesting children would be especially sinful" -- an attempt is being made to answer the question "Should" someone have done this thing?" instead of the question asked, which was "Did this entity do this thing?" There is one thing this answer is definitely not: it is not the "impartial answer" that Scientology shill Justin claimed scientologymyths.info would provide.

1hundredwords said...

The debate is turning into an exercise in pedantry. Who are the more creepy and obsessed The Scientologists or The Anonymous? :-)

AF said...

1hundredwords --

Scientology maintains a belief that 2.5% of the world's population are what they call "Suppressive Persons". Scientologists believe that these "SPs" are irreparably, irredeemably evil and should be "disposed of quietly and without sorrow". And also according to Scientology, saying anything against Scientology, or choosing to leave Scientology, or even not receiving any benefit from Scientology, are signs that someone is an SP.

You can believe, if you choose, that it's more "creepy and obsessed" to oppose a group which believes that it knows 2.5% of the world which should be "disposed of quietly and without sorrow", but I think most people would disagree.

Anonymous said...

Thanks "af" for clarifying those numerous whitewashes. You are doing, legally what should be done. Informing the people is one the best ways of exposing the hidden agendas of such an organization as COS

1hundredwords said...

I am not interested in playing semantics or in the beliefs of The Church of Scientology.

Having done some research into The Anonymous I have concluded that The Anonymous are a group of failed geeks and nerds who take delight in annoying people.

By setting out to prey on the well known paranoia of the Church of Scientology The Anonymous are just promoting Scientology all over the net.

Their video is a parody but it may inspire some people to investigate the CoS to find out about their beliefs thereby putting them at risk.

The Anonymous are doing more harm than good.

1hundredwords said...

I am not interested in The Church of Scientology or what they believe I am however, interested in the issues raised by The Anonymous' actions.

From the research that I have done I have concluded that The Anonymous are a group of failed nerds and geeks who take delight in annoying people.

Their latest campaign and sets out to play on the well known paranoia of the CoS.

My concerns are twofold. Firstly that by their actions The Anonymous are in fact publicizing Scientology all over the net. For example in this blog.

Secondly, their video is a parody but it will inspire people, young people, to find out about Scientology.

The Anonymous are doing more harm than good but they are too stupid to realize it.

AF said...

Thank you for your input, 1hundredwords. I am curious exactly how anyone could think they'd come to a meaningful conclusion about the makeup of a group whose membership is, by definition, anonymous -- but if you think that you come across as a solid researcher who is throwing around epithets like "failed nerds and geeks" only after careful study and sober reflection, you're entitled to think that.

As for publicizing Scientology, I'm afraid you're being a bit naive. Scientology would be publicized whether Anonymous said anything or not, whether Anonymous existed or not. The difference Anonymous is making is that more people who would be hearing about Scientology only through Scientology's shills (like our friend "Justin") are instead going to hear the things that Scientology wishes would never be heard by anyone. The difference between Anonymous and the Church of Scientology is that Anonymous wants people to make an informed choice about trusting their money or their well-being to Scientology.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

--"It should be noted, by the way, that Crowley and Hubbard never met or corresponded, and Crowley's correspondence refers to Hubbard as a "lout" who was playing "the ordinary confidence trick" on Parsons. Calling Crowley "my very good friend" was just another of Hubbard's lies."--

Thank you for pointing this out. Crowley's group, the Ordo Templi Orientis, has been taking heat for over 20 years from anti-$cientology groups and individuals for supposed "connections" to Hubbard and $cn. We want nothing to do with Mr. Hubbard nor his organization. Thank you for your efforts to at last unravel the Hubbard/Crowley connection myth.