The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology, No. 6: Anonymous

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On August 5, we started a countdown that will give credit -- or blame -- to the people who have contributed most to the sad current state of Scientology. From its greatest expansion in the 1980s, the church is a shell of what it once was and is mired in countless controversies around the world. Some of that was self-inflicted, and some of it has come from outside. Join us now as we continue on our investigation of those people most responsible...



The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology

#6: Anonymous


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Anonymous is a hate group that intimidates its enemies with bomb threats and harmful Internet attacks. At least, that's what Scientology will tell you. And what else is the church going to say? Has any group in history had to deal for so long with such a spontaneously created, massively populated, eternally dedicated and clever-as-hell pain in the ass opposition as the leaderless, nameless legion that is Anonymous?

By now you know the story. An online group that was long on energy and short on attention span that called itself Anonymous suddenly, in January 2008, found something Really Big to do. A strange video of Tom Cruise talking about what he and his Scientologists could do with their special powers surfaced. It was never meant to be seen outside the church, but it was smuggled out to YouTube and quickly became a sensation, only to be pulled down with legal threats by Scientology, which had already long ago made its reputation as a 'net freedom bogeyman. Anonymous sprung into action with Project Chanology. For years, the Internet had been a huge problem for Scientology -- and now, the Internet suddenly grew legs, wore masks, and held protest signs. With so many new critics to worry about, some of the heat was taken off the old guard of Scientology watchers, some of whom had suffered through terrible cases of retaliation and harassment. Today, it's plain that Scientology's spy wing, the Office of Special Affairs, is stretched thin, making it an even safer environment for disaffected church members to leave and announce their freedom.

I thought it would be appropriate to ask Mark Bunker, who had something to do with how that history unfolded, to share some thoughts about Anonymous:

Because I had a hand in leaking the Tom Cruise tape to the net, I felt partly responsible for the initial Anonymous attack on Scientology. I felt I needed to do something to curb the abuses Anons might possibly do and warn Anonymous that they could get into serious trouble as they blindly entered a war with a ruthless organization that had resources to burn. I made a video suggesting that Anonymous should avoid doing illegal stuff and consider some other tactics. To my utter surprise, they understood my message. I offered further suggestions for peaceful protests; rules that Jeff Jacobsen had been advocating for years. When the media wanted to talk to someone from the group, they asked me to speak about them so they could remain anonymous but it was very clear that they didn't need my help. They very quickly got up to speed and set out to chart their own course, taking on Scientology in their own loopy but determined way. They mixed fun with facts and threw in some cake.

A few weeks into their efforts, they launched their first global picket and around ten thousand people turned out in cities across the world to peacefully protest Scientology. They built websites and spread fliers and gave speeches and scared the hell out of Scientology's leaders who had no idea how to bully or intimidate a huge, amorphous, leaderless group of people with no names, all wearing the same Guy Fawkes mask. People had been protesting Scientology since Scientology was formed but never on this scale. And Anonymous added costumes and themes and brought street theater to their events.

As the months wore on, the numbers dwindled but that was to be expected. Some were in it just for the lulz but others came to see that there was a real reason to take action and help those being abused by Scientology. They continued to protest every month, flooded the net with terrific videos and built websites to help the cause. And they showed me that there could be a different way to take on Scientology. Before their first picket they asked me if they should wear masks. I said no. Thank heavens they didn't listen to me because that iconic Guy Fawkes mask has been not just a protection for individual identities but it has created a brand name that gives their actions more power. It's mysterious, a bit frightening and a bit silly all at once.

Anonymous continues to make news for their actions in support of free speech here in the U.S. and abroad. Sometimes their actions cross the line and I'm always sorry to see that. Dozens of Anons have gotten themselves into trouble with the law, often for what I think many of them viewed as simple pranks. But are Anons bad or good? They are both and neither. The actions of one can be used to paint the entire hive-mind as hero or villain and often which they are depends on your own perspective. I always use the example of the Anon who broke into Sarah Palin's email account before the last presidential election when it appeared Palin was using her private e-mail for government business. You may find Anonymous deplorable for doing that but it was also Anonymous who changed Palin's e-mail password so others couldn't get access and alerted her to the break-in.

I've met hundreds of Anons in person and heard from thousands more online. The vast majority have been terrific people from all walks of life. I'm glad they're out there and hope they always find new creative and legal ways to stir things up and make a difference in the world.

Recently, I went to an Anonymous protest at the New York org. There were no Guy Fawkes masks. A city law dating to Klan days prevents the anons from covering up their faces -- which has always made the protests here a little dicier for picketers who didn't especially want the church to know their identities. But even more than three years after the start of this thing, this event was well attended, noisy, and fun. I couldn't help being impressed.

I asked an anon to put together for me a collection of some of the better videos of Anonymous events. Some will mean more to the people in them than to a random viewer perhaps, but I think they do a good job capturing the spirit and energy of this historic movement -- which is still a pain in the ass, and may it never change.


An anon followed by a Scientologist in Columbus, Ohio, after a protest on April 21, 2008

"Why are you guys walking next to each other if you have differing viewpoints?"


Axiom142 chats with an OT8, East Grinstead, UK, August 22, 2009

"I can tell you're stuck in an electronic incident on your whole track."


AnonSparrow, protest at the Washington DC org, July 10, 2010

"I don't care if I hear bad things, I don't care. Because I know what I get [from Scientology]."

"Well, that's why you have protesters, ma'am, because you hear bad things and you don't care. That's the whole point."


Darth Xander at Flag, Scientology headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, July 1st, 2011

What the sign says: "How would you leave the Sea Org if you changed your mind?"


I'm Glib's "We Stand Tall"

Featuring Anonymous protests around the world.


AnonSparrow's Trial Results

Even Moxon is smiling.


The Last Anon's "Please Come Inside (Scientology)"

This one scared the cats here in the underground bunker.


Hamburg Anon's "Cultbusters"

As my anon source says: "Adorable."


San Jose Anon's "Tunak Tunak Tun"

We have no words.


The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#1: L. Ron Hubbard
#2: David Miscavige
#3: Marty Rathbun
#4: Tom Cruise
#5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin
#6: Anonymous
#7: Mark Bunker
#8: Mike Rinder
#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics)
#16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church's HQ
#17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano
#18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons)
#20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures)
#21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church
#22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members)
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
#24: David Touretzky (and other academics)
#25: Xenu, galactic overlord


Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.

tortega@villagevoice.com | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared


SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE

[All recent stories] | [Top 25 People Crippling Scientology] | [Commenters of the Week]

FEATURED INVESTIGATIONS

[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing "disconnection"]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]

MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS

[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun's open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun's cause] | [Squirrel Buster's claim to be making a "documentary"] | [VIDEO: "On a Boat"] | ["Anna" sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology's highest levels]

SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND "FAIR GAME"

[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology's West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology's enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard's remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to "handle" the Voice]

SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES

["Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | ["Tom Cruise not a kook!"] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his "suppressive person" declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology's retaliation is "scary and pathetic"]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo's "Turnaround King": [Doing Scientology's dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone's smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]

JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY

[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman's first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn't like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman's print reviews, and why isn't she on television more?]

HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY

[A review of Urban's scholarly history of the church] | [An interview with Hugh Urban]

EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT

[Marc Headley: "Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman's Story] | [Jeff Hawkins' Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]

OVERSEAS NEWS

[Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested]
[All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots]

ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS

[Scientology singalong, "We Stand Tall"] | [Captain Bill Robertson and "Galactic Patrol"]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The "Ideal" dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York "org"]

THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE

[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth]
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]


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