That’s Mike Vitale. Guess the costume didn’t work too well.
When Queens resident Mike Vitale was outed as a member of Anonymous by the Church of Scientology last month, he specifically asked Church members if they planned to prove his criticisms correct by declaring him “fair game” and subjecting him to the threats and intimidation that are said to be inherent in that Church policy. Would they threaten him or show up at his house?
Well, they did—or, at least, their lawyers did.
Yesterday a letter from the Scientology-connected law firm of Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman was hand delivered to Vitale’s home. In it, Vitale is accused of being a ringleader of Anonymous, read a list of the alleged crimes of the loosely-knit group, has those crimes laid at his own feet and is warned to cease his activity with the group, or else.
“We place you on notice that inciting violence against the Church and its members, and engaging in acts of terrorism (such as the simulated anthrax attack, bomb, arson and death threats) violate State and Federal law,” wrote attorney Eric Lieberman. “We demand that you refrain from committing, or assisting others in committing, any illegal acts directed at the Church or its parishioners. Should Anonymous continue inciting others, and/or engage in violent acts against the Church or its members, we are prepared to take whatever steps may be required to protect the Church, including referring any individual who commits such acts, or aids and assists others who commit such acts, to State and Federal authorities.”
Lieberman said that Vitale was not the only New York-based Anon that had received a letter, and that the letters do not mean that the Church has not gone to the police as well. He added that the purpose of the letters is not to discourage protest, but to put a halt to the alleged illegal activities, and encouragement of illegal activities, of Anonymous.
But what exactly constitutes such encouragement? Would using a bullhorn at a protest qualify? Lieberman said no, and explained the stance of his client a bit further.
“If you’re manning a bullhorn at a protest and saying ‘burn the Church down,’ then that’s encouraging the illegal act. If you’re manning a bullhorn at a demonstration, assuming it’s legal to have a bullhorn at a demonstration in front of the Church, if you’re merely manning a bullhorn and saying ‘we don’t like Scientology,’ then that’s not illegal,” said Lieberman.
Though Lieberman would not answer when asked how the Church came to know Vitale’s identity, it likely stems from his role as de facto liaison between Anonymous and the New York Civil Liberties Union during the March 15 “Operation Party Hard” protests in Manhattan. Vitale said he, nor anyone he knows, had anything to do with the alleged threats against Scientology, describing the letter as “ridiculous scare tactics.”
“As a matter of fact, it’s because of these kinds of tactics that I protest against them in the first place, it is as expected as it is predictable,” said Vitale.
The Church of Scientology’s official position is that “fair game” no longer exists, but critics of the Church disagree, arguing that the harassment of critics continues on at least in an unofficial capacity. On Saturday Anonymous will hold “Operation: Fair Game: Stop” rallies at Church outposts across the world, designed to bring attention to Scientology’s harsh treatment of its critics. Vitale said this letter could not have come at a better time. With just days before the “fair game” protest, Scientology proved Anonymous’ point.
“When I read the letter, I got the joke,” said Vitale. “This will in no way deter me from showing up to any Anonymous events, and I may even put more time into fighting the Church.”
Lieberman insisted that the purpose of Vitale’s letter, and the similar letters sent to other Anonymous-affiliated individuals, is not to quash dissent. “The purpose is not to stop people from engaging in protected activities, or encouraging others to engage in protected activities,” said Lieberman. But Vitale said that the implication was to shut down any protest by casting extremely broad accusations of criminal wrongdoing against the handful of protesters Scientology can identify.
“They can think what they want, but if any real investigators or the police took any interest in investigating these slanderous allegations against me by the church, they would quickly find out the truth,” said Vitale. “I invite them to do so, and decades of so many false allegations against Scientology critics have robbed the Church of any legal credibility in this department.”
He added, “We’re beating them by telling the truth so they have to lie, and these acts of desperation aren’t fooling anyone.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 6, 2008