At Saturday’s “Operation: Fair Game: Stop,” Anonymous’ latest installment in a series of monthly global protests, one local member abandoned his ridiculous three-pronged disguise of glasses, a fake nose and a mustache. Instead Mike Vitale wore his name in white letters emblazoned across a black cotton T-shirt.
For Vitale, it’s no longer necessary to obscure his face with the cheap gag getup. The Church of Scientology already knows who he is and where he lives. Days before the protest focusing on “fair game,” the method L. Ron Hubbard concocted in 1967 to silence critics, Vitale received an ominous and vague letter from a Church of Scientology-connected law firm threatening legal action against him for his involvement with Anonymous. “People were definitely quite concerned,” he said of his fellow Anons. “I got asked more than a few times if this means I’m going to cut out.”
But he arrived, undeterred by the warning or the creepiness that the Church of Scientology learned of his once-guarded identity.
The move didn’t rattle other Anons who assembled across from The Church of Scientology’s New York headquarters on West 46th Street either. “From the start people were always afraid, but I what I’m seeing is that people are letting go of that fear more,” said Desu, who wore a shirt with Anonymous’ headless suited emblem and his Guy Fawkes mask relaxed around his neck. “Some of them are not even wearing a mask or sunglasses.”
Many were even more defiant, saying hello to a conspicuous video camera parked in a window at the org. Annie, a member from Long Island, ferociously waved up at its lens. Though known online as Pentagram she applied for the group’s protest permit last month, which requires disclosure of information members try so hard to conceal: name and address. She claimed that about two weeks ago she was photographed by a mysterious trench coat wearing woman near her home. “I live way out on Long Island, so if they want to waste their gas and drive two hours to snap pictures of me I’ll give them a cup of coffee,” she laughed.
DeMiNe0, the administrator of epicanon.com, the main community site for NYC Anons, also ditched his disguise. In the past month he has received two “cease and desist” letters from Church of Scientology lawyers. “They even put fake information in these cease and desist letters,” DiMiNe0 said, talking of references to threats the Church of Scientology claims Anons have made. “Who are they trying to fool? I am one of the people who researches this type of thing every day.”
Protestors stood on West 46th Street in front of the church and also positioned themselves on Broadway, where they were able to get a sound permit. They invoked Hubbard’s words from a 1967 “fair game” policy letter. Critics, “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.” Though the organization no longer refers to the policy as “fair game,” because Hubbard said a year later it made for a bad public image, Anonymous members and other critics say it’s clearly still in play.
In the past the Church of Scientology “fair-gamed” many detractors, most notably Paulette Cooper, a journalist who published a scathing book about the church in 1971 called The Scandal of Scientology. Church members later devised Operation Freakout to deal with the author. They flung 19 lawsuits her way and got her arrested on criminal charges. Through deception they managed to obtain her fingerprints on paper, type up a bomb threat, and mail it to a government official. She faced 15 years in prison, until the “fair game” policy and other documents came to light.
Anons tell her story to those willing to listen. Others shout slogans or hand out pamphlets about Scientology. At the Broadway protest site, LazyKid holds up a hand-written, abbreviated story of Xenu—the galactic ruler whose population control method has had lasting effects on man according to Church of Scientology belief. The story is also something that its members wait years to hear, only after paying thousands of dollars for courses and auditing.
“I thought that was just some weird version of Christianity,” a man says when he stops to read the sign. He looks at it incredulously. “I could make up something better than that,” he said as he walked off.
With Anonymous positioned on a crowded Times Square drag, several young, polished looking church members stood steps away from the signs and screams. They held stacks of Dianetics postcards, and tried to coax people to come to the center to watch a 15 minute film.
Tourists and New Yorkers walked down the corridor of proselytizers and protestors. But it seemed difficult for church staff to dispense their cards while Anons stood there, not to mention the many recent embarrassments suffered by Scientology after prominent defectors like church leader David Miscavige’s niece Jenna Hill Miscavige and actor Jason Beghe spoke out.
A young Church staff member smiled and handed a woman a card as she walked through the spectacle. Anonymous members shrieked their slogans. The stranger lightly shoved the card back into his hand.
“Give it back! Give it back! Give it back!” A new chant was born.