photos by Candice M. Giove
An Anonymous member named Pentagram inked a sign before arriving at the anti-Scientology group’s protest yesterday in front of the Church of Scientology’s West 46th Street offices. In sloppy scratch it read, “We are not Truthers.” She feared that passersby would confuse the group protesting the Church of Scientology’s exploitation of 9/11 rescue workers for conspiracy theorists and keep walking.
In planning the day’s event Anons used caution. Online chats on New York Anonymous boards debated walking silently to Ground Zero -– a departure from their typically humorous approach to protesting. But organizers nixed the idea out of respect for 9/11 victims.
Instead some Anons wore an NYPD or FDNY T-shirt to show support for rescue workers. DiMiNeo, the site administrator of EpicAnon, bucked his usual gear completely and proudly wore his Glen Rock Fire Department uniform.
“Why you go out and recruit someone during a time of a major disaster is beyond me,” he said with a tone of disgust in his voice (perhaps owing to the fact that he worked at a staging area at Ground Zero). “It’s the last thing people need.”
Members of the Anonymous group said that the Church of Scientology wasted no time getting to the dust-choked downtown streets, where they provided provisions to the shocked, morose, grief-stricken, weary rescue workers. But Anons said the Scientologists’ motives were more sinister. “They did this because they wanted to make money,” DiMiNeo said. “They wanted to go down there and they wanted to sell their services.”
Scientologists boasted of blocking psychologists –- whose profession is considered nothing short of evil by followers -– from Ground Zero, Anons said. PokeAnon, a member who risks disconnection from his Scientologist father, offered a copy of a letter given to them by a former Scientologist: “No one can do anything for them or the rest but Scientologists. The other religions here with their ministers have shown their true colors and are working hand in hand with the psychs to give to these people as much false data and restimulation as they can. They HAVE NO TECH and they’re not even trying to hide it anymore.”
The thought makes Anon Little Sister angry. “They took one of the worst tragedies in America and they used it as a way to get more customers instead of actually trying to help people,” she said. “They denied hundreds of people the comfort they desperately needed.”
On the day the towers fell Scientology’s leader David Miscavige issued a bulletin reminding members that they could help by dedicating themselves to more courses and auditing –- and by plumping up their flock. And in the days to follow over 100 Scientology volunteer ministers arrived on site donning crisp smiley-face yellow shirts. They offered seemingly innocuous things to rescue workers like massages and a book called The Way to Happiness.
Anonymous members also said that the Church of Scientology managed to hoodwink Fox News by submitting a toll-free Dianetics hotline number under the name “National Mental Health Assistance.” The Church of Scientology number ran on the Fox crawl for hours during September 11th coverage before the cable network pulled it off. On September 17 the National Mental Health Association, an non-profit organization of mental health professionals, fired off a press release warning the media of the Scientology scam.
The protest conjured memories of the tragic day. “I saw 9/11 happen. I watched it from the window at my school,” one Anon said. “It really disturbed me on a deep and profound level that these guys were exploiting them. Three thousand people died and these people are going to use them to make a couple of bucks?”
While September 11th struck a chord with most there –- a chord that continues to reverberate as the tragedy’s seven-year anniversary has just passed — the Anons said that the Church of Scientology sends “vulture ministers” to every tragedy and disaster. At the Virginia Tech shooting, the yellow-shirted volunteers offered “nerve assists,” which looks like nothing more than a massage, and disseminated 10,000 books. They’ve also received criticism for their actions at the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
“The way that a cult brings in people is that it brings them in when they are the most exposed, emotionally vulnerable, when something majorly tragic has happened to them,” said one protester. “That’s when someone is more open to suggestions.”
Despite their detractors, the Church of Scientology highlights the work of its volunteer ministers on its website and also brags about other achievements. New York Anons chastised the Church for claiming that they received an FDNY Medal of Valor, an honor only awarded posthumously to firefighters. Anons said that Scientologist and FDNY civilian employee Stephen Hittman presented one to the Church on his own. The Uniformed Fire Officers Association later criticized Hittman as a “former civilian employee of the Fire Department [who] has masqueraded in the uniform of the FDNY.”
“They took the greatest honor to firemen and bastardized it just to make themselves feel better about what they did,” Little Sister said.
The protestors also blasted the Church of Scientology-connected New York Rescue Workers’ Detoxification Project — a facility in lower Manhattan which uses L. Ron Hubbard’s purification rundown to rid 9/11 rescue workers of toxins. Firemen participating in the program swallow potentially unhealthy vitamin cocktails, exercise, and take saunas to purge the particles inhaled working at the WTC. “Every medical person who has looked at this program has said that it’s not worth spit,” said MedicAnon.
Though people seemed receptive and responsive to the protesters on the street, some don’t understand their beef with Scientology. Mike Vitale, an Anon who received a threatening legal notice from the Church in May, said that a person on the street scolded a small group of them one night during a smaller protest.
“Some lady started yelling at us because ‘They were there on 9/11 and they helped people,'” he recalled. “It shows that that tactic actually worked. It did actually brainwash people into thinking they were good.”