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


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


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

A Conversation With a Scientologist – 22/08/2009 (Mirror) from Anonymous Hamburg on Vimeo.

“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

Sparrow Meets Moxon! from Anon Sparrow on Vimeo.

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.

@VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega


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In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
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