"Anonymous" is a loose-knit organization of readers and posters on image message boards, such as 4chan.org and 711chan.org. They claim that the total openness and anonymity of these channels "has nurtured the appearance of a unique and persistent culture". While "Anonymous" was initially a joke directed at certain news organizations (though sometimes with devastating results for innocent victims who got their life seriously messed up), the group began to come together as a response to the Church of Scientology's (CoS) January 16 request for Youtube to remove a Scientology video involving Tom Cruise and which was leaked out from the CoS.
On January 21, Anonymous posted a video on Youtube declaring war against Scientology (Yes, folks - on YouTube you can even declare war!). The video has been watched over 2 million times in the subsequent three weeks (though it is only 2 millions+ after two months). On this video, Anonymous states that they decided that the Scientology organization "should be destroyed", for the good of Scientology followers and mankind, but also "for the laughs". They boast about them being untraceable and about "the force of our ideas, malicious and hostile as they often are". They then justify themselves by demonizing Scientology before claiming that "our methods are a parallel to your own" and "the sum of suppression we could ever muster is eclipsed by that of the RTC".
Anonymous later claimed responsibility for a series of DDOS and cyber-attacks that slowed access to church Web sites. It wasn't long, however, before this war turned sour. Within a week they accidentally targeted a school in the Netherlands rather than a Scientology site, taking the school computer network and website down.
When Anonymous themselves became victim of a counter-hacking group calling itself the Regime, they posted the home address, phone number and cell numbers of a Stockton 59-years-old man who barely knew anything about computers, claiming he was a member of that group. This poor man then started to receive daily obscene and threatening phone calls. After receiving a death treat, he and his wife got really scared because their address was posted as well. Not knowing how to stop the unrelenting phone calls, they called three news places in Stockton "just to get something out there to let them know they have the wrong guy,". Wired.com picked the story and as soon as they published their article, Anonymous removed the information from the net. Wired.com did not take the incident lightly and called Anonymous "online vigilantes who think their righteous ends justify illegal means".
As a consequence of these incidents but also after the intervention of some of the "Old Guard" in Scientology criticism, such as Mark Bunker, Anonymous started to back down from its hacking tactics and turned its focus on street protest instead.
The first protest, held on February 10, were a clear success, involving around 7,000 participants in 18 countries (according to Anonymous), and was largely reported in the press who had previously been accustomed with Anonymous through its hacking episode.
The second protest took place on March 15 and saw an increasing number of participants, most notably in London and New York who each peaked at around 700 participants each, leaving 3rd place Los Angeles, with 400 participants, far behind, and 4th place, Clearwater, with about 300, even further. Estimates for the total of participants world-wide are at around 9,000 - still according to Anonymous.
The April protests however saw a significant dip in number, with an estimated total of around 5,000 participants.
This trend continued through May (around 4,000) and June (3,000). Clearwater, that held the number 4 spot for March with 300 participants, was now down to 70. Toronto, that held spot number 6 with around 260 participants in March, was now down to 50. Washington and San Francisco, however, only lost about 30% to 50% percents. Other cities crashed in a more spectacular manner. Adelaide went from 215 to 45, Vancouver from 200 to 35, Detroit from 175 to 20. Even more spectacular was Dallas (95 to 3), Austin (180 in Feb down to 10 in June), Miami (105 to 5), and Salt Lake City (70 to 3). German cities, however, displayed a steady to increasing number, though these numbers are relatively low (in general hovering around 50).
For detailed statistics check out my Anonymous protests Statistics page.
Unfortunately, this new generation of critics spout forth the same tired old criticism against Scientology found on critical websites and proved of little use to stop Scientology. Nothing new. Most of it is outdated, much of it are just myths that have been debunked already and about which better informed people hardly pay attention anymore. But I guess nothing beats the thrill of friends gathering in front of people's churches, wearing funny comic book masks, and feeling like "doing something" in favor of Free speech. To gather in front of mosques waving sign mocking the prophet and engaging in other offensive accusations towards Islam is just a little bit more risky for one's bodily integrity. At least with Scientology everybody can have fun while feeling like heroes.
Aggressive-looking protestors wearing masks freaks the hell out of scientologists inside the building. Even an ex-member who departed Scientology long ago found it a bad idea:
Combined with the wave of telephone threats and hate mails they received during Anonymous hacking episode, groups of transformer-like protestors waving signs calling their religion evil may look threatening to members of the group. During the March 15 protests, the Battle Creek police received a call from Scientologists because they were worried about their safety. Protestors were forced to put their mask down and those who resisted were arrested (they subsequently were released without charge because the mask was not being worn "for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a crime"). In fact, masked protest has already been the subject of legal debate in the US when the KKK held its sinister rallies and various States have different laws in this respect. For example, there is a no-mask law in New-York City which is why you will often see people there wearing their Vendetta masks turned around on the backs of their heads or swathing their lower faces in scarves and dust masks.
There are also some concerns as to who are these Anonymous as they have been accused of having been involved in scare tactics such as bomb threats, anthrax scares, and other abusive behavior. On March 11, the CoS made its own video in which it claims it was victim of hundreds of such threats. I am not sure where the CoS took its statistics but, the incident reported by wired.com does show the potential danger of the combined effect of an anonymous Internet mob and mass hysteria against unpopular minorities, and I have no doubts that what wired.com reported is only the tip of the iceberg.
On March 12, the CoS issued a legal injunction against Anonymous seeking to keep protester at a safe distance from the CoS buildings. It bases its arguments on the "cyber terrorism" Anonymous has been guilty of according to the CoS. This does not seem justified. While Anonymous did engage in illegal and questionable activities on the Internet, its street protests were overall peaceful, with the crowd making its own ethical enforcement, as in Toronto, where one protester was in possession of a cap gun and where other protesters quickly pointed him out to the police who confiscated it. Anonymous also goes to great length on its web site to insist that the protests should be peaceful. The injunction was subsequently rejected by two different courts.
But then what about hacking web sites? Preventing people from expressing their opinion and preventing others to read what they have to say? Is this how you demonstrate your love of Free Speech? I don't think so...
I have read a few contradictory justification regarding this, from "we did this to get the world's attention" to "we realized it was wrong". Never mind the fact that "getting the world's attention" is exactly what terrorists are aiming too. As for "realized we were wrong", I have seen too many instances of critics trying to silence dissenters among their own ranks to believe they can live up to their own ideal. I have myself been banned from their IRC channel and have seen them trying to remove information that may damage their righteous cause, a recent example of this dates from last January, as reported at the bottom of Keith Henson' daughter web page.
Will this new generation turn sour as the old generation of critics did? It may be an inevitable outcome and there are already signs this is happening, as illustrated by a post on Anonymous own forum on Enturbulation.org:
As usual, the number of people with insight in this mass hysteria are not legion (sic). Here are a couple of insightful comments from people who obviously are not newbies and know what they are talking about:
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