While a-strolling through the West End yesterday with a mild hangover, I came across the above folks in Tottenham Court Road, protesting against the Church of Scientology. Actually, you can quite often see smaller flashmobs in the same location, and by the V for Vendetta masks shall ye know them. They’re participants in Project Chanology, which in turn was spawned from the online group known as Anonymous. Essentially, they are a worldwide group working with the common aim of exposing the criminal and bullying activities of the Church of Scientology and, in so doing, enforcing change. It’s organised over the Internet, across websites and message boards. The exact structure is a little difficult to define. The group has no official leaders and no official policies beyond that primary aim of bringing down the CoS in its current form. Anyone can participate and, what’s important, they can do so anonymously – the CoS has a long and well-documented history of harassing its critics, and so protecting one’s identity short-circuits that. Participants include many ex-Scientologists and even a number of current Scientologists who are dissatisfied with the leadership (it should be noted that Chanology is fine with people practising Scientology the religion, it’s Scientology the organisation that they’re against).
The Internet has really caught the CoS with their pants down. The CoS cannot take criticism of any kind. Take, for instance, the case of the Freewinds, a ship owned by the CoS and used for delivering their most expensive courses. In April 2008, dangerous blue asbestos was found on board during routine maintenance. The Church leapt straight into action, denying everything. Bear in mind that they didn’t build the ship – they could have thrown their hands up and said, “Yeah, sorry, we didn’t know about that, but as you can see we’re having it removed.” But no, because that would mean admitting fault. Of course, thanks to the Internet, the information is all freely available, so now the CoS not only had a contaminated ship, but it’s common knowledge that they tried to lie about it. As a result, Anonymous have nicknamed the vessel Failboat. It’s quite a catchy name.
That somewhat longwinded example shows just how far the CoS will go to deny criticism. Unfortunately, while the technique of just denying everything is great when you’re three years old, in the Internet age it just won’t wash. The information is out there, backed up by citation and, in many cases, the actual sources from which the information comes. For instance, check out the following short videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcGgKtb4O4A&feature=related – A collection of L. Ron Hubbard quotes, with citations.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCGP-0545EU&feature=related – A serious film exposing some of the Church’s criminal activities, complete with scanned documents. Contains some disturbing imagery.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZIBzqJpXn0&feature=response_watch – L. Ron Hubbard discussing the story of Xenu. You know, the one the CoS denies.
So, by outright denying everything, the CoS just ends up looking even more shifty and incompetent, because the evidence is right there. While you’re on YouTube, look up anything involving Tommy Davis – he’s a spokesman for the church nicknamed “Footbullet Man” by Anonymous due to his tendency to throw a hissy fit whenever anyone asks him a question he doesn’t like.
Their other favourite technique is the smear campaign – don’t deal with the question, attack the person asking the question. If they consider you a threat, they will delve into your private life. If you’ve got a criminal record, they’ll dig it up. If not, they’ll make it up. Fortunately, Yr. Humble Chronicler’s criminal record is entirely clean aside from one count of breaking and entering the Criminal Records Bureau. Anyway, check this out.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPol_m8wm8Y&feature=related – Here’s some footage of Scientologists attempting to deal with Mark Bunker, a prominent critic of the Church known to Anonymous as “Wise Beard Man.” Apparently the CoS thinks that people who don’t want you looking into their past instinctively attack the organisation most likely to look into said past. THIS IS GOOD SENSE.
The CoS, before the Internet, could get away with a whole lot more. Those against the CoS were largely operating alone, or in small groups, or via snail mail. It was easy to isolate and silence people. Now you have a whole load of people who can contact each other instantly – computer-literate folk who know how to make a noise. Now, when the CoS tries to smear or attack someone, it will be put online, made public and held up to mockery. When they make an allegation, Anonymous demands evidence to back it up (the phrase they use is “dox or GTFO”- “documentation or get the fuck out”). Every instance of harassment becomes more ammunition for Project Chanology, and suddenly Scientology and Chanology are on an equal footing.
What’s more, the number of activists and the range of skills on offer mean that while the Church of Scientology can fight dirty, Anonymous can fight just as dirty. For instance, an official in San Jose a few days ago sent out a flier accusing the group of vandalising a church, destroying a school bus and phoning in bomb threats, among other things. It also contained a web address for recipients of the flier to visit. Unfortunately, said address was out-of-date. So a member of Anonymous bought out that domain name and created this website – http://hateistheenemy.org. Brilliant!
This brings me on to the CoS’ third major weapon, which is the lawsuit. Sort of like a school bully who gets hit by one of his victims and then goes running to teacher. L. Ron Hubbard described the functions of a Scientology lawsuit as follows in The Scientologist, a Manual on the Dissemination of Material:
The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly.
Unfortunately, with Project Chanology they can’t do that. The group is anonymous. You can’t take out a frivolous lawsuit against someone whose identity is unknown to you, and you can’t go at an organisation that doesn’t formally exist.
So their tactic for dealing with Anonymous is to go bleating “Hate crime! Hate crime!” Newsflash, CoS – legitimate criticism is not a hate crime. They’ve set up the hilarious website, http://www.religiousfreedomwatch.org/. This proclaims highfalutin’ ideals of religious freedom for all, but in reality is a front for Scientology to throw faeces at its critics. You’ll notice that the great majority of “hate crimes” they talk about are against the CoS, and you’ll notice that they tend to be quite vague about the allegations they make. The most quoted allegation is:
Documentation received by Religious Freedom Watch shows that [Kristi] Wachter paid an individual to carry out a specific project for her, and also instructed this individual to lie about what he was doing in case he was caught.
Goodness, well, she must have been planning an act of terrorism. That, or a surprise birthday party. The publicly-accessible forums make for entertaining reading. Lots of Scientologists wailing “But why have they chosen us?” and referring to members of Anonymous as “sad individuals.” Might want to learn some synonyms for “sad” if you want your forum not to look like the same person under five or six different names. Plus the usual comparisons to the Nazis, because having your Church criticised is absolutely the same as the Holocaust and Tom Cruise is a latter-day Anne Frank.
Also, if you’re going to accuse other people of being like Nazis, you might want to make sure you don’t have anything that makes you look a little bit Nazi-esque. Like, for instance, prying into people’s private information…
Or, within that post, saying things that could be considered… I don’t know… prejudiced against people of a certain sexual orientation?
The whole thing makes me want to puke blood, frankly. Religious freedom is intended so that people can practise their religion without fear. It is not intended so that multi-billion dollar organisations that spend an estimated $20 million per year on litigation can be immune from protestors. Do you see the Catholic Church pulling that shit? No, you do not. I’d be very surprised if anyone’s fooled. However, if they are, you can be sure Project Chanology will be there to set the record straight.
All in all, the protests by Project Chanology lead us to a simple conclusion. The Church of Scientology simply cannot continue as it does – its ways of dealing with opposition are totally unsuited to the Internet age, and in fact are counter-productive. Let’s be honest here, Project Chanology is going to win. See if you can guess which side I’m on in all of this.
To finish, here’s a picture of Xenu with an unrelated picture of John Travolta inset.
Scientology just doesn’t know when to quit, and less than two weeks after writing the above I had another encounter with them…
http://www.xenu.net/ – Operation Clambake is a major anti-Scientology website. Surprisingly, despite the fact that its owner has revealed his identity, and despite the fact that the CoS claims the information presented on the site is a lie, and despite the CoS’ litigious nature, the site is still there after 13 years.
http://www.xenutv.com/blog/ – Mark Bunker’s blog.