Anonymous protesters outside the Scientology headquarters in London.  (Source: Tanya Nagar)

A protester conceals himself behind a paper cutout of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.  (Source: Tanya Nagar)
Remember, remember the 10th of...February?

It appears that “Anonymous” – a loose-knit group of Internet protesters united in their campaign against the Church of Scientology – kept its promise of worldwide demonstrations. This past Sunday, activists identifying themselves as members of Anonymous appeared in cities around the globe to peacefully demonstrate against the Church and its so-called crimes.

Demonstrations occurred in a reported 93 cities worldwide, including Sydney, Los Angeles, New York, London, Dublin, and Stockholm. Donning signs with slogans such as “Knowledge is Free,” “Question $cientology,” and “Enlightenment should not cost £100,000,” Anonymous took a vocal stand against the Church of Scientology’s alleged human rights violations and relentless suppression of dissent. Demonstrations proceeded peacefully, with protesters concealing themselves behind Guy Fawkes masks – among other things – as popularized in the movie “V for Vendetta.”

Anonymous seemingly rose out of nowhere to declare war on the Church late last January, claiming that the Church brainwashes its members and drives them into bankruptcy through expensive spiritual treatments. Anonymous’ medium of choice is YouTube. The group’s first video, a shot-across-the-bow titled “Message to Scientology,” now has over 2 million views. In it, Anonymous promises to “expel” the Church from the Internet and “systematically dismantle Scientology in its present form.”

While Anonymous’ exact origins are unclear, its members are known to coordinate on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.

Additional videos appeared late last week, authored by a pair of YouTube members identifying themselves as participants in Anonymous: Anonymous1321 and Anonymous1942. “Do not misread our intentions,” says Anonymous1321 in Anonymous Message to Scientology, “ours is not to judge your beliefs. We oppose the [Church] as a business, not a religion, of which it claims to be both. How can a supposedly nonprofit organization cause its believers to go bankrupt?”

Scientology officials condemned the demonstrations, equating Anonymous to nothing more than “cyber-terrorists.” In an official statement released later on Sunday, Church officials said that “Anonymous is perpetrating religious hate crimes against Churches of Scientology and individual Scientologists for no reason other than religious bigotry.”

Previously, the Church of Scientology dismissed Anonymous, offering little response to the group’s messages.  “We don’t get into responding to such threats on the Internet,” said Church spokeswoman Janet Laveau in an interview last week, later noting that “those wishing to find out the Church of Scientology's views and to gain context … have the right to search official Church websites.”

Referring to the recent attacks against Church websites, Scientology officials claim that Anonymous has “repeatedly attempted to suppress free speech through illegal assaults on church websites so as to prevent Internet users from obtaining information … [in addition to engaging in] other harassment, including threats of violence in telephone calls, fax transmissions, and emails, not to mention the Anonymous mailing of white powder to dozens of our churches.”

Organizers say the date of February 10 was picked to commemorate the birthday of Lisa McPherson, who died under the Scientology’s care in 1995. Criminal charges filed over McPherson’s death were later dropped in 2000.

Lynn Fountain Campbell, a former Scientology member and participant in the Los Angeles protests, explained the sudden rise of Anonymous as a response to public apathy: “it’s just reached critical mass. People aren’t scared anymore.”

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard
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