Scientology Versus The Internet

Sunday, February 3, 2008

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  • L. Ron Hubbard: Sci-Fi Writer and Prophet

    L. Ron Hubbard: Sci-Fi Writer and Prophet

Written by Wikipedia, and others

On January 16th, a video leaked onto the internet through the video sharing website YouTube which the Church of Scientology says was pirated and edited. The video featured actor Tom Cruise, a vocal member of the group, extolling the virtues of Scientology for new members. Filled with acronyms, buzzwords, and somewhat dubious claims such as suggesting only Scientologists have the ability to save people in car accidents, the video spread quickly and received media attention. Just as quickly, many websites, including YouTube, removed the video due to litigation threats from Scientology lawyers.

In response, a group of loosely affiliated individuals called "Anonymous" responded with a video in which they claimed to be preparing to bring about the downfall of Scientology due to their repeated attempts at censorship and other dubious practices. It was dubbed “Project Chanology”, a meshing of Scientology and “chan”, a suffix for internet imageboards where the group congregates (such as 4chan.org and 711chan.org).

The "Church" of Scientology was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and a few followers in Camden, New Jersey in 1953. Since then it has increased in size and been marred with controversy. The largest proportion of followers (which number between 55,000 and 8,000,000) are citizens of the United States. In Canada, Scientology has not been found to meet the criteria for being a charity or religion. This position is also held by the governments of the United Kingdom and Germany. In France it is considered a dangerous cult, while in Israel it is a tax-paying, self-improvement business.

The Church of Scientology has received criticism for the secrecy with which they conduct themselves and protect their texts. An incident in the mid-nineties saw the release of some of their protected documents on the internet (including the infamous Xenu story seen on the television show “South Park”) which resulted in a slew of lawsuits. The group “Anonymous “ maintain that the Scientologist reaction to the Cruise video was their latest form of internet censorship, and began a campaign of pranking and internet hacking. This included forced crashing of Scientology websites (such as scientology.org and scientologymarriage.org), stealing secret documents, prank calling and faxing looped pages of black paper to Scientology headquarters.

Reports of these activities spread to bloggers, social networking sites like Facebook and some media outlets, resulting in increased support and (due to the open nature of the group) new members for Anonymous. “Project Chanology” has since transitioned from internet attacks and general mischief to holding a number of demonstrations and protests at Scientology Churches in the United States and Canada. Distribution of pamphlets and flyers which link to online sources of criticism (such as xenu.net) or draw attention to said criticisms has also been widespread. In particular, they focus on topics such as:

  • Church use/abuse of copyright and trademark law.
  • Money and the business-like fashion the Church charges members for programs and materials.
  • “Cult-like” activities conducted by the Church such as brainwashing and intimidation.
  • The Church’s “Fair Game” policy that states that enemies “May be deprived of property or injured by any means... May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.” (while this has officially been renounced, it is said to continue in practice).
  • Illegal activities of Church members, including espionage charges against L. Ron Hubbard’s wife.
  • Mistreatment of members (recommend “googling” the name Lisa McPherson)
  • Certain Church doctrine, such as listing homosexuality as a physical disease and denouncing any form of psychiatry.

Cumulatively, the effects of the group have not received extensive media attention outside of the internet. According to the Anonymous websites (enturbulation.org, partyvan.info), the next attempt at raising awareness is a peaceful protest in front of most major Scientology Churches this coming Sunday, February 10th at 11 AM local time. These will include most major cities with active Churches, such as London, New York, Hollywood, Berlin, Los Angeles and Toronto, as well as Kitchener, Ottawa, Vancouver and others in Canada.

From an outsider’s perspective, the idea of unruly internet users taking down an established organization seems ludicrous. However, the strong grassroots support the movement has seen may make what some call the first real “Battle of the Internet” a fight to remember.

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  1. Posted by: bob on Feb 5, 2008 @ 5:19pm

    Great write up kevin.

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