Get this: An Internet-based group calling themselves Anonymous released a video last Monday on YouTube declaring war on the Church of Scientology. The video features a robotic voice speaking over the image of a cloudy sky for two minutes: “Over the years we have been watching you, your campaigns of misinformation, your suppression of dissent and your litigious nature ... Anonymous has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed.”
Believe me, I couldn’t make this up if I tried. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also kind of creepy.
But here’s the problem: prior to the statement on YouTube, this same group allegedly removed several web sites related to the Church of Scientology. They even brought down the church’s main web site, scientology.org
According to a press release from this Anonymous group — yes, an Anonymous press release — they will continue this series of attacks on the Church of Scientology in order to end the financial exploitation of its members and protect the right to free speech. Apparently, this Anonymous group of hackers and uber-dork crusaders wants to protect free speech by removing content and taking away Scientology’s right to free speech.
The group has promised that it will continue to disrupt Scientology’s presence on the Internet, and it also plans to use real-life methods of attack such as black faxing — the fax transmission of several dozen sheets of black construction paper in order to tie up a fax’s phone lines and ink cartridges — and prank calling.
This Scientology controversy all started a few weeks ago with the appearance of the infamous promotional video featuring Tom Cruise talking about a Scientologist’s mission in life. Once again, a video as funny as it is creepy — with all the weird intensity and eccentricity that only Tom Cruise could deliver.
Apparently, the Internet hacker community was upset that the Church of Scientology had the Tom Cruise video taken off YouTube.
Anonymous has therefore taken it upon itself to expose the “lies and hypocrisy” of the Church of Scientology to its members and the world at large. To this end, a Web site called Project Chanology — basically a Wikipedia-esque article on this Scientology war — has compiled a list of brilliant guerrilla tactics for people to use to further disrupt the Church of Scientology. These include downloading and spreading secret “leaked” Scientology documents to the public as well as prank calling high-profile Scientologists and telling them to do a barrel roll.
The idea is that everyone in the Internet community can get involved and that, eventually, the truth will reverse the brainwashing of the dangerous cult.
The trouble is, it’s tough to imagine anyone winning a war between hackers and scientologists. But if the hackers are serious about destroying the Church of Scientology, they are going about it in completely the wrong way.
First of all, the Church of Scientology now has a common enemy to point fingers at and can tell its members that they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Consider the vast majority of people in the United States who already think that hackers themselves are a dangerous cult. This war makes hackers (if not the entire Internet community) seem like the enemy and makes Scientology seem much more legitimate and credible.
Second of all, if this Anonymous group is concerned about an organization threatening the right to free speech and spreading misinformation, then why focus on the Church of Scientology? Surely, there are larger, more important targets out there, such as some members of the Democratic and Republican parties that use those same methods to rig election results. And why would they attack an organization for suppressing free speech by attacking that organization’s speech?
Ultimately, I’m torn on this war on Scientology. On one hand, I think it’s cool that a (presumably) young group of people — one typically thought of as disorganized and silent — now have the means to exert some influence in the real world.
On the other hand, I don’t think any group should ever be persecuted on the basis of their religious beliefs. I certainly have some questions for the Church of Scientology, but someone’s decision to join it is none of my nor anyone else’s business.
Scientologists have their rights to free speech and religion too. The organization of a web campaign like this is quite impressive — let’s just shift the focus to other, more relevant causes.
Mikhail Brandon is a College junior from Colts Neck, N.J.