So, I have been a bit intrigued, to say the least, about the recent protests by the group "Anonymous" against the Church of Scientology. It all got stirred up after the recent crazed video of Tom Cruise promoting Scientology started spreading across the internet, with Scientologists making copyright infringment claims to stall its viral spread on YouTube. "Anonymous" then posted some heavily viewed videos on YouTube promising retribution on February 10. News stories from mainstream media, including The Economist (Jan. 31), National Public Radio (Feb. 7), Newsweek (Feb. 8), and elsewhere, stirred an increasing frenzy.
Then, yesterday (Feb. 10, 2008), starting in New Zealand and Australia and continuing around the world, protesters turned out at Scientology church locations. Often whimsical, but sprinkled with serious foot soliders and serious messages, Anonymous simply proved what everyone pretty much already knows: Scientology is a joke.
That's why signs that said "Honk if you hate Scientology" or similar at protests were quite popular around the world. For example, in Boston:
The curtains of the Scientology building at 448 Beacon St. were drawn during most of yesterday's protest, but a video camera sticking out of a top floor window filmed the protesters as they begged motorists to "honk if you hate Scientology." Many drivers responded to the signs, creating a deafening roar with cars, taxi and fire trucks horns.And Los Angeles:
The protests were peaceful and colorful, with music and chanting (often: "Religion is free -- No Pay Per View" -- a reference to an alleged tiered system whereby the religion's adherents must pay money to gain spiritual clarity). A near constant stream of horn honks provided the background noise as cars passed the Scientology center on Sunset Boulevard and continued as the mob moved to the so-called Celebrity Center on Hollywood Boulevard. At least one ambulance and several fire department vehicles honked as they passed.In most every city, Scientology tried to retaliate by having their lackeys photograph and video protesters, most of whom were wearing disguises. But that kind of heavy handedness doesn't impress young internet-generation types. They are jaded to all that, and now all these scientologists snapping pictures are themselves now in pictures all over the internet.
Personally, I enjoyed some of the very creative signs that folks came up with:
See also: WikiNews Photo Gallery and Site by Site Summary
There are also videos all over youtube from the protests. Here's an amusing early one from Sydney where the crowd cheers "Hubbard's a Wanker":
More ridiculous is the fact that Scientology was "rick rolled" at many of the protests. Like in Washington, D.C.:
See also London Rick Roll; Seattle Rick Roll. (This is beyond crazy. Mocking Scientology with Rick Astley. There is an even less known version of this tactic featuring Will Smith's Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Craziness!)
So what does all this mean for Scientology, if anything? In many ways, this Anonymous protest was simply just a worldwide flash mob. A big in-joke. But, on the other hand, I would think that future potential Scientology members are going to hear about this protest. They will see the videos of people protesting around the world and endless cars honking their support -- these honkers are the normal people in this world. The people who won't get off the couch to do much of anything, and are just busy living their own lives, but they know bullshit when they see it. Maybe some of the future recruits will decide to stay away when Tom Cruise beckons.
Will Scientology lose its tax exempt status? Will it be destroyed? Doubtful. But will the CoS be unable to prove to anyone that its even remotely cool to think Scientology is legit? Very possibly.
As a larger matter, the ability of thousands of people to quickly organize without any recognizable leadership and pull off a worldwide protest like this is truly amazing. Think of what good could be done in the world if the everyday folks of the internet generation spent a few hours a month on such causes. Amnesty International's main weapon to fight human rights abuses is simply letter writing -- letting governments know that people notice what they are doing and don't like it. And sometimes, it works. Imagine what Anonymous can accomplish with their drive, snark, and the occassional Rick Roll.