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Be Wary, Be Wary, the 10th of February: "A" for Anonymous Wants to Kick Scientology's "S"

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Let me start off by paraphrasing a popular disclaimer: I'm not
"Anonymous," nor am I affiliated with the mysterious internet group in
any way.

That said, as a fan of The X Files I love a good conspiracy
theory, which means that the recent antics of the shadowy entity known
only as "Anonymous" have admittedly piqued my interest. In deference
to those who just stepped out of a bathysphere, Anonymous is the name
that's been adopted by a self-proclaimed collective of hackers and
supposedly pissed-off average folks for the purpose of meting out
justice via the internet -- and it's now declared war on Scientology.
Two weeks ago, the group launched the first salvo in what it says will
be an extended campaign to bring down the controversial "church"; it
released an eerie video message attacking Scientology's tactics and
promising retaliation for what it claims is a history of lies and
generally sinister behavior on the part of the organization. To its
credit I guess, Anonymous didn't keep anyone waiting: It launched a
series of coordinated denial of service attacks on the official
Scientology website almost immediately, effectively shutting it down.
This was supposedly followed by prank phone calls and "black fax"
transmissions to Scientology offices across the country.

At least two more videos have been released by Anonymous since its
initial declaration of hostilities, one promising a global protest at
Scientology centers on February 10th.

Needless to say, the normally confident Scientology big shots, who've
raised damage control through vindictive litigation to an art form,
suddenly find themselves in an amusing PR bind: If they dismiss
Anonymous as a bunch of pathetic computer geeks -- which they already
have, word for word -- they appear hopelessly arrogant; If they take
the group seriously, they give it power; if they just ignore it
altogether, they look stupid.

In other words, for all their supposed higher-brain functions,
compliments of L. Ron Hubbard's questionable teachings, they can't win
this one.

A group of internet savvy kid vigilantes has, to some extent, already
beaten them.

The question some are asking though is whether Anonymous has crossed
the line -- whether, in its battle to expose Scientology, it's
engaging in the same kind of underhanded tactics it accuses the church
of. The founder of one popular anti-Scientology website, Operation
Clambake, has already criticized the group's supposed skulduggery,
claiming that it'll only put Scientologists in a position to play the
religious persecution card.

Maybe, but honestly -- who cares?

Almost since its inception as an organization, Scientology has been
involved in one unscrupulous scheme or another -- at various points
guilty of fraud, exploitation of its adherents for financial gain, and
the illegal infiltration of government agencies. It's upheld the basic
edict of its paranoid narcissist founder and set out to destroy its
critics through intimidation, innuendo and impossibly dirty tricks. It
was once called the "most lucrative cult the country has ever seen" by
the Cult Awareness Network, a watchdog group which was eventually
taken over by associates of the Church of Scientology. The whole
thing, including the silly cosmology that serves as the basis for
Scientology's belief system -- the kind of nonsense only a hack sci-fi
writer could dream up -- would be laughable if it weren't so damn
scary.

Anonymous claims that it was the Church of Scientology's efforts to
suppress the recently leaked and utterly surreal video tribute to Tom
Cruise which led to its decision to take action. Admittedly, watching
Cruise -- looking not simply crazy but dangerously crazy --
spouting Hubbard's official-sounding acronymic lingo and making ex
cathedra declarations of "no mercy" for psychiatrists is as
mesmerizing as it is frightening. He almost seems like he's channeling
his Frank T.J. Mackey character from Magnolia, demanding that
we all "respect the crock."

The problem of course is that if you say any of this too loudly, the
church will have no compunction about removing the choke
collar from its legal pit bulls, which is what makes the mischievous
guerilla attacks of Anonymous tough not to enjoy a little -- provided
they never cross the line into the realm of genuine terrorism.

The bottom line: It's kind of satisfying to watch someone turn the
tables on Scientology, using the same brand of furtive
cloak-and-dagger absurdity to publicly shame an adversary that the
church has used for decades.

If the Scientology people knew who to file a lawsuit against, you can
bet it would've already happened.

That's why it's so much fun that they're left chasing shadows.