At the beginning of the year, computer hackers calling themselves Anonymous took over the Church of Scientology's network in reaction to Scientology officials trying to get a Scientology promotional video of Tom Cruise off the Internet.
The group also began a series of international protests last month in front of Church of Scientology centers, with the first in memory of Lisa McPherson, a Scientology member who died in the organization's care, as well as others Anonymous documents in several of its Web sites, along with other anti-Scientology sites such as Operation Clambake. In keeping with the Anonymous theme, those who arrive to protest disguise themselves with masks or cover their faces with scarves and what not. At more overseas locales, the masks worn in V for Vendetta are the most popular.
Tucson has been involved in these protests, with a group showing up last month across the street from the Scientology building at 1703 E. Fort Lowell Road. According to Ronald Krizp, a Tucson resident, he is one of two public information officers for Anonymous Tucson. There are no formal organizers, he adds.
Krizp says the first Tucson "raid" was February 10 as it was in many other cities. There was a small protest on February 2 outside the Orlando and Santa Barbara centers. Feb. 2 is Lisa McPherson's birthday, so that's why it was picked and the raid was in her memory.
This weekend, other protests will take place across the country, including Tucson, on Saturday, March 15. This raid is dedicated to the memory of Elli Perkins.
In a series of e-mails, I asked Krizp if there has been any reaction to the raids from Tucson's Scientologists. Krizp says fliers they've put up at the UA have been covered by Scientology "free personality tests" fliers, and at the Feb. 10 raid, the Scientologists "hired a freelance videographer to video tape our protests and attempt to get our faces undisguised on camera. This goes with the policy that Scientology practices called 'Fair game.'"
Anonymous gained its anti-Scientology-hero status with its video that has a V for Vendetta and Matrix style with a computer voiced narrator. The computer hacking, the videos and the raids have resulted in Scientologists accusing the group of being a hate group and taking legal action to remove the videos and prevent the protests.
"When Anonymous has said that we come from different walks of life, we mean completely different walks of life. I turn 30 years old this year, and I have my bachelor's degree, so I'm definitely not the 'hacker kid' that Scientology would like everyone to believe I am," Krizp says.
Krizp says the other focus of Anonymous' efforts is getting Scientology's tax-exempt status revoked. Unlike other "churches," the Church of Scientology is a nonprofit 501c corporation that gets their status based on "religious education," according to Krizp.
In one video, Scientology officials compare Anonymous to the KKK. The raids are certainly an exercise of free speech.
What I happen to find interesting is the use of the Internet that has propelled Anonymous into an international cause. There have been dozens of Internet sites documenting Scientology abuses and its secrets for years. What makes this different?