Scientology protest group celebrates founder's birthday worldwide

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Correction — March 19, 2008
 
The next protest is scheduled for April 12, 2008. The article below states April 18 which is incorrect.
 

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Internet group Anonymous today held further protests critical of the Church of Scientology.

The global protests started in Australia where several hundred protesters gathered at different locations for peaceful protests.

In a global speech, the Internet protest movement said Scientology "betrayed the trust of its members, [had] taken their money, their rights, and at times their very lives." The protesters welcomed the public interest their protests have led to, and claimed they witnessed "an unprecedented flood of Scientologists [joining] us across the world to testify about these abuses." The group said it would continue with monthly actions.

In a press statement from its European headquarters, Scientology accused the anonymous protesters of "hate speech and hate crimes", alleging that security measures were necessary because of death threats and bomb threats. This also makes the Church want to "identify members" of the group it brands as "cyber-terrorists".

Wikinews had correspondents in a number of protest locations to report on the events.

Anonymous states that the next protest is scheduled to take place on April 18, which happens to be the birthday of Suri, the daughter of Tom and Katie Cruise.

Location reports

Adelaide, Australia

News.com.au reported that approximately 200 masked protesters gathered outside of the Church of Scientology's headquarters in Adelaide. An anonymous spokesman told News.com.au that their group feels Scientology should not have tax-exempt status, and should not be considered a religion. At one point six police officers came by the protest; four members of a security firm stood outside the Scientology building throughout the protest.

Adelaide Gallery


Image: Tim Dorr.

Atlanta, Georgia

Main article: Protesters arrested at anti-Scientology event in Atlanta

In Atlanta, police arrested two protesters for, supposedly, using a bullhorn without a permit although reports confirm that there is no law or ordinance in Atlanta necessitating one. The police were under the impression that they were arresting the leaders of the protesters. The anonymous protesters reacted by shouting that they have no leader, but they made no attempts to free those arrested. The police also pulled over cars for honking at the protesters, causing them to make signs "Do not honk".

Austin, Texas

Volunteer Correspondent: Bhig3

Almost 135 protesters protested outside of the Church of Scientology location in Austin, Texas. Protesters received a permit to protest from 11AM to 4PM and stayed the full time allowed. Law enforcement officers were stationed outside the doors of the Church. These officers were very kind and open to conversation with Anonymous members. Protesters gathered across the street from the building as well as directly in front of it, waving signs and chanting. A UHaul van was converted to a Party Van which was eventually parked directly in front of the Church building for most of the day. Reports of Scientologists calling the UHaul company office, illegally claiming to be police officers, reached protesters soon after the van was parked. The protesters responded with a loud speaker saying "Impersonating a police officer is illegal, even on the phone!"

Around 2:30PM a young man arrived in front of the Church to counter the Anonymous group with a yellow sign reading "Freedom of [Religion]" on one side, and "It's Their Choice" on the other. He began by calling out "It's their Choice" to which the protesters across the street replied "We Agree" and then "Right to join, Right to leave!" Some Anonymous members swarmed over to confront the man, but were restrained to one-on-one talks with him by another Anonymous member. He later left the area after talks with the protesters.

BBC News drove by taking video of the protesters, but did not stop for interviews.

Boston, Massachusetts

Correspondent: TUFKAAP

Two "Anonymous" protesters asked if they could get a picture with their "friend," who was a Scientologist taking photos of the protesters.

Over 250 Anonymous protesters were out in force once more on the corners, at Boston's Scientology church at the corners of Beacon and Hereford Streets. Protesters only took up three corners, instead all four like they did on February 10th as police asked them politely to leave the street in front of Church vacant. Even though the protesters had a permit for all streets, they complied.

Wikinews talked to the Boston Police and was denied a video statement by one officer telling the reporter, "Get out of here," and brushing him off. However, the reporter asked another officer if there had been any trouble. The officer responded that there had been "no trouble, just people walking back and forth." Most the protest consisted of protesters handing out information pamphlets, DVDs, viral marketing cards for their campaign, talking to pedestrians who were passing by, shouting Internet memes to one another and shouting various chants.

Some Anonymous put forward concerns about Scientology plants in the crowd trying to incite disruption, however, none was noted. Other protesters mentioned there were rumors that the Scientologists were going to bus in Scientology students to disrupt the protester, however, that did not occur.

Scientologists were outside taking photos of the protesters, unlike February 10th, where they remained inside and photographing from the building. The Wikinews reporter asked a Scientologist why he taking pictures, he took the reporter's photograph and noted that he "was just taking pictures." Wikinews asked a church member if he would like to give a statement to Wikinews on camera, they denied the request and told the reporter they would send a statement via email to him. However, Wikinews has not yet received a statement from the Boston church.

Boston Galleries

Other Boston galleries

Brussels, Belgium

Correspondents: Brian McNeil and Steven Fruitsmaak

Listen to an interview between Steven Fruitsmaak and one of the protesters.
Cake for L. Ron Hubbard's birthday.

Starting off from a meeting point at the Brussels Central Station, the anonymous protesters proceeded on foot to arrive at their licensed protest point outside the Brussels Stock Exchange around 12:30 local time. The turnout was about half that of the previous protest with only 20 or so people present.

Per advice from the police, cake was not on offer. It had been pointed out that this would likely get the protesters overrun by children and vagrants. Unlike other countries, Belgium has laws prohibiting protesters to cover their faces, leaving the protesters to wear sunglasses and shawls.

The protest could not take place in front of Scientology's headquarters because an E.U. summit was scheduled to continue until today. Scientology members were allowed to be active outside their headquarters, for their "open door day". No special activities inside their building was observed, just volunteers handing out flyers to perhaps a dozen passers-by. The press release for this open door day was devoted to Anonymous:

Cquote1.svg
The police didn't allow Anonymous near the Scientology headquarters, but the Scientologists were allowed to stage an 'open door day'.
"Anonymous", a group of cyber-terrorists hiding their identities behind masks and computer anonymity, has targeted the Scientology religion, its Churches, leaders and parishioners with hate speech and hate crimes. ... Death threats and threats to plant nitroglycerin bombs in Churches have made it necessary to take security precautions and identify members of this group responsible for these crimes.
Cquote2.svg

—Scientology press release

The Scientologists said the event was inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is however remembered on December 10 (also mentioned on the flags outside their office, see photo). The United Nations Human Rights Council was established on March 15 (2006), a date closer to this weekend.

Wikinews spoke to a Scientology representative in the European headquarters, which are located in the political heart of Brussels; Law Street, just next to the Belgian and European parliament. Since Scientology was devoting the afternoon to human rights, we asked for Scientology's opinion about human rights controversies in the United States (such as the Guantanamo Bay detainees). The representative told Wikinews that the Church is a religious movement and avoids taking general political stances.

The representative was also confident about the outcome of a pending lawsuit from the Belgian federal prosecutor. After an eight-year investigation, the Belgian justice said that the local and European chapters, as well as, members would be accused of blackmailing, swindling members, breaking trade and privacy laws, unlawfully practising medicine, and forming a criminal organisation.

"The file is empty," said the Scientology representative, who asserted that the inquiry had been so lengthy because the state could not prove any wrongdoings by the Church. He said that unlike in the US, Scientology is not seeking official recognition in Belgium, which recognises only six religions. He also claimed that there were more than 1,000 Scientologists in Belgium.

"Today we are on the streets again, our numbers ever-increasing—and we will come again in April—in May—in June and July."
— Anonymous global speech

Anonymous distributed flyers and informed passers-by about Scientology. In a speech, they called for a dialogue with Scientology members, and said they were concerned for the parishioners' well-being:

To the Scientologists who fear us: You have nothing to fear from our peaceful protests. We are here because we care about you. We demonstrate only against the abuses of the Church management and we stand by your individual freedom of religion.

Operation: Party Hard - expect us, with cake was closed off with a birthday cake for the protesters.

Belgian media were in attendance with a film crew from RTBF interviewing several of the protesters and capturing their banners on tape. The slogans were mostly in English, ranging from "Religion is free, Scientology isn't" to "One billion years of servitude = super powers" — the latter a reference to the contracts that Scientologists sign when they become involved with the church's Sea Org.

The police presence was low-key with only one senior officer and a member of the Belgian intelligence services who took photographs.

Brussels Gallery

London, England

Correspondents: Adambro, Skenmy, JamesHarrison

Anonymous protests outside the Dianetics center on Tottenham Court Road

Once more, protests took place outside of both the Queen Victoria Scientology Headquarters and the Tottenham Court Road Dianetics centre. The additional time available for protesters in the aftermath of a rushed February 10th protest allowed the many of Anonymous to expand their protest to include even more outreach towards members of the public, with Anonymous members handing out free cake, sweets and other confectionery along with leaflets and stickers to passers-by.

Signage was loud and varied, proclaiming a variety of messages to the public and Scientologists. Many of the signs declared amusing yet pointed comments, with others making more serious jabs at the Church of Scientology.

Despite a larger police presence at the Tottenham Court Road protest, the protesters and Scientologists were both peaceful. Police officers, when asked if they had had any problems with the protesters, replied, somewhat jovially, "I can't really speak to you, the only thing I can say is 'No comment'. No problems. I mean no comment."

Anonymous on Queen Victoria Street: "No Scientology please, we're British!"

Interview
This interview was carried out with members of Anonymous at the Tottenham Court Road protest. Church of Scientology representatives refused an interview and have not made any comment at the time of going to press.

  • Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.pngWhat has the public's reaction been to the protest, and what are your views on it?
Anonymous Member 1: Lots of people have been taking leaflets, you can see some people stopping to look at signs, it's very interesting. The ground covered- from nothing to this in six weeks is stunning. It's an internet phenomenon, definitely. It's people around the planet, they've suddenly realised they can communicate, and I think the whole Anonymous thing is the start of something different, it definitely feels like something's happening.
  • Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.pngIn terms of Anonymous's lack of organisation as a collective in their protests towards the Church of Scientology, how do you feel about that and how has it really come together?
Anonymous Member 2: Well, everyone here is an individual, there's actual people behind the masks, even though we all look like the same person. As far as Scientology is concerned, I can't really say what any one person's motivations are because we don't have motivations as a group. Everybody is here as individuals, and for their own reasons... I think the great thing is the fact that with all our individual motivations and reasons we still manage to come together; we're a ton of people from the Internet, we don't know each other in real life; and we get together and have this kind of giant protest. It's amazing.
  • Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.pngIn terms of the Church of Scientology as an entity, what's your personal motivation- as a member of Anonymous- for protesting against the Church?
Anonymous Member 2: Personally, the thing I feel most strongly about is the way they abuse their members. Cases like Lisa McPherson, for example, and people in RPF camps, and all the people who have died as a result of the Church's actions.That, I think, is the biggest thing for me. But there's also their status as a religion. Well, really, it's not. It's a business, and they need to acknowledge that.
  • Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.pngWhat would you say are the main objections of Anonymous against the Church of Scientology?
Anonymous Member 3: I honestly can't speak for Anonymous, I can only speak for myself, and I believe that the Church of Scientology's fight against civil liberties in this country is something that has to be protested against. That's why I'm here today.

Reporters also spoke with members of the police:

  • Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.pngHow has it been to work with a group like Anonymous?
Met. Police Officer: It's been fine, there's been no problems at all.

London Gallery

Manchester, England

Correspondent: Anonymous101

The protest started at approximately 11:00 local time with protesters saying that over 100 people have turned up to protest for at least part of the protest. It started at Deansgate, which is the same location as the one for the start of the February 10 protests. Members of Anonymous have told Wikinews that their members started arriving at 09:00 local time.

Protesters were holding placards with statements such as “Freedom of religion - A right / Freedom to oppress - A crime.” Placards asking “How do I anger seasoned Amnesty International prize winning journalist, John Sweeney?” were also held as part of the protest. John Sweeney was heavily featured in the UK press after he produced a documentary in which he claimed representatives of the Church of Scientology were constantly following him.

As with the other protests, protesters brought cake, as a result of it being close to the birthday of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.

One of the protesters told Wikinews that “The so-called Church of Scientology's multiple violations of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration on Human Rights have gone unnoticed and unchallenged for far too long.” He continued saying that “the corporation needs to learn that suppression of free speech, institution of forced labour and the more general suppression of its parishioners is both legally and morally wrong. The protests will continue until such a time that major changes are made to the Scientology's organizational structure, or until they meet accusations of wrongdoing head-on and provide evidence that the community's worries are unfounded.” He added that he was “not protesting against the religion of Scientology, but the corporation that delivers it.”
Interview
This interview was carried out yesterday with two of the Manchester protesters.

  • Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.pngWhy do you consider it important to take part in the protests?
Anonymous Member 1:We consider it important to take part, most of us are regular Internet users who believe in free speech. The CoS [Church of Scientology, ed.] has on numerous instances suppressed the flow of information regarding any of their criticisms or more esoteric beliefs. Examples include the ARS newsgroup during the 90s, and the recently leaked Tom Cruise video.
We are taking part to demonstrate our beliefs that freedom of knowledge and information are basic human rights. Most of us have also done our own research regarding the CoS, and come to the conclusion that it is a malign cult, that harms its members and tries to subvert public opinion to further its own ends.
  • Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.pngHow many people do you expect to attend the protests worldwide?
Anon. 1: No real way of knowing until the day and head counts are done, but we are hoping to exceed Feb 10th due to a lot of Anonymous members not turning up due to fear of retaliation, laziness, or generally not being sure of what to do. Videos of the Feb 10th have shown how peaceful yet fun the protests are, so we are hoping to do quite well on the 15th.
  • Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.pngWhy are you protesting against CoS?
Anon. 1: We are protesting the CoS, not the religious doctrine itself. Whilst many of us may disagree with some of the faith's tenants, we believe freedom of religion is every person's right. However the CoS uses this sacred human right to perform immoral and illegal actions, whilst labeling anyone who criticises it as Religious bigots, terrorists, or criminals.
  • Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.pngMany people consider some of the actions taken by anonymous illegal. Do you think your actions are justified?
Anon. 2:The problem with this question is the way Anonymous is organised, as it isn't organised. It's just a collection of people from various corners of the Internet. If someone makes a threat to the CoS and says they're Anonymous there's nothing we can do to stop them saying that, Anonymous doesn't have a membership card.
Anon. 1: Yes.

Manchester Gallery

New York, New York

Photographer: rankun

Buffalo, New York

Correspondent: DragonFire1024

Throughout the day, nearly 100 protesters including ex-Sea Org Scientology member Chuck Beatty, turned out in Buffalo with signs and enthusiasm. It was a cold and foggy day with temperatures in the low 30's (F) which is significantly warmer than the previous February 10 protests that drew only about 50 people. People filled Main Street across from the Church in a line which extended an entire city block. A radio was on hand playing 'Rick Roll' and also the audio recording of the Scientology interview with Tom Cruise.

The day started off with an off duty Buffalo Police detective instructing the crowd to protest peacefully. The detective, who was identified to Wikinews only as 'Detective Tim' then immediately told protesters to remove masks that could be considered threatening. Scarves were allowed as it was a cold day, but bandannas were not permitted to be worn.

Wikinews was earlier accused of being "fake" and Detective 'Tim' refused to give a statement to Wikinews saying "no media. You made that (press badge) from the Internet. I never seen this site before." 'Tim' then refused outright to give his last name and badge number. 'Tim' was quoted only during his time speaking publicly to the protesters.

Shortly after instructing people to remove masks, 'Tim' then accused a member of Anonymous of "portraying an Arabic terrorist" because of a scarf he was wearing and asked him to remove it.

Shortly after, at least three protesters were detained by police and questioned after taking photographs and video of the Church from across the street. Police approached the three and began to "yell" at them. 'Tim' then told one protester that "the Church want you arrested. Now how am I going to avoid that." The protester then willingly handed over his videotape of the church and asked not to be arrested. Subsequently all three were released without being charged. According to Detective 'Tim', "the tape is now the property of the police." The protesters were not on Church property and were only filming the areas of the Church visible from across the streets.

During the protest, a member of Anonymous read a speech, which according to him, was a worldwide speech to all Churches.

"Today - The Ides of March - is the day Julius Caesar was betrayed by those he trusted. Today we gather together as Anonymous to call attention to another betrayal of trust - that of the Church of Scientology upon its followers. Since is inception, Scientology has traded in false hopes and promises, betrayed the trust of its members, taken their money, their rights, and at times their very lives," said the statement.

"Last month 10,000 people demonstrated in one hundred and seven cities across the world. They came together to make the first breach in the wall of silence," added the statement.

Despite the incident, 'Tim' was friendly to the protesters, even stating that "he might be back later to have a few cupcakes."

According to a member of Anonymous, "we will come again, our numbers ever increasing, in April, May, June and July."

Buffalo Gallery


Seattle, Washington

Correspondent: RoninBK

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The Seattle protest was divided into two halves. One group was to assemble at Westlake Center, and would march from there to the Scientology site. The other group was to meet at the Seattle Center, closer to the site, disseminating fliers to the crowd.

Protesters began to gather in front of Westlake Center at about 9:30 PDT. with about a dozen protesters at first. One of the protesters revealed to me that he was a 30 year former member of the Church of Scientology from the Los Angeles area. He asserted that "this protest is just." He spoke of former members who have been afraid to come out, because of the continuously reinforced teachings of the church. Members are cautioned against looking onto the Internet for alternate information, that they could die if they were to even look at the Internet. The mind is trained not to seek out any information that could contradict the church's teachings. He said that if the Scientologists ever knew what really happens in the church management, they would be terrified, and turn away in droves.

Other members carried picket signs and leaflets. Early on, many of the crowd members were chatting with each other, sometimes taking pictures of each other. Passers by gave the assembled crowd mixed reactions to being approached. One of the members of the public expressed concern that a protest in Seattle would not do much, "They oughta be picketing Tom Cruise's house."

Curiously, a few members actually took pictures of me standing off to the side with my camera. A few accused me of being from the church, attempting to gain identifiable information, and were therefore cautious. Others saw me as the only person around without a mask, and in this crowd I was the outsider.

3-15 Seattle 27.JPG

At about 11:00 PDT, the crowd started to proceed north, up 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. At no point did I witness any of the Anonymous group committing a crime. I however, could probably have been cited on multiple counts for jaywalking, in attempts to get a decently framed shot from my digital camera without being seen as marching with the crowd. Numerous car horns blared during the crowd's exodus down 5th Avenue. As the street took a turn north, the crowd passed Fischer Plaza, home to local ABC affiliate KOMO-TV. I noted that I had not seen any mainstream media coverage of the event. The march turned down Broad Street, and at this point I gave up trying to keep pace in front of the crowd. I pulled over to the side of the sidewalk, next to a chain link fence to get the last photos of this phase of the protest. Afterwards, I followed the procession as it turned onto Aurora, and reached the Scientology center.

The center itself is situated on one end of an overpass, Aurora Avenue crosses over Mercer Street here, and eastbound traffic on Mercer was treated to a large banner proclaiming "HONK AGAINST SCIENTOLOGY" The banner generated a considerable number of car horns, which resulted in an equal number of cheers from the crowd. On the north side of the center, more protesters positioned themselves around the parking lot. Very few members were visible, for a long time there was only one standing near the entrance back in a fenced off area. Members of the crowd would level jeers at the man, such as "What are your crimes?" Eventually two police officers arrived, who stationed themselves in the parking lot, observing the crowd and calmly turning back any protester who crossed into the parking lot with a warning. No Scientology personnel approached the crowd, or a member of the press.

Seattle Gallery


Sydney, Australia

Anonymous Sydney.
Image: Luke.

The protest in Sydney gathered approximately 300 activists. The masked protesters gathered in Hyde Park and moved through the city to the Church of Scientology. Two large trucks obstructed the view of the Scientology office from across the street.

Sydney Gallery

Portland, Oregon

The protesting began at 10:30, and was quieter than the 10 February event, with about 100 protesters. Initially, all of the protesters were on the side of the street opposing the church, but later someone suggested loudly to cross over and soon both sides of the street had protesters, many right in front of the church. The protesters walked through the middle of the road, contrary to guidelines stated for the 10 February protest. This resulted in some booing from the protesters that didn't cross.

Police showed up at one point, and asked a few protesters (walking right through them) to clear a driveway.

Portland Gallery

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Sources

Wikinews
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
Wikinews
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.
Wikipedia Learn more about Project Chanology and Anonymous on Wikipedia.
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