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Scientology’s Legion of Doom

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If you passed the Church of Scientology’s Toronto chapter at Yonge & St. Mary on Sunday, you may have momentarily entertained a dark fantasy that Tom Cruise would emerge from the masked masses amid gales of manic laughter, igniting the dissenting throng with bolts of righteous lightning.
Sadly, no such fun. Rumour has it that Mr. Cruise was under lockdown during Anonymous’ global day of action against L. Ron Hubbard’s brainchild. As the Toronto campaign got underway, Sunday commuters voiced solidarity with the placard-waving Vs and Vaders through their horns. “Honk for Xenu” read one such sign; “Honk if you think Scientology is silly” read another. On the other side of the street, police wedged themselves between Scientology’s Toronto headquarters and a crowd that was only getting louder.


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The war Anonymous wants is over ten years old, fought on a digital battleground. Many of the demonstrators gathered on Yonge Street were rallied through Facebook or YouTube, new recruits in a struggle that, in this city, can be traced at least as far back as a guy named Gregg Hagglund (pictured above) and “The Great Internet Wars” of the late nineties.
“I started picketing because Scientology attacked me for criticizing them on the Internet,” he said. Referring to a Usenet newsgroup on the subject, he says, “Some of it was wild, but a lot of the posters were very, very educated in their information about Scientology. So I made the comment that if what they were saying was true, Scientology should be investigated.” As exchanges and e-mail bombings escalated, things got ugly. Before long, Hagglund and his compatriots were embroiled in a struggle which, at its heart, was about freedom of speech, information, and challenging a “culture of surveillance.”
That was something like ten years ago. And while Anonymous is a new movement, it is fighting the same war.
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Watching the swelling crowd across the street, Hagglund reminisced. “We never had this many. The most we ever had was fifty people from all over North America,” he said. “This is incredible.”
Surrounded by watchful shutters, Rev. Yvette Shank, president of Scientology’s Toronto chapter, dismissed Hagglund’s and Anonymous’ allegations of harassment, suppression of dissent, and even stalking. “Bushwash,” she responded. “That is such bushwash. I have never, ever had that happen. If we did, we would be very busy. We wouldn’t be doing anything else.” “Anything else” probably refers to Scientology’s outreach campaigns, many of which are youth-targeted. “We have a drug-education campaign where we get kids from the age of 6 on up to pledge to be drug-free.”
“Anything else” also refers to Scientology’s infamous stress tests. “All that does is help us locate where the person is having the most difficulty,” Shank said, “and then you can start working on improving that.” When asked to elaborate further on the methods involved, Shank declined. (An invitation to “show us how it works” through participation, but that’s about it, and no mention of Thetans.)
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Such details of the Scientology mythos have remained tightly-guarded for years, available only to the Church’s ladder-climbing members. With the advent of the Internet, the conflict between Anonymous and Scientology has become an information war, one that’s rapidly approaching critical mass.
“We’ve always said that the Internet is Scientology’s Vietnam,” Hagglund continued. “Now, years later, so many people between the ages of 18 and 25 are on YouTube or Facebook. When I stopped picketing, YouTube was just starting. Facebook didn’t exist. And they want to attack that?” Hagglund chuckled a little, remarking, “It’ll be like throwing a hand grenade into an African Bees’ nest.”
Since Anonymous’ first video appeared on YouTube, Scientology has been vigilant in defending itself and its interests, profiling Anonymous as an “Internet hate machine.” In its reporting, FOX News echoed the accusation. “I think FOX News did a good job at exposing the intent of these guys, honestly,” Shank asserted. “The hate crimes of Anonymous should be condemned. This is a country that is free, and I don’t want people that believe and follow Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto as their Bible.” Pressed for her source, she said, “It comes from Anonymous. That’s the source. You have to look at…” as an aide whispered in her ear: “It’s on YouTube.”
“Yes,” she confirmed. “On YouTube.”
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Outside, a masked demonstrator offered his answer. “Anonymous likes to think of itself as a school of all literature,” he said. “So, likewise, we also educate ourselves through 1984 and Brave New World, which I’m sure they’d love their followers to read. Or not.”
If this is an information war, Anonymous’ outrage concerns a lack of transparency on the Scientology side. “We just like to raise attention on certain matters. If the church wanted to debunk some of [Anonymous’] claims, then they could make more of their information available and not be so secretive. If people knew all that they were getting into, they might have a different opinion.”
When asked for his name, the masked demonstrator simply answered, “My name is Legion.”
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All photos by Miles Storey

Comments

  • rek

    Awesome. I wish I’d know about this.
    Two weeks ago there was a smaller protest in front of the building with people handing out pamphlets about how Scientology kills people. It was the same day I found out about Anonymous and saw their creepy/awesome video on YouTube.

  • DocORock

    For some reason, I stumbled onto Scientology stuff over the Internet this weekend – then came to understand this “war” going on between Scientology and Anonymous. Pretty interesting stuff.
    Some of the material I’ve viewed – videos – are concerning. It would SEEM that the institution is quite unorthodox in some of their practices as churches or religions go. The investigations and “stalking” they seemingly admittedly perform on critics is a disturbing thing.
    That’s not the point of me registering and commenting here. If you Canadians are yet again pissed off at us Americans for yet another perceived atrocity coming your way from this side of the border – I (once again) sincerely apologize to you all. I am an American who loves Canada and Canadians, and wish US wouldn’t have such an “immediate effect” on your wonderful country.

  • rowrasaur

    Why didn’t TOist publish a heads-up for this??
    I’d bet the readers hear would like to know what will be happening in this city, not always just what happened.

  • Kevin Bracken

    This was an epic win for Anons everywhere. I am glad I was able to witness it despite my extreme sketch from the night before.
    Anon did it for the lulz

  • Kevin Bracken

    And to reply to Doc, I don’t think I’ve heard anybody “blaming the Americans” for Scientology. Scientology has churches all over the world and, according to them, are not only an international org but an intergalactic one, lol.

  • kendrew

    If you’re interested in going to the next one its on March 15.
    So look out for it

  • Acadie

    I have seen this all over the internet, how could anyone not know it was happening today? Anyway why are they being picked on, still waiting for an intelligent answer on how they differ from any other religion. Just seems to be the cool thing to do, hate Tome Cruise, Hate Scientology but be unable to elaborate the difference from Scientology to any other religion.

  • kendrew

    They’re being picked on because they’re oppressing free speech within their organization, profiting as a “religion”, the deeper you go within scientology the more money you have to give to get access to the materials. They copyright all their materials, books etc. Any of their ‘teachings’ comes out to the public they sue whoever leaked it.
    Lets see… they stalk critics of Scientology, wikipedia r2-45, it’s pretty intense. Also their ‘free game’ is pretty whack.
    That’s what I can think about off the top of my head…

  • sAcNiOfNy

    Just feel a need to point this out… Fox News did no echoing of Scientology calling Anonymous an “Internet Hate Machine.” Indeed, unless Ms. Shank used the term in the interview she gave, I’m not at all aware of the Church of Scientology ever referring to Anonymous in that fashion. Fox News first referred to the group in that manner, in a story run back in… November, I believe. I would give you a link to the story, but it is honestly lacking in journalistic integrity, seeing as it further implied that Anonymous had plans and the ability to blow things up, most specifically yellow vans.

  • Miles Storey

    Every religion comes under scrutiny and criticism, most of them profit from their activities, using income from donations (or tithes). It’s true that a lot of the criticism pointed at Scientology could also be directed at mainstream religions, including their fantastical beliefs – show me a religious organization that doesn’t have some kind of (objectively) ridiculous ‘magical’ foundation.
    There are differences between Scientology and mainstream religions though. Scientology is intensely secretive from the first initiation and, allegedly, an aggressively bullying organization the processes of which, such as isolation and payment-based progress, have more in common with cults than mainstream religions.
    There’s a thin line between religion and cult, I don’t know enough about either to take a particular stand on one side or the other. I find the whole concept of religion strange.

  • Acadie

    They stifle free speech? What happens to Muslim Apostates in Muslim Countries? Take a whack at it and it affects millions and millions. Christianity sure you can have free speech if you want to excommunicated and that again affects millions and not the 50,000 some odd Scientologists.
    I am all for free speech but no church at its core allows it, they may tolerate it but if it goes after church doctrine the usually excommunicate you, that is all religions. As I said what differentiates them from any other? Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, Mormons, Catholics and the list goes on and on, and they have far more influence and power over far greater masses than the lowly pathetic Scientologists do. Indoctrination for most begins at Birth and that is just wrong in so many ways, so go after the Scientologists, but then go after all of them.

  • rek

    Acadie: Anonymous is waging a war against Scientology’s online censorship and intimidation practises — well-documented, which someone as net-savvy as yourself surely knows. They don’t care what Scientologists believe, but they won’t tolerate what they do.
    The Church of Scientology regularly issues copyright infringement claims and/or threatens to sue any site that posts their ‘doctrine’ for review or criticism. Anonymous came about partially because the CoS issued a number of cease and desist letters to sites hosting the Tom Cruise ranting. It’s not a tactic new to the CoS, nor is it the first time online groups have declared war on them for attempting to censor online discussion and criticism.
    How does the CoS differ from your average religion? Well they charge to receive even basic religious instruction, they infiltrated US government agencies (consulates, the IRS) and private organizations in order to purge unflattering records, they utilize a doctrine called Fair Game in order to ruin the lives of outspoken critics, and their holy documents are copyrighted to prevent unauthorized dissemination, something only done by a handful of Christian sects and only in the US. Among other things.
    Did you really think criticism of the CoS and Scientology was something new and trendy but without substance? Perhaps you should have looked into it — it’s all over the internet.

  • rek

    More on how the CoS tries to discredit and ruin people who criticize them here.

  • Acadie

    Yes it is all over the internet, what church does not exert its belief or try to in governmental affairs or have secretive efforts to gain influence ? Do not Christians, Muslims, Hindus etc. have influence in Government policy? What church does not expect Tithe of some sort? What Church does not have members lobbying or in Government positions that affect all of us? Where were all the Anon’s last year? Did not Muslims riot over free speech in Newspaper Cartoon Editorials? People Died, if thats not stifling free speech not sure what is. Do Christians not try to outlaw abortion, birth control, the list is far to long to put here. Who Ran Europe until maybe 100 years ago? Who runs most Muslim Nations? Have you looked South of the Border Lately, who is trying to run that Government and have made significant inroads? Would it not be the Fundamentalist Religious Right?
    I am fully aware of the criticisms of scientology but the latest upswing in the tirades against it are new, so yes even before the advent of the internet I was aware of the criticism against Scientology. If all of you still have this intense interest in a few years I will be surprised, most will get bored and move onto the next trendy thing. I am sure some will keep up the effort but most interest will wane over time. You think this will defeat them, that is funny. They have a better tax exemption in the US than all other religions. When you have an army of people willing to stand in front of their buildings daily, year after year with pamphlets that show why it is wrong you may have a chance to stop them from growing as much at best. This is a useless and inept attempt at best. If you think this will stop them you really have no idea on who you are dealing with.

  • ysdn

    you have no idea who you are dealing with?
    you sound like a scientologist

  • Acadie

    I most certainly do, if you cannot differentiate between a hardcore Atheist and a Scientologist this is a lost cause from the get go. Do you really think Scientology is worried about all this? They had the American Feds go after them for 25 years and they walked away with a better tax deal then all the other religions, and they are worried about the likes of those protesting? I am still laughing at the thinly veiled threat, you think far to highly of yourself. I will allow all you protesters the illusion of grandeur and leave it at that.

  • DaveH

    Is it possible the recent increase in attention Scientology is getting these days is related to all those internet sites devoted to celebrity watching, particularly celebrity members.

  • james a

    Maybe I’m ignorant for having basically tuned out the protest against scientology so far.. I’ve long believed that scientology was just another weird pseudo-cult that wasn’t worth more than a passing thought, so the protest stories didn’t really interest me.
    But.. what is up with this protest? I have a really hard time taking a protest seriously where the protesters are dressed as transformers and holding signs saying “honk for xenu”, whatever that means. These people hardly make me want to consider their point of view.

  • Skippy the Magical Racegoat

    james a,
    If you don’t want to consider their point of view, why are you asking “what’s up with this protest”? Read a little bit about it.

  • EricSmith

    I think that the key distinction to consider about Scientology is that it poses as a scientifically-developed cure for all ills. Dianetics, which was published in 1950, did not originally claim to be a religious text — it was a sort of alternative psychotherapy, heavy on the pseudo-science and inflated promises. Hubbard was quick to turn it into a franchised operation, with storefronts staffed by true believers. Commerce was a part of it from the very beginning, but the basis was fake science, stuff that Hubbard knew was fake because he’d just made it up, not honest faith.
    The religious claims came a bit later, when Hubbard was faced with 1) taxes on his earnings and 2) investigation of his bogus medical claims. And the loopy stuff with space aliens isn’t a founding tenet of the cult, either — Hubbard made it all up as he went along, needing more materials to sell to people who’d already bought everything that came before. Being as he was a pulp SF writer, aliens had to come into it sooner or later.
    So Scientology is really a sort of self-help Amway that found in religion a convenient cloak for its many frauds.
    (Upon hearing about Xenu the genocidal galactic overlord without adequate, expensive preparation, you’re supposed to fall over and die of psychosomatic flu symptoms, by the way. This is scientifically proven by L. Ron Hubbard’s technology, and Anonymous should’ve warned you.)

  • james a

    I don’t mean to diminish the relevance of the protest or anything.. Given the ever increasing attention this is getting, it seems inevitable that I’ll decide to learn more.
    That’s not my point though.. Presumably the goal of this protest is to convince the public at large to learn more. All I’m saying is that dressing up as a kid’s cartoon and holding meaningless banners seems like the wrong approach. If I wanted to highlight environmental issues (something I’m interested in) I wouldn’t put on a teletubby suit and hold up a sign that says “honk for megatron”. I’d dress as myself and hold up a banner with a key phrase explaining the point I was trying to make.

  • paigesix

    I believe they are in masks to prevent the Scientology overlords from knowing who they are, as personal attacks on protesters are not out of the question.

  • EricSmith

    And as for the nonsense slogans, well, these particular demonstrations are essentially an Internet in-joke that accidentally detonated. I’m surprised that it all made as much sense as it did.

  • Carly Beath

    I wouldn’t put on a teletubby suit and hold up a sign that says “honk for megatron”. I’d dress as myself and hold up a banner with a key phrase explaining the point I was trying to make.
    That’s exactly why they’re holding the “honk for Xenu” signs and wearing the masks – it’s making the point that Scientology is pretty absurd. Scientology says that Xenu was an alien who killed people at volcanoes and now their spirits haunt people psychologically. As far as I understand, anyway. They’re just showing people exactly how ridiculous it is.

  • tripper

    Scientology has a history of not only suing but actually harassing its critics. Hang-up calls, mysterious cars in front of houses, shadowy figures lurking in dark alleys, etc. I wouldn’t want them to recognize my face either.

  • MariaPD

    If they really didn’t want their identities known, they shouldn’t have announced their event, complete with guest-list on Facebook:
    http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=8782412357
    http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=10170580971

  • rek

    If you’re going to ignore the details and round it off to generalities like “what religion doesn’t have followers” then there’s really no point trying to discuss this with you, Acadie. Organizing harassment and libel campaigns against critics is hardly the same as excommunicating someone or building a bigger steeple. Religious groups are free to stifle their members’ speech all they want, but the CoS wants to stifle everyone’s speech. Tithing, which the CoS also does, isn’t comparable to “fixed donations”; and I doubt your local priest gets a 10-15% commission from the pope when you purchase a $400 basic Bible from their franchise. Do you think Muslims rioted because they were given orders to, or because they were offended? Do you really think a priest urging his flock to speak out and vote against same-sex marriage is the same as telling church-goers to steal documents and work their way into influential positions to subvert the law?
    How much do you think Buddha charged his followers? Do you think the Church of Latter Day Saints pays missionaries a commission for each convert?
    Scientology differs from religions because it’s not a religion; it’s a business founded on psychobabble wrapped in ridiculous stories for the sake of the tax breaks.

  • james a

    “Do you really think a priest urging his flock to speak out and vote against same-sex marriage is the same as telling church-goers to steal documents and work their way into influential positions to subvert the law?”
    To be fair, there have certainly been cases of outspoken christian nutjob evangelists advocating gay-bashing/abortion clinic bombing/etc.
    Totally agree with your point though, frankly a lot of it applies to Jehovah’s as well.

  • EricSmith

    It’d be interesting to compare and contrast the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Scientologists. I’m not sure if anyone’s done it in depth.
    There’s a Chick Tract that depicts some Jehovah’s Witnesses speeding along in their car, in a hurry to file a sinister, computerized report at “Watchtower HQ” — just Jack Chick taking time off from bashing Catholics, scientists, Godless pop music, and Hallowe’en while still being his cranky, paranoid self.
    The funny thing is that Scientology has an intelligence arm, the famous Office of Special Affairs. So there’s a point of contrast: after L. Ron Hubbard spent almost forty years applying his creativity to it pretty much full time, it’s hard to make up something about Scientology.

  • rowrasaur

    As Lincoln said, “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.”
    At least these people are taking an active stand for something. They’ve been able to organize from the most modest roots get their message to mainstream news outlets, no small feat.
    It’s unfortunate that people will be cynical about the message for no other reason than they have the attitude that organized protests should be void of any sort of humour or fun.

  • rek

    Message to Scientology, the first Chanology/Anonymous video, states they’re in it for the long haul and don’t expect immediate victory.
    I don’t know anything about JWism, but I’d be a lot of comparisons could be made between Scientology and Mormonism too.

  • AverageGuy

    I could get deep into this, but I’m going to try to keep it simple here.
    Comparing the scientology corporate pyramid scam, under cover as religion, to other more widely accepted religions (though they may have similar scandals behind them as well) seems like a tactic being used throughout the internet today to detract from the momentum of the war on scientology.
    It is not the religion, or the belief structure that is under fire. The crimes and human rights violations are. The intended, deliberate, and recurring fraud is.
    Personally I think my toaster is the omni-galactic supreme manifestation of all of the love-energy in the universe. It represents all that is good! It’s silly. And while protesters unveil the silliness that is xenu, space-airplanes, volca(oh)noes, and space-cooties; they do so for indirect purposes. It brings to light a story they once used legal means to suppress (a form of admission) and now outright lie about and deny. The lies deserve to be brought out, placed in stocks for everyone to see, and … well, you know … that thing with the throwing of rotten veggies would be inevitable.
    I’ve left out the mind control aspect of their training, and the inhumane treatment of its inner members. They are simply too scared to leave. They think they are trapped. They are also ashamed, and so they lie.
    Hate to think what the long version would have looked like.

  • EdAnon

    The ignorance of Ms. Shank is absolutely astounding. Anyone with a high school diploma in this country ought to know that the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampff are two ideologically opposed doctrines.
    How can we possibly hold both “as our Bible”?
    No, Anonymous is not a group of terrorists. We are fighting to protect individuals and society from a monstrous organization that has been allowed to prey on innocent people for far too long.
    We are your SP’s, we are your salvation.

  • AndroidCat

    As someone who has been harassed by the Toronto org, I’d like to take this opportunity to call Ms. Shank either ignorant or a liar.
    They keep using that word reverend. In Scientology that is a course of less than one week, mainly for PR purposes.
    While there are sincere believers in Scientology, the organization is a sham and a lie. There is no cake.

  • Acadie

    Tyrannosaurus, get educated on Buddha, LDS. Your are really ignorant as far as these religions go, wow. If Scientology is the what you think of is the worse you are really clueless. Wow. I would like to continue this discussion but once your truly educated on the history of all religions we can have an intelligent discussion about it. Your clueless when it comes to any of the supposed “Religions” Keep going after scientology, your right but if you truly cannot see how Buddhism and LDS are far, far worse you never studied religious doctrine throughout history and what they still do.

  • victum

    These Scientologists I believe are a bunch of idiots. For that matter, anyone who worships ghosts, aliens or old dead people are.

  • Marc Lostracco

    When I walked by the March 15 protest at about 4:50, this little jerk in a purple toque was weaseling behind the protesters all crouched down. He was acting strange and I wondered what he was doing, until he whipped an apple-sized projectile across the street at the wall of cops, clearly intending to make it look like it came from the protest group.
    The thing he lobbed would have hit a cop had it not hit an innocent pedestrian in the fucking head instead. Jackass.

  • Anon e mouse

    I am an athiest myself, Acadie, and you make me ashamed to call myself one. You are the only one not being objective here. You are allowing yourself to blindly believe that $300,000 in forced “donations” in order to fix all your diseases is anywhere near the same as what any religion in this world is capable of accomplishing at this time. You are telling yourself that this protest is not worthwhile because, at some time in the past, certain religions killed people en masse and ruled the world.
    Don’t you get it? They don’t do that anymore. Why don’t they do that? Because men and women who believed in good and rightness rose up against them and brought them down, chopping off their gigantic, oversized balls. This is what we are doing to Scientology now, because they are one of the few religions left that has the power to do these things. The Christian Right doesn’t have a multibillion dollar lawyer industry. They do not have the most advanced facial recognition software in the world located at their headquarters. Hell, most of them are so conservative they still make Geocities websites.
    Why the hell does it matter that the Spanish Inquisition happened? Some Muslims were pissed off last year, and that’s a terrible thing? Well I don’t give a damn, because the Holocaust was so much worse it completely nullifies any atrocities the Muslims accomplished!
    That line of reasoning is shallow, and I do not believe you are an athiest. I do not believe it for one second. I believe you are a member of OSA, and I believe your sole purpose here is to deter people from protesting, not expose people to what you may be appearing to believe is your objective criticism. I believe you are being paid, very well, to do this.
    How many children have you yelled at today?
    How many innocent people have you accused of child molestation today?
    How many Christians have you lied to today by telling them your religion is compatible with theirs, knowing full well that once they’ve lost all their friends and self-esteem they will be bullied into denouncing Christ?
    What are your crimes?

  • http://undefined winstonoboogie

    Canadian Scientologist using the tragedy in Haiti to scam donations into their private accounts using deception over facebook exposed!
    http://www.facebook.com/notifications.php#/topic.php?uid=5550296508&topic=17773