Things between Anonymous and the Church of Scientology have been getting downright nasty lately. Vindictive, even.
For much of the last week, Project Chanology’s local adherents have been holding court at Scientology’s Yonge Street chapter, carrying out what they call “flash raids.” Unlike the broader, theme-based demonstrations of the past few months—addressing everything from the Church’s notorious Fair Game policy to its very own, admittedly hilarious private navy—the community-targeted, information-based flash raids are, in comparative terms, not unlike the ubiquitous mall kiosks festooned with remaindered copies of Dianetics and stress tests: it looks like Scientology will just have to get used to them.
That’s not to say they’re taking it in stride. In response to Anonymous’ constellation of indictments—ranging from an alleged history of tax fraud to more than a few disturbing human rights violations—operatives within the church, and definitely the local organization, have taken to the streets themselves, although without the en-masse presence that Project Chanology has maintained. While Anonymous’ unnervingly exhaustive manifesto stops short of dropping the t-bomb, Scientology’s response has been peppered with truncated, unofficial quotes lifted from YouTube and 4chan, essentially profiling the web-based movement as a band of hate-motivated terrorists.
During our day’s first awkward visit to the local org, Torontoist was tossed a handful of literature and told to come back in an hour. One pamphlet—a glossy brochure splashed with Anonymous’ “official” logo— featured a FAQ of basic questions about the group’s activities. Braving the ire of professors everywhere, Scientology cites the “Anonymous_(group)” Wikipedia entry, without referencing Project Chanology itself: “Anonymous broadly represents the concept of any and all people as an unnamed collective.” Also, as of May 17, the entry apparently included the following:
“Anonymous is devoid of humanity, morality, pity, and mercy.
Anonymous works as one, because none of us are as cruel as all of us. Anonymous has no weakness or flaw. Anonymous exploits all weaknesses and flaws. Anonymous doesn’t have a family or friends.”
At press time, the above is conspicuously absent from the entry in question. While it appears as part of “The Sekrit Code of Anonymous” in an Encyclopedia Dramatica entry, the quote refers to the meme of Anonymous as an online phenomenon spanning the breadth and history of the Web, of which Project Chanology is a recent, focused manifestation. Addressing the Project’s disputed legality, Scientology is markedly more vague: “It does not matter how many of us are knocked out,” the Church cites, referring to this YouTube video. “‘Remove one head, and ten replace it.'” Why only the latter appears quoted is unclear, but likely related to its absence from the video’s transcription. Instead, the words belong to user Karasuetpeople, posted to the video a month ago.
Because of the vast, structureless body of Anonymous and the obviously heated nature of the issue, the ownership and intent of such quotes on either side can’t be reasonably ascertained from online sources. So, like good little neo-Luddites, Torontoist once again closed its laptop and pulled out its thirty-dollar voice recorder.
“I don’t know, when you’re in a smaller group you can talk to the public more easily,” one Anon told us. “You can hand out more flyers; there’s more public access. It’s not so big, you know?” Without a fixed schedule, the flash raids are prepared a day or two in advance—largely unannounced—to maximize the element of surprise. “Not many people know about them, and [Scientology] can’t really prepare,” said another. “It’s guerrilla warfare. Yesterday, after people showed up, they started closing the blinds.”
With greater dialogue, Project Chanology hopes to defuse some of the arguably propagandist rhetoric leveled against them by Scientology’s escalating PR efforts. “If you go in there right now,” said another Anon, pointing to the org’s rarely-open door, “they have a stack of flyers on their desks saying we are evil, evil people. They’ve been on Bloor walking up and down [the street] with them.” Anons, meanwhile, have reduced the scale of their demonstrations lately—with the exception of yesterday’s presence at Pride [PDF]—to more effectively engage the public. Sidewalk drawings state the names of those allegedly victimized by Fair Game practices, while an arrow-shaped sign points into the org’s lobby with a monosyllabic message: “CULT.”
An hour later, we followed up on that earlier request for an interview. As staff members we’d talked to had since changed shifts, a gentleman in a red Dianetics shirt—reportedly a member of the local org’s Office of Special Affairs—welcomed us. After our introduction, a knowing expression flashed across the man’s face, and we were guided back toward the entrance.
“Have a nice day,” he said, holding the door. Then he locked it in our faces.
All photos by Jon Robertson.