Posts Tagged ‘freedom of the press’

Scientology: Nearly 18 Months Into Project Chanology

26 May 2009

I remember when Project Chanology got started on YouTube in January 2008. An online group of hackers decided to have some fun at the expense of the Church of Scientology. In the beginning, it consisted of DDOS attacks against their assorted websites, prank phone calls, prank faxes and other things.

At first, I thought that these kids were in way over their heads. After all, the Church of Scientology had made a science out of destroying their enemies and had most of the media cowed. You couldn’t say a negative word about the Church in any form of media without receiving what the Church used to refer to as “Fair Game“, which included harassment, legal threats, lawsuits, picketing your home or place of business, etc. Peoples’ lives and careers have been ruined after they decided to take-on the Church of Scientology and the Church seemed very smug with itself.

I believed that a couple of things would happen:

  1. the Church would find and Fair Game a bunch of these kids, which would result in their lives being ruined and the whole group getting scared-off; and/or
  2. the group, called “Anonymous” would get bored, declare victory and stop.

At first, the Church tried to Fair Game their way out of it by claiming persecution and making unfounded accusations of terrorism and threats. Most of the media is well-aware of Scientology’s history of bullying tactics and few tears were shed for them, if any. A few of Anonymous were located and some faced legal action for their actions or the actions they were accused of by the Church. Some, in fact, did get scared-off. But, the majority stayed with it and more joined their ranks as Anonymous dropped the DDOS and other illegal actions in favor of street protesting. Fair Game worked, but not as well as the Church had hoped. For the most part, they seem to have abandoned Fair Game, as it only made them look worse than they already did.

In fact, Anonymous won the Public Relations war early on, as few people felt sympathy for Scientology, especially when they learned of the history of Fair Game, as well as other abuses committed either by the Church or its members. While people were quick to condemn DDOSing, they developed a respect for the sheer gutsiness of Anonymous for taking-on such a powerful corporation. Every action taken by the Church against Anonymous was quickly publicized on the Internet and public sympathy for the Church seemed to be nonexistant.

In fact, the media seemed to find its testicles and media personalities in broadcast media and print began to badmouth the Church, either criticizing it or simply making fun of it. It was as if the media had awakened to find itself suddenly aware of the sheer nuttiness of Scientology and how abusive much of its behavior had been in the past. Even counter-move the Church took against Anonymous only seemed to make their situation worse, while people cheered Anonymous as they picketed outside of Scientology establishments.

Another series of events began to take place. People who had either left the Church in the past or had been victimized in some way began to organize themselves via the Internet. Prior to Anonymous, this did not occur with much frequency. However, after Project Chanology got started, it began slowly and picked-up speed. Famous people like Jason Beghe left the Church and made public statements, past critics of the Church – called “The Old Guard” by Anonymous – became more visible and there was nothing the Church could do to stop them, aside from attempting to silence them. However, the Church learned that any action they took would quickly be reported on the Internet, as was the case in the recent arrest of Mark Bunker, whose charges were dropped and the judge publicly stated that no arrest should have taken place to begin with.

As I predicted in February 2008, many of Anonymous who started in Project Chanology dropped-out due to sheer boredom. The first few pickets drew hundreds, even thousands, of people around the world. But, when pickets became regular monthly events, they got bored with it and left. However, there is a hardcore membership that has stayed with it until the present day, even though many of the original hackers deride them as having polluted Chanology and turned it into a shadow of its former self. I do have to admit that I really enjoyed the protests that took place in June 2008 Operation Sea Arrrgh, where Anonymous dressed-up in pirate costumes. For the first few protests, Anonymous developed themes for each protest and the Sea Arrrgh motife was pirates, as a dig against the Freewinds, which is the Church’s flagship.

So, who won?

Well, Anonymous stated in their original video on YouTube that their intent was to drive the Church off the Internet. That failed. They also stated that they would destroy the Church in its current form. That failed, too.

However, comparing media coverage of Scientology post-Chanology, as opposed to pre-Chanology, the fear of the Church of Scientology had evaporated, for the most part. When Steven Colbert can publicly mock Scientology and suffer no retaliation from the Church of any kind, you know that things are different now. Decades of building fear have been undone by a bunch of kids wearing Guy Fawkes masks. Now, that’s pretty sad, when you think about it.

According to what I have heard, people have left the Church post-Chanology, now being aware of a support structure awaiting them when they leave High-ranking members have defected and more people are now aware of the history of the Church and its abusive practises. While the Church still has its celebrity members, it has taken a severe blow from which it is unlikely to recover anytime soon.

People have asked me if there was anything the Church could have done to prevent the negative effects of Chanology and Anonymous. To that, I say: Yes, there was.

What the Church could have done to prevent Chanology’s damage was the one thing they never though about doing. They could have done nothing.

Yeah, they could have done nothing. Their whole history consists of striking back at their critics. Hit hard, hit fast and keep hitting them until you destroy them completely. That worked in the past, so they tried it with Chanology. However, it didn’t work this time and only made their situation worse.

Instead of having security guards follow protesters with cameras, they could have ignored them.

Instead of hiring private detectives to track these people to their homes, they could have done nothing.

Instead of releasing Anonymous members personal information onto the Internet, they could have done nothing.

Instead of having Church members harass and attempt to intimidate Anonymous in the streets, they could have done nothing.

Every action the Church took against Anonymous only resulted in negative publicity for themselves and created more public support for Anonymous. While the Church claimed “persecution”, the public openly expressed support for the supposed “persecutors” and little for the Church. Nothing the Church did resulted in anything positive for themselves, aside from scaring a few kids with Cease & Desist orders or threatening lawsuits. A few scared teenagers doesn’t make a victory.

If they had simply ignored Anonymous from the beginning, they would not have been seen as bullies themselves. Instead of shuttering their establishments, they should have kept them open. Pictures of Scientology security officers phoyographing or videotaping Anonymous simply made the Church look creepy. While this may have worked in the past against the “Old Guard”, it was a foolish move against Chanology.

Even if I could build a time machine and travel back to January 2008 to show the Church what the end result of their actions would be, it wouldn’t change their minds. That’s because the way they reacted to Anonymous is the only way they know how to react to criticism. They cannot be any other way because they don’t know how, as compared to Anonymous who showed great adaptability in the face of changing circumstances.

As with biological evolution, the life form that can adapt to a chaning environment is more likely to survive that the one which cannot adapt. Anonymous evolved while Scientology did not.

Now, the Church of Scientology faces a French court and the future of the Church in France hangs in the balance. Other nations regard them as a cult and the Church is not recognized as a religion in some countries.

Decades of creating a public face, reinforced by celebrity members and having a private force of detectives and lawyers to silence opposition could not defeat a group of kids and it will not halt the rising opposition to the Church in Europe and the growing opposition to the Church in the USA, where it is seen as a cult of loonies by many Americans. On top of all this, previously unpublicized Church of Scientology documents have been released on to the Internet, via Wikileaks. These documents include Church courses for which Church members who wish to take these course are allegedly charged thousands of dollars before they are allowed to have these materials. Now, anyone can read them, for free, in the privacy of their homes and there is nothing the Church can do about it, aside from threatening Wikileaks with lawsuits of which Wikileaks has little fear.

While Project Chanology is still on-going, I will venture my opinion on who has come out on top:

  • Anonymous: mostly win
  • Scientology: epic fail.


The Church of Scientology vs Books

4 January 2009

“Well, in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything. Rhode Island says yea!”

Stephen Hopkins, as portrayed by Roy Poole, in the motion picture 1776

In my whole life, I’ve never read or even heard about a book so that was so dangerous that it shouldn’t be read, not only read by myself, but read by anyone.

Throughout history, there have been books published that the powers in-force at that time deemed that the book in-question should not be read by anyone, ever, and that all copies of the book should be destroyed. Occasionally, the authors themselves were often imprisoned or even put to death.

One of the most famous incidents of book banning was The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. His book was condemned by the Ayatollah Khomeinei of Iran and Rushdie himself was sentenced to death. The banning and death sentence did little harm to Rushdie’s career, as his book became a best seller in the West and Rushdie himself experienced a vitalized career in the Western nations and he became a cause celebre for years after the event. To this day, whenever he publishes a book or appears at an event, it makes the news.

When the book was banned, I actually went out, bought a copy,  took it home and read it. To be completely honest, I hated the book. I found its plot disjointed and the use of profanity and insults aimed at the main character to be so over the top, that I gave the book away to the first person I could find that wanted it. Hunter S. Thompson wouldn’t have written a book like that and he had little in the way of inhibitions about writing anything.

So, the banning of the book had the exact opposite effect that the Ayatollah had wanted. Instead of destroying his career and silencing him forever, one way or another, it turned Rushdie into a celebrity in the West.

Before we Westerners get too comfortable viewing ourselves as advocates for Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech, let’s remember that we have something of a history of banning books here too. The American Library Association maintains a list of books that have been frequently challenged and subjected to banning by local and state governments. Among the top challenged books, you’ll find the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; and Mark Twain’s Advetures of Huckleberry Finn. There are other books on the list, written by authors I do not recognize. But, they are on the list because they have been so frequently challenged as to make such occurances noticable at the national level. One book for which being challenged is not a surprise is Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman, as it is seen as advocating that homosexual couples can raise children just as well as heterosexuals and it has frequently been singled-out for condemnation by the Religious Right.

Some books are just plain awful, while others are written simply by authors who don’t know how to write without interjecting a lot of sex or profanity. But, whatever the nature of the book, banning it simply draws more attention to it and makes people want it more, regardless of whether the book is good or bad.

But, it is not only governments that can try to ban books. Churches and corporations can try the same thing, usually by filing lawsuits against the author, publisher or retailers who offer the book for sale. One example of this is the Church of Scientology.

The Scandal of Scientology by Paulette Cooper
was one of their most famous attempts to silence a book critical of their organization. The book earned Ms Cooper the attention and wrath of members of the church. The book earned Cooper negative attention from members of the Church, and she was subsequently the target not only of litigation but a harassment campaign known as Operation Freakout, the goal of which was to deter Cooper from criticism of Scientology by having her incarcerated in a mental institution, imprisoned or silence her completely. Members of the church sent itself forged bomb threats, purportedly from Cooper, using her typewriter and paper with her fingerprints on it; further plans included bomb threats to be sent to Henry Kissinger. The Church’s campaign was discovered when the FBI raided Scientology offices in 1977, as part of the investigation into the Church’s attempts to illegally infiltrate the United States government in what was called “Operation Snow White“, and recovered documents relating to the operation. Libraries in Canada were even sued for stocking the book on the shelves.

Ms Cooper wrote about her experiences with the Church of Scientology’s attacks on her and you can read her account online. Even though the book itself is no longer being sold online, you can sometimes find a copy of it on eBay or you can read the book online at Operation Clambake.

Due to the ultimate failure of silencing Cooper, you might think that Scientologists wouldn’t repeat their mistake. After all, they made Cooper’s life a living hell, bu the book is still around and – with the on-going Project Chanology campaign launched by the group known only as “Anonymous” – it is being read now more than ever.

However, being bitten by the same dog twice doesn’t seem to phase them. A recently-released book “The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology” by John Duignan, with Nicola Tallant. Prior to the book’s publication Scientology spokesman Gerard Ryan told the newspaper Irish Mail on Sunday that the Church wouldn’t take any legal action against the book. However, claiming that the book libels a Scientology member, the Church sent a legal letter to Amazon’s offices in the United Kingdom, customers who had pre-ordered the book were informed that the book was unavailable “for legal reasons” and the book’s listing was removed from their website. Book retailers Waterstone’s and W H Smith were also sent the legal letters.

However, here in the USA, the only apparent delay in Amazon selling the book was simply waiting for the book shipment to arrive and it is currently available for sale.

The Church of Scientology has lots of money and they have used some of it to attempt to silence critics. Lawsuits, even when they have no legal merit, are a good way to shut some one up when you have more disposable income than they do. However, such acts do nothing to enhance the public image of any organization, the Church’s image gets hurt every time they do this and it gives fresh motivations to their critics to continue their campaigns.

The harder the Church of Scientology tries to suppress this book or any work critical of them, the harder their opponents will work to bring such materials into the public eye.

Remember during the Reformation, when the Catholic Church decided to attempt to silence Martin Luther, rather than to address the issues he had brought up in his 99 Theses, the harder Luther worked to expose the Catholic Church and Luther found willing allies to work to break the power of the Roman Church. Even longer before that, the Roman Empire put thousands of Christians to death, yet Christianity flourished and, eventually, took over the Empire.

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.