"Anonymous" now has a bunch of faces to go without its name. The loosely bound group of net activists who've got a beef with the Church of Scientology showed up Sunday at the church's largest Los Angeles' locations. The protests were part of a global day of demonstrations against Scientology. Hordes of masked, costumed (and mostly young) picketers showed up in Boston, New York, Toronto, the U.K., Australia and a dozen other locations (thanks wikinews).
Many of the Los Angeles picketers wore the Guy Fawkes masks made popular in the movie "V for Vendetta," and it seemed like every other person was recording the event with a digital camera, camcorder or cellphone.
The protests were peaceful and colorful, with music and chanting (often: "Religion is free -- No Pay Per View" -- a reference to an alleged tiered system whereby the religion's adherents must pay money to gain spiritual clarity). A near constant stream of horn honks provided the background noise as cars passed the Scientology center on Sunset Boulevard and continued as the mob moved to the so-called Celebrity Center on Hollywood Boulevard. At least one ambulance and several fire department vehicles honked as they passed.
Protesters were quick to hand leaflets to any cars that slowed or stopped for red lights -- and many drivers freely accepted them.
"Ask a Christian about the Bible; you will be answered," read one leaflet. "Ask a Scientologist about their text: You will be answered -- after your check clears."
"We want set off a government investigation into how they got tax-exempt status," said the man, who said he was in his early 20s.
Scientology was granted the tax-exempt status in 1993 after a protracted battle with the IRS, which for 25 years had maintained that Scientology was a business and not a religion.
When contacted for a comment on the protests, a Scientology spokesperson issued a statement that read, in part: "'Anonymous' is a group of cyber-terrorists who hide their identities behind masks and computer anonymity" and it "is perpetrating religious hate crimes against Churches of Scientology and individual Scientologists for no reason other than religious bigotry." The statement did not mention the Sunday protests.
The protesters Sunday looked mostly young, white and computer-oriented -- few had anything like a serious tan -- but among the group were other more established anti-Scientogy elements, such as investigative journalist Mark Ebner, Mark Bunker from Xenu TV, and several people who identified themselves as former Scientologists.
Asked to explain the sudden groundswell of opposition to Scientology, Lynn Fountain Campbell, who said she'd been part of the church for 40 years, said, "It's just reached a critical mass. People just aren't scared anymore."
"They try to make people shut up," Campbell added, "and I'm not the shutting up type."