“I’d like to start a religion. That’s where the money is!” – L. Ron Hubbard
I just got back from the Anonymous protest of Scientology in Hollywood, and it could be summed up in two words: EPIC WIN.
People showed up in droves — all wearing masks, and all referring to themselves as “Anon.” We picketed in groups of up to 200 people, and I saw more than 500 different protesters over the course of the day. The turnout was truly amazing, and there was so much energy and excitement. If anything, we certainly sent a message to the public, and to the Scientologists themselves that their corporation is corrupt and unethical.
Straight Outta The Tubes
The protesters was the kind of people you’d expect to organize a protest online — probably around 80% young males ranging from 18 to 35 or so, and all Internet and tech savvy. This was definitely a nerdy Internet crowd, and people made constant references to LOLCats and “Caturday”; people spoke in l33t speak (there was a lot of people saying things like “Epic win!” / “Scientology FAIL” / “OMG” / “LOL”) and at one point, we even broke out in “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley…the first real-life Rick Roll I’ve ever experienced. (Apparently many people had had the same idea…many, many people).
A large percentage of the signs that people had were Internet inside jokes. My buddy’s sign said “</scientology>” and mine said “Scientology STFU.”
The other interesting thing was that everyone took the “rules” that Anonymous laid out very seriously. Nobody used their real names, introducing themselves as “Anon” and referring to everyone else as “Anon.” It was kind of a running joke between everyone. We also never got to see anyone else’s faces, because we were all masked. When we eventually split ways at the end of the day, we exchanged email addresses — but not our main email addresses with our real names, just our secondary/anonymous emails and web handles.
Hollywood & Highland
My small group started as four people in front of the Scientology Reading Room near the corner of Hollywood and Highland. Within about half an hour, we were joined by about 40 more people. We got dozens of drivers to honk their horns, cheer us on, and take pictures of us. Almost all of the public that passed by on the sidewalk showed their support, and a lot of them took the anti-Scientology pamphlets we were passing out.
At that first location, the Scientologists had hung drapes in all of their windows, and locked up all the doors — but they did have three security cameras recording us. The building looked completely vacant, which is interesting, because I think they are normally open on weekend afternoons for auditing sessions.
After a while, we got word that there were 200 people protesting L. Ron Hubbard Dianetics Center on the corner of Sunset and L. Ron Hubbard Way, so our group of about 50 people decided to walk a few miles down the road to join them.
Scientology Celebrity Center
Along the way, we stopped at the Scientology Celebrity Center, a fenced-in complex on Franklin where high-ranking Scientologists go (a.k.a., people who have paid enough money to move up to higher levels in the church), to protest for a while. The security guards were out in full force, all with radios and earpieces and dark sunglasses (the Agent Smith look). We tried to talk to them, but they stood in place and refused to say a word.
A few Scientologists from inside the complex started taking pictures of us. One woman stepped out on a balcony and took several photos, and another guard popped out in an alleyway with a telephoto lens and photographed us as well. The Celebrity Center had dozens of security cameras hidden in the bushes around the complex, so we made sure to show them our signs. Luckily, we were all wearing our masks, so they wouldn’t be able to identify us.
L. Ron Hubbard Dianetics Center
When we made it to the Hubbard Dianetics Center, the big protest that we had gone to meet had moved back to Hollywood Blvd., so the majority of the 50-person group decided to head back to join them. This complex was swarming with security guards (multiple guys positioned at every entrance and around the parking lot). There were also several Scientologist guards on bikes who kept circling around the block to spy on us, and occasionally take pictures.
Five of us decided to stay and protest at the main gate to the Dianetics Center, which had three guards who had also obviously been trained not to speak or react to us. We had a stand-off for about half an hour, asking them questions (”Why do you separate families, and force parents to give up their children?” “What kind of religion forces people to pay for ’salvation’?” “How can a religious text be copyrighted, and why won’t you let people share it on the Internet?” “Tell us about Lisa McPherson.” “Why is there a volcano on the cover of ‘Dianetics’?” etc.) No answers, of course, but you could cut the tension with a knife. The security guards were a bit frazzled and nervous, having just been protested by 200 people, and having a bunch of masked guys yelling right at them. Every once in a while, they would radio in to their headquarters to give an update on the protest.
While we were protesting at the main entrance, we saw everyone who entered and left. The demographic of the church looked to be entirely young, white, yuppy / Hollywood types driving really nice cars. Whenever people pulled into parking lot, we were met with angry/disgusted looks, and they yelled at us. Some of the things yelled at us: “Fags!”; “Fucking losers, get a job!”; “Get a life!”; However, many of the non-Scientologists that drove by sided with us, honking and yelling support. Overall, it was a very uncomfortable half hour, and I doubt that the Scientologists will step back and think objectively about their organization — but I’m glad we did it.
On a side note, I heard that one protester was yelled at and then SPIT ON in the face by a Scientologist in a car. Apparently, he just wiped it off and shot right back by telling them that they’re a hate cult.
200 Protesters on Hollywood Blvd.
Afterward, we headed back to Hollywood Blvd. to join back up with our group, which was now 200+ protesters. We went to the CNN building on Sunset Blvd. and protested out front, hoping to make it onto the news.
With this many people, the protest really hit its stride. We had organized chants of “We are anonymous! We are legion!” and “We do not forgive! We do not forget!”
The honking never stopped, and there were several videographers and amateur reporters interviewing people. I also heard that NPR was interviewing someone.
Scientology: One Ex-Member’s Story
At this protest, I got into a conversation with a guy who spent four years of his life in the Scientology church. He worked for them full time, moved to and was being trained to be an auditer. It really revealed a lot of things about the Church of Scientology that I had heard about before, but never heard about first-hand. Here’s a quick run-down of what he said:
- He originally joined when he was 19, after he went in for a free personality / IQ test. He was told that he had a very high IQ, but he had emotional problems, and agreed to counseling…and then got roped in. (He later learned that the personality / IQ test is a scam — everyone who takes it is essentially told that they’re very SMART, but SAD, no matter how you answer the questions. The IQ test also has no logic or reasoning questions, just fluff that doesn’t measure intelligence.)
- After a few months of taking classes, he was convinced to drop out of College and take a full-time job working for the Church in Florida. He had to move there and was isolated from his friends and family.
- In one of his initial classes, he was forced to write down all of his “sins and transgressions,” which were supposed to be only shared with the teacher of the class. His privacy was breached, because all of the executive officers and other teachers read about his secrets and used them as blackmail to get convince him to take more classes.
- He moved into a tiny / cramped condo owned by a Scientology exec, which he had to share with eight other people.
- He worked from 9:00AM until 11:00PM every single day — and some weeks, he was paid as little as $11 for a week’s worth of work. ELEVEN DOLLARS.
- Since he was paid so little, he could hardly even afford food. At one point, he ate “tomato soup” that he made out of boiled water and ketchup packets.
- As a member of the Scientology staff, he was told that he was entitled to two and a half hours of counseling a day, but he rarely, if ever, received the counseling he was promised.
- Although he was permitted to leave the Scientology compound and his apartment during the few hours that he had free every day, members of Sea Org that he lived with were not allowed to leave. They were paid even less than he was for their services ($24 a week), and every bit of their lives was controlled by the Church…not to mention the one billion year contracts they had to sign.
- He was not allowed to have a girlfriend or have sex for four years — the entire time he worked for Scientology.
- He spent four years working his way up in the organization, and only made it to the fifth level of enlightment (I forgot what the level was called). However, people who joined and paid more money advanced much more quickly than him, despite going through fewer classes. (Further proof that Scientology is a for-profit corporation, and an illegitimate religion.)
- The reason he quit Scientology was because he was sequestered in Florida for an intense Scientology training session, where he was not allowed to have any contact with his family. While he was undergoing the training, his step mother, whom he was extremely close with, died in an accient. His family immediately tried to contact him and tell him about the tragedy, but the Scientology organization blocked him from receiving the message. His trainers withheld this information from him for four days, until he had finished the class. Meanwhile, his family was desperately trying to contact him, and was given the runaround by the Scientologist organization whenever they called. When he finally found out about his step mother’s death, he was told that he wasn’t told “for his own good.”
- After this, he confronted one of the higher-ups and filed to disassociate himself from Scientology — a bureacratic process that is similar to cancelling a cell phone plan or AOL dial-up service (ie: needlessly complicated, full of peer pressure and nearly impossible).
- This pushed him over the edge, and soon after, he decided to quit and walk away. On his way out, he was physically blocked from leaving the compound by an Executive. He had to pick her up and move her out of his way to get out the door.
- Since quitting Scientology, he has changed his appearance substantially and only protests scientology anonymously. He usually wears masks to events, and when speaking about his experiences, never uses his name or picture for fear that the Scientologists will track him down and harrass him.
I was impressed by how knowledgable and well-informed the protesters were, and everyone agreed that we were protesting Scientology for how it runs as an organization, not for the beliefs they hold (even though everyone pretty much agreed the beliefs are bogus creations of a crazy and drug-induced science fiction writer / capitalist).
But I don’t care if people believe in an evil intergalactic overlord named Xenu, or that they are inhabited by dead alien spirits who were killed by nuclear weapons in a supervolcano 75 million years ago. To each his own.
We were protesting Scientology’s unethical corporate practices, its violations of human rights, its destruction of families and friendships, its shady / secretive structure, its militaristic copyright laws and quashing of any form of dissent. Scientologists, like all people, should be allowed to hold any beliefs they want — but the way they force their beliefs on emotionally needy people, the fact that they refuse to accept any type of criticism — is unacceptable.
Scientology must be stopped. And I think today we made great progress toward that goal.
We are Anonymous.
We are legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
View the rest of my photos from the protests in this photo album: http://flickr.com/photos/peteberg/sets/72157603884916742/