Tottenham Court Road, 10th February 2008. A busy London high street filled with shoppers. On one side of the road, the “Dianetics and Scientology Life Improvement Centre”. On the other, a crowd of people clad in V for Vendetta masks, dancing to Rick Astley and holding placards. Fair Game. Lisa McPherson. The Rehabilitation Project Force. What in the name of Xenu are they on about?
1. What is Scientology?
To understand Anonymous – what it is and why it exists in its current form – it is necessary to understand the Church of Scientology and why it has attracted the attention it has over the last half-century or so.
Scientology was created by L Ron Hubbard, an American science fiction writer. In 1950 he published the book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. In it, Hubbard claimed that problems facing human beings were the result of engrams, negative experiences stored in an area of the brain called the reactive mind. Through Dianetics techniques – in particular a form of counselling known as auditing – these engrams could be cleansed from the body, freeing the mind and leaving the person with the status of Clear.
At the time Hubbard’s theories were discredited and dismissed by most critics, on psychological, medical and scientific grounds. Undeterred, Hubbard continued his work, moving from Dianetics as a theory of the mind to Scientology as a religious philosophy. Critics have drawn much attention to this, due both to the fact that Scientology did not begin as a religion, and Hubbard’s oft-circulated quote that “if a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.”
As Scientology and Dianetics grew, a number of aspects were added. In particular, a form of recinarnation, in which a person’s soul (or Thetan) passed from one body to the next on death, is described in Hubbard’s book Have You Lived Before This Life? Engrams were thus described as resulting not only from experiences in the subject’s current existence but also from past lives, some lived on alien worlds over a history spanning trillions of years (a figure disputed by scientists as longer than the known age of the universe.) These engrams, much as those incurred during this lifetime, could be cleared through Scientology practices – for a “nominal fee,” of course.
Beyond the status of Clear lie “hidden” levels known as Operating Thetan. An Operating Thetan is a person who, having cast off those forces holding them back, is able to function as a Thetan – a spiritual being. There are a number of Operating Thetan levels (fifteen in total, of which eight have been used so far), each of which reveals another portion of the Church’s teachings, again for a “nominal fee”, the cumulative total for OT8 (that is, Operating Thetan Level Eight) being approximated as nearly three hundred thousand US dollars.
The Church of Scientology now has centres worldwide and the endorsement of celebrities such as Beck, John Travolta, and – perhaps most prominently – Tom Cruise. As the Church has grown, however, so has concern over allegations of authoritarian control of its members, harassment and intimidation of its critics, excessive fees for membership, and cult-like behaviour.
2. Fair Game.
One policy of the Church of Scientology to gain the most criticism is known as Fair Game. L Ron Hubbard, in an internal policy document, described Fair Game as follows:
ENEMY — SP Order. Fair game. May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.
SP in the above refers to Suppressive Person, the Church’s term for its critics.
Perhaps the most infamous application of the Fair Game policy was its use against journalist Paulette Cooper. Cooper wrote an article in 1970 criticising the Church, which was later expanded into a book, the Scandal of Scientology. In it she condemned several activities of the Church, including its financial exploitation of its members, its authoritarian, cultish structure, and abuse within the Church’s elite sector known as the Sea Org.
In response, the Church launched an attempt to drive Cooper to a mental institution or jail through escalating harassment. Methods included obscene phone calls, death threats, blackmail, and the staging of two bomb threats in Cooper’s name against the Church. Attempts were made on her life. This was to be followed by Operation Freakout, in which fraudulent threats supposed to be from Cooper would be made to foreign consulates and the President and Secretary of State.
3. Operation Snow White and the FBI
This, however, was not to be. Another Church “Operation”, dubbed Snow White, had Church agents carrying out infiltrations of and theft from offices of the US government and other entities, in order to purge documents which were unflattering towards the Church in general and Hubbard in particular. This has been described as the largest single infiltration of the US government in history.
During the government investigation into Operation Snow White, the FBI conducted a series of raids on Scientology offices. These raids resulted in the seizure of documents related to other issues, including the plot against Paulette Cooper described above. Another Church project uncovered as a result of the raids was codenamed Project Normandy, the Church’s plan to take over the town of Clearwater, Florida. After purchasing the Fort Harrison Hotel under an assumed name the Church has gradually extended its influence throughout the town, hiring police officers as private security and infiltrating local media.
Operation Snow White was carried out by the Guardian’s Office, an organisation with a mandate to oversee the Church. Following the FBI raids and subsequent jailing of key members of the GO, the Office was shut down, to be replaced by the Office of Special Affairs which continues today.
4. The Sea Organisation
The Sea Organisation (or Sea Org) was founded by Hubbard in 1966 and based on a number of ships located in the Mediterranean Sea. Hubbard, a former member of the US Navy, pronounced himself Commodore and structured the Sea Org along naval lines, a practice which continues today although the majority of Sea Org bases are now on land (with the exception of its ship, the Freewinds). Sea Org staff are required to sign one billion year contracts, pledging to return to work at the Sea Org when their Thetan returns to take control of a body.
Workers for the Sea Org who fail to live up to Scientology standards may be referred to the Rehabilitation Project Force, a series of work camps run by the Org to “rehabilitate” troublesome members. In addition to studying Scientology, residents of the RPF are required to perform gruelling manual labour and live in appalling accomodation. While the Church compares them to the Boy Scouts or US Marine Boot Camps as projects combining labour with ethical instruction, critics see them as more reminiscent of the gulags of the Soviet Union. One former Scientologist described the RPF as follows:
It was essentially a prison to which crew who were considered nonproducers, security risks, or just wanted to leave the Sea Org, were assigned. Hubbard’s RPF policies established the conditions.
RPF members were segregated and not allowed to communicate to anyone else. They had their own spaces and were not allowed in normal crew areas of the ship. They ate after normal crew had eaten, and only whatever was left over from the crew meal. Their berthing was the worst on board, in a roach-infested, filthy and unventilated cargo hold. They wore black boilersuits, even in the hottest weather. They were required to run everywhere. Discipline was harsh and bizarre, with running laps of the ship assigned for the slightest infraction like failing to address a senior with “Sir.”
Testimony from other ex-members indicates that conditions on land bases are little better. RPF members, as well as working on Sea Org bases, may be deployed to other Scientology sites, allegedly including a number of the “Celebrity Centres” run for the cult’s elite members.
Those who are deemed to have failed to meet the RPF’s standards may be sent to the RPF’s RPF, an even more brutal regime.
5. Lisa McPherson
It is difficult to research Scientology without encountering the tragic story of Lisa McPherson. Lisa, a 36 year old Scientologist, was involved in a car accident in Clearwater, Florida, in 1995. While physically relatively unharmed, her behaviour led hospital staff to believe her to be mentally unstable, and to request that she remain in the hospital for observation. Due to Scientology’s opposition to psychiatry, she, with the help of other Scientologists, checked herself out of the hospital and was placed under the care of the Church.
This care, in line with Scientology teaching, included regular doses of vitamins, protein supplements, and natural remedies. As her physical and mental condition continued to deteriorate, the Church eventually consulted a Scientologist doctor who advised that she be taken to the nearest hospital, an option refused by the Church due to fears that she would be placed under psychiatric care. Instead, she was taken to the doctor in question’s hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
The original coroner’s report on her death concluded that it was the result of an embolism triggered by dehydration, and estimated that she had been without fluids for five to ten days. It was also estimated that she had been unconscious for up to 48 hours before being admitted to hospital. A number of marks on her body were identified as consistent with cockroach bites, triggering concerns about the unsanitary conditions in which she was held prior to her death.
6. The Internet
The Church’s relationship with the internet has been a strained one. In 1991, a newsgroup was created named alt.religion.scientology for the purposes of discussion of Scientology and the Church. The group would quickly become a source of heated debate between Scientologists, former Scientologists, critics and agents of the Office of Special Affairs.
In 1994, internal Church documents were leaked to the newsgroup detailing the “secret” Operating Thetan levels. Among these was the aspect of Scientology most known to the public: the story of Xenu, which forms part of Operating Thetan Level 3 (OT3). This story runs as follows:
75 million years ago, the dictator Xenu was ruler of the Galactic Confederacy, an alliance of planets including Earth (then known as Teegeeack.) Xenu, with the aid of psychiatrists, herded people from these worlds onto space ships (which were exact replicas of Douglas DC-8 aeroplanes, but with the ability to fly through space) under the pretext of a tax inspection, and took them to Teegeeack, where they were arranged around the outside of volcanoes. Xenu then detonated hydrogen bombs inside these volcanoes, killing them all.
The souls (Thetans) of the murdered aliens were then captured and brainwashed (“implanted”) with misleading information including all other world religions and a number of other concepts. These Thetans clustered together in their thousands to form Body Thetans, which attached themselves to then-primitive human beings and continue to this day to cause us problems from depression to sickness to war.
As the writers of South Park put it in their episode satirising Scientology, THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE.
The posting of these documents led to legal action on the part of the Church, who claimed the Xenu story to be copyright and a trade secret – while simultaneously denying its existence. The Church also attempted to have the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup removed, a move attacked by advocates of free expression.
Other actions taken by the Church with regard to the Internet include:
* A lawsuit against Arnaldo Lerma, ex-Scientologist and critic, for republishing the story of Xenu.
* Use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to force AT&T Worldnet, an internet service provider, to reveal the identity of one of its subscribers who had been posting anonymously to alt.religion.scientology
* Legal action against Google, again using the DMCA, to remove Operation Clambake (a popular anti-Scientology website) from its search results. While Google initially complied, the decision was reversed following mass complaints.
A number of other websites, such as Slashdot.org and YTMND.com, have been the targets of cease-and-desist orders from the Church of Scientology for republishing excerpts of the original Xenu materials.
In 2008 an internal video featuring Tom Cruise was leaked onto the website gawker.com and quickly gained attention due to Cruise’s behaviour, described by many as erratic, bizarre and fanatical. The video was in turn placed on a number of other websites. The Church issued cease and desist orders against websites, including YouTube and Gawker, hosting the video, demanding it be removed.
7. We Are Anonymous
Now we come full circle. As the Church attempted to have the video removed, another video, titled simply “Message to Scientology”, was distributed online. The video, a declaration of war against the Church, coincided with Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks which succeeded in disabling a number of key Scientology websites. This – later described as an opening salvo to grab the attention of the public and the media – quickly evolved into a movement pushing for global demonstrations against the Church on the 10th of February 2008. Demonstrators wore masks resembling those from the film and comic V for Vendetta, to protect their identities from later reprisals from the Church’s Office of Special Affairs, as a symbolic statement against tyranny, and to reinforce the concept of Anonymous: that it is everywhere and nowhere, everyone and no-one.
Described by the church as Nazi-Communist hate criminals in the pay of the German government (which has refused to grant the Church tax-exempt religious status) and the psychiatric establishment, and by the media as “hackers on steroids”, Anonymous is chaotic, disorganised, organic, viral, confusing, amusing and growing. It is in this structureless, leaderless, anarchic environment that many find strength when put against an organisation which is based on, and can only understand, the most rigid forms of authority.
As I write this, preparations are already underway for the 15th of March, the next round of global demonstrations, timed to take place close to the birthday of L Ron Hubbard. Critics have come forward to voice their support, ex-members have been given the courage to speak out, and people worldwide are becoming aware that the kooky sect with some strange ideas is the home of a rotten and destructive core. Only time will tell what effect this will have in the long term, and whether the Church can adapt to face its new challenge, but one thing is clear: the Church is under threat.
We are Anonymous.
* “The Scandal of Scientology” (Paulette Cooper, 1971): available for free online at http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Library/Shelf/cooper/sos.html
* Operation Clambake: http://www.xenu.net
* Xenu TV: http://www.xenutv.com
* Enturbulation: http://www.enturbulation.org
* Tax Exempt Child Abuse (details treatment of children in the Church): http://www.taxexemptchildabuse.net
* Lisa McPherson: http://www.lisamcpherson.org
* Deaths, murders, suicides and “accidents” in the Church of Scientology: http://www.whyaretheydead.net
* Wikipedia on Scientology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientology