The mid-1990s saw the “First Internet War” against the Church of Scientology, with the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc), a hacker group with strong views on electronic freedom, declaring war on the cult. This time also saw a series of raids on critics such as Arnie Lerma of lermanet.com and the posting of the Operating Thetan levels in full to Usenet.
Many, both “Old Guard” long-term critics and Anonymous, have compared the current wave of protests to this mid-1990s opposition movement. The parallels are striking – the cult’s attempted assertion of control over the internet, in one case over “scripture,” in another a video of a figurehead, led to opposition from quarters outside of its usual environment but dedicated to freedom of expression online. This in turn led many to read more about Scientology and become active critics – in particular people from the computer science community such as David Touretzky.
I owe a debt of gratitude to those who went before us – it was partly through reading about their intervention against the internet that I became aware of the cult itself, and while my learning came in dribs and drabs, it was people like David who first brought it to my attention.
This article from the archives gives a view of the period: from 1995, it details the seizure of FACTNet (Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network – a long-standing anti-cult organisation and home of some of the most comprehensive information available about cults of all types) servers and other information by the Church of Scientology on “copyright” grounds, the subsequent outcry, and other issues surrounding the event.
Upholding free speech on the Internet, a Federal judge has ordered the Church of Scientology to return computers and files seized here last month from two men who used a computer bulletin board to disseminate information critical of the church.
“The public interest is best served by the free exchange of ideas,” the judge, John Kane of Federal District Court, said on Tuesday in Denver.
In two raids here on Aug. 22, Federal marshals and Scientology officials seized hundreds of computer disks belonging to Factnet, an anti-Scientology bulletin board run by two Boulder men, Lawrence Wollersheim and Robert Penny.
The raids sparked a firestorm of debate on the Internet and demonstrations across the nation and in this university city outside Denver. “Hands Off the Internet” and “Scientology Harasses Critics,” read signs carried by protesters here on Saturday.
Counterprotesters at the Boulder County Courthouse carried signs reading, “Only criminals spread lawlessness on the Internet.”