[Originally published in Het Parool; translation by Anonymous, at Enturbulation.org.]
The unexpected effect of the internet is, organizing becomes easy. The costs of gathering information and getting people together have been reduced alarmingly: no printing is required, no shipping, no “snowball” list of phone numbers, no member administration, no desk clerk. Apart from that, internet enables evenly distributed participation and variety in different kinds of contribution, without anyone having to direct, or plan or distribute tasks. Mary will start an article, John adds to it, Ann edits it and Carl can use it.
Clay Shirky describes the phenomenon in his wonderful book Here comes everybody: the power of organizing without organizations. Because doing something has become so easy and costs so little – whatever that “something” may be: setting up a website for birdwatchers in Amsterdam, gathering costumer reviews of hotels, TVs or vacuum cleaners, e-mailing al your friends you’ll be at bar X that night – suddenly it’s become relatively easy to get projects off the ground that would previously have been too costly. And some of those new, formerly too expensive activities turn out pretty advantageous.
Shirky doesn’t describe the current protests against Scientology, those are too recent, but they would seamlessly fit in his book. After Scientology attempted to take a video off the net in which Tom Cruise, in a confused speech, sounds Scientology’s praises, Anonymous rose up and told the cult by “video letter” it had gone quite far enough. “Duh”, I thought, as an old time Scientology critic, “that’s gonna need a whole lot more.”
But it works. Anonymous has by now held four worldwide protests against Scientology in about fifty cities, and more people are drawn to it every time. The participants all wear masks. That makes their protests a sensational spectacle, and at the same time accentuates their criticism that the cult regularly makes the lives of their critics miserable. Each protest is extensively documented on Flickr and YouTube. For example, the video in which a Scientologist last month in Amsterdam willfully destroyed a camera belonging to a member of Anonymous found its way: because of it, it quickly became apparent who that aggressive cultist was, and consequently he’ll be presented with the bill for a new camera this week.
Anonymous is making Scientology very nervous indeed. The funniest part is that Anonymous is not an organization: Anonymous is an ever-changing group of people who plan openly for protests on a number of websites, without knowing who will show up. Anyone can join in the discussion on those websites, including Scientology itself. And that won’t help Scientology one bit. The most they can do is organize their own counter-demonstration (which they’ve in fact tried once) which only got Anonymous more attention from the general public and the press. Ouch.
As an old time critic, I look on with amazement. More people are protesting Scientology now than ever. Anonymous is lobbying to undo Scientology’s tax exempt status. Anonymous is so many – and so ever-changing – that the cult can’t even begin to trace people, let alone intimidate them. And meanwhile, more and more of Scientology’s documents are leaked. Whereas I had to endure ten years of trouble and lawsuits from the cult over twenty pages from OT3 – the most secret piece from the cult – now all of OT3 has been on the internet for months, and there’s nothing Scientology can do.
Anonymous understands the internet. Scientology does not, and it will be their Waterloo.