Toronto Notes Anonymous vs. Scientology


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Anonymous vs. Scientology
by: Alex Nino Gheciu September 12, 2008 1:07 PM comments: (7)
Courtesy of Anonymous member Alpha “Expect us,” warns a cryptic video on YouTube. They are Anonymous, and the video is a call to arms for their next worldwide protest against the Church of Scientology on September 13. The internet-based activist group’s war against the Galactic Confederacy launched on February 10 of this year, when masked marauders from New York to Sydney set up shop outside their local Scientology outlets to thumb their noses at the organization. In Toronto, the faceless brigade convenes beside the church’s Yonge Street chapter on a monthly basis, with venerable agitator Gregg Hagglund always at the frontlines. Conspiring against Scientology for over a decade, Hagglund believes the org’s Canadian branch is nearing the end of its rope.

“With all the negative coverage they’re getting and their shrinking membership, [Scientology] is really losing ground in Canada,” says Hagglund. While the church claims to have nearly 1,000 members in Toronto, Hagglund contends that number is actually dwindling around 250. He points to the org’s old, decaying walls as a sign. “It’s like kicking a dead horse – or rather, a sick wolf. They may be down, but they still have teeth. Their international organization, especially in the US, has been going after people pretty aggressively, trying to find out who’s supposedly running Anonymous.”

Although Scientology has been around since 1952, Anonymous didn’t have a bone to pick with it until last January, when a nine minute video of Tom Cruise zanily rhapsodizing about the religion leaked onto the internet. The church’s aggressive attempts to purge cyberspace of the video caught Anonymous’ attention and, after getting hipped to the organization’s contentious past, the web-savvy group launched a worldwide campaign against Scientology. Among the many peeves Anons have with the Church is its practice of charging members tens of thousands of dollars for courses, books and auditing.

“The whole purpose of the Scientology building is unsuccessful retail,” says Hagglund. “The products are badly written books and self-help courses which make false claims. They’re trying to sell you mental powers over matter, energy, space and time.”

“They try to convince you there’s something wrong with you, even if there’s nothing,” adds one Anon, who goes by the alias "John Doe." “Then you pay them so they can fix it. They’re just brainwashing their members.”

In his video, Tom Cruise indeed calls Scientologists “the authorities on the mind.” Dianetics, the religion’s landmark text written by its progenitor L. Ron Hubbard, proposes a method of freeing the mind of all inhibitions so one can “attain the full power and use of hitherto hidden abilities.” The religion claims this method “increases sanity, intelligence, confidence and well-being.” But Anons point out that Scientologists reject modern psychiatry, arguing that in some cases, followers are forced off their prescribed medications and convinced to rely instead on vitamins and auditing sessions.

To Reverend Yvette Shank, President of Scientology’s Toronto chapter, it’s all about “understanding how the mind works.”

“Psychiatry has a carte blanche with your mind, and they don’t even know what it is,” she contends. She recounts an encounter with famous psychiatrist Dr. John Clarke, where she told him, “Shock treatments, lobotomies, drugs, straightjackets... when somebody is put in a mental institute, they lose all their rights. I consider that dangerous and destructive.” While she admits Scientology doesn’t possess the facilities to replace psychiatry, she insists it has the potential to cure psychosomatic ills. “I’ve helped those that have gone over the edge. If you work with them and they’re in a place where they can have some space, not be upset by anyone and just let them come out of it and give them good nutrition — vitamins, minerals, whatever they need... these are OK to do so that you can get the person out of it and calm them down.”

Anonymous argues that convincing followers to reject modern psychiatric medication can sometimes have fatal effects. A common example Anons use is that of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist who died while under the organization’s care in 1995. After being involved in a minor car accident, McPherson was taken to a hospital for psychiatric observation. Doctors recommended that she stay overnight, but after fellow Scientologists intervened, she declined medical attention and was taken to a flagship building of the church instead. Seventeen days later, she died of a blood clot caused by severe dehydration.

“Regarding the McPherson case that [Anonymous] used, they haven’t checked out their facts,” defends Shank. “She died of an aneurysm. Hello? That’s not something we can necessarily control. It’s not always something you can detect fast enough… If you had a friend that you’re trying to help, who’s really ill, you don’t know what’s wrong, and the person dies of an aneurysm; and you get accused of murdering that person because you tried to help? Like, what are you talking about?”

At another point, she remarks, “Hagglund will say God-awful things. He’ll say things that are so outrageous. They say we murder, for crying out loud. There is no religious group that I know where people don’t die. We all die eventually.”

Hagglund acts as a ‘sensei-figure’ to Anonymous, rallying members through various YouTube videos. He claims this has led the church to suspect him of being the group’s head conspirator. But he insists he is merely the group’s "ambassador"; he files a Notice of Demonstration with the police every time before the group pickets. Furthermore, he says it’s impossible for him to be Anonymous’ leader because they simply don’t have one. Anonymous doesn’t consider itself an organization; it operates on an “on-your-own” basis, with all decisions reached by consensus over the internet. This anarchical structure allows the group to avoid being bitten by the church’s notorious lawsuits.

Hagglund claims to have had first hand experience with Scientology’s teeth. His battle began in 1996, when he says the church sent him threatening emails after he criticized its practices on the Usenet group alt.religion.scientology. Hagglund reacted by picketing against the organization while working with others to stop its bid to get charity status in Canada.

“I put together this huge presentation for Revenue Canada, went there, presented it and they subsequently did not get charity status.” Among arguments against the organization attaining the status, he says, “they have internal documents that actually say charity is a bad thing.”

Once Scientology caught wind of this, Hagglund alleges, the fangs came out.

“They found out who I was and started picketing outside my home, harassing my family, and even attacking my wife at her workplace. They did all sorts of things until the police finally intervened. They’ve done tremendous damage to my family relations. My brother still hasn’t spoken to me in 10 years because of threats from Scientology.”

According to Hagglund, these attacks were an example of Fair Game, a controversial policy formulated by L. Ron Hubbard in 1965, which stated that those active in suppressing Scientology “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.”

If you ask members of Anonymous, it’s the reason they wear masks in the first place.

But Reverend Shank has a different take on things.

“I’m so sick and tired of [Fair Game] being brought up time and time again,” she laments. “This policy was cancelled years ago because it was misunderstood, misduplicated and misused. We don’t have Fair Game policy. We don’t have time for that – it’s stupid and childish. I would never, ever do something like that.”

Shank knows her onions — Hubbard indeed retracted his own words in 1968, stating “The practice of declaring people FAIR GAME will cease. FAIR GAME may not appear on any Ethics Order. It causes bad public relations.”

But Hagglund and his cohorts argue that Hubbard’s decision to cancel Fair Game was as sincere as a narcoleptic swearing off sleep. They avow that while the label was discarded, the habit has persisted.

“Part of keeping Scientology working is only to commit an illegal act if you can get away with it,” asserted Hagglund. “Scientology members have successfully infiltrated the Toronto Police and Attorney General’s Office, the OPP, the RCMP, lawyers, the medical association and a whole bunch of places under Operation Snow White in order to erase any documentations those organizations had that were negative to Scientology.”

Operation Snow White was Scientology’s own Mission Impossible: during the late 1970’s, the FBI uncovered a systematic attempt by members of the church to ransack US Federal offices of documents unfavourable toward Scientology. Eleven church executives were convicted, including Hubbard’s wife. Among the stolen material found were documents from various Ontario government offices. In 1992, the Church of Scientology in Toronto was convicted on two counts of breach of public trust: for planting undercover Thetans in the OPP and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.

“We did have a small faction that did this,” admits Shank. “That’s all been hashed over. The Attorney General at the time realized that somebody really used this to make it much bigger than it really was. And I’m not trying to excuse anybody doing anything they shouldn’t do. We don’t condone illegal activities, regardless of whether you’re concerned or worried that maybe this document will do something.” She adds, “I think we did have a few people who did things that were not okay. They were reprimanded way before all this even happened, and then it got into a whole court hullabaloo.”

Surprisingly, Shank seems not to take much umbrage with Anonymous’ antics.

“[Anonymous] are usually OK. They can do what they want, it doesn’t affect the Church itself.” She adds, with grandmotherly concern, “They’ve never read a book. They don’t really know what Scientology is... These kids out there don’t necessarily know much at all, I don’t think. They don’t check their facts and I think that’s unfortunate.”

But ask her about Hagglund and the gloves come off.

“As far as I’m concerned, Hagglund is a nobody. He doesn’t know what Scientology is. He’s never picked up a book. He’s not any kind of expert on anything. If you really want to find out what Scientology’s all about, find out for yourself. Not through Hagglund.”

Denying Hagglund’s allegations, she continues, “He sees Scientologists in many places. He’s a bit paranoid. I remember hearing that he thought we were at such and such place, but we weren’t. Or that he’d been followed. Why would we do that? We’re a church. Why would we bother to do that? This guy will say anything but he won’t document it.”

Shank also denies that the church’s prominence in Canada is slipping in any way.

“I can’t be bothered with that kind of noise. We’re rapidly expanding — we get 4 or 5 new members every week.”
TAGS: Scientology Anonymous protests


Patron with Honors
In Canada there are only about 1500 Scientologist. It is nothing big.

4-5 members per week is not much either because probably only 1 or 2 will actually be serious members and after 5 or 10 years if they are lucky only one will still be a member.

The Toronto Org is really small when compared to some of the bigger Orgs in the US and the Canadian people are not very interested in Scientology; in the land of beer and donuts eh.