Along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood today, in front of the large, blue Church of Scientology building, hundreds of masked Anonymous protesters arrived for a second major picket of the embattled religion. This time, however, the church had an answer.
Because of a permit secured by the church, multiple roads were closed, including L. Ron Hubbard Way, the street that runs alongside the main church building. Tarps had been hung on the perimeter of the church’s parking lot, preventing outsiders from seeing in.
Most noticeable was a series of large metal frameworks that had been erected and decorated with large rainbows of balloons and banners bearing church messages: “Love and Help Children,” “Don’t be promiscuous” and perhaps most visibly, the name of a Scientology-related book for better living, “The Way to Happiness.” A giant viewing screen had been set up to face out toward the protest, playing an endless series of videos — accompanied by ear-splittingly loud audio from speakers that also pointed toward Sunset Boulevard. The videos playing on the screen espoused better living through the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Down the closed road, the tops of tents could be made out, and a few people appeared to be walking on the street. Besides that, the nature of the Scientology event was unclear.
The police presence today was notably larger than it was for the first mass protest staged by Anonymous on Feb. 10. LAPD Sgt. Wayne Guillary said the protests had progressed uneventfully, but noted that Scientology representatives had tried to block off an area of public sidewalk on Sunset Boulevard that would have prevented people from crossing the street in front of the church building.
“They wanted to block off the crosswalk,” said Guillary. “I told them you can’t do that.”
Guillary also noted that in addition to the road closure permit, it appeared that the church had applied for and received a permit to film on the premises. Guillary pointed out off-duty LAPD officers who were assisting with the apparent movie shoot. Again, it wasn’t clear what kind of movie was being filmed, or why the church had picked a day in which a large protest had been planned for weeks.
When I asked a Scientology official for information about the event on the premises, she declined to comment but said a written statement was forthcoming. I asked if she could arrange for a brief walk-through of the Scientology event and, after consulting with her supervisors, she said, “No. The event is for parishioners only.”
Members of Anonymous said the church had attempted to close off the entire block of sidewalk running along the front of the church on Sunset. At least one road closure sign had been placed in that area, though it was not covered by the permit, authorities said..
Among the most peculiar sights of the day was when a small plane appeared overhead, (see photo at top) towing a banner that read, “Honk / Yell if you think Scientology is a cult.” The crowd cheered when the plane came into view and began an hour of circling.
A Scientology parishioner who identified himself as Jimmy and gave his age as 25 was stationed on Catalina Street, to prevent anyone from wandering into the closed area.
When asked if he believed the protesters seemed like terrorists, a term Scientology officials have repeatedly used to describe them, Jimmy replied, “I wouldn’t say they’re all terrorists. A lot of them look like high school kids.”
“But,” he added, “Are you going to wait for them to blow up a church before you say, ‘hey look, some terrorists?'”