CLEARWATER – Members of Anonymous, a Scientology protest group, marched around downtown Clearwater today holding anti-Scientology signs and wearing wigs, sunglasses, bandanas or hats to disguise their identities.
Most wanted to remain anonymous, fearing retribution from Scientologists, they said.
Scientologists coerce members into paying exorbitant amounts of money, ostracize loved ones they believe to be a danger to the church and harass and stalk critics, said Anonymous member Joshua Nussbaum, a 19-year-old protest organizer.
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About 80 protesters, many of whom were in their late teens or early 20s, came out when the event started about 11 a.m. today, Nussbaum said. He said the number swelled to about 180 in the early afternoon.
Scientologists took photos of protesters so they could better protect themselves, but they refused to go out and speak negatively to Anonymous members, Scientology spokeswoman Pat Harney said. Instead, she said, Scientologists spent their day practicing their religion.
Harney said Anonymous members are misinformed about Scientology. She said her religion is not dangerous and definitely isn’t a cult. If anyone is dangerous, she said, it’s Anonymous.
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted atWhat judges have to say about Scientology
“Their stated goal is to dismantle the church,” she said. “That’s anti-American. That’s anti-religion.”
Issues between Anonymous and Scientologists sprung up recently after video clips from actor Tom Cruise, a church member, appeared on the Internet. Scientology officials said the clips were copyrighted and asked for them to be removed from YouTube and other sites.
Anonymous then posted a video announcing a campaign to destroy the church and calling for worldwide protests today, Nussbaum said. He said Anonymous felt Scientologists’ actions regarding the clips encroached on freedom of speech.
Anonymous later claimed responsibility for a series of cyber attacks responsible for slowing access to church Web sites, he said.
“Since then, we kind of realized it’s not a good thing,” he said. “It was inhibiting their freedom of speech and their freedom to spread their message. We cannot inhibit what they say. €¦ We did claim responsibility for those acts, but we do not condone them anymore.”
A media release from the Church of Scientology said Anonymous’ actions are simply acts of religious bigotry and ploys to gain attention and that Anonymous’ guiding materials are the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf.
Nussbaum said he was offended by the church’s comments about his group’s guiding materials.
“I don’t know where they got that from, but I don’t think that’s true considering that I am a capitalist and a Jew,” he said.
Harney said it was sad to have to hear people protesting Scientology today.
If a tenth of what Anonymous members said about Scientology were true, Harney said, the religion would not still exist. Scientology is a study of knowledge and a study of truth, said Harney, a member of the church since 1979.
Harney said she doesn’t know why people would protest her religion.
“Some people like to hate,” she said.