CLEARWATER – The Internet-based group Anonymous is calling global demonstrations it organized against the Church of Scientology a great success and plans another event next month to coincide with the birthday of the church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the church denounced the group’s actions, which included a demonstration Sunday in downtown Clearwater that drew about 180 protesters.
“They’re little terrorists,” Scientology spokeswoman Pat Harney said.
“They’re the ones with the masks. They’re the ones who are harassing our people, trying to strike fear in our hearts.”
The protesters, many of them in their late teens and early 20s, wore wigs, sunglasses, bandanas and hats to disguise their identities, saying they feared retribution from Scientologists.
No Major Incidents Reported
The mostly peaceful event was held to mark the birthday of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist from Clearwater who died in 1995 while under the care of the organization.
Clearwater police said there were no major incidents Sunday and no arrests were made.
Demonstrations staged in Clearwater, the church’s spiritual headquarters, and at other Scientology offices around the world drew about 7,000 protesters in more than 90 cities in four continents, according to an “open letter to the press from Anonymous” received via e-mail.
Some Anonymous members, though, told news organizations that as many as 300,000 protesters were expected.
“Numbers alone do not assure victory,” the group’s letter stated. “Equally key to the success of our actions was the character, demeanor and behavior of the demonstrators themselves.
“By virtue of our peaceful yet unyielding stance, Anonymous has demonstrated to the world and to the Church of Scientology the full seriousness of our intentions.”
Group Compared To Ku Klux Klan
Anonymous has accused Scientologists of forcing Web sites to remove a video in which actor Tom Cruise, a Scientologist, discusses his beliefs. Anonymous also posted a video announcing a campaign to destroy the church and calling for worldwide protests. The group later claimed responsibility for a series of cyberattacks on church Web sites.
Harney compared Anonymous’ tactics to those of the Ku Klux Klan.
“They got their friends to come here and honk their horns, pretending that that’s the community,” she said. “Well, I can tell you I have gotten phone call after phone call from people going, ‘I am so disturbed by this. I don’t approve of it. And it’s not OK.'”
A protest organizer could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The Anonymous letter states that another protest is planned for March 15, two days after Hubbard’s birthday.
“We, too, wish to celebrate this event, albeit in our own special way,” the letter states. “Beware the Ides of March, Church of Scientology!”
Harney said the church and its members will “practice our religion” that day, as they did Sunday.