About 800 people attended protests against the Church of Scientology in Australian capital cities this weekend in the second round of “raids” organised by a collection of internet users known as Anonymous.
Protests were staged outside Scientology buildings in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth on Saturday to coincide with the birthday of the church’s founder L Ron Hubbard two days earlier on March 13.
In a repeat of protests staged on February 10, members of Anonymous wore masks and distributed flyers accusing the church of financially exploiting its members and suppressing free speech.
Anonymous users discussing the protests online estimated the number of protestors in cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Berlin and Dublin to be between 7000 and 8000 – a similar figure to the February 10 protests.
A third round of protests has been scheduled for April 12.
Anonymous are a loose collection of internet users who post to message boards but do not reveal their identities. They declared “war” on Scientology in January after the church sought to have film clips of Tom Cruise speaking at a function removed from websites including YouTube.
The church has branded Anonymous “cyber-terrorists” and said it was the group who suppressed free speech by attacking Scientology websites. In January, members of the group claimed to have prevented access to an official church website.
In a statement released after the February 10 protests, the church said Anonymous was “perpetrating religious hate crimes”.
“It is Anonymous that has repeatedly attempted to suppress free speech through illegal assaults on church websites so as to prevent internet users from obtaining information,” the statement said.
“They have also engaged in other harassment including threats of violence in telephone calls, fax transmissions and emails, not to mention the Anonymous mailing of white powder to dozens of our churches.”
Flyers promoting the protests, often called “raids” by members of Anonymous, have asked protestors to voice their complaints peacefully.
Two large trucks were parked in front of a Scientology building in central Sydney before Saturday’s protest. The protestors marched through Pitt St Mall handing out flyers before arriving at the building.
One busker in the mall played Star Wars theme The Imperial March on a tuba as the protestors walked past.
In Los Angeles members of Anonymous “outed” a man who allegedly flashed a gun to members of the crowd by following him with a large placard reading: “This guy has a gun.”
The man was led down the street and questioned by a police officer before returning to the crowd. Video footage of the event was uploaded to Vimeo.
910 videos with the keywords “Scientology” and “protest” were added to YouTube in the last week, including one showing two protestors in Atlanta being removed from the crowd by police officers in riot gear after speaking through a megaphone.
One of the key websites used by members of Anonymous to organise protests and release information to the media, enturbulation.org, is currently unavailable. It is understood the website has been taken down for maintenance.
Last week the church applied for a temporary injunction to prevent protestors from getting within 500 feet (152m) of Scientology buildings, The St Petersburg Times reported.
The suit was rejected after a judge found the church had failed to show the 26 people listed in the suit were connected to alleged threats against the church.
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