Open Letter to Anonymous and Critics of Anonymous
In a post entitled The Anonymous Group are Juvenile Bigots, Scandalous Candice accuses Anonymous of being, well, juvenile and bigoted, and also says that they should spend their time on more worthy causes (e.g., organized religion as a whole, the Bush Administration, etc.). She also accuses Anonymous of sending an anthrax-lookalike to a Cult of Scientology location. There are many problems in Candice’s argument, which I will discuss below.
Why have I made this post an open letter to Anonymous and its critics if I’m just going to be responding to Candice? This post was initially intended to be just for Candice. However, the angle Candice has taken is by no means unique. It is heard regularly from Scientology spokespersons and individual Scientologists. This response to Candice is really a note to all of these people, too. This letter is relevant to Anonymous as it comments on how Anonymous is enabling the cult and cult members to spread vicious misrepresentations of Anonymous. Whether Candice is a Scientologist or a misled outsider, I do not know.
Problem 1: Treating Anonymous as a coherent group and attributing acts of individuals to the group as a whole.
The biggest problem is Candice’s treatment of Anonymous as a coherent group. To call Anonymous a group is really only semi-accurate, at best. Anonymous is very loose. Anonymous has no hierarchy of authority, very little internal structure at all, very limited internal oversite capabilities, and a complete inability to control “membership” or the behaviours of individuals. Because individuals claiming to be a part of Anonymous are, well, anonymous, their membership and their behaviour cannot be monitored or constrained by the collective.
It is difficult to say what the mission of Anonymous is because of the “group’s” lack of coherence and structure. The closest approximation would be this: to increase awareness of and put an end to the cult’s oppressive exploitative abusive deceitful profiteering isolationist fear-mongering home-wrecking unethical criminal conduct. However, this does not speak for all of the people who claim to be of Anonymous. It does not speak for the Scientologist spies (or Scilons) who attend protests in order to attempt to inspire riots, gain personal information from protesters, and (apparently) perform illegal acts that can be pinned on Anonymous. It is also highly probable that Scilons have been at work making threats, prank phone calls, and prank faxes to the cult under the cult’s orders so that the cult could point the finger at Anonymous. And, of course, they are probably also at work online, doing things like spamming comment sections like that of Candice and committing other acts intended to promulgate a negative image for Anonymous. These sorts of underhanded behaviours are well established standard operating procedures in the cult. Ex-Scientologist Tory Christman has spoken of a number of occasions in which she was ordered by higher-ups to engage in exactly these sorts of covert missions. Paulette Cooper was framed for bomb threats by the cult due to releasing a book critical of it. Heck, this sort of deceitful conduct is mandated in the organization’s official policy! According to Scientology’s Fair Game policy, those deemed “enemies” of the cult can be tricked, lied to, deprived of property, or destroyed utterly by a Scientologist with no negative consequences going to the culprit.
The aforementioned approximation of Anonymous’ mission also does not speak for people self-identifying as Anonymous who do not subscribe to this particular mission. Anonymous existed before the Scientology protest. Internet users have been partaking in Anonymous for years in various online projects. Some benevolent, some juvenile, some immature, some this, some that. The Scientology protest does not define Anonymous. It is simply one particular project that a segment of the Anonymous population took on, and was later joined by thousands of other opponents of Scientology that had never had anything to do with the Anonymous online community (or had even heard of it). A commenter wrote in response to an earlier post that there is actually somewhat of a civil war taking place in the online world of Anonymous, as some of the oldschool Anons (“Oldnons”, as the commenter dubbed them) are frustrated that Anonymous has been hijacked by the Scientology protesters. The commenter said that some Oldnons are doing things (e.g., pranks that would embarrass the collective of Scientology protesters) to try to sabotage the Anonymous protest on Scientology. I have no idea if this is true, though.
So, Anonymous is made up of people who fit into the approximation given above, as well as fake Anons who are really Scientologists blending in, and people who self-identify with Anonymous but not with the Scientology project. People claiming to be of Anonymous can be for the protest as well as against the protest or indifferent to it. And of those who are for the protest, they can be for it for different reasons. There are probably still some Anons who continue to be in it for the “lulz” (i.e., laughs resulting from various pranks). Despite the rapid radical reformation of the protest in which over the course of just a few days it went from being a movement of hackers and prank callers and faxers motivated by the cult’s censorship and litigiousness to being a highly ethical grassroots movement dedicated to the reform of a comprehensively malevolent cult, there was probably still a proportion of Anons who wanted to continue with the lulz.
A problem of Anonymous.
One of the biggest problems with Anonymous is identification with Anonymous—with the logos, the memes, the V for Vendetta masks, the slogans like “We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us”, and the very name itself. By identifying in this way, Anonymous continues to link itself to Oldnon; to the hacking, the prank calls, the black faxes, the pre-Scientology-protest conduct—to the lulz. Scientology admins and Scilons are clearly loving this, as it allows them to continue to link current Anonymous with Oldnonymous, and to generate new material to complain about (e.g., Scilons committing unethical acts in the name of Anonymous). It is true that many efforts have been made by many NewNons(I’ll use this term to refer to members of Anonymous who support the ethical protesting of the unethical conduct of the Cult of Scientology; excluding Scilons, Oldnons against or disinterested in the protests, and Oldnons interested in the protest simply for the lulz) to clarify what Anonymous is (i.e., a faceless, structureless, oversightless collective of people from various walks of life who oppose the unethical conduct of the cult, and do so anonymously because of the cult’s deplorable history of viciously harassing its critics), there is only so much that such communications are going to accomplish as long as Anonymous continues to identify with Oldnonymous logos, masks, memes, slogans, and the name, and as long as the Cult of Scientology and individual Scientologists continue to be motivated to cast its protesters in the worst possible light. As long as masked protesting continues to be prudent (and it will, as there is no reason to believe that the cult will stop being an abusive harassing terrorist organization anytime soon), it will be difficult to shake the impression of group cohesion that comes quite naturally when one observes a deindividuated faceless mob. But perhaps doing away with the logos, memes, masks and slogans, and also making many video notices of why these marks are being pushed aside, would be a very good start.
Problems 2 and 3: Devaluing the cause and other political activities of the protesters.
In her post, Candice consistently devalued the magnitude and breadth of the cult’s unethical and criminal activities. She did not discuss its suppression of criticism, free speech and the freethought of its members, its application of hypnosis and other controllability-inducing procedures, separation of families and friends, threats to members and critics, medical malpractice, infiltration of government agencies, forced detainment of and gulag-like working conditions of some of its members, its framing of critics for fabricated crimes, its brainwashing of its members to believe that anyone who opposes the “church” is necessarily a criminal, or its official organizational policy which allows for (if not flat out encourages) Scientologists to go to unethical lengths (e.g., trickery, lying, stealing from, spying on, intimidating, harassing, destroying utterly) to take out supposed enemies of Scientology.
Her ignoring of Scientology’s horrible criminal history went hand-in-hand with her asking “Don’t you people have anything better to do with your time?” (this was a paraphrase). She asked why Anonymous was not out protesting more important things like the Bush Administration or organized religion as a whole. Two things. Firstly, given the track record of Scientology, I would hardly call the current protest to be of minimal justification.
Secondly, on what grounds does she simply assume that these people do not protest other things, too? I am a protester of Scientology, but a quick look around the blog will show that I am also a staunch critic of organized religion as a whole. I think religious faith is intellectually bankrupt and undeserving of any default respect—I’m sorry (actually, I’m not sorry) but an idea deserves no more respect when it is believed by a billion versus when no one believed it. I in addition to a number of other secularist activists that I know actively engage in the current protest against the cult. However, I will also say that Scientology is not like most other religion. Far more social backlash is warranted by Scientology than the majority of other religious communities. With a few exceptions (e.g., fundamentalist Islamic communities where apostacy is punishable by death; some of the more fundamentalist Christian communities where gays, atheists, evolutionists, liberals and other groups that are at odds with the Conservative Christianity are demonized, and where becoming one of these things could result in mass social ostracism, etc.), Scientology is far worse than contemporary organized religion.
And how does she know that many of the protesters have not actively opposed the Bush Administration? I have spoken to a number of Anons who also attended anti-War protests. Given that the largest segment of popular Anonymous, the NewNons, are young, relatively socially active, and are in favour of openess of information, human rights (e.g., free speech, thought, affiliation), and so forth, I would imagine that the proportion of the NewNon community that also actively protest other social causes (e.g., the Bush Admin, war, Israel-Palestine, environmentalism, poverty) probably towers over the proportion of the general population that engages in such activism.
Firstly, Anonymous is not a coherent group. It has little internal structure and has no means of identifying or controlling people claiming affiliation. Not everyone who presents themselves as being members of Anonymous are on the same page. Some are Scilons, some are Oldnon who are against or indifferent to the Anonymous protest, some are Oldnon who are in support of the protest but only because it is an opportunity for lulz (lulz which may actually be counter-productive to the movement), and the majority are what I have dubbed NewNons (those who are in support of ethically protesting the unethical conduct of the Cult of Scientology). NewNons may want to consider trying to disconnect the movement from Oldnonymous logos, masks, memes, slogans, and the very name “Anonymous”, so as to decouple itself from earlier Anonymous and from the lulz.
Secondly, the Cult of Scientology is a dangerous oppressive exploitative abusive deceitful profiteering fear-mongering home-wrecking criminal organization that absolutely has warranted intense protest and investigation. This is a worthy cause. Charges that protesters should be concerning themselves with bigger things are hardly justified, because this is a significant issue. It may not be the most significant issue in the world today, but most things aren’t. I imagine that most people who would say that NewNons should be worrying about bigger things would not have said this to those who have protested for gay rights, for or against abortion, or for or against stem cell research, claiming that they should be protesting something else that is more important. Furthermore, there is no basis to assume that NewNons are not also active in other social causes. In fact, there is very good reason to believe that NewNons out-protest the general population by a significant margin.
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