I’ve been an Internet nerd for the better part of my life. I still remember the glory days of AllYourBase, SomethingAwful, and even the original You’re The Man Now, Dog. I’ve been through message boards, image boards, and read more arguments about whether Batman could win a fi ght against Darth Vader than I ever thought possible in a human’s lifetime. Yet after all these years, I’ve always thought of the Internet as nothing more than a distraction, something to whittle away time instead of writing that essay on German-American relations during the Cold War.
All that has changed with the rise of Anonymous, a loose confederation of the kind of Internet nerds who populate sites like 4chan. Anonymous began as a mass entity devoted to its own amusement (“lulz”) by mocking popular culture, using their considerable force to encourage esoteric Internet memes. Recently, they set their sights on a new target: the Church of Scientology.
It’s about time there was some organized resistance against Scientology, the sue-happy “religion” that exploits followers for cash, with a strange hate-on for psychiatrists, rational thought, and the Internet. Project Chanology, Anonymous’s semi-organized attack on the religion’s ridiculousness, began in January after the church used its legal might to try to suppress a secret video that was leaked onto the web. Featuring a twitch-happy Tom Cruise discussing some of the crazier points, like the fact that no one can help you in a car crash besides a Scientologist, it’s a giddy free-for-all for those who wish for fanaticism’s demise.
While Project Chanology began with typical geek attacks—denials of service on Scientology webpages, prank calls, and fake faxes—they’ve recently shifted their efforts to the real world. Last weekend in Toronto and dozens of cities around the world, thousands of people protested against Scientology in the most appropriate way they could: by being utterly ridiculous. Wearing silly masks and holding signs (“Free Xenu!” or “I’d like to start my own religion too!”), crowds had a blast protesting the Scientology centre on Yonge Street, getting a fair amount of media attention.
Mel Brooks once said that the best way to deal with Nazis is to simply show them how crazy they are. Anonymous is doing just that: successfully taking the tactics that dominate their corner of the Internet—irreverence, humour, an inability to take authority seriously—and transferring them to the real world. By physically protesting Scientology, and showing utter disdain for the ludicrous organization, they not only enrage Scientology’s leaders, but also show the community at large how absurd the whole concept is, for next to no cost. It makes sense: the best way to fi ght a dangerous cult that cries for credibility is to simply not give them any whatsoever.