A copyright violation claim by the Church of Scientology against the posting of one of its videos to YouTube has prompted a full-on assault by a group calling itself Anonymous.
The video, in which Tom Cruise proclaims, in part, that Scientologists are the only experts on the mind, was pulled by YouTube over the weekend at the request of the Church of Scientology as part of a long-standing effort to keep copyrighted material from appearing on the Internet. Other sites have since posted the Cruise video in full.
In response to the take-down of the Cruise video, a group of vigilantes--calling themselves Anonymous, or Anon--have retaliated against what they consider to be Internet censorship. The group includes computer experts capable of Internet mischief. In recent days, local chapter sites for the Church of Scientology have been defaced, and in some cases denial of service attacks have also prevented access to the same sites. Real-world attacks have included fax-spamming those same offices.
As an explanation for these attacks, Anonymous posted its own video to YouTube. In the video, a computer-generated voice speaks over a rolling cloudscape, effectively putting the Church of Scientology on notice:
"Over the years, we have been watching you, your campaigns of misinformation, your suppression of dissent, your litigious nature. All of these things have caught our eye.
"With the leakage of your latest propaganda video into mainstream circulation, the extent of your malign influence over those who have come to trust you as leaders has been made clear to us. Anonymous has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed, for the good of your followers, for the good of mankind, and for our own enjoyment.
"We shall proceed to expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form."
The video ends, with the following statement:
"We are Anonymous
We are legion
We do not forgive
We do not forget.
A Web site called Project Chanology details present actions and those in the works by Anonymous and others.
The Church of Scientology, founded in 1953 by L. Ron Hubbard, is not without previous controversy on the Internet. In 1996, it sued Internet service provider Netcom (now a part of EarthLink) over copyrighted texts posted to the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. In 2003, the Church of Scientology attempted to sue a Dutch woman and her ISP over similar writings but lost. The Dutch case, had it ended differently, could have changed the way ISPs handle third-party links by its customers. In 2007, writer Keith Henson was arrested as a fugitive. Under a California law that criminalizes any threat against someone else's "free exercise" of religion, Henson was convicted in 2001 for making a comment on the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup about sending a "Tom Cruise" missile to destroy the Scientology camp.
Update at 3:15 p.m. PST January 25: Anonymous has since posted two new videos.