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Scientology is a belief system created by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in 1952, inspired by his earlier self-help system Dianetics. Scientologists believe that humans are limited by traumatic past events that keep them from realizing their immortality. The Church of Scientology is devoted to promoting the belief system, which has been known for suing critics who claim that the organization abuses and extorts finances from its members.
Scientologists believe that humans are immortal beings that have been infected with the souls of dead aliens, which are the root of humanity’s problems. Founder L. Ron Hubbard referred to the historical events causing the alien soul infection as a “space opera”, which included the story of an evil galactic ruler named “Xenu.” According to the story, Xenu transported billions of frozen aliens to the planet Earth 75 million years ago, dropped them in volcanoes and destroyed them with explosives. After the aliens died, their souls (known as “Body Thetans”) lost their sense of free will and began inhabiting the bodies of humans.
Scientology and Usenet
The Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology was created by Scientology critic Scott Goehring on July 17th, 1991. According to Wikipedia, the group sparked many debates about the organization’s practices for several years until December 24th, 1994, when several high-level secret Scientology documents, which included the Xenu story, were leaked on to the newsgroup by an anonymous poster. The Church of Scientology reacted by hiring lawyers to have the documents removed. On January 11th, 1995, the Scientology lawyer Helena Kobrin sent a message to Usenet servers to delete the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup from Usenet, but the request was ignored. Scientologist lawyers then went after newsgroup participants. On February 13th, 1995, federal marshals raided the homes of Arnaldo Lerma, Lawrence Wollersheim, Robert Penny, Karin Spaink, Zenon Panoussis and former Scientologist minister Dennis Erlich on grounds that the newsgroup participants posted copyrighted materials. In 1998 and 1999, the newsgroup was hit with several spam attacks flooding the group racist articles with forged message headers to appear as if they were sent by members of alt.religion.scientology. The attacks were referred to as “sporgery”, a combination of “spam” and “forgery.”
On July 15th, 1998, Salon published an article titled “A Web of their own”, which reported that the Church of Scientology was distributing starter kits for members to launch their own Scientology websites. The article went on to report that the source code of the pages contained long lists of Scientology-related keywords, which were criticized as an attempt to drown out Scientology critics in web search results. In addition to site-building software, the starter kits contained a censorship program known as Scieno Sitter, which blocked sites critical of the organization.
In June 10th, 2006, YTMND founder Max Goldberg announced that he had received a cease-and-desist letter from Scientology lawyers requesting the removal of several pages that mocked the organization. After Goldberg refused to take down the sites, YTMND users responded by creating more Scientology-related sites. In the month of June alone, over 550 YTMND pages were created mocking Scientology.
On August 15th, 2007, MSNBC published an article titled “New online tool traces Wikipedia edits”, which reported that a tool called the Wikiscanner revealed that PCs from the Church of Scientology were removing criticism from the church’s Wikipedia entry. On May 29th, 2009, The Huffington Post reported that the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee ruled to ban access to the website from IP addresses coming from within the Church of Scientology and had restricted several anti-Scientology editors from certain topics as well.
On January 14th, 2008, a video was leaked on YouTube of the Scientologist actor Tom Cruise extolling the virtues of the Scientology belief system. The video began spreading after it was posted on the image board 4chan, which resulted in the Church of Scientology sending a take down request to YouTube for copyright infringement.
In retaliation, ad-hoc group of Internet users known as Anonymous started Project Chanology, which initially consisted of prank calls and faxes to Scientology centers, and denial-of-service attacks against Scientology websites. In February, the first wave of protests occurred outside Scientology churches around the world.
Since its inception in 1954, Church of Scientology has been involved in a series of public scandals and legal battles, from criminal convictions of its members in Operation Snow White and allegations of financial frauds to various accusations of mistreatment and cult-like oppression of members within the community. The Wikipedia entry describes the Church of Scientology as “one of the most controversial new religious movements to have arisen in the 20th century.”
News Media Coverage
The organization’s lack of transparency and secretive or mythical practices have drawn scrutiny from the news media since its early years after the foundation. In the 1960s, Church of Scientology made the headlines in the United States after Food and Drug Administration’s 1963 raid and seizure of the Church’s E-meter devices as illegal medical devices and also received attention in Australia after an official investigative report about the Church titled “Anderson Report” was published on behalf of the Australian state government in 1965.
In the 1970s, public scrutiny over the legitimacy of Scientology intensified with the exposure of Operation Snow White, the Church’s conspiracy to infiltrate and steal from more than 136 government agencies in 30 countries to purge unfavorable records about the organization and its founder. As a result, eleven senior members associated with the Guardian’s Office were convicted of federal crimes and also led to the launch of an investigation into Operation Freakout.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, investigative reports and allegations regarding the Church’s commercial activities continued to surface from the news media as well as governmental bodies and courts, including a TIME magazine article published in 1991 which describes Scientology as “a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner.” In addition, scandals about the Church have been covered by a number of major U.S.-based news publications and programs, including NBC Dateline, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the ASsociated Press among others.
While the criticisms of the Church remain widespread in the news media, Scientologists have also made themselves infamous for their counterattack tactics against the detractors or critics of the church, oftentimes dismissing their assertions as having an alternative agenda to misrepresent its beliefs. The Church’s combat against its critics became highly publicized for the first time in 1967 after the FBI discovered its covert plot known as Operation Freakout which sought to have one of its prominent critics imprisoned or committed to a mental institution in revenge.
Operation Clambake is one of the most prominent anti-Scientology websites hosted at Xenu.net and founded in 1996 by Andreas Heldal-Lund. The site regularly publishes criticism of the Church of Scientology, including texts of petitions, news articles, exposés, and primary source documents. The online publication came into spotlight in 1996 after it became one of the first websites to host secret documents pertaining to Xenu and OT III and at the peak of its popularity, the site was ranked as high as the second place in Google PageRank for the term “Scientology.” However, many Xenu.net pages have been removed from Google’s indexes after the Church issued DMCA takedown notices against the documents.
As early as 1955, Scientology has catered to celebrities and artists, when L. Ron Hubbard launched “Project Celebrity” to target influential people to join the religion. He offered a small plaque as a reward to churchgoers who “bring one of them home,” later opening a Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, California in 1969. Over the years, many notable actors, actresses and musicians have subscribed to the religion including John Travolta, Juliette Lewis, Kirstie Alley, Beck, Jenna Elfman and Tom Cruise. Cruise began advocating for the religion in 2004, vocally criticizing psychiatry, claiming it was a “psuedoscience.” A video interview with the actor in which he spoke about the religion was uploaded via YouTube in January 2008, causing the church to issue the takedowns which sparked Project Chanology.
Despite the takedowns, Anonymous members continued to re-upload the Tom Cruise interview video. Seeing Scientology as dangerous, Anonymous members created the YouTube channel Church0fScientology on January 21st, 2008 uploading a message to the Church to inform them that they have made it their goal to eradicate Scientology from the internet.
After this video, Scientology blogger Mark Bunker of Xenu TV made a response video complimenting their enthusiasm. Anonymous members nicknamed him Wise Beard Man, seeing him as an ally in their war against the religion. As of July 2012, there are more than 21,600 results for the search query “anonymous and scientology” on YouTube. Photos of Anonymous protests and anti-Scientology media can be found on Tumblr under the tag “chanology.”
Sporgery, a portmanteau of “spam” and “forgery,” refers to the act of flooding articles to Usenet newsgroups with altered headers to make them appear like multiple people were submitting the messages. It was coined in alt.religion.scientology in January 1999 by poster Tilman Hausherr after more than one million forged articles were posted to the site. The unknown spammers took message headers from articles written by critics of Scientology and paired them with body content taken from posts in other newsgroups or gibberish gathered from across the web. Between October 1998 and July 1999, 982,716,596 bytes of data were spammed to the newsgroup, maxing out at more than 180 million bytes in July 1999 (shown below).
While the sporgery attackers were never found, it is rumored to have been orchestrated by Scientologists, who had posted about a plan of action to “outcreate the entheta” on the newsgroup. After one phone number was released by an ISP as a possible perpetrator of the spam, the subpoena sent to Pacific Bell Telephone for the records on that specific number was challenged by lawyers from the Religious Technology Center and quietly settled.
Scieno Sitter is a computer program distributed by the religion that blocks sites critical of Scientology from being viewed. It was first distributed in 1998 via CD-ROMs mailed out to church members as software that would help them create their own Scientology website. These sites, once put online, were filled with pro-Scientology keywords in their metadata to overload search engines with positive information to outweigh the religion’s online critics.
The filter itself blocked hundreds of words, including web addresses, names of critics, Scientology terms, and the names of current Scientologists who were found posting on alt.religion.scientology. The filter would either remove the offending words from the webpage a person was looking at, or completely shut down the browser if it contained trigger words like “Robert Vaughn Young,” the name of a former church member who later wrote about his experiences, or “Xenu.” The CD stated that the program was created to keep hate mail and “entheta,” or negative ideas, suggestions or comments. The program was discussed on the A&E show Investigative Reports in December 1998 and mentioned in the 2006 film The Bridge, where the Scientologist character attempts to access the website Operation Clambake and is shown being unable to.
The mythos of Xenu has been discussed on several online outlets, despite the church’s effort to keep it under wraps. In 1972, Operating Thetan III: The Wall of Fire was first published in Robert Kaufman’s Inside Scientology, detailing the story of Xenu capturing and freezing alien bodies and bringing them to earth. Operating Thetan III was first published online on December 24th, 1994, leading to a legal battle about copyright infringement, but the poster’s identity was never discovered.
The story has been discussed on several other places including the Straight Dope message board, where L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction writing background was discussed as part of the creation of the story, despite Hubbard’s claim that his memories from the Xenu era were recalled through autohypnosis. On Yahoo! Answers, 1111 questions have been asked about the intergalactic dictator. Xenu was included in lifestyle site Matador Network’s list of 6 Wacky Creation Myths Around the World. In 2008, the independent online fighting game Faith Fighter was released, featuring Xenu as the final boss.
What Scientologists Actually Believe
The phrase What Scientologists Actually Believe comes from the November 16th, 2005 episode of animated comedy series South Park titled “Trapped in the Closet.” After the character Stan joins the religion, some members believe he is the reincarnation of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. While the church’s president explains Scientology’s belief system to Stan as per the Operating Thetan III document, is illustrated as the caption “This is What Scientologists Actually Believe” is shown onscreen (below).
After the episode aired, its mockery became a point of contention for celebrity members of the religion, causing the voice actor for Chef, musician Isaac Hayes, to leave the show. Online, YouTubers began making similar clips with badly drawn art or using material from religious videos to critique other religions including Mormonism, Christianity and Creationism.
Straight Dope – How did L. Ron Hubbard claim to have learned about Xenu?
Yahoo! Answers –