Violence at anti-Scientology protest

National Post, Canada/October 3, 2009

I've often been puzzled by the international and well-attended protests against the Church of Scientology, led by the leaderless internet group known as Anonymous since early 2008. Why target this specific religion? Why engage in protests without public spokespeople? And why wear those silly Guy Fawkes masks?

Now I have an answer, at least to that last question.

On Saturday, September 19, around 12:30pm AST, a small group met for a routine Scientology protest in Halifax in a vacant lot across from the Church of Scientology Mission at 3441 Dutch Village Rd.

As usual, many were wearing suits and had donned their Guy Fawkes masks, made famous by the film V for Vendetta. It was running just like dozens of others had around the world. They were holding banners with slogans like "Scientology is a Cult" and "" Miscavige is Chairman of the Board of Scientology's Religious Technology Center and the acknowledged international leader of the Church. Critics accuse him of physical and emotional abuse against his staff, and a number of lawsuits filed against the church state this behavior is responsible for fostering an overall abusive environment.

Within ten minutes, protesters were approached by a woman who began making claims that they were there to promote hate and should let others believe what they want. Chris, one of the protesters, remained polite, insisting they were promoting awareness. "This isn't about beliefs," he said. "We are protesting the crimes of this individual," referring to Miscavige.

After making additional comments under her breath and taking photos with a cell phone camera, she resumed what Chris describes as Scientology's "bullbaiting tactics," calling him an idiot, a coward, a f---er. At one point when she went on to harangue others, Chris moved closer and asked her to keep the conversation on him. At this point she claimed he was intruding into her personal space. She held up three fingers to his eye. Chris mimicked her action. She then mock punched him in the face and groin, followed by a real punch to Chris' mask-covered cheek.

Chris was cut below his right eye and left with a sore neck. The further extent of his injury isn't clear at this time.

The event itself was witnessed by two other protesters who unfortunately have chosen to remain anonymous. A local taxi driver was also at the scene and contacted police. The taxi driver, who claimed Scientology had ruined his family after his wife disconnected from him and their children for refusing to join, could not be tracked down.

A number of individuals emerged from a local pool hall, approached the woman and told her they were shocked by her actions, claiming they proved her to be part of a cult they did not want anything to do with.

Luckily the event itself was caught on tape and several photos were taken of those involved. Police have seized all evidence.

The assailant was witnessed to have also called the police herself, explaining what she had done and that she was waiting for them to arrive. She then called another individual, witnesses hearing her describing her location in front of the Scientology Life Improvement Center and exclaiming she could not believe what she had done.

Police arrested her and charged her with common assault, then released her on her own recognizance. Her plea date is November 10th, reports Staff Sargeant Sean Auld of the Halifax Regional Police Service. She reported to police that she was not a Scientologist. Her identity can not be released at this time.

The protests are part of Project Chanology, the brainchild of Anonymous. It was sparked by attempts by the Church of Scientology to remove damaging videos from the internet, in particular a famous interview with Tom Cruise, which was part of an internal Scientology recruitment video leaked onto YouTube in early 2008.

Chris, who says he has a great love for the internet and net freedom, was impressed by the notion of an internet community rising up against an oppressive organization. When he learned of the first protests, he quickly got on board. He has attended at least eight protests, including one in the United States.

The protests are about spreading information, explains Chris, who describers himself as a firm believer in the power of the protests, when done effectively, to communicate a message to people directly. He believes they are extremely well received, noting the many supportive honks by passing cars. Until now they have been mostly peaceful. Another protester, James, describes having a very cordial discussion with a Scientologist at a previous event.

As for me, if I ever get around to one of these protests, the mask is staying on.

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