Scientology's War on the Internet
To understand the danger of Scientology's most recent censorship attack, it is necessary to know about its previous attacks. Scientology's war on the Internet began in 1994 and has been a well-documented scandal. Scientology has tried to censor critics by shutting down web sites, raiding critics' homes, hiring private investigators, and bringing lawsuits against web hosts, Internet service providers, and cult awareness organizations. The newsgroup alt.religion.scientology (a.r.s.) has been a target of attack through mass cancellations of valid postings followed by mass postings of unwanted spam, and through attempts to remove it from Usenet altogether. Here is a brief history of Scientology Internet abuse:
1.Operation Cancelbunny: Scientology censors alt.religion.scientology
Alt.religion.scientology (a.r.s.) has been one of the most active newsgroups on the Internet, a place where pro- and anti-Scientology netizens hotly debate each other. Beginning in 1994, Scientology operatives began tampering with a.r.s. by surreptitiously canceling postings critical of itself. The source of unauthorized cancellations came to be known as the Cancelbunny, although the Cancelbunny project really involved a number of cancelers. The Cancelbunny (or Cancelbunnies) deleted hundreds of messages using their email accounts at a variety of service providers, including Netcom, Deltanet, University College in Dublin, Ireland, Directnet, Kaiwan, and NetVoyage. All providers responded swiftly to determine the identities of the unauthorized cancelers and terminate their accounts. A group of netizens even joined forces to track down the Cancelbunny; they called themselves the Rabbit Hunters.
While the efforts of the Rabbit Hunters and Internet service providers slowed the Cancelbunny and forced it to jump around quite a bit, the bunny was still going actively in April 1995, 17 months after beginning its cancellations, and still appears from time to time now three years later.
2.Operation Delete a.r.s.: Scientology attempts to off the newsgroup
In January 1995 Scientology attorney Helena Kobrin unilaterally instructed Usenet servers to delete the whole a.r.s. newsgroup. Kobrin sent emails to the servers with the "remove" instruction usually used to delete newsgroups. Fortunately, her instruction was not followed, and three years later a.r.s is still very active.
3. Operation Raid: Scientology raids Internet users' homes
Scientology's 1995 raids of Internet users' homes comprise one of the most atrocious chapters in the history of Scientology's censorship war on the Internet. A great deal of information surrounds the raids. Briefly:
*February: Scientology raided the home of former Scientologist Dennis Erlich, seizing numerous items including computers and disks. Erlich " along with Tom Klemesrud, the operator of his bulletin board system (BBS) and Netcom, his Internet service provider " was subsequently sued by Scientology for "copyright infringements."
*Early August: Scientology raided the home of former Scientologist Arnie Lerma for posting to the Internet a widely-available federal court document known as the Fishman Papers. The papers included excerpts of Scientology's "secret scripture." Scientology then sued Lerma, his service provider Digital Gateway Systems, and even the Washington Post for including 46 words from the Fishman Papers in an article on the incident.
*Late August: Again claiming copyright infringement, Scientology raided the home of Lawrence Wollersheim and Bob Penny, the then-directors of FACTNet, a nonprofit BBS (now a web site). With federal marshals standing by, Scientology seized computers, disks, files, and more. Naturally, Scientology then sued FACTNet.
*September: "Scientology agents, accompanied by a locksmith, local police, and two U.S. `computer experts', entered the premises of XS4ALL (xs4all.nl), an Internet service provider in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Scientology demanded that XS4ALL remove a copy of the Fishman Papers from a customer's web page. (XS4ALL refused to do so.) Dutch Internet users protested Scientology's action by putting over 100 copies of the Fishman Papers on web sites all over the country. Scientology responded to this cyber-civil-disobedience campaign by suing four Dutch Internet service providers (including XS4ALL) as well as well-known Dutch writer Karin Spaink, who helped initiate the campaign. They withdrew this lawsuit on December 12, but filed a much larger suit, against 23 separate parties, on January 31. A court hearing was held on February 26, and a verdict was rendered on March 12, giving a total victory to the defendants." [Written by Scientology critic Ron Newman].
4.Operation Anonymous Remailer: Scientology sues and squashes
Starting in January 1995 Scientology launched an attack against anonymous remailers and posters. In January a letter was sent to anonymous remailers demanding they not allow anonymous postings to a.r.s. or alt.clearing.technology. At this point, such prominent entities such as Electronic Freedom Foundation, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post reported Scientology's Internet abuses.
Later, in the Spring of 1996, in an attempt to attack anonymous postings by "Scamizdat," Scientology filed suit against a.r.s. poster Grady Ward and then Keith Henson. In connection with the suit, the Finnish anonymous remailer anon.penet.fi was ordered to reveal the identities of two of its users. The remailer's administrator, Julf Helsingius, refused to disclose the names. Instead, on August 22, 1996, he closed anon.penet.fi, an action that shocked the Internet and was widely reported in the media.
5.Operation Spam Attack: Scientology clogs a.r.s.
Scientology's abuse of a.r.s continued via a new method from May to December 1996. During this time, Scientology bombarded a.r.s. with thousands of spam messages taken verbatim from the Scientology web site. This action paralyzed the purpose and effective use of the newsgroup.
6. Operation Netizen: Scientology threatens netizens at large
Scientology has sent numerous emails to Netizens threatening litigation for posting even short excerpts of Scientology's copyrighted material, despite the fact that copyright law allows such excerpting. Netizens and their families have received threats by email and fax, visits by Scientologists and private investigators, and slanderous phone calls.
Most recently, early in 1998 web hosts Tilman Hausherr and Ray Randolph were threatened with litigation. Scientology considers Hausherr's parody of "$cientology" and Randolph's domain name www.scientology-kills.net infringements of the Scientology trademark. To most observers, it seems that both uses are legal, since Hausherr's parody and Randolph's domain name constitute satire and commentary on Scientology rather than attempts to be mistaken for Scientology. The latter would be trademark infringement; but it would be difficult for anyone to mistake "$cientology" or "scientology-kills" for Scientology. Randolph has received the support of the ACLU and EFF, both of which will handle his litigation if Scientology follows through on its threat.
Negative reaction to Scientology's war on the Internet has been loudly expressed by a large and varied group of individuals and organizations. Netizens, Internet service providers, and other net-dependent corporations such as search mechanisms should be outraged that Scientology has hampered the smooth operation of the Internet through false cancellations and spam. People and organizations concerned with censorship such as EFF are concerned that Scientology so blatantly and automatically attempts to censor those who criticize it. Internet critics whose homes were raided and their property confiscated question what free speech means in supposedly free nations.
Despite vocal and powerful opposition to Scientology's Internet abuses, and the fact that each censorship attempt resulted in even more widespread flaming anti-Scientology postings, Scientology has continued its Mafia-like tactics. One might hope Scientology had learned its lesson by now. Not so. As of this month, it has launched its newest censorship attack.
Scientology's Newest Attack
Scientology's next escapade has just begun and might turn out to be the most abusive ever. The City of Night reports that Scientology's new plan is to send Internet web site templates to 116,000 Scientologists, so that the Scientologists can set up pages that appear to be their personal home pages. City of Night says, "Church officials hope that by creating many, many web sites that link to Scientology's home page, Scientology can clog search engines and prevent information critical of the Church from reaching those interested in learning all about Scientology." [City of Night, March 19 - 25].
A number of these new templates are already on the web. Here are a few:
The sites are almost identical, and if Scientology is not stopped, there will soon be 115,000 more of them. The web pages provide little information on the Scientologists themselves (other than their feelings toward Scientology), and link directly (and only) to the Scientology web site. It is also significant that they do not include any email addresses with which to contact the web host. So while censoring the entire Internet by jamming search mechanisms, Scientology is simultaneously censoring its members.
Scientology will perhaps say it is simply expressing its religious freedom, but this claim rings hollow. Why would an expression of religious freedom use a technique intentionally designed to clog search mechanisms? And the proportionality is way off: Scientology is posting 116,000 new pages in response to two or three hundred anti-Scientology sites, which makes the size of the attack 400 times the totality of what opposes it. It might also be significant that Scientology officials announced this new censorship attack at a celebration of Scientology's founder's birthday.
The message Scientology is sending to the Internet is the same as always: we don't care about your rules or the reaction you've shown us. If Scientology is allowed to continue its censorship war on the Internet, other totalitarian corporate, government, or cult groups will follow. Any issue people care dearly about can be drowned out by one side or the other using this techno-censorship technique. Continued efforts such as this latest ploy will jam search mechanisms, make searches fruitless, and slow down the Internet. It is extremely important that the Internet send Scientology a clear, strong message to stop this Internet abuse.
It is FACTNet's hope that Scientology's executives and its $20 million-per-year legal team will realize that change needs to be made. Specifically, Scientology needs to stop its Internet censorship tactics completely. If they do, it will take quite some time to show good faith and for Internet users to re-establish respect for the organization.
If Scientology does not stop, how does it expect to keep going in the 1990s in a world becoming increasingly Internet-based, when it is rapidly becoming the pariah of the Internet and the archetypal example of what not to do in terms of Internet marketing.
What you can do
One does not have to disagree with Scientology to agree that its actions on the Internet are reprehensible. Help us take action against this new censorship attack:
Other Scientology celebrities include Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Kirstie Alley, Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley, and Kelly Preston. Write to them if you can locate their addresses!
Links & notations: further information on Scientology's war on the Internet
Scientology and the Internet
Ron Newman's The Church of Scientology vs. the Net http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/home.html#NON-NET
Marina's Manor, for many of the hundreds of anti-Scientology pages http://www.best.com/~mchong/index.shtml
For details" For details on Operation Cancelbunny, see http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/usenet/cancel.html
For details on Operation Delete a.r.s., see http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/usenet/rmgroup.html
For details on Operation Raid concerning Dennis Erlich, see http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/erlich/home.html
For details on Operation Raid concerning Arnie Lerma, see http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/lerma/home.html
For details on Operation Raid concerning FACTNet, see http://www.factnet.org/Scientology/raid.html
For details on Operation Raid concerning XS4ALL and Karin Spaink, see http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/dutch/home.html
For details on Operation Anonymous Remailer, see http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/anon/home.html
For details on Operation Anonymous Remailer and anon.penet.fi, see http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/anon/penet.html
For details on Operation Anonymous Remailer and Grady Ward, see http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/grady/home.html
For details on Operation Spam Attack, see http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/home.html#SPAM
For details on Operation Netizen, see http://www2.thecia.net/users/rnewman/scientology/harass/home.html
The City of Night article [March 19 - 25, 1998] is at http://www.newtimesla.com/1998/current/cityofnight1.html
By the way: Why the Internet is a threat to Scientology
Scientology " like all cults " operates as a closed, totalitarian organization. To gain members' allegiance, cults systematically exert more and more control over members' social environment, time, and social support. One key aspect of this process is the manipulation of information members are allowed to come into contact with. Information must be controlled, distorted, and severely limited, in order for the group to suspend members' belief in otherwise outlandish things. Information which questions or contradicts the group's assertions are not permitted. Criticism of all kinds is not permitted. Rules exist governing permissible topics to discuss with outsiders. And within the group, communication is highly controlled, giving rise to the construction of "in-group" jargon.
Just as the effectiveness of mind control depends upon regulating the information members are exposed to, providing full information is the key to helping cult members leave the destructive organizations they feel tied to. According to cult expert Paul Martin, "Understanding what happened to the [cult victim] is the first step in recovery." And knowing the truth about cultic organizations and how mind control works prevents others from joining. It is for this reason, by the way, that education and referrals comprise the core of FACTNet's work: education helps people break cult ties, and referrals to cult-help professionals help ex-members heal and reduce the ongoing harms of cults.
So if information in itself threatens the control that cults -- particularly Scientology -- hold over members, the Internet is their nightmare. The Internet has provided an easy outlet for the millions of ex-cult members worldwide to tell their horror stories. Internet technology makes access to unimaginably huge amounts of information easy, fast, discrete, and inexpensive. FACTNet's site alone has transferred over a billion bytes of data so far this month. And FACTNet's web site is only one of hundreds that provide information on cults, and only one of millions of sites worldwide.
Scientology is right to be threatened by the Internet in so far as the cult depends upon censoring the information its members are exposed to. It is estimated that since Scientology started its Internet battles in 1992, its income has dropped by up to 80% worldwide. One would assume this reflects a decrease in Scientology's hold over its members. Doubtless this is a tribute to the power of the Internet and an example of the Internet's ability to be a useful tool for educating society.
In the face of the criticisms leveled against Scientology on the Internet, Scientology has responded in its standard manner: not by reforming, but by attacking. Specifically, by attacking individual Internet users, Internet Service Providers, and the Internet itself as an effectively operating information network. Because of the threat the Internet poses to Scientology, Scientology likely considers the Internet itself an enemy. It is important for the Internet community to remember Scientology's policy on enemies, written by leader L. Ron Hubbard in 1967: "[Enemies] may be deprived of property or injured by any means ... May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed." [L. Ron Hubbard, HCO P/L 18 October 1967].