Update, March 15: Post and photos regarding the March 15 demonstration.
In other news, I've got a lot of pictures I need to upload and a few stories to tell. Let's get to that now.
In January, Anonymous, a large, decentralized online community, declared war on the Church of Scientology regarding actions the church has brought upon current and former members. The war became dubbed Project Chanology, a portmanteau of "chan" (i.e., "chan" sites, such as 4chan, which harbor most of the Anonymous community) and "Scientology".
Why should you care about this? You probably shouldn't, but most of you know that I enjoy watching chaos unfold in the first-person.
Protests were scheduled for February 10, the birthdate of Lisa McPherson, who died in 1995 after being kept in isolation by the Church of Scientology for 17 days, also apparently taken off of important medication due to Scientology's stance on psychiatry and medicine.
To be fair, I did not go to St. Louis this weekend for this. In fact, I'd completely forgotten about it. But on Saturday, I did have a conversation about how I hadn't been to The Loop in a while... which brought up the fact that yes, we did remember reading something about a protest on Sunday and yes, the regional Church of Scientology was in fact on Delmar, just on the edge of The Loop. Being a frequenter of the Anonymous community, I thought it might be fun. But the clincher really came from reading the official Project Chanology pages and noticing that the St. Louis-area estimated headcount was at over 100, I was suddenly interested.
I normally wouldn't put much stock in an online-born movement against Scientology, as the Church's detractors have always been many. (Though, February's Wired has an awesome feature on online and IRL-based griefing, which does validate the fact that actual personal losses can come from such online attacks.) However, the Project Chanology site was remarkably well-organized and by the time I checked on Saturday night, there were also reports of successes in Australia, where it was already midday on Sunday.
I woke up at 8am on Sunday and I went to watch.
I saw the crowd as I drove by and as I walked up to the area -- maybe 40 or so people. I heard a guy drive by and yell, "fucking hippies!" as he passed.
This was going to be good.
Protesters were warned to wear masks or otherwise obscure their face by wearing sunglasses and scarves. You know, to prevent them from later being identified by the Church. (The scarves thing helped -- it was extremely gusty and the temperature sat below 30 throughout the morning.) Some people reportedly looked into the local regulations and found that masks were legal; however, the police standing watch across the street politely asked the protesters to take them off. So, most wore them on top of their head. (Yes, those are Guy Fawkes masks, invoking a bit of that V For Vendetta feeling.)
Folks came from around the region and set up shop across the street from the Scientology building. The mood was quite upbeat and friendly. Conversation often drifted back and forth between the beliefs of Scientology and randomly invoked internet memes. A group sang parts of "Still Alive," from the game Portal. Later, others sang the classic Rickroll, "Never Gonna Give You Up."
"Scientology is under 9000!" said one person.
It was a morning of intellectual discussion regarding the beliefs and methods of Scientology (and the Church) mixed in with fun-loving internet subculture.
Fliers were handed out and most cars honked as they passed. Many in the crowd pointed out that the protest wasn't against the religion or belief system, but rather the actions of the church.
It was fun, save for the paranoia that came with noticing that a video camera facing the crowd had been placed in the doorway of the Scientology building. It seems that organizers may have been right in warning the protesters that the Church could log the protest and identify individuals in the crowd. But this didn't really stop anybody.
One organizer gathered a group together and remarked that "this is only phase two of this 'war'."
He continued by saying that if people really want to get involved with dismantling the secrecy and unjust actions of the Church, they should write letters and make calls to legislators and government officials to truly investigate the Church and (because of the high dollar amounts paid per member) remove its tax-exempt status as a religious organization.
I left when I realized I was probably getting frostbite in my hands from holding my camera too long. (Left my gloves in CoMo, heh.) But I think it was worth the trouble.
There are 38 photos in the full photoset, if you want to see 'em. You know you want to.