By Caitlin Loughran | As soon as protesters in a local anti-Scientology group, donning Guy Fawkes masks, arrived at the religious group’s temporary Portland office Nov. 1, members of the organization hurried to the windows to close the curtains and blinds.
Armed with picket signs proclaiming the Church of Scientology as an evil cult, the leaderless group, known as Anonymous, spread their ideas outside and around the offices of the religious organization, marching all over the downtown area.
Portland’s group, mostly made of full-time workers and students, is just one branch of the online-based protest organization, which operates and holds protests against the church in cities worldwide.
Although members of Anonymous feel strongly about the practices of the church, it’s nothing personal, they said.
“We have absolutely nothing against their beliefs,” said one masked protester at the rally. “[We] fully believe in the freedom of religion.”
Rather than attacking the ideology of practicing Scientology, the religion that purports mankind carries the souls of alien life forms within, Anonymous members instead attack the religion’s status as a cult that is guilty of exemption from taxes, child labor practices and manipulation of its members, among other alleged crimes.
Protesting regularly, Anonymous members wear masks and bandanas over their faces out of fear of being identified and subsequently intimidated, harassed and discredited as a result of their actions.
Anonymous members believe photos are taken of them after protests, after which members affiliated with the Church of Scientology vigorously collect information about them, including names, phone numbers and addresses, which are posted online.
One man said that someone within the organization found out who he was and left a note on his car threatening to rape him.
One female protester described how her father, a free speech activist, was sued by the Church of Scientology during the 1990s after re-releasing secret “high level documents” on the Internet that the church charges a large sum of money to access.
“One of the very first lessons I learned was that Scientology is bad,” she said. “It’s un-American. I don’t care what people believe in, but you should have a right to know what you are believing in.”
As the protestors marched over a bridge overlooking the freeway near the church’s office, located at 812 S.W. Washington St., some held a yellow banner in front of midday traffic with the words “Scientology = cult,” where it stayed for roughly half an hour before the Oregon Department of Transportation arrived, asking them to take their signage down.
Passersby honked their horns and shouted in agreement with the group’s signs.
“The Portland Police is really friendly with us. They have absolutely no problem [with the protests],” said one protester, who appeared to be in his twenties.
One of the biggest issues that Anonymous has with the church is their suppression of free speech of its ex-members, and the fact that they charge their members for reading materials, videos and services.
Those wishing to join the church that do not have money, said one Anonymous member, join the church staff and work.
“When you go to confession, you aren’t charged to talk to a priest,” the protester argued. “When you ask a Christian about Christianity, they don’t force you to buy a set of books to gain insight.”
Public relations for Portland’s Church of Scientology did not respond to the Vanguard‘s attempts at contact before press time.
On a Web site linked from the Church of Scientology’s Web site, www.scientology-portland.org, one book costs about $15, and a basic starter collection will cost $250.
Anonymous members view L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction novelist who started the religion in 1950, as the literary failure whose suppressed imagination resulted in Scientology.
Conversely, the church’s official Web site, www.scientology.org, states that Hubbard was a philanthropist and psychiatrist that made important breakthroughs throughout his life.
One protester, a woman dressed in a sailor outfit as a nod to “Sea Org,” the name of elite staff members of the church, said she believes that once you know the “truth” about Scientology, it’s hard to stand by and not protest.
“I’m just a suburban mother with two kids,” she said. “I’d rather be at home with them right now. Some things are so horrible you can’t stand by and watch it happen.”