Scientology and the Internet

Scientology and the Internet
Scientology and the Internet
Scientology versus the Internet.png
Clockwise from above: 1) Protest by an Internet group calling itself 'Anonymous' against the practices and tax status of the Church of Scientology, 2) Screenshot of error message when attempting to load on January 25, 2008, 3) Monument-style sign in front of the Founding Church of Scientology in Washington DC.
Date July 1994 – ongoing
Location Internet, courts of law, worldwide protests
Status ongoing
Characteristics litigation, spam, street protests, prank calls, black faxes, denial of service attacks
Parties to the civil conflict

Anonymous Flag.svg Project Chanology
Operation Clambake
Wise Beard Man.jpg XenuTV
Wikileaks logo.svg Wikileaks

Scientology Symbol Logo.pngChurch of Scientology
Lead figures
Andreas Heldal-Lund

Wise Beard Man.jpg Mark Bunker
Wikileaks logo.svg Julian Assange

David Miscavige

Tom Cruise
Tommy Davis
Moxon & Kobrin

unknown ~500,000 members[1]
A member of the Internet group Anonymous which has held protests in many countries against the CoS every month since January, 2008.

"Scientology versus the Internet" refers to a number of disputes relating to the Church of Scientology's efforts to suppress material critical of Scientology on the Internet through the use of lawsuits and legal threats.[2][3][4] In late 1994, the Church of Scientology began using various legal tactics to stop distribution of unpublished documents written by L. Ron Hubbard. The Church of Scientology is often accused of barratry[5][6][7] through the filing of SLAPP suits. The official church response is that its litigious nature is solely to protect its copyrighted works and the unpublished status of certain documents.

Various critics of the Church of Scientology argue that the church is a scam and that these secretive writings are proof, or that the documents contain evidence that the Church of Scientology's medical practices are illegal and fraudulent.[8][9] Scientology has been convicted of fraud in the courts of several nations, although not those of the United States. Critics have said that the Church of Scientology is abusing copyright law by launching lawsuits against outspoken critics of the organization.[10]



The newsgroup alt.religion.scientology was created in 1991 by Scott Goehring, partly as a joke, partly for the purpose of informing the public about Scientology.[11] Debate over the pros and cons of Scientology waxed and waned on the newsgroup through the first three years of its existence, and flame wars were common, as they were on most other newsgroups.

The online battle is generally seen to have begun with the arrival of Dennis Erlich to alt.religion.scientology in late July, 1994. A former high-ranking official in the organization who had been personally affiliated with L. Ron Hubbard, Erlich's presence on the newsgroup caused a number of regular participants there to sit up and take notice.[11][12]

The Xenu revelation

On December 24, 1994, the first of a large number of anonymous messages was posted to alt.religion.scientology, containing the text of the "secret" writings of Scientology known as the OT Levels (OT stands for "Operating Thetan"). Included among these postings was OT III (Operating Thetan Level Three), which gave L. Ron Hubbard's description of the "Xenu story". Although the Xenu story was published in the Robert Kaufman book Inside Scientology: How I Joined Scientology and Became Superhuman in 1972, the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1977, and several times in the 1980s in the Los Angeles Times;[13] this action brought on the actions of lawyers representing Scientology, who contacted various newsgroup participants and posted warnings demanding that the unauthorized distribution of the OT writings cease. The lawyers described the documents as "copyrighted, trademarked, unpublished trade secrets", and the distribution of the materials as a violation of copyright law and trademark law.[14] The first postings of the OT documents were done through an anonymous remailer, and the identity of the person who made them available on the newsgroup was never discovered. However, Dennis Erlich posted replies to these messages on the newsgroup, and his replies contained the entire text of the original messages (including the disputed materials). Scientology's lawyers therefore approached him, declaring that Erlich had re-published the copyrighted works in his newsgroup messages. Erlich's reply to this was to deny their requests to remove his postings from the newsgroup.

Attempt to remove alt.religion.scientology

On January 11, 1995, Scientology lawyer Helena Kobrin attempted to shut down the Usenet discussion group alt.religion.scientology by sending a control message instructing Usenet servers to delete the group on the grounds that:

(1) It was started with a forged message; (2) not discussed on alt.config; (3) it has the name "scientology" in its title which is a trademark and is misleading, as a.r.s. is mainly used for flamers to attack the Scientology religion; (4) it has been and continues to be heavily abused with copyright and trade secret violations and serves no purpose other than condoning these illegal practices.[11][15]

In practice, this rmgroup message had little effect,[16] since most Usenet servers are configured to disregard such messages when applied to groups that receive substantial traffic, and newgroup messages were quickly issued for those servers that did not do so. However, the issuance of the message led to a great deal of public criticism of Scientology by free-speech advocates.

Raids and lawsuits

Shortly after the initial legal announcements and rmgroup attempt, representatives of Scientology followed through with a series of lawsuits against various participants on the newsgroup, including Dennis Erlich in Religious Technology Center v. Netcom. The first raid took place on February 13, 1995.[17] Accompanied by Scientology lawyers, federal marshals made several raids on the homes of individuals who were accused of posting Scientology's copyrighted materials to the newsgroup. Raids took place against Arnaldo Lerma (Virginia),[18] Lawrence Wollersheim and Robert Penny of FACTNet (Colorado), and Dennis Erlich (California). Internationally, raids took place against Karin Spaink (The Netherlands) and Zenon Panoussis (Sweden). In addition to filing lawsuits against individuals, Scientology also sued The Washington Post for reprinting one paragraph of the OT writings in a newspaper article, as well as several Internet service providers, including Netcom, Tom Klemesrud, and XS4ALL. It also regularly demanded the deletion of material from the Deja News archive.

Participants in alt.religion.scientology began using quotes from OT III in particular to publicize the online battle over the secret documents.[19] The story of Xenu was subsequently quoted in many publications, including news reports on CNN[20] and 60 Minutes.[21] It became the most famous reference to the OT levels, to the point where many Internet users who were not intimately familiar with Scientology had heard the story of Xenu, and immediately associated the name with Scientology. The initial strikes against Scientology's critics settled down into a series of legal battles that raged through the courts. The Electronic Frontier Foundation provided legal assistance to defendant Tom Klemesrud and his attorney Richard Horning helped find Dennis Erlich Pro Bono defense. Daily reports of the latest happenings were posted to alt.religion.scientology. The newsgroup's popularity exploded. As the months and years wore on and the lawsuits continued without end, however, a number of participants in the newsgroup grew silent and moved on.

In the wake of the Scientology actions, the Penet remailer, which had been the most popular anonymous remailer in the world until the Scientology "war" took place, was shut down. Johan Helsingius, operator of the remailer, stated that the legal protections afforded him in his country (Finland) were too thin to protect the anonymity of his users and he decided to close down the remailer as a result.[22][23][24]

Scientology's online campaign

After failing to remove the newsgroup, Scientologists adopted a strategy of newsgroup spam and intimidation.[25] Scientologists hired third parties to regularly flood the newsgroup with pro-scientology messages, vague anti-scientology messages, irrelevant comments, and accusations that other posters are secret Scientologists intent on tracking and punishing posters. This makes the newsgroup virtually unreadable via online readers such as Google Groups, although more specialized newsreading software that can filter out all messages by specific "high noise" posters make the newsgroup more usable.[citation needed]

While legal battles were being fought in the courts, an equally intense and aggressive campaign was waged online. The newsgroup alt.religion.scientology found itself at the center of an electronic maelstrom of information and disinformation, as the newsgroup itself was attacked both literally and figuratively. Tens of thousands of junk messages were spammed onto the newsgroup, rendering it nearly unreadable at times when the message "floods" were at their peaks.[25] Over one million sporgery articles were injected into the newsgroup by Scientology management and staff; former Scientology staff member Tory Christman has spoken at length about her involvement in these attacks. Lawyers representing Scientology made public appeals to Internet service providers to remove the newsgroup completely from their news servers.[26] Furthermore, anonymous participants in the newsgroup kept up a steady stream of flame wars and off-topic arguments. Participants on the newsgroup accused Scientology of orchestrating these electronic attacks, though the organization consistently denied any wrongdoing.

In the early days of the World Wide Web, Scientology attempted a similar strategy to make finding websites critical of the organization more difficult. Scientology employed Web designers to write thousands of Web pages for their site, thus flooding early search engines.[27] This problem was solved by the innovation of clustering responses from the same Web server, showing no more than the top two results from any one site (e.g. Google).

Since the inception of the Internet, Scientology has made a policy of using copyright infringement laws to prosecute various Scientology critics posting exposing information on the Web. The Church uses legal pressure combined with blackmail and character assassination to attempt to win many court cases in which it involves itself.[28] On the other side of the battle, many Web-page developers have linked the words "Dianetics" and "Scientology" to Operation Clambake. This resulted in the anti-Scientology site having the highest Google index on the term for a while, which in turn resulted in Scientology persuading Google to remove links to the site[29] until international outcry led to the links being restored. This might be considered an early example of a Google bomb, and has led to questions about the power and obligations of Internet search providers.

In the 1990s Scientology was distributing a special software package for its members to protect them from "unapproved" material about the church. The software is designed to completely block out the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, various anti-Scientology web sites, and all references to various critics of Scientology. This software package was derided by critics, who accused the organization of censorship and called the program "Scieno Sitter", after the content-control software net-filter program Cyber Sitter. Since no updates have been reported since 1998 (and the original filter program only worked with Windows 95) the package is unlikely to be in use with recent operating systems and browsers due to software rot.[27]

In June 2006, Scientology lawyers sent cease-and-desist letters to Max Goldberg, founder of the website YTMND, asking him to take down all sites that either talked about or mocked Scientology, which had recently become a fad on the site following a popular South Park episode. Goldberg responded by saying that the "claims are completely groundless and I'm not removing anything," adding to the members of the site, "it should only be a matter of time before we're sued out of existence." In response, YTMNDers created yet more sites about Scientology, and these were highlighted on the main page. They also campaigned to Google bomb "The Unfunny Truth About Scientology" site. No legal action was taken against YTMND or Goldberg.

In August 2007, MSNBC quoted Associated Press in an article on the Wikipedia Scanner, that computers owned by the Church of Scientology have been removing criticism in the Scientology entry on Wikipedia.[30] A Fox News article also reported that Church of Scientology computers had been used to delete references of the relationship between Scientology and the Cult Awareness Network, in the article on the Cult Awareness Network on Wikipedia.[31] In May 2009, the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee decided to restrict access to its site from Church of Scientology IP addresses, to prevent self-serving edits by Scientologists.[32][33] A "host of anti-Scientologist editors" were topic-banned as well.[32][33] The committee concluded that both sides had "gamed policy" and resorted to "battlefield tactics", with articles on living persons being the "worst casualties".[32]

Project Chanology

In early 2008, another protest against the Church of Scientology was organised by the Internet-based Anonymous, which originally consisted of users of the English speaking imageboard 4chan and forums such as, and several Internet Relay Chat channels, among other Internet-based communities claiming affiliation with Anonymous.

On January 14, 2008, a video produced by the Church of Scientology featuring an interview with Tom Cruise was leaked to the Internet and uploaded to YouTube.[34][35][36] The Church of Scientology issued a copyright violation claim against YouTube requesting the removal of the video.[37] In response to this, Anonymous formulated Project Chanology.[38][39][40][41] Calling the action by the Church of Scientology a form of Internet censorship, members of Project Chanology organized a series of denial-of-service attacks against Scientology websites, prank calls, and black faxes to Scientology centers.[42]

"Message to Scientology", January 21, 2008

On January 21, 2008, Anonymous announced its goals and intentions via a video posted to YouTube entitled "Message to Scientology", and a press release declaring a "War on Scientology" against both the Church of Scientology and the Religious Technology Center.[41][43][44] In the press release, the group states that the attacks against the Church of Scientology will continue in order to protect the right to freedom of speech, and end what they believe to be the financial exploitation of church members.[45] A new video "Call to Action" appeared on YouTube on January 28, 2008, calling for protests outside Church of Scientology centers on February 10, 2008.[46][47]

On February 2, 2008, 150 people gathered outside of a Church of Scientology center in Orlando, Florida to protest the organization's practices.[48][49][50][51] Small protests were also held in Santa Barbara, California,[52] and Manchester, England.[49][53] On February 10, 2008, about 7,000 people protested in more than 93 cities worldwide.[54][55][56] Many protesters wore masks based on the character V from V for Vendetta (who in turn was influenced by Guy Fawkes), or otherwise disguised their identities, in part to protect themselves from reprisals from the Church of Scientology.[57][58] Anonymous held a second wave of protests on March 15, 2008 in cities all over the world, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Vancouver, Toronto, Berlin, and Dublin. Anonymous held its third protest against Scientology on April 12, 2008.[59][60] Named "Operation Reconnect", it aimed to increase awareness of the Church of Scientology's disconnection policy.[34] A fourth protest occurred on May 10, 2008 and a fifth (Operation Sea Arrrgh) occurred on June 14, 2008.


In March 2008, Wikileaks published a 612-page Scientology manual on the eight different Operating Thetan levels, considered secret by the Church of Scientology.[61] Three weeks later, Wikileaks received a warning from the Church of Scientology that the manual was copyrighted and that its publication infringed intellectual-property rights.[61] Wikileaks refused to remove the material, and its operator released a statement saying that Scientology was a "cult" that "aids and abets a general climate of Western media self-censorship."[61] A Church of Scientology International spokeswoman, writing to, said: "I can only assume that religious bigotry and prejudice is driving their activity, as there is no altruistic value in posting our copyrighted scriptures, despite Wikileaks' statements to the contrary. Posting entire books and hundreds of pages of published works is not 'Sunshine Policy' but wholesale copyright infringement."[61] Julian Assange replied: "We thought it was a small issue, and our normal fare is government corruption and military secrets, so it seemed that this nutty religious organization was pretty inconsequential in terms of what we normally do. But after receiving these legal threats from them ... it was time for us to make a stand."[61]

Notable legal actions

A few of the court cases were decided in favor of Scientology, while most of the cases were settled out of court. Many cases have been criticized as examples of malicious litigation and its members and lawyers have been indicted and fined for such actions. Noteworthy incidents in the later years of the online war included:

  • Scientology's lawsuit against ex-member Arnaldo Lerma, his provider Digital Gateway, and The Washington Post. Lerma posted the Fishman Affidavit that contained 61 pages including the story of Xenu, a story simultaneously denied and claimed as a trade secret by the Church of Scientology.[11]
  • Zenon Panoussis, a resident of Sweden, was also sued for posting Scientology's copyrighted materials to the Internet. In his defense, he used a provision of the Constitution of Sweden that guarantees access to public documents. Panoussis turned over a copy of the NOTs documents to the office of the Swedish Parliament and, by law, copies of all documents (with few exceptions) received by authorities are available for anyone from the public to see, at any time he or she wishes. This, known as the Principle of Public Access (Offentlighetsprincipen), is considered a basic civil right in Sweden. The case, however, was decided against Panoussis. The results of his case sparked a legal firestorm in Sweden that debated the necessity of re-writing part of the Constitution.[62][63]
  • In 1995 Scientology caused a raid on the servers of Dutch Internet provider XS4ALL and sued it and Karin Spaink for copyright violations arising from published excerpts from confidential materials. There followed a summary judgment in 1995, full proceedings in 1999, an appeal in 2003[64][65] which has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Netherlands in December 2005, all in favor of the provider and Karin Spaink.[66]
  • Dennis Erlich and Scientology settled their lawsuits. Erlich withdrew from the online battle entirely, and all mention of him was removed from Church of Scientology material.[11][28]
  • Activist Keith Henson was sued for posting a portion of Scientology's writings to the Internet. Henson defended himself in court without a lawyer, while at the same time he carried out protests and pickets against Scientology. The court found that Henson had committed copyright infringement, and the damage award against Henson was immense: $75,000, an amount which Scientology said was the largest damages ever awarded against an individual for copyright infringement. Henson's case became increasingly more complex and ongoing, with a misdemeanor conviction of interfering with religion in Riverside County, California. In his Internet writings, Henson said that he was forced to flee the United States and seek asylum in Canada due to ongoing threats against him.[11][67]
  • Scientology is one of the first organizations to make use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In June 1999, Scientology used the controversial law to force AT&T Worldnet to reveal the identity of a person who had been posting anonymously to alt.religion.scientology with the pseudonym of "Safe".[68]
  • In March 2001, legal threats from Scientology lawyers forced Slashdot to remove text from one of its discussion boards, after an excerpt from OT III was posted there. Slashdot noted this as the first time a comment had to be removed from its system due to copyright concerns, and retaliated by posting a list of links to anti-Scientology websites.[69]
  • The organization also used the DMCA to force the Google search engine to erase its entries on the controversial anti-Scientology Web site Operation Clambake in March 2002, though the entry was reinstated after Google received a large number of complaints from Internet users. The publicity stemming from this incident led Google to begin submitting DMCA takedown notices it received to the Chilling Effects archive, which archives legal threats of all sorts made against Internet users and Internet sites.[70][71]
  • In September 2002, lawyers for Scientology contacted Internet Archive (, the administrators of the Wayback Machine and asserted copyright claims on certain materials archived as historical contents of the Operation Clambake site. In response, the Wayback Machine administration removed the archive of the entire Clambake site, initially posting a false claim that the site's author had requested its removal. This claim has been removed but (as of January 2011) the site still returns a "Blocked Site Error" from the Wayback archive.[71]

See also


  1. ^ "Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents". Retrieved 2010-05-10. 
  2. ^ Critics split over DDoS attacks on Scientology The Register, 25 Januari 2008
  3. ^
  4. ^ Internet group launches War on Scientology, following YouTube video Canadian Content, 23 Januari 2008
  5. ^ Berry, Graham E.. "How the Scientology Organization uses and exploits the United States' legal system for its own ends". Retrieved January 7, 2011. "The Pattinson vs. Scientology case had to be dismissed when Scientology engaged in barratry..." 
  6. ^ Behar, Richard (May 6, 1991). "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power". Time.,9171,972865-9,00.html. Retrieved January 7, 2011. "Hubbard warned his followers in writing to 'beware of attorneys who tell you not to sue... the purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win.'" 
  7. ^ Ortega, Tony (June 24, 2008). "Scientology's Crushing Defeat". The Village Voice. Retrieved January 7, 2011. "The federal court threw out the lawsuit (dubbed Wollersheim 2), calling it frivolous and 'bordering on malicious.'" 
  8. ^ See for instance Jacobsen, Jeff. "Medical claims within Scientology's secret teachings", 1996
  9. ^ O'Connor, Mike. "How Scientology claims to cure physical illness", 2003
  10. ^ For instance, see Hausherr, Tilman. "NOTS34: criminality successfully protected by copyright law"
  11. ^ a b c d e f Grossman, Wendy (October 1997). "Copyright Terrorists". Net.Wars. New York: New York University Press. pp. 77–78. ISBN 0-8147-3103-1. Retrieved 2006-06-11. 
  12. ^ Grossman, Wendy M. (December 2005). "alt.scientology.war" (3.12). Wired magazine. pp. 3. Retrieved 2007-07-19. "His critical posts, with quotations from the church literature, turned alt.religion.scientology from debating club to battlefield." 
  13. ^ The Un-Funny Truth about ARS alt.religion.scientology, 3 September 2010
  14. ^ Prendergast, Alan (1995-10-04). "Hunting rabbits, serving spam: The net under siege". Denver Westword. Village Voice Media. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ [1]
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  19. ^ Roland Rashleigh-Berry. "The XENU Leaflet" (download in various formats). Operation Clambake. 
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  21. ^ Lesley Stahl. 60 Minutes, (December 28, 1997) "The Cult Awareness Network". CBS News.
  22. ^ The Church of Scientology vs.
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  31. ^ Wal-Mart, CIA, ExxonMobil Changed Wikipedia Entries, August 16, 2007, Fox News, Rhys Blakely, Fox News Network, LLC.
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  36. ^ KNBC Staff (January 24, 2008). "Hacker Group Declares War On Scientology: Group Upset Over Church's Handling Of Tom Cruise Video". KNBC. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
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  66. ^ Final Victory! XS4ALL and Karin Spaink Win Scientology Battle, Press Release, December 16, 2005
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  70. ^ Google Begins Making DMCA Takedowns Public
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Further reading

External links

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