Battling Scientology

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  October 23, 2008

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UNCOVERED: Church of Scientology officials obtained Housh’s identity from a Boston protest permit. He’s been charged with harassment and disturbing the peace.

Speech? or disturbing the peace?
Today, on October 11, Housh can’t join his associates to rally outside the CoS’s Boston property for the ninth Anonymous protest in nine months — due to a restraining order set by the Boston Municipal Court, he’s forbidden to walk within 100 yards of the church building at 448 Beacon Street. But that doesn’t stop him from participating: at 11:30 am, he emerges from the Hynes Convention Center MBTA stop with a dozen other Anons, most of whom are dressed as zombies in what they say is homage to CoS members who either died under questionable circumstances or committed suicide. The jovially raucous group parades down Newbury Street, then hangs a left down Hereford Street chanting “Scientology kills,” effectively shattering Back Bay’s tree-lined tranquility and gaining the attention of any and all passers-by.

After Housh makes plans to reunite with the group later near Boston University, his accomplices join about 30 other Anons who are already outside the CoS building wielding literature and signs. These costumed pranksters have a singular goal, which, according to an October 4 Anonymous press release, is to expose “the illegal and immoral behavior of the Church of Scientology.” Their oak tags read: “Ron Is Gone But the Con Lives On,” “Honk If You Oppose Scientology,” and various slogans alleging that the CoS shatters families and financially fleeces its members.

Taking cues from boom boxes on two corners at the intersection of Hereford and Beacon, the Anons dance hysterically to their anthem, “Tom Cruise Crazy,” plus Haddaway’s “What Is Love?”, Rick Astley’s “Together Forever,” and several other songs that were recorded when most of these late teens and twentysomethings were wearing Pampers. If anything, their antics are silly; the police officers on duty see no need for alarm — one appears to doze off, while the other thumbs a newspaper. Through the ordeal, CoS members, who in the past have openly taped and photographed protesters, utterly ignore the scene, cordially entering and exiting the church in small groups as if there weren’t 40 young adults mocking them and shouting insults. Passing pedestrians and motorists, however, pay attention: maybe two out of every 10 drivers heed one sign that reads, “Honk If You Oppose Destructive Cults.”

For students from the nearby optometry school, as well as most other observers snapping cell-phone pics and chuckling, the compelling visual attraction is the fact that many of these Anonymous members are wearing Guy Fawkes masks inspired by the film V for Vendetta. But while the masks were first intended to conceal their identities and protect against CoS retaliation, Anonymous’s signature accessory might be its legal undoing. Church authorities already know the identities of at least six other local Anons (and hundreds nationwide), and have threatened legal action against past and future protest activity. The CoS argues that masks — combined with the group’s aggressive behavior — constitute criminal harassment: “Anonymous seems to have the mistaken impression that mask wearing is a protected form of free speech,” says Boston CoS attorney Marc LaCasse. “Mask wearing, in fact, is not speech — it is conduct . . . it is disturbing religious worship, and it is disturbing the peace.”

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