Still, Housh and other devout operatives soldier on by consistently turning out at monthly protests in front of Scientology churches across the planet. (The next is scheduled to take place internationally this weekend on Saturday, October 18; Boston Anonymous held its monthly event this past weekend instead, as its members will be busy this weekend handing out flyers at the Head of the Charles Regatta.) Alex Vanino — an outed New York Anon and anti-CoS Web honcho who drove up this past Saturday from Westchester despite having received a cease-and-desist notice from the CoS — isn’t scared. “There’s nothing they can do to get us,” says Vanino, adding that he is motivated by his friend who he claims committed suicide after Scientology indoctrinated him to stop taking anti-psychotic medication. “I’ve done a lot of research on this, and everything we’re doing here is clearly legal.”
An unlikely crusader
Housh is clean-cut but not preppy — a scrawny, baby-faced jeans-and-sneakers kind of dude whose appearance doesn’t advertise his interests. That said, he’s not socially or aesthetically rugged whatsoever. Housh doesn’t so much as drink booze or get high — soda pop and controversy-fueled adrenaline are his intoxicants of choice. Though he has the credentials and demeanor of a stereotypical circuit head, Housh claims that’s not the case. “I’m not one of those basement dwellers,” he says. “I’ve had a wife and all of that — I even go out to clubs and do stuff.”
One year ago, Housh never would have thought that even semi-extroverted computer types like him could mobilize in the flesh, as thousands have since done at rallies that Anonymous says span more than 100 cities in 40-plus countries. Nor did he have reason to. He and other regular visitors to gleefully raunchy image boards such as 711chan.org and 4chan.org had pulled several stunts — such as the “Great Habbo Hotel Raid of ’06,” in which users bombarded the virtual social-networking site Habbo with thousands of Don King–styled avatars — but they were hardly prone to public tomfoolery. Until recently, most pedestrian Web surfers had no idea what Housh, or any of the other trolls who instigate Internet pranks and post degenerate pictures on 4chan, were up to.
“I’ve been on 4chan for years, and it’s not a Web site you would ever want to send your mom to,” says Housh. “Originally, it forced people to log in anonymously, which is where the name ‘Anonymous’ comes from. One of the goals of threads on there is simply to scare people away — it’s always been one of those places that you go when you’re bored and you just want something really vulgar to entertain you.”
Housh’s 4chan frolicking took a dramatic turn on January 14, after Hollywood investigative journalist Mark Ebner posted a video of Tom Cruise touting Scientology’s virtues on YouTube. Presumably embarrassed by the leaked footage — in which Cruise claims that believers are the only people who are capable of helping car-crash victims — CoS attorneys, citing to intellectual property rights and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), pressed YouTube to remove the clip just hours after it was posted. As quickly as YouTube yanked it, 4chan and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels spewed forth assertions that the DMCA was being abused. At least three rebels re-posted the video on YouTube. Those postings, too, were removed almost immediately.