When an online group becomes a force to be reckoned with

It is easy to ignore what happens online. Or is it? Since early January this year, the online group Anonymous has been protesting the Church of Scientology over its cult behaviors and tax exempt status. And they are making headway. So, what would happen if an online group decided to go after a different target -- like business or government?

Last month, I told you about the Internet group "Anonymous" and their fight against Scientology (The Internet and IRL- have the lines blurred?). At the time, I don't think that I fully appreciated what impact an online group would have against an organization that has a world wide presence and a reputation for litigating out of existence the people who speak against it.

In January, a nine minute video hit the Net featuring Tom Cruise speaking about Scientology. Scientology demanded its removal, but the popular Web site Gawker decided not to comply. The whole issue caught the attention of a group called Anonymous who published a statement via video sharing site YouTube.

What followed was a series of DDoS attacks, black faxes, and prank calls to Scientology. Along with this, a declaration that Anonymous planned something for February on the anniversary of Lisa McPherson's birthday. Then Mark Bunker of xenutv.com stepped in. Dubbed "Wise Beard Man," Mark Bunker has been actively engaged in speaking out about Scientology for over 10 years. In a video on YouTube, Mark spoke to Anonymous about some of his experiences with the organization and recommended to Anonymous that they engage in a peaceful demonstration and helped them to understand what they would be going up against.

The February 10th protest was a peaceful demonstration that took place world-wide. Impressive on its own, Anonymous decided that they would celebrate the anniversary of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in a similar manner. And on March 15th, another world-wide protest was held.

But this time Scientology was ready, accusing Anonymous of bomb threats and mailing "white powder" to several of its buildings (Anonymous denies these allegations). It also tried unsuccessfully to have a court bar Anonymous from demonstrating outside of its Clearwater, FL, head quarters. Scientology failed because it couldn't accurately identify anyone in Anonymous. In fact, the court documents identified someone who worked for the Starbucks across the street who was on duty during the Feb. 10 protest.

And there lies the point. What is Anonymous, and who are they? For all anyone knows, I could be Anonymous. You, the reader, could be Anonymous. Unless a person declares himself or herself, there is no way to know.

This may be more than a group speaking out against what they see as a cult. The impact of Anonymous may be a demonstration of the real power of the Internet to reach out and change the status quo. What will our reaction be when they turn their collective attention away from Scientology and towards something else? Like, maybe, business? Or the government?

For more information about Anonymous:

Sub Section of the St Petersburg Times devoted to Scientology (TampaBay.com)

Scientology, The China Syndrome, and my wiki ways (InformationWeek)

Church of Scientology fighting fire with fire (PC World)

Cult Friction- Has Scientology met its match? (Radar)