Scientology's Anonymous Critics: Who Are They?

Since January, the church has been targeted by hackers and protesters.

ByABC News
March 24, 2008, 1:07 PM

March 25, 2008 — -- The controversial group has been labeled secretive, inspirational, dangerous and misunderstood.

The Church of Scientology?

No, it's a mysterious group of masked men and computer hackers called Anonymous who say are committed to dismantling the powerful religious organization renowned for its celebrity members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Over the past few months, Anonymous has picketed and protested at Scientology centers around the world from Australia and Atlanta to Brussels and Boston. They've also hacked into the church's Web site, posted numerous videos on YouTube criticizing the church and have been accused of harassing church officials.

Now the church is fighting back with its own public relations onslaught, releasing a recent video titled "Anonymous Exposed," which identifies individual it said were members of the group and accuses them of being accessories to criminal acts that include death threats and destruction of property.

"We wanted people who were unaware of what's going on to know about the criminal acts permitted by their leaders," church spokeswoman Karin Pouw told, adding that the church is working with federal and local law enforcement. "[The video] summarizes our position."

Members of Anonymous try to remain anonymous, but has reached several individuals who say they are members of the group and who talked on the condition that their names not be revealed.

"Anonymous contains all kinds of individuals, academics, college students, members of law enforcement, media professionals and blue collar workers," a 25-year-old member of Anonymous with a computer science background told in an e-mail, on the condition that he remain unidentified. "We are united by a mind-set, not by a membership card… We have no leaders and adhere to the true definition of a collective."

Responding to claims made in the church's video and statements from Church of Scientology leaders equating Anonymous with domestic terrorists, the Anonymous member wrote:

"Anonymous does not support, encourage or condone threats of violence in our campaign against Scientology. The 'bomb threat' video was reported to the FBI and to the media as soon as it was seen on YouTube. They were both told that this video was not produced by Anonymous."

Other members of Anonymous, who were college students in California, also denied that they have made any violent threats and claimed that they believe in lawful protest against what they perceive as the heavy-handed tactics of the church. The also e-mailed on the condition that their identities remain anonymous.

An FBI spokesperson declined comment.

For at least three decades, Scientology has gained a devoted following in Hollywood and around the world among those attracted to its message of self-help, and it has drawn ridicule and suspicion for some of its more controversial beliefs and its secretive nature.

But it was two recent events that propelled the members of Anonymous to act. Sources told that they were initially intrigued by the publication of Andrew Morton's biography of Tom Cruise, which was highly critical of Scientology. That drew them to the Internet for more information where they came across the leak of several church videos on YouTube featuring Cruise's wildly enthusiastic praise of Scientology.