Those close enough to me that I trust have known for a while now that I’ve spent most of my time since moving to California living two lives. In one life, I’m a desktop and server administrator for a respectable IT outsourcing company. I have a social security number, I pay my taxes, and I help my land lady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers where I go by the hacker on steroids alias Anonymous, and am guilty of virtually every troll they have a meme for.
Let me back up. January, 2008: A link to a video hit the front page of Digg.com which captured my interest with its ominous presentation, sinister message and the fact that there was no one taking credit for it, identifying themselves only as Anonymous. Despite lacking a source, this was a declaration of war, and it was directed at the Church of Scientology. I knew very little about scientology. Basically, I was aware it was a crazy brainwashing cult and that it was overly litigious in keeping secretive. The day I learned Beck was a scientologist, a piece of me died inside. Being the first time I’d actually bothered to look up anything about it, I quickly found that this was all hardly scratching the surface. They’ve also got a history of harassing critics, the largest infiltration of the US government in history, better tax exemption than any religion and censorship under their belt. Censorship. That’s what started this war. A now-famous internal clip of Tom Cruise being batshit insane was leaked. When threats of lawsuits resulted in the video being taken down, the Streisand Effect went full gear and it was re-posted everywhere. Shortly after, the video from Anonymous was posted and Project Chanology had begun. I knew even less about Anonymous, but it didn’t take me long to find out. To keep a rather complex idea brief, it’s a bunch of complete dickheads amongst whose weaponry were such diverse elements as anonymity, technical prowess, and being total retards. In other words, these were my people- and they were taking the battle from the Internets to the streets. The moment this all became apparent, my respectable life was murdered and the corpse skinned; the quickly rotting flesh adorned over my engorged manhood, twitching to make the puppet dance. The first real life raid was in February. It was organized online with out any form of leadership and no hierarchy other than the Darwinism of ideas. It was scheduled for a weekend I was working, so instead I took it upon myself to riddle my town with fliers. When the day finally came, thousands of people showed up at scientology buildings around the world, brandishing Internet memes for signs and wearing ridiculous costumes and masks. The reasoning behind masks was twofold. Firstly, when a crazy cult is known to harass critics by telling your neighbors and employer that you’re a pedophile, or loosening the lug nuts of your tires, or even poisoning your pets, it’s nice to take the precaution to keep you, your friends and your family safe. Secondly, the mask represents an idea. To paraphrase from a highly relevant movie, Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof. Religion is free, scientology is neither, and don’t you dare censor our fucking Internets. It didn’t take long before I had an almost complete loss of interest in online communities I’d previously considered home. In their stead were multiple websites where people posted anonymously, memes and offensive remarks were commonplace and everyone worked towards destroying a dangerous cult. For fun. In the month leading up to the next global raid, I spent most every moment awake keeping up to date on the latest news and ideas. As it drew closer, I prepared my clothes and escape route. When you’re working to destroy a cult, you want to look good. Along with my Guy Fawkes mask, I had a suit from my father, which was slightly oversized for me and could be worn quite comfortably over plain street clothes. Beneath the suit jacket, I wore a small backpack with only a crumpled duffel bag and my GPS for geocoding photos. The idea was that I’d walk up to the protest with nothing other than my camera and when I left, I’d be able to remove the suit and throw everything into the duffel bag once I was sure I didn’t have a tail. To make sure I didn’t have a tail, I was even more ridiculous. I familiarized myself with public transportation in my area, marking every stop on my GPS. To arrive at the protest, I would drive to the movie theater, park in the back and buy a ticket for a show around the time I planned to have left by. It was then a quick walk across a few parking lots and hopping a fence to catch the bus- which I purchased a day-pass for. Getting off at a stop where I could hop on the light rail, I quickly threw the suit on over my clothes and donned my mask before it arrived. Leaving would basically be the reverse, and if I had a tail the entire way back, I had a ticket I could use to get inside the movie theater and walk out the back door to my car. I doubt any tail would be so prepared- and to think, I was only a Boy Scout for like a minute and a half. Sitting on a train wearing a suit and mask leads to the question, “could I possibly be more awesome?” The answer is yes- but not by much. At my stop, there was a guy taking photos of every single person to get off the train. I waved at him, laughing as I walked past and he started following me. I’m sure the photos of a dude in a mask, and the back of my head did loads of good in identifying me. Apart from him, though, handlers were nonexistent. The protest in Mountain View was fun, but rather tame. 20 or so people showed up, there were lots of signs, but not all that much retardation. I came out to this to act like an idiot, and to get some cool photos. THIS TOWN WOULD NOT DO! Enter San Francisco… The things I had seen of this town were more akin to what I was after. There were lots of people, and plenty of craziness. This is what I craved. Despite the anonymity thing, I was also using one of the websites to hit on an especially obnoxious San Franciscan chick. Two weeks later when the San Francisco cell had planned to raid on L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday, I decided to head up and join them. It was during this that I learned the aforementioned chick was actually a dude, and made a point of apologizing for trying to pick him up. Anyways, these people were awesome. Music was blasting, a giant flag with Mudkips was waving, there was dancing and shouting. Some scientologists gave us the finger and cursed at us, others averted their eyes, or had their eyes covered by another so they couldn’t see us. One even blatantly followed us as we left, until the police came and told him to fuck off. This kicked ass. Mountain View could chomp my beaver. That’s when my friends began seeing less of me. We started doing weekly mini-raids, basically handing out fliers on weekends at a busy rail station every Saturday. After one or two I realized I didn’t need to be as over-prepared as I was, and started wearing my much nicer suit without bothering to deal with a change of clothes. I now looked “the shit”, as the kids on the streets say. Before long, it became a more social thing. A bunch of us started going to smoke-filled dive bars and getting drunk right easily, thanks to a long day in the sun wearing a suit and not eating. Spending weekends with people I knew nothing about became more and more common, sometimes ending with a dozen of us drunk and passing out in another Anon’s 1-room apartment. These were good times. We had some hug raids to destroy the image scientology was putting out of us being terrorists and evil. I saw all this as a perfect way to work on my portraiture photography- something I both sucked at and usually found boring. I’m pretty sure there’s a correlation between the two. I picked up a faster lens, the Canon 50mm f/1.8, and immediately fell in love with it. Even better, I’ve never been hugged by so many hot bitches in my life. People were constantly thanking us for taking a stand against the cult, cheering for us and taking pictures with us.
The monthly global raids got louder, crazier and fucking expensive. For a while we were pooling money together each month for a 500$USD sound permit and amplified speaker rental. Through scientific studies, we had discovered that the key to partying hard was an increase of volume and energetic music. Some would say people dancing to Andrew W.K. tunes, dry-humping each other and performing acts of bestiality on unicorn piñatas accomplishes nothing. These people are wrong. There has never been such an effective and enjoyable form of protesting. What exactly does my giant sign with “BALLS” written over and over on it have to do with scientology, and how does it further our cause? Fuck you, bitch. My sign fucked your mother last night. I’m out here thrusting my hips and rubbing my crotch at oncoming traffic, which is honking in support- and it’s driving the scientologists absolutely mad with rage. It is at this point that I will mention San Francisco’s North Beach cops are the best cops I’ve ever seen, and they loved us. When you spend months on end partying like a jackass with people, it’s inevitable that going to a raid eventually turns into simply hanging out with friends. It’s just that you don’t know who they are, and hanging out happens to consist primarily of being a dick in public. We did other things too- going through hundreds to thousands of fliers every weekend, informing people about the cult, how they slowly sucker people into it, how they tear apart families and friendships, how they claim to be a religion yet are structured like a business and have essentially no limits when it comes to silencing critics, blah blah blah. It’s all terrible stuff, sure. That stuff gets other people interested, so that’s what I told them about. A couple times we had beach parties. The first consisted of being torn apart by the sand on an insanely cold and windy day. Eventually, we came across a weird cement structure to shelter us from the horrible. When the booze came out, I began what might have been the greatest and drunkest escapade I’ve ever known. Better even than the night I drank half a bottle of absinthe and threw myself into closet walls repeatedly. I was ski poling bottles of booze like a rum-hungry whore. Since it was freezing, a few of the more sober men and I took it upon ourselves to provide the group with fuel for a fire. I’m pretty sure the driftwood we found was a giant post of a dock. The sober teenagers started rolling it back, but I was too drunk and impatient to deal with this. Instead, I called them all pussies, picked an end up and started dragging. We doused it in lighter fluid and set it ablaze. It let off the foulest, nastiest smoke ever- probably because the thing was covered in pitch. At the time, I didn’t care. I was freezing, and practically sat in the fire with my suit jacket covering my head trying to keep warm. I don’t remember much else of what happened and I have no idea how I made it back from the beach. I only vaguely remember getting Dim Sum with everyone afterward and although someone emptied an entire bottle of hot sauce on my chow mein, I ate it without noticing. Nor do I remember passing out in my food, or paying for everyone’s meal- but apparently I did. Sitting in the smoke absolutely destroyed my throat. I couldn’t talk. At all. I also had a hell of a cough which lasted for months and required a prescription inhaler to get rid of. The other beach party was a bit tamer. It was a hot and sunny day, and we got a legit fire pit with normal firewood. I did a pretty good job of staying out of the fire, too, until everyone ganged up on me and decided that my having never been in the Pacific would no longer stand. They dragged me for approximately forever while I asked people watching why they weren’t helping me, and quoting Short Circuit, “No disassemble! Steph…a…nieee…” Then everyone picked me up and lobbed me in. Being drunk and freezing again, I tried putting myself in the fire to warm up. I don’t remember getting back that time, either. Both times, that 1-room apartment ended up with enough sand in it to fill a moose. I think it was also after the second beach party that I drunkenly told one of the girls I liked her, and when she didn’t hear me because she was talking to someone else, I yelled at her for missing my telling her something important. You laugh, thinking to yourself “oh- that’s fucking smooth”, but you know what? She’s a redhead, she’s hot as hell and bitch’s still dating me a year later. I know how to hook a woman with my inebriated charms and stunning good looks, so you shut your whore mouth. We also managed to put together, despite overwhelming odds, a complete calendar of us in provocative shots which met my exacting standards. Anons of San Francisco: Eighteen Months of Unf. Somewhere around 25 were printed at the low cost of about 500$USD. Half that was out of my own pocket because I wanted to make it a reality, the rest was donated by others in small increments. It will forever remain the coolest thing to come out of all this, mainly because bitches in masks and bandannas are hot. At some point I had to tell certain people what the hell I’d been up to. Mainly because it was the only thing on my mind to talk about and nothing else interested me. Their responses were usually shock and astonishment, followed by praise and occasionally wishing they were involved. I remember one night around a fire pit, showing them a stamp I had been marking cash with, and everyone emptied their pockets and drunkenly stamped every bill they had.
In Project Chanology we have no names. All my photos were being posted anonymously & under Creative Commons, but it’s tough to keep your ego in check when you’re as great as I am. It’s a struggle I have to deal with every day of my life, but it is my cross to bear. When my photos started getting consistent exposure on blogs & local news sites, and being used in propaganda videos & fliers around the world, it didn’t make things any easier. I managed of course, because I’m amazing. Eventually my interest started petering off. I’d spent nearly every waking moment of a year devoting myself to this shit. Raids became boring and tame, fewer people were showing up, and I wasn’t getting the material to photograph which I’d desired. When I started only taking 3 or 4 photos the entire time, rather that the upwards of 200 like earlier on, I knew my involvement had run its course. I don’t even want to think of how much money I spent on travel, booze, food, fliers, permits and whatever else over the course of the year. I’d considered Project Chanology a success far earlier, anyways. While the Church of Scientology was still standing, we managed to take away everything they’ve held dearly to in order to survive. The general public had been inoculated to the cult and we showed people how their stress tests were simply ploys to slowly get you to start paying for materials and courses. We made known the various front groups the cult used as veils. Media lost its fear of lawsuits for criticism. Their expensive “religious” documents were leaked and made public for anyone to download. Everything boiled down to informing people. The cult was hemorrhaging money no matter what. By the time I bowed out, it had long simply become a waiting game as we bled them. The entire experience changed me, and I’d argue for the better. I’d become far more comfortable speaking my mind, regardless of how much it might offend someone. Considering a number of people have long wondered how my mouth hasn’t gotten me killed me yet, my days are almost assuredly at an end now. I’ve become friends with people I not only don’t embarrass, but actively try to outdo my offensiveness in public. I’ve learned of some excellent bands, done a world of good on my photography, and while it was never even in the back of my mind when I got into all this, I couldn’t have asked for a more ideal situation to find a girlfriend. Most of all, thanks to Project Chanology, I got the hell out from behind my computer and had some fun.
Lick some lings
- Flickr: anmoyunos’ Photostream
- YouTube – WE RUN THIS.
- YouTube – MV anons like to party
- TED – Christopher “m00t” Poole: The case for anonymity online (my photo @5:08)
- Youtube – Giant Robit Project (Completely unrelated, but amazing)