By Jeff Jacobsen

Hamburg, Germany Anonymous protest against Scientology
[photo courtesy Hamburg, Germany Anonymous]

In January 2008 some members of an Internet-based collective known as Anonymous began actions against the Church of Scientology that are continuing. They designated their collective action “Project Chanology.” The originations of Project Chanology, its structure, its decision-making process, and its methods of protesting are collectively unique. Project Chanology shows the new types of social networking and activism that can spring from the instant communication the Internet provides. Understanding Project Chanology will provide a template for understanding such future movements and their actions.

in French [pdf]

tl;dr-averse version ------> here

Internet Collective Action Blog for further discussion

See the documentary; "We Are Legion; the Story of the Hacktivists"



“Only make sure that you will not regret the undertaking,
and then you need not worry about whether it will be successful
or not.” (Watson, 1963, p. 65)

The Internet has made communicating, organizing, and socializing simple, cheap, and readily accessible. With these ubiquitous tools it is not difficult to find people with a common interest, organize in some fashion, and accomplish tasks. At times, it turns out, it does not take much of a spark for a large group to form quickly and seemingly from nowhere. Such groups require little sustenance, very little organization, almost no leadership, and very simple goals. Yet they can accomplish much more than would seem possible. Because of the ease with which these types of groups can form, it is my contention that they will spring up more and more. Rather than be blindsided by such groups, it is useful to understand what they are. In this article I examine Project Chanology, a collective action that sprang from the Internet-based social network called Anonymous, to protest the Church of Scientology.


Anonymous is the name of a loose-knit social network that grew from certain message boards on the Internet. The main web site was www.4chan.org and the main forum on that site was the “/b/” forum. There is no sign-up on these boards, so anyone can go there and post images and messages. The basic rules are nothing illegal and no personal private information should be posted (/b/ forum post, 2008). The default name for a poster is “anonymous.” Anonymity and free speech reign supreme on these forums. On some forums, including /b/, there is a limit of how long posts remain on-line, so there is no longevity unless someone chooses to copy the files before they are automatically erased. A certain culture has gradually built up for regular users who adopt and repeat sayings or images from previous posts that struck a chord. The idea gradually built to give themselves a group name, Anonymous. The only cohesion comes from a very thin sense of community and shared memes, or internal terms or ideas.

In January 2008 a Church of Scientology in-house video was leaked to youtube.com, a web site for hosting videos for free. On the video Tom Cruise was extolling the virtues of Scientology, claiming that only Scientologists know what to do if they come upon a car accident, and other statements apparently aimed at a church audience (Aleteuk, 2008). Scientology attorneys quickly succeeded in getting the video removed from youtube as a copyright violation. However, other sites, such as gawker.com, also put up copies and refused to remove it despite the Scientology attorneys' threats to take the video down, claiming that the video was newsworthy (by September 20 the video had been removed from gawker.com).

The Anonymous sites took notice of Scientology's attempt to stamp out this video from public view and considered it an attack on free speech on the Internet. On a forum in 4chan.org an anonymous poster on January 15 wrote:

I think it's time for /b/ to do something big.
People need to understand not to f*k with /b/, and talk about nothing for ten minutes, and expect people to give their money to an organization that makes absolutely no f*king sense.
I'm talking about "hacking" or "taking down" the official Scientology website.
It's time to use our resources to do something we believe is right.
It's time to do something big again, /b/.
Talk amongst one another, find a better place to plan it, and then carry out what can and must be done.
It's time, /b/ (Landers, 2008).

Another poster declared:

Gentlemen, This is what I have been waiting for. Habbo, Fox, The G4 Newfag Flood crisis. Those were all training scenarios. This is what we have been waiting for. This is a battle for justice. Everytime niggertits has gone to war, it has been for our own causes. Now, gentlemen, we are going to fight for something that is right. I say damn those of us who advise against this fight. I say damn those of us who say this is foolish.
/b/ROTHERS.... MAN THE HARPOONS! (Scientology, n.d.)

Those who chose to respond to this call to action created Project Chanology, an outgrowth of Anonymous dedicated to attacking the Church of Scientology. The first public message from Project Chanology was a video on youtube.com put up on January 21, 2008. This was a professional looking time-lapse video of menacing clouds passing quickly, and a synthetic voice:

Over the years, we have been watching you. Your campaigns of misinformation; suppression of dissent; your litigious nature, all of these things have caught our eye. With the leakage of your latest propaganda video into mainstream circulation, the extent of your malign influence over those who trust you, who call you leader, has been made clear to us. Anonymous has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed. For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind--for the laughs--we shall expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form. We acknowledge you as a serious opponent, and we are prepared for a long, long campaign. You will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic. Your methods, hypocrisy, and the artlessness of your organization have sounded its death knell....
You cannot hide; we are everywhere.
We cannot die; we are forever. We're getting bigger every day--and solely by the force of our ideas, malicious and hostile as they often are. If you want another name for your opponent, then call us Legion, for we are many....
Knowledge is free.
We are Anonymous.
We are Legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
Expect us (ChurchofScientology, 2008).

This video had hundreds of thousands of viewings in the first week, indicating a huge audience, even though there had not been any media attention, and criticism of Scientology is a relatively obscure topic. How could a video with little media attention garner so many hits on a subject that was relatively obscure?

Already by January 16 Scientology's web site was not accessible. The Anons, or Anonymous members, had begun a Ddos, or Distributed Denial of Service, attack on the site by sending multiple thousands of access requests, thus swamping the capacity of Scientology's provider and making the site inaccessible. Others were “black faxing” Scientology office fax machines with dark pages that would take a lot of toner to print out. Others called in fake pizza orders to Scientology offices.

On January 26 Mark Bunker, a long-time critic of Scientology and owner of xenutv.com, posted a video to youtube.com condemning the above types of attack on Scientology by Anonymous (Bunker, 2008). He suggested “you shouldn't do things that are illegal” and warned against the more creative but illegal actions that were being suggested on the forums against Scientology. He suggested instead legal tactics, including that they protest in front of the church offices. This even more obscure video got hundreds of thousands of hits, again indicating the size of Anonymous. Almost immediately after this, Anons, or Anonymous members, started calling Bunker “Wise Beard Man” and decided his advice was correct. Most of the more questionable methods of attack greatly diminished.

On February 10, 2008, the first protest by Project Chanology occurred at Churches of Scientology around the world. An estimated 7000 people appeared with “V for Vendetta” masks or scarves on to hide their identity (Project Chanology, 2008). This was the first “IRL” (In Real Llife) action by Anonymous. Since then there have been monthly worldwide protests in most cities around the world where there is a Scientology presence.

Scientology reacted with its own video on youtube.com, delineating the actions of Anonymous before their decision to switch tactics. They claimed the Ddos attacks lasted several days, that there were multiple harassing phone calls to Scientology offices, obscene faxes, death threats, 50,000 obscene emails, bomb threats, gunshots, and vandalism. On January 30, 24 churches received letters with a white powder “resembling anthrax.” On February 13 a video purportedly from Anonymous was posted to youtube.com, claiming that “one 5 kilogram pack of nitroglycerin will detonate in the Churches of Scientology” (anonymousexposed, 2008) Anons later claimed to have proven that this video was in fact created by the Church of Scientology itself (ChanologySpeaker, 2008). Adding things up, “in less than three weeks, Anonymous made or encouraged 8,139 harassing or threatening phone calls, 3.6 million malicious emails, 141 million hits against church web sites, 10 acts of vandalism, 22 bomb threats, and 8 death threats...” (anonymousexposed, 2008). In late February Scientology completely overhauled their web site, www.scientology.org, to videos rather than text.

While this was the first IRL project by Anonymous, it was not the first coordinated operation. In 2006 several Anons “raided” the Habbo Hotel. Habbo, found online at www.habbo.com, is a “hangout for teens.” It is a digital hotel where members create their own avatars to move around and socialize with others in the hotel. There are personal rooms, an outside area, and a pool. An Anon noticed that the pool was easily blocked by an avatar so no others could go in or out of the pool. The idea was hatched to join Habbo en masse, with identical looking avatars with black skin, Afro hair, and a business suit. They blocked the pool, doorways, and elsewhere. Flustered Habbo operators temporarily shut down to try to make sense of what was happening. Anons considered this an “epic win” or great success (DshaunT, 2008).

Alleged protest against Scientology in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Hal Turner, a racist commentator with his own web site, received attention from Anonymous in 2006. They would overwhelm his phone-in program with prank callers, Ddos attack his web site (making it inaccessible to viewers), and posted his private information online. Turner fought back with attempted lawsuits and posted some Anons' information online (Hal Turner, 2008). In the end, it appears that Turner got the worst of it while Anonymous declared another “epic win.”

In 2007 Chris Forcand thought he was chatting online with a 13-year-old girl named “Jessica.” In fact, it was a sting operation against Forcand by Anonymous (Chris Forcand, 2008). Partially through Anonymous' efforts Forcand was arrested in Toronto (Man trolled, 2008).

Anonymous has continued other online activities since the inception of Project Chanology. In September 2008 a hacker claimed to have accessed Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's yahoo email accounts (gov.palin@yahoo.com, 2008). He then posted the information on 4chan.org “/b/” forum for other Anons to view and utilize. This has made national news (Details emerge, 2008), raised concern over yahoo's email security, and possibly tainted a vice presidential candidate's chance for election. Another example came on the Oprah Winfrey show. On a program about child safety on the Internet, Oprah read from an email she had received on the subject. Using the email as an example of what children are up against online, she said the emailer warned that the pedophile group “doesn't forgive, doesn't forget, and this group has over 9000 penises, and they are all raping children.” (Oprah over, 2008) Anonymous' slogan is “we do not forgive. We do not forget. We are legion. Expect us.” 9000 is a number used within Anonymous to mean an impossibly large amount. This comes from an anime TV program where a character is astonished at the power level of his opponent, which is “over 9000” (showatch, 2007). So while Oprah saw the email as evidence of danger for our children, it was most likely another successful “troll,” or deception, for Anonymous, and of course someone made a humorous video on youtube.com almost immediately (thefr00n, 2008).

Project Chanology, however, is still the sole project that has moved Anonymous into the streets.


It would be difficult to conduct a survey of Anonymous simply because of the unstructured nature and anonymity of the group. How do you contact Anonymous people? How would you prevent trolling, a typical part of gaining “lulz,” or laughs, within the movement? Those Anons who are a part of Project Chanology are somewhat easier to find since they protest in public. I have been a participant observer of Project Chanology since the first protests in February. I protested in Phoenix at most of the monthly protests. In May I protested in Tucson, Arizona. In June and August I protested in Denver, Colorado. In September I asked two Anons that I had met in each location to answer a questionnaire that I then emailed to them (Appendix A). I chose to use as informers only those that I actually protested with and who had protested several times, assuming they are more committed to Project Chanology and would know more. This is not a random sampling nor a representative sampling in any way. It is mostly a small snapshot of a few of the protesters I have met. I should say that I know only one Anonymous person's real name. I only know them by their nicknames. Some of them I have never seen their real faces since they wear masks at the protests and other than online that is the only place I have met them.

Anonymous is intentionally obscure. A list called “Rules of the Internet” lists both rules number 1 and 2, “do not talk about /b/,” meaning the 4chan.org forum /b/ (Appendix C). Most Anons at protests strive to make sure that Scientology does not learn their identity. About 90% of protesters wear the “V for Vendetta” mask or some disguise. I have not asked why others do not disguise themselves.

Most of my informants are right around age 30. One is 18. I would guess from the protests and from photos and videos taken at protests around the world that ages range from mid-teens to twenties, with some in their 30's and a few people being age 40 to 50. Women are strongly represented, being perhaps 25% of the Anons I have protested with. All my informants have had some college education. The average number of years on the Internet for them is around 14, and they average 5.1 hours per day online. Most consider themselves to have become a part of Anonymous at the beginning of Project Chanology in February 2008, though one says she has been a part of Anonymous from “the beginning.” (Appendix A, Question 10)

I attribute the statements that they did not consider themselves a part of Anonymous before Project Chanology started to two things. First, the nature of Anonymous is such that belonging or not belonging can mean reading a certain web site or not. My informants all knew what Anonymous is and knew the memes or insider language, but may not have seen themselves as a direct part of it. In answer to the question “How did you become a part of Anonymous?” one informant answered, “I had been poking my nose in anonymous imageboards since about 2006 but I wouldn't have considered myself 'Anonymous.'” (Appendix A, question 9) Secondly, their attachment to Project Chanology was a mark in time when they became a part of an Anonymous activity, which would then give them a feeling of membership or camaraderie at least.

From my observation of protests, it seemed that almost everyone knew the Anonymous memes or insider language perfectly well. They laughed at “Rick rolling” and jokes about “over 9000” while I had no idea what they were talking about. Every protest has been a party atmosphere, with music, inside jokes, fun costumes, and even cake. But there is also an air of determination towards the goal of exposing the Church of Scientology as well. Most protesters I spoke with, including my informants, were knowledgeable about Scientology, which is surprising considering most of them just started investigating the church in January. Their videos on youtube.com were professionally done and accurate. Their press releases were exact and thoughtful. The protests seemed reasonably well organized. In short, they had the appearance of a cohesive group running a well-coordinated campaign.

There seems to be a dedicated core at each city which is perhaps 15% of the whole. These do the “organizing.” The rest either come regularly but don't interact much, or just come sporadically or maybe just once. Again, this is hard to pin down without being able to see faces and without keeping some kind of tabulation, of course. But attendance appears fluid except for the core activists.

Socializing amongst Anons seems varied. At the March protest in Mountain View, California, one protester told a reporter “Most of us actually don't know each other, we're complete strangers” (DeBolt, 2008). This is less and less true as the monthly protests go on for regulars, most likely. Some Phoenix Anons regularly chat on IRC and go bowling and eating together. Getting to know each other means the loss of anonymity at least inside the group. For one of my informants this was seen as a problem: “Yes. I have received criticism from other Anons for this. We became close friends through the force of our common goals. I believe what we gain through the bonds of friendship make up for what [we] lose by giving up absolute anonymity.” (Appendix A, question 18)

There are certainly potential disadvantages to participating in the protests. Anons have been followed and identified, then outed by Scientology operatives. Gareth Cales in Los Angeles was one of the first protesters to be publicly outed, or "namefagged," by Scientology. At the March, 2008 protest Gareth was suddenly sandwiched between two Scientologists who each had a sign with a photo of Gareth, his name, address and phone number, and an arrow pointing toward him (Paradise, 2008). Many of the protesters have also been identified and sent "cease and desist" type letters from Scientology attorneys in a move to scare away protesters (BBG, 2008). Of my six informants, one has received such a letter and three expressed some fears of retaliation by Scientology (Appendix A, question 25).

With such repercussions possible, why do Anons choose to be part of Project Chanology? My informants gave generally the same answer of gaining a sense of doing something good. One stated that he participates for "laughs, the feeling that I'm doing something positive for society and a sense that I'm really helping and making a difference when people come up and thank me for taking a stand or tell me about a relative or loved one who just left the cult because of our activism." (Appendix A, question 24) Such responses appear in the message forums as well. When someone reports that a Scientologist has quit, the general response is "THIS IS WHY" (Anonshaw, 2008), meaning that the effort is worth it for such results.

Laughs, or "lulz," are an important part of Anonymous culture. If something can't be fun then it probably won't be done. For each protest against Scientology there have been humorous themes. The June, 2008 theme, for example, was "Sea Arrgh" in honor of Scientology's Sea Organization. Protesters dressed as pirates and sang songs such as "You Are a Pirate."


“Epic wins” come when a project is successful in creating “lulz” or fun. These are two of the many memes in Anonymous that give it some cohesion and flavor. The memes and popular photos or graphics that are used over and over again come from posts that became popular, phrases or graphics from a video game, or current news. Internally the memes act as a language and shorthand. For instance, if a person posted on 4chan.org that Anonymous should do a certain action, the resulting posts would likely say “NYPA,” which stands for “Not Your Personal Army,” at which point the idea would be ignored. Vulgar terms such a “fag” and “nigger” are regularly used, but seem so ubiquitous as to have no particular meaning.

As can be seen by the Oprah TV program above, these memes can be used outside the Anonymous world as an indication that some action has come from Anonymous. Simultaneously, it can be taken completely out of context from those who have not seen them before. For instance, a woman in Houston found a Habbo Hotel raid reference on the fence around her apartment complex pool. It was a graphic of a black man with his arms crossed and the phrase “pool's closed” (ColdFusion 0617, 2008). This is a graphic used by Anonymous relating to the Habbo Hotel raid. An Anon would find the poster humorous, while this tenant found it racially threatening.



The Internet has provided tools to make consolidation of a group of critics easy, cheap, and almost instantaneous. Distance and cost are no barrier to finding like-minded people who are disgruntled and willing to take some action. Howard Rheingold in his book on "Smart Mobs" states that "the most profoundly transformative potential of connecting human social proclivities to the efficiency of information technologies is the chance to do new things together, the potential for cooperating on scales and in ways never before possible" (Rheingold, 2002, p. 114).

The Internet allows planning to be done privately in many ways. First, there are so many web sites that it would be difficult for an outsider to find where planning is being done. Some web sites provide private forums where a password is required, so even if you knew the site that might not give you access to deliberation. With Project Chanology, my informants stated generally that communication was by web site forums or IRC chat channels. When more secure messaging was needed, email or phone was used (Appendix A, question 15). This, plus their seclusive nature, is why Project Chanology seemed to spring up from the blue. Even if someone had been on 4chan.org, he still would have to have gone to the “/b/” folder to see the discussion about Scientology. And even THEN, /b/ messages are only up until newer posts fill up the quota and they fall off the end.

Once Project Chanology started to organize, some web sites dedicated to the project formed, including www.enturbulation.org, which has since closed. Some local groups used myspace.com or facebook.com pages for distributing public and private messages for those who had signed up to protest. Phoenix uses whyweprotest.net, myspace.com, and facebook.com, as well as an active IRC channel. Tucson, at www.yiitucson.com, and Denver, at www.coanon.org, both have their own web sites. Some such sites have been fluid, where they fall into disuse or a different site becomes the preferred one.

Organizational Structure

Decisions within Project Chanology are made by individuals planning their own personal activity, or by consensus (“hive-mind”). Anyone claiming leadership is shouted down instantly. In fact, Anonymous has memes to discourage anyone from claiming leadership. “Not your personal army” or NYPA is the phrase that comes up when someone tries to simply tell others what they should be doing. If someone strays from the agreed-upon actions, they are told to “stay on target” (a quote from a scene in the original “Star Wars” movie).

As an example, the Toronto Anons had a small argument when one of the organizers posted that he was quitting. He stated that:

Since the very beginning of Chanology I was working to keep the Toronto Anons together and working by helping to create a group of like-minded colleagues and pseudo-friends. A group of dedicated 'core' anons and myself worked behind the scenes to clear out the /b/tards and the less dedicated lulz-seekers, to keep the dedicated majority together and to keep interest up. Starting in February I had hosted after-parties for all Toronto anons, as part of this campaign to keep Toronto working. After every monthly raid we would head to the penthouse at a nearby hotel and party all night. It was a radical idea (25 drunk anons in a room together, you get the idea) but it worked. It was my way of saying thanks for everybody that was still dedicated to the cause of removing the CoS from Canada and saving the Scientolgoists (paraphren, 2008).

In this case there was a local uproar and concern from outside Anons as well. Anons strongly discourage such “drama.”

Generally, personal arguments are relegated to the “Thunderdome” section of a web site, which is a sort of free-for-all area similar to /b/ in 4chan.org, where almost anything legal goes. Since most personal arguments are segregated in this manner as being “drama,” the rest of the board seems relatively peaceful and “on target” much more than alt.religion.scientology where long-time Scientology critics have posted for years. The Toronto thread was in the main forum area briefly but was then moved to the “Thunderdome” area.

The lack of hierachy in Anonymous means all voices and ideas get a hearing, decision-making can be done quickly, and each activist can feel they have as much contribution to planning as any other. Lack of hierarchy might mean less efficiency, but efficiency is not the goal, effectiveness is (Shirky, 2008). While a hierarchical organization relies on in-house specialists, anonymous has its entire population as a talent pool and cheap or free tools available on the Internet. Ideas can be tried and discarded with little investment wasted (Shirky).

Anonymous logo
There is an infinite variance in the degree of involvement, since there are no requirements nor scrutiny for compliance. An Anon can simply be a passive viewer of the activity, a contributor to ideas or discussion, an organizer, or an active participant in the “IRL” events. In this manner, Anons can feel comfortable being involved without the stress of obligation for any particular level of contribution. Anons can come and go as they please for any particular cause or event. This also means that it is difficult to predict numbers of participants for any particular activity, but generally there is no need for that anyway. This has caused friction, however, at certain times. At the Witchita, Kansas protest in May some of the organizers were upset because they had set up a grill and cooked hot dogs and hamburgers for many more people than actually showed up (nameless, 2008).


What is it about the Church of Scientology that led some within Anonymous to come out of their self-imposed secrecy and publicly protest against this organization? I will venture two influences – Scientology's negative online reputation, and the timing of certain media reports just before Project Chanology began.

All my informants had heard of Scientology before Project Chanology began. They all had negative opinions as well. “I was aware it was a cult since 1999;” “I knew of its sci-fi aspects and litigous nature, but did not know of the true evil nature of the organization;” “A distant family member had been Hubbard's lawyer, so I'd heard Scientology's a bad thing...” (Appendix A, question 13) When asked why they joined Project Chanology, each stated that it was to expose the true nature of Scientology (Appendix A, question 23). All the informants described themselves as either agnostic or atheist (Appendix A, top).

In 1995, Scientology was concerned about a small newsgroup online called alt.religion.scientology. A newsgroup is like an online neighborhood bulletin board that has a specific topic. Anyone can post a message to the newsgroup, and read all the other messages there. There are no moderators. Discussion “threads” can happen as posters respond to one another. Alt.religion.scientology (a.r.s.), created in 1991, was a mix of a small group of Scientologists, ex-Scientologists, and critics, who debated and shared information. In 1994 Scientology planned ways to eliminate critical discussion on a.r.s. These plans were leaked to the newsgroup (Lippard & Jacobsen, 1995). In December 1994 certain internal Scientology documents were anonymously posted to a.r.s. Scientology responded by attempting to close down a.r.s. Scientology attorneys wrote to Internet service providers demanding that they stop hosting a.r.s. Attorney Helena Kobrin sent out a software command known as an “rmgroup” which tells the system to remove a particular newsgroup. She followed this up with a notice claiming that the newsgroup was mainly a place where copyright infringement was occurring and should be closed (Lippard & Jacobsen). Most service providers canceled the rmgroup command, though on some portions of the Internet, a.r.s. did disappear at least temporarily.

These attempts to silence a.r.s. gained more and more attention online. They were seen as a threat to the culture of free speech on the Internet. If an organization can close down a portion of free speech on the Internet simply because they don't like what is being said, then all free speech is potentially at peril.

A few weeks later Scientology raided the home of Dennis Erlich, an ex-Scientologist and regular contributor on a.r.s. (Lippard & Jacobsen, 1995). They carted off his computer and many of his private files, claiming that Erlich had posted copyrighted Scientology documents to the newsgroup. Arnie Lerma's home was raided next on August 12, 1995, then Lawrence Wollersheim and Bob Penny (Grossman, 1995). All of these people are ex-Scientologists. Each time, copyright infringement violations were alleged.

Church attorneys also managed to close down an anonymous remailer, anon.penit.fi, based in Finland (Lippard & Jacobsen, 1995). This remailer provided a service to people who wanted to post messages anonymously by forwarding posts, but with identifying markers stripped. Some people had been using anon.penet.fi to post internal Scientology documents to a.r.s.

This sudden spate of heavy-handed tactics to silence critics brought many free-speech activists to arms. In 1995 critics and free-speech activists began protesting outside Scientology churches. News media began to cover the conflict.

It is this history that has scarred Scientology's on-line reputation. Free speech is arguably the most important aspect of the Internet, so when that is so blatantly attacked, it garners attention and concern. As Michael Peckham observed in his study on Scientology and the Internet, “Many Internet users see themselves as constituting a community that does not recognize external authorities” and “attempts to regulate from outside meet with resounding disfavor.” (Peckham, 1998, p. 321)

Scientology failed to close down alt.religion.scientology and failed to silence critics. Critics continued making use of the Internet by posting news articles, first-person accounts, legal documents, and some internal church documents in newsgroups and on web sites. As services like youtube sprang up, critics posted videos of protests, interviews with ex-Scientologists, and copies from TV programs that had covered the darker side of Scientology. Some TV programs such as South Park (Parker, 2005) and Boston Legal (Kelley, 2006) covered Scientology in a negative light. In May 2007 BBC's John Sweeney aired a program on Scientology that showed Scientologists following and harassing him, even to his hotel room (Sweeney, 2007). By 2008 there was an almost unlimited supply of critical information in many formats about Scientology available on the Internet.

In November, 2005, Tom Cruise, arguably the most famous publicly avowed Scientologist, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, and jumped on her couch in expression of his love for Katie Holmes (angelsgurl, 2007). In June that same year Cruise was interviewed by Matt Lauer on Good Morning America, in which he railed against psychiatry (In tense moment, 2005). Scientology is anti-psychiatry. In January, 2008, Andrew Morton published his unauthorized biography of Tom Cruise (Morton, 2008). Videos of Cruise' actions on Good Morning America and Oprah were posted to youtube.com as well as other sites. On January 11, 2008 came an unauthorized leak of a Scientology in-house video of Tom Cruise extolling the benefits of Scientology, as mentioned previously.

Scientology attorneys rushed to get the video removed from the Internet. Gawker.com refused to remove the video despite legal threats from Scientology (Denton, 2008). Again, Scientology was taking a heavy-handed approach to silence speech on the Internet. Regardless of whether they had legitimate copyright concerns, this was again seen by many on the Internet as an attack on free speech. It was Scientology's attempt to remove the Tom Cruise video that sparked a call to action from Anonymous. The current central web site for Project Chanology, whyweprotest.net, states that “Anonymous originally chose Scientology as a campaign target because of the events surrounding the now infamous Tom Cruise Scientology video. While the video itself was not enough to spark interest, the untamed aggression of the Church of Scientology to remove it did.” (why do we protest, 2008)


When Project Chanology began, the Church of Scientology immediately began labeling Anonymous as Internet terrorists based on their initial Ddos attacks, crank phone calls, videos and such. Responding to the February 10 protest in Clearwater, Florida, a church spokesperson said Anonymous was like the KKK or Nazis. "It's similar to burning a cross on somebody's lawn," she said. "It's a bunch of yahoos. They get on the Internet and they don't use real communication." (Abel, 2008) Scientology made a video mentioned previously that they put on youtube.com, placed on a dedicated web site, and sent along with Cease and Desist orders. This video listed many “crimes” of Anonymous. Scientology began looking for the “leaders” of Anonymous.

A common method Scientology has used to target individual protesters has been for someone to follow a protester to their car to get a license plate number. Apparently, Scientologists then run the plate number to get a name and address. They either then “out” the individual or send them threatening mail. A law firm hired by Scientology has sent threatening notices to some formerly anonymous protesters, warning of dire consequences if the protester continues associating with Anonymous. This has happened in different countries to several protesters. For instance, in Australia, BBG posted to the local Anonymous forum:

I have been fair gamed. The Saturday after Anonville, myself and Erisus were issued Cease and Desist letters by a small-time firm called Brock Partners Solicitors. The letter accused me of being part of the "group" Anonymous, a group "responsible for "harassing phone calls, vandalised church property, sent vulgar and threatening faxes, posted threats on the Internet and publicly threatened to kill Scientologists engaged in religious services."
(No, I'm not making that s**t up. They actually accused Anonymous of threatening to kill Scilons) (BBG, 2008).

One of the legal letters sent in the US was posted online. The law firm of Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel and Burns in Clearwater, Florida sent a protester whose license plate had been traced a letter that states in part:

I enclose a brief documentary for your information, which sets forth additional evidence of criminal acts of Anonymous. Law enforcement authorities have been notified of these illegal activities.
We are writing you as a courtesy because on February 10, 2008 a car driven by an unidentified person with Florida license plate number [number blacked out] was seen at a demonstration of “Anonymous” members in downtown Clearwater, Florida. We assume that the driver of this car was your son, daughter, or relative. The intent of this letter is to alert you to the fact that your child or relative may be engaged in improper activities on behalf of Anonymous. We are providing you this information in order to give you the opportunity to take whatever steps you deem necessary and appropriate to ensure that your child or relative does not participate in illegal activities or acts of violence or take on the legal responsibility for such acts as a participant in this group (letter in Appendix C).

At least one protester stopped protesting after receiving such a letter.

In Clearwater, Florida Scientology went to court in early March in an attempt to get a restraining order against the protests. This was difficult, however, because they couldn't name any of the protesters, and if they had, those people could have simply no longer protested, leaving others free to continue. A judge rejected the injunction attempt, and a second attempt immediately after the first was rejected. In the second injunction attempt, Scientology named several people as protesters, including an employee of the local Starbucks. The Starbucks employee complained about being mentioned in the suit since she had no affiliation with Anonymous and had coincidentally just gone to work to check on her schedule at the time of the protest (Farley, 2008).

Anonymous FlagSome protesters found that flyers were distributed around their neighborhood exposing their affiliation to Anonymous and their real name with a photo (Appendix C).

Some Anons who did not join Project Chanology spoke against those who did. The first of two main complaints is that once you do something “IRL” (in real life) then you are no longer anonymous, which destroys a foundational aspect of Anonymous. The second is that Project Chanology is for “moralfags,” or people concerned with societal issues, since it is designed to help people rather than it being a project for “lulz” or fun. One poster on the 4chan forum /b/ responding to a news article about Anonymous wrote “See what you protest fags have done? Anonymous even has a WIKIPEDIA article now. You f*king faggots, now we need a new name.” (/b/ forum post, 2008)

Long-time critics of Scientology were first fearful of Anonymous. Anonymous' initial dirty tricks style of attack could be attributed to long-time critics who had chosen to use legal and ethical methods. It was a group unknown with apparently nefarious plans and actions. Mark Bunker, as previously mentioned, posted a video to youtube.com explaining critics' concerns and promoting peaceful demonstrations as the best tool for Project Chanology. After Anonymous did switch tactics, there was energetic interaction with the older critics with little argument thereafter. Much of the discussion thereafter was about the different cultures between the two groups and whether this would make long-term cooperation difficult.

The February 10 protest stunned long-time critics of Scientology. The largest protest by the long-time critics was in 1998 when about 50 people from around the US and even Europe and Canada went to Clearwater, Florida (Tobin, 1998). A candlelight vigil the night of the protest in honor of a Scientologist who had died mysteriously garnered around 150 people. The Anonymous protest in Clearwater on February 10, 2008 had around 200 mostly local people (Abel & Donila, 2008). How could a group that no one had heard of, that suddenly decided to protest Scientology bring out four times as many people as a group that had been doing such protests for several years?


“Though there may be little profit in it, if there is much righteousness, do it.” (Watson, 1963, p. 27)


In the early days of the Internet there was a fear that those who went online would lose their connections to real people as they more and more chose to communicate and do things online. Some research shows that the opposite has actually happened, where social connections made online actually enhance rather than replace offline socializing. A 2001 survey of Internet users found that 84% had at one time or another contacted an online group, indicating that people are socializing in some respect online (Horrigan, 2001). Reviewing the literature on the subject, Paul Di Maggio et al concluded that “Internet users have higher levels of generalized trust and larger social networks than nonusers.” (Di Maggio, Hargittai, Newman & Robinson, 2001, p. 316) The ease of communication and the elimination of physical distance as an impediment to communication makes discussion and socializing simpler in new ways:

“Online communities” come in very different shapes and sizes ranging from virtual communities that connect geographically distant people with no prior acquaintance who share similar interests, to settings that facilitate interactions among friendship networks or family members, to community networks that focus on issues relevant to a geographically defined neighborhood (Di Maggio et al., 2001, p. 317).

Most online communities are based on shared interests rather than other similarities such as geographical proximity. Thanks to the size of the Internet and ease of interaction, “There is much anecdotal evidence that the Internet provides significant benefits to people with unusual identities and concerns...” (Di Maggio et al., 2001, p. 318). Thus people with interests in otherwise obscure topics can readily find fellow enthusiasts. Suddenly people have more potential friends from shared interests than was possible in any other way.

Social interaction online is different in some respects from offline. You can't see or hear each other, or notice non-verbal cues or traits. As the famous New Yorker cartoon states, “On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog” (Steiner, 1993). This creates different social dynamics. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998 created an online community of school students worldwide called Junior Summit. Participants selected topics for discussion, and after a time selected 100 delegates to travel to Boston for a summit. The researchers found that the students selected as delegates “didn't display previously established characteristics of adult leaders,” but they “had referred to group goals rather than to themselves and synthesized other's posts rather than offering only their own ideas” (Bower, 2006, p. 378). Rather than look for normal physical cues, “online congregants looked for signs of collaborative and persuasive proficiency.” (Bower) Selection of delegates has different criteria online. Selection of friends is the same, since you don't have visual cues or any physical attributes normally used to evaluate a person. Communication skills, knowledge, a sense of humor, and the qualities that can be discerned from email, chatting online, and other interaction are the markers that make a person attractive or not online.

The notion of just what is community is also different online. In her paper on the subject, Linda Carroli states that “Certainly, the traditional notion of community is founded on assumptions about consensus, rationality, and collectivity that do not translate well to virtual spaces like the Internet. In a virtual environment, collaboration displaces community...” (Carroli, 1997, p. 359) Barry Wellman in his paper on social networks concurs: “Although community was once synonymous with densely knit, bounded neighborhood groups, it is now seen as a less bounded social network of relationships that provide sociability support, information, and a sense of belonging.” (Wellman, 2001, p. 2031) Social linkage has made “a turn to networked societies that are loosely bounded and sparsely knit” (Wellman) rather than the more tightly connected groups in a local community.

San Francisco Anonymous flagSome things online do not easily fit into general notions of community. Clay Shirky, for example, asks “Is Wikidpedia a community?” (Shirky, 2008, p. 278) Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia whose entries are created by volunteer contributors, refers to itself as a community (Wikipedia, n.d.). In one sense, says Shirky, the answer to this question is yes. People come together to collaborate on a project (an entry), and may check back now and then to improve on the entry they are interested in, or to correct something someone else has edited. They are contributing to a project that they feel is worthy and that they find of interest. On the other hand, contributors don't even know who the other people they are working with are. They never see them nor speak to them other than concerning the task at hand. And normally they only contribute to one or a few entries and then move on. Shirky says that Wikipedia “is in fact a bureaucracy mainly given over to arguing. The articles are the residue of the argument...” (Shirky, 2008, p. 279) This is certainly an unusual description of a community.

When I join and shop or sell something on Ebay, I am considered a part of the Ebay community. But all I've done is, for instance, put up an item for sale at auction, and then sent it to the highest bidder after he or she has paid. I know nothing about this person other than their name and address, and that they were attracted to my item and paid for it. There is a system of rating buyers and sellers, however, so that those with accumulated good ratings are more likely to be trusted. But in general Ebayers have little interaction and know little about each other. Ebay.com has a “community” section for information about their site.

There are many other examples like this. Flickr.com is a web site where anyone can upload photos and mark them with descriptive words or phrases, which then allows visitors to find photos on certain subjects by using their index or search engine. It is essentially run by the contributors. Again, Flickr calls itself a community (Flicker, n.d.). You can form groups on a certain subject and chat there with others on forums for that group. But again, you don't really know the other person except by their photos and the discussion of the photos for the group. You may not know where the person lives, what sex they are, their name (other than the nickname they use online), nor their age. But you do know enough about their photography to know if it interests you.

There are features common to these sites, such as some form of communication between participants and a common interest, whether it be creating an encyclopedic entry, shopping, or photography. Is this enough for a community? Shirky says yes. “People now have access to myriad tools that let them share writings, images, video – any form of expressive content, in fact – and use that sharing as an anchor for community and cooperation.” (Shirky, 2008, p. 103)

Anonymous is an extreme example of this type of loose-knit online social network that could be called community. They come to a particular web site (4chan.org being the most popular) and share images or short statements. In the forum on 4chan.org called “/b/” there is not even a topic, so subjects range far and wide and there is no rule for staying on subject when you respond. Contributors are anonymous to each other. And yet, from this bare thread of connection, an identity has formed, cooperative actions have taken place, and a collective movement, Project Chanology, has emerged and sustained itself for these many months.

Anonymous sees itself as a collective with loose ties. In the Wikipedia entry describing Anonymous, the collaborative group that created the entry says:

As a mass noun and Internet meme, Anonymous's origin began as a "running gag" when Internet users proposed that the default tag, "Anonymous", used for unsigned posts on imageboards, could be a real person. Users began acting the part, at which point the concept became viral.
Anonymous broadly represents the concept of any and all people as an unnamed collective. Definitions tend to emphasize the fact that the term cannot be readily encompassed by a simple definition, and instead it is often defined by aphorisms describing perceived qualities.

[Anonymous is] the first Internet-based superconsciousness. Anonymous is a group, in the sense that a flock of birds is a group. How do you know they're a group? Because they're travelling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, peel off in another direction entirely.—Landers, Chris, Baltimore City Paper, April 2, 2008
(Anonymous (group), n.d.).

This notion of a flock of birds is somewhat reflective of Rousseau's discussion of man in the state of nature, where an individual found that occasionally common interest created a time when men could work together, and “he united with them in a herd, or at most in a sort of free association that committed no one and which lasted only as long as the passing need which had brought it into being.” (Cranston, 1984, p. 111)

When I asked my informants to define Anonymous, they called it “a loosely affiliated collective,” “a milder form of a culture,” and “an Internet sub-culture.” One did use the term community: “Anonymous is an expression of Freedom of Thought and Freedom of Expression. Unlike other forms of community it does not run on the forces of personality or through structured hierarchies. It is a community of thoughts, not identities” (Appendix A, question 8).

One thing that gradually forms from sharing in forums is that popular things get repeated. Some of these take on the status of memes, or phrases and ideas that become almost a part of the language of the community or cultural tags. On the flickr.com site users even call such memes “flickrspeak” (Geisha, 2008). Such memes were instantly noticeable within the first Project Chanology protests. To an outsider these phrases make no sense, but to an insider, they are instantly recognized and convey a rich shared understanding. “Rick-roll” is an example that was used at the protests. “You got Rick-rolled!” meant that someone tricked you into seeing a Rick Astley video of his 1980's song “Never Gonna Give You Up,” or you heard the song. At almost every protest at some point or other the entire group would sing the Rick Astley song to the delight of the protesters and complete bewilderment of passersby. These memes indicate at minimum that the group has shared communication enough to have an insider language (list of some memes in Appendix B).


Shirky points to a “ladder” of participation within a community where the lower rung is sharing, the middle rung is cooperation, and the higher rung is collective action (Shirky, 2008). Sharing is the least demanding, which is simply contributing something such as an image in a Flickr group. Cooperation “involves changing your behavior to synchronize with people who are changing their behavior to synchronize with you.” (Shirky, 2008, p. 49) This is somewhat like the involvement on Ebay, where a sale is coordinated, or having a discussion on some subject. Collective action is the most demanding of the three rungs. Work is done by several people, and decision making must be worked out. Complexity is built into collective action. An example of this complexity is the Tragedy of the Commons, where a limited resource will be squandered unless all involved work out a solution that all will abide by. In the Tragedy of the Commons, individual considerations conflict with the optimal outcome for the group. The group must have some vision or goal that is strong enough to stifle the individual's desire to seek the best personal path for the sake of the group.

But there are ways to make collective action easier and less demanding. And when collective action is not much more difficult than the lower rung of cooperation, it allows those who otherwise would not want to commit as much to reach the third rung and work collectively.

One way to make collective action easier is to make communication easier. Enter the Internet. Many aspects of collective action are made easier, quicker, and cheaper by utilizing the Internet. People can work collectively no matter where they are. Organizing can be coordinated through instant communication. Information can be distributed, press releases sent, videos produced and published. Skills can be utilized. All of this and more can be done at little or no expense. As an example of this, before the Internet if someone wanted to know the latest news about, say, religious cults, they could subscribe to a newsclipping service. Such services subscribed en masse to newspapers and other information sources from around the world, and for a fee would send copies of articles pertaining to a client's particular interest. Or a group of people could gather such news clippings and condense them into a newsletter. Free Minds, Inc. of Minneapolis provided a monthly newsletter on religious cults in the 1980s. A subscriber would devour the latest newsletter filled with photocopies of newspaper clippings from many sources, and instantly be one of the most knowledgeable people in their community on the subject (unless there was another subscriber in the same town). On the Internet, in contrast, there are many ways to instantly get much more information than Free Minds was able to supply once a month. One could go to the news section of the search engine google.com and find most news articles on religious cults just by typing in the name of a group or leader, or just the phrase “religious cult.” There are web sites such as rickross.com that reliably provide extensive news and archives on religious cults, acting somewhat like the clipping services. One could subscribe to news feeds that search the Internet for information on your topic and email you whatever they find. All of these methods are free, easy to use, and provide faster and more thorough results than Free Minds or any clipping service could. New technologies and programs cut costs, shrink geographic distances, and eliminate time as a problem.

Another way to make collective action easier is to open cooperation to all, with no minimal requirement for participation. The operating system Linux, is one of the first examples of this. Programmers gave varying amounts of effort as they chose. The skill of the programmer was not so important since bad code was rejected anyway. The time required to write some code didn't matter. There was no deadline. The topic was up to the programmer's interest. A contributor could work on one topic and be done, or work on other parts of the software as desired. In this way, a huge pool of programmers could be tapped for virtually no cost. Linux is a successful direct competitor with Microsoft in the field of computer operating systems. Yet Linux has no physical structure, no hierachy, no employees. It is a creation of a community (Hasan, 2005).

In summary, a collective of people on the Internet through sharing and communication, however slightly connected, can be a community of sorts. From these loose-knit communities can come collective action on a large scale, such as Project Chanology arising from Anonymous. The fact that such communities are prolific online suggests to me that Project Chanology is not some aberration but is instead a harbinger of future activism. As one reporter covering Anonymous noted: “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?” (Leibert, 2008).

There were at least two protests being organized on the Internet almost concurrent with Project Chanology. By using Facebook and other online social tools, Oscar Morales organized protests against a terrorist group in Columbia known as FARC. On February 4, 2008, an estimated 4.8 million people in 27 Columbian communities, plus many in 104 other cities around the world protested against FARC (Tapscott, p. 62). In South Korea in April 2008, citizens became upset at their government allowing untested U.S. beef into their country after concerns about Mad Cow disease had circulated widely. Discussions quickly spread on teenage discussion forums, and a petition to impeach the president over the lifting of the ban on U.S. beef started, quickly gaining 1.3 million signatures in just one week (Tapscott, p. 254). Through the pressure from protests, citizen journalism, and other groups joining in, President Lee responded by firing three of his cabinet officers. “'It was the Net Geners who led the protest. This huge upheaval in Korean society was driven by teenagers!'” (Tapscott, p. 254)


Dilbert, copyright Scott Adams http://www.dilbert.com/

Another way to make collective action simpler and less demanding is to eliminate hierarchy. This may seem to be counterproductive, or even counter to human nature, to organize without leadership. Thomas Hobbes insisted on the idea that a “Common Power” was required to keep order in society (Hobbes, 1985). Everyone in a state would agree to be under a single man or an assembly that would be the final authority within that society. Rousseau, Locke, and others later countered that individual freedom should be the cornerstone of a government, where citizens could vote for their leaders and in turn vote them out when dissatisfied.

It should be noted that Anonymous and these types of groups are not governments. The above writers were speaking of government. But the historical point is that political thought and research in other social sciences has shown a trend toward the notion of personal autonomy and away from strict hierarchical rule. And I will suggest that much thought has led toward the theory that in many situations non-hierarchical groups can be more flexible, efficient and useful than hierarchically structured groups. Governments will no doubt remain hierarchical, but many organized tasks can be done in a manner with minimal structure.

Hierarchical businesses, governments, and other types of organizations expend a certain amount of resources toward their control structure. Boards of directors, presidents and vice-presidents, managers, and the resources they expend demand a percentage of the enterprise. Communication channels up and down the hierarchical ladder are needed to send up information of needs and to send down orders. For a corporation, for example, to form, the hierarchical structure must be in place before the system can begin working.

However, even within the business world there are examples of this trend toward less structure. Dee Hock built the Visa credit card system. He calls his organizational philosophy a “chaordic” system, which he defines as “the behavior of any self-governing organism, organization or system which harmoniously blends characteristics of order and chaos” which is “characteristic of the fundamental organizing principles of evolution and nature.” (Hock, 1999, inside jacket cover) The system he created is one where each member local bank autonomously runs their portion of the system. There is no central leadership. This new type of non-hierarchical business structure created in 1970 has been a big influence on businesses because of its success.

Groups such as Project Chanology intend to be non-hierarchical. Though there are examples where this has not been adhered to on the local level, as a group they vehemently declare that they are leaderless. In the Frequently Asked Questions section of a Project Chanology web site, they state that “The leadership of Anonymous is non-existent. We have no controlling party. We fall under the sway of no individual or organization. We are directed only by the decisions of the whole. Guidance comes from the message, not from the individual.” (More about Anonymous, 2008) An Anonymous youtube video titled “Who is Anonymous?” states that “there is no control, no leadership, only influence – the influence of thought.” (AnonymousThought, 2008) A newspaper in Arizona referred to an Anonymous organizer as a “leader of Anonymous.” This brought instant derision and wrath onto the organizer by fellow Anons, even though it was the reporter who gave that designation, not the organizer. The organizer quit Project Chanology after being outed and thrashed on the message boards (ASUFag, 2008).

The trend toward decentralization is growing in current society through several influences. Specialists are less necessary, for instance, since the tools of many trades are becoming easier and easier to do oneself. People can trade their own stocks and mutual funds online rather than requiring a specialist. Journalism is in a turmoil because anyone can now set up their own blog or web site and report news in their area or area of expertise and reach the entire world. Are bloggers journalists? This question has not yet been answered, though they were accommodated at the 2008 Democratic convention (Chaddock, 2008). Video editing has become simple and cheap with free software such as Movie Maker, which comes packaged with Microsoft operating systems and delivers high quality results. More and more tasks can be done personally rather than going to a company or service provider to create what used to require special training.

Clay Shirky discusses extensively how ordinary citizens can organize easily to accomplish some task without need of structure. Discussing the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, he says “Something this big seems like it should require managers, a budget, a formal work-flow process. Without those things how could it possibly work? The simple but surprising answer is: spontaneous division of labor.” (Shirky, 2008, p. 118) Wikipedia articles, as stated above, are created by users. If someone has an interest in, say, northern lights, they can go to Wikipedia and see if there is already an entry. If not, they can create one. Others can view the entry and edit it, adding, correcting, or deleting errors. A community of sorts can form around a topic and heated discussions can boil in the discussion forum for that entry. Every statement in an entry is supposed to be backed by a credible source, but arguments can start over whether a source is credible or not, whether another source is more credible, etc. This process can go on continually. Shirky explains: “This situation is almost comically chaotic – a car company would go out of business in weeks if it let its workers simply work on what they wanted to, when they wanted to... There is, however, a noncommercial way to do so, which involves being effective without worrying about being efficient.” (Shirky, 2008, p. 120)

Companies need efficiency to keep their costs of operation in check. Volunteer groups like Wikipedia do not have costs to keep in check. They do not pay nor control the workers of the site. Contributors come and go as they see fit, and work as much or as little as they have an interest. People with many levels of expertise contribute. Yet Wikipedia is a hugely popular and useful information site, getting consistently more visitors than cnn.com or microsoft.com, as examples. I made this comparison at www.alexa.com 10/4/08.

This blending of company with volunteer input has grown widely on the Internet. Digg.com, for instance, is a news site that is run by its users. Users upload a story they found interesting and other users vote on stories they consider useful or interesting to them. Stories with the most votes show up first on the site.

Leaderless cooperation amongst strangers to accomplish a task is becoming a ubiquitous model online and even offline. It should be noted that the tasks to be accomplished are relatively simple, like typing up and referencing information about northern lights onto Wikipedia. A simple, clearly defined task is a common feature of such collective action. Participants are given flexibility in how much they want to contribute and at what level they desire, when they desire. Cheap and easy communication is used for the collective action.

Somehow, this seemingly chaotic structure works. It is like a hive of bees. Bees have a simple, clearly defined task that they accomplish through cooperation and communication. They have no central control, yet they have survived as a species for millions of years. Nature provides many examples of simplicity creating unexpectedly complex results. Evolution is another example of a system with no controlling structure that still somehow produces new and better creations through its process of keeping that which works and dumping that which doesn't.


What motivates someone to join a collective action? What might the catalyst be that gets someone to invest time, effort, and possible risk to help accomplish some common goal? Why not stay home and let somebody else do the work, and profit for free from the labor of others? In order to consider these questions about Project Chanology, I will be using Dennis Chong's work on the motivations of civil rights activists in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. I will summarize Chong's variables required to create a collective action, then compare his structural and motivational theories to Project Chanology.

Arizona State University magazine coverThere is a dilemma in starting a movement. People can choose to sit on the sidelines and assume that others will do the work, and they can enjoy the benefits after the process is done. These are called free riders. Others may feel that they can get by on their own without the possible gain from cooperative action. Jean Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, considered such a case of a group of people in the state of nature: “If it was a matter of hunting deer, everyone well realized that he must remain faithfully at his post; but if a hare happened to pass within the reach of one of them, we cannot doubt that he would have gone off in pursuit of it without scruple and, having caught his own prey, he would have cared very little about having caused his companions to lose theirs.” (Cranston, 1984, p. 120) How is it possible to keep the rabbit hunter at his station so everyone can have a meal of deer instead of just him having a rabbit? But how does the rabbit hunter know that a deer will even show up, and he will lose out on a delicious rabbit as well as deer? The dilemma, then, is to persuade all the individuals that collectively hunting deer is more fruitful for everyone, including themselves. And it is especially a dilemma when collective deer hunting is an untried process.

The advantage of working together to gain a large goal that is useful to many or even to all can be thwarted by an individual deciding to break off for personal wants or needs. If too many defect then the collective action is no longer collective, and the action most likely ends as well. The rabbit hunter who leaves his deer hunting post will not be trusted next time a deer hunt takes place, reducing the rabbit hunter's chances for food in the future.

This situation is called the assurance game in games theory. An iterative assurance game is where players will be in the same game over and over, thus making reputation a part of the game. Cooperation in this case is of personal as well as group benefit, since you will be trusted to come along for the next deer hunt if you work cooperatively. “The selective incentives to participate are the accumulated future benefits that we will reap as a reward for cooperation in the current collective endeavor.” (Chong, 1991, p. 55)

Some may choose not to join a movement unless it appears to be large enough and strong enough to accomplish the goal. But, if everyone waits for a movement to grow to a certain amount of participants, who will ever join?

The most difficult part of organizing a movement, therefore, is the task of building up the movement to the point where an obligation or incentive to contribute to it arises. Usually the initial stages of coordination will follow a different dynamic from that of the latter stages. A group of highly motivated individuals – purists, zealots, moralists, Kantians, what have you – will have to provide the leadership required to convince others that large-scale coordination will be a profitable activity (Chong, 1991 , p. 95).

Chong gives a sample case of a strike in a foundry. A few workers grew impatient at the grievance process and began to call for a work stoppage. But at the beginning of the organizing, the shop forman threatened to fire any workers who joined a strike. The originators of the strike boldly stood in the middle of the room, calling for the others to leave their stations and join them there. But the workers were tentative. If they stepped forward and no one else did, they would surely lose their job. Gradually, through signaling and interpreting each other's intentions, they moved outside to the courtyard. At this point, workers from other departments began arriving in the courtyard as well, and the tension lifted as it was obvious that indeed this was a collective action (Chong, 1991).

For Chong, certain elements go into initiating a collective action. Previous actions that can be used as a template are helpful to guide current plans (Chong, 1991). Precursor movements that pave the way are helpful but apparently not necessary. A “steadfast leadership” is required to form a “critical mass”(Chong, p. 164) at the beginning. A strong organizational structure is needed to make sure the movement doesn't collapse. The movement should start with clearly defined small-scale goals that could be more quickly achieved and inform those on the sidelines that the group will be successful.

The movement must be seen as worth joining from a rational actor perspective, but also in order for large-scale cooperation to occur, “there must be at a minimum a general agreement that the proposed project is clearly to the benefit of the group.” (Chong, 1991, p. 94)

Once the movement is underway, people can see whether it appears to be useful and potentially successful. If there is some threshold of membership that appears large enough for success, others will then be willing to join. This is called contagion. Once the movement begins to have success, others “join the bandwagon” to share in the wins and perhaps the glory (Chong, 1991). So long as there is a threshold of membership and some form of success, the collective action will generally continue.

The group being challenged will most likely oppose the collective action. This opposition can have varying levels of effectiveness that may also challenge a person's decision to join the movement. If the opposition can make the cost of participation very high personally, and can convincingly demonstrate that to potential or current members, then the cost-benefit ratio that each person decides for himself can change drastically. In the case of those who reacted to the civil rights activists, “the perpetrators of violence want to deter the activists by magnifying the costs of participation.” (Chong, 1991, p. 65) On the other hand, if the opposition gives in to some demand of the movement, that will persuade the “bandwagon” people on the sidelines to join, and reinforce the decision of the current members.

Obviously, collective action is a complex affair with psychological, sociological, historical and political influences shaping the success or failure of the endeavor. It may be difficult to discern a particular person's motivation for joining in the action. And in fact, this may change. Chong gives as an example Bill Hall, who joined SNCC – one of the civil rights groups - in order to be close to his girlfriend who was already an active member. As he became more and more active and committed to the cause, he finally had to decide whether to enter college as he had planned. Finally, “his priorities had so changed that he declined and decided to remain with SNCC.” (Chong, 1991, p. 70-71)

Other people may have been wanting to be involved, but just didn't feel the time or situation was correct for them. Some small event could be just enough to give them the impetus to join in. For example, four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960 decided to conduct a sit-in at a local lunch counter. They expected no other help or notice from their actions other than to convey their views to the store. They did this for several days, and each day more and more protesters joined them, even though they did not solicit any other aid. One of the additional volunteers stated “we all realized we had been wanting to do something and now was the time.” (Chong, 1991, p. 134)

Scattered throughout his book, Chong mentions several personal social and psychological reasons why a person might choose to join a collective action. These are worth listing to help see that there may be multiple and cross-influencing reasons why a person would join the civil rights movement, Project Chanology, or any other movement.

The Rational Actor Model is a part of Chong's book. “The major premise in this study is that people are rational actors whose decisions are guided by rational calculations. A rational person is assumed to be driven by the pursuit of goals.” (Chong, 1991, p. 1) The rational actor will seek socially defined goals, but only “as stepping-stones to private goals.” (Chong, 1991, p. 2) Chong states that this theory is flawed because “it misconceives the nature of the goods that are sought by participants in social movements,” and it misunderstands how the goods are to be obtained. But Chong does not abandon the Rational Actor Model. He states that “everyone, I'm convinced, to some extent supports values and carries out good deeds because it is wise from a cost-benefit calculus.” (Chong, 1991, p. 91) What Chong does do is expand the rational actor model to include complex social and psychological forces and considerations all working together in a sometimes unfathomable complexity. These multiple motives and ideals make the rational actor human rather than just a self-centered calculating machine.

A person's pre-existing social network will most likely influence the deicsion to join. Friends or family may already be active, or may have been influenced by the object of protest. Of course, it could work the other way as well, where friends persuade you that the movement is going to fail so there is no reason to join. “It seems self-evident that social pressures will be both more salient and subject to more effective enforcement in small, tightly knit groups than in large, impersonal collectives in which members are protected by the cloak of anonymity.” (Chong, 1991, p. 35)

When a person's reputation and status is at stake he is vulnerable to social influence. If your friends are in the collective action and would consider you a free rider if you did not become active yourself, this is a persuasive reason to join (Chong, 1991, p. 55). But you may not even need to be persuaded if you are altruistic. Altruistic people join because it is the right thing to do, regardless of what others are doing, and “moral behavior is more honored when it is not seen to be driven by ulterior motives; hence, it may be in one's self-interest to develop genuine concern for others.” (Chong, 1991, p. 68) Chong argues that being altruistic, then, can fit the rational actor model by providing personal benefits to altruistic actions.

There are psychological reasons to join as well. Some people join a movement because it can be fun and exciting. “Like old-time athletes who played for love of the game, political activists relish the competition and conflict of the political arena.” (Chong, 1991, p. 76) The process for these people is perhaps even more important than the goal.

Another psychological fulfillment is the feeling of “mastery over their society” (Chong, 1991, p. 78) wherein participants have the feeling of being on the front line changing society into its proper form.

Also, personal growth and development can be an incentive to join a collective effort. This can be a benefit regardless whether the goal is achieved or not.

From all these calculations, and no doubt others, people decide whether to join. But even participating in unsuccessful actions, as seen above, can give personally satisfying benefits.


When comparing Chong's consideration of the civil rights movement to Project Chanology, his take on individual influences fit reasonably well. When I asked my informants why they joined Project Chanology, they answered this in similar ways to each other. Each of them had some knowledge of Scientology previously and negative opinions of it. Each of them stated that there was a need for something to be done about Scientology. The creation of Project Chanology gave them an outlet to participate. One stated that “I'd have been protesting them sooner but it was too dangerous before Chanology. Anonymous delivers safety in numbers that wasn't there before.” (Chong, 1991, p. 100) Two answered that they were the type who joined movements. “I'm the activist type, and I like a challenge,” and “I'm very involved with other groups as it is, and it's not so terribly hard to find me apart [sic] of a group if I believe in its cause.” (Appendix A, question 23) These are the altruistic people who join to do the right thing and contribute to society.

In the forums where people explain how they joined Project Chanology, a recurrent theme is that the call to action on youtube.com and through the message boards was what turned them to activism. For instance, “Read bare faced Messiah [a critical biography of Scientology's founder] maybe 5 years ago? looked at xenu.net etc back then, got hands on some OT materials [Scientology doctrine] that were released due to Danish (I Think?) court case, obviously realised [sic] it is dangerous rubbish.. Couldn't really do much about it until I ran across the original anon msg [message] to scilon [Scientology] video.. Joined in to IRL protests then.” (anon12345, 2008) It was the idea that a group was planning to do something together that gave many the impetus to become active, whereas they rejected individual initiative.

Several people in Anonymous forums stated that they joined after they saw that things were working well. These would be Chong's bandwagon or contagion participants, who need to see that there are enough participants and that things might be successful first. In an Anonymous forum “ChaoticPsychotic” said “You all have allowed for me and so many others to feel safe enough to start to come out into the light so to speak. I have personally been contacted by many old friends. Some who are more 'out' than others. Some who are still trying to break away. This is something which I would have seen as an impossibility just a year ago.” (ChaoticPsychotic, 2008) “FormerlyIn” agreed; “Anonymous has given me the strenght [sic] to speak out and face the cult and all their tactics.” (FormerlyIn, 2008)

Anonymous had ready access to information about previous protests against Scientology. There were videos readily available on youtube.com and xenutv.com from protests back as far as 1995. Web sites such as lermanet.com contained first-person accounts and photos from previous protests. The “Old Guard,” as Anons began calling long-time critics, were still active on alt.religion.scientology and other forums, so they were readily available for ideas and assistance. And of course, the Old Guard were quite interested in Anonymous' decision to protest. Mark Bunker, as previously mentioned, gave advice through a youtube.com video. While Anonymous did listen to Bunker, it is not clear to me how much they were influenced by information from previous protests.

Despite Anonymous' goal to maintain anonymity, there are still ways to demonstrate individuality, and thus seek peer status and reputation. The forums are used for after-protest reports, breaking news of other interest, or discussion of plans or goals. Within these forums people have a nickname and an avatar that identifies them as an individual. People gain an identity from their behavior at protests after people connect a person with a nickname, and from their posts and reports. So, despite most people being anonymous as to their true identity, the online identity of those who choose to post can build a reputation. This causes friction at times, when it might appear that a protester is seeking personal attention rather than working for the goal.

On the level of personal motivation, then, Chong appears to be correct in many respects. People have joined Project Chanology for altruistic reasons, to have a feeling of mastery over their society, and for personal psychological and social fulfillment. There did not seem to be, however, any mention of peer pressure that pushed anyone to join in. There were mentions of family, but these were as a source of information about Scientology rather than as any guidance or pressure to join the movement. Peer pressure is difficult to apply to anonymous people.

As for Chong's list of ingredients for starting a movement, there is little resemblance to Project Chanology. Chong states that in order for a movement to form, “A steadfast leadership is crucial for the initiation of collective action.” (Chong, 1991, p. 164) While Chong does not specifically differentiate between hierarchical levels of leadership, he does often mention the central leadership of the civil rights movement. The concept of leadership is problematic in Anonymous. Anonymous has no central leadership. The closest person who could possibly fit the role is Mark Bunker, “Wise Beard Man,” who put videos on youtube.com suggesting how Anons should behave at protests. But Bunker makes no claim to being any type of leader and issued only periodic videos making protest suggestions. Anonymous has never even hinted at any particular person or group that could claim central leadership.

At the local level, there are Anons who do more work, and in some locales make decisions for the group. But in general even these are not strictly leaders because they hold no position. Decision making seems to be somewhat different between localities. In Denver most decisions are apparently done by consensus through discussions on their own web site, while in Phoenix it is mostly the core group that collectively decides such things as times and themes for the next protest.

Anonymous flyers at Arizona State UniversityChong differentiates between “leaders” and “followers” by the intensity of their commitment to the goals of the movement. In his model he gives more emphasis to leaders. While followers “are latecomers to collective action and are a more amorphous group than leaders,” leaders “have more programmatic concerns and regard each conflict as an integral part of a broader, long-range plan.” (Chong, 1991, p. 146) Anonymous, in contrast claims there are no categories of “leader” and “follower” in their movement. Two things about this are written about elsewhere in this article. The first is that there is simply less to do than the civil rights activists did in order to accomplish a protest. Secondly, it is easier to do what needs to be done today. In other words, the commitment to be a “leader” is not much more difficult than being a “follower,” comparatively speaking.

Rather than having leaders, Project Chanology struggled to put itself together. Overall decisions were made by consensus on the forums. The date of February 10 was chosen by consensus. They agreed to protest in front of local churches by consensus. At the local level, between the January 15 call to arms and the first protest on February 10, Anons worked hard just to find each other locally. They first used IRC chat channels to locate other Anons in their area. Then they formed their own IRC channel, or created a web site, or even met in person to plan the local protest (personal email, 10/15/08). In Denver, they had not even found concensus on which Scientology property to protest, so about 13 showed up at what turned out to be an unused Scientology location, while about 90 showed up at the Glenwood location, which after became the main protest spot. The Anons doing the most organizing didn't know what to expect. One of the Denver organizers said “I had no clue how many people would show up, or even if people would.” (personal email, 10/15/08) In Phoenix about 60 people showed up for the first protest, while there were only about 20 active people on the local IRC channel. In Tucson about 50 people showed up, while there were about 10 active on their IRC channel. This means that the vast majority of people who came to the first protest did so with minimal organizing or even interaction before the event. If this can be extrapolated to the other protests around the world, then it shows the anarchic structure of Project Chanology, which is in opposition to Chong's requirement for “steadfast leadership” to be in place to get a movement off the ground. There was no central leadership and very little structure.

Chong does not mention an earlier organizational system within the civil rights movement. Jim Lawson had been the initial promoter of Gandhian methods at the start of the civil rights movement, and it was his classes on nonviolent protest that prepared the activists to handle physical abuse without striking back. Lawson also taught “communal leadership,” which he also considered to be a part of Gandhi's methods. He felt that communal leadership lessened the possibility of someone having their ego grow too large. It meant that even if the “leaders” were arrested the movement could continue, and it gave more participants a feeling of importance and value.

Lawson was surprised by how well the idea of communal leadership was working. The members of the central committee, often thirty or forty young people, would argue their way through a decision... They would make sure that everyone had been heard and that everyone was on board before adapting something as policy. It was a long and arduous way to do things, and meetings often went on for three or four hours, but it had its benefits as well; It was inclusionary, and it allowed some people who were not naturally good at public speaking to participate and have their say. It also contributed to an aura of mutual respect (Halberstam, 1998, p. 142).

This system apparently did not last that long, however, because a certain few activists seemed to naturally rise to the top. Finally Diane Nash was named chairman of the committee as a mutually agreeable leader, even though she did not want the position (Halberstam, 1998). So at least in its early stages, the civil rights movement was governed by consensus of a large group of participants.

Organizational decision-making by consensus is not new. Athens Greece in the fourth century B.C. was run by a form of direct democracy where free adult citizens could debate and vote on issues brought before a gathering. Anyone could bring up a topic and everyone could voice their opinion. Decisions were made after discussion by majority vote (Ball & Dagger, 2006). The Iroquois Nation in northeastern North America made decisions by consensus. Propositions came up from any adult through family, clan, council house, nation, and finally confederacy. “'In the reverse order, the measures of the general council were sent down to the people for their approval. It was a standing rule that all action should be unanimous. Hence the discussions were... continued till all opposition was reasoned down, or the proposed measure abandoned.'” (Fenton, 1998, p. 30) There were leaders; the chiefs, sachems, Old Men, but they “had no power to demand compliance; they could only persuade and cajole. Indeed, a headman who tried to impose his will on his followers ran the risk of losing their respect – and his job.” (Woodhead, 1993, p. 47)

Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, formed in 1977 by dissidents who chafed at Communist rule, was a very amorphous group similar to Anonymous; “Charter 77 is not an organization; it has no rules, permanent bodies or formal membership. It embraces everyone who agrees with its ideas and participates in its work.” (Havel, 1985, p. 221) Charter 77 made decisions by consensus (Skilling, 1981). They had spokesmen, who were essentially the intelligentsia of the movement. They also had another tier of membership in those who physically signed the Charter. These approximately 1000 people put their names on a document, thus exposing themselves to persecution by the state (Skilling, 1981). The rest were simply those who considered themselves members by being in affinity with Charter 77.

Chong mentions a lack of leadership at the 1989 student protests in Tienanmen Square where “the newly formed student organizations still have no presidents, only committees that are so large that they are ungainly, and many of the most talented students are afraid to take an official position in an organization that is branded illegal.” (Chong, 1991, p. 131) But this appears to be a simple case of disorganization rather than purposeful non-organization. Shen Tong, one of the organizers, wrote that “there were so many of us, so many groups, often going off in different directions, that the government couldn't possibly have been sure what we were asking for and who was asking for it.” (Tong, 1990, p. 228) Tienanmen Square was trying to organize and have leaders. They just weren't succeeding very well.

Chong states that having simple goals in the beginning would allow for a small success and therefore give incentive for participants to continue. “Doing so establishes a level of proficiency and success that reinforces their followers and makes the movement attractive to others” (Chong, 1991, p. 176). Overly broad goals will lead to failure. The only goal Anonymous publicized was in their initial two videos. The first said that “we shall expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form” (ChurchOfScientology, January 21, 2008). The second was a bit less ambitious, wanting only to “bring light to the darkness, that someone must open the eyes of a public that has slumbered far too long” (ChurchOfScientology, January 27, 2008). This would be done through disseminating information about Scientology. Neither of these is a simple goal, and neither can be done except after a long campaign. It could be argued, however, that the first simple goal was to accomplish a real life protest, and this they did. But there was no assumption of achieving any capitulation by Scientology at this juncture.

The large number of participants at the first event also calls into question Chong's notion that a core group is first needed before the “bandwagon” and “contagion” people would join. Chong states that “members of a group will feel obligated to participate in a large-scale movement only when it is clear that collective action is likely to survive and have real meaning.” (Chong, 1991, p. 93) Approximately 7000 people came out worldwide to the first Project Chanology protest (Project Chanology, 2008). They had never collectively done a protest before, and the protests of the long-time critics had been tiny in comparison. It does not appear that many waited on the sidelines. According to Chong, “what we tend to observe is a gradual accretion in membership or participation in a cause. Publicity about the initial engagements of the early participants or encouraging results obtained by them gives the movement a shot in the arm and attracts new recruits...” (Chong, 1991, p. 132) The first protest of Project Chanology was possibly the largest or second largest of all the monthly protests to date. Chong's gradual growth theory does not fit.

Chong's point about “favorable outcomes” being needed to keep participants is telling. Chong considers such outcomes to be when, for instance, the Montgomery bus boycott succeeded (Chong, 1991). When the opposing side gives in, that is a success. But Project Chanology has had no such capitulation from Scientology. What has counted for a “win” instead has been when a Scientologist or the church itself reacts poorly, thus reinforcing the theory behind the protests that Scientology is as bad as Anonymous claims it is. When such actions happen, it reinforces commitment. In early November, 2008 a protester was assaulted by Scientology guards who claimed the protester was trespassing. When videos of the assault were put online, it prompted a participant to state that “I'm raging so bad right now i'm not even going to use bold fonts. I was sort of 'meh' lately and wasnt sure if I wanted to go to Nov's raid [protest]. I know I am now. CoS [Church of Scientology] crossed a line (again).” (anon.il, 2008) It is typical on the forums when a protester is assaulted or Scientology does something that reinforces Anonymous' view of the church that such posts are made. This might be seen as analogous to cases during the civil rights protests when protesters stood up to intimidation, as when the lunch counter protesters gained more support the longer they continued, despite taunting and attacks. Success in both cases is standing up to the opposition's pressure.

For some aspects of Chong's theory, it is too early to tell how well Project Chanology fits. The rate of contagion, for example, is needed to stay at a certain level to keep the movement going as some people drop out. Chong states that activists who see no dividend or results from their participation will leave, and “therefore the contagion of the movement will diminish unless participants are periodically reinforced with favorable outcomes.” (Chong, 1991, p. 162) So far, the movement seems strong despite there being no discernible change within Scientology. Participation on forums is brisk. The numbers at protests have dropped perhaps 50% from their peak but have been reasonably steady in the last months (estimate by author). Time will tell how long Project Chanology will continue and what format it may take in the future.

In summary, Chong's model helps explain the personal motivations of Anonymous members in deciding whether to participate in Project Chanology. But his model of how a collective action forms and maintains itself is not applicable to Project Chanology. There was no leadership nor gradual accretion of membership at the formation. The goals were sweeping and long-term rather than simple and easily achieved. Other aspects were of slight importance within Project Chanology while Chong considers them important, such as the leader/follower dichotomy and the bandwagon – contagion source for most membership.

I would argue that Project Chanology is unique in its total structure, or lack thereof, and its history. It appeared from a loosely-formed community online that by its own determination preferred to be hidden. It made a decision to form a collective action against a specific target, and within one month had organized, declared its goals, and accomplished its first real-life event in hundreds of locations around the world with around 7000 participants, against a formidable opponent. It utilized modern tools and communication to powerful effect and has maintained its activity while taking blows from its opponent. It has managed to create a large amount of media coverage. And it has done this with no central leadership and very loose local organizing.


“The thing that all men should fear is that they will become obsessed by a small
corner of truth and fail to comprehend its over-all principles.” (Watson, 1963, p. 121)


Anonymous protest against Scientology in Phoenix, AZAnonymous is essentially an underground community. They had never done any in-real-life activity before Project Chanology, so there was little reason for Scientology to think that any large movement was about to spring on them. And actually, Anonymous hadn't planned on creating Project Chanology. Nevertheless, a persistent, strong collective action did arise.

Anonymous is a large pool of people to draw from. If some other organization or topic strikes their fancy, it is quite plausible that suddenly thousands of people could once again take up a cause and hit the streets, creating the next Project Chanology. And no doubt there are many such online communities like Anonymous that could broadcast a call to arms and receive a large response.

Such communities need be nothing more than a popular place for sharing information. As the above section on community shows, it doesn't take much to have an online community, and it doesn't require much from the participants to be a part of that community. There are probably thousands of such communities online, some visible and some not. Each of them has the potential to spawn a collective action. If an organization wanted to monitor the Internet for possible signs of a collective action forming against them, it would be quite difficult to monitor so many potential sources even as it would be difficult to spot the signs that such collective action was about to form.

Most Anons are aged from teenagers up to 30 years old or so. Don Tapscott (2009) has studied this group that he calls the Net Generation, or Net Gen. He claims that the Net Gen has been influenced greatly by the Internet. They are more skeptical and careful of claims made, since they have had to filter out spam, trolling, photoshopped photos, and the like that could be misleading to the unaware. They have easy access to information to check on any claims made. Net Geners like to collaborate. They like to stay in touch with their social circle using the latest technologies. They want things to have fun built into them, including work. They want to be participants not passive. They have integrity and expect it from everyone else.

Freedom of speech is a strong norm for the Net Geners. Tapscott gives the example of the digg.com community reacting when the site apparently failed to abide by this deep cultural rule:

The company faced a user revolt after it complied with a legal order to remove from its web site a story that included the details of a software key that could break the encryption code on high-definition DVDs. In this instance, the Digg community apparently felt that integrity meant placing more of a premium on freedom of speech than on the letter of the law, and they wanted Digg to act in accordance with this expectation. (Tapscott, p. 189-190)

Freedom of speech is what brought out many new critics of Scientology in 1995 when Scientology attacked alt.religion.scientology. Freedom of speech brought out Anonymous in 2008 when Scientology tried to stifle the Tom Cruise video. On the Internet, it is wise not to be seen as an enemy of free speech.

Tapscott sees the Net Generation as having the tools and personality to make great changes in society. "I believe this generation will be an unstoppable force for change in the country's political processes." (Tapscott, p. 245) Because of their new way of seeing the world from the Internet's influence on them, and the technological tools at their fingertips, he sees Net Geners changing politics, commerce, employment, education, and socialization worldwide. Anonymous is a subset of the Net Generation with its own peculiarities. Tapscott's predictions for the Net Generation fit well with the potential that Anonymous has shown.

Time magazine also singled out Internet users as the 2006 “Person of the Year.” The Internet created a new cultural powerhouse. It was “a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.” (Grossman, 2006) The Internet is the place where changes in society will arise. Project Chanology is a vision of how those changes could unfold.

It is not possible to intentionally create a Project Chanology. Either it spontaneously erupts or it doesn't. As Kevin Kelly states concerning swarms, “the trigger of a particular event is essentially unknowable. Stuff happens.” (Kelly, 1994, p. 23) You can post your Call to Arms as happened in this case, and see what happens. But you're more likely to get “Not Your Personal Army” than any battle cry. There is no formula for creating such a collective action from such leaderless groups.

Could such movements like Project Chanology be predicted? I don't think so. It might be possible by looking at the conversations on a forum or forums to see that a certain topic is causing a lot of attention and reaction. This would be a potential topic that could build up enough interest to spark activity. But even looking back at what sparked Project Chanology, it is not clear to me just why Scientology was the one ripe topic that could get Anonymous to build their first real-life activism.

The anonymity of Anonymous will most likely not be the norm for future collective actions. But anonymity has helped Project Chanology in three ways. First, it has protected protesters from being identified by Scientology and then targeted for harassment. Second, it has made every member equal to every other member, thus raising the status of the lowest member while checking the status of any who seek notoriety or power. Third, it lessens the effect of peer pressure or pressure from the opinions of others. If someone wants to join or quit, there is no social pressure for them to worry about in making that decision.

However, anonymity also means it is difficult to perform some tasks. If you want to file a police report, or apply for a city permit, a name is required. Journalists sometimes balk at interviewing someone who will not give their name. In such situations in Project Chanology, one member has usually chosen to be outed, or “name-fagged,” or a long-time critic who is already known would perform the necessary tasks to preserve the anonymity of others. In Anonymous' case, it is also a part of their culture to be anonymous, so being outed lessens one's status for some. The trade-offs between the advantages and disadvantages of anonymity would have to be considered by any movement seeking to emulate Project Chanology.

There are also trade-offs in being leaderless. As with anonymity, being leaderless puts everyone on an equal footing and cuts down on “drama,” or the struggles for positions of power that can cause splits and internal bickering. There is no need to expend effort on choosing hierarchical structure nor on filling such positions. Resources normally expended on catering to leadership are saved. But relying on consensus can also lead to bickering and splits when a decision cannot be agreed upon. Having a leader can mean quicker decision making and action, and a clearer outline of future tasks. Having a leader means that a Martin Luther King, or a Gandhi can provide direction and stability. But Anonymous will never have its own King or Gandhi, and perhaps it is the weaker for this. Alternatively, it will never have its Stalin or Mao either. The strength of such leaderless collective actions is in their very nature. As James Suroweicki says “the best way for a group to be smart is for each person to think and act as independently as possible.” (Suroweicki, 2004, p. xix-xx) The groupthink, or “hive-mind” that results produces the collective action found in swarms, which can create a collective mind smarter than the parts.

On the other side of independent thinking, however, there is little real control over individual participants. This has been a problem in some places where individuals act in ways that are upsetting to others or even may be counterproductive to the cause. Since there is no hierarchy nor official membership, there is little power the group has over any wayward member other than peer pressure. This is a weakness that I have not seen Anonymous successfully handle. Severe reactions as to anyone calling themselves a leader might influence some wayward members or scare them away, but often such people are headstrong themselves and not easily swayed by peer pressure. This is also a problem when some action is tagged as from Anonymous. How can the public know if it was really Anonymous or just some individual claiming to be from Anonymous? In this case, the collective can speak out if need be and distance themselves from any particular action not collectively agreed to.

This tension between the independence of members and accountability to the group makes swarms difficult for humans. Ants, bees, and other swarm animals only know how to live as swarms. Humans think independently. Decentralization can become disorganization. Viewing Project Chanology as a test case for whether the swarm turns into chaos, at this point it appears that chaos is being kept at bay, but not completely. Arguments over someone claiming a leadership position seem to be the largest hurdle. Individuals refusing to bow to the general will of the collective is also a problem not easily resolved. Still, Project Chanology is continuing with strength and general unity.

Can Project Chanology be duplicated? My informants gave different answers. One did not see anything new in this collective action from others, such as Ron Paul's organizing methods online. Another thought that the anonymity and leaderless aspects made duplication hard to do. “Other activist groups that try to use Chanology as a template may find themselves destroyed by in-fighting, electronic attacks from opposition [within the community], egotists trying to assume leadership and personality clashing.” Another said “I believe Chanology has a unique spirit that can't be duplicated.” (Appendix A, question 27) This may be true. Perhaps only a community that already is leaderless and accustomed to anonymity can bring forth a collective action with those qualities.

In summary, collective action is easy to form and easy to do when it is Internet based. This makes collective action more likely and potentially more powerful once begun As more and more of these Internet based collective actions succeed in their established goals, such success will breed attempts at imitation. If Project Chanology succeeds in pressuring the Church of Scientology into significantly altering its methods or its strength, more people will look at Anonymous' actions and history for ideas on how to mirror their success. Project Chanology already shows the surprising speed and size that such collective actions can take. Such actions should be expected more and more in the near future, but it will not be possible to predict their creation.






Short list of Anonymous Memes

Anon – a member of Anonymous

/b/tards – those who hang out continually on www.4chan.org's /b/ forum.

9000 – an impossibly large number.

Butthurt – upset, bothered.

CoS – Church of Scientology

Epic win – a victory, such as a successful protest.

Fag – a derogatory term that is used so ubiquitously within Anonymous that it essentially means person.

Hive-mind – where two or more people express the same thought at the same time. Alternatively, as consensus.

IRL – In Real Life. Something done when you are not in front of a keyboard and monitor.

Longcat – a particular photo of a cat from the lolcat series (www.icanhascheezburger.com) that has become a meme. Longcat sometimes battles its evil nemesis, Tacgnol.

Lulz – fun, humor, laughs. A major goal of Anonymous

Moralfag – an Anon who does something for a righteous or moral reason rather than for lulz or fun.

Namefagged – within Project Chanology, when a person's anonymity is destroyed, for instance to obtain a sound permit for a protest.

NYPA - “not your personal army;” a statement used to reject a suggestion or order from a poster on a forum.

Rick-roll – watching or listening to a Rick Astley song “Never Gonna Give You Up.” If you can trick someone into watching the music video, that is a great source of lulz.

Scilons - Scientologists


Legal Cease and Desist Notice (page 1)

Legal Cease and Desist Notice (page 2)

Flyer distributed in neighborhood exposing (1 page)

Rules of the Internet (1 page)


[this page removed due to copyright claim by the Church of Scientology]


Jeff Jacobsen has a B.A. in Religious Studies and a B.S. in Political Science from Arizona State University. He was a contact person for the Cult Awareness Network before Scietnology took it over. He was librarian for the Lisa McPherson Trust. He has been a public critic of the Church of Scientology since 1987 and has been publicly protesting Scientology since 1995. He lives with great apprehension about the future, but less so since meeting Project Chanology.

     Creative Commons License
WE ARE LEGION: ANONYMOUS AND THE WAR ON SCIENTOLOGY by Jeff Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Lisa McPherson site

Jeff's home page

FOR FURTHER READING:  especially read Coding Freedom, by Gabriella Coleman, for an anthropolocial view of Anonymous

 Blown for Good, by Mark Headley