These are from Saturday, July 12th 2008 in San Francisco, CA.

I probably need to set the stage on this one. My motivation in shooting this is largely because I wanted to see a more non-political kind of protesting. So it's not so much left wing versus right wing as a group of people united for a common cause. I happened to see that Anonymous was doing one of their regular anti-Scientology protests so I thought I'd drop by.

If you're not familiar with Anonymous - they're an interesting group from my perspective in that they're kind of reinventing their own form of protest. They started out as more of a hacker group pissed off at Scientology for their actions suing various folks for putting up allegedly copyrighted materials on the Internet. I'm not going to recount all of their history, but for the purposes of this report suffice to say they've realized at some point you need to get your feet on the ground in the actual world and in addition to various smaller actions (chalking slogans, standing behind recruitment booths with a sign saying "Warning: Dangerous Cult") they've started coordinating these global events.

They're a much younger group than the usual sorts who still have original hippie/protest types from the 1960s and they're figuring it out as they go along. I think they've gotten some things right and some things wrong but let's see how this event went.

So to sum up - they're reading a lot less Karl Marx, a lot more graphic novels.

The Scientologists basically locked the front gate and had no obvious presence (more on that later).

This is the main corner where they stood, across the street from the Scientology building. There's lots of group shots in this report so I'll make an extra effort to put in the text of signs since I have the larger original shots as reference. "Fun Fact: You pay taxes Scientology Does Not". Anonymous is trying to hammer the tax free status of Scientology (I have no idea if there's the slightest chance of success or what the strategy is but in protests "raising awareness" is enough to declare victory so let's not worry about that right now).

There were also groups on surrounding corners, handing out flyers and holding up signs for the cars. There wasn't a ton of foot traffic - it's more or less in the financial district on a cold Saturday.

Maybe this is a good point to talk about the masks. Scientology has a history of playing hardball with their opponents. It's not completely clear how much the Fair Game principle is still operative but the folks in Anonymous like to keep anonymous, therefore the masks. Many of them have some fun with it, as you can see. Some just have something really minimal. It attracts attention but that's a two edged sword.

The V for Vendetta masks used to be really popular and there seem to be fewer - which I think is a good idea. It's hard to take a group seriously that's wearing some corporate mask whose history goes back to an English terrorist. I suspect it hampers them in a lot of ways - I bet they'd find it easier to get media coverage - and there was no obvious mainstream media there even though they cover much smaller anti-war events - if they didn't have a history of denial of service attacks and didn't wear masks from a movie.

Oh, speaking of mainstream media - I searched the San Francisco Chronicle website back one year and could find no mention of Anonymous and Scientology, and if there were news vans I'd have seen them. Now, I wasn't there for the whole event but I've been at 12 person Code Pink events and had a TV crew there and code pink has pretty much jumped the shark. In fact I think this was larger than one of the immigration rallys I attended and those had several news vans. With Scientology in the news as much as it is you would think these guys would be able to arrange some coverage, but I have no idea if they've made any media contacts or made any effort to get them to show up. Now, this whole thing is global, and if you search widely you can find stuff in several countries, but I bet it's just a small percentage of the places that probably should or could have coverage.

And while we're on the topic of "things that are interesting because they're not in the pictures" - no police at all. They may have checked in, I don't know, but they weren't just waiting. With that many anti-war protesters pretty much you're going to get police overtime. But Anonymous wasn't doing anything stupid like blocking the sidewalk, or causing too much noise, or doing "die ins" to get attention (unwanted attention - people in San Francisco are sick and tired of protester-caused traffic jams). They avoided a lot of potential problems that a lot of groups fall into because they want attention - any kind of attention - and aren't thinking long term. (Update: I've since seen an officer or two keeping an eye on Anonymous at other events, but it's pretty low key.)

There were a dozen or so folks covering the side door. "Protesting the Cult of Scientology". I didn't get a really good luck at the signs facing the door but they were mostly to the effect of "You do know you're in a cult, right?"

"$cientology Gives Religion a Bad Name"

Notice the flag - guy in a suit with a floating question mark for a head.

"Religion is free" Also notice the guy with no mask - he was acting like maybe he was a blogger or something. I mention this now because it's important later.

That would be hell on a hot day.

" $cientology is worse than you think" "Scientology = Profit" and just "". I have an informal policy of not actually linking URLs in signs, but, hmm, I wonder where I can go for more information?

I'm not sure if that's an accurate count on the honking sign - I don't think it could be because people were honking like mad. The anti-war folks would kill for the level of honking these guys were getting.

Really just more of the same. People kept shifting around from group to group - I have no idea of a count but it was a decent turnout. Oh, and that one of the left has symbols of various religions and says "One of these (symbols) is not like the other one." The Scientology logo has a large dollar value under it, the rest say $0.

Notice the cameras - these guys like documenting everything. Which frankly is a little disconcerting if you're an anonymous blogger. You get lots of cameras at other protests of course but they spend most of their time filming each other or the police, not everybody that walks by in case they're a spy. And they don't upload everything to a central location after and look for patterns across different events. Maybe it's justified but the level of paranoia was incredible and I think it's very interesting that they're doing exactly the same thing they're accusing Scientology of.

Also notice the matching scarf and skirt. It was interesting how many people put a lot of effort into their outfits.

"Ask me why I'm wearing the mask" (I think).

Back to the side door. I originally thought that they were photographing this guy as he was coming out but after reviewing the pictures I realized this was the blogger (or whatever) I mentioned above who was apparently not directly with Anonymous. I'm not sure from the blown up shot if the Scientologist is covering his face or was just rubbing his eyes - and he dropped it after a couple of steps. I got a shot of his face uncovered but it seems unfair to share it. Traditionally I guess the Scientologists spend a lot of time videotaping and photographing the protesters and also local subway stops (in case you take off your mask early they can compare and figure things out). It's not clear to me if it's is purely for intimidation or if they actually find it useful... but... I did notice something very odd which was that even though there was little foot traffic there were a surprising number of people acting like lost tourists. There was a couple that were pouring over a tourist map (of the financial district?!) who would take pictures and then go back to the map. The thing is, I saw them doing that in front of this group, and then I saw them doing it again in front of another group... still lost one block later, and when I made eye contact with the lady she didn't ask for directions.

I dunno. Cover story? Real tourists? Some other blogger? Can't tell, really, which is why I'm not posting pictures, but between that and the people talking on cell phones who didn't seem to have anywhere to go that were all spaced a half block away from the protest it does seem odd. Then again if somebody were holding a protest outside my doors I'd want to keep an eye on them as well (although they do also have some not very hidden cameras outside the building which you would think would be plenty.).

That sign says something like "Scientology is a dangerous cult" in a bunch of languages. Good idea but she should have made it a two person sign - the lines are very small and some of the colors didn't really show at a distance. Actually a general problem is that many of the signs were better suited for foot traffic than car traffic but generally speaking I thought the signs were pretty effective. There wasn't any of the kind of serious moonbat/Communist/crazy signs you get at anti-war protests even if a few signs were a bit over the top..

To me, the unused megaphone says "Who forgot to get the sound permit?" I heard some conflicting things as to if they were using amplified sound later so that may not be fair - but you would never see a megaphone sitting around at a World Can't Wait event without somebody screaming incoherently into it. As far as I was concerned it was a nice change - it's not like anybody can ever hear what you're saying anyway and it makes you look like a nut. Actually that's another thing that was notable by its absence - no chanting. Moonbats love chanting.

"$cientologists are a bunch of knuckleheads." "Scientology = Genocide" I have no idea if that's based on anything specific or if it's just fashionable to accuse people of genocide these days, but over the top claims do tend to make it harder to believe some of the other signs. Also I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that all successful protests are social, and it's a sad truth that the more cute young girls a group has the more guys will show up just to hook up. There seemed to be an awful lot of gals at this event compared to, say, an anti-war protest, and much younger. That's another thing that's interesting about the group - since it's loosely organized the minute a bunch of young girl geeks join it's not going to be exactly like the hacker club they had to start. In my research I've found sites from the old guard bitching about this.

I was also amused to see a lot of questions on their forums after the event about who certain cute girls were and if they were on the Internet so you could talk to them. Which is odd because it was a six hour protest and they were standing right there.

"Ron is gone but the Con lives on". Oh, and one last just for luck.

Well, you get the idea. No video this time, sorry. It will be interesting to see how much momentum this group gets. Judging from the honking cars and the fact that people were pretty willing to take brochures compared to at an anti-war protest they have a good shot. It will be interesting to see how it works out for them.

Update: The following Monday checked the San Francisco Chronicle and a couple of local TV outlets that cover even small protests and there was no coverage. I found some blog coverage on left-wing sites - where they're discussing how to convert these guys over to some form of "useful" protest, meaning something on the left-wing agenda.

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