Anonymous started out pretty skeptical about Lawrence Wollersheim’s boat party last Friday night. For starters, Anonymous sees itself as a democratic collective dedicated to the notion that knowledge should be free. Yacht parties in Sausalito aren’t really their thing. Then, there’s the recent tension with the “old guard” critics, mostly ex-Scientologists who, for the first time, have found themselves with an army of support to speak out against the organization. As one Anon explains: “The attitude is we’re allies because we have a common enemy, but I don’t have to like you…It’s the anti-Scientology movement with Anonymous in the vanguard, because that’s where the energy is, that’s where the number is. The real energy and forward thrust is from Anonymous.”
So when Wollersheim — the ex-Scientologist who won a $8.7 million judgment from the organization for “infliction of emotional distress” — invited the Anons to come discuss the direction of the anti-Scientology movement on the boat of his spiritual non-profit, which doubles as his crib while the Nevada resident is in the Bay Area, the Anons weren’t exactly lining up to RSVP.
Some posted on the Bay Area Anonymous message board that it was “a trap.” One
posted: “Super-sekret meetings and invite-only treeforts are for faggots” (Anonymous’ favorite name for each other). Some worried Scientologist moles would show up to take their photos. They decided to wear their masks, and to be wary of being used for any ulterior motive by Wollersheim’s other non-profit FACTNet (Fight Against Coercive Tactics Network).
Wollersheim says he wasn’t deterred by all the rumors. After what he says have been years of harassment from the church during his suit against the church, he understands paranoia. Everyone entering the party had to read a warning telling Scientologists to keep out. Since he says he saw a suspicious person was casing his boat the week of the party, he was going check his boat for surveillance devices the next day.
The turnout wasn’t great — a little over a dozen Anons showed — along with Tommy and Jennifer Gorman (see main story). There wasn’t much in the collaboration of ideas either; Wollersheim did a half-hour PowerPoint presentation on some possible goals for the movement while the Anonymous silently watched from behind their masks and clapped and cheered at appropriate moments. The only departure from the script was when Wollersheim threw the award he had made for Anonymous out the window since they’d been bickering online about how awards go against their ideals, and a surprise call-in from Jason Beghe, the actor from “Melrose Place” and “Chicago Hope” who recently left Scientology and now speaks against the church.
But after the presentation was over, the Anonymous party kicked off with some head banging, some pulling back of masks to insert broccoli and dip and cake, and much watching of viral internet videos that they had surely watched dozens of times before. At one point, the paranoia level rose when all the Anons ran off the boat and into the parking lot when they saw some people supposedly checking out their license plates, who then skittered away as the masked clan approached. As the video of the Anonymous mission statement played, the Anons raised a black power-style arm in solidarity. Watching from the next cabin over, Jennifer Gorman had a one-word reaction: “Weirrrrrd.”
Despite the limited exchange of ideas between the Anons and “old guard,” the two worked out at least one concrete collaboration by the night’s end. Wollersheim’s FACTNet.org agreed to help advertise future anti-Scientology protests.
If you’d like to learn more about the Church of Scientology and the anti-Scientology movement, check out these sites:
The Church of Scientology’s official website: