Why would an academic want to study internet geeks in Guy Fawkes masks?
"This was interesting to us from an academic perspective because social movement scholars say you need some important things to make a movement successful: resources, a physical location, people you can depend on, money. This was a movement that didn't seem to have any of these things.
What was that first protest like?
"A lot of people had never been to a protest before, and shutting down Scientology wasn't the primary reason for being there. It was to have fun and create some havoc, and take 4chan [Anonymous' message board] into the offline world. There was a lot of signs using memes, and a lot of rick-rolling, and people were generally having fun."
A fun protest? Aren't demonstrators supposed to be angry?
But if Scientology has no idea what the hell they're doing, is the
"It depends on what you mean by effective. [Anonymous] really wanted to
hurt the church, in that way they've been successful. The church doesn't
say much but from what they've been doing, they find this highly
irritating. The initial protesters [who called in hundreds of pizza
orders to the orgs and overloaded the church's Web server and fax
machines] wanted to just be annoying, that satisfaction of having
trolled somebody in real life. The church got trolled hard."
So it's the hip internet kids versus the square Scientologists?
"It's a pre-Internet organization going up against a post-internet organization and failing badly because of not understanding how online info spreads. Everything [the church] did to try to smear Anonymous was thrown back at them to make them look stupid.
If Anonymous was to have politics, it would be a libertarian strain of 'Everything should be free, open, no secrets, no restrictions, no one telling us what to do.' The church is the other extreme: 'We control everything, you come to us because you want to be told what to do, and we're going to keep you safe and secure and protected, and in exchange you're going to pay us for this service.' ... Now you can't stop the spread of info the way you used to."
How has the movement changed?
"As the focus of the protest shifted and hooked up with these [more mainstream Scientology protesters], the people in it for the fun peeled off. It's now a smaller but more concentrated movement with a more intense sense of focus. By and large it's kind of gone into a -- I don't want to say more predictable -- but now they're trying to be more of a conventional movement."
So will Anonymous' protest of Scientology die out?
"You just have to look at 4chan; there's an attention span issue here, too. Nothing sticks around for too, too long. It's possible they'll come back in the future. But for now, its been boiled down to the more hardcore people who found something in this that appealed to them or were already interested in this."
Photo of protesters | James Harrison