Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Battle Over Scientology: Part I

Right off the bat I want to say that we aren't going to be talking about Xenu, body thetans, auditing, "sec checking", or L. Ron Hubbard's rotten teeth. This is all about the article on Scientology in en-Wikipedia, how it was biased from the beginning, fought over for nearly a decade, and became a relic of the Internet-Scientology wars of the 1990s-2000s while also being a guide for other New Age, "new religious movement" groups on how to dodge the e-mobs while keeping a presence on Wikipedia.

In the Beginning....

The first Scientology article was in October 10, 2001 by The Cunctator (Brad Johnson), and as you can see here it's a long, harsh stub with no section breaks, photos, or complicated layout of any kind. The next edit was in November 19, 2001 by an IP address ( who stuck in all the "cult" references and then it was off to the races. The Cunctator only edited the article twice after creating it, with his last addition in September of 2002. When Larry Sanger resigned from Wikipedia on March 1, 2002 he told Johnson this: "I'm sure glad I don't have to deal with you anymore, Cunctator. You're a frigging piece of work."

Early editors of the article split into two camps very quickly; those who actually used their real names, and those who just used IP addresses, and the latter camp were thought to be Scientologists or PR flacks working for them. Lee Daniel Crocker (who called the article "the best carefully-polished, well-debated" one on Wikipedia in November of 2001), Dreamyshade (one of the first female Wikipedia editors), AxelBoldt, and Bryan Dirksen were some of the early "name" Wikipedians involved. By 2003 Modemac (Eric Walker) was watching over the page and the warring was in earnest. By that point the article had regulars. The anti-Scientologists were: Prioryman when he was ChrisO (Chris Owens, 2003); David Gerard joined in 2004; Tony Sidaway, Gerard's friend, that same year; Will Beback (William McWhinney), also in 2004, then banned in 2012; Antaeus_Feldspar (Joseph Crowley) also 2004, left Wikipedia in 2011; SchuminWeb (Ben Schumin) in 2005, he left in 2012: MartinPoulter in 2005; Cirt (name unknown) 2006, desysopped in 2012; and finally Wizardman (Daniel Tylicki) in 2006. The named pro-Scientologists were much smaller in numbers and they were: Misou (name unknown) 2006; COFS aka Shutterbug (same) in 2007; TaborG (same) also in 2007; Lyncs aka Justallofthem aka Justanother (also unknown name), joined in 2006 and survived blocking, still on Wikipedia today. Misou, COFS, and TaborG were all accused of being sockpuppets of each other and banned; Lyncs tried to be the voice of reason from the Scientology side and failed to make a dent. There were four "uncertains" whose "allegiance" and true names were unknown: Wikipediatrix, who joined in 2005;  GoodDamon in 2006; Republitarian joined that same year, was later blocked as a "meatpuppet or sockpuppet" (?); and Highfructosecornsyrup, also in 2006. That last account was blocked as a sockpuppet of Wikipediatrix. Beyond all the names listed there were a large number of IP addresses and alleged sockpuppets, so much so that a number of half-baked "sockpuppet investigations" were carried out and large numbers of people were banned, most probably innocent. And thanks to all the submissions, deletions, reinsertions it remained a biased wreck that only began having photographs of Scientology buildings attached to it in the summer of 2005, and even then it was just a shot of the long vertical sign of the Los Angeles "Scientology Information Center" on Hollywood Boulevard.

Why Kick Scientology?

There are a number of  reasons, all of them complicated. Since the 1970s, there have been a number of anti-cult movements fighting groups like the Unification Church ("Moonies") or the Hari Krishnas (ISKCON), but especially the cults which encouraged mainly young people to drop their previous lives and live in some sort of collective, and there have been a large number of those, copying the `60s "drop out" communes but sticking in their pet religious dogmas. I see a lot of this as a bourgeois  revenge at the time on the commune culture which allowed the Symbionese Liberation Army (1973-75) to form, the fear that "something worse" would emerge. Instead they got Jonestown and David Berg's "The Family"; while "revolutionary suicide" and the idea of religious prostitution are deeply unpalatable, they aren't the urban guerillas of the SLA nor the bombers of the Weather Underground, and neither of those were cults.

Scientology was different; it was run like a corporation, most of the members did not live in communes (group living was for poorer staff members and members of the "Sea Org" priesthood), it aimed itself at the aspirational middle-class, it was wealthy enough to have television ad campaigns, famous people were members. There had been small bits of criticism like Paulette Cooper's 1971 book The Scandal of Scientology, but the Church liked lawsuits, so the media stayed away. What changed everything was the rise of Usenet, then the early Internet; Scientology tried to attack anti-Scientology Usenet groups in 1994 (possibly because they felt invincible after forcing the IRS to declare Scientology a religion in 1992); they were trounced. Scientology asked members to put a modified version of Netscape Navigator in their computers in 1998 which critics dubbed "Sciento Sitter"; it blocked out a number of anti-Scientology websites. When YouTube started in 2005, that became another battleground as protesters would record their protests and post them, or video editors cut up Hubbard lectures and other material into anti-Church collages, or posted copies of private Scientology videotapes like the 1986 death of L. Ron Hubbard "briefing" or the Jon Zegel audiotapes. The last two examples were posted to "stick it" to the Church of Scientology, to prove that their secrets were no longer so, also Zegel (who was involved in dissident Scientology, mainly David Mayo's Advanced Ability Center) was forced by Church lawyers to make a "recanting tape" after three others laying out where Hubbard had been from 1967 to 1983 and other secrets the Church was hiding from parishioners and the US government. As with everything else Internet and Scientology, videos were pulled for "copyright", but copied and reposted. Some of the videos linked to above are copies of copies.

So this is what the Wikipedia Scientology war was about, continuing the older Usenet fight on another website while also being a sideshow of the mid-2000s "Project Chanology" protests (which started when the Church yanked that Tom Cruise video that wound up being relentlessly parodied anyway.) It really had nothing to do with sticking to Wikipedia's "neutral point of view" in article writing, it was all about protesting an unpopular group the oddest way possible.


In the next post on this subject, we will run through the insane 2009 Arbitration case, look at how sloppy Wikipedia is when dealing with the large number of Scientology spinoff cults, and examine a number of odd articles related to Scientology within Wikipedia.

Below is an interview the Lisa McPherson Trust made with Mike McClaughry in 2000. McClaughry was a former member of Scientology's Guardian Office which was a small intelligence organization within Scientology. These were the people who broke into US government offices in the 1970s ("Operation Snow White"); they are now called the Office of Special Affairs and allegedly less crazy.



  1. Excellent start. One could write a whole, detailed and very long book just about the COS battles on WP. Shitty way to run an "encyclopedia".

  2. An acquaintance who noticed my name in this article drew my attention to it.

    I'm really wondering where you're going with that "Tony Sidaway, Gerard's friend" line. Be very careful if you're trying to make the case that Wikipedia is sloppy. You're already splashing that brush around in a very messy way indeed.

    1. So are you his friend, former acquaintance, or what? If you aren't then I will add an errata at the bottom.

  3. Thanks for the well-researched narrative. Looking forward to your next piece.

  4. As one of the "old timers" involved with the online Scientology debacle, please allow me to clarify the estimated dates of the actions mentioned. The "Project Chanology" stuff took place several years after the Wikipedia wars, in 2008 through about 2011 or so. Wikipedia, as noted, was in its early days when the Scientology arguments took place. All of this was around ten years after the initial blow-up, or blow-out, on Usenet back in 1994 through 1996. (I've long since refrained from editing Wikipedia, as it has been more interested in internal politics and ego satisfaction for years; while, Anonymous has been hijacked by political demagogues and has replaced the tinfoil hat of conspiracy theorists with Guy Fawkes masks.)