"We are Anonymous, expect us." This was the message delivered to the Church of Scientology on the streets of London, as internet hacker group Anonymous declared 'war' on the favourite religious cult of wacky Hollywood actors.
In a two and a half minute campaign video they outline their intent to destroy Scientology, "for the good of your followers, for the good of mankind and for our own enjoyment". Although they have a strong following on the net, Anonymous was taking its campaign directly to the public.
Everything was in place outside the embassy-like four storey new Scientology headquarters at Blackfriars, on the edge of the City of London. All that was left was for the battle to commence.
The air was clean and crisp and the roads were quiet. It was a sunny, blank canvas of a morning, and Anonymous was ready to paint itself all over it. Around 300 supporters were there. Two somewhat bemused police officers guarded the doors to the Scientology building, as the protesters arranged themselves opposite it.
Many had signs that bore the messages 'Knowledge is free' and 'Enlightenment should not cost $100,000' (it is claimed that some converts have been conned into shelling out that much money). One simply read, 'Save Katie Holmes', a reference to the wife of a famous Scientology leader Tom Cruise, the Hollywood actor. Saturday Night Fever and Grease star, John Travolta is also a leading light.
Despite the good turn-out, the protesters didn't seem to bring along a serious message. One of them produced a megaphone, and blasted out Rick Astley's cheesy hit single, Never gonna give you up, for the Scientology diehards.
This was bizarrely quickly followed, by the Russian national anthem and then the theme tune from the Hollywood movie, Fresh Prince of Bel-air. Although it was pretty hilarious to watch the throng of masked young people dancing along, I began to doubt whether they knew why they were there apart from being one big wind-up.
On the surface, the L. Ron Hubbard-founded Church of Scientology seemed to be keeping a dignified silence. They had one representative watching the protest, who gave me a pamphlet about American Hubbard's pseudo scientific 'dianetics' theories about the workings of the human mind. But the black suited man kept a stony silence.
The Anonymous members were more accommodating. They happily posed for me to take pictures, handed out flyers, and articulately explained their cause. One member said: "We don't hate or criticise members of Scientology, only the organisation. The Church of Scientology is guilty of more than extortion. There have been too many suspicious and unexplained deaths allegedly associated with its name, according to some news media reports.
They're a sinister lot those Scientologists. I spied one of them furtively taking photos of the protesters from a curtained window at the top of their headquarters. Apparently, they try to identify people who oppose them and hunt them down, to recruit, brainwash or abduct opponents, depending on want informant you speak to. Fortunately for the protesters, they were all wearing masks and therefore couldn't be identified. Unfortunately for me, I was not. Great.
Although it was pretty hilarious to watch 300 masked kids dancing along, I began to doubt whether they knew why they were there.
As the sunlight began to fade, the protesters went home. They seemed content with their day's work having spread their message to the press and public. The Scientologists retreated into their building; almost certainly relieved it was over. The protesters were gaily singing "Two nil to Anonymous". The battle was over and, in their eyes, they'd won. They had warned the Church of Scientology to expect them. And they didn't disappoint.