I believe people can believe whatever that they want as long as it doesn't hurt others. In my personal life, I've spoken out against a variety of religious groups that claim to be part of many religions, including my own. I speak out when they do things like promote Proposition 8 in California. When they teach people that the only way to heaven is through suicide. When they teach people to hate.
We're fortunate that, despite the disproportionate media attention given to wacko-religious-nuts, these are the minority of religious people in the world. However, each time people hear that some loon claiming he/she was doing something harmful in the name of Religion X, it tarnishes the religion's reputation.
The trouble happens when the religious groups that are acting irresponsibly are the same people leading that religion. When you see a pattern of a religious leadership trouncing on the free speech rights of citizens. When citizens, wishing to protest in public, need to don masks because they are videotaped by that relgion and their names taken down and investigated. It shines a bad light on the whole religion.
Web Cracker: Busted
This isn't *quite* the case for Dmitriy Guzner, however. Now, I defend free speech, but free speech doesn't extend to computer crime and destructive cracking practices. So when I read that some 19 year old from New Jersey was found guilty hacking Scientology websites and will be shipped to jail, I think "That's the risk of committing a felony." That's not legitimate protest. That's lawlessness.
But then I read on in David Kravets' article for Wired, where he describes the group Anonymous as " a collection of griefers who hang out in the net’s most juvenile corners looking for some outlet for their boredom."
Now, for anyone who's read a little bit into the whole Anonymous vs. Scientology, it should be really easy to understand that the idea behind "Anonymous" is that there is no central authority or any discernible group structure. Inspired by the movie V for Vendetta, Anonymous takes upon an anarchists' approach, literally: absense of governing body. These are also mostly people of the new digital age - an age of software and music piracy that thrives for the same reason - decentralization.
Ups and Downs of No-Group-Structure
The beauty in that approach is that there's no one to stop, and there's no way even to judge the size, shape, or movement of a group. The group is an *idea*, not a specific set of people. That's a big lesson learned from V for Vendetta, and that's why they wear the Guy Fawkes masks at protests and on YouTube videos. It doesn't take an insider or a criminologist to realize this - it just takes someone who follows Digg, reads the news articles on Anonymous, has seen V for Vendetta, and has half a brain.
There is, of course, a downside to Anonymous' approach. Any person can claim to be part of Anonymous, and there's no rules or oversight. There's no limits, no ideological borders. Sure, there's a central theme against Scientology, but there's with no control, this idea has as much power as the people claiming to be in Anonymous give it. As I read Kravets' article, and his previous article, clearly people claiming to be part of Anonymous have done some pretty immature, mean-spirited things - and that have nothing to do with the anti-Scientology sentiment. Maybe that's the point - maybe the folks who started the Anonymous movement meant it to be more about the spirit of anti-establishment, than to accomplish any specific goal. Or maybe they were just scared of repercussion.
You Don't Fight An Idea Like They're People
But that's it - it's a movement, not a specific group. It's an idea. You don't fight ideas by thinking of them as groups of people. That's the same problem with "The Drug War" and "The War on Terror" - there's no winning because there's no one to wave a white flag of surrender. But when you have Anonymous - they aren't a "they" at all.
So when Kravets compares Anonymous to a group of people hanging out at 7chan, it's like comparing apples and orang-- erm-- firetrucks? They just don't compare. One is an idea, one is a group. Saying "Oh, them people who hang out at 7Chan are Anonymous" completely misses the point, as well as misses a whole lot of other Anonymous.
Using "Rumors" as a News Source?
But let's go to Kravets' words from his previous article:
"In March, a group of internet griefers flooded an epilepsy message board with flashing images that caused migraine headaches and seizures in some users. While it’s not certain whether it was properly the work of Anonymous, the assault was rumored to have started on a thread at 7chan.org — another Anonymous hang out".
Hmm, where have I heard that before? Oh, yes. Guilt by association! Nice one, Wired! It was RUMORED to have started on an Internet forum where SOME PEOPLE FROM ANONYMOUS SOMETIMES hang out. WTF? When did the standards of journalism allow for using "rumors" as a legitimate source? This, as a blogger who bothers to do my research, and as a previous collegiate journalist, hurts my soul a little bit.
Later in that article:
"... publicity drew hordes who wanted to participate, and soon many longtime Anonymous users found themselves annoyed with the new converts who thought Anonymous was a crusading organization."
Here, Kravets outright acknowledges that anyone can come and say that they are Anonymous, but somehow he doesn't connect the dots and realize that Anonymous has no means to exclude them, again, because that's the point.
On a Habbo Hotel attack:
"In 2006, hundreds of Anonymous users showed up using identically dressed avatars: a black man with an Afro in a grey suit. They blocked off the pool to other users, claiming it was infected with AIDS."
Anyone who does business in virtual worlds will realize this is "Patriotic Nigras" M.O., not Anonymous. Maybe I'm clued in more, because a friend of mine's Doctorate dissertation included Internet griefing as part of it. But, still, a good journalist has an obligation to investigate facts and get multiple sources, and occaisionally speak to an expert. Considering Wired magazine DID A WHOLE FEATURE STORY ON THAT SAME GROUP OF PEOPLE LAST YEAR, maybe I'm a little surprised that neither Kravets nor his editors caught this.
But this is the best part:
"In late 2006 and early 2007, Anonymous had much fun with Hal Turner, a small-time white supremacist who ran an online radio show. Anonymous flooded one of his shows with prank calls, which then escalated in mutual internet stupidity."
I feel a bit like Jon Stewart here in saying this with an enormous amount of incredulity, but ... "escalated INTO ... stupidity"? As in, white supremacy was erudite and well-reasoned, until those rascally prank callers came? What. The. F---! Doesn't anyone proof-read this?
Kravets, you miss the point. You miss it like NASA building a gigantic drill to bore to the center of the earth. You miss it like Al Gore trading in a Prius for an Escalade. Seriously.