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Anonymous Attacks!

Internet group Anonymous staged protests at major Scientology centers across the world on February 10.

For more photos of the New York protest, click here

Hundreds of Internet users stood outside for hours in the cold on Sunday morning, and they weren't waiting for a shipment of Nintendo Wiis. They were Anonymous, a group of online activists standing outside the New York City Church of Scientology to protest the organization's policies. The protest was one of many conducted across the world at major Scientology centers on that day.

The New York City protest saw between 200 and 300 Anonymous gather outside of the Church of Scientology New York. Other prominent "raids" included 150-200 Anonymous meeting in Sydney and 500 Anonymous meeting in London to protest the Church. The protests were a part of "Operation Chanology," Anonymous' efforts to discredit the Church of Scientology.

The raids were generally peaceful, with few disturbances reported. In New York, Anonymous cooperated with the NYPD to ensure the safety of its members and a minimum of disruption. NYPD officers escorted Anonymous from their meeting place in Bryant Park up to the Church of Scientology New York building, where they stood behind cordons to allow traffic to continue down 46th Street.

Like its name implies, Anonymous is less an organization than a loose confederation of Internet message board readers and IRC chat network users. Sites like (warning: content may not be work-safe) brought together thousands of Internet users with a variety of interests and vocations. Anonymous seldom meet physically in large numbers outside of their message boards and chat channels. The February 10 "raids" presented one of the first examples of major Anonymous movement outside of the Internet. The February 10th date was chosen because it was the birthday of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist Anonymous alleges was killed due to the Church of Scientology's actions.

While "Anonymous" was initially a joke directed at certain news organizations, the group began to come together in January as a response to the Church of Scientology's request for Youtube to remove a Scientology video involving Tom Cruise. Since then, Anonymous groups have protested the Church of Scientology, distributed anti-Scientology materials, and allegedly performed "Denial of Service" attacks on the Church's telecommunications systems.

The Church of Scientology issued a statement on February 10 in response to the Anonymous attacks. According to the statement, released by Rev. John Carmichael, President of the Church of Scientology New York, Anonymous has been committing hate crimes against the Church. The release described Anonymous as "cyber-terrorists," and alleged that Anonymous members threatened the Church and mailed "white powder" to dozens of its branches. The Church went on to denounce Anonymous as individuals who hide behind masks and Internet anonymity.

According to Anonymous, its members wear masks and hide their identity to protect themselves against the Church of Scientology's "Fair Game" policy. Anonymous claims that "Fair Game" is a Church policy that states that any "Suppressive Persons" may be prevented from speaking out against the Church by any means necessary. According to the Church of Scientology's web site, the "Fair Game" policy was canceled in 1968, and the Church does not condone illegal or unethical activities committed in its name.