Anonymous originated in 2003 on the image-boards 4chan.org and 711chan.org. On these sites a tag of Anonymous is assigned to visitors who leave images and comments without identifying themselves. At some point, 4chan users began to jokingly act as if Anonymous were a real person. As the popularity of these sites increased, the notion that Anonymous was a collective of unnamed individuals became an internet meme. Within a small sphere of the net, unnoticed by all, a new subculture had developed.
From 2003 to 2008 the groups focus was usually inward; it was anarchic and aimless, bearing some similarities to the 1964 Merry Pranksters who, like Anonymous, used spontaneity to confront the banality and conformity of American society. During this time several communal actions hinted at the future direction of the group; the first of these actions began with a series of organized raids on Habbo, a social networking site designed as a virtual hotel. The Habbo raids soon became actions of protest when an Alabama amusement park banned a two-year-old affected by AIDS from entering the park's swimming pool. The protest took the form of nazi symbols created by black avatars with huge afros at the virtual pool entrance, they continue to this day.
Then in December 2006 and January 2007 a group identifying themselves as Anonymous took Hal Turner's website offline (a white supremacist radio host) and made prank calls to his phone-ins. 4chan /b/ have continued to conduct this type of activity against right wing extremists, with Alex Jones being a favoured recipient. The final noticeable event was a report in the Canada-based Toronto Sun newspaper on the 7th of December 2007, regarding the arrest of the alleged Internet predator Chris Forcand. The report stated that Forcand was already being tracked by 'cyber-vigilantes' before police investigations commenced and a later Global Television Network report identified the group as being responsible for Forcand's arrest; the group was "called Anonymous".
Other than these anomalies, the antics of Anonymous during this period can be summed up as follows: "We [Anonymous] just happen to be a group of people on the internet who need just kind of an outlet to do as we wish, that we wouldn't be able to do in regular society. That's more or less the point of it. Do as you wish. There's a common phrase: 'we are doing it for the lulz.'" (Trent Peacock. The face of Anonymous, February 7, 2008)
However, by the time the above quote was made, the mindset described was already out of date. An unexpected happenstance had occurred and caused a sudden (and spontaneous) evolution. In January 2008, the Church of Scientology attempted to remove a video of the Scientologist Tom Cruise from the Internet. Their method was to barrage anyone hosting the video with threats of litigation. Lawyers for the Church of Scientology were successful until they sent a letter to Gawker.com on the 15th of January requesting the removal of the video. Nick Denton of Gawker.com immediately replied: "It's newsworthy, and we will not be removing it."
On the 16th of January, the Church of Scientology issued yet another copyright violation claim against YouTube for hosting the Cruise video, and unwittingly struck the final sparks in a long gestated process of creation. They delivered to the world their opposite, a pure conflagration of rage and hope. Anonymous was born. On the 21st of January 2008, 'Project Chanology' became the world's first collective act of hacktivism, it was launched in the form of a video posted to YouTube, "Message to Scientology".
"Over the years, we have been watching you. Your campaigns of misinformation; suppression of dissent; your litigious nature, all of these things have caught our eye. With the leakage of your latest propaganda video into mainstream circulation, the extent of your malign influence over those who trust you, who call you leader, has been made clear to us. Anonymous has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed. For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind--for the laughs--we shall expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form. We acknowledge you as a serious opponent, and we are prepared for a long, long campaign. You will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic. Your methods, hypocrisy, and the artlessness of your organization have sounded its death knell.
You cannot hide; we are everywhere.
We cannot die; we are forever. We're getting bigger every day--and solely by the force of our ideas, malicious and hostile as they often are. If you want another name for your opponent, then call us Legion, for we are many.
Yet for all that we are not as monstrous as you are; still our methods are a parallel to your own. Doubtless you will use the Anon's actions as an example of the persecution you have so long warned your followers would come; this is acceptable. In fact, it is encouraged. We are your SPs.
Gradually as we merge our pulse with that of your "Church", the suppression of your followers will become increasingly difficult to maintain. Believers will wake, and see that salvation has no price. They will know that the stress, the frustration that they feel is not something that may be blamed upon Anonymous. No--they will see that it stems from a source far closer to each. Yes, we are SPs. But the sum of suppression we could ever muster is eclipsed by that of the RTC.
Knowledge is free.
We are Anonymous.
We are Legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
The 'assault' upon the Church of Scientology took the form of DDoS attacks, prank calls, black faxes (a fax transmission consisting of pages entirely filled with a uniform black tone), Google bombing (linking CoS with the first result in a Google search for "dangerous cult"), bumping Digg (on the website Digg.com, the top ten stories became Scientology-related controversies), and Doxing (a variety of techniques of gathering information about an individual using sources on the internet).
Running concurrent to the breaking waves and surges of the internet campaign, Anonymous took to the streets worldwide. A second YouTube video was released on the 28th of January, "Call to Action", which requested activism outside Church of Scientology centres on February 10, 2008. Around 10,000 people responded to the call and in some places the protests have never ended.
"It has come to the attention of Anonymous that there are a number of you out there who do not clearly understand what we are or why we have undertaken our present course of action. Contrary to the assumptions of the media, Anonymous is not simply "a group of super hackers". Anonymous is a collective of individuals united by an awareness that someone must do the right thing, that someone must bring light to the darkness, that someone must open the eyes of a public that has slumbered for far too long. Among our numbers you will find individuals from all walks of life - lawyers, parents, IT professionals, members of law enforcement, college students, veterinary technicians and more. Anonymous is everyone and everywhere. We have no leaders, no single entity directing us - only the collective outrage of individuals, guiding our hand in the current efforts to bring awareness.We want you to be aware of the very real dangers of Scientology. We want you to know about the gross human rights violations committed by this cult. We want you to know about Lisa McPhearson. We want you to know about former members of Scientology's private navy, SeaOrg, who were forced to have abortions so that they could continue in service to the church. We want you to know about Scientology's use of child labor and their gulags. We want you to know about Operation Freakout and Paulette Cooper. We want you to know about Operation Snow White and Scientology's efforts to infiltrate the government of the United States of America.We want you to know about all of these things that have been swept under the rug for far too long. The information is out there. It is yours for the taking. Arm yourself with knowledge. Be very wary of the 10th of February. Anonymous invites you to join us in an act of solidarity. Anonymous invites you to take up the banner of free speech, of human rights, of family and freedom. Join us in protest outside of Scientology centers world wide. We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. We will be heard. Expect us."
In response, the Church of Scientology released a statement regarding the announcement of 10th February protests, published 7th February in the St. Petersburg Times, they called the organizers of the protests "cyberterrorists" and their actions "hate crimes". This 'association labelling' approach would become a commonplace tactic, a template used by almost all 'targeted' organisations in the coming years. Various injunctions and restraining orders to prevent Anonymous from protesting citing alleged threats were denied. A few Anonymous activists were arrested and prosecuted for denial-of-service attacks. Over time the activism gradually subsided but has never ceased and another template of a different shade had been created - the unquestionable success of 'Project Chanology' was in creating a lasting awareness of the criminality of the Church of Scientology. Questions were asked in Parliaments across the globe. Mainstream media entities reporting on Anonymous found themselves unavoidably exposing the "illegal and immoral behaviour" of the 'Church' and many began their own detailed investigations. The most impressive came from Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin of, fittingly, the St. Petersburg Times, who produced a series of devastating exposés of the 'Church' starting with 'Scientology: The Truth Rundown', a three part special report published from 21st of June, 2009 onwards. Today, the Church of Scientology is widely reported to be in terminal decline; analysis of census data shows a consistently dwindling membership. Awareness of the cult: the Church of Scientology is now universal, many innocent people have been saved from entanglement and many already snared have been helped. Anonymous played a truly unique role in this achievement.