An online group of hackers has declared war on Scientology, vowing to attack the controversial religion's Web sites and turn its adherents against it.
Already the group, which describes itself simply as "Anonymous," has released hundreds of pages of Scientology material for which practitioners would normally have to pay and claims to have slowed down or even temporarily closed Scientology Web sites.
The group says it was prompted to act after Scientology leaders recently tried to "censor" a widely distributed and mocked video of Tom Cruise. The video shows the actor -- one of the most high-profile and outspoken adherents of Scientology -- professing his love for the religion, laughing hysterically and claiming that Scientologists are the only people able to help save lives following a car accident.
"The so-called Church of Scientology actively misused copyright and trademark law in pursuit of its own agenda," one Anonymous member commented in a press release this week.
"They attempted not only to subvert free speech, but to recklessly pervert justice to silence those who spoke out against them."
The Anonymous group later released a video in which a computer-generated voice outlines the group's concerns with the Church. Only two minutes long and broadcast against a bleak, grey sky, the video quickly became among the most-watched on the Internet.
"Anonymous has therefore decided that your organization should be destroyed. For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind and everywhere. You will find no recourse in attack, because for each of us that falls, ten more will take his/her place," the voice said.
More than 463,000 people have watched the Anonymous video on YouTube since it was posted. It was the second-most commented-upon video on the Web site and the most-watched science-technology clip.
Andreas Heldal-Lund, webmaster of Operation Clambake, a Web site critical of Scientology, issued a statement saying: "People should be able to have easy access to both sides and make up their own opinions. Freedom of speech means we need to allow all to speak -- including those we strongly disagree with."
Although members of Anonymous have not revealed their identity to protect themselves against litigation from the Church of Scientology's lawyers, it has been widely reported that they are associated with underground hacking Web sites such as 4chan and 711chan as well as a number of Internet Relay Chat channels.