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Judge denies petition by Scientologists to limit protest

The church filed a suit for an "injunction for protection" from a group called Anonymous.

By Robert Farley, Times Staff Writer
Published March 13, 2008

Anonymous protesters walk south on Fort Harrison Avenue in front of the Church of Scientology's new Super Power Building on Feb. 10 in downtown Clearwater.

CLEARWATER - After weeks of enduring Internet video taunts from a group called Anonymous, the Church of Scientology posted a YouTube video of its own Wednesday.

It includes what Scientology claims are video snippets from Anonymous, threatening phone messages and obscene e-mails sent to various Scientology churches.

Scientology also says members of the Internet activist group Anonymous made, or encouraged others to make, 8,139 harassing or threatening phone calls to the church. Anonymous sent 3.6-million "malicious" e-mails to Scientologists, the church contends, committed 10 acts of vandalism at various churches and made 22 bomb threats and eight death threats.

The torrent of alleged harassment and threats was the underpinning of two church lawsuits filed Tuesday and Wednesday in Pinellas Circuit Court, each seeking to bar Anonymous members from coming within 500 feet of Scientology buildings in Clearwater during a planned protest this weekend.

Tuesday's suit, a petition for an "injunction for protection against repeat violence," was denied Wednesday afternoon by Circuit Judge Linda Allan, who ruled the relevant Florida statute does not apply to corporations.

Just hours before Allan ruled, the church filed a separate, nearly identical lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order. The second suit seeks protection under a different Florida statute. No decision has been made on that suit.

Both suits claim members of Anonymous "made repeated and explicit threats of attacks, raids, wars and assassinations upon" the Church of Scientology and its members.

The second suit names 26 people, many from Tampa Bay, who Scientology thinks are members of Anonymous, which describes itself as a loosely organized group united against the injustices perpetrated by Scientology.

A church spokesperson would not say how the church got the names, but at an Anonymous-sponsored demonstration in Clearwater on Feb. 10 church security videotaped and photographed protesters, most of whom disguised their faces with fake beards, face paint, scarves and bandannas. An estimated 200 participated.

Matthew Dakan was one. A 28-year-old comic book appraiser from Sarasota, he is named in the lawsuits, but says he isn't a member of Anonymous.

Calling himself an Anonymous "sympathizer," Dakan said he doesn't know any members of group, but participated in the Feb. 10 protest after seeing information about it on Anonymous Web sites. He also said, "I personally have a problem with Scientology, I think it's very bad."

Dakan said he gave his name to someone who identified himself as a reporter and later saw someone photographing his license plate.

As for the allegations of threatened violence, Dakan said he didn't see anything like that at the Feb. 10 protest.

"They sort of went out of their way not to cause any trouble," he said of Anonymous protesters.

On Wednesday, the St. Petersburg Times received a phone call and e-mail with a statement purported to be from Anonymous. It said, in part:

"Anonymous would like to condemn any acts of violence, and all threats of violence that may have occurred. They are not the work of Anonymous and Anonymous does not support them in any form."

Anonymous plans two protests in Clearwater this weekend. The first is Friday night at Eckerd Hall, where Scientologists will gather to celebrate founder L. Ron Hubbard's birthday. Saturday protestors plan to demonstrate near church properties downtown.

Fast facts

Reactions to Anonymous' group protest

Readers reacted Wednesday. To read more, go to news.tampabay.com.

Susan T: When my Baptist church was the subject of a protest by gay and lesbian activists, our pastor did not "restrain" them. He welcomed them to the church and listened to their point of view, even though it doesn't coincide with our beliefs. Everyone has their right to free speech and the Scientologists should respect that. Besides, what do they have to hide?

Anonymous: Anonymous are anonymous. Who're they going to restrain?

Shocklink: I don't understand why you want to restrain people for protests, you don't see a Nuclear Company wanting to restrain people protesting for nuclear free area. Just do what the Nuclear company do, IGNORE.

Anonymous: What do they have a court order to restrain? Surely it can't be a restraining order against a totally legal protest?

David: The Church of Scientology is playing right into their critics' hands by demonstrating the very reason why they oppose them. Brilliant strategy!

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