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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Scientology accuses "Anonymous" protesters of threats

UPDATE A judge rejected a petition by the Church of Scientology that sought to keep protesters away from church property in Clearwater, but the church has filed an almost identical lawsuit that seeks a temporary restraining order against the same group of protesters. No decision has been made in the new case.

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CLEARWATER - The Church of Scientology says it has received "numerous threats of violence'' from members of the Internet activist group Anonymous, according to a church lawsuit filed Tuesday that seeks to restrain protesters this weekend.

The church is asking the Pinellas Circuit Court to bar Anonymous protesters from coming within 500 feet of Scientology buildings in downtown Clearwater during Anonymous' Saturday demonstration, which would be the group's second anti-Scientology rally in recent weeks.

No hearing had been scheduled by late this morning.

Called a "petition for injunction for protection against repeat violence,'' the church's suit names 22 people, most from the Tampa Bay area, who the Church of Scientology believes to be members of Anonymous, which describes itself as a loosely organized group united against the injustices perpetrated by Scientology.

"The threats have included a 'formal declaration of war' and specific threats to assassinate or execute Rev. Heber Jentzsch, the president of the Church of Scientology International on or about March 13, 2008,'' the lawsuit states.

The suit says Scientology churches around the world have been vandalized and have received numerous threats of violence.

"Various members of the group (Anonymous) have encouraged the use of attacks, raids, bombs, hand grenades, machine guns and executions of Church leaders,'' the suit states.

Much of the violence has been encouraged and promoted, the lawsuit states, through videos on YouTube. Numerous Internet postings and videos are included as exhibits in the church's suit.

While the complete membership of Anonymous is unknown, the 22 named in the lawsuit "have been identified, on information and belief, as leaders and/or supporters of the organization's efforts against the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization in Clearwater within the last 30 days,'' the church states in its suit.

Anonymous coalesced in January after a video of Scientologist Tom Cruise was leaked to YouTube and then promptly removed because of threats from Scientology attorneys.

On Feb. 10, some 200 people participated in an Anonymous-organized demonstration against Scientology in downtown Clearwater. Similar protests were held in dozens of cities around the world.

A second round of protests by Anonymous are scheduled for this weekend, timed to coincide with Scientology’s annual celebration of founder L. Ron Hubbard's birthday on Thursday.

According to Web sites affiliated with Anonymous, members of the group plan to protest in more than 50 cities worldwide. In Clearwater, they plan to gather Friday evening outside Ruth Eckerd Hall, where Scientology will hold its annual gala celebrating Hubbard’s birthday.

A larger protest is planned Saturday in downtown Clearwater, where the church’s international religious headquarters are located.

On Web sites, the group implores members to protest peacefully and not to break any laws. No one was arrested at any of the protests on Feb. 10.

The petition seeks an injunction to stop Anonymous, it local leaders and supporters, from "committing any further acts of violence.'' It also seeks to prevent members from getting within 500 feet of Jentzsch or any of 12 Scientology buildings in downtown Clearwater.

-- Robert Farley, SP Times staff writer