In a world wracked with uncertainty, there is at least one thing you can bet on: pick a fight with the Church of Scientology (CoS), and its leaders will fight back — always with vigor, often with a vengeance, and sometimes with litigation that can be long and costly
The idea of locking legal horns with the CoS might be enough to cool the ardor of some critics. But that is not Gregg Housh’s style. Housh, an Internet activist and provocateur, is not an easy guy to characterize. A member of a group that calls itself “Anonymous,” Housh is pitted in what appears to be an escalating rift with the CoS. Core constitutional issues such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion are central to the dispute.
Almost 10 months ago, Housh helped launch a protest group that he now describes as the world’s fastest-growing grassroots movement (mobilizing several thousand people in less than one month). The group formed as a response to the removal of a video from YouTube and other sites that featured Tom Cruise describing CoS doctrines and principles. From a few simple mouse clicks, a mighty battle has grown.
Housh is himself a rather casual, almost random sort of activist. A seventh-grade dropout, devout atheist, and proud computer troll, he claims to loathe all political parties equally, and could give a damn about Greenpeace, PETA, or any other picket-happy causes. In fact, had the CoS not “messed” with what he thinks of as his Internets, Housh would probably be wasting his spare time sparking Web mischief instead of dedicating approximately 40 hours every week to Anonymous, his now infamously masked group, whose mission seems to be toying with L. Ron Hubbard’s minions.
Born in Dallas in 1976, Housh deserted middle school to pursue technological endeavors. He’s been a hacker, a programmer, and a hardware technician, leaving one city for another every time he got bored and found an attractive new job offer. In 2002, he moved from the Florida Keys to Boston for a gig in financial analytics, but quit after finding cubicle life to be impossibly tedious. He still lives in the Boston area and still works with computers (his current job is one of two things he won’t discuss, the other being the three months he served in federal prison for copyright infringement via software piracy), but Housh is hardly blinging off the Commonwealth’s supposed tech boom. On January 21 — the day he and four other Anonymous members (or Anons, as they call themselves) posted their “Message to Scientology” video on YouTube — he reports having had just $144 in the bank. Less than one year later, he describes his account as negative-$1400 and plummeting.
Since the CoS successfully pursued criminal complaints against him this past March, Housh has endured 10 pre-trial dates for charges including harassment and disturbing the peace. You might think a guy who’s inundated with litigation would step off, or, at least, avoid exacerbating his legal predicament and feud with the well-endowed CoS by spilling to any and all inquiring reporters. But Housh is like Cool Hand Luke (without the chiseled abs), a quixotic figure who, perhaps against his better judgment, has refused to back down. The first time the Phoenix contacted him for this profile, he stated, quite seriously: “The more they come at me, the more I’m going right back at these fuckers.”
UNCOVERED: Church of Scientology officials obtained Housh’s identity from a Boston protest permit. He’s been charged with harassment and disturbing the peace.
Speech? or disturbing the peace?
Today, on October 11, Housh can’t join his associates to rally outside the CoS’s Boston property for the ninth Anonymous protest in nine months — due to a restraining order set by the Boston Municipal Court, he’s forbidden to walk within 100 yards of the church building at 448 Beacon Street. But that doesn’t stop him from participating: at 11:30 am, he emerges from the Hynes Convention Center MBTA stop with a dozen other Anons, most of whom are dressed as zombies in what they say is homage to CoS members who either died under questionable circumstances or committed suicide. The jovially raucous group parades down Newbury Street, then hangs a left down Hereford Street chanting “Scientology kills,” effectively shattering Back Bay’s tree-lined tranquility and gaining the attention of any and all passers-by.
After Housh makes plans to reunite with the group later near Boston University, his accomplices join about 30 other Anons who are already outside the CoS building wielding literature and signs. These costumed pranksters have a singular goal, which, according to an October 4 Anonymous press release, is to expose “the illegal and immoral behavior of the Church of Scientology.” Their oak tags read: “Ron Is Gone But the Con Lives On,” “Honk If You Oppose Scientology,” and various slogans alleging that the CoS shatters families and financially fleeces its members.