How a Retired Florida Woman Became Head of Anonymous' Anti-Scientology Protest in Clearwater

Categories: Religion

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Laura Flynn remembers the first time she met a Scientologist. Living in Clearwater -- also known as Flag Land Base or Mecca by L. Ron Hubbard's acolytes -- she had unknowingly come into contact with them countless times. The 56-year-old, who describes herself as "good country people," didn't ask questions, though. It didn't matter to her or her husband what people did when they walked into the church's buildings downtown. It was like the don't-ask, don't-tell policy of cult membership.

But after 1993, she couldn't ignore the organization's influence on her fellow Clearwater residents any longer. Although she's retired now, Flynn used to work as a floral designer. One day she saw her then-boss huddled in the corner, drinking a Coca-Cola she'd pilfered from a coworker.

"She was shaking like a leaf, just trying to get some nourishment in there," Flynn remembers. "She begged me not to tell anyone."

See also: Anti-Scientology Conference in Clearwater May 5-11

Flynn later learned that the fast was part of a Scientology-related cleanse called the Purification Rundown. She thought it was strange, sure, but she still felt distanced from whatever happened within the four walls of Scientology headquarters.

That's until her husband brought it home. Dallas, a six-foot-four, 300-pound teddy bear of a man, was contracted to do some electrical work at that very building. She says Dallas would relay tales of 15-year-olds being forced to work as day laborers there and recount how elder Scientologists would just curse and scream at them all day long.

"One day he came home, took off his boots, and was at the brink of tears," Flynn says. "He kept talking about the kids there and wondering how they'll ever be OK."

It was 2007, a few months before a church-produced interview with Tom Cruise leaked on YouTube, and they infamously tried to censor it. In response to the attempted censorship, Anonymous founded Project Chanology, a multiday protest of Scientology that now happens every year in Clearwater and plenty of other cities around the world.

Anonymous is -- as its name suggests -- leaderless. (And it's also made up mostly of users of sites like imageboard 4Chan and forums like Something Awful.) But when it comes to Flag Down, the latest incarnation of Project Chanology, an unlikely spokeswoman has emerged. It's Laura Flynn, the retired floral designer who calls the online troublemakers "Channers" and "whippersnappers."

"I'm this old woman, and it's hilarious to be part of such a young movement," she says. "This is like a full-time thing for me now."

She attended the first-ever Project Chanology as a participant. In 2010, 4Chan founder Christopher Poole gave a TED talk called "The Case for Anonymity Online" in which he showed a photo of Flynn underneath a Guy Fawkes mask. She became a celebrity to her nieces and nephews.

In 2011, the group's two former leaders quit over a fight regarding a girl. Flynn reluctantly stepped up with two other organizers. The other two have since left, and now she runs things with two other organizers. She couldn't do it alone -- it would be too big of a target to put on her back, she says.

This is a position Flynn takes very seriously. Since she's stepped up to a more visible position within the protest, she's been both jailed and sent cease-and-desist letters by the church, she says. But it's also been fun. At one point, 4Chan gave Flynn her own page on Encyclopedia Dramatica, the Wiki site for the subculture's memes and in-jokes. Although ED pages are typically vulgar to the extreme, Flynn says that hers was actually nice and that she asked people to make it grosser so she would be part of the club.

"They added some naked pictures of old women and put my name on it," she says.

Flag Down 2014 begins on Monday, May 5. It extends for five days and features a talk by John Sweeney, an Emmy-winning journalist and author of Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology. Defectors from the church and its paramilitary wing, the Sea Org, will also be sharing their stories.

It's the Sea Org that particularly incenses Flynn. Scientologists who want to join sign a symbolic billion-year contract, and Sea Org members are reportedly as young as 14. They work for almost nothing, seven days a week, and are cut off from the rest of the world.

"If you're an adult and you don't have enough balls to walk away, I can't help you," Flynn says. "But when you've been duped and can't get out due to brainwashing techniques, that's not right. It's happening in our backyard, and it's gotta stop."

Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti




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10 comments
p_krenik
p_krenik

Very peculiar--there was no "diet cleaning" on the purif during the time L. Ron Hubbard was alive.  No restricting of foods.  It is supposed to be a sweat out program, to clean the body of drug impurities that might be held in the body fats.  


By the way, the Purification Rundown is not auditing.  It was designed for people with drug histories as a preparation step so they can benefit from auditing.

indiacrap
indiacrap

"...the group's two former leaders..."  Groan. The author has got a lot of this stuff wrong. There have never been any leaders, and in fact Anonymous is not a group, it is a collective, there is no leadership.


Also Flynn is a n00b, a late-comer to the Anonymous hive who managed to get photographed and marginally Fair Gamed, just lie hundreds of other Anonymous.


As far as Flag Down is concerned, she's not leading anything there, either.

indiacrap
indiacrap

She's not the head of Anonymous anything. The author knows fuckall about what Anonymous is.

free.wu.kapauw
free.wu.kapauw

LOL. Scientology used to be the feared final boss of harrassment, intimidation and lawsuits. Now everyone from old ladies to gay irishmen and basement dwelling preteens are kicking their ass six ways to Sunday on the internet and in real life. Payback is a bitch when you are an abusive money scam masquerading as an "applied spiritual phosophy" nowadays, eh?

staycalmandcarryon20
staycalmandcarryon20

I hope the whole world gets it.  David Miscaviges cult of Scientoloy is evil.  Flag down 2014 is the voice for those killed and injured and those living with the knowledge of on going abuse in the totolitarian cult.

Free Lori's children,  free Heber, Free Barbara,  and Where's Shelly?...

Laura Flynn you do rock!

pierrot.reno
pierrot.reno

Laura Flynn you rock... wish I could join all of you at Flag Down 2014 in Clearwater, we have to show the world, our governments, our justice systems, our cops how evil and criminal this cult is, they have already destroyed soooooooo many lives, we have to stop them.

free.wu.kapauw
free.wu.kapauw

@p_krenik Suuuuuuuure . . .  .nothing like dehydration and dangerous overdoses of niacin to get you all happy and healthy, right? And the niacin will run out all your radiation exposure, to boot! What quackery.

It's always amusing to watch Scientology 'fundamentalists' talk about how everything was butterflies and unicorns before Miscavige came along and knocked over their sandcastle. Let's face it, Hubbard's scam is rotten, root and branch. There's damn near nothing of value in Dianetics or Scientology, and certainly nothing that can't be found in a better - or at least less harmful - form elsewhere.

elweezer
elweezer

@indiacrap  "Anonymous is -- as its name suggests -- leaderless."


do u read

p_krenik
p_krenik

@free.wu.kapauw @p_krenik  

Sorry you feel that way.  I started in Scientology in 1951, and still participate although not with the COS.

That is because I had a lot of gains/help through Dianetics and Scientology and have helped a lot of others and I have seen the good effects.  Yes, I'm not unaware of the drawbacks.  I avoided the Purification Rundown somehow.  

I could tell you how my shoulder was numb still after a month since the birth of one child, and how one session of running out the incident restored the feeling in my shoulder during session, but you don't want to hear the good things.

Of course there is plenty of bad things to share with everyone and I would not give one cent to the COS, but that doesn't mean the technology is a sham.  

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