Anonymous, the loosely bound group of Internet activists who have targeted the Church of Scientology in recent weeks, showed up Sunday morning to protest at the church's largest Los Angeles locations.
The rallies were part of a global day of demonstrations against Scientology organized by the group, with picketers in New York, Toronto, Britain, Australia and other locations.
The protests were peaceful, with music and chanting. Many of the Los Angeles picketers wore the Guy Fawkes masks made popular in the movie "V for Vendetta."
A near-constant stream of horn honks provided background noise for protesters at the Scientology center on Sunset Boulevard. After about two hours, the group headed to a Scientology church on Hollywood Boulevard.
Security personnel, some with video cameras, were stationed at entrances to both locations. A Fawkes-masked spokesman for Anonymous, who wouldn't give his name but whom several protesters identified as the organizer of the L.A. event, said, "We want to set off a government investigation into how [Scientology] got tax-exempt status."
The church was granted tax-exempt status in 1993 after a protracted battle with the IRS, which for 25 years had maintained that Scientology was a business, not a religion.
Contacted for comment on the protests, a Scientology representative issued a statement that called Anonymous "a group of cyber-terrorists" that is "perpetrating religious hate crimes against Churches of Scientology and individual Scientologists for no reason other than religious bigotry."
Asked to explain the groundswell of opposition, protester and former Scientology member Lynn Fountain Campbell, who said she had been part of the church for 40 years, said, "It's just reached a critical mass. People just aren't scared anymore."
"They try to make people shut up," she said, "and I'm not the shutting up type."