Maybe it's his badass black outfit with blood-red letters screaming "Scientology Kills." Or possibly it's his crew cut, or his nose slammed 45 degrees left after catching one too many right hooks. Maybe it's the hardcore cell-phone earpiece or the camcorder strapped to his palm to record confrontations. Whatever it is, when Tommy Gorman stands at a man's door demanding he get his "chicken-shit ass out here," you doubt it's an invitation to a civil chat.
Gorman moved the man whose rear was in question, president of the San Francisco Church of Scientology Jeff Quiros, to his shitlist about seven years ago. The feeling is mutual. "I don't hold the best wishes for Tommy Gorman," Quiros says. "He's a lying criminal, and I would hope he ends up going to jail one day for the things he's done." Quiros would not be taking Gorman up on his offer for a tête-à-tête that July afternoon, earning him Gorman's favorite epithet of "coward."
Gorman's antagonism used to be directed at people exactly like himself. He was raised in Scientology — his family called Quiros "Uncle Jeff" — and never questioned that enemies of the religion deserved harassment. While defending Scientology, he heckled psychiatrists entering conventions before he could do multiplication, and held "Religious Bigot" signs outside critics' houses before he could legally drink.
But Gorman's loyalty to Scientology turned to rage against it in 2001, after his then-teenage friend Jennifer Stewart, now his wife, alleged she was forcibly raped by an adult staff member of the Mountain View branch of the church. Both say that Scientology officials, including Quiros, urged them not to go to the police. Scientology staffers vigorously deny both allegations. In a later civil suit, the church weighed the bad press that might come from the "incendiary" allegations coming out at trial and paid Stewart a handsome 2005 out-of-court settlement that barely made the news.
It could have been expected that Tommy Gorman wouldn't go quietly, especially since he's convinced that the organization known for ardently going after its critics intimidated his family with threats, stalking, and even allegedly tampering with his car. He now stakes out the city's Scientology headquarters in the old Transamerica building at the foot of Columbus Avenue, where the late Scientology founder and science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard's words are gospel. Gorman turns the bulldog picketing tactics back on the organization he now calls a cult. He even shaves "S.P." on the back of his head, mocking the "suppressive person" label reserved for Scientology's most evil critics. Although Gorman never received the official declaration as such, Quiros says he considers Gorman one. Gorman says it's an honor.
Yet before January, no one dreamed that Gorman would be backed up by the most unlikely of allies: an army of Internet geeks pissed about a censored Tom Cruise video. The troops call themselves Anonymous, Quiros calls them the "electric Klan," and they have stepped out of cyberspace in masks to bring down Scientology, too. With an estimated 10,000 members worldwide, the Anons form the largest movement to ever oppose Scientology since mobilizing on Web message boards earlier this year. Their numbers have galvanized ex-Scientologists formerly too scared to protest their former church and others, like Gorman, who had picketed but who could never find a critical mass of support.
Until now. "I'm not going to go away," Gorman says. "I've already told [Scientology] if they want to get rid of me they're going to have to kill me, and they've already tried that."
On YouTube, a sample of a video filmed and produced by Gorman shows a heavy-set man puffing on a cigarette as he walks down the sidewalk lined with Anonymous protesters toward the church's door. Gorman recognizes the man as the brother of Kevin Creech, who defected from the S.F. organization four years ago. Creech was declared an SP and then "disconnected" by his two Scientologist brothers. (Policy requires that members must cut off contact with SPs, family or not.)
It's just more ammunition for Gorman: "Heeey! How's it feel knowing that your brother, Dan Creech, he won't talk to your other brother, Kevin?" he taunts. "How's Kevin doing since you don't talk to Kevin? ... Don't be a coward!"
The man silently holds the door for another Scientologist approaching with a walker, exposing himself to yet more time with his heckler. ("You can see in his face, he's like, 'Can you just hurry up?'" says Kevin Creech, who later watched the video online.)
Gorman is undeterred: "Are you being a coward again? Why won't you talk about disconnection? ... They lied to [Kevin], Scientology did! What else is Scientology lying about?"
Gorman's wife, Jennifer, chimes in: "It's so sad you got disconnected from your family."
Mike Creech pops a stick of gum in his mouth with studied nonchalance and walks through the doorway as Gorman calls after him: "C'mon, let's talk about this! Kevin's been in good communication with me!"
Gorman's aggression comes off as obnoxious to most, and even Anonymous has questioned whether Gorman, known in Anon culture as an "old guard" critic, is an asset or liability to the cause. In June, one Anon started a thread on the anti-Scientology site www.enturbulation.org saying he was "disgusted" by Gorman's methods: "People who need to dump their aggression should go to the gym and do some bagwork, not take it out on individual Scinos [Scientologists]. ... I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH THAT THIS BEHAVIOUR WORKS AGAINST US, AND FOR THE CHURCH."
Others were Gorman apologists: "Tommy has been heavily fucked by the cult, and I think he has a lot of justifiable anger," one wrote. In other forums, others profess respect: Tommy "would eat two handfuls of glass shards if he thought it made some kind of point about how much scilons [Scientologists] suck."
There's no denying Gorman and Anonymous use very different means for a common end. The "raids," as Anons refer to their picketing, are much like parties laced with the idiosyncratic humor of an Internet culture fueled by "lulz" (a take-off of "lol," Internet shorthand for "laugh out loud"). While dance music blares from speakers, protesters decked out in everything from a Pac-Man head to a furry panda sweatsuit dance with signs, eat cake, and call each other some variation of "faggot." With lines like "You're too cool to be in a cult!" the Anons' goal is to get Scientologists to question their own beliefs, or at least to research their church and learn about its grinding down of critics in the legal system or scandals such as Operation Snow White, in which church agents infiltrated and stole documents from U.S. government agencies that were investigating it.