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One day, D.J. LaChapelle and some pals hit upon a felicitous phrase and turned it into a Web address. Barely a week later, roughly 2 million cyber visitors had paid a call to what LaChapelle calls “this Web site that we spent two hours on that has completely exploded.”

No, the site isn’t devoted to Pamela Anderson’s breasts or Lord of the Rings fan fiction. It’s called TomCruiseIsNuts.com.

“We do these things for a joke for ourselves,” says LaChapelle, a 39-year-old Alexandrian who works as an Internet consultant for nonprofit organizations. “People are always asking us, ‘What do you have against Tom Cruise?’ and I don’t have anything against Tom Cruise at all. I just thought his comments were really ridiculous.”

For anyone who’s been living off the celebrity-blather grid recently, those comments were denunciations of psychiatry, psychiatric drugs, and the people who use them. Cruise, a Scientologist, has been fervently expressing that sect’s longstanding opposition to therapies that—skeptics might argue—are not unlike its own.

“I gotta confess, I hadn’t read that much about it,” says LaChapelle of Scientology. “But reading the whole thing about Xenu”—he chortles at the idea of the sci-fi villain who, according to Scientologist teachings, populated Earth with spirits known as “body thetans”—“it’s pretty funny. But we have absolutely no beef. They can do whatever the hell they want.”

Unlike some anti-Cruise activists, LaChapelle isn’t even concerned about the fate of Cruise-bride-in-training Katie Holmes, who is currently being escorted by a Scientologist chaperone. “Katie Holmes just isn’t very funny,” he says. “The Cruiser? He’s funny.”

TomCruiseIsNuts.com was jump-started by New York Daily News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove (formerly the Washington Post’s “Reliable Source”), who wrote a July 5 item suggesting that Cruise’s lawyer might come after LaChapelle and accomplice Kieran Mulvaney for selling T-shirts and mugs through the site.

“We didn’t sell Shirt 1,” says LaChapelle. “We yanked them before anything got sold.” Yet subsequently, he adds, other attorneys informed them “that this is a First Amendment thing, and that [Cruise is] a news figure, that we can certainly sell stuff with his quotes on there, and there’s nothing he can do about it.”

“The way the site is set up now, 95 percent of the content is just his quotes,” notes Mulvaney, 37, a British-born Alaska resident who met LaChapelle when they both worked for Greenpeace in D.C. “It’s Tom Cruise in Tom Cruise’s words. With just a bit of commentary. And then people exercising their First Amendment rights by sending us really bizarre e-mails.”

Since the Grove mention, TomCruiseIsNuts.com has drawn the attention of trend-jumpers from around the world, including some Australian radio stations and, er, the Washington City Paper. “The irony is not lost on me,” LaChapelle says. “The U.N. is one of my clients. We work our asses off to try to get noticed in the press, and nothing. Then we spend two hours doing this stupid Web site and we’re on MSNBC.”

LaChapelle and his fellow Web-site creators—five guys he calls “sort of a loose collective of dopes that do this stuff”—have cracked the zeitgeist before, notably with WeLoveTheIraqiInformationMinister.com. Yet sites devoted to Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rapture (not the punk-funk band) have attracted less attention.

“It’s a little bit of a mystery which ones will stick and which won’t,” Mulvaney says. “We’ve done a couple of others that we thought were funny as hell, and nobody paid any attention to them. It’s a case of tapping in at exactly the right time.”

In this instance, though, Mulvaney gives much of the credit to Cruise himself. “What helped,” he says, “is that once we started to do this, Tom just kept on talking.” —Mark Jenkins

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Pilar Vergara.