From aiding cultural revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt to declaring “political war” on the US shadow government, Anonymous has made quite a reputation for itself since its multinational inception. Through the fiber-optic cables and glass monitors that help create the internet, the amorphous and ever-shifting entity with the face of Guy Fawkes should be considered nothing less than a full-scale sociopolitical movement. Anonymous, as well as many other factions of modern American society, have begun to subvert the decrepit framework of a political system that has already been abandoned by its own politicians. Instead of following the misguided path of the modern American political facade and investing millions of dollars to manipulate the public by way of the media, Anonymous has masked itself with an idea backed solely by its skill and capability, and as once said, “Ideas are bulletproof.”
Despite what many people would like one to believe, Anonymous is not a collective of rogue teenagers who are bent on anarchistic destruction of social structure; any political party like a Republican or Democrat (terms largely useless and obsolete) will have sub-groups within that may or may not completely agree with the original, and Anonymous is no different. The official platform has both ethical code and political agenda. Unlike the wildly entertaining and internationally destructive LulzSec (2011), Anonymous acknowledges the contradiction in attacking media sources while simultaneously being a movement based on freedom of speech, however mainstream and colluded the media sources may be. Also unlike LulzSec and other hacker groups, Anon as an organization is morally and ethically against the theft or the unauthorized usage of materials belonging to private citizens.
This is an idea that Anon’s ambiguous prankster past has helped to slightly muddy, and Jeremy Hammond’s involvement with LulzXmas and OperationAntiSec (hackers donated $700,000 from credit cards stolen from Statfor’s databases—most of which went to charities) did not help to clear the water. Anon has now officially gone on record standing up to many different institutions that actively try to suppress aspects of free speech such as, but not limited to, the “Church” of Scientology, ISIS, the NSA, Westboro Baptist “Church”, the Federal Reserve Board, and even a laundry list of illegal pornographic websites in an effective 2011 campaign titled “Operation Darknet”.
But how exactly did this anomalous cyberpunk rebel group become a legitimate political movement? How did something as large and nationally diversified as Anon come together to begin with? It all started with Chris “Moot” Poole’s launch of 4chan in 2003 and the concept of posting anonymously in the traditional sense of the word. In a certain sense, the group began as a humorous “what if” idea, that “Anonymous” was actually one person’s username, and that this one individual was sitting at a monitor all day continuously posting to 4chan, more specifically to /b/ Board (notorious for its trolling and depraved humor). Beginning merely by plotting in 4chan chatrooms, and trolling online gaming communities like “Habbo Hotel” the group’s first “campaign” was against the Neo Nazi independent radio host, Hal Turner, at the end of 2006. From spamming his phone line, to sending endless pizzas and Craigslist escorts and heaps of construction scrap to his doorstep, an ironic turn of events helped Anonymous uncover that he was a FBI informant in addition to everything else, which subsequently ended Turner’s career. And as the story goes, it was all because Turner had singled out a regular of the /b/ Board and unknowingly incited a trolling spree.
The next step from chatroom boards to political revolution was brought about at the beginning of 2007, thanks to Tom Cruise and Scientology. After a “classified” Scientologist recruitment video was released online of Cruise saying that Scientologists were the only hope for the world. The “Church” enlisted its team of lawyers and filed a lawsuit to get the video off the internet due to a violation of their “religious rights.” Certain /b/ Board schemers then went to work, feeling that the “Church” was encroaching too far into their territory. Inciting a trolling spree, the likes of which had never before been done. Anonymous spammed the 800 Dianetics Hotline, completely blocking all lines for hours with questions like “What is an L-Ron?” and “How do I dianetics my face?” Then using a DDoS program (Distributed Denial of Services) called a “Low Orbit Ion Cannon”, one Anon helped “visit” the Church of Scientology’s website over 800,000 times in a weekend with his computer alone, taking down the website himself multiple times. For the act, he eventually received a year in prison and one year probation without a computer.
Perhaps the greatest aspect to be produced by the movement was the introduction of the classically maniacal Anonymous videos of declaration and the beginning of Guy Fawkes as their avatar. With thousands of masked Anons all around the world protesting outside their local “churches” of Scientology from LA to the Philippines, their influence was beginning to be felt. This was the undoubted turning point for the collective, as this was the inevitable split that was to come from such a polarized beginning of mischief. There were the ones who were bored with the brooding hacktivism, and then there were the brooding hacktivists who found /b/ Board’s humor reprehensible at best.
After a couple more pokes like the ones directed at Mr. Turner, some of which (like the hack into Sarah Palin’s Yahoo email) were baby steps that ended with a cushioned tumble to the ground, these brooding hackers found themselves welcomed alongside deep-net allies for the site’s blatant and aggressive approach towards protecting free speech. In December 2010, Assange and WikiLeaks fell under intense scrutiny and pressure to discontinue their efforts, and in an effort to jam the cogs of the WikiLeaks machine, Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, and the Swiss bank PostFinance ceased processing any sort of electronic funds to the whistleblower website—a privilege that Westboro Baptist, Scientology, Neo-Nazi, and Klu Klux Klan affiliates have not yet lost online. In response, Anonymous stepped onto the scene, “DDoS-ing” the following banking websites, and on December 8th, even completely downing MasterCard and Visa’s websites.
On the heels of this campaign, Anon found themselves the furthest from 4chan that they had ever been: Tunisia. In January of 2011 the Tunisian government censored documents released by WikiLeaks on their corrupt actions—something that the citizens did not settle for. When the Tunisian government shut down all access to its internet from outside the country, Anonymous set up and communicated private proxy servers to Tunisians for information exchange, DDoS’d and hacked government websites continuously (among many other things), successfully helping the Tunisians subvert the tantrum-throwing child that their government had become; also largely repeating this process in the Egyptian Revolution and the Libyan Civil War. Then, in February of the same year, Financial Times released an interview with then-CEO of HBGary, Aaron Barr, where Barr stated that he had successfully penetrated private Anon servers, had been doing so for weeks, and had been successfully gathering intel on their leaders and operations. To quote Stephen Colbert on the matter, “… in hacker terms, Anonymous is a hornet’s nest and Barr said, ‘I’m going to stick my penis in that thing’.”
Anonymous penetrated Barr’s own servers only to find that he had grossly overstated himself and had gathered not much more than usernames and screenshots. So, true to a hornet’s nest, Anon subsequently took down HBGary’s website, stole all of Barr’s emails, trashed his Twitter account with homosexual comments, deleted most of his company backup data servers, and remotely wiped Barr’s personal iPad of all its contents. On top of forcing Barr to actually resign from HBGary, the collective also managed to get their hands on a company information presentation titled, “The WikiLeaks Threat”, where they proposed falsifying documents and sending them into Assange with the intent of discrediting him, sniffing out and attacking their servers, aggressively discouraging affiliated journalists like Glenn Greenwald, and generally causing dissent within the WikiLeaks community. It can only be assumed that this was the beginning of the smear campaign that has become what gullible people call Assange’s “sex scandal”. Rather, it should be called a blatant media black-balling. Aaron Barr has gone on record confirming the validity of the document, but fumbled with his words when trying to clarify that the document described a think-tank, and that none of the actions had been taken by his company—which is quite a moot point.
The last large-scale hack before LulzSec stepped onstage was something that gamers still curse to this day: the 2011 summer shutdown of the Sony PlayStation Servers. The rest of 2011 was largely dominated by the anarchy that LulzSec created, its culmination being OperationAntiSec and LulzXmas. The infamous hacker, Sabu, rallied the culture together for the Occupy Movement and orchestrated the Stratfor hack, only to later be outed as a FBI informant; meaning that both Occupy and the Stratfor hack were created by the FBI to further assess and cause dissent in the hacktivism culture. February of 2012 brought about a DDoS of the CIA’s official website, shutting it down for 5 hours, and a hacked-and-released conversation between the CIA and Scotland Yard about arrested members of LulzSec and Anonymous. In March, Anon hacked into the Vatican’s servers twice, once failing and once succeeding. In response to Westboro Baptist Church’s announcement that they would be protesting the Sandy Hook Memorial, (the school shooting’s legitimacy nowadays under enormous controversy) Anonymous publicly released personal information on “church” members that included: names, addresses, and email addresses. Anon also DDoS’d their website, hacked their social media pages, and started a whitehouse.gov petition to officially classify the church as a “Hate Group”.
In 2013 Anon hacked and defaced the United States Sentencing Commission site after the announced suicide of internet protégé and Reddit co-creator, Aaron Swartz; the claim of suicide being something else of enormous controversy, due to Swartz’ fluctuating list of federal indictments that sometimes climbed over thirteen charges high. The year also brought about a successful hack into the US Federal Reserve’s databases, the NSA’s databases and the announcement of Anon’s ongoing campaign: Operation NSA. The Ferguson Riots of 2014 lead Anonymous to initiate Operation Ferguson, kickstarted with a video admonishing the Ferguson police and actively threatening cyber warfare if the problem was not appropriately resolved. In a following press conference, Jon Belmar, St. Louis Police Chief refused to release the name of Mike Brown’s shooter, and also called Anon’s threats “hollow”, so in response a twitter account titled “TheAnonMessage” publically released Belmar’s home address, phone number, list of family members and all of their connected personal social media accounts.
2014 also produced a hacking campaign against “coporateocracy” in Hong Kong and a campaign against the Philippine government’s poor handle of Super Typhoon Yolanda’s damage control. The events of 2014 also helped create a most interesting ongoing rivalry between Anonymous and The Islamic State with Operation: Ice ISIS. Spurred by the shooting of Frenchman Charlie Hebdo on February 9th, Anonymous announced, “ISIS: we will hunt you, take down your sites, accounts, emails and expose you. From now on, no safe for you online, You will be treated like a virus and we are the cure… We own the internet… We are Anonymous; we are legion; we do not forgive; we do not forget. Expect us.” And true to their word, within the first 24 hours, 800 IS-related twitter accounts and been hacked into and deleted, along with over 1,000 clear-net websites.
The collective has gone on record this year speaking out against US shadow government coined “The Illuminati” which can be considered an amalgamation of elitist secret societies such as the Freemasons, the Skull and Bones, and many others. Many believe these groups have members of long-standing family blood lines that are continuously circulated through membership, and through collision, placed into high level positions in media, political and corporate society. Anonymous also released a video this year urging individuals to understand the Federal Reserve Banking scourge and the dangers of fiat currency, as well as the insidious realities behind the scenes of American pop culture and it’s attempt to corral developing youth into a consumer driven thought process and manipulate individual states of perception. For the first time, a collective organization with demonstrated political pull has acknowledged conventional shadow government as not only a plausibility, but something that is actually taking place and that needs to be dealt with. What comes next is anybody’s bet, but if Anonymous is true to its taste for theatrics, America just might see something unfold on November 5th—a connection to the comic book V for Vendetta, where the modern Guy Fawkes mask is derived from (“Remember, Remember the fifth of November!”). This, however, is nothing more than a tantalizing journalistic hypothesis.
Mere months before his death in 1999 due to a bout with brain cancer, Terence McKenna said to Eric Davis of Wired Magazine,
“If you believe knowledge is power, which I say, then the internet is the dispensation—the angels have landed, the aliens have unfurled their banner on this planet. Now let’s see if information can liberate. That’s why I don’t want to do something like die and miss theunfoldment of this proposition that knowledge is power. Information will liberate. And it will be settled in the next ten or fifteen years. Either they’ll get a handle on it—whoever ‘they’ are; whatever ‘a handle’ means—or it will slip from their control and it will be clear that some kind of dialogue is now going on between individual human beings and the sum total of human knowledge and that nothing can stop it—that some kind of renaissance, some kind of totally new relationship to knowledge and possibility is put in place.”
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) should have been the final proverbial nail in the coffin of internet freedom; in fact, it’s hard to come across a modern law other than the Patriot Act that has had more bullshit slipped in between the lines than what was actually sitting on the lines of content. US Representative of Texas, Lamar Smith was the first one to propose the act, as if an old white Republican from Texas would actually know how to draft a competent and fair internet regulation act. However, thanks to the untiring efforts of Aaron Swartz’s and his affiliates’ campaigning, the Act was effectively eradicated and led Congress to entirely scrap the idea due to public outcry—something that most likely would have never happened if not for Swartz, and something that forever put him at the top of a few Hot Lists.
If passed, the Act would have forced any website that US courts deemed promoting or producing pirated material to be blocked from search engines and even entire web servers, these sites also being denied the services of any advertising network or payment facilities online. The proposed law would have also beefed up the current copyright infringement streaming laws, and the maximum penalty for anything within the umbrella of the Act would’ve been 5 years. The fact that it didn’t pass is something that was so statistically slim that it almost felt as if it were meant to happen all along. If the internet is truly the dispensation and the angels and aliens have synonymously landed, then what does that make a hacker? What about computer programming? And what does it mean that US politicians are so adamant about controlling its information flow? Furthermore, what does that make Anonymous?
This work by The Last American Vagabond is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, and may be reposted as is, with attribution to the author and TheLastAmericanVagabond.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Ryan@thelastamericanvagabond.com.