Anonymous, the decentralized “hacktivist” movement, announced their intentions to reveal the identities and contact information of hundreds of alleged Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members. The KKK is a white supremacist group established in 1865, who are particularly known for committing acts of violence and hate speech against African Americans, but who have also been known to target various other ethnic and religious minority groups as well.
Even though Anonymous is a decentralized group with no strictly outlined ideology or roster of membership, their unique brand of “hacktivism” (the use of hacking to make a political or social statement or support such activity) is generally seen as being ideologically aligned with more progressive or liberal social movements. In fact, this particular “operation” against the KKK, denoted online by the hashtags #OpKKK and #HoodsOff, is part of a larger hacktivist campaign against the KKK in general.
During the 2014 Ferguson protests over the police shooting of 18 year old—African American Michael Brown, the KKK released fliers threatening to use lethal force against protesters in “self-defense”. Anonymous had been supporting the protests since their outset, even going so far as to hack Ferguson Police Department servers in order to pressure them to release the identity of the officer who shot Michael Brown. According to BBC, in response to the KKK, Anonymous hacked numerous online accounts and websites managed by or with alleged ties to the KKK: “Using the hashtags #OpKKK and #HoodsOff, Anonymous ‘unhooded’ alleged Klan members online, and provided links to social media accounts which contained their photos, addresses, phone numbers, ages, workplaces, and photos of their children”.
Yet, this recent anti-KKK operation has not gone quite so smoothly. On Nov. 2, purported members of Anonymous released in an online pastebin the names and contact information of numerous individuals they claimed to be members of the Klan. This list was immediately picked up by numerous media outlets but, as was noted by CBC, “there are doubts, however, about the #OperationKKK data dump’s veracity — and about one file, in particular, that alleges four U.S. senators and five mayors have hate group associations”. Of the individuals listed, it included current mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, Jim Gray. Gray is considered to be a progressive Democrat as well as being an openly gay politician since 2005 – two qualities which are not looked upon favourably by the KKK; as beyond its reputation as a racist organization, the KKK has been noted for its homophobic and anti-Semitic leanings as well. Gray has said, via Twitter, “I am opposed to everything the KKK stands for. I have no idea where this information came from, but wherever it came from, it is wrong”.
According to Vox News, “the people who posted them [alleged members of the KKK] seem to believe that anyone whose contact information is in a KKK database must be a KKK member”. Essentially anyone who had their contact information on one of these various KKK sites, whether they are members or were added to contact lists without their knowledge or against their will (e.g. politicians whom the KKK want to contact), were outed as alleged Klan members.
Later the same day, other alleged members of Anonymous, via the @Operation_KKK twitter account, disavowed the list, claiming that it was not really Anonymous who released it. Even so, Anonymous re-affirmed their intentions to release the identities of KKK affiliates on November 5.
This isn’t the first time Anonymous has faced such problems. In response to the Ferguson Police Department’s initial refusal to release the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown, Anonymous claimed to have discovered the culprit, naming Officer Bryan Willman as the shooter – a police dispatcher who had never even been to Ferguson. Later, it was revealed that it had been Officer Darren Wilson who had shot Brown. According to the New Yorker, Anonymous’s discovery was based solely on the fact that Willman was an officer who lived in the general vicinity of Ferguson, had recently changed his name on social media – which they took as a sign of guilt – and had a purportedly similar blonde hair cut to the officer who was seen shooting Brown. Such mishaps are seen by many as something that will naturally coincide with an organization structured like Anonymous.
Anonymous is a decentralized social movement with no established hierarchy and no vetting process for joining the group – supposedly anyone who wishes to join the group, can. Yet, most members do not know one another beyond anonymous online aliases that are changed regularly. There is no clear way to verify who has joined the group or way for members of Anonymous to hold one another accountable for their actions or to ensure that members act responsibly. Thus, the group is subject to potential infiltration by those who do not share views similar to other members. Anonymous is also subject to reckless “hacktivists” who may hurt the reputation of everyday people through the use faulty information or flimsy evidence, such as in the cases of the Nov. 2 KKK list or outing of Officer Bryan Willman.
Over Nov. 5 and 6, Anonymous members began posting the supposedly “official” KKK members and sympathizers list online. This list was promptly criticized just as much as the original “unofficial” list. According to BBC, the list was rife with errors and relied on flimsy evidence in determining people’s affiliation with the Klan, noting that, “Thursday’s list appears to detail social media profiles of people who had joined or ‘liked’ KKK-related groups on Facebook and Google+. Many of the profiles featured racist imagery and slogans.” Also, many of those listed were already known to be prominent and outspoken members of the Klan. The director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Centre on Extremism, Mark Pitcavage, told Vice News that the list was “not exactly exciting …This is low-hanging fruit, basically public source information.. For most of these people it’s not a secret that they’ve been in the Klan.” Pitcavage noted a particular case, in which anti-government cartoonist Ben Garrison was improperly included on the list, as one of his drawings, “The March of Tyranny” had been altered to include anti-Semitic elements (and was subsequently “circled widely on the internet”) to show just how blasé Anonymous’s approach to handling “evidence” has been.
Even with such occupational hazards that routinely coincide with being a decentralized collective of anonymous hacktivists, the far-reaching cultural and social influence of Anonymous is easily seen. The release of the official KKK list fell on a very special date for Anonymous, Nov. 5. On this date in 1605, the Catholic revolutionary, Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the British House of Lords. The date of his failed attempt has been dubbed “Guy Fawkes Day” as of late, and has been popularized by the film, V for Vendetta – the Guy Fawkes mask worn by the protagonist in the film has become the de-facto symbol of Anonymous. As members of Anonymous were releasing the information of alleged KKK members and affiliates online, thousands across the globe were simultaneously participating in the Million Mask March organized by the group in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day. According to BBC, this march, sticking with the general theme of the unofficial holiday, was a protest against government corruption as was noted by the U.K. Million March Facebook page:
“We have seen the abuses and malpractice of this government, and governments before it, we have seen the encroaching destruction of many civil liberties we hold dear, we have seen the pushes to make the internet yet another part of the surveillance state, we have seen the government’s disregard for migrants, for the poor, the elderly and the Disabled, we have seen the capital, profit and greed of the few put before the well-being of the many and we say enough is enough”.
No matter one’s opinions on Anonymous or their various social/political activities or methodology, their incredible cultural influence must be recognized. The fact that a decentralized amalgamation of everyday people could organize a protest with thousands of participants across the globe, including people in the U.S, U.K., Canada, the Netherlands, Guatemala and several other countries, is astounding.
Assistant External News Editor