The Secret Gay History Of Anonymous
This week, the anti-authoritarian online activist group known as Anonymous made headlines for taking down the governmental websites of anti-gay African countries such as Botswana, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda.
But before Anonymous achieved worldwide infamy as big-time "hacktivists," the online collective originated as a bunch of anonymous commenters posting on the "/b/" forum of the image-posting website 4chan.
The /b/ forum was infamous for two things: trolling (deliberately provoking others with racist, misogynist and homophobic comments) and posting images of silly web memes like the "Can I Haz Cheezburger" LOLCATS or horrifying photographs like Goatse, a picture of a man stretching his anus wide with both hands.
The group eventually gained worldwide recognition through several major (and crude) online pranks—like getting a swastika to appear at the top of Google's Hot Trends List, starting a widely believed 2008 rumor that then Apple CEO Steve Jobs had died (Jobs died in 2011) and breaking into the e-mail of dithering ex-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
But a battle with the Church of Scientology in 2008 caused a sect of /b/ group users to pull away from Anonymous' original milieu of online pranksters and begin using their collective online power for social causes like fighting for free speech or helping Middle Eastern civilians overcome government internet censorship during the Arab Spring revolutions.
Few histories of Anonymous ever emphasize the overtly gay aspects of the group's history—such as the fact that they took on a worldwide anti-gay organization early into their career, supported a nationally famous gay journalist targeted for support of Wikileaks and spawned perhaps the most infamous American prisoner today.
So today we emphasize that history to illustrate just how pervasively gays have figured into the most infamous global hacking group of all time.
1) Downing The Hater - At the end of of 2006, Anonymous targeted the website of racist, anti-gay, right-wing radio webcaster Hal Turner (pictured).
Apart from denying the existence of the Holocaust and asking listeners to assassinate a federal judge, Turner regularly spouted anti-gay hatred, going so far as to tell parents to assault Lexington, Massachusetts school superintendent Paul Ash for incorporating LGBT-inclusive curriculum into public schools (or as Turner called it, "indoctrinati[ng children] into deadly, disease-ridden sodomite lifestyles."
When Turner digitally published the telephone numbers of teens who had crank called his show, Anonymous responded by taking Turner's website offline multiple times and racking up thousands of dollars in bandwidth usage during its down time.
Turner then posted a picture of a beaten up person that he found on the internet and claimed that skinheads had beaten a member of Anonymous for their web attacks. In return, Anonymous broke into his e-mail and published correspondence that revealed that Turner was a paid FBI informant on right wing groups.
In January 2007, Turner unsuccessfully tried to sue 4chan for the hacking incidents. He is currently serving a 33-month sentence in a federal penitentiary for making threats violent threats against federal judges and FBI agents.
2) The Strike on Scientology: In January 2008, the anti-gay, sci-fi inspired Church of Scientology threatened to sue YouTube if it did not remove a video of actor Tom Cruise extolling the virtues of Scientology. Among other things, the actor said that Scientology gives people the ability to help car crash victims and to rehabilitate criminals.
The Church claimed that the video had been pirated from a three-hour film intended only for in-church use. They issued a similar takedown demand to Gawker.com (owned by openly gay online media mogul Nick Denton) but Gawker refused, calling the video "newsworthy."
Outraged by Scientology's long history of threatening internet users who posted church documents, anonymous 4channers began "Project Chanology," a coordinated effort to bombard the church's website with denial-of-service attacks and clog their centers with crank calls and black faxes.
The attack began with the posting of a YouTube video entitled "Message to Scientology" which said:
"Anonymous has decided therefore that your organization should be destroyed—for the good of your followers, for the good of mankind and for our own enjoyment…
We recognize you as serious opponents, and do not expect our campaign to be completed in a short time frame… However, you will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic Your methods, hypocrisy, and the general artlessness of your organization have sounded its death knell.
You have nowhere to hide because we are everywhere… for each of us that falls, ten more will take our place… Knowledge is free. We are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us."
By February, Project Chanology turned from it campaign of crank calls and hacking to offline protests, resulting in thousands of protesters in over 100 cities worldwide rallying against the church, its U.S. tax exempt status and its attacks on free speech.
3) Moral Fags - Many of Anonymous' loosely affiliated members disapproved of the media attention that Project Chanology brought onto the previously underground web group. They also disapproved of the group taking on social causes as opposed to wreaking havoc "purely for the LULZ" (that is, just for laughs).
As a result some Anonymous members began labeling the do-gooders as "moralfags" or, in other words, as overly serious, butt-hurt, bleeding hearts standing in opposition to the group's original sense of devil may care fun and anarchy.
To get a sense of the ire that "moral fags" inspire to this day, one has only to look at the satirical wiki, Encyclopedia Dramatica, which defines moralfags thus:
"Moralfags believe that the internet is serious business. They also believe that they are making shit difference in the world by prancing in front of Scientology with Guy Fawkes masks and Longcat signs without doing it for the lulz.
Moralfags can sometimes be found in pedophile and serial killer imageboards telling everyone that they are sick fucks (which they are) not because salting the earth is fun, but because they legitimately care if children get raeped and if hookers die from something other than AIDS."
4) Standing up for Glen Greenwald - In early February 2011, Aaron Barr, the chief executive of technology security HBGary Federal, publicly announced that he had inside information about the identity of key Anonymous members and that he would disclose that information at an upcoming San Francisco technology conference.
Anonymous quickly retaliated by hacking HBGary's website, erasing tens of thousands of company files and e-mails and making public several confidential files, including one entitled "The Wikileaks Threat" in which HBGary Federal specifically targeted gay journalist Glenn Greenwald (pictured).
Greenwald had recently gained notoriety for writing in support of the whistleblowing site Wikileaks and their leaking of classified military documents aided by U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning. Greenwald's articles detailed Manning's "cruel and inhumane treatment" under military incarceration. His articles lead to a formal investigation by the U.N. high official on torture and denunciations from the human rights group Amnesty International.
As for HBGary Federal, Anonymous published the company's confidential files, some of which revealed a plot by the US Justice Department and the national Chamber of Commerce to spy on and sabotage unions and activist groups. Another document showed that HBGary Federal had Bank of America had conspired a multi-pronged effort to discredit Wikileaks before the site had a chance to release damaging internal documents from the bank.
The attack happened on February 5th 2011. By February 28th Aaron Barr resigned from HBGary Federal to "focus on taking care of my family and rebuilding my reputation."
5) The LULZ Boat Sails PBS - In May 2010, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning was arrested under suspicion of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified State Department documents to the international whistleblower site Wikileaks. He did this by burning the files onto a CD with "Lady Gaga" written on it.
Among the files Manning leaked were a now famous video showing a U.S. helicopter strike against Iraqi civilians, another listing Wikileaks specifically as a U.S. security threat and 260,000 U.S. diplomatic cables which embarrassed ambassadors and foreign diplomats worldwide.
During his web chats with a fellow male hacker named Adrian Lamo, Manning made several passes at Lamo and more recently, Manning's legal defense team claims that Manning had a Facebook page under the name Breanna Manning, used to dress in women's clothes and once told a military supervisor that he struggled with gender identity disorder—all hints to Manning's possible transgender identity.
After his arrest, Manning languished in military solitary confinement 23 hours a day, denied the use of a toilet and shower and forced to sleep naked on his cell floor with repeated surprise interruptions every night.
Meanwhile, the Public Broadcasting Service’s news program Frontline published Manning's entire Facebook wall and aired a program about his Wikileaks involvement and subsequent incarceration.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said that Frontline's Bradley Manning episode was “hostile and misrepresents WikiLeaks’ views and tries to build an ‘espionage’ case against its founder, Julian Assange, and also the young soldier, Bradley Manning.”
Assange's comments inspired LulzSec—a group of computer hackers group that splintered from Anonymous after pulling off the HBGary Federal hack—hacked the PBS.org website, published thousands of passwords, a fake news story about deceased rapper Tupac living in New Zealand, and a full screen graphic of their trademark stick-figure aristocrat (with his topcoat, wine glass, and monocle in place) and a rainbow-colored, Pop-Tart shaped cat known web-wide as Nyan Cat.