Hacktivist collective Anonymous’ Klu Klux Klan doxing, planned for November 5, has suffered what could be seen as a setback. An online activist using the name Amped Attacks released a list on pastebin purporting to consist of a collection of political figures associated with the Klu Klux Klan. Anonymous initially celebrated the leak on Twitter, but later backpedaled as the politicians concerned began to push back with credible reasons as to why they could not possibly be involved with the KKK. Anonymous’ Twitter account hurriedly published tweets pointing out that no posts prior to the #operationkkk launch of November 5 could be verified or endorsed by the group.
It seems that the amorphous, decentralized structure of Anonymous has once again resulted in a problematic debut to a large operation. Unlike the KKK, Anonymous has no apparent hierarchy or central leadership, which means that the scattered cells and individuals of the collective will act more or less independently, which can lead to confusing or mixed messages as well as fundamental errors. It is, for example, possible to find hackers claiming Anonymous affiliation running attacks on both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Amped Attacks, while initially posting under the Anonymous banner and identified as such, has since clarified their independent status. It can be inferred from Amped Attacks’ statements, reported by Computer Watch, that this user has used the Anonymous KKK operation to pick and publish some “low hanging fruit.”
“I got the information from several KKK websites when I [hacked] them and was able to dump their database. I went through many emails that was signed up with these sites.”
Which all sounds reasonable enough, but there are a couple of problems with this approach. Subscribing to an email list is not necessarily evidence of affiliation with a group. It is standard practice, for example, for investigators, journalists and some government employees to sign up to all manner of websites as part of the monitoring certain groups. There is also the well-known practice of more or less subversive or underground websites initially hiding themselves as something else in order to garner subscriptions. A case in point is ultra-right wing group, Britain First, which reportedly presents itself in email and Facebook campaigns as a veterans’ support group.
Some Twitter users have expressed their hesitation about this early “Anonymous” Klu Klux Klan unmasking.
— David José Castillo (@DavJCastillo) November 2, 2015
— Brianna Stubler (@BriStubler) November 2, 2015
The net effect of this early revelation, despite the streams of casual support for the initial effort, is likely to be a further erosion of Anonymous’ Klu Klux Klan operation. The errors of “citizen enforcers” like those reported in the New Yorker as outing the wrong police officer in connection with the Michael Brown shooting, will always be squarely attributed to the Anonymous collective as if the group were, in fact, a single unit. Just like the Occupy movement, Anonymous appears to be a victim of its own decentralization and the leaderless model favored by many groups on the left and far left of politics.
It has been variously reported that Anonymous’ official position is that no leaks prior to the 5th of November operation are endorsed by the group, but how can anybody be sure of this? Various Anonymous accounts came out almost immediately in support of Amped Attacks and his pastebin list, and various others disavowed it. Suffice it to say that while the unmasking of KKK members is probably a highly popular and possibly moral thing to do, the incorrect accusation of public officials as KKK is undoubtedly dangerous and potentially disastrous. The amorphous structure and modus operandi of Anonymous is once again showing some of the limitations and significant dangers of vigilantism online.
[Photo by Getty Images/Spencer Platt]