Members of the anonymous image board 4chan pulled off an impressive heist against actor and anti-Trump activist Shia LaBeouf yesterday: they stole LaBeouf’s “He Will Not Divide Us” flag and replaced it with a MAGA hat.
Shia LaBeouf’s anti-Trump art project had been fraught with difficulty since the beginning. The public project attracted as many supporters of Donald Trump as it did protesters, and heated confrontations around the exhibit led to Shia LaBeouf’s arrest. The New York museum it was held at abandoned the project.
Eventually, LaBeouf moved the “He Will Not Divide Us” flag to an undisclosed location. He planned to livestream the flag continuously for the next four years of Trump’s presidency, but less than 36 hours after the move, 4chan “trolls” had discovered the location of the flag and replaced it with a MAGA hat.
— Alex Jones (@RealAlexJones) March 10, 2017
The operation involved an impressive amount of coordination and a fair amount of risk, especially from whoever actually captured the flag. But it’s far from 4chan’s most destructive heist.
In 2016, 4chan provided the intel for an airstrike against Syrian rebels.
Documents on Imgur, archived posts, and YouTube videos explain how it happened. Using a training video of Syrian rebels that was posted to YouTube, 4chan users managed to find other videos and used Google Maps to match up landmarks and find the general location of the camp. It took extensive research, but 4chan finally located the latitude and longitude coordinates of the Syrian rebel training grounds.
The investigative process was similar to how 4chan located Shia LaBeouf’s flag. In the Shia LaBeouf heist, posters listened to the sounds of animals, observed flight paths, and noted the time of sunset to accurately surmise the location of the “He Will Not Divide Us Flag.” Against the Syrian rebels, 4chan noticed five circuit suspension towers and were able to triangulate the location against the position of the towers.
In both cases, additional media from the internet helped. TMZ reported that Shia LaBeouf was spotted flyfishing in Tennessee, and related YouTube videos meant that the 4chan investigators knew to look south of Aleppo on Google Maps.
At this point in the Syrian war, rebels occupied a strategically important hill near the Syrian capital and were poised for an offensive. If successful, they would take the city from Bashar al-Assad.
Ivan Sidorenko, a reporter with ties to Russia who was working behind enemy lines to cover the war in Syria, had posted a video of the training camp asking if anyone knew the location. A Russian-speaking 4chan user transmitted the coordinates to Ivan Sidorenko via Twitter. Sidorenko, who claimed to have connections to Russia’s defense ministry, said that he would immediately transmit the information to Russia’s Minister of Defense to verify the location for an airstrike.
Did Sidorenko really have a contact with the Russian military? Would an airstrike really happen?
— Ivan Sidorenko (@IvanSidorenko1) March 11, 2017
Deep web reporting site Vocativ points out that there’s no way way to know if Russia used the intelligence to launch an airstike, but there were airstrikes at strategic points in the area soon after. A video on May 31, 2016, titled “Warplanes bombarded agricultural land” show a location a few miles south of the training ground being bombed. This location had been identified by members of the board as the location of an Islamist training ground.
And on June 6, 4chan members used the same technique to locate ISIS training facility near the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Members of this internet subculture often refer to their online deviances online as being part of a “meme war,” but if they are capable of calling in airstrikes, has it escaped the realm of memes?
[Featured Image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]