For the next eight months, Sabu continued to rage across the Internet as a core member of AntiSec, a blackhat hacking group within Anonymous. He helped to deface government and corporate websites and even helped bring down the private intelligence firm Stratfor—all, apparently, with the FBI’s blessing as it quietly gathered logs on Monsegur’s fellow “anons.” Law enforcement officials later told Fox News that Monsegur was working out of the FBI offices “almost daily” in the weeks after he pleaded guilty in August and then from his own home thereafter, with an agent watching his activity 24 hours a day. Sometimes agents were even posing as Sabu directly. On Christmas, just after the Stratfor hack, Sabu and I happened to be logged into the same channel on IRC, the chatting protocol that serves as the medium through which most Anonymous members planned large-scale operations. I asked the AntiSec members if they were worried about a law enforcement response to Stratfor. Sabu shot back:
we’re used to that heat
we survived the first rounds of the raids
He was referring to a series of arrests that past summer that had scooped up, worldwide, at least 80 alleged participants in the group. At the time, it was hard to fault his reasoning, since those arrests seemed to have done nothing to slow the group’s terrifying onslaught in 2011. It was a year in which Anonymous burst into the geopolitical consciousness of the world, assisting Arab Spring activists and attacking the security industry, bedeviling law enforcement and intelligence agencies, carrying out countless hacks against Sony and other large corporations. As protest movements spread to the West, Anonymous provided them with crucial logistics (not to mention a great deal of media attention), from the BART protests in San Francisco to the Occupy actions across the US and overseas. Anonymous had figured out how to infiltrate anything, how to mobilize not just machines but physical bodies, all around the globe.
But Sabu hadn’t survived the first rounds of the raids, and thanks to the evidence he helped the Feds gather, more anons wouldn’t survive the next round. In February, Interpol rounded up 25 more alleged participants worldwide, and a few days later the FBI revealed Monsegur’s cooperation to the news media. Soon five more arrests were made, one from AntiSec and four from LulzSec, another hacker arm of the collective. The mood on the IRC channels, which at Christmas had been cocky and defiant, modulated to a genuine sadness. One anon wrote plaintively about getting programming advice from Sabu. Another summed up the general feeling among the anons about Sabu’s cooperation with the FBI:
It was merely a speed bump for the collective but a massive emotional bitchslap for individuals
Painting: Chrissy Angliker
In 2011, Anonymous figured out how to infiltrate anything, to mobilize not just machines but bodies.
Was it really just a speed bump? It was impossible to say for sure, because Sabu’s arrest cut to the heart of what Anonymous claimed to be, of how it claimed to organize itself. Or, more accurately: its claim that it did not organize itself, that it had no leaders and yet boasted participants so innumerable (“We are Legion,” as one of its popular slogans blares) that no ten or hundred or thousand arrests could ever stop it. But in Sabu the FBI had nabbed an anon who was not easy to replace. No one could deny he had served as a crucial force in many of 2011’s most spectacular hacking campaigns. Presumably the anons arrested on the evidence he helped gather were talented hackers, too. For years, when anyone tried to claim they had uncovered the leader, or leaders, of Anonymous, the group’s members would belittle them online and then sometimes hack them for good measure. Now, with these arrests, Anonymous’ whole self-conception was being put to the test.
The possibility that Anonymous might be telling the truth—that it couldn’t be shut down by jailing or flipping or bribing key participants—was why it became such a terrifying force to powerful institutions worldwide, from governments to corporations to nonprofits. Its wild string of brilliant hacks and protests seemed impossible in the absence of some kind of defined organization. To hear the group and its defenders talk, the leaderless nature of Anonymous makes it a mystical, almost supernatural force, impossible not just to stop but to even comprehend. Anons were, they liked to claim, united as one and divided by zero—undefined and indefinable.
In fact, the success of Anonymous without leaders is pretty easy to understand—if you forget everything you think you know about how organizations work. Anonymous is a classic “do-ocracy,” to use a phrase that’s popular in the open source movement. As the term implies, that means rule by sheer doing. Individuals propose actions, others join in (or not), and then the Anonymous flag is flown over the result. There’s no one to grant permission, no promise of praise or credit, so every action must be its own reward.
What’s harder to comprehend—but just as important, if you want to grasp the future of Anonymous after the arrests—is the radical political consciousness that seized this innumerable throng of Internet misfits. Anonymous became dangerous to governments and corporations not just because of its skills (lots of hackers have those) or its scale but because of the fury of its convictions. In the beginning, Anonymous was just about self-amusement, the “lulz,” but somehow, over the course of the past few years, it grew up to become a sort of self-appointed immune system for the Internet, striking back at anyone the hive mind perceived as an enemy of freedom, online or offline. It started as a gang of nihilists but somehow evolved into a fervent group of believers. To understand that unlikely transformation, and Anonymous’ peculiar method of (non)organization, it is necessary to start at the very beginning.
A March 2008 protest at a Scientology facility in LA. The anti-Scientology campaign was Anonymous' crucial first step toward political advocacy.
Photo: Chris Weeks/AP
The story of Anonymous starts on 4chan, an enormously popular site for sharing images and talking about them. In particular, the group rose up out of 4chan’s /b/ board, the one reserved for “random” discussions. On /b/, posts have no named authors, and nothing is ever archived. To be noticed, you have to be as shocking as possible, and with the notable exception of child porn, anything goes. “/b/tards,” as denizens of the board call themselves, create incest porn and fantasize about beating women even as they also discuss data visualization strategies and trade coding tips. Nearly any appetite is acceptable, and nearly any weakness, technical or human, is exploited. Terms like nigger and faggot are common, but not because of racism and bigotry—though racism and bigotry are easily found on the /b/ board. The language is there to keep out the straights. Those words are heads on pikes, warning you that deeper in it gets much worse.
The Art of Lulz
Beyond the ubiquitous Guy Fawkes mask, Anonymous has developed witty iconography to complement its uncompromising politics.—Q.N.
This is the oldest Anonymous icon to emerge from 4chan. It remains popular, showing up in profile pics, tattoos, and other bad ideas.
The top-hatted, monocled oenophile first appeared in a Web-based comic strip and became emblematic of Anonymous’ most outrageous hacks.
This meme also started out on 4chan and has since been remixed into album covers and first-person shooters. It even has its own theme song.
The driving force behind it all, the raison d’être of /b/,was the lulz. Lulz (a corruption of LOL, online shorthand for “laugh out loud”) are about bemusement, belittlement, schadenfreude, anything it takes to make you laugh. They’re sweet release from the obligations of modern life’s Serious Business. Lulz can be witty or puerile, but what makes them so important to the story of Anonymous is that the lulz are, above all, free in every sense. The lulz can be had by all, they cost nothing, they don’t stop at borders, they don’t respect social conventions. In pursuit of lulz, the early anons conducted “raids” in which they developed all the tools of “ultra-coordinated motherfuckery” that Anonymous practices today. They employed massively choreographed pranks, distributed denial-of-service attacks, and straight-up hacks. The Anonymous do-ocracy was already in place, but it was radically different from the other do-ocracies of the Internet era (think Wikipedia or Linux). The lack of consistent handles—anons often would drop one user name and take up another—and the absence of a revision trail meant that there was no long-term accountability. Instead, Anonymous’ chaotic style of action flowed naturally from the structure of /b/. Because there were no names and no archives, the only cultural currency was whatever you could hack or joke about or make right now, onscreen, with the rest of the hive watching.
One frequent prank was D0xing, which involves posting the personal information (usually in the form of digital documents, hence “D0x”) of the target as publicly and in as many places as possible. Other common raids were mostly just puerile fun: ordering pizzas on someone’s behalf, say, or signing them up for stupid junk mail. The infamous Rickroll—duping a victim into watching a video of Rick Astley—began as a tool of the /b/tard/ raid before spreading so far into the culture that even US representative Nancy Pelosi, while speaker of the house, used the prank in an official video.
What first pushed Anonymous in a political direction was the only thing that could have: an attempt to interfere with their lulz. In January 2008, a video leaked out of the Church of Scientology. In it, over the thrum of an action-movie-style soundtrack, Tom Cruise enthused about his total devotion to the doctrines of Scientology. The video flew around the Internet, spawning parodies and commentary. It was epically lulzy, in just the sort of way that made perfect fodder for /b/. But the legendarily litigious church acted to stop the spread of the video, sending legal nastygrams to anyone hosting or sharing it.
The church’s effort to expunge the video so enraged some anons that they set out to destroy the church itself. It’s crucial, though, to understand the oddly contradictory spirit in which this campaign was conducted. Was Anonymous serious about destroying the church? Or was it all a joke? The answer to both questions is yes. The anons took on Project Chanology (as they called their Internet fatwa against Scientology) for the lulz, but they also wanted those lulz to have a real-world effect. And in dedicating themselves to that latter goal, Anonymous began to develop a real political consciousness—along with some new and ingenious methods for taking mass action.
On February 10, 2008, the “moralfags” (as some anons called the activists within the group, in contrast to the “lulzfags”) took the whole thing to a new level. For one day, a movement that had existed in the online shadows suddenly became visible in the real world, coalescing for the first time on the streets. Anons set up meeting times and places in cities around the world. They bought masks—the now-iconic Guy Fawkes masks, official merchandise for the Hollywood film V for Vendetta —and made signs. They showed up by the thousands in front of church locations and Scientology centers. They played music and walked around with signs, accusing Scientology of crimes and referencing obscure Internet memes. They partied with their own in front of aghast Scientologists in more than 90 cities. A viral image from the day summed up the overwhelming feeling: “OH FUCK,” read the text overlaid on a photo of one anti-Scientology protest. “The Internet is here.”
For a group that had rarely lingered on one target, joke, or meme for more than a few days, Project Chanology has galvanized Anonymous for the better part of four years. In January 2009, one anon was arrested for running into a Scientology center covered in Vaseline, pubic hair, and toenail clippings. (Online, it was called Operation Slickpubes. For more on that and Chanology, consult “The Assclown Offensive” in Wired issue 17.10.) Two days later, another global protest was organized, and sporadic protests continued throughout the rest of the year. At the same time, in an effort to bring down Scientology’s web servers, Anonymous was honing what was to become its most infamous tool: the Low Orbit Ion Cannon. The LOIC was an application for sending test traffic to servers, much as a programmer will do to make sure a website can keep functioning under heavy use. A single firing of LOIC from a single computer sends just a small burst of meaningless requests to a server. But when enough people download LOIC and point it at the same target, they create what is in essence a voluntary botnet, capable of taking down a server.
An anti-BART protest in San Francisco, July 2011. The rage of Anonymous would turn the local protest into a national cause célèbre in August.
Photo: Eric Risberg/AP
So, toward the end of 2010, Anonymous was primed both politically and technologically to take on more ideological actions. In September of that year, a new cause presented itself: An Indian company called Aiplex announced that it had been contracted to send legal threats to sites that illegally shared copyrighted films. More controversially, the firm claimed it was authorized to carry out denial-of-service attacks on any pirate sites that failed to comply with its notices.
Anons collectively howled. After pushing through copyright laws that stamped on online freedom, the outraged complaints went, Hollywood studios were authorizing a blackhat technique that routinely landed hackers in jail. (In fact, Aiplex had been hired by Bollywood, a distinction that seemed to get lost in the fracas.) In an operation called “Payback (Is a Bitch),” soon to be shortened to OpPayback, Anonymous loaded up the LOIC and pointed it at the websites of Aiplex, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America.
In the process, thousands of people who had never considered themselves Anonymous and perhaps didn’t even know much about the collective joined in and swelled the ranks of activist anons, the so-called moralfags. Whether these new members knew or cared about 4chan’s brand of shenanigans, they shared one important quality with their raiding /b/tard forebears. They saw acting as Anonymous—taking up the iconography, joining the op—as a path to empowerment. They could finally do something more than just sign an online petition or give money to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They could aim at a target and help take it down.
All this energy found a new outlet just a few months later, when MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal blocked payments to Wikileaks for alleged terms-of-service violations. The action struck many anons as a transparent attempt to hobble Julian Assange’s whistle-blowing organization, which had released enormous caches of sensitive memos related to governments worldwide. OpPayback sparked to life again, this time as Operation Avenge Assange. Anonymous powered up the LOIC, and with IRC channels brimming with more participants than even OpPayback had seen, they took down the websites of MasterCard and Visa (which made for good publicity but only barely grazed their payment networks) and briefly slowed PayPal to a crawl. When the whole world power structure seemed to be turning on Wikileaks, Anonymous swarmed in to defend it.
It was support for Wikileaks, in the end, that led the collective into its most fateful alliance, the campaign that did more than any other to influence its startling course in 2011. The previous December, during the early days of the Arab Spring, Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali began blocking web access to Wikileaks cables that pertained to his and other Arab nations. A few anons formed a new channel called #optunisia on IRC and started talking about what they could do. It was the least lulzy, most earnest political project that Anonymous had ever seriously contemplated. Tellingly, the OpTunisia group was composed mostly of new, more activist anons, people who had joined around the time of OpPayback. The transition in the makeup of Anonymous was nearly complete, with a radical new generation of members that eschewed pure lulz in favor of focused, disruptive action. Among their handles were a few that would later make news in more controversial ways: Kayla, Topiary, tflow, and even Sabu, well before his fall.
Over the next couple of weeks the small group brought down the website of the Tunisian stock exchange and defaced various sites of the Tunisian government. It also passed media and news reports about the Tunisian uprising in and out of the country. It distributed a “care package” containing details about how to work around privacy restrictions in Tunisia, including a Firefox script to help locals avoid government spying while they used Facebook.
Some who supported #optunisia were themselves Tunisians, including Slim
Amamou, an outspoken blogger. After Amamou was arrested on January 6, 2011, the anons on the #optunisia IRC channel barely slept as they waited for word. But eight days later, the regime fell, and Amamou was appointed a minister in the new government.
We’ll never know how important Anonymous was for Tunisia, but Tunisia changed everything for Anonymous. OpTunisia was the first of what became the Freedom Ops, which focused largely on other Middle Eastern countries during the Arab Spring but spread much farther. For the first time, Anonymous had gotten on the winning side of a real fight, and it liked the feeling.
Back in the hacking realm, Anonymous was also flexing its muscles. On February 5, 2011, the Financial Times quoted Aaron Barr, CEO of a security company called HBGary Federal, as saying that he had uncovered the leadership of Anonymous. He claimed the group had around 30 active members, including 10 senior hackers who made all the decisions, and he purportedly had linked their IRC handles to real names using social-network analysis. He was planning to announce all this, he said, during a presentation at an upcoming security conference.
Anonymous responded with inhuman severity and swiftness. Within 48 hours, all the data on the email servers of HBGary Federal and its former parent company, HBGary, had been stolen and then released in full on the Pirate Bay. Anons further humiliated Barr by seizing his Twitter account and (they allege, though this has never been confirmed) even erasing his iPad remotely. Barr’s Anonymous presentation was posted on the net and laughed at for its supposed inaccuracies. The notice on HBGary Federal’s site read, “This domain has been seized by Anonymous under section #14 of the rules of the Internet.” (Rule 14 is a real thing, from a “Rules of the Internet” list that often made the rounds on /b/. It reads as follows: “Do not argue with trolls—it means that they win.”)
Slim Amamou in Tunisia, February 2011. The Freedom Ops in support of the Arab Spring galvanized Anonymous and sparked a year of intense activism.
Barr (under the handle of CogAnon, the same one he’d used to infiltrate Anonymous) came onto IRC to speak with the hive mind. Sabu confronted him:
You intended of battling anonymous in the media for media gain and attention
well let me ask you
you got the media attention now
how does it feel
Barr’s beat-down left the hardcore hackers within Anonymous bolder than ever. A faction of them, including Sabu, broke off in May (a good month before Sabu was arrested) to form a splinter group called Lulz Security, or LulzSec. No one knows for sure how many they were—or exactly who they were—because they created a closed channel on IRC where they decided whom to hack and how. Sabu acted as a sort of dean; Topiary served as the spokesperson and brilliantly funny tweeter; Kayla and others found and exploited vulnerabilities.
Together they carried out a flamboyant 50-day hacking spree that hit scores of targets: private companies, government sites, everything. LulzSec hacked Sony six times, the US Senate website twice, and an FBI affiliate once, getting account data and releasing it onto the web. They hit Minecraft, Eve Online, and Nintendo. They released account data, logins, and passwords from a porn site and an Arizona law enforcement agency. They lit up the media in May and June as no hacker group ever had. True to its name, of course, LulzSec also had a taste for the absurd and anarchic. At one point, LulzSec claimed to have taken down Magnets .com after a customer service representative failed to tell them (per the popular Insane Clown Posse song) how magnets worked. But on the very same day, they were also allegedly behind an attack on the website of the CIA. LulzSec retained all the nihilistic fury of the /b/ raids of old but had married it to the nascent political sensibility forged in #optunisia.
On June 19, LulzSec called it quits, announcing that they were rejoining Anonymous to create AntiSec—a similarly closed group, but designed to be explicitly political, in support of the wider collective’s increasingly activist mission. Over the remainder of 2011, AntiSec would go on to hack Monsanto and the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, police associations in Arizona and Texas, the governments of Australia and Zimbabwe, and many more. What most of AntiSec didn’t know, though, was that in the waning days of LulzSec, the FBI had knocked on Sabu’s door and taken control of his identity. Not only had the FBI joined Anonymous; it was the new dean of AntiSec.
Who are all these people, really? If you look at the list of those arrested on Sabu’s watch, they fit the standard stereotype of a hacker—young, male, mostly white. If we’re to believe the FBI, “Kayla” and “Topiary” were both young Britons, aged 23 and 19 respectively, and the rest of the arrests have roughly followed suit: They’ve nabbed mostly men whose ages range from the teens to the mid- to late 30s, collaborating with one another from cities around the Americas and Europe.
But it’s a mistake to identify Anonymous entirely with these arrestees, some of whom were blackhats and others who were guilty of just using the LOIC. The hacks draw their power from the support of the wider collective, not the other way around. The majority of Anonymous operations are conceived and planned in a chaotic and open fashion. At any given time, a few thousand people are congregating on the Anonymous IRC channels, figuring out for themselves what it means to be an anon. And together they embody whatever Anonymous is going to be that day.
Most of the time, in most of the channels, there’s little more than conversation; sometimes a whole channel will consist of lurkers, with no one contributing a thing. But when some offense to the net is detected, anons will converge on one or more of these “chans,” with hundreds or thousands arriving within hours—many of them new to Anonymous and yet all primed and eager to respond. What looks in one moment like a sad, empty chat room can quickly become the staging ground for a major multipronged assault.
Consider OpBART, which flared up in August 2011 and dealt with an unlikely issue for Anonymous: the messy offline world of race relations and police violence. Ever since 2009, when a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man named Oscar Grant, protests against abuse of authority by transit police had grown. On August 11, anti-BART activists were planning a rally at several of San Francisco’s underground transit stops to protest another shooting by a BART officer, this one of a homeless man named Charles Hill. It was an unremarkable story by the standards of the national media, but the response from BART to the planned protest did catch the interest of the local press: To thwart protesters from coordinating via mobile devices, BART cut cell service at its downtown stations.
When that news came out, Anonymous turned on BART with a frenzy. In the climate of the Arab Spring, the move reminded many anons of the deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, who had shut off the Internet in order to suppress dissent. An IRC channel called #opbart was formed immediately, and it quickly grew to more than 400 people, suggesting and debating ways to retaliate against BART. On YouTube (a popular medium for Anonymous manifestos), announcements of various anti-BART ops began pouring onto Anonymous accounts; anti-BART anon handles appeared on Twitter. Subgroups formed to weigh the various options: hacking, D0xing, denial-of-service attacks, real-world protests. And over the next few weeks, nearly every tactic discussed would be attempted against BART. Over the month, anon hackers attacked the ill-defended BART and myBART websites and did data dumps; in a low moment, they posted stolen nude pictures of BART’s spokesman, Linton Johnson, who had bragged that the cell phone shutdown was his idea. Street protests snarled traffic on and off for weeks.
OpBart was classic do-ocracy in action. No one had commanded anything, no action had been carried out alone. That’s not to say that anyone in Anonymous knows what everyone else is doing: One group may be digitally bombarding a server that another group is trying to use or even hack. But that August, a riot of online and offline activity—some of it successful and some not, all of it flying the Anonymous flag—coalesced into what felt like a unified campaign. OpBart took off like a flock of birds, each participant adjusting their own actions in concert with the group through an ambient understanding of how the whole was moving.
After OpBart, it was natural that Anonymous would segue to support Occupy Wall Street—but here again, the surprise was how passionately it did so. Occupy was not an Anonymous plan, and anons were far from a majority of the movement. But Anonymous declared support for it very early, well before the September 17 start date, and thereby helped to bring far more media attention to the project than it would have gotten otherwise. Moreover, Anonymous’ support helped to lend a sense of power that US protest movements in recent decades have lacked: namely, the implication that Occupy was capable of serious retaliation if authorities crossed a line.
Photo: Pari Dukovic
Just as with OpTunisia, Occupy changed Anonymous irrevocably. Its transformation into a political movement, begun four years earlier with Project Chanology, was now complete. Not all anons supported Occupy, but it’s startling how many of them, when asked about the connection between Anonymous and OWS, bluntly reply: “Same thing.” It was as if Occupy had emerged to serve, finally, as a body to house the peripatetic spirit of Anonymous. Occupy wasn’t like Tahrir Square, which attracted the young heroes, the educated forward thinkers of Egypt; it wasn’t like the summer demonstrations in Spain, which brought out the full spectrum of society. Smaller and more distributed than the uprisings elsewhere, Occupy welcomed society’s rejects. The people who found their way to the parks around America, set up tent cities in September, and stayed through the fall included a lot of fuck-ups, people who had fallen for debt scams and had gotten in over their heads with student loans or meth. The hard core of Occupy was a misfit army, unarmed but unwilling to remain silent and invisible. In this they were a perfect match for Anonymous. Both collectives were bound together by being the kinds of people who never found a comfortable place in society.
When cities began to evict the occupiers in the fall, anons watched the violent images with outrage. The same occupiers they’d encouraged, provided technical help to, even stood beside, were beaten and jailed in front of their eyes. A dark mood seized the collective and never really let go.
That perhaps explains why the next AntiSec target—Stratfor, the private intelligence firm—was attacked with such a strange and intense fury. The hackers of AntiSec, including the now-compromised Sabu, worked Stratfor harder than any target since HBGary. They hacked their way through the company’s systems for weeks. Sabu eagerly provided a new server (given to him by the FBI) for the mammoth cache of pilfered documents, which comprised more than 5 million emails. A week later they turned the trove over to Wikileaks after a tense and secretive negotiation with the leaking site. It was the largest public D0xing Anonymous had ever accomplished. AntiSec hackers also charged around $700,000 to the credit cards of Stratfor subscribers, donating much of it to charities.
In January, Anonymous helped lead the online protests against SOPA and PIPA, the despised congressional antipiracy bills. Soon thereafter, they declared their hatred of the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and promised to fight it. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of Poland, roughly 15,000 in Krakow alone, to protest ACTA, many of them sporting Guy Fawkes masks. After the first round of protests, with anons still taking down Polish government websites, the opposing legislators donned Guy Fawkes masks on cue. Later, when hundreds of thousands of protesters came out in cities all over the European Union to decry ACTA, many of them wore the masks, some plastic, some drawn on cardboard, and some painted directly onto faces.
Were they all anons? Were the Polish parliamentarians? Can anyone even say for sure? Especially now that Anonymous has broken the bounds of the digital and pushed its way out onto the streets, it has become a radical movement unlike any other. It doesn’t have a founding philosopher or a manifesto; there’s no pledge or creed. It’s true that Anonymous does have a politics, but it’s hardly a specific platform—just a support for online freedom and a rage at anyone who tries to curtail it. No, what Anonymous has become, in reality, is a culture. one with its own distinctive iconography (the Fawkes masks, the headless man in the business suit), its own self-referential memes, its own coarse sense of humor. And as Anonymous campaigns have spread around the world, so too has its culture, bringing its peculiar brand of cyber-rebellion to tech-savvy activists in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Like a plastic Fawkes mask, Anonymous is an identity that anyone can put on, whenever they want to join up with the invisible online horde.
No one but Hector Xavier Monsegur can know why or when he became Sabu, but it was the morning of March 6, 2012, when the FBI revealed what Sabu had become—and what he had allowed the FBI to do. Most anons never knew Sabu, but he had left a mark, and now a scar, on the collective’s psyche. For days the banter on IRC moved from planning ops to discussing how to keep safe, how to spot Feds and snitches. An angry collective had become even angrier. In the immediate aftermath of the news, one associate of Sabu’s, wrote:
we need to pick our lives back up and go on I’ll keep on doing what I have always done for Anonymous
anonymous goes on
And by all accounts, Anonymous has gone on. True, it won’t ever be the same, but that’s because from year to year—from day to day, even—Anonymous has never been the same. It’s in the nature of do-ocracies: Remove certain doers and different things get done. With the rise of the moralfags, some lulzfags drifted away. With the turn to Freedom Ops and Occupy, some less political anons stopped caring. And now that many of its blackhat hackers have been arrested, Anonymous is beginning to plot a course without them, doubling down on its political mission.
The arrests deprived Anonymous, at least temporarily, of a well of talent and social inspiration. But even as the small group of hackers who originally comprised AntiSec has all but vanished from the net, the name has now taken on a life of its own. What used to be a traditional hacker group, a structured and elite club of talent within the otherwise chaotic collective, has now—like Anonymous itself—become a banner.
“AntiSec” attacked Florida’s Lake County Sheriff’s Office, with several gigabytes of sensitive data leaked on April 27. In late May, “AntiSec” attacked the website of the Chicago police in retaliation for what anons perceived as harsh treatment of anti-NATO protestors. Around the same time, “AntiSec” also hacked into the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, releasing a sizable cache of internal data. But as far as anyone could tell, these attacks weren’t connected to the fragmented group Sabu had played dean to—and they weren’t even connected to one another. It was as if the destruction of AntiSec had allowed the idea of AntiSec to escape into the Internet’s social ether.
After the arrests, it seemed that Anonymous would never terrify governments and corporations in quite the same way again. But that’s the sort of underestimation that led Aaron Barr to count 10 senior members of Anonymous, right before a mob ruined his life. It’s the type of judgment that led the Stratfor analyst Sean Noonan, on reading a description of Anonymous as “ultra-coordinated motherfuckery,” to write that the group was “completely uncoordinated and couldn’t fuck anything”—in a personal email that we can read, of course, thanks to some truly coordinated fucking of his employer.
Anonymous is not unanimous, but somehow they still succeed in speaking with a single voice, demanding freedom for the network that is their home. And so the headless suits still appear uninvited on the websites of governments and corporations, and the Guy Fawkes masks periodically fill our city streets.
Oh fuck: The Internet is still here.
This piece was originally published on June 22, 2012.
Update: A caption in the story misidentified a July BART protest as part of Opbart, which was inspired by protests like the one in the photo.