The hacker collective Anonymous can unmask the Ku Klux Klan in Ferguson, Mo., but it's not likely to do much damage, say hate group watchers, because even with their digital hoods off, the KKK is already in the midst of a crippling identity crisis.
The Anonymous campaign began when Klan factions threatened to target protesters with “lethal force” in and around Ferguson should riots follow a grand jury’s decision about Officer Darren Wilson. Wilson shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown last August.
Anonymous responded by “doxxing” dozens of Klan members – posting their personal information and photos online, hence the hashtag “#HoodsOff.” Then, the hackers gained control of the Klan’s various Twitter accounts to both expose and taunt the original owners of the accounts.
According to Dr. Herbert Nieburg, psychologist with SE Counseling Associates in Pawcatuck, Conn., in a phone interview, anonymous may have accidentally found the Klan’s Kryptonite but is using it all wrong.
“That’s [unmasking is] unlikely to have an impact on the KKK because the’ve never been concerned with being ‘unmasked,’ ” he says. “Their hoods have never been about others knowing their identity.”
Mr. Nieburg was recommended by the American Psychological Association when this reporter called for further insights on a briefing document the organization published titled “The Psychology of Hate Crimes.”
Anonymous uses the “mask of the Internet” for the purposes of protection in order to continue its vigilante work alter ego style, according to Dr. Nieburg. But for the Klan, the hoods covering of their faces in real life has always been used as a “de-inhibitor.”
“It depends on where the Klan member is as to how effective unmasking him publicly will be at all,” he says. “The farther north or west they live the more it may matter to their business. However, the Klansman in general isn’t worried about people finding out who he is because his entire circle of associates is likely to share his views.”
Nieburg theorizes that the mask of the Klansman “is a de-inhibitor like when you take kids to a party and they all play nicely, but once you put masks on all of them they start beating each other up.”
The mask takes away the self-identity of the person and effectively hides them more from their own conscience than from others, he suggests.
In August, members of the New Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan from three separate states announced plans to travel to Ferguson, to guard “white businesses” near riots.
But Mark Potok, senior fellow at Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says that the current cyber war between hate and anti-hate groups playing-out over the Ferguson case will not end in violence when a verdict is reached, but pause somewhere between sturm und drang to simply changing venues to the next hate hot spot.
Mr. Potok says Anonymous is the least of the Klan’s worries.
“There’s an endless, ongoing low-grade war between racist and anti-racists, fascists and anti-fascists,” Potok says in a phone interview. “There’s actual violence taking place and it’s coming from both sides on a regular basis – largely at music venues.”
Therefore, Potok says that the ‘lethal force’ threat is most likely a publicity stunt driven by the splintering of the KKK in over the past two decades which has left a pronounced lack of ability to muster force.
“Two guys in hoods or maybe a couple of skinhead may show up and take a selfie to post online and show ‘I was there!’ but it’s not what it once was in terms of being a threat,” Potok says.
According to Potok that’s because, “The problem is that there is not one Klan anymore. There are about 27 different Klan groups always fighting amongst themselves for the spotlight and supremacy.”
“While Frank Ancona is threatening to use ‘lethal force’ in Ferguson, other KKK faction leaders are accusing him of being secretly Jewish – which is absurd,” he adds. “There’s absolutely no evidence to support that. But that’s the kind of infighting and jockeying for the spotlight that’s happening inside the Klan today. They’re too busy hating each other, accusing each other of having a black girlfriend or heaven forbid, a boyfriend.”
While some claiming to be the KKK are leaving little welcome wagon bags of candy on doorsteps as a recruiting effort in North Carolina, another group, the United Klans of America claims to welcome all races, and the faction making threats in Ferguson all appear to be acting more because they hate each other more than anything else, Potok deduces.
Potok says the capricious nature of the Internet and not doxxing is largely to blame.
“They [the KKK] really believed that the Internet was going to be their ticket to millions and millions of new followers,” he says. “While it was helpful to these hate groups, they found it far less helpful than they expected. They found there simply aren’t that many people who hate the way they do and are willing to sign-on with them. They hit a natural limit. It was a complete failure.”