Hacktivists vs. KKK: Are cyber vigilantes effective or not?

The hacktivist group known as Anonymous plans to reveal 1,000 Ku Klux Klan associates on Thursday.

Bebeto Mathews/AP/File
Using part of the flag as a screen, a Ku Klux Klansman tries to conceal his identity at a rally held outside the Criminal Court Building Saturday, Oct. 23, 1999 in New York. The hacktivist group Anonymous plans to reveal 1,000 names of those associated with the KKK on Thursday.

“Remember, remember! The fifth of November.”

So begins the English poem commemorating Guy Fawkes, whose mask has now become the image associated with hacktivist group Anonymous. You may forget November 5th, but Anonymous will not. In fact, the group has a special celebration planned.

On Thursday, Anonymous will launch the #HoodsOff initiative to reveal the names and websites of over 1,000 Ku Klux Klan (KKK) associates, information gathered from a hacked KKK-operated Twitter account. This is in addition to the accounts @KuKluxKlanUSA and @YourKKKCentral Anonymous has hacked in the past.

The data dump, which will be posted via Pastebin, comes a year after the start of #OpKKK, an anti-KKK movement Anonymous began last year after a Missouri KKK chapter “threatened lethal force" against those protesting the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson.  

At the height of their reign, the Ku Klux Klan boasted more than four million members. Though the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates a mere 3,000 to 5,000 members today, Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino, warns the group is still active and capable.

"Just because the Klan's numbers are very small, and their activities have primarily been limited to an occasional gathering or leafleting, doesn't mean that individuals who have been in their orbit can't act violently and commit an attack within the United States,” Mr. Levin told CNN. “That is the biggest threat now from groups like the Klan."

Anonymity has permitted the Klan to exist for nearly 150 years, as those associated have been largely kept hidden, thanks to secret membership lists.

Arguing the KKK is “more than a hate group...and much more like terrorists,” Anonymous vows to reveal the true identity of the Klan. 

“Greetings citizens of the world. We are Anonymous,” wrote the hacktivist group on their website Sunday. “We are not oppressing you, Ku Klux Klan. We are not here to strip you of your Freedom of Speech. Anonymous will never strip you of any of your Constitutional rights. With that said, we are stripping you of your anonymity. This is not a threat, but rather a promise.”

The group’s intentions appear noble. Much like the vigilantes who exposed Ashley Madison users, they are citing moral issues and fighting for transparency. Yet, Anonymous’ tactic may not be as effective as they hope it will be. For one thing, by remaining anonymous while depriving others of anonymity, the hacktivist group could be perceived as ceding its moral high ground.

Furthermore, the group has no reputation of factually accurate information, and continues to face both scrutiny and dismissiveness, as unverified social media accounts offer jumbled and sometimes contradictory claims.

On their supposed “official” website, the hacktivist group includes @Operation_KKK, @Anon6k, @AnonyOpNews and @encrypted_six in their list of managed Twitter accounts. But a post on that site highlights the first KKK identity leaks posted by @YourAnonNews, and the website’s embedded Twitter widget is linked to @AnonIntelGroup. It is impossible to verify which accounts are actually, truly associated with the group.

So far, there have been a total of four postings on Pastebin, including 57 phone numbers and 23 email addresses as well as the names of four US Senators and five city mayors, all of whom are accused of being Ku Klux Klan associates.

Anonymous appears to take credit for three of the four postings, removing themselves from the outcry that erupted after the political figures were named in the fourth posting, which was instead credited to user “Amped Attacks” who goes by the Twitter handle @sgtbilko420.

The anti-hate group hacker said he worked to verify the names before he released them. “I got the information from several KKK websites when I [hacked] them and was able to dump their database,” he told Tech Crunch, while remaining nameless. “I went through many emails that was signed up with these sites and a few of the emails that sparked my interest was the ones of the politicians in question there would be no reason for them to be signed up on any KKK website unless they supported it or was involved in it.”

Sen. Dan Coats (R) of Indiana and Lexington, Kentucky mayor Jim Gray, two of those identified by the postings, denied the claims, stating they had in no way ever been involved in the KKK.

Despite all this, Anonymous seems to be sticking to the plan, and will move ahead with the release of 1,000 names and websites on Thursday.

As user Anon6k so artfully wrote on Pastebin, “Heavily-armed racist hillbillys vs.invisible cyber-ninjas - can't make this stuff up, folks.”

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