#OpKKK: Anonymous vs. The Klan

(Updated at 4:00 p.m. to add information.)

Last night, various Twitter accounts said to be associated with Anonymous, the famous hacktivist collective, started to publish links to documents listing names of people it says are members of the Ku Klux Klan, including four U.S. senators. Further, it announced that it had shut down several KKK websites and servers.

Several minutes ago, the official Twitter account for the operation, @Operation_KKK, wrote, “This account has NOT YET released any information. We believe in due diligence and will NOT recklessly involve innocent individuals #OpKKK.” (Tweet image below the fold.)

Anonymous promised last week that it would publish the names of 1000 members on November 5, but anyone who has studied marketing knows that new publications are best served with a tantalizing roll-out. Last night’s announcement came first with a Tweet that the group’s work was ahead of schedule, and then came a flurry of Tweets and Facebook posts that included links to four Pastebin files that held 57 names and 24 email addresses of alleged KKK members. The most tantalizing morsel was a file that included the names of five mayors, four sitting U.S. senators, and one House member. (Link included.) The name and address of each politician’s “known affiliated KKK group” was also supplied.

The senators are: Thom Tillis, John Isakson, John Cornyn, and Dan Coats. Joe Wilson, who became famous for yelling “You lie!” at President Obama during a State of the Union address in 2009, is the U.S. Representative named. Several of the politicians that have been named have released statements declaring as slanderous any attempt to connect their names with the KKK.

Further, there are the competing claims by unknown figures in the Anonymous movement right now. In an attempt to establish control, the same Twitter account that I quoted above added another:

The fact is, anyone can compile a list and say that it shows anything—Republican senators between the ages of 55 and 72, say—and include these four men’s names. Are these men members of their local chapters of the KKK? If yes, does this matter?

The fight between the two groups began in earnest one year ago during the protests in Ferguson, Missouri; a Missouri chapter of the KKK publicly announced at the time that its members were willing to use “lethal force” against any and all protesters. Members of Anonymous interceded on behalf of the protesters: the hacktivists hijacked the KKK’s Twitter account and then started to publish the names and addresses of local KKK members. This was seen as an act of aggression by the KKK, which had of course just announced that its members intended to be aggressive, “lethally” so, against people of color in a specific city on specific dates. (The logic of hate follows no known logic.)

From its inception in the post-Civil War South, members of the KKK have worn masks and robes to protect their identities, which was a necessity as the group’s actions were almost always illegal and were in fact always immoral, and the members knew it and knew that they needed to hide because of this: the group murdered Black citizens, set fire to their houses, burned crosses on their property. Between 1877 and 1950, more than 4000 Black men, women, and children were publicly murdered, lynched, a new study estimates. Thus the act of publishing member names is usually viewed by the KKK as an act of aggression towards a group whose members keep their affiliation secret—out of shame, one might think—and whose chapters keep their very existence a secret. Chapters of the KKK do not publicize meeting times and places.

At its peak in the 1920s, it is estimated that the KKK once had upwards of five million active members. At present, the group is estimated to have an active membership of several thousand, but there are also several hundred hate groups in America that are not officially affiliated with the KKK but are certainly sympathetic to its aims. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which keeps track of hate groups, there are 110 known active KKK chapters across the country.

(Near where I live, in the Hudson Valley, there are more than a dozen groups being monitored in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Most are racist hate groups, some are anti-Muslim, others are anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi, others are anti-LGBT. Racist hate is far from a Southern matter.)

The modern KKK does not decry its past blood-soaked, race-obsessed history. This is why it is viewed to this day as active hate group by the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League. The websites of various chapters use not-very coded language: “white heritage,” “Aryan unity,” “United under the banner of folkish ideals and preservation.” (That last one makes less sense to me with each repeated glance at it.) Or this, from the KKK’s own site: “Bringing a Message of Hope and Deliverance to White Christian America! A Message of Love NOT Hate!” But scratch not very deeply at all and one starts to glimpse the contemporary desire for violence now, even if the groups claim to think that THEY are the misunderstood parties, that they are merely groups dedicated to fighting for life under God’s direction, and we who complain about them are drawing first blood. The hate runs thick.

Anonymous published its intentions for “Operation KKK,” which it is also calling #OpKKK and #HoodsOff, with a press release and accompanying video last week:

Ku Klux Klan, We never stopped watching you. We know who you are. We know the dangerous extent to which you will go to cover your asses. Originally, we did not attack you for your beliefs as we fight for freedom of speech. We attacked you due to your threats to use lethal force in the Ferguson protests. We took this grudge between us rather seriously. You continue to threaten anons and others. We never said we would only strike once. […] The last time we took your hoods off, you claimed to be misunderstood. Victimized. No. You are a damaged, dangerous, fragmented, splintered and amorphous collection of terroristic cells with a hate-based ideology and a well documented history of violence against the American public – assault, murder, terrorism. You play a deep, damaging and historically sinister and malevolent role in the United States. We are not violent. We will release, to the global public, the identities of up to 1000 klan members, Ghoul Squad affiliates and other close associates of various factions of the Ku Klux Klan across the Unites States. […] To the government representing the people of the United States of America: The American public should not be subjected to victimization by hate groups through a hate group’s protection by the United States Constitution without additional laws in place to protect potential victims of these violent organizations. More dialogue is needed to create working solutions. To the Citizens of the World: We stand with you always, against oppression and injustice. Anonymous is many things. The anons participating in Operation KKK believe that it is a civic responsibility to be conscious and self-critical of our society in order to improve upon the shape of things to come. To those that really disagree with us: Sorry for the inconvenience, but not really. We are trying to change our world.

The video:

As I wrote above, “anyone can compile a list of anything—Republican senators between the ages of 55 and 72—and include these four men’s names. Are these men members of their local chapters of the KKK? If yes, does this matter?” If these four senators are members of their local KKK chapters, well, this strikes me as more important than revealing possible membership in a local bowling league. But does naming them as being members of the KKK mean that they are?

A statement on an official Twitter account states that the dissemination of “accurate” information is key and that the dissemination will be done “responsibly”:

This is a vitally important promise; of course, if the information is incorrect in the case of any of the politicians’ names, it will be simple enough for them to disprove. The mayor of Norfolk, Virginia, Paul Fraim, has released a statement and the city put it on its website: “The claim by Anonymous that I am in anyway affiliated or related to the KKK is absolutely false and defamatory. There is no truth to their statement whatsoever. I am not and have never been affiliated with any such organization. I find it incredulous that these people can hide behind their computers and create such an inaccurate and hateful statement.”

Anonymous, or someone affiliated with it, claims that it has hacked the databases maintained by the local KKK chapters and is going to publish the names contained therein, famous and not. One file that was released last night dates from July and contains the names, addresses, email addresses, Facebook accounts, and Twitter handles, of various figures in the white supremacist movement in America. (Link included.) Some are well-known names, like David Duke and Hal Turner. My own spot-check of the information demonstrated for me that the information is indeed up-to-date, with one exception: the only password to an email account is no longer valid and did not open the email account.

Does the list of 1000 names, which has not yet been released, include the names of nine Americans who currently hold office? Is Anonymous pulling a public relations tease by releasing some information, which generated headlines around the world, and then semi-formally disclaiming that “premature” publication? Is Anonymous guilty of creating click-bait? This is just my opinion, but I think it is, just as any publishing house would be. (One commentator wrote under an article on DailyKos, as if anticipating me: “Vigilantism is wrong even if writing uncritical blog posts about it gets you a lot of clicks.”)

Some writers suggest that there is some sort of irony in the specter of a group of anonymous hacktivists who wear Guy Fawkes masks and calling itself “Anonymous” unmasking a second group of anonymous individuals. On DailyKos, one poster wrote, “Anonymous doesn’t have any right to anonymity if they reveal the identities of another group.” Another replied to this, “I’ll agree when it is demonstrated that Anonymous has a long history of brutal, savage murders.”

Even if none of the nine politicians are named among the 1000 about to be revealed in the “Hoods Off” plan, the attention that Anonymous is shining at hate groups is only helping those who fight them every day, like the ADL and the SPLC. A video news release was published last night:

We never forgot your threats to the protesters in Ferguson, and we certainly never forgave you. And the same will be done to the threats you give now. More than four hundred years ago a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives. So if you’ve seen nothing, if the crimes of the Ku Klux Klan remain unknown to you, then I would suggest to allow the fifth of November to pass unmarked. But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand with me on the fifth, and together we shall give them a fifth of November that shall never, ever be forgot.

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