There are no headline-grabbing names on the list of KKK members that the hacker collective Anonymous released this afternoon, unlike the names of mayors and senators that appeared on the disavowed publication that a rival, attention-seeking, unknown individual put out several days ago. And that is just fine.
What the group of hactivists published today is a list that its members compiled of several hundred individuals and their Facebook and/or Google+ accounts. Their public identities, if they have any. Thus, all of this information is public or as public as any of these individuals may have decided to make it; almost anyone could have compiled this list, but it is Anonymous who bothered.
Was it worth them bothering? Many instant pundits on Twitter and Facebook opined this afternoon that the list is a let-down, that they could have compiled this list. Well, “they” didn’t. Anonymous did. At first glance, the Facebook accounts that they found almost look like they could have been discovered by employing an image-search program tailored to ferret out pictures of the Confederate flag and pick-up trucks.
A second glance reveals that this is only a dumb joke: these individuals are not about “Southern pride” or some mythical “American way.” These accounts are the publicly shared lives of people who are deeply committed to a shared belief that there is a race of people called “white,” that it is under attack from malignant forces all around so its members must protect themselves with guns, and that all other “races” are mongrel, are disgusting and less-than. “White pride” is a recurring phrase, one which removes the possibility of me having any. The official news release from Anonymous even includes this declaration: “TRIGGER WARNING: This report contains some links to media content (such as images, video, audio) as well as links to profiles that contain graphic language and hate vitriol. These links may be upsetting, disturbing and/or uncomfortable.”
Is each individual on the list an active member of the Ku Klux Klan or an affiliate? Some certainly are, as they are well-known figures like David Duke. It is not one-hundred percent knowable who is an “active” member, as many chapters of racist organizations do not accept credit cards or checks for membership fees. All of the Facebook accounts that are still up and running are of individuals displaying pride in the aspiration to live in a white-only country, bare minimum; many of the accounts were deactivated this week in the run-up to #OpKKK taking place. Perhaps if that fake list had not been published earlier this week …
It is important to note that Anonymous did not “hack” a KKK mailing list to produce its report. Its members acted as journalists in this particular story. The official press release states, “Data collected for Operation KKK was gathered over approximately 11 months and those included on this list were identified primarily through HUMINT (human intelligence) data collection strategies. This means that individuals on this list were often identified by human sources of information through both overt (interviewing expert sources) and covert (digital espionage / social engineering) methods. Individuals on our list were also identified through open source intelligence strategies (OSINT). This is a broad array of information and sources that are generally available to the public. This includes: multimedia, academic records and public data. Members often told on themselves to us about their connections with the KKK during various chat conversations we had with klan members and affiliates throughout the course of our operation. You never know who you are talking to on the internet.”
The “hacking” part is scheduled to start tomorrow, when, Anonymous promises, various Ku Klux Klan websites will be forced offline via DDoS attacks:
— Anonymous (@AnonyOpNews) November 5, 2015
The list that was published two hours ago provides background information for some of the individuals, which is what Anonymous gathered from instant messaging and chatting with the subjects. Many use multiple aliases or nicknames. Many employ multiple Facebook accounts. Almost all seem to believe that they live in a difficult world in which black people, Jews, and gay people hold all the positions of power in this nation and all the levers to control power. For me, a white man who is half-Jewish and hetero, yet Progressive, it is a glimpse into a bizarro-world in which photos of kids holding guns are cheered and photos of lynchings receive “likes” just as a photo of an inspirational meme might.
In its cover letter, Anonymous wrote something important about empathy. I quote it in full: “We learned, that aside from our striking differences in overall ideology and behavior, we have found that many members of Ku Klux Klan groups actually have a few important similarities to us. For example, they are mostly poor and pissed off at the the Man. They oppose government surveillance and they generally feel persecuted for free thought. Day to day, some klan members work very hard for very little. This is a common ground we understand all to well. We feel that the ability to find common struggles with those that are very different than ourselves is important. Even if they are filled with hatred. We will never sympathize with the KKK but we do desire to understand them and learn about how they see their world. We do see their humanity, we respect their right to free thought and we know their fear of others is wrong. We also know their behaviors strike fear, anxiety and terror into others. This will no longer be socially tolerated.”
We defend free thought and free speech. The anons responsible for this operation will not support *acts* of terrorism and *acts* of hate inflicted upon the public. The KKK is part of an important cultural landscape and history in the United States.
We need to make room for important, blunt, honest, public, productive conversation. Violent bigotry IS a problem in the United States. This is not a colorblind society. It deeply divided on racial lines.
We hope Operation KKK will, in part, spark a bit of constructive dialogue about race, racism, racial terror and freedom of expression, across group lines. Public discourse about these topics can be honest, messy, snarky, offensive, humbling, infuriating, productive, and serious all at once. The reality is that racism usually does NOT wear a hood but it does permeate our culture on every level. Part of the reason we have taken the hoods off of these individuals is not because of their identities, but because of what their hoods symbolize to us in our broader society.
Myself, I do not know what it will take for citizens of this nation to have a conversation that will bring it to maturity about race. We need to, and we also need to stop saying “We need to” and actually get around to growing up. I hope that a conversation will be what accomplishes this, but I suspect not. The activists inside Anonymous are far more idealistic than I am.
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