I admit that my expertise in psychological warfare is limited to good spy novels, better histories, and bad Twitter behavior. Over the last month or so, a campaign to smear and harass a friend of mine has unfolded before my eyes on social media and behind the scenes.
Much as I may want to ignore it, much as I may wish that my words below will bring it to an end and somehow restore his name in the world to the esteem I still hold for him, much as I may want the campaign to end, I am not sufficiently foolish to think my words will have much of an effect. I can not ignore it, though.
I am writing this because I know the human being involved, I know (or I think I know) the desired consequences of the campaign against him, and I know that he will write something similar about me should I ever become important enough in someone’s eyes to attempt to take me down. This is because my friend is a friend and he is loyal.
* * * *
The ugliest of crimes—the violation of a child, rape, abuse, harassment—are crimes of bullying, in the broadest of terms: crimes in which a powerful person violates a less powerful or powerless person and even abuses the powerless with their very powerlessness. Those who are accused of such acts never get their good names returned to them, because those who commit those crimes have lost the right to a good name.
In the online world, in the community of activists, in the community of activists who fight tooth and nail for justice, in the secretive world of hacktivists who fight tooth and nail for justice (Anonymous), all one has is one’s name and one’s reputation. Among the hacktivists, one’s name is often self-created and self-declared, because the work is hazardous and, since every hacktivist is a potential whistle-blower and governments and corporations do not want whistle-blowers to exist, the authorities want to imprison each one. Thus, the names are self-declared, but the reputations, those are real.
At its worst, the online world can seem like an American middle school playground after Friday’s last period bell has gone quiet. If you were bullied, as I was, perhaps you remember those hated Fridays. Bullies give names to the powerless (“Four Eyes!”); reputations are created for the powerless, too, which stings worse. Justice is rarely found there. But then one gets to graduate, get a job, find a therapist.
Any world in which names are protected for safety’s sake is a world in which an earned reputation—a reputation based on deeds of honor, daring, and loyalty—is most prized. The powerful entities that the hacktivists take on—governments, corporations, communities of bullies—know these things. Classic counterintelligence practices include infiltration by spies who seem to be plausible members of the group but who are snitching to their true boss (the CIA or the FBI or the local police) the entire time.
Counterintelligence operations also love to get true members to “turn” and become snitches.
Thus, when one member of an organization, especially one composed entirely of loose affiliations (there are hacker/security conventions around the world every year, but there are no regularly scheduled meetings of Anonymous that one can find in listings) that are maintained by online communications wants to sully the reputation of another member, it is surpassingly easy to do.
One motivation might be simple jealousy, which is never simple in reality. Another possible motivation is more complicated: what if one member of a group is in fact a spy from the corporate world or a government authority and he or she needs to deflect the possibility of discovery? What better way than to declare to all that this other person is a government snitch? If and when that does not work, the bullying party will start to resort to uglier tactics, such as leveling accusations of harassment, sexual harassment, abuse, and beyond.
The speed with which certain parties moved from Point A to Point Z against my friend, Raymond Johansen, was breathtaking. It can be measured in minutes. The entities started out at the far end of logic: Johansen “frequently harasses & threatens women to keep them quiet & snitch jackets ppl constantly” went the first salvo. As blanket statements go, this is an electric one. The first people to respond spoke on Johansen’s behalf, and they were and are women, plural, a fact that speaks volumes to me. They are women—human beings—whose names and reputations are known to me.
But the accusation that someone is a snitch is often the tactic of someone who is him or herself a snitch, at least in good spy novels, better histories, and bad Twitter behavior. The complainer doubled-down on several occasions, and thus revealed that all of this may have been an attention-grab: Ray “has publicly called me a fed,” the complainer wrote a few times.
I spoke with Raymond Johansen about the accusation that he harasses women. I can not speak to his entire personal history, and I have not met him in person, as he lives in Norway and I do not, but we spoke by video chat. We speak regularly. I wrote that sentence only to emphasize that we are friends.
I asked him if he knew what is behind the accusations. He said that what is out in public is but a portion of what is happening to him: some colleagues are attempting to take campaigns out of his hands, and journalists at some media outlets (he named prominent publications) seem to want to prove the allegations true.
(I am not a journalist who works for a major media outlet. This website is owned by no one. No one pays me for my thoughts, words, or deeds. I have press credentials from the U.S. Press Association, which does not employ me as it is an affiliation of bloggers and freelancers. I paid $150 for a one-year membership and a wallet card. My name is mine, and my reputation is whatever I have earned. If someone would “dox” me, there is nothing that they could publish that would surprise me as most of my adult life has been lived online and on the grid. Some of it might embarrass me, but that is because I have lived most of my adult life online.)
Raymond Johansen is someone who is honest to the point of uncomfortable bluntness, can be brusque, yet he does something seen all-too rarely: he apologizes for his words and actions when a person points out that he has gone too far. His apologies are not the non-apology apology, the “I’m sorry you took what I said/wrote/did wrong,” but are real amends. I have seen him do it and I have read posts this week stating the same thing: one mutual friend wrote about him, “I’ve seen over and over again how he handles himself. 90% of the time well.”
One entity that was once a part of the community that Johansen has helped has not been heard from and it is too bad, but that group was infiltrated a few months ago and is otherwise owned by a corporate interest now.
The complainer tried to combine several standard counterintelligence techniques in a single Tweet: an accusation that Raymond Johansen is himself a snitch (for whom?) and that he abuses women “into silence,” that he is a bully of the worst sort. Because most of the individuals whom I saw post public statements on his behalf are women, and several of them have had differences of opinion with him in public (some of which I have witnessed) and yet they support him, I dismiss the charge of harassment.
The complainer is probably a snitch, but one who has been losing clout (and Klout, probably) and is desperate for attention. This bid looks to have backfired, but almost every attempt to draw blood does so. There is too much good work that needs Johansen’s full attention (and the attention of many, many other individuals), and it is likely that certain entities know that attempts to distract from those good deeds will suit them.
* * * *
My headline comes from a leaked document that is purported to be an online chat between two hackers who are in the process of sharing names and addresses of other hackers, or of hackers who they have learned are snitches. They are showing off their “doxing” skills.
The name and address of the individual who declared war against my friend is one of those shared, so now I know who the person is, his address, his aliases. So do quite a few other people, as the document has been shared online a few times in recent days.
At one point in their conversation, one hacker asks the other, “How could the unpure possibly be of assistance to the holy?” That question is unanswered in the conversation, and perhaps it ought to be the activist’s creed. Perhaps it ought to be mine.
Follow The Gad About Town on Facebook! Subscribe today for daily facts (well, trivia) about literature and history, plus links to other writers on Facebook.
Follow The Gad About Town on Instagram!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.