100 Years Worth of Federal Prison Charges for Alleged 'Hactivist'?
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Although Brown is routinely referred to as a “self-proclaimed Anonymous spokesman,” he conceded in an interview with NBCNewsonMarch 8, 2011 that he was no such thing: “I can’t speak on behalf of Anonymous, because there’s no one who can authorize me to do that.”
Brown was dubbed a “spokesman” for the collective because he was one of a few willing to speak on record, using his real name, about Anonymous activities to the media. Brown is what some Anons refer to, almost admiringly, as a “namefag.” As Tim Rogers explains: “The term is not intrinsically derogatory. It just means that one has publicly identified oneself with Anonymous, using the name on one’s birth certificate.”
“I liken him more to an embedded journalist or media liaison,” explains a close friend of Brown’s, Kevin Gallagher. The two met in New York City during the summer of 2012 at the HOPE9 Conference (HOPE stands for Hackers on Planet Earth), and have remained close. Since his arrest in September, Gallagher says, “[Brown] calls me on average once every two weeks.”
According to Gallagher, Brown wasn’t much of a hacker. He was “unabashedly lacking [the] skills” to access protected databases or participate in the big activities coordinated through certain Anonymous IRCs. Brown simply acted as a go-to source for media when big Anonymous operations were conducted. It was a dangerous position to put oneself into, and few did.
Ironically, Anonymous itself had security issues. “Toward the end of his freedom he seemed to be growing disappointed with the people in Anonymous,” Gallagher told WhoWhatWhy. “[Brown had] seen Anonymous become infiltrated [and] co-opted, and people choosing to become informants.”
Indeed, FBI infiltration and cooptation were able to sow discord within the ranks of Anonymous. This can be seen in the case of “Sabu”—an alleged ringleader of LulzSec (a highly active subgroup of Anonymous that coordinated many of the larger, illegal actions) turned government informant. In August of 2011 he pled guilty to 12 criminal charges, and began working with the FBI to trace other LulzSec members.
After the Sabu matter exploded publicly, many members of LulzSec were arrested in the following months, and the inner circle of hackers comprising Anonymous began to fragment. But that disruption did little to lessen the underlying esprit—a strong sense of individual empowerment that came from an ability to act collectively and yet still maintain personal privacy. That diffusion of power and knowledge hindered many attempts at infiltration by law enforcement.
Simply put, few Anons actually know anything about one another, so there are few opportunities to rat each other out. It’s a setup that the Mafia would appreciate. With this inherently hard-to-dismantle “structure,” Anonymous continues to make its presence felt: on February 11 of this year, the state of Alabama’s website was hacked in retaliation for allegedly “racist” state immigration legislation. Personal information that was being stored by the state on 46,000 citizens was collected and supposedly deleted.
From Dennis the Menace to Robin Hood
In the latter half of the past decade, Brown, a University of Texas-Austin dropout, worked as a freelance columnist producing copy for the likes of New York Press, Vanity Fair, Huffington Post and The Onion . Channeling H.L. Mencken, Brown co-authored a 2007 book titled Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Easter Bunny. Matt Taibbi, known for his stinging critiques of the financial industry in Rolling Stone , had this to say about it: “With their painstaking attention to historical detail and amusingly violent writing style, Brown and [his co-author] Alston have given the religious right exactly the righteous, merciless fragging it deserves.”