Yesterday, Twitter saw Anonymous, a group of hacktivists known for its cyber-attacks against governments, institutions and corporations post a new video after a few years of absence. In it, an activist wearing the group’s recognisable Guy Fawkes mask promises to expose Minneapolis Police Department’s “many crimes to the world,” following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin. The footage ends with the message: “We are legion. Expect us.”
Furthermore, unrelated to the protests currently happening all over the US, Anonymous has also tweeted that it has uploaded documents with evidence against Donald Trump, Jeffrey Epstein and other high-profile figures. So who exactly is Anonymous and what else has the group of hacktivists revealed yesterday?
The group named Anonymous began on 4chan in 2003. It is a decentralised group of hackers with no leadership and famous for never revealing its members’ identity. When posting videos online, Anonymous members usually wear a Guy Fawkes mask, the same mask worn by protesters in the novel and film V for Vendetta. Members also disguise their voices by using voice changers or text-to-speech programmes.
Originally focused on entertainment, Anonymous gradually became associated with activism on many international issues. 17 years after its conception, Anonymous is mostly known for its highly publicised cyber-attacks against specific institutions. This reputation began in 2008, when the group targeted the Church of Scientology in a series of cyber-attacks which incited in-person protests against the church.
Two years after that, in 2010, Anonymous went after Airplex software, a company that worked with film studios to shut down copyright infringement websites. Anonymous shut down Airplex’s website for a day, saying: “Anonymous is tired of corporate interests controlling the internet and silencing the people’s rights to spread information, but more importantly, the right to SHARE with one another.”
In 2012, Anonymous brought PayPal’s website down in retaliation for shutting off service to Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, which cost the company millions.
In 2011 and 2012, Anonymous took actions to support the Arab Spring movement by helping Tunisians protect web browsers from government surveillance and helping dissidents in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Jordan and Zimbabwe. The collective also hacked Israeli websites after the 2012 Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip.
In 2014, Anonymous hackers attacked Ferguson City Hall’s website after the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer, which started riots throughout the city. At that time, Anonymous went on to threaten local police with cyber-attacks if protesters were abused or harassed.
Back to 2020, new protests have erupted in the US for the same reason as the demonstrations that took place in 2014: protesting against police brutality and systemic racism. While the group of hacktivists has clearly stated it will go after the Minneapolis Police Department’s, it also released some other shocking documents.
If you haven’t followed the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, here’s a little recap for you. After working as a teacher, Epstein moved into high finance when he persuaded the father of one of his pupils to give him a job at Bear Stearns. He quickly rose through the company and set out on his own as a financial consultant after just five years with the bank.
In 2008, Epstein was charged with soliciting prostitution from underage girls, and served a short jail sentence thanks to a plea deal widely seen as too clement. While awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking, Epstein took his own life in his jail cell in New York in 2019.
Prince Andrew met Epstein in 1999. Last year, after a picture emerged of Prince Andrew with one of Epstein’s accusers, he became part of the Epstein scandal. The picture was said to have been taken at Epstein’s London address. Further claims were made against Prince Andrew, who has since said he only saw Epstein once or twice a year and stayed “in a number of his residences”, but cut ties with him in 2011 after a photo of the pair walking together attracted criticism.
The duke denied ever witnessing or suspecting any concerning behaviour from Epstein. That being said, the Duke of York has now been relieved of his public duties due to his involvement in the scandal and his friendship with the late Epstein.
Although it was already known before Anonymous posted its recent video that Trump was friends with Epstein, the US President has recently always been quick to dismiss any kind of friendship. And yet, Donald Trump was pictured with Epstein at many events through the years and had once called him “terrific.”
Both moved in the same circles for years, but Trump insisted he only knew Epstein because of his own club in Palm Beach, where Trump was photographed with Epstein in 2001.
On the 31 May, Anonymous tweeted that it has uploaded documents which contain incriminating evidence against Donald Trump in the cases of Epstein’s alleged sexual assault. The collective also claimed it has evidence that the British royal family had Princess Diana murdered. Many of these tweets have since disappeared, but screenshots are still circulating online.
After launching a threat against the US government following the death of George Floyd, the group of cyber activists explained that if the government was not willing to bring justice in the case, Anonymous would then begin to expose some of the crimes that the US has been hiding.
A few hours after the Anonymous video hit the internet, the collective exposed the connection of many celebrities to the Epstein child trafficking scandal. As mentioned before, Trump was listed in what Anonymous called ‘The Little Black Book of Jeffrey Epstein’—a list of all the people who attended parties organised by Jeffrey Epstein, where it is said that he “recruited the children.”
These names included Ivanka and Ivana Trump, Chris Evans (the English TV host, not to be confused with the American Marvel actor), Mick Jagger, Will Smith, and more. Among those names was the English supermodel Naomi Campbell.
Not only did Anonymous threaten the US government and the Minneapolis Police Department, it then took down the Minneapolis police website and hacked Chicago’s police radio to play ‘Fuck the Police’ on loop in order to stop officers from communicating with each other.
More secrets are expected to be revealed as long as the US police keep arresting protesters instead of “the real criminals.”
Chattanooga, Tennessee, also called the Scenic City, is known for a number of things, from its beautiful surroundings to its 10-mile riverwalk down to the Tennessee Aquarium and its (apparently) delicious southern food. Yet, Chattanooga has recently gained attention for something very different; since 2015, it has also infamous for the killings of several people after known Muslim, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, went on a killing spree at two US military facilities. While Chattanooga is one of Tennessee’s fastest-growing cities, according to the FBI, it also ranks number nine among all US cities for highest rate of hate crimes. But the city has a plan; by partnering up with Hatebase, the world’s largest database for hate speech terms, it intends to solve its hate crime problem.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, hate crimes within the state increased 10.5 per cent from 2016 to 2017. In 2017, the agency received 199 statewide reports involving 315 victims, an increase from the 180 reports in 2016. Of those reports, 56.8 per cent included racial, ethnicity and ancestral bias. Tensions between Americans, primarily white Americans and Muslims, have remained high since the 11 September terrorist attack in New York City and Washington D.C. When you couple that with the 2015 shooting and the election of an openly racist and sexist bigot for president in 2016—an increase was bound to happen.
The Muslim population in Chattanooga constitutes a small, tight-knit community. Members of this community have since tried to right a wrong that isn’t theirs to right, while continuing to fall victim to hateful slurs and attacks. Coincidentally, statistics show that counties that held a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 per cent increase in reported hate crimes compared to those that did not. Chattanooga is, of course, one of these cities. So how are cities like Chattanooga able to address such an imminent problem? And what exactly are they hoping to accomplish?
In November 2019, the city launched an initiative that encourages people to anonymously report hate speech through an online forum. Whether it’s something you see, hear or experience directly or indirectly, the Chattanooga government, in partnership with Hatebase, a Toronto-based company that serves as the world’s largest repository for hate speech across 200 countries, created a simple form that allows you to indicate the term used, note whether it was directed towards you or somebody else, define the term and give the language in which the term was spoken.
Because of its high ranking status, Chattanooga is of the first US cities to record hate speech using this method. “We’re hoping to collect this data over the next several years to develop a baseline and better understand hate speech and reduce the likelihood that it graduates from speech to violence in our community,” explained Kerry Hayes, deputy chief of staff to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke in Chattanooga’s local newspaper.
Every night, the city pulls together what has been collected and adds it to a data-set used to monitor hate speech within these marginalised communities. The overall goal is to identify correlations between the racial slurs being used and the actual hate crimes being committed. The partnership between these two entities also hopes to correct the city’s persistent problem of poor and inconsistent reporting to local law enforcement agencies, although the primary goal is to stop massive acts of violence before they happen.
If this works for the city, this could mean that soon enough we will be able to, potentially, use hate speech as a predictor for regional violence. And for those of you who remain suspicious of Hatebase and its method’s accuracy, it has already successfully been used as an early warning system for armed ethnic conflicts in Kenya, Uganda, Burma and Iraq. So what if in 2020—or maybe in the coming decade—we finally solved hate crimes?