A battle that began last week between the hacker collective Anonymous and the widely despised Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas escalated on Thursday when the collective defaced the church’s website. You probably know the Westboro Church for its bizarre protests held near the funerals of American service members and for the convoluted way they attach their hatred of gay people to the deaths of American soldiers. And you may know the group Anonymous for some of their more notorious hack-jobs, including their vendettas against the Church of Scientology, the Epilepsy Foundation and Habbo.
The animosity started last week when Anonymous posted an open letter to AnonNews.org calling for Westboro church to stop their controversial protests and take down their websites. In response, someone from Westboro tweeted that Anonymous should go ahead and “Bring it.”
Anonymous then claimed that they were not behind the letter, and asked members to stand down on any attacks against the church’s website. But Westboro continued to antagonize the hacker collective, including an incident when spokeswoman for the church, Shirley Phelps-Roper, suggested that the existence of the group was evidence that their parents had failed to spank them when they were children.
“This generation doesn’t talk about spanking children, in fact, they don’t,” Phelps-Roper said. “That’s why we have groups like Anonymous running around. Just connect these dots.”
On Thursday, the group then infiltrated the Church’s website during a live radio interview between Phelps-Roper and an Anonymous member.
Anonymous posted to the compromised site: “Your continued biting of the Anonymous hand, however, has earned you a swift and emotionless [slap], in the form of this very message.”
Anonymous has a mixed bag of “accomplishments,” some of them easier to sympathize with than others. In late 2006 and early 2007, the collective took down the website of radio host Hal Turner. Turner, who identifies himself as a white supremacist, then unsuccessfully sued several groups associated with Anoymous, claiming thousands of dollars in bandwidth bills caused by the disturbance.
Then late in 2007, the group was instrumental in bringing an Internet predator, Chris Forcand, to the attention of the police, possibly marking the first instance of an Internet predator being arrested as a result of Internet vigilantism. Forcant was charged with two counts of luring a child under the age of 14, as well as a host of other counts.
While it is certainly easy to champion the group when it brings down an Internet predator-or even when it is infringing on the First Amendment rights of others by messing up their websites-it’s harder to give them the thumbs up for some of their other work, which by comparison seems mean spirited or simply mischievous. Examples include a planned “Porn Day,” in which members uploaded pornographic videos to YouTube, and the targeting of McKay Hatch, a California teenager who runs an anti-profanity website.
As we watch to see how the battle between Anonymous and the Westboro Baptist Church will progress, one thing is certain. Both of these groups-one shrouded in mystery and one all too public-are stubborn. You might want to find a comfortable seat, because this might go on for a long time.