Immediately following the death of African American teenager Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Mo., the online hacktivist group Anonymous jumped into action with something it’s calling #OpFerguson.
On Saturday afternoon, 18-year old Michael Brown was fatally shot multiple times by Ferguson police outside of an apartment complex. Brown’s mother told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch she saw her son, who was slated to begin college two days later, being loaded into a police squad car before he attempted to flee on foot. Eyewitnesses have reported he was then shot multiple times in the back as he ran away with his hands in the air.
Brown’s death immediately sparked outrage both in the surrounding community, which is predominantly African American, and among social justice activists across the country.
?The City of Ferguson is aware there are strong feelings following the tragic event that occurred on Canfield Drive earlier today,” officials said in a statement on the city’s official website. ?The St. Louis County Police Department is conducting an independent investigation of the events. We will provide further information as the investigation continues.”
The following day, a press release coming from someone claiming to be a spokesperson for the Anonymous appeared on the text-sharing site Pasebin. The statement blasted not only the Ferguson police responsible for Brown’s death, but the entire country’s national law enforcement culture. It also called for the people to Ferguson to take action:
To the good people of Ferguson, take heart—and take your streets. You are not alone, we will support you in every way possible. Occupy every square inch of your city. Open your homes and help in any way you can the protesters who will come to your city from every part of Missouri and the U.S.A. Businesses and householders that are near protest rallies, open your WiFi routers so that live streamers and other independent journalists can use the Internet connections. Feed each other, keep each other safe—and stay in the streets until we are totally victorious in all our demands.
A section of the message was directed to the Ferguson Police Department, threatening law enforcement officials with direct retaliation if they crack down on those protesting Brown’s death. ?If you abuse, harass or harm in any way the protesters in Ferguson we will take every Web-based asset of your departments and governments off line,” the group said. #OpFerguson members also pledged to release personal information on every member of the city’s police department, as well as make public all of the department’s private emails and databases if anything happens to the protestors.
?That is not a threat, it is a promise. …This is your only warning.”
The same day Anonymous sent out its message, a protest in Ferguson, a predominantly African American suburb of St. Louis, turned into a riot during which looters ransacked dozens of business. Hundreds of riot police were deployed and 32 people were arrested.
Just hours later, according to local news reports, those cyberattacks began as promised. Ferguson city officials told KMOV that the city’s government’s email system was entirely offline as of Monday morning. In response to the threat, Ferguson’s mayor had the city’s IT department take down all personal information about city employee from various government websites.
We confirm late last night global operatives of Anonymous launch cyber attacks against the servers of the City of Ferguson. | #OpFerguson
— Operation Ferguson (@OpFerguson) August 11, 2014
Anonymous hacktivists, who regularly rally in support of minorities they feel have been abused by those in power, have acted on similar threats to release personal information in the past. In response to the shooting death of Charles Blair Hill at the hands of transit police in San Francisco in 2011 and the local transit agency’s decisison to shut off cellphone service in a number of subway stations during a subsequent protest of the shooting, hackers affiliated with Anonymous released personal information, including phone number and home addresses, of over 100 police officers.
Anonymous has also launched hacktivist campaigns against Israel’s recent actions in Gaza, and against people in the town of Steubenville, Ohio, which they felt were guilty of covering up the rape of 16-year old girl by two members of high school football team, who were later found guilty of related crimes.
Brad Pitt recently purchased the rights to the Steubenville story and will likely bring it to the big screen.
In this case, the group’s demands are a little different than how it typically operates. Instead of simply calling for justice for Brown or reacting to perceived injustices, it is also urging federal lawmakers to draft legislation— a ?Mike Brown’s Law”—imposing ?strict national standards for police conduct in the U.S.A.”
There is a White House petition collecting signatures to convince President Obama to do what he can to make ?Mike Brown’s Law” a reality. At the time of this writing, it has just 118 of the 100,000 signatures need to earn a response from the president.
The campaign against Ferguson authorities quickly gathered steam on Twitter. An analysis of #OpFerguson using Topsy, shows that the hastag generated nearly 5,000 mentions within a few hours of its inception:
Here are some examples of what people are tweeting:
If we don’t speak up , things will never change ! #OpFerguson
— Genesis (@_Gygy__) August 11, 2014
— Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) August 11, 2014
Believe it or not…watching that #OpFerguson video got me thinking…this is a virtual & technologically engaged society.
— livelovekia.com (@livelovekia) August 11, 2014
in this day and age, #anonymous is the last group of people you want to piss off
— deaux (@d34ux) August 11, 2014
Photo by edans/Flickr