Anonymous' Battle Against the Westboro Baptist Church
Dec 19 2012
Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Update 12/20, 1:15PM EST: The Twitter account for Fred Phelps Jr. was hacked by "Cosmo the God" who Wired confirmed was also the hacker who defaced the Twitter account belonging to Shirley Phelps, WBC spokesperson, on Monday. Cosmo replaced Fred Jr.'s Twitter background with the image posted below, but the account has now been suspended.
Update 12/19, 2:20PM EST: In response to the Westboro Church's disgusting invitation to their followers to picket the funeral of Sandy Hook principal's funeral Dawn Hochsprung (because they claim "God sent the shooter") multiple people on Twitter are reporting that members of Anonymous and firefighters have formed a human fence in front of the funeral home. According to broadcaster on a livestream outside the funeral, started by Twitter user @KYAnonymous, Hell's Angels with "full patches on their backs" are helping block the Westboro Church from getting close to the funeral home, as well. Below is a screenshot from a Ustream that was taken outside the funeral. There is no indication that the WBC has actually showed up to protest.
Update 12/19: Twitter just reactivated the @YourAnonNews account. We'll let you know what happens next.
Over the past few days, Anonymous has been beating their virtual war-drums in the general direction of the Westboro Baptist Church. You probably already know exactly who the Westboro Baptist Church is, but if not, we made a documentary on it that you can watch here. They’re that group of extremist Christians who are famous for such vile hate speech slogans as “God Hates Fags” that have earned them the ire of pretty much every rational human being on the planet.
After the unspeakably depressing mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last Friday, Westboro drove its flag of awfulness even deeper into the cortex of basic civility, by announcing that they would be protesting the vigils for the victims of the Connecticut shootings in order “to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment." Executing his judgment against innocent children at the hands of an assault rifle wielding insane person? Holy shit, right? Well, certain members of Anonymous felt like that too, so they proceeded to launch a virtual offensive against the Church, which led to the public service announcement video embedded below and the release of personal information of Westboro Church leaders. As the robotic Anonymous voice says in the video: "We have seen your depraved methods of disseminating your message of hate throughout the United States of America... your hatred supersedes your faith... Since your one-dimensional thought protocol will conform not to any modern logic, we will not debate, argue, or attempt to reason with you."
It’s hard to feel any sympathy for the Westboro Church for having to deal with a swarm of Anonymous hacker-bees. According to Forbes, Anonymous claimed to have changed the desktop background of a Westboro representative named Shirley Phelps-Roper to gay porn, and filed a death certificate in her name to screw her out of social security benefits. Not a bad one-two punch! In the process of this gay porn and fake death blitzkrieg, Anonymous released the personal information of a few Westboro Church members which they call “doxing” (releasing documents) and pushed these dox out to one of their Twitter accounts @YourAnonNews, which had about 750,000 followers and was suspended around noon today.
These documents included the personal information of one Libby Pehlps, the granddaughter of Fred Phelps who heads the Westboro Baptist Church, who was implicated by Anonymous. The major problem here is that Libby has completely distanced herself from the Westboro Baptists and even runs a Facebook page to spread that message. After Barrett Brown, an outspoken public face for Anonymous, was recently indicted in Texas for sharing a link that contained stolen credit card information in a chat room, it’s not surprising to see the shutdown of @YourAnonNews over a reformed extremist Christian having her personal information shot out to the world for all to see.
So it seems that when Anonymous picks a fight with extremist Christians the results are quick and very noticeable. While Anonymous does run other PR and News Twitter accounts, losing a voicebox to 800,000 followers is a very serious blow to a grassroots hacktivist movement. What is absolutely clear is that if Anonymous is going to file fake death certificates over the threat of protests surrounding the Connecticut shootings, and if the brand-defining protests that Anonymous launched against Scientology are any indication, the response to this account suspension will be heavy unless the account is somehow returned by Twitter in the very near future. Based on everything that's happened so far, I would have to say that this feud is only beginning.
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Follow Patrick on Twitter: @patrickmcguire