Inside Anonymous’s Operation to Out Rehtaeh Parsons’s Rapists
Apr 15 2013
The late Rehtaeh Parsons, via Facebook.
Update: The RCMP's commissioner Bob Paulson has commented on a potential partnership with Anonymous by saying "If they want to work with us, they’ve got to take their masks off, sadly, but I don’t think they’re prepared to do that. We’re open to working with everybody in society." They have also said that, based on "new and credible information," the Rehtaeh Parsons case will be reopened.
In the days following the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons – the teenage girl from Halifax who committed suicide after being gang raped, photographed and harassed – the hacktivist group Anonymous is playing a game of chicken with the authorities in Nova Scotia. Anonymous says they have the names of four suspects, and are threatening to release that information if justice is not delivered. Those names have in fact been circulating in small online circles, but the information has been withheld from publication on Anonymous’s largest social media channels. All of this has caused a storm of negative feedback from those who view Anonymous’s actions as destructive “vigilantism” while Anonymous maintains they are only involved because “several crimes have been committed in Nova Scotia. A 17-year-old girl killed herself because the police failed to do their jobs.”
I spoke with a member of Anonymous who is directly involved with the operation to bring Rehtaeh’s rapists to justice, in order to get a better handle on their motivations.
VICE: How do you go about sourcing the information that has led to naming the four suspects?
Anonymous: The information we have gathered comes from a combination of internet research and informants. It's a lot more like being a journalist than it is being a detective. We use advanced search techniques to comb the internet for statements, photos, videos, whatever we need. We can locate statements by suspects made years ago on accounts they may not even know still exist. We've also developed a level of trust with our online community, and they feel comfortable speaking with us because they know we'll protect their identities. We validate their information in the same way the police might, by cross-referencing stories and doing background checks on the individuals who are providing the information. There's also a psychological factor. It's important to recognise the motives behind the person who is providing you the information. Some people just want to be involved so they'll embellish their accounts or perhaps they want revenge. You can't always count on a person's memory either so it's important to test them to discover if the story they are telling you has been compromised by time or their emotional state.
In this case, did your sources approach you?
Most of the sources approached us, but we tracked down quite a few of them by examining the online interactions of the victim and the suspects.
What have you learned about this case so far that you want people to know?
Only half of this case is about those four teenage boys and the alleged rape. The real guilty parties here are the adults that violated Rehtaeh. I would like to see those boys punished for what they did because I think it sets a terrible example for the other young men in Nova Scotia, but almost even more I would like to see the police and the school system pay for what they did to that girl. They had a responsibility to be there for her, to protect her, and to relieve her torment. They failed at every turn to help her. Now they're all too busy blaming one another. The school claims they didn't know. The police say they couldn't find any evidence. They're both guilty of incompetence.
What happens if you have the wrong person?
I became specifically involved in this operation to prevent that. I didn't get involved in Steubenville. I didn't like the way it was handled. People were called out and in some cases forced to prove their innocence before being let off the hook. It seemed a lot like guilty until proven innocent. I have experience tracking people down online. We would never go public on this unless we were 100% sure. Fortunately, this isn't really an issue. The boys who committed the assault were very public about what they had done. The photo taken of the rape was circulated throughout the school, possibly to hundreds of kids – this of course goes to back my previous statements about how incompetent the school administration was.
People are using this idea of us possibly implicating the wrong individuals to detract away from the real issues. We all know who the police and school officials are that are guilty in this case. I think it's also important to note that justice systems often find innocent people guilty and sentence them to prison, or even in the US for instance, death. So it's nonsense to compare the justice system to Anonymous, but I doubt I'd be embarrassed if our track records were viewed side by side.
How would you respond to columns like Chris Selley’s in the National Post that say your efforts are not needed?
Wow, you picked a real winner there. Well, no offense to Chris Selley or the National Post, but he seems to insinuate that if the police screw up and a few rapists get off, the proper response is tough shit, move on to the next case. For that, I think he's a moron. Let's slow down for one second and assume that I did release the names of those rapists... what law am I breaking? I suppose they could sue me for slandering them. Of course, to do that they'd have to prove I was lying.
This gets worse: he says we should ignore the photo being spread around the school because it probably happens all time. We can't expect the legal system to punish everyone that's passing around photos of women being raped, now can we? It's “fairly routine adolescent behaviour.” Chris Selley's article epitomises the rape culture. Selley is equating a traumatic rape with a picture of a girl’s breast she took in a mirror and sent to her boyfriend.
What similarities do you see between this case and Amanda Todd's?
I think both deaths were preventable. I think Rehtaeh's death will be similarly exploited. Politicians will go on television, as they already have, and talk about how now is the time to focus on this problem. They're going to say we need to do more and then they'll probably announce funding for some sort of study on bullying – or talk about how they're going to dedicate themselves to solving this issue. If you could solve bullying by talking about it on the news, we'd all be over it by now. What can a Justice Minister do to stop bullying? He's miles above the problem. We need action in the schools where the children can feel it.
What are you going to do if the RCMP cannot bring any justice for Rehtaeh?
I think someone should warn the women at whatever college these boys end up attending that the guy sitting next to them has no respect for their humanity and will likely violate them the first chance he gets. A lot of people have said we should only take into consideration the wishes of Leah Parsons, but I think we have a responsibility to every young girl that could potentially get dragged into a dark room with one of these assholes. However, I don't think it's fair for me to make the decision to out them on my own. I've been working closely with a group of people to discover all of this information and we're going to discuss it amongst ourselves, consider all of the repercussions, and hopefully make a wise decision.
In light of your operation here, how would you respond to Rehtaeh’s mother who has asked for no further “vigilante justice” or “bullying” in retaliation for Rehteah’s death?
Mrs. Parsons said she doesn't want vigilante justice. I quote, "I think they need to be accountable for what they did. I don't want them to be physically harmed." I don't see how that conflicts with any of our intentions. Anonymous is not advocating that these individuals being harmed in any way. However, we have been in contact with Mrs. Parsons. We shared the information we have with her and told her for now we'll withhold it from the public. We aren't doing that because we're waiting for the right moment to release the hounds. We've flushed out a lot of new leads for the police, we hope they'll follow them, and we don't want to compromise their investigation.
In your interview on CBC’s The Current, Anna Maria Tremonti asked you about how Anonymous was wrong about Amanda Todd’s alleged tormenter Kody Maxson – as if that’s a fact. Clearly they’re basing that on the RCMP saying Kody was a person of noninterest, but I know from my own investigation that Kody is connected to a ring of sexual extortionists, has separate charges for sexual assault and sexual interference pertaining to a minor, and admitted to the Vancouver Sun he knew Amanda Todd “in a sense.” You didn’t really answer her question directly – so how would you respond to that now?
What I should have told Anna Maria Tremonti this morning, when she mentioned Amanda Todd, was this: the media continue to draw comparisons to the Amanda Todd case, in most instances to show how Anonymous has failed in the past to positively identify a suspect. As you're aware (because VICE did their due diligence on this subject) Kody Maxson was the individual Anonymous named as the cyberstalker we believed eventually drove Amanda Todd to commit suicide. The police labelled him as a person of no interest, yet, shortly after he claimed to have fled Canada from sexual-assault charges on another minor. Kody Maxson is not an example of how Anonymous incorrectly identified a perp, it's another example of how lazy and ill-equipped the police are in handling these types of crimes. I believe Kody Maxson is the reason Amanda Todd is dead and because the police continue using outdated methods of investigation, it's likely he'll never be brought to justice.
Follow Patrick on Twitter: @patrickmcguire