The hacktivist group Anonymous posted a list of 1,000 alleged Ku Klux Klan members online late on Thursday afternoon as part of its Operation KKK — an attempt to expose the hate group around the country.
Anonymous Twitter user @Anon6k, who released a separate list of names on Thursday and claimed knowledge of the group's activities, told VICE News that the group obtained the names after infiltrating a KKK member's social media account.
"I am the founder of the AnonOps #OpKKK channel," @Anon6k said in a direct message, referring to the group's operation. "We hacked into a trusted KKK member's account and got many names through social engineering."
@Anon6k said that the leak was legitimate because the names "come straight from the KKK." Many of the people whose names were disclosed have Facebook pages that feature Confederate flags, references to white supremacy, and KKK symbols.
"It's important to know whom you're working with," @Anon6k continued. "Do you want a member of the KKK working in a school? Or as a police officer?"
The highly anticipated release, however, struck some experts as an unsurprising compilation of well-known white supremacists, and included misleading information. Mark Pitcavage, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, said that the list at first glance was "not exactly exciting."
"This is low-hanging fruit, basically public source information," Pitcavage said of the list, which included Louisiana House of Representatives Member David Duke, who is notorious for his former participation in the KKK. "For most of these people it's not a secret that they've been in the Klan."
Pitcavage noted that the release included "all sorts of errors," such as the identification of Moses Gulette, whose real name is Morris Gulette. He also pointed out that many of the individuals listed were white supremacists but not actual Klan members. Certain mistakes were even more serious, such as the inclusion of anti-government cartoonist Ben Garrison on the list. Garrison is not a KKK member, but a few years ago someone altered his drawing the "March of Tyranny" to include an anti-Semitic drawing of a Jewish person, and the image — as well as other manipulations of his work — circled widely on the internet. (Update: Garrison's name has since been scrubbed from the list.)
"Here's Anonymous not doing their research and buying into it," Pitcavage said of the Garrison rumor, noting that the list included descriptions of the cartoonist that "the people trying to frame him were circulating."
David Cunningham, author of the book Klansville, USA: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights Era Ku Klux Klan, was also unimpressed by the Anonymous leak.
"My sense is that the majority of the things I'm seeing here are known people. You can just hit Google and find a lot of them," Cunningham said. "I'm having trouble seeing the unmasking of people who have a public profile who wouldn't have been already tied to this world. I've had trouble wrapping my head around the Anonymous promise because, while I agree the Klan can be dangerous, I don't see that they're infiltrating society. A good chunk of those people are willing to publicly admit their roles."
A quick search of the data dump included no shocking public officials, unlike a list released last weekend that named a number of politicians. Anonymous quickly disavowed last weekend's leak, which experts confirmed was inaccurate.
"The other list wasn't even written by anon," @Anon6k said, "and some believe he was trying to ruin the credibility of the group, while others believe he was just trying to help."
Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, said that the false information sparked an unjustified "media frenzy."
"Dan Coats, the former senator of Indiana, had to spend the whole day fielding media calls and put up a video on YouTube saying he was not a member of the Klan," Beirich said of one wrongly named politician.
Pitcavage stressed that hasty leaks had the potential to do devastating damage.
"If they're not careful to confirm that each and every single name released is somehow truly connected to a Ku Klux Klan group, they run the risk of defaming someone," he noted. "You have to be very careful and responsible or you run the risk of hurting someone's career, reputation, and livelihood."
This article has been updated.
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