In their quest to bring the lulz back to trolling, Rustle League are winding up the media and Justin Bieber fans, too.
According to reports on the BBC and other news sites, hacktivist collective Anonymous had one of their main Twitter feeds hacked yesterday. As you might imagine, this is a big deal in the hacking world because at this stage, Anonymous are to hacking what David Beckham is to football and Will Smith is to rapping: if you asked your nan to name you a hacking collective, she'd go for Anonymous.
So who's responsible for the hack? It's been attributed to a group of hackers going by the name Rustle League.* They've been pestering Anonymous since last summer, and though they've also made it their business to troll lazy journalists and Justin Bieber fans, their main sport is trolling Anonymous. Yesterday’s takeover of @Anon_Central isn’t even the first time Rustle League are reported to have taken over an Anonymous Twitter feed; last time, the group were credited for taking over @YourAnonNews and tweeting images of a man splaying his anus wide open (yeah, it was goatse, I'm not linking to it). They didn't just do this once, they did it 30 times.
If you think about it, it makes sense: Why shouldn’t Anonymous, who have exploded as an online movement the world over, have their own group of dedicated trolls? Online phenomenon begets online phenomenon.
What makes Rustle League interesting is that they aren't pricks. The word "troll" has become a catch-all misnomer for lazy mainstream media outlets looking to pigeonhole basically anyone who's being a dick on the internet. Originally, though, it used to refer to a less heinous, more playful breed of internet antagonist, and it's to this group that Rustle League seem to belong.
They aren't the aggressively-perspiring, jailbait-loving pervs who destroy teenage girls' lives then mock their deaths on Facebook memorial pages. They retain a sense of mischief rather than menace, and they're not trying to change the world either, like Anonymous appear to be doing right now.
Jaime Cochran, AKA @asshurtmacfags, co-chair of Rustle League.
I got in touch with them before their latest hack on Anonymous to discuss modern-day trolling. I guess if you want an accurate definition of the word "troll", it's best to ask a troll themselves. (Unless they give you a wrong answer on purpose because they're trying to troll you.)
“Trolling is a form of social commentary or satirical performance art for people who take themselves too seriously on the internet,” said Jaime Cochran, co-chair of Rustle League. Cochran (she goes by the handle @asshurtmacfags on Twitter) is a 20-something online security professional and "aspiring porn actress" who, when we met for coffee in her home city of Chicago, described her style as "cerebral trolling" or even "an interactive comedy routine", before comparing herself to Andy Kaufman.
Cochran is one of Rustle League's five core members, around which drifts a more nebulous network of 30 or so more. All of them are hackers and online security professionals. None of them are fat, middle-aged men still living with their parents. Although, said Cochran, “The most malicious cyber-bullies are privileged, middle-aged, middle class men. I call it, 'The middle-aged, upper-middle-class white guy on the internet syndrome.'”
A Rustle League fan or member – it's hard to tell.
Rustle League didn't begin as a bunch of malicious jerks bombarding Facebook RIP pages or teenage girls with abuse, but as a joke between a group of friends that morphed into a wider, unified network with their own website (nazifag.com) and Google Voice hotline. Cochran explained that the group formed last summer and began to release "pastebins (online text-storing apps) of nonsense" to "lampoon the way Anonymous" conducts itself.
“We see ourselves as the old Anonymous, which is more about having fun and fucking with people rather than revolution and saving the world. Although, what we do does serve a purpose in society,” said Cochran.
According to Cochran and IRC chat logs she showed me, Anonymous now think that Rustle League are comprised entirely of FBI agents “because we annoy the shit out of them”. Convoluted conspiracy theories about how Rustle League are “a PsyOps” – a government-run operation meant to affect the already paranoid mental state of Anonymous – abound. Cochran assures me she is not FBI.
The "hacked" Rustle League website.
Besides Anonymous, Rustle League poke fun at the entire hacker ethos. Try “hacking” into the user section of the Rustle League website – designed like a shitty Geocities fan-page whose user ID and password are both “admin” – and you'll find a screen of flying penises, swastikas and the American and Israeli flags. As if it wasn't already obvious enough, they're using symbols like the swastika and words like "nigger" or "fag" because they're charged phrases sure to offend anyone who's not a part of the community. React with outrage and you become the victim.
“I facetiously call someone a 'fag', but that's internet nomenclature, internet lexicon,” said Cochran, who happens to be transgender and a friend of Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, the “iPad hacker” currently facing a totally unjustified ten years in prison for exposing AT&T's loose security.
Weev was president of another trolling group known as GNAA (Gay Nigger Association of America), a revolving collective that made headlines last autumn for their tweets about African-Americans stealing televisions and pet cats during Hurricane Sandy. None of the thefts they tweeted about actually happened, obviously, but some outlets ran with the story, which is exactly what the GNAA wanted: to point out inefficiencies in today's media by very successfully making them look like idiots.
Andrew "weev" Auernheimer.
Rustle League member Jihad, who was also part of the Occupy Movement and Antisec before one of its most prominent guys, Sabu, was outed as an FBI informant, is convinced “the media purposely confuses trolling for bullying”. In a private web chat about their fake Super Bowl power-outage "hack", Jihad wrote:
“Often we [trolls] rely on the ignorance of the media itself to propagate our messages. When the lights went out at the Super Bowl, the Rustle League tweeted, taking responsibility and linking an obviously fake picture of the "control panel" used to 'LYKE OMG HAX0R THE NFL GIBSON.' It wasn't long before that information was up on various news websites and blogs,” he added, before calling this type of un-fact-checked journalism “lazy” and a form of “selling ignorance”.
Rustle League don't really focus on trolling the media or pointing out issues with the 24-hour news cycle as much as other groups, though. Their “operations” are varied, something that comes with 30 or so unofficial members doing their own thing. One floating member, Dutchminati, for example, created the #cutforbieber hashtag that temporarily had the media believing Justin Bieber fans were cutting themselves in protest at their idol smoking weed. It was supposed to be a form of “social commentary on idol worship and how we treat and look up to celebrities”, explained Cochran. She reiterated, however, that this kind of trolling isn't her style.
Besides mocking hacker culture and Anonymous, Rustle League have made prank calling internet radio station Vince in the Bay another one of their trademarks, but Cochran admits, “We've started to wear out the Vince in the Bay thing.” She then mused aloud about joining the Westboro Baptist Church, “just because they're trolling the shit out of Anonymous".
She explained, “They use free speech so brazenly and it's amazing to see people like Anonymous trying and failing to squash what they do. I don't agree with their message as a trans-woman, but they push the limits of free speech and it's something that needs to be done more often.”
tl;dr: Rustle League = a group of digital Voltaires.
*Update, 6:56PM, 22/02/13: We just got an email telling us that Rustle League didn't hack Anonymous at all, that the two groups are great pals and basically colluded to "rustle the jimmies" of the world's media – "world's media" including us in this instance, I guess. If what the email says is true, then good work, Rustle League. We're so mad.
Follow Fruzsina on Twitter: @FruzsE
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