The loose-knit coalition of online rabble-rousers called Anonymous has latched onto a new victim: the Ku Klux Klan. A campaign dubbed "Operation KKK" seeks to use hacking, online harassment, and public shaming to embarrass and intimidate members of the racist group.
The campaign has proven to be a disaster so far. In recent days, hackers have released at least two lists of purported KKK members. But the evidence behind these accusations is extremely flimsy.
The leaders of Operation KKK have distanced themselves from these initial data releases, saying that they'll release a more thoroughly vetted list on Thursday.
Operation KKK is a long-running Anonymous campaign against the Klan
Anonymous is a group of virtual vigilantes. It has no permanent leadership. Rather, members are self-selected and organize spontaneously around particular projects. Often the goals of the projects are to harass and embarrass people and organizations that are unpopular with Anonymous members. Anonymous members have targeted the rapacious Church of Scientology, the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, and large companies such as Sony.
The feud between Anonymous and the KKK goes back to the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri. During those protests, a KKK group threatened to hurt Ferguson protestors. Anonymous responded by hacking accounts belonging to the KKK. The two groups have been sniping at each other ever since.
Anonymous likes to hold major events on November 5. That's Guy Fawkes Day, a British holiday celebrating the thwarting of a 1605 plot by Catholic terrorist Fawkes to blow up Parliament. The Fawkes plot plays a key role in the 2006 movie V for Vendetta. That movie, in turn, was the inspiration for the creepy masks Anonymous members like to wear in public.
The group has been ramping up its anti-KKK efforts in recent days, ahead of a planned "Million Mask March" on November 5, 2015 that will (supposedly) feature masked protesters staging anti-racism rallies across the country. As part of that, Anonymous members have been hacking into KKK-affiliated websites and defacing them. Some hackers have also been discovering databases containing contact information that — supposedly — contain the identities of KKK members.
The "KKK member lists" released so far are based on a ridiculous premise
Hackers have released at least two lists of alleged KKK members, which you can read here and here. But the most important thing to know about these lists is that the people who posted them seem to believe that anyone whose contact information is in a KKK database must be a KKK member.
Of course, this is ridiculous. For example, one person on the list suspects that her name was added by a man who had an ax to grind against her. The man has also been accused of submitting other enemies' names to Klan mailing lists.
The second document lists politicians who — again, allegedly — are affiliated with the Klan. The list includes Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). It's easy to imagine pranksters or political detractors adding Tillis, Cornyn, and other public figures to this list for spam from the Klan.
The Twitter account for the Operation KKK campaign has denied responsibility for these lists:
The anons at the helm of this initiative vouch ONLY for the dox list that will be released from this Twitter account on November 5 2015.— Operation KKK (@Operation_KKK) November 2, 2015
The leaders of the Operation KKK campaign say they have 1,000 names and will release a list on November 5. But while some of those names may be KKK members, others may be ordinary people with no connection to the racist group; releasing their names could damage their reputations and expose them to harassment.
Correction: My original story wasn't clear that the data released so far has been disavowed by the main leaders of Operation KKK.