Did Anonymous really out sitting U.S. senators and mayors of major cities as members of the Ku Klux Klan?
It doesn’t look like it.
But that isn’t a good reason to dismiss #OpKKK/#HoodsOff, the hacking collective’s planned Nov. 5 data dump of the Klan membership. Recent successful hacks of the Canadian government that Anonymous said it orchestrated and a focus on issues of racial justice suggest they very well could deliver on their promise to reveal the information of 1,000 Klansmen — even though the group is in justifiably hot water for Monday’s bungled information drop.
The story leading up to this Thursday’s scheduled reveal is this: Early last week, the operators of one #OpKKK-affiliated Twitter account (“Operation KKK”) claimed to have obtained the information of 1,000 Klan members, and said they planned to reveal their identities. That was followed up by two posts that all but declared war on the KKK.
Yesterday, people claiming to be part of #OpKKK appeared to jump the gun, posting a list of elected officials, phone numbers and another identifying information they said belonged to individuals associated with the Klan. Any association with the KKK was quickly debunked by the politicians named, news outlets and others. The Operation KKK account defiantly tweeted that #OpKKK had nothing to do with the release. It seemed #OpKKK was toast before it ever got off the ground.
But experts and recent history indicate that just because a possible lone wolf put something out there ahead of a scheduled dump, that does not mean #OpKKK will flame out.
McGill University anthropologist Gabriella Coleman, who literally wrote the book on Anonymous, spoke with Re/code about the Nov. 5 hack. She pointed to Anonymous’ previous attacks on the Klan and neo-Nazis, last year’s #OpFerguson and recent successful hacks of the Canadian government as examples of where Anonymous is now focusing its efforts.
“I’ve been following reactions on Twitter, and people are excited,” Coleman said. “A lot of people know that racism is such a problem. But one of the problems is that it exists in these kind of invisible social patterns, so when you can find actually concentrated forms of racism in an organization, it’s like ‘Oh, what a relief.’”
Selecting a target like the Klan could work in Anonymous’ favor, because there is probably nothing in American culture that better illustrates a “concentrated form of racism” than the white robes of the Klan. Additionally, the Klan is a weakened organization, whose power has been sapped over the last number of years by changing societal attitudes and constant infighting.
Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center described the Klan as more focused on spending their “time and energy attacking one another than they do their oft-named enemies,” and that individual “Klaverns'” only growth comes from “absorbing the detritus of other groups.”
Coleman also points out that when Anonymous got involved in Ferguson, someone screwed up and “doxxed” (revealed the personal information of) a St. Louis man who had nothing to do with the death of Michael Brown. Though Anonymous quickly distanced itself from the account that posted the information, the bungled doxxing characterizes the organization’s chaotic decision-making process, which often harms innocent people.
Or as Ahmed Ghappour, a professor at the UC Hastings law school who studies cyber security, put it, “The fact that the lead-up to the dump is so unpredictable is predictable.”
When Coleman and I spoke, before it was clear that the list of names publicized yesterday was inaccurate, she posited that even if the circulated list of politicians was bogus, there was reason to believe the organizers of #OpKKK could have still obtained the names of 1,000 people legitimately associated with the Klan.
“I suspect there are some old-timers involved. In the Canadian government hacks, there were people who’ve been involved since 2010 and 2011,” Coleman said “[Those hacks succeeded] because they were really good organizers, corralled new people, connected warring factions — hypothetically, that could be the same for this as well.”
Still, it’s hard to discern what’s going on behind these scenes, and whether yesterday’s bad dump was the work of a lone operative or the result of some internal power struggle. Coleman says Anonymous has become “much more careful with their security. … It’s harder to know what’s going on.”
“My jaw was dropping this morning. As someone who studies them, it’s really hard to be shocked,” Coleman said. “Holy shit. If they’re right, this is huge. If they’re wrong, it’s huge — they’re going to be massively discredited. One police officer is kind of minimal. This isn’t.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.