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The Westboro Baptist Church and us.

The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) are a hate group that gained notoriety due to their extreme messages and  inappropriate picketing. For example, when a bridge collapsed in Minnesota they announced they were going to protest the funerals of the victims, claiming:

The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., plans to stage protests at funerals of victims of the 35W bridge collapse to state that God made the bridge fall because he hates America, and especially Minnesota, because of its tolerance of homosexuality.  – ThinkProgess

Similarly, when the London Bombings occured in 2007 they said:

Thank God for the bombing of London’s subway today – July 7, 2005 – wherein dozens were killed and hundreds seriously injured. Wish it was many more. – ThinkProgess

Although the WBC are obviously completely insane, we have Freedom of Speech in the U.S. and they are completely entitled to it. In January of 2011 they took it too far. In Tucson, six people were killed in a grocery store shooting. The WBC decided to direct their hate toward one of the deceased, a 9 year old girl (phoenixnewtimes).

Thats when an independent group decided to step in: The Phoenix Motorcycle Rider Group. They said they were going to create a barrier between the WBC and the 9 year old’s funeral. Very shortly after this, in direct respond to WBC’s announcement, the Governor of Arizona passed a bill requiring protestors to stay 300 ft from funerals (Azleg.gov).

In these situations the Biker Gangs and the State Governments work together to form a Governance Network against the WBC. State and non-state actors working together can overcome limitations of government (Mueller, 7). The Government can make the WBC stand 300 ft away and the Phoenix Motorcycle Rider Group can shut them up/surround them. Governor Jan Brewer posted a Facebook status update telling of the new law:

Tonight I signed SB1101 into law, which creates a 300-foot barrier between picketers and any location where a funeral or burial service is held. Such despicable acts of emotional terrorism will not be tolerated in the State of Arizona. This legislation will assure that the victims of Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tus will be laid to rest in peace with the full dignity and respect that they deserve. – Facebook

Someone replied to this status with: “Sorry I feel that we have stepped over a line into controlling free speech. Who is to say what is dignified and what is not. Common courtesy and a love the other human beings should be the answer not more laws.”  Government officials are always faced with dissenting opinions in relation to their actions and decisions. Local Biker Gangs are not. They make a decision and act, they don’t have to worry about outside disagreements.

In the end the WBC said they would not picket the 9 year olds funeral if a local radio station gave them air time (newser). The WBC still picket funerals across the country, and biker gangs often show up to surround them and drown them out (youtube). Many states have passed a law that make protesters stand a certain distance from funerals, directly in response to this group of extremists. Congress even passed a bill in response to the WBC’s actions, the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act. The bill “bars protests within 500 feet of a military cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral if those protests involve disruptive noises or other disturbances.” (firstamendmentcenter.org).

What is their motivation? They want people to react so they can sue them. The WBC are a family of sue happy lawyers. They have won thousands of dollars from communities for their rights being violated ($16,500, $17,000). When WBC went to protest at Harvard the Stanford Review warned:

Please DO NOT engage the members of the Westboro Baptist Church IN ANY WAY — not verbally, or physically. They make money suing people who “violate” their rights; they’re very good at provoking people into doing just that. – StandfordReview.org

The WBC are fueled by negative attention. On February 16, 2011 ‘Open Letter to Westboro Baptist Church’ showed up on anonnews.com, a website that displays Anonymous’s latest actions and announcements. AnonNews uses an open-posting concept; anyone can post to the site and moderators approve posts. This particular Anon release looked visually similar to certain previous releases, and was worded in an similar manor. It also involved destructive language: “We will target your public Websites, and the propaganda & detestable doctrine that you promote will be eradicated; the damage incurred will be irreversible, and neither your institution nor your congregation will ever be able to fully recover.” (Anonnews.org).

Two days later another anon press release stated “We know that YOU in fact posted the Open Letter supposedly from Anonymous. We know that you thrive on attention. We know that you are short of money. We know that this is a trap. We know how you work.” (Anonnews.org).

Two days after that, Anon released a lengthier release:

Click for full ‘Official’ Press Release

This release ends with the statements: “To the Media: Just because it was posted on AnonNews doesn’t mean every single Anon is in
agreement, in fact in this case it doesn’t even mean a single Anon is in agreement.” … “To Anonymous: It’s a trap. They’ve got their ports wide open to harvest IPs to sue. Don’t DDoS.”

Although anyone can post to anonnews.org there are some Anonymous releases that always have the same design type of rhetoric. A certain Anon group releases their ‘operations’ in a certain rhetoric and design style. They often claim some degree of degree of authority in titling it an ‘official press release’ and they spearhead the  attacks that tend to gain media notoriety (most famously, HBgary, taking down Visa/Mastercard/Paypal with DDoS attacks, Operation Egypt).

Compare the above release and releases on the website today.

There is no similarity in style. Different sects or groups have completely different styles.

The WBC release mirrored the style and rhetoric of the more ‘official’ releases, spurring the next release from this group to open with “So we’ve been hearing a lot about some letter that we supposedly sent you this morning. Problem is, we’re a bit groggy and don’t remember sending it. Our best guess is that you heard about us on that newfangled TV of yours and thought we might be some good money for your little church.”

Why did they have to warn ‘It’s a trap!’? Because the nature of anonymous is two tear: There is a network organization that puts together and releases documents, and an associative cluster that flocks into action when called upon (Mueller, 41).  Anyone can become a ‘network organizational offshoot’. All you need is an IRC channel (and probably some VPN’s running through several countries). The associative clusters of anonymous often use a program called Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) to DDoS attack and take down websites. If enough people are running LOIC at the same time, websites go offline. For example, Anonymous used LOIC to take down Visa Mastercard and Paypal after they blocked donations for Wikileaks (NYObserverMueller, 24).

Westboro wouldn’t stop talking about Anonymous and how “they couldn’t do anything to Westboro”, so Anonymous did eventually take down their website www.godhatesfags.com during a live radio chat between an Anon member and a WBC member (it is still down as of this writing). Their website contained a lot of hateful messages, new announcements from them, and all of the statements they put out in the past thanking god for disasters. It was replaced with the usual ‘Anonymous has seized this domain’ message for a while, but it is now completely offline:

Anonymous is like the motocyle gang of the internet. If they see something they don’t like, central organizers meet in IRC channels and decide on a plan of action. Motocycle gangs block the WBC’s signs and voices (youtube), and Anonymous have done the same thing to their online presence. Under the header Authority and Institutionalization in Networks Muller says:

When considering Internet governance we need to pay attention to the movements from informal, de facto association to formal organization; from loose consensual or cooperative action to the adoption of binding, agreed procedures. – (46)

Anonymous has evolved procedures around an entirely open posting process. If a cause people want to rally behind gets posted, associative clusters form and act. Right after the Internet got shut down in Egypt ‘Operation Egypt’ posted a simple 3 step guide, explaining how to fax Wikileaks documents about the Egyptian Government for free (tumblr). Fax machine in Egypt were suddenly flooded with Wikileaks documents pointing out incidents of torture and violence used by the Egyption Government against its people. Anonymous have an efficient transition from cooperative action to agreed procedures. The Network Organizers create formal organizations with aesthetically different press releases to differentiate their actions.

The organization and actions of Anonymous as a rebel Internet Governance group are worth analysis. They are a decentralized hive acting without reference to individual identity. They act as one to get goals achieved. Sometimes a few hackers that know their stuff take lead like in the HBGary and WBC cases, but there are always associative clusters up for collective action.

 

 

 

8 Comments

  1. Eva Marie wrote:

    Great report! I tried to watch some of the YouTube videos but I have an allergy to WBC and I’m all out of epipens. <3

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 5:48 am | Permalink
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