Anonymous, the most secretive hacking group, has made a name for itself over the years by targeting ISIS and CIA

The hacktivists are back in the news with a threat of exposing Minneapolis police department's "many crimes to the world" following the death of George Floyd


                            Anonymous, the most secretive hacking group, has made a name for itself over the years by targeting ISIS and CIA
(Getty Images)

Anonymous recently grabbed headlines after threatening to expose the Minneapolis police department's "many crimes to the world" following the tragic death of George Floyd. The death of Floyd, an unarmed black father-of-two who died after being pinned to the ground by Officer Derek Chauvin, has sparked nationwide outrage with violent protests surging as far as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. But according to the hacktivist group, the defenseless 46-year-old's death is "merely the tip of the iceberg."

While we await their highly anticipated exposé, what do we really know about this vigilante network that has been operating for decades behind its notorious mask?

Born out of a spirit of disruption with a touch of anarchism, "Anonymous" or "Anon" sprung up across major digital platforms in the early 2000s. This loosely interconnected network of hacktivists went on to take on everything from Scientology, to the Clintons, to ISIS - and at some point around 2016, they fractured. However, it is still unclear if they exist or if they ever really did. 

Despite being a highly decentralized, scattered, and complex cluster, Anonymous has entwined with some of the biggest political forces in the past decade - from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring to QAnon. One can say they have mastered the art of modern rebellion at a time when data is the most valuable currency of all. The elusive network started gaining popularity back in 2003, when they came to be known as a collective of tricksters pulling pranks and blossoming an ethos of trolling and general disarray - thanks to their broad, decentralized messaging techniques that oozed memetic virality and gave equal importance to both humor and justice.

Anonymous is associated with two images in pop culture - one is the highly popular Guy Fawkes mask from the 2006 blockbuster 'V for Vendetta', and the other is their signature "man without the head" emblem that symbolizes anti-authoritarianism. One of the group's first notable achievements was exposing white nationalist figurehead Hal Turner as an FBI informant in 2006. They subsequently took a dive into mainstream political activism through "Project Chanology" - a coordinated attack against the Church of Scientology. Anonymous hackers launched a campaign to take down Scientology after the Church removed a video of Tom Cruise that they thought portrayed them in a bad light. After a coordinated attack on the organization's website, thousands of people were inspired to show up in real life protests across the country. A new movement was born.

The group would, for the next decade, harness the power of the internet in unprecedented ways. Their intermittent crusade for justice, destruction, irony, and revelation would often shudder the highest echelons of society. As though it were a natural progression, Anonymous soon found itself battling censorship and upholding free speech - using advanced techniques such as DDoS (Distributed Denial of Services) attacks to destroy websites they deemed threatening to human free will. In 2010, they came together to protest a censorship bill that was about to be passed in Australia. Later that year, they lined up behind Wikileaks after Amazon kicked founder Julian Assange's operation off its servers and financial giants such as Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal stopped processing donations to the whistleblower group.

Around the same time, a portion of the network realized they'd veered way too far from the trolling ethos that had originally inspired them - and thus, a group called Lulz Security (LulzSec) was born. LulzSec would go on to hack the CIA's website, and have fourteen of their hackers get arrested by the FBI for attacks against PayPal. As a result, Anonymous's star began to rise on the US government's radar.

The following year, Anonymous launched a crusade to support protesters of the Tunisian government after they blocked Wikileaks -- eventually sparking the Arab Spring. Hector Xavier Monseguer (or "Sabu") -- one of the more notorious leaders of LulzSec -- consolidated resources and helmed a DDoS attack on a number of the government's websites. Sabu would later become an FBI informant. The hackers were also instrumental in planning the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests in New York.

In 2013, they created Operation Safe Winter to raise awareness about homelessness. The following year, under "Operation Ferguson" they allegedly joined hands with Black Lives Matter after the death of Michael Brown, organizing a number of cyber protests against law enforcement.

But the 2011 hacking spree was enough to raise alarm within the White House, which soon became concerned that Anonymous had the potential to destabilize US power grids. They subsequently began labeling the group as cyber terrorists of anarchists, and sometime around 2015 and 2016, the group fractured - leaving behind a legacy of conspiracies, chaos, and even mild offshoots such as QAnon.

Anonymous shifted its focus towards the Islamic State after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. #OpISIS was a largely uncoordinated effort but managed to make waves nonetheless. "For more than a year, a ragtag collection of casual volunteers, seasoned coders, and professional trolls has waged an online war against the Islamic State and its virtual supporters," blogger Emerson T. Brooking wrote at the time. "Taking away the free speech from a group that is advocating the end of free speech is delicious fun," an Anonymous member shared on Reddit following the Hebdo operation.

The vigilante group was probably best described by filmmaker Brian Knappenberger when he created the documentary We Are Legion in 2012 "They rise up most forcefully when it comes to Internet freedoms and technology, particularly technology that is being abused in some way," he said at the time. "They're sort of protectors of the Internet. This is their territory, and if it's abused, they're personally offended."

With the emergence of the lastest video, it seems they are still willing to lend their name to a worthy cause.

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