INTERNET — Behind the thin veneer of Barrett Brown, the heroic poster boy from Anonymous who is facing a century in prison “simply for sharing a link,” there is an untold story of a man broken, in part, by his own treacherous words.
Instances in which Brown acted as a spokesperson for a group of hackers who conducted operations on an IRC site called ‘AnonOps’ exist. Or they at least seem to exist, even after Brown announced his retirement! Brown told Vice, from prison, “Even now, in prison I’m not [spokesperson for Anonymous]. For two years now I’ve denied that publicly. Every time I’m asked, it turns out that I’m not.” Brown’s reporting is so finely attuned to to the truth, even from prison, it seems fit only for the distinguished and infallible Internet Chronicle.
Brown was advocate for a shard of something that called itself Anonymous, and that much can at least be said with certainty. Brown’s corner of Anonymous was a tightly (or loosely) knit group of hackers (and others) on one particular network, which spoke with a voice which was identified as Anonymous. AnonOps IRC was an environment which through its very architecture bore its own particular organization and cultural expectations, as opposed to the extremely libertarian, minimalist restrictions of /b/ (Don’t click)). This distinct difference between core values of /b/ and those in AnonOps certainly find some overlap, especially when stated, but these are two separate worlds in practice (more here).
The cancer that is /b/ emanates through its own hegemonic humor hate machine, but the emphasis on anonymity — this eponymous ideology is one the culture luckily stumbled upon which protects their humor from sinking to the level of guys like me — is such that virtually nobody other than Boxxy uses a pseudonym and gets away with it for very long. The kind of conversation that takes place on /b/ is nearly entirely devoted to generating novel emotional responses through diverse media, despite being unfortunately called an “imageboard.” Scary storytelling traditions (creepypasta), serious texts that seem real but suddenly end with a gag (another kind of copypasta), and greentext (a unique genre of prosey-poetry mishmash) among other more opaque traditions and alternate reality games are just the beginning to the treasure trove of original content which, of course, leaks out from /b/ on a regular basis. The pranks of /b/ were delivered under the auspices of an ever-changing figure which assumed the name of each and every participant. Anonymous was one out of the multitude, an archetypal trickster, a comic book madman a la DeadPool, and a living god (perhaps converting one (more than one) would-be spinoff prophet into a monistic manic arrested for threatening police with the All Life Is One mind virus).
This Anonymous was not the Anonymous of resistance to power and not the Anonymous Barrett Brown defended or represented to the press. His Anonymous was the Guy Fawkes clad multitude, individuals with masks and scary computer skills — almost as scary as the NSA, and eternally at war with it. There’s no telling how deeply unfair this characterization may be, or “who Brown really was,” but he stated these things, seemingly, in his own words. Barrett Brown’s piece, Yes, you should join Anonymous points parties interested in “joining” Anonymous towards AnonOps and makes no mention of /b/ — the plea seems to be a discussion of an Anonymous very far removed from the Anonymous of /b/. Arguably, the Anonymous of /b/ is not even one that can be “joined,” it is many voices in one — massively shared being (it’s naughty stuff).
I was contacted by Brown after a reporter at the Internet Chronicle identified only as “lowercase anonymous” wrote a response to Yes, you should join Anonymous. Brown hotly assumed I’d written the response, which was ominously titled BARRETT BROWN LEADS ANONYMOUS INTO CERTAIN DOOM, but I gave Brown’s number to anonymous so he could fume into the proper receptacle. In the phone call, Brown spewed bigoted slurs with no air of 4chan’s playful bent and told anonymous, “you’re not Anonymous, sweetheart.” Brown mocked the concerns anonymous shared about the NSA’s extensive espionage, calling the concerns “nuts,” and also employed a version of the “nothing to hide” argument that has been framed as a “myth” (lie) and “debunked” at least twenty-seven times since Snowden’s first revelation. How could someone so deep into research of government cyberwar contractors have that kind of an attitude?
AntiSec, a rebranded “serious” version of LulzSec — this transition itself is something like a microcosmic flash of the great divide between /b/ and AnonOps — fell to the lead of hacker Sabu, who very quickly fell into the grateful hands of the FBI. It may be impossible to know the extent to which such outrageous things as the targeting of journalists was influenced by Sabu’s FBI handlers, but there was a marked change in attitude that seemed to agree with Barrett Brown and many others. The choice of government targets was inspiring in its audacity.
On Christmas Eve of 2011, AnonOps dumped a database containing potentially sensitive information on Stratfor subscribers, many of them journalists who subscribed to its popular publication as an important source for their work. This information was then used in a free-for-all by frenzied hackers who gleefully made “donations” to several charities using money stolen from average-joe journalists. Again, there is no telling how much of this was influenced by the FBI. After a widely-circulated Emergency Christmas Press Release pastebin denied that these attacks were the work of Anonymous (and presciently called Sabu out as an agent provocateur), Zoe Fox of CNN wrote, “A press release is circulating, saying that the Stratfor hack is not the work of Anonymous. However, it is difficult to tell who is correct.”
Brown responded to the Emergency Christmas Press Release by editing the original document into a meaningless pastiche of inside jokes cribbed (or co-opted) from /b/ and subtitled this unfunny mess THE PASTEBIN CLAIMING THAT THE STRATFOR HACK IS NOT THE WORK OF ANONYMOUS IS NOT THE WORK OF ANONYMOUS. Brown signed this with his twitter address underneath the Anonymous signoff with the kind of impeccable taste and class that was not thought to exist outside of the Internet Chronicle.
After news broke that Sabu had long been working for the FBI, Brown seemed to enter a painful tailspin in a whirlwind of his own treacherous words and intravenously injected oral heroin substitutes. When the FBI confiscated his laptop, Brown no longer defended the Stratfor Christmas Eve credit card thefts he had earlier backed away from (but not without trumpeting an “amoral dictate”). Even still, Brown weakly dismissed the carding of innocents as “unnecessary,” only hinting at the possibility of a set of scruples which might possibly forbid wanton and arbitrary theft.
Brown wrote of a list of topics of information the FBI sought in his laptop, “I am happy to post this list as it contains the names of two firms – HBGary and Endgame Systems – which I will now have particular opportunity to discuss, in a more public setting, as this matter proceeds.”
Brown’s latest musings on his hatred for reality television and old literature can be found on Vice and other publications, and much like the Internet Chronicle, this type of stuff is best read as incisive and sarcastic commentary from a freedom fighting hero and not the ravings of a bigot with a mouth much larger than his brain.