“Anonymous” Attacks: Is the Snake Biting Its Tail?

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Pranksters

The Assclown Offensive: How to Enrage the Church of Scientology
by Julian Dibbell
September 21, 2009

mf_chanology_f-200In the evening of January 15, 2008, a 31-year-old tech consultant named Gregg Housh sat down at the computer and paid a visit to one of his favorite Web sites, the message board known as 4chan. Like most of the 5.9 million people who visit the site every month, Housh was looking for a few cheap laughs. Filled with hundreds of thousands of brief, anonymous messages and crude graphics uploaded by the site’s mostly male, mostly twentysomething users, 4chan is a fountainhead of twisted, scatological, absurd, and sometimes brilliant low-brow humor. It was the source of the lolcat craze (affixing captions like “I Can Has Cheezburger?” to photos of felines), the rickrolling phenomenon (tricking people into clicking on links to Rick Astley’s ghastly “Never Gonna Give You Up” music video), and other classic time-wasting Internet memes. In short, while there are many online places where you can educate yourself, seek the truth, and contemplate the world’s injustices and strive to right them, 4chan is not one of them.

Yet today, Housh found 4chan grappling with an injustice no Internet-humor fan could ignore. Days earlier, a nine-minute video excerpt of an interview with Tom Cruise had appeared unauthorized on YouTube and other Web sites. Produced by the Church of Scientology, the clip showed Cruise declaring himself and his co-religionists to be, among other remarkable things, the “only ones who can help” at an accident site. For the online wiseasses of the world, the clip was a heaven-sent extra helping of the weirdness Tom Cruise famously showed on Oprah. But then, suddenly, it was gone: Scientologists had sent takedown notices to sites hosting the video, effectively wiping it from the Web.

Housh and other channers knew that Scientology had a long history of using copyright law to silence Internet-based critics. But this time, maybe because the church was stifling not just unflattering content but potential comedy gold, the tactic seemed to inflame the chortling masses. That evening, Housh logged in to an IRC channel frequented by like-minded chuckleheads and started talking with five others about the Cruise video. There was a sense that something must be done, but what? One of them logged out and posted a call to action on 4chan and some similar sites. By the middle of the night, 30 people had joined the chat. Within a couple of days, a consensus emerged: They would take down the main Scientology Web site with a massive distributed denial-of-service attack, or DDoS.

By the time the attacks started on January 18, Housh and many of the now 200 others on the chat channel were devoting every spare moment to the cause: “We were like, OK, we have 24 hours today. None of us need to sleep. Get your caffeine. What’s the next step?”

Read the rest of this article and watch the videos here.

Related links:

  • Anonymous Scientology Hacker Busted
  • Trolling for Trouble
  • Anonymous Attacks