The hacking group Anonymous is escalating its cyber war against the Ku Klux Klan.
In the coming weeks, the anarchist hacking collective is planning to release the names of 1,000 alleged Klan members, roughly one year after Anonymous initially began its digital assault on the white supremacist group.
“After closely observing so many of you for so very long, we feel confident that applying transparency to your organizational cells is the right, just, appropriate and only course of action,” Anonymous said in a long statement released Tuesday.
The Klan is just the latest in a long string of targets for the shadowy association of digital crusaders, known for waging online battles against everyone from the U.S. government to terrorist organizations.
Anonymous initially set its sights on the KKK last year amid the unrest in Ferguson, Mo.
In the protests surrounding the shooting death Michael Brown, a local KKK chapter threatened to use “lethal force” to defend itself from the “terrorists masquerading as ‘peaceful protesters’”
The protesters, the Klan warned, had “awakened a sleeping giant.”
Anonymous-led hackers quickly infiltrated the organization’s Twitter account and started forcing KKK websites offline. Since then, the two have traded barbs — vitriolic insults from KKK leaders and mocking tweets from Anonymous.
"Sounds to me like a bunch of kids in their mom's basement whacking off," Imperial Wizard Frank Ancona of the Traditionalist American Knights of the KKK told the New York Daily News last year.
The group responded by tweeting a picture of a unicorn from a KKK Twitter account.
Since then the fight has gone quiet.
But Anonymous is planning to resurrect its assault in the coming weeks, roughly one year since it first declared cyber war on the Klan. The group said this week it had used the last year to investigate the group and determine whether it merely espoused hateful rhetoric, or whether it was promoting active violence.
“You are abhorrent. Criminal. You are more than extremists. You are more than a hate group. You operate much more like terrorists and you should be recognized as such,” Anonymous said in its Tuesday statement. “You are terrorists that hide your identities beneath sheets and infiltrate society on every level. The privacy of the Ku Klux Klan no longer exists in cyberspace.”
The KKK is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group.
The Klan itself says it is protecting the existence of the “white race” and Christianity, while promoting a rule of law based on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
“Our children, our race, and our Nation have no future unless we unite and organize White Christian Patriots,” reads one of the Klan’s major websites.
Since its peak in the early 20th century, the KKK has fallen from roughly four million members to somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 members today, according to the SPLC.
If those numbers are accurate, exposing 1,000 of those members would represent a significant portion of the entire organization.
For Anonymous, outing someone online — often called “doxxing” — is not a step lightly taken.
While Anonymous doesn’t have a set list of ideals, it does have a strong populist bent, opposing any type of digital censorship and honoring online privacy as sacrosanct.
In the run up to the unveiling of alleged Klan members — which is being promoted using #HoodsOff and #OpKKK — Anonymous has been careful to explain its rationale.
“In a free society, we do have a duty to protect free thought, even when especially offensive,” the group said. “Your hateful ideas and words remain yours to keep. You are allowed to speak and in kind, we are allowed to respond.”
“With that said — We are stripping you of your anonymity. Again,” it continued. “This is our protected speech.”
Anonymous’s aggressive defense of freedom of speech and other constitutional ideals has made it a tough group for many to pin down.
The hackers have garnered praise for offering logistical support for popular movements like the Arab Spring. They’re even essentially helping the U.S. government through their work to dismantle the effective social media recruiting tools used by extremist terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
But Anonymous has also gone after government agencies themselves and inserted itself into numerous rape and murder trials in an effort to unmask alleged perpetrators, angering officials.
The group aggressively confronted St. Louis County police in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting on several occasions, initially threatening to distribute personal information if authorities didn’t release the name of the police officer that killed Michael Brown.
How the Anonymous cyber assault on the KKK will be received remains to be seen. But it appears the fight is just getting started.
“We never said we would only strike once,” Anonymous said this week.