“We don’t know anything about these people,” the partner told the Washington Post in a conference call with his attorney and one of the firm’s accountants on Tuesday. “We have nothing to do with all of this.” Both the partner and an accountant, who is also of Indian descent, work for K.K. Mehta, an accounting firm founded in 1978 that specializes in the hospitality and medical industries. They are now terrified that the threats against them will escalate.
Both individuals identified themselves to The Post, but asked that their names be withheld, as they were afraid of being targeted personally.
Although many of the phone calls the firm is getting are from the southern U.S. area codes, at least one was close by, from New York. “It is a matter of concern when you have so many threatening phone calls, and some of them are local,” the partner said.
Most, although not all, of the firm’s employees are of Indian descent. The partner who spoke to The Post came to the United States 14 years ago, he said.
“They’re scared,” said attorney Vinson Friedman, speaking by phone after the conference call with the firm. He added that he has since advised his clients to contact the county police.
The accounting firm’s main office line was one of several phone numbers contained in a pastebin file that some Anonymous-associated Twitter accounts initially claimed was part of a promised leak of as many as 1,000 phone numbers and e-mails of members of the Ku Klux Klan. The pastebin file was one of four posted online through an Anonymous-associated Twitter account, and all are apparently from the same source. Although several media outlets picked up the story, the information contained in those files was unverified.
A review of the numbers contained in the particular pastebin file that includes K.K. Mehta’s office line indicates that many of the listed numbers are publicly available, and not residential or personal or obviously associated with the hate group in any way. They include a credit counseling service in Georgia, an 800-number for a Florida sheriff’s office, the D.C.-based phone number for the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and the donation phone number for the Democratic National Committee.
The remaining three pastebin lists also contain some numbers that have no obvious connection to the Klan, like the main number for a Greensboro paper, and the number for the archives at the University of Illinois.
There are also numbers that do appear linked to Klan organizations – including several that are publicly available as “hotlines” for particular KKK organizations and local chapters. Those include the national, toll-free hotline for the Traditionalist American Knights, as listed on its Web site. A few others appear to be private numbers of unverified origin.
Yet another, separate, list, released by a hacker who said he has nothing to do with Anonymous, named four U.S. senators and several city mayors as Klan members or sympathizers. Those claims prompted swift denials from many of the officials on that list, after the information began to circulate online. Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, for instance, released a lengthy statement calling the claim that she was a KKK associate “ridiculous,” and noted that she has an interracial family.
The Operation KKK Twitter account has since disavowed all of the released files, and said that the actual group behind the apparent data breach won’t begin releasing information until Nov. 5, as originally planned.
The entire thing has raised questions about what information, precisely, Anonymous does have. And, it illustrates the very real consequences of what happens when information linking individuals to reviled hate groups is released without adequate verification.
Although Anonymous has often said that it believes doxxing represents a powerful tool for transparency in the name of the greater good, the vigilante activists don’t always get their information right (the same can be said, often, of the Internet shame cycle in general), and mistakes that can lead to nightmares for those who are incorrectly identified.
In all, the accountant who helped to answer the New York firm’s phone calls on Monday said the office has received at least 70 calls in 24 hours that were clearly in response to their number’s presence on that list. There were also an uncounted number of voicemail messages.
Most of the calls and messages were threatening and “very nasty,” he said. Although the receptionists there would like to stop answering the phone, someone at the firm has to pick up, in case the person on the other end of the line is a client, he added. They’ve started letting most non-local numbers go to voicemail, for the time being.
But not all of the phone calls are threats. “One of the phone calls that I handed,” the accountant said, was from a man who said he “wants to join our team,” presumably meaning the Ku Klux Klan, to which, again, the accounting firm does not belong. The caller identified himself as “from the same team in the south of the U.S.”
The firm’s employees guessed that some of their callers, like the one described above, were Ku Klux Klan members or sympathizers who, assuming that all the leaked numbers were real numbers for Klan members, wanted to call and help what they thought was a northern outcropping of the group expand its presence.
The partner had no clue how the firm ended up on the list – he said he’d be surprised if someone had added its phone number to some sort of KKK database as a malicious prank – but guessed that it might have something to do with the double K’s at the start of the firm’s name. The source of the list they’re on isn’t entirely clear at this moment either, making it difficult to figure out.
Right now, little is clear about what Anonymous is planning to release on Nov. 5, and how verifiable it will be. The accounting firm is just hoping that its phone number isn’t on the next list as well, so that they can go back to their work without being interrupted by another round of threats.
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