Today is the day that Anonymous plans to leak information on as many as 1,000 Ku Klux Klan members and supporters — a campaign that is being hyped as a mass unmasking of the hated white supremacist organization.
But as a few confusing developments related to the campaign this week have demonstrated, operations like this are rarely straightforward. So here’s a short guide to what we know about this particular release, and what to keep in mind as it rolls out Thursday.
What we know already:
Operation KKK says it has identifying data on as many as 1,000 KKK members and supporters. On Oct. 22, an Anonymous-associated Twitter account announced that the hacking collective had accessed a Klan-associated Twitter account. Through that, they promised, Anonymous would be able to out about 1,000 Klan members by name. A later news release promised that the operation would release “names and Web sites, new and old” of “more than 1000” members of the hate group.
This isn’t the first time Anonymous has beefed with the KKK. Anonymous waged a campaign against a Missouri-based Klan organization last year after the group threatened to use “lethal force” in defense of themselves against protests in Ferguson, Mo., over the shooting death of Michael Brown. At the time, Anonymous unleashed a smaller dox against members of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and even took over a Klan-run Twitter account.
The KKK is still an active hate group in the United States, but it’s not thriving. Although we don’t know exactly how many members various Klan organizations have throughout the U.S., the upper limit of educated estimates of membership size is 6,000-8,000, down from the group’s estimated 40,000 members in the 1960s, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok. The SPLC has counted 27 named Klan groups, with just a handful of those remaining particularly active.
Anonymous doesn’t always get it right. An Anonymous-associated hacker doxed a Ferguson police officer last year who, he believed, was responsible for Brown’s death. Except the hacker had the wrong guy.
The Daily Dot compiled a history of Anonymous’s inaccurate doxes last year in response to that incident. Anonymous often dismisses these failed attempts to out people they believe have done something wrong as “collateral damage;” but incorrect doxes can have nightmarish consequences for those who are innocently caught up in them.
What we don’t yet know:
Whether the information is accurate. If Anonymous’s information is accurate, it could have an impressive, negative effect on the Klan — which is precisely Anonymous’s intention. But if it’s not, the bulk of the operation’s negative effects will fall on those named in the documents incorrectly — along with Anonymous itself. We got a preview of that this week, when what appeared to be two different attempts to dox KKK members showed up online. One Pastebin file — which later turned out to be the work of a hacker who says he has nothing to do with Anonymous — contained the names of several national and local elected officials, and clearly appears to be mostly or entirely inaccurate.
Several other files initially connected to the Anonymous operation contained phone numbers and e-mails of what were presented as Klan members and supporters. Except, as anyone who actually tried to verify that information quickly found out, many of the contacts were clearly not Klan associates or members. Many of the numbers that were Klan-connected on that list, meanwhile, were publicly available “hotlines” for local Klan groups.
Anonymous — or at least, the parts of Anonymous that seem to be running the KKK operation — have since disowned all of the early leaks and said that their data dump will begin Thursday, and not before. The implication here is that Anonymous’ release will be vetted, unlike those from earlier in the week. But we just don’t know if that’s true — yet.
After the documents go online, it will probably take some time for that information to be verified.
Who is responsible for the dox. So, as Anonymous’ name implies, the group doesn’t exactly have an official roster, or hierarchy, or anything. It’s an online hacking and activism collective, and there’s no real official way to “become a member.” Anyone can just join. A Twitter account, Operation_KKK, has been speaking for the group on the matter of this particular KKK dox. But the events of this week illustrate just how hard it is to get “official” word on Anonymous actions — the leaks that are now disowned by Anonymous were first circulated by other well-known accounts run by members of the group, who themselves seemed to assume that the Pastebin files were an official preview of the KKK dox.