The ripple effects of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy have led to a civil war in the Republican party. But they have also had the unexpected consequence of leading to a subterranean civil war within Anonymous, the mysterious hacking collective.
Most of the political operations targeted by Anonymous – including the Church of Scientology, Isis and the KKK – have instigated some level of internal dispute among people claiming to be part of Anonymous. But when the group announced their next target would be the Trump campaign, it set off the most heated debate yet within the movement – which has no leader, and no specific set of aims.
Many disavowed the anti-Trump operation as being counter to Anonymous’s tradition of not taking sides in political contests. (A previous operation against Trump was similarly derailed, albeit on a smaller scale, when another hacker calling himself Black Mafia wrested control of the Twitteraccount .)
Others have even alleged the movement is being hijacked by either campaign operatives or activists trying to co-opt Anonymous for their own political ends. On March 15, a video was released.
“We are feeling deeply concerned about an operation that was launched in our name – the so-called Operation Trump,” says the video, which, in classic Anonymous style, is narrated by a disembodied computerised voice.
“We – Anonymous – are warning you about the lies and deceits pushed under our banner,” the voice continues.
But a user named Beemsee posted a message to a site called Ghostbin to defend the operation.
“There has been large amounts of opposition to this operation as many think that OpTrump aims to censor Donald Trump’s free speech,” said Beemsee, who is linked to the Twitter account OpTrumpHQ . “This is not the case. We do NOT stand for a specific political ideology,” Beemsee continued.
The Twitter account YourAnonCentral is one of the longest-standing nodes for Anonymous communications. Its administrator, who has been involved in the movement since its inception around 2006 on the anarchic image-board 4chan, said that the Trump and Sanders campaigns had been seen “actively attempting to subvert and misuse Anonymous for their own gains.”
“They are both using Anonymous as a prop in their ‘war’ and it is a lie,” the administrator said over Twitter direct message. “Anonymous comes from every part of the political spectrum, the only things we could be all (mostly) aligned on are against the censorship of candidates by the media or against human rights violations or similar,” adding that mimicking the style of Anonymous would be “really easy” for anyone motivated to do so.
Some personal information on Trump has been released as part of the operation, but many in the movement have derided it as including only information that was already in the public domain.
OpTrumpTruth was one of the early Twitter accounts associated with the purported action against Trump. The operator of the account said that she had joined Anonymous nine months ago, and had been part of previous operations against SeaWorld and campaigns in support of Chelsea Manning.
She described herself as politically independent but said, also over Twitter direct message, that “we believe Mr. Trump is a blatant hateful racist with enough money to buy his way to power that’s something that we in good conscience can’t allow”.
Asked about the schism in the movement, she said that many of the major Anonymous accounts – including YourAnonCentral – were opposed to the anti-Trump operation because “they say Anonymous is against the whole system not just one man.”
She also said that there were many Trump supporters within Anonymous and “those people will not want to see anything that brings him down.”
On the message-board for OpTrump – which is open and, of course, anonymous – users have been engaging in fiery debate as to the veracity, and the advisability, of taking sides in the presidential election. “So what decision should we make, not choosing doesn’t help anything,” said a user who had taken the nickname EverythingBerns. “Well, you’ve got to pick someone,” one user replied. “DON’T CHOSE [sic]” said another.
Another account using the visual lingua franca of Anonymous, called OpWhiteRose, also agitates against Trump. After several messages, the operator of that account admitted that they had no involvement or affiliation with Anonymous. Instead, the operator said they were “a small group of like-minded people who want to stop Trump’s politics from destroying the US.”
Asked why they were using the Anonymous logo on their account, and the signifiers of a true Anonymous operation, OpWhiteRose replied with a question. “Have you ever thought to ask Anonymous why they use an image of a Guy Fawkes mask?”
“It’s a powerful symbol,” OpWhiteRose said, “and it goes hand in hand with its history that ‘the people’ would use it, freely, in acts of righteous rebellion when the times call for it.”