Source: Rolling Stone
Anonymous Vs. Steubenville
Online vigilante Deric Lostutter helped expose the cover-up in the Steubenville rape case. Now he’s facing more jail time than the convicted rapists.
On November 25th, the most notorious rape case in recent memory took yet another shocking twist. In Steubenville, Ohio, where a 16-year-old girl was raped by two high school football players in August 2012, a grand jury indicted the city’s School Superintendent, Michael McVey, on felony charges of tampering with evidence and obstructing justice. An elementary school principal and two coaches in the district were indicted as well, facing misdemeanor charges including failure to report child abuse and making false statements.
Shortly after the news hit that morning, Deric Lostutter, a skinny, scruffy 26-year-old programmer in Lexington, Kentucky, whipped out his cell phone and texted me a message. “We were called liars and more,” he wrote, but “we were right about it.” He had reason to feel vindicated. As one of the most notorious members of the hacker collective, Anonymous, Lostutter battled to bring justice to Steubenville, exposing secrets of a town that’s still reeling from the fallout today. He just never expected that he’d get raided by the FBI, and face more prison time than the rapists in the end.
Anonymous is a purposefully chaotic and leaderless collective. Anyone can proclaim themselves a member or declare an “operation” against a target. But getting others to give a shit is another story. For every Anon who spawns a successful Op against The Church of Scientology or the New York Stock Exchange, countless others watch their YouTube manifestos disappear in a stream of grumpy cats.
This is what makes Lostutter stand out. Less than two months after creating his alter ego as KYAnonymous, he launched and organized two of group’s most renowned and righteous operations yet: battling the Westboro Baptist Church and, most famously, the town of Steubenville, Ohio, after the high-profile rape of a teenage girl by players on the high school football team.
Seemingly overnight, Lostutter fueled a nobler strain of operations called Justice Ops. For a group often perceived as the Jackasses of the Internet, it was a radical rebranding. But Lostutter also became a target himself, attacked both by Anons, who dismissed him as a “fame fag,” and the Steubenville elite who rejected him as a criminal punk. “We’re a small city, we don’t have any money,” Steubenville police chief William McCafferty told me, “so if this KY messes up our computer system, that’s something we have to pay for.” As Steubenville and other fights heat up, Lostutter refuses to back down. “They’re gonna have to lock me up if they think that I ain’t gonna stand up for some people ever again,” he says, “So, fuck that.”
On a hot summer night at a strip mall bar called Woody’s, Winchester’s most famous outlaw introduces me to his Kentucky town’s other claim to infamy: beer cheese, a gooey orange concoction which has its own festival every year on the ghostly main street. Behind him, a few burly southerners in unironic trucker hats play sandbag horseshoes, as a dirty-blonde woman in tight jeans blankly puffs a smoke.
When I ask Lostutter what he’d like to tell the people, like those in Steubenville, who slag off Anonymous as cyberterrorists, he nods to the scene here. “I’d say, ‘Come visit me in Kentucky. I’ll show you the most American place you can ever be,'” he says, “You know, everybody’s like, ‘Are you anti-government?’ I’m like, ‘Fuck no. I’m anti-bullshit.'”
Growing up “poor and nerdy” in the small town of King, North Carolina, Lostutter was a bullied kid from a broken family, beaten at home and at school. To cope with the divorce of his mom and dad — a tower guard at the local prison, famous as a location for the Blues Brothers movie — he escaped into computers, teaching himself to code. Though he could build his own motherboard, he couldn’t hack school, where, scrawny and shy, he became a frequent target.
But he had a nascent vigilante inside him. After seeing a bully dangerously punch a kid with a bad lung in the chest, Lostutter “just snapped,” he says, slugging the bully so hard that his tooth busted through his lip. Then one day, he came home to find his mom getting beaten by her boyfriend. Lostutter went ballistic, grabbing a knife and piercing the guy in the stomach. Referring to another violent episode, he says, swilling his bourbon, “I spent the next four days cleaning blood off the floor. That pretty much changed me from the quiet nerdy kid to what I am now. And I haven’t been able to shut it off since.”
Lostutter had to drop out of high school and help support his mom and brother by working instead. After a tough break-up, he spent several months homeless and drunk, then floundering in odd jobs after moving with his mom to Kentucky. When he saw the documentary, We are Legion, about Anonymous, on YouTube last summer, he identified with the portrayal of underdog geeks fighting the Man. “I watched that and I just went ppffff,” he tells me, splaying his fingers on either side of his head like an exploding bomb. “My mind was blown,” he says, “I was like, ‘there’s people out there like me, thousands of people out there like me.'”
It didn’t take long for Lostutter to become Anonymous. He bought a cheap Guy Fawkes mask on eBay, and opened a Twitter and a Facebook account under the nickname KYAnonymous. There was no initiation to endure nor dues to pay to join the group. Like anyone else, he was in simply because he said so. But a $2 costume and a social network weren’t enough to make a difference in his or anyone else’s life. He needed an Operation.
Lostutter didn’t have to look far to find some bullshit to rally against. The Clark County, Kentucky, school board was embroiled in controversy over allegedly mishandled funds and a superintendent who allegedly fired a football coach for not playing her grandson. (The superintendent denied those allegations.) But despite stories of rats in the cafeteria and untreated black mold at an elementary school, nothing changed in the small town. And, like a self-ordained superhero with a new mask and a mission, Lostutter thought the power of Anonymous could help win. “Bullying pisses me off,” he says, “even workplace bullying.”
Anonymous Operations begin with a declaration — usually either by a video manifesto on YouTube or a post on Internet forums. One night last fall after getting home from his job as a car mechanic, Lostutter launched his first one, OpEducation, posting as KYAnonymous that the school board had “put the students second and monetary gain first,” but now Anonymous was on the case. He included a list of the school board member’s family names, cell phone numbers, and home addresses — a bit of hacking known as a “dox” — to prove it.
Lostutter had tapped a vein of outrage that needed a masked avenger, and received damning files — internal emails, expense reports, and other incriminating records about the district — which he then disseminated online. Some thought his methods reckless, and Twitter suspended his account for distributing doxes. But when superintendent Elaine Farris eventually retired after being “under fire from a citizen’s group,” as the local paper put it, Lostutter chalked up his first victory.
It wouldn’t be his last. When a friend told him that an ex-boyfriend had posted a naked picture of her on a revenge porn site run by a swashbuckling scumbag named Hunter Moore, he had his next target. On November 30, 2012, KYAnonymous tweeted a threat to Moore that Anonymous would be shutting down his site if he didn’t do it himself. But Moore only incited him back by replying “try it.” The next day, KY posted a dox of Moore and declared a OpHuntHunter against him. “Sad part is that could be your friends sons or daughters or brothers and sisters that get victimized by @huntermoore,” KY tweeted. When the Op went viral, instantly taking down Moore and his sites, one blogger credited KY with ushering in a new phase of Anonymous. “It sure seems like the White Knight faction of Anonymous is ascendant,” he wrote.
For Lostutter, his fledgling life in Kentucky suddenly had purpose. “I kind of felt like I was meant for something more,” he says, “And then I get involved in Anonymous, I’m like ‘This is what the hell I’m meant to do.’ I was just like a pitbull, anything that pissed me off, I was after.” On December 15, he found his next target: Westboro Baptist Church, who announced a plan to protest the vigil for the children killed in the Newtown school shooting.
That night, he went into his living room alone to record a YouTube manifesto for what he called OP Westboro. “The basis of any good Op is a video,” he says, a “good enough video that catches people’s attention and gets them riled up and then, once that happens, it’s kind of like poking at a beehive. You know? They all come out.” Lostutter stuck with Anonymous’ Orwellian cinematic style, dubbing a computerized rant over a video of rumbling dark clouds. “Hello Westboro Baptist Church,” Lostutter began, “Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Anonymous.” He railed against the Church’s “pseudo-faith” and “hatred,” warning that “your downfall is underway.”
But finding a hot-button Op didn’t mean the faceless legions had his back. As the Westboro video spread, influential sites such as Your Anonymous News cautioned against it. “One idiot has decided to post a press release against Westboro?” The site’s webmaster posted, “I have a bad feeling about this operation. Everyone’s watching us now, but this bullshit is taking away valuable resources that could be used, you know, actually fighting dictators, not failtrolls? THINK BEFORE YOU SAY SOMETHING STUPID.” However, it went on, “there’s no way Anonymous can go back on it’s word now.”
That weekend, Anonymous doxed what it claimed to be every adult member of the Westboro Church, and took down the Church’s website, God Hates Fags, as well. They also urged Anons to sign a petition against Westboro’s tax-exempt status. As Westboro planned its rally at Newtown, Anons tweeted the address of the Motel 6 where the group was staying. Lostutter organized the rally which he called Occupy Newtown, soliciting the help of plainclothes cops, as well as Hell’s Angels, to form a human wall around the funeral. The protest of Newtown made international news, and further catapulted the mysterious hacker known as KYAnonymous into the spotlight. But while Lostutter watched the reaction with great satisfaction, he was careful to remain in the shadows. “That’s the first rule of Anonymous,” he says, “don’t trust anybody.”
It was a couple nights before Christmas in Lostutter’s farmhouse, and not a creature was stirring. As his girlfriend and brother slept, he took his Guy Fawkes mask out from under his clothes in his bottom drawer and slipped quietly into the living room. Opening his laptop and aiming his webcam toward him, he pulled the mask over his face, and pulled his black hoodie down above it. Then he hit record on his computer, and began shifting his head from side to side, silently, as if he were talking. He made sure to “look intimidating,” he recalls.
While Lostutter had recorded Op videos for Anonymous in the past, this time he was recording the first one in which he, as KY, would make his debut. Lostutter spent about a half hour crafting his words, which he ran through a text-to-speech program, Cepstral David, to disguise his voice. He matched the audio track along with his video of him gesticulating in his Guy Fawkes mask. “Greetings citizens of the world, We are Anonymous,” he began, “Around mid-August 2012 a party took place in a small town in Ohio known as Steubenville…”
The week before, he had read a New York Times story about the rape of a 16-year-old girl and its alleged cover-up in this small town. “The more I found out, the more angry I got,” he recalls, “what really got me heated is her friends and everybody else’s friends stood around and watched this shit happen, and nobody did a fucking thing.” After fuming about the case on Twitter earlier that week, he was contacted by a woman who not only shared his outrage, but thought that KY, given his success against Moore and Westboro, could help the cause.
Michelle McKee, a sexual abuse survivor and activist, along with her friend, Alexandria Goddard, a crime blogger who’d grown up in the town, had been trying in vain to stir up media attention about Steubenville. Goddard, however, who blogged online under the name Prinnie, had been hit with a defamation lawsuit by the family of Cody Saltsman, one of the high school footballers involved in posting a photo of the victim from the night of the incident on Twitter. McKee passed along incriminating tweets and photos they’d been getting from Steubenville. “Thanks,” KY replied, “we’ll take it from here.'”
For Lostutter, Steubenville had echoes of Westboro, Moore, and his own mother’s domestic abuse. Just as he fought back against bullies in high school, he now wanted to use his newfound powers of Anonymous to strike back on behalf of the rape victim, known simply as Jane Doe. Calling his operation Op RollRedRoll, after the football team’s slogan, he christened his Anonymous troops as KnightSec, as in White Knight, and cued up his webcam.
When posting an Op video, one risks a certain embarrassment — namely that no one will give a shit or take it seriously. But, like a deft poker player, Lostutter amped up his manifesto with a bluff. He claimed that Anonymous had already doxed “everyone involved” with the cover-up and crime — parents, teachers, and kids — and were going to release their private information online “unless all accused parties come forward by New Years Day and issue a public apology to the girl and her family.” Though he knew Anonymous could deliver if need be, this wasn’t his hope. “Our goal wasn’t to hack,” he tells me, “Our goal was to get the attention of higher authorities to get involved in Steubenville.” So he posted the manifesto on YouTube, and went to sleep.
The next morning he woke up to a tweet from an Anon, who told KY she’d seen him on TV on Fox News while she was running on a treadmill at the gym. Lostutter quickly fired up his laptop, and saw something surprising: the Steubenville booster club website, RollRedRoll.com, had been hacked, and now his Op RollRedRoll video was the front page. “I thought it was fucking awesome,” he says.