Confronting Fascists in the 21st Century

This week, the hacktivist group Anonymous  initiated a cyber war against the attention-seeking troglodytes at Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). After the Topeka, Kansas based church announced its intent to picket the funerals of victims of last Friday’s school shooting in Newton, CT, persons affiliated with Anonymous released the following statement on Vimeo: “We will not allow you to corrupt the minds of America with your seeds of hatred … We will not  allow you to inspire aggression to the social factions which you deem inferior. We will render you obsolete. We will destroy you. We are coming.”

According to the Huffington Post, church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper’s twitter account was hacked. Anonymous also claimed credit for taking down the church’s website and posting the personal information of church members online. In a lame response,  Westboro’s homophobe-in-chief Fred Phelps tweeted, “I’ve never heard of Anonymous, but somehow they got our personal info … That is OUR info, not yours to give out! God will deliver us.”

Anonymous, of course, has developed quite a reputation for punishing a wide variety of thugs — from private groups like the Church of Scientology to state actors — that thrive on intimidation or are shielded by the law.  You may recall that the group posted personal information from Lt. John Pike (formerly of the UC-Davis Police Department) after he was caught on camera dousing seated protestors with pepper spray. After that incident, the group stated, “We have no problem targeting police and releasing their information even if it puts them at risk … because we want them to experience just a taste of the brutality and misery they serve us on an everyday basis (emphasis in original).”

But here’s the problem. The people targeted by Anonymous may have families or others close to them that could also be harmed (physically or financially) by hacking and release of personal information. Individuals associated with Anonymous have, at times, directly requested information on family members of their targets. During the recent attack on WBC, Anonymous operatives went to to post information on members of the Phelps family and associates. While looking through this data, I found at least three minors listed.

What is the point of this? Would these children be viewed as “collateral damage” by Anonymous if someone decided to attack them along with their parents? If so, is Anonymous much better than the government agencies it has jousted with? Anonymous (and radicals in general) would do well to remember a great line from Bob Dylan: “To live outside the law, you must be honest.”

In spite of my reservations about some tactics employed by members of the Anonymous collective, I believe their practice of striking back at oppressive, secretive government agencies — rather than going through “official channels” — has been part of a positive trend of putting the state on notice.  Hacktivism, along with increased filming of police, represents what I like to call the rise of “little brother.” Anonymous is also right, in theory, to respond aggressively to fascist groups.

When it comes to groups like WBC, the KKK or Neo-Nazi’s, I don’t buy into liberal “just ignore them” tautologies. Did people drive out marauding brown shirts by holding candle-light vigils, singing folk songs or quoting Voltaire? As far as I know, these tactics alone have never quashed the forces of fascism. Fascism spreads when people are feeling economic distress and are in need of scapegoats. This is why it is imperative that we stifle these movements before they gain greater influence.

Organizations like Westboro Baptist Church should be confronted aggressively wherever they gather. This should be a community effort, not the sole responsibility of an activist vanguard. Violence should be avoided, but these moral cretins should feel that they will be in mortal danger if they decide to terrorize people in our communities. Fascists should be considered a threat to all of us until they change their ways or die. Intelligence gathering, picketing of homes or businesses, shunning, public ridicule, boycotting and other forms of direct action may help us to keep fascists  boxed in and easy to monitor. If fascists must exist, this is precisely where we want them.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory