Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison Friday for his role in the December 2011 hacking of Strategic Forecasting (StratFor) and a number of other websites targeted by members of the so-called “hacktivist” group known as Anonymous. The feds had more than enough evidence to convict Hammond. He had a prior conviction on a similar crime and was potentially facing more than 30 years this time, so the best he could do was cop a plea deal. Before he was sentenced Friday by U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska, however, the 28-year-old hacker once known as “Anarchaos” had a political statement to share with the world, a statement that could be summarized in two words: Blame Bush.
Although he was only 15 when George W. Bush was elected president, Hammond declared in federal court in Manhattan, this was a traumatizing experience for him. “My introduction to politics was when George W. Bush stole the Presidential election in 2000, then took advantage of the waves of racism and patriotism after 9/11 to launch unprovoked imperialist wars against Iraq and Afghanistan,” Hammond declared in his manifesto. “I took to the streets in protest naively believing our voices would be heard in Washington and we could stop the war. Instead, we were labeled as traitors, beaten, and arrested.” Hammond added that he had “been arrested for numerous acts of civil disobedience on the streets of Chicago.”
Ah, yes, “civil disobedience,” otherwise known as crime. In the worldview of the far-left fringe to which Hammond belongs, crime is actually a noble activity when undertaken in defiance of a “racist” regime that fights “imperialist wars.” And these beliefs — including the claim that Bush “stole” the 2000 election — were expressed by many mainstream liberals and elected Democratic officials during the eight years of Bush’s presidency, an era they viewed as a crypto-fascist nightmare. It was during those years that a certain sort of political insanity took hold among radical youth like Jeremy Hammond, who grew up in the prosperous Chicago suburb of Glendale Heights, but who was profoundly alienated from the bourgeois values usually associated with suburban life.
In 2006, while he was awaiting sentencing for hacking into the website of a conservative group and stealing credit-card information, Hammond showed up at a meeting of Chicago-area hackers where the event’s radical organizer asked, “What is the relationship between the work we do with computers, and the work we do in the real world, smashing the system with direct action?” This smash-the-system mentality clearly resonated with Hammond. “All conflict comes from social inequality and those who use this to their advantage,” Hammond responded in an exchange chronicled by a reporter for Chicago magazine. The 21-year-old hacker cited overpopulation and climate change “as heralds of the end of comfy first-world capitalism,” according to the article, which quoted Hammond’s vision of how hackers could hasten this apocalypse: “Our civilization is facing a radical, imminent mass change. The alternative to the hierarchical power structure is based on mutual aid and group consensus. As hackers we can learn these systems, manipulate these systems, and shut down these systems if we need to.”
There is nothing new about semi-educated 20-somethings spewing incoherent radical gibberish about “social inequality” and “the hierarchical power structure.” The reporter who interviewed Hammond in 2006 said he “rationalized his actions with mangled quotations from the 1960s radical Weatherman, Plato’s Republic, and 9/11 conspiracy theories.” A college dropout expelled for vandalism and drug possession, Hammond’s real-world acts of “civil disobedience” were for the most part harmless idiocy, as when he was arrested for chalking the sidewalk in front of a suburban pharmacy: “While you are shopping, bombs are dropping.”
In the Internet age, however, these kooks can cause serious trouble. Hammond’s precocious computer skills, employed in concert with hundreds of other radical geeks, made him a genuine criminal menace. Released from prison in 2008, within three years he was participating in the activities of Anonymous, who became notorious for wreaking havoc online in support of Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks. Beginning in 2010, Anonymous hackers waged a series of “operations,” as they called them, against the websites of Amazon, Visa, MasterCard and PayPal. Other targets of Anonymous attacks included Sony, Fox News, Koch Industries and the websites of various foreign governments, including Australia and Israel.
Along the way, the hackers adopted as their symbol the Guy Fawkes masks popularized by the 2006 movie,V for Vendetta. That film was described by Peter Suderman as a “fog of fascist clichés” justifying anti-government terrorism, and the author of the cartoon novel on which it was based denounced the movie producers for turning his work into a “Bush-era parable … a thwarted and frustrated and perhaps largely impotent American liberal fantasy.” This theme of heroic resistance to oppressive government was pervasive in pop culture during the Bush presidency, from the music of Green Day to a series of expensive (but generally unsuccessful) anti-war movies cranked out by Hollywood liberals. While these political messages were dismissed by many conservatives as ineffective during an era of Republican dominance in Washington, the anti-Bush themes apparently had a profound impact on the worldview of young people like Jeremy Hammond. Rejecting the normal routines of electoral politics, many radical youth embraced a revolutionary ethos of implacable hostility to “the system,” an attitude that is not merely anti-Republican but also anti-religious, anti-patriotic and anti-capitalist. If America is inherently “racist” and “imperialist,” as Hammond declared in federal court Friday, then “civil disobedience” to American law is a moral imperative.
This is the criminal worldview expressed by the Anonymous slogan, “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.” With no respect for law and inspired by contempt for private property — especially the online property of “corporate America” — these anarchist vigilantes justified their attacks on Internet sites according to their own peculiar creeds. “I targeted law enforcement systems because of the racism and inequality with which the criminal law is enforced,” Hammond said in his pre-sentencing declaration Friday. “I targeted the manufacturers and distributors of military and police equipment who profit from weaponry used to advance U.S. political and economic interests abroad and to repress people at home. I targeted information security firms because they work in secret to protect government and corporate interests at the expense of individual rights, undermining and discrediting activists, journalists and other truth seekers, and spreading disinformation.”
Such an outlaw mentality – oh, the horrible “government and corporate interests” persecuting those precious “truth seekers”! – can justify almost any malicious activity if the target can be demonized in terms that suit the radical hackers. This was the same lawless spirit that stirred the “Occupy” mobs who stormed a Tea Party summit in November 2011, and which inspired former Anonymous spokesman Barrett Brown to threaten to “destroy” an FBI agent in September 2012. What has taken hold of the souls of many young people is not merely political radicalism but a spiritual disorder. Pastor Mark Driscoll of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church recently described this malady: “We’ve shifted from a worldview where there is a God who makes laws, and they apply to you, to whether or not there is a God it does not matter — ‘I don’t recognize any laws external to me. The only thing that guides me is my own internal convictions.’ … Authority has shifted from external to internal, from God to me. And what you end up with is not a discussion of morality but a defense of personality. And that’s the world we live in.”
This spiritual disorder could not be cured by the election of Barack Obama. “The Obama administration continued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, escalated the use of drones, and failed to close Guantanamo Bay,” Jeremy Hammond declared in court Friday, and defiantly defended his crimes: “The hypocrisy of ‘law and order’ and the injustices caused by capitalism cannot be cured by institutional reform but through civil disobedience and direct action.”
In this perverse worldview where criminals are heroes and those who uphold the law are villains, no one can blame Jeremy Hammond and other hackers for their “civil disobedience.” More than a dozen years after the Republicans “stole” the White House, the Left still blames Bush.