2011-02-20 Westboro Baptist Church ‘Anonymous’ threat staged by church?

Headline: Westboro Baptist Church targeted by Anonymous

Hacker group Anonymous appears to have singled out its next target - the controvesial anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in the US.

True or false? Here are the facts.

The Open Letter to Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) was published Wednesday on anonnews.org, an interesting Anonymous-related news and press release site based on the open-publishing Wiki-format. Here's an overview of the message and WBC's reaction.

Message and Reaction
The open Anonymous message allegedly sent out to "congregants of the Westboro Baptist Church" (WBC) warned that WBC demonstrations and the "unrelenting cascade of disparaging ... unfounded judgments and prejudicial innuendos" would no longer be tolerated. In the message, Anonymous claims to have been "moved to action" against the church. The warning:

Cease & desist your protest campaign in the year 2011, return to your homes in Kansas, & close your public Web sites.

Should you ignore this warning, you will meet with the vicious retaliatory arm of ANONYMOUS: We will target your public Websites, and the propaganda & detestable doctrine that you promote will be eradicated; the damage incurred will be irreversible, and neither your institution nor your congregation will ever be able to fully recover.

WBC responded to the warning with the challenge to "bring it," and the duel is making headlines. But was the threat issued by a member of Anonymous (broadly construed) or is this a staged stunt carried out by the church itself? This possibility has been raised, and in a statement published today on anonnews.org, the church is called out for attempting to "lure some idiots into a honeypot for more IPs to sue." The Anonymous author highlights a lack of interest in WBC, claiming the church simply doesn't "have enough to offer right now."

While Anonymous thanks you for your interest, and would certainly like to take a break and have some fun with you guys, we have more pressing matters to deal with at the moment. But, we will keep this application on file, and will certainly contact you if any openings become available in future.

Next time, don't call us. We'll call you. Additionally, as your "Press Release" failed to understand: When Anonymous says we support free speech, we mean it. We count Beatrice Hall among our Anonymous forebears: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

The Anonymous message to the media stated:

Just because it was posted on AnonNews doesn't mean every single Anon is in
agreement, in fact in this case it doesn't even mean a single Anon is in agreement. Next time, if you could give us a few minutes to put all our paperwork in order, we'll be sure to let you know what we're up to.

The message to other 'members' of Anonymous stated:

It's a trap. They've got their ports wide open to harvest IPs to sue. Don't DDoS, and boycott Operation Westboro. If you really want to continue messing with them, just send them a few male prostitutes and faxes of goatse. Nothing more.

A final note adds that the letter "was written by more than 20 Anons" and reports that none of these authors are inbred.

Anonymous would not in principle be opposed to targeting WBC, of course. The church is well-known for its anti-gay sentiments (an understatement) and boasts an official stance on homosexuality that "sodomy is an abomination" and that sinners are punished in hell. For these reasons and others, its disciples can be found at protests advancing the theses that AIDS is god's punishment for homosexuality and that god smiles when soldiers die. (Due to specific aspects in their framework of thought on which I have no intention of elaborating here, it seems that messages of hatred are not limited to homosexual soldiers and citizens.) This would appear to be a potential target for Anonymous, given the group's distaste for discrimination and religion.

Since there is not one Anonymous group, properly defined and comprised of a fixed set of members sharing in a fixed set of ideals, it is impossible for any one member or set of members to claim with any certainty that no one in the group partook in the WBC campaign. However, it is arguable that the 'irreversibility' claim in the initial warning does not quite fit the Anonymous MO, which doesn't involve targeting web sites in any irreversible way (it is unclear whether this claim could have any significance at all, given that neither defacement nor DDoS attacks tend to give way to permanent damage).

Whether WBC staged the attack warning itself is an open question. This would not be among the most radical of actions taken by the church, which is known for invading funerals with protest messages of hate aimed at victims of murder, as in the case of University of Wyoming student Matthew Sheppard, who was beaten and left to die, hanging on a fence. The victim was targeted for his sexual orientation and inspired the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 (pdf).

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