The hacktivist collective Anonymous claimed it would expose 1,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan. Most of the information isn't new, and at least one innocent person's name is on the list.
It was a sensational claim. The hacktivist collective Anonymous said it would release the names of 1,000 Ku Klux Klan members, part of an ongoing cyber feud with white supremacists.
The "data dump" was set for Thursday, coinciding withGuy Fawkes Day
and theMillion Mask March
in London and cities across the world. The "operation" was organized under the hashtag #OpKKK.
But the data that Anonymous ended up publishing on Thursday was underwhelming. According to Mark Pitcavage, director of the Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, there did not appear to any revelatory information in the list.
"We are inspecting the list closely," Pitcavage told DW. "But at first glance, the list seems to consist largely of low hanging fruit - people who were already openly Klan-affiliated or well-known white supremacists."
"Most of the names seem to have been gleaned by basic social network trawling, coupled with the inclusion of figures like David Duke or Don Black," Pitcavage said. Duke and Black are two of the most infamous US white supremacists.
"Many names are not Klan related," he continued. "The list also contains some errors and at least one person who is not a white supremacist."
That person is Benjamin Garrison. A political cartoonist, Garrison's work was taken, defaced with racist imagery and circulated on the Internet by white supremacists.
Last Saturday, a Twitter user named Amped Attacks published a list on the website Pastebin, falsely accusing public officials, including US mayors and senators, of being KKK members. Anonymous said it had nothing to do with that list.
Senator Dan Coats of Indiana took to Twitter, calling the list "baseless Internet garbage of the worst kind."
Anonymous launched a wave of cyberattacks against the KKK last year. A Missouri KKK group, the Traditionalist American Knights, had distributed fliers in St. Louis threatening "lethal force" against people protesting the slaying of unarmed African-American 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer, Darren Wilson.
In response, the hacktivist group seized control of KKK Twitter accounts, @KuKluxKlanUSA and @YourKKKCentral, and shut down the Traditionalist American Knights website.
When police in Ferguson refused to release the name of the police officer who killed Brown, Anonymous claimed to have obtained the officer's identity and promised to go public with it. They did publish a name - but it was the wrong one.
KKK in decline
According to Pitcavage, Ku Klux Klan is in decline. There are 46 active KKK groups throughout the United States, primarily in the Midwest and southern United States. Their numbers have dwindled to about 3,500 people nationwide. The KKK is not a centralized organization, but instead a type of white supremacist movement.
"We often urge people not to concentrate on groups because the movement as whole is much wider than that," Pitcavage said. "Most white supremacists in the US, as in most other countries where there are active white supremacist movements, are not card carrying members of anything."
The Internet and social media have made it easier for white supremacists to communicate with one another without formally organizing, he said. Violent hate crimes are usually committed by lone wolf attackers.Dylann Roof
, the white supremacist who murdered nine people at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June, was not a member of any group.
Pitcavage said outing KKK members might be an effective tactic if they hold positions of public responsibility. The few remaining Klan members, however, are normally low-income whites who live in rural areas and have no power or influence.
"It's not going to change their attitude," Pitcavage said of outing KKK members. "It's not going to change their prejudice."