On October 30, 2015, the hacker group Anonymous released the names of at least a dozen alleged Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members and their families online.
“Ku Klux Klan, We never stopped watching you,” the group said in a prepared statement. “We know who you are. We know the dangerous extent to which you will go to cover your asses.
“Originally, we did not attack you for your beliefs as we fight for freedom of speech. We attacked you due to your threats to use lethal force in the Ferguson [Missouri] protests [in November, 2015].
“We took this grudge between us rather seriously. You continue to threaten anons and others. We never said we would only strike once….
“We will release, to the global public, the identities of up to 1000 klan members, Ghoul Squad affiliates and other close associates of various factions of the Ku Klux Klan.”
The information released included ages, phone numbers, addresses and even credit card numbers.
By November 5, Anonymous had released the names of about 1,000 alleged KKK members or sympathizers via a Twitter data dump.
Among those names released by Anonymous:
- U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.);
- U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX.);
- U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-IN.)
- U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA.);
- Mayor Madeline Rogero, Knoxville, TN.;
- Mayor Jim Gray, Lexington, KY.;
- Mayor Paul D. Fraim, Norfolk, VA.;
- Mayor Kent Guinn, Ocala, FL.; and
- Mayor Tom Henry, Fort Wayne, IN.
All of these officials denied any affiliation with the Klan.
“I worked for nine days to gather and verify all the information that was gathered before its release,” Amped Attacks, who released the information, stated online.
“I got the information from several KKK websites when I [hacked] them and was able to dump their database.
“I went through many emails that was signed up with these sites and a few of the emails that sparked my interest was the ones of the politicians in question there would be no reason for them to be signed up on any KKK website unless they supported it or was involved in it.”
This mass leak is easily the worst assault on the KKK since the FBI declared war on it more than 50 years ago.
More importantly, it is an assault made by a private group that has no affiliation with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The last time the Justice Department waged an all-out attack on the Klan was during the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.
The reason: The murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi–Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney–on June 21, 1964.
Poster for missing civil rights workers
Johnson ordered the FBI to find the missing activists. After their bodies were found buried near a dam, Johnson gave FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover a direct order: “I want you to have the same kind of intelligence [on the KKK] that you have on the communists.”
So the FBI launched a counterintelligence program–in Bureau-speak, a COINTELPRO–against the Ku Klux Klan.
Up to that point, Klansmen had shot, lynched and bombed their way across the Deep South, especially in Alabama and Mississippi. Many Southern sheriffs and police chiefs were Klan sympathizers, if not outright members and accomplices.
Ku Klux Klansmen in a meeting
The FBI’s covert action program aimed to “expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize” KKK groups through a wide range of legal and extra-legal methods.
“My father fought the Klan in Massachusetts,” recalled William C. Sullivan, who headed the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Division in the 1960s. “I always used to be frightened when I was a kid and I saw the fiery crosses burning in the hillside near our farm.
William C. Sullivan
“When the Klan reached 14,000 in the mid-sixties, I asked to take over the investigation of the Klan. When I left the Bureau in 1971, the Klan was down to a completely disorganized 4,300. It was broken.
“They were dirty, rough fellows. And we went after them with rough, tough methods.”
Among those methods:
- Planting electronic surveillance devices in Klan meeting places;
- Carrying out “black bag jobs”–burglaries–to steal Klan membership lists;
- Contacting the news media to publicize arrests and identify Klan leaders;
- Informing the employers of known Klansmen of their employees’ criminal activity, resulting in the firing of untold numbers of them;
- Developing informants within Klans and sewing a climate of distrust and fear among Klansmen;
- Breaking up the marriages of Klansmen by circulating rumors of their infidelity among their wives; and
- Beating and harassing Klansmen who threatened and harassed FBI agents.
The FBI’s counterintelligence war against the Klan ended in 1971.
Today, there are active Klan chapters in 41 states, with between 5,000 and 8,000 active members.
Of course, it’s possible that some of the information posted by Anonymous is wrong. But if it isn’t, then Anonymous has done the nation a public service.
And, by doing so, it has raised a disturbing question:
Why has the Justice Department left a private organization to do battle with a terrorist one like the Ku Klux Klan?