Anyone can join Anonymous simply by claiming affiliation. An anthropologist says that participants “remain subordinate to a focus on the epic win—and, especially, the lulz.”CREDIT PAPER SCULPTURE BY JEFF NISHINAKA / PHOTOGRAPH BY SCOTT DUNBAR

In the mid-nineteen-seventies, when Christopher Doyon was a child in rural Maine, he spent hours chatting with strangers on CB radio. His handle was Big Red, for his hair. Transmitters lined the walls of his bedroom, and he persuaded his father to attach two directional antennas to the roof of their house.

CB radio was associated primarily with truck drivers, but Doyon and others used it to form the sort of virtual community that later appeared on the Internet, with self-selected nicknames, inside jokes, and an earnest desire to effect change.  Doyon’s mother died when he was a child, and he and his younger sister were reared by their father, who they both say was physically abusive. Doyon found solace, and a sense of purpose, in the CB-radio community.

He and his friends took turns monitoring the local emergency channel. One friend’s father bought a bubble light and affixed it to the roof of his car; when the boys heard a distress call from a stranded motorist, he’d drive them to the side of the highway.

There wasn’t much they could do beyond offering to call 911, but the adventure made them feel heroic.Small and wiry, with a thick New England accent, Doyon was fascinated by “Star Trek” and Isaac Asimov novels. When he saw an ad in Popular Mechanics for a build-your-own personal-computer kit, he asked his grandmother to buy it for him, and he spent months figuring out how to put it together and hook it up to the Internet.

Compared with the sparsely populated CB airwaves, online chat rooms were a revelation. “I just click a button, hit this guy’s name, and I’m talking to him,” Doyon recalled recently. “It was just breathtaking.”  At the age of fourteen, he ran away from home, and two years later he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, a hub of the emerging computer counterculture.

The Tech Model Railroad Club, which had been founded thirty-four years earlier by train hobbyists at M.I.T., had evolved into “hackers”—the first group to popularize the term. Richard Stallman, a computer scientist who worked in M.I.T.’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the time, says that these early hackers were more likely to pass around copies of “Gödel, Escher, Bach” than to incite technological warfare. “

We didn’t have tenets,” Stallman said. “It wasn’t a movement. It was just a thing that people did to impress each other.” Some of their “hacks” were fun (coding video games); others were functional (improving computer-processing speeds); and some were pranks that took place in the real world (placing mock street signs near campus). Michael Patton, who helped run the T.M.R.C. in the seventies, told me that the original hackers had unwritten rules and that the first one was “Do no damage.”

In Cambridge, Doyon supported himself through odd jobs and panhandling, preferring the freedom of sleeping on park benches to the monotony of a regular job. In 1985, he and a half-dozen other activists formed an electronic “militia.” Echoing the Animal Liberation Front, they called themselves the Peoples Liberation Front.

They adopted aliases: the founder, a towering middle-aged man who claimed to be a military veteran, called himself Commander Adama; Doyon went by Commander X. Inspired by the Merry Pranksters, they sold LSD at Grateful Dead shows and used some of the cash to outfit an old school bus with bullhorns, cameras, and battery chargers.

They also rented a basement apartment in Cambridge, where Doyon occasionally slept.  Doyon was drawn to computers, but he was not an expert coder. In a series of conversations over the past year, he told me that he saw himself as an activist, in the radical tradition of Abbie Hoffman and Eldridge Cleaver; technology was merely his medium of dissent. In the eighties, students at Harvard and M.I.T. held rallies urging their schools to divest from South Africa.

To help the protesters communicate over a secure channel, the P.L.F. built radio kits: mobile FM transmitters, retractable antennas, and microphones, all stuffed inside backpacks. Willard Johnson, an activist and a political scientist at M.I.T., said that hackers were not a transformative presence at rallies.

“Most of our work was still done using a bullhorn,” he said.  In 1992, at a Grateful Dead concert in Indiana, Doyon sold three hundred hits of acid to an undercover narcotics agent. He was sentenced to twelve years in Pendleton Correctional Facility, of which he served five. While there, he developed an interest in religion and philosophy and took classes from Ball State University.  Netscape Navigator, the first commercial Web browser, was released in 1994.

Source: An Inside Look at Anonymous, the Radical Hacking Collective – The New Yorker

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