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A conversation with 3 local members of hacktivist network Anonymous

Outside an Anonymous party, the night before the group's annual Million Mask March, we met some of the crew.

Anonymous gave us a peek into how they work. (Photo by Julia Airey)

Hacktivist network Anonymous threw a party following a blockchain meetup on Friday. Naturally, we showed up.
The party was held at Zeba, a shisha bar in Columbia Heights. Members of Anonymous – many sporting Guy Fawkes masks on their heads – chatted outside the bar until they were let in at around 10 p.m. In between cigarettes, members greeted each other and mixed with the other clubgoers. Several spoke of traveling from as far as Florida to celebrate November 5, or Guy Fawkes Day, in D.C.
November 5 marks the failed bombing of English Parliament by Guy Fawkes in 1605. Anonymous uses the day to recreate the end scene in the 2006 movie V for Vendetta, which popularized Guy Fawkes and features masked people marching against their corrupt government.


The party in D.C. was apparently a chance for the group – which is better known for its online exploits – to make preparations for the annual Million Mask March the following morning.

On Zeba's second floor, an Anonymous member with his mask up chats on the edge of the dance floor

The scene at Zeba. (Photo by Julia Airey)


“Some conversations have to happen in person,” one member told us. When we asked where the conversations would happen, he laughed.
“Spontaneity is kind of the key word here,” he said.
A man in T-shirt reading “Fuck Your Feelings” eventually pointed us to the stairs in the back of the bar. On the second floor, loud electro metal played and colored lights illuminated more hoodies and Guy Fawkes masks. Small groups gathered and dispersed along the walls, shouting over the music.

No one on the second floor of Zeba was willing to talk to us. But we did find three local members who told us about so-called “operations” they’ve run in the D.C. area and what their future plans were.
We met the three members at the St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Columbia Heights. A block away from Zeba, St. Stephen’s was providing a space for Anonymous members to crash for the evening.
We gathered in the stairway to speak with Tristan Robert, 27; Sam Carolns-Hayer, 24; and Nick Boss, 30. Carolns-Hayer and Robert grew up in Virginia, Boss in Maryland.
The conversation began with how Anonymous sees potential in the blockchain.
“You can use blockchain to fund things you don’t want tied to your financial trail,” explained Robert. “Like hero units.”
Hero units, Robert told us, are groups Anonymous could assemble and outfit using funds through blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The idea is that Anonymous could, “start with [superhero] costumes [and later] move onto real supplies.” 
Another use for blockchain was an idea Robert called the “memetic machine.”
The machine would be a way to crowdfund the next best plan of action, known as operations or “ops,” for Anonymous members. Robert envisions using a social media platform (like reddit) for members to post operations in meme form and where other members can upvote or downvote the ideas. Using the social media as the oracle, Robert would code smart contracts to fund whichever operation garnered the most support.
From left to right: Sam Carolns-Hayer, Tristan Robert, and Nick Boss

From left to right: Sam Carolns-Hayer, Tristan Robert and Nick Boss. (Photo by Julia Airey)


The reliance on mainstream social media might seem strange considering Anonymous’s emphasis on privacy. But Boss, Robert and Carolns-Hayer all said Facebook is an important tool for the group – especially in D.C. where there is no local internet relay chat forum.
“People think Anonymous is all in the shadows,” said Robert. “Of course, some of it is hacking. But some of it is very upfront.” Robert used the term “meatspace” to describe the most upfront of meeting – those conducted in-person.
Still, he said, “hackers don’t like using IRL (in real life) because computers are the real world.”
Carolns-Hayer described a “meatspace” operation the three helped run last year on December 17 called #OPSafeWinter.
“We donated food and clothes to the homeless,” Carolns-Hayer said, calling it, “positive social activism.”
The operation had its own Facebook event to help members find the booth in Mount Vernon Square where Anonymous members handed out sandwiches and hot soup for the hungry.
Robert told us using Facebook wasn’t a problem because, “we’re not organizing illegal activity.” However, the operation’s Facebook page lists D.C.’s recent ban on giving food to the homeless as a motivator to do exactly that.
Anonymous members flouted D.C.'s ban on feeding the homeless with their booth December, 2015

Anonymous members flouted D.C.’s ban on feeding the homeless with their booth December 2015. (Courtesy photo)


As we spoke, people entered the St. Stephen’s for the church’s Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
At one point, a man in a leather jacket asked Robert where he could find, “the Anonymous meeting.” Robert smiled and pointed him upstairs.
The conversation also illuminated that their disdain for government stemmed from their experience working in federal jobs.
“I worked for the DOD and it was horrible,” said Boss. “I’m anti-war.”
Boss explained he was working in a human resources position with the Department of Defense before resigning last December. Now living in Silver Springs, Md., he’s looking to apply for a master’s in public policy. In his spare time, he engages in anti-war hacktivism.
Robert told us he used to work as a developer at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va. But he quit the job, citing too much red tape from Congress’s control over the nonprofit.
“The organization was doing more paperwork than investigating,” said Robert. “I told my boss to please lay me off.”
Robert now couchsurfs with friends, subsisting off of unemployment checks which he views as a form of universal basic income. Robert now works, in the words of Carolns-Hayer, “as a professional hacktivist on the government’s dime.”
Carolns-Hayer said he lives with his father in Virginia. He declined to share more information.
The three are unsure of what operations they will organize in the near future. Though Robert did share he’s developing an art project related to D.C. statehood in Meridian Hill Park.

###

On Saturday morning, a few hundred Anonymous members attended the Million Mask March Saturday morning, according to the Washington Post. The March began at the Washington Monument and progressed to the FBI building, the Federal Reserve, the Capital Building and the White House, among other destinations.
NBC reported that protestors vandalized the FBI building, Trump’s D.C. Hotel and a police cruiser.
Marches also took place in other major cities across the world like London, Rome and Amsterdam.
Anonymous reported three arrests were made at the Washington D.C. march when protesters clashed with law enforcement, but the Washington Post only confirmed one arrest. (By comparison, the London march led to over 10 arrests according to Russia Today.)

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