Twitter has suspended a handle of Anonymous, the international hacking coalition that released the name and photo of the Ferguson, Mo. police officer it believed to be the shooter in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. @TheAnonMessage was suspended early Aug. 14 after the group followed up on a threat to release the name, address and other personal information of the suspected shooter if the St. Louis County Police Department did not accede to its demands to release the name of the cop involved and other details of the investigation.
“NEXT RELEASES IF @stlcountypd doesn’t respond: 1) PHOTO 2) ADDRESS w/ PHOTO 3) FULL D0X #Anonymous #Ferguson,” the group tweeted before the account was shut down. The St. Louis Department responded via Twitter around 9:45 a.m. on Aug. 14, saying Anonymous’ information was wrong.
“@TheAnonMessage Bryan Willman is not even an officer with Ferguson or St. Louis County PD. Do not release more info on this random citizen,” the department warned.
The exchange was the latest development in the coalition’s online protest against authorities in the wake of Brown’s killing. The African-American teen was killed Aug. 9 by a Ferguson police officer though witnesses say he was unarmed and had his arms raised in surrender. His death sparked protests that has turned the majority-Black town into a war zone, as SWAT teams descended on protestors with tear gas, rubber and wooden bullets, and arrested journalists, lawmakers, and others.
“Needless to say, it has been chaotic,” said Chawn Saddam Kweli, national chief of staff of the New Black Panther Party, who was present in Ferguson.
In a message to authorities posted on YouTube Aug. 10, Anonymous urged Ferguson residents to speak out and vowed retribution if any protestors were harmed. It also demanded that Missouri legislators introduce legislation called Mike Brown’s law that would set strict national standards for police conduct.
“To the Ferguson Police Department and any other jurisdiction that is deployed to the protests, we are watching you very closely. If you abuse, harass, or harm in any way the protestors in Ferguson, we will take every Web-based asset of your departments and governments offline. That is not a threat; it is a promise,” the group warned. “If you attack the protesters, we will attack every server and computer you have. We will dox and release the personal information on every single member of the Ferguson Police Department, as well as any other jurisdiction that participates in the abuse. We will seize all your databases and e-mail spools and dump them on the Internet. This is your only warning.”
The group kept its promise: It crashed the Internet at the police headquarters and attacked its e-mail system. Then it turned its eyes to St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar, posting images of Belmar’s house and later his address, Social Security number, and telephone number on Twitter, followed by photos of him and his wife. They later hacked the police department’s computers and released audio files of police dispatches.
“To the Ferguson Police Department, do we [get] your attention now? #OpFerguson,” the group taunted via its #OpFerguson account. “We hacked your email system, took down your website, released an audio file of police dispatch. And most important, we focused attention on this murder. Be ready to expect more, because we are just getting started,” it warned.
Meanwhile, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday afternoon that there would be an “operational shift” in the law enforcement oversight of the protests. He did not immediately confirm whether the St. Louis PD would leave Ferguson, but it is being reported that the FBI would take over the investigation.
“The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling, and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans,” Nixon said in a statement Aug. 13. “While we all respect the solemn responsibility of our law enforcement officers to protect the public, we must also safeguard the rights of Missourians to peaceably assemble, and the rights of the press to report on matters of public concern.”