No, Anonymous Didn’t Just Out U.S. Politicians as Members of the Ku Klux Klan

Don’t believe the headlines.

Last week, hacktivist collective Anonymous vowed to unmask more than 1,000 alleged members of the Ku Klux Klan to mark the first anniversary of the protests in Ferguson in 2014. On Monday, it appeared they followed through on their promise.

The group reportedly released an (unverified) list of 57 phone numbers and 23 email addresses on the website Pastebin allegedly corresponding to the identities of several KKK members, according to the Huffington Post. While this data dump seems to deliver on the collective’s original threat to unmask Klan members, media outlets are instead fixating on a second, different Pastebin list that includes the names of four U.S. senators and five city mayors that, it alleges, have connections to the Klan.

Stay with me here. There are two lists. Only one was released by Anonymous, and as far as we know, it does not contain the names of any major political figures at all. But the second Pastebin entry, released by longtime KKK foeAmped Attacks, led to a bunch of erroneous headlines about how Anonymous just outed a bunch of racist politicians.

It’s not hard to see how some media outlets got confused: after all, the information was released on the same website popular among hackers (and around the same time) as the first list of phone numbers and email addresses. And given that Anonymous is a loose collective rather than a formal group with a set membership, it would make sense that different members of the group might release multiple batches of data independent of each other.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing to suggest that the second list, the one that includes the politicians, is credible. First of all, even Amped Attacks admits he isn’t actually linked to Anonymous, making his connection to the hacker collective’s alleged trove of KKK memberships suspect. “I am not involved with Anonymous or any other hacktivist group,” he told TechCrunch on Monday. “I am my own man that acts on my own accord.” Furthermore, Anonymous has publicly disavowed the second list, which again casts doubt on the veracity of the second Pastebin list of KKK-affiliated politicians

Second, every politician who responded (so far) to media inquiries from Maxim has strongly denied the allegations of any level of affiliation with the KKK. Sure, of course politicians will deny, but the force of their statements matters. From the office of Norfolk, Virginia, Mayor Paul:

The claim by Anonymous that I am in anyway affiliated or related to the KKK is absolutely false and defamatory.  There is no truth to their statement whatsoever. I am not and have never been affiliated with any such organization.  I find it incredulous that these people can hide behind their computers and create such an inaccurate and hateful statement.

From Ocala, Florida, Police Chief Greg Graham, regarding the allegation that Mayor Kent Guinn is affiliated with the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan:

This is an attempt to discredit the Mayor. There is no validity to the accusation. Law enforcement has been made aware of this situation and are working to get it resolved.

From the office of Fort Wayne, Indiana Mayor Tom Henry:

Claims that I have ties to the KKK are totally false and irresponsible. I’m proud to be the Mayor of the City of Fort Wayne that celebrates and appreciates diversity and acceptance. Racism has no place in our society and my life.

From the office of Lexington, Kentucky, Major Jim Gray, in a written statement distributed to the media:

This allegation is false, insulting and ridiculous. I have never had any relationship of any kind with the KKK. I am opposed to everything it stands for. I have no idea where this information came from, but wherever it came from, it is wrong.

And finally, my personal favorite, from Knoxville, Tennessee, Mayor Madeline Anne Rogero:

I’m not even sure this is worth responding to, but for the record: There is a list circulating online purporting to “out” elected officials as members of the KKK. For reasons unfathomable to me or anyone who knows me, my name is on the list. Given my background, my interracial family, my public record and my personal beliefs, this would be hilarious except that it is probably being seen by a lot of people who have no idea who I am.

So, just to be clear, for anyone who doesn’t know me: Don’t be ridiculous. I began my political career working for the rights of farm workers with Cesar Chavez. I have spent decades working for causes of social justice and equality. As Mayor, I have pushed for diversity in our workforce and outreach to and inclusion of people of all backgrounds in our community. In concert with President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, I began the Save Our Sons initiative to increase opportunities and reduce violence-related deaths among boys and young men of color. I have advocated publicly for LGBT civil rights, and I was the only mayor in Tennessee to sign onto the mayors’ amicus brief for the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court’s marriage equality case. In short, I don’t think the KKK would want anything to do with me.

I strongly request that anyone associated with the creation and dissemination of this false and defamatory accusation retract it immediately. It is irresponsible and slanderous. (Although, on a positive note, I do appreciate that they are using a picture of me from 12 years ago. Very flattering!)

Note that these responses are primarily from representatives of the majors fingered in the second Pastebin dump. We will update this post with formal responses from U.S. senators as we hear them, but it’s important to note that a non-response to an outlandish and unproven charge is no proof of guilt.

That said, it’s worth noting that there’s certainly a chance that an elected official or public servant also wears a hood and burns crosses in his spare time. Consider Lahoma, Oklahoma, Mayor Theresa Sharp, whose husband reportedly attended a Klan-themed Halloween party in white robes and allegedly burned a cross in what the two called “a prank gone bad.”

Random accusation can often do plenty of damage to your reputation and career, even when they end up being absolutely false. To quote former president Lyndon Baines Johnson, on the matter of accusing an enemy of being a pig-fucker: “Of course it ain’t true, but I want to make the son-of-a-bitch deny it.” But in the case of today’s leak, where media outlets trumpeted a blow against corrupt, racist politicians by Anonymous, the glee may be a bit premature.