Anonymous Tries to Found a Legit News Organization, It Goes Badly

A little over a year ago, some members of the Anonymous hacktivist collective decided they'd try to found their own news organization. So they did what young people who have a dream do as a matter of course these days: they set up an Indiegogo campiagn. They raised over $50,000. And now more than $30,000 of that is gone.

This sad song, which to be utterly fair has been sung many times by people not quite as explicitly dedicated to anarchy and chaos as most Anonymous members are, was memorialized in a long pastebin post over the weekend. It was (apparently unironically) titled "Truth and reconciliation," a phrase associated primarily with post-apartheid inquiry commission in South Africa.

The report reveals that the culprit is one "JackalAnon," the alias for a Denver man named Christopher Banks. He was the force behind the original fundraising campaign, which sought to capitalize on the popularity of the @YourAnonNews twitter account to create a news organization which would reflect the not-terribly-coherent values of the hacktivist collective as a whole. (Less "celebrity and political gossip" seems to have been key to the plan.)

Banks personally collected the just-under-$55,000 that resulted from the campaign, and he does seem to have arranged for the manufacture of the various tchotchkes promised to the campaign's 1,300-or-so donors. But after that, what he did with the money gets pretty murky.

Alarms were raised when the merchandise was never mailed out, and at that point other Anonymous collective members stepped in to save the project. Per the pastebin report:

Wanting to protect and preserve this invaluable resource for the benefit of Anonymous and the wider activist community who support us and rely on us as to amplify their voices, a rescue plan was put in place by a collective that came together from various corners of our hive. We approached Jackal, who was under considerable duress, and offered to solve the mailout – and by extension credibility issue – on condition that he would relinquish control of the Twitter feed to a suitable protected entity. The password was subsequently passed on to DellCam and Emmi, after which Dell changed the password and had the only access.

The vague language here raises some alarms. What does "under considerable duress" mean? Legal duress? Financial duress? The report is silent on that point. Instead, it goes on to record efforts to turn YourAnonNews into a proper non-profit. And then the acts of mutiny and betrayal which naturally followed hard upon that effort.

Getting Banks to relinquish control of the Twitter account and forming a proper institution sadly did not bring an end to YourAnonNews's woes. For one thing, Banks didn't return the money, or even, it seems, tell anyone what he'd done with it. Banks also apparently did not like the way he was shoved aside in favor of creating a proper institution to handle the YourAnonNews twitter account and associated affairs. So last week, he tried to get Twitter to give him sole custody (so to speak) of the YourAnonNews Twitter handle again.

It seems that some members of the board were willing to negotiate a final settlement of all these affairs with Banks, but others were not. The negotiators seem to be behind the Truth and Reconcilation Report, which uses a mild tone to describe the fallout:

Jackal naturally approached this process with some fear and trepidation, so it didn't go as smoothly or as quickly as we'd hoped. Frustrated by our lack of progress, at a board meeting earlier this month, we made a unanimous resolution to make a last ditch attempt to get the outstanding information we required from Jackal for a full transparency statement. At the same time we hoped to get Jackal to formally sign over the intellectual property and online assets that had previously been transferred from his possession. After the motion passed, a request for information was made, but unfortunately Jackal wasn't forthcoming.

Sadly, time wasn't on our side and it became very apparent that our community was quite rightly becoming restless. With not enough solid information with regards to the sum actually accounted to Jackal from Indiegogo, a full and complete list of expenses, and a more exact idea of the sum that was missing, our board quite rightly felt that it needed to sever the last tie to Jackal – his contributor access to the feed. This was particularly distressing for one of our team, who had known Jackal personally for some years, so with one abstention a vote was passed to remove him.

The attitude of other members of board are probably better reflected by an open letter to Twitter they published on the YourAnonNews tumblr yesterday, where they described the state of affairs rather more bluntly:

We're disgusted by this person. He's a thief. He's lower than the lowest and quite possibly on his way to the 9th ring of hell, where mutineers, backstabbers, the Judases and Ptolemys of our world reside. He spat in the face of a every person who has died over these last four years fighting against the dictatorial regimes we've opposed, and the people we've supported who've inhaled pepperspray in defense of our right to speak freely...

This person stole from your community. Not ours. Not Anonymous. But from Twitter. We are not prone to begging, you know that. It's not our style. But we are asking you, in the most serious way, to not fulfill this request. No one that has abused your service, and misled thousands of your users, for their own personal profit, should be allowed retain control of this account.

The "Truth and Reconciliation" document presents itself as an explicit response to another pastebin document, in which one of the disgruntled board members described Banks as having outright "stolen" the money, and in which members of the new "board" that governs the account and the non-profit describe their attempts to settle with Banks:

As per my conversation with the attorney today, I understand that two members of the board prefer that our relationship with Jackal remain as is, with no punishment imposed for the theft of $35,000, because, I quote: 'You may think that's a lot of money, but it's not.'

This sort of he-said-she-said money-disappearing board-of-directors disarray is a familiar plot for activists of any stripe, of course, not just the would-be anarchists of the internet. It is also an exceedingly entertaining one. Points, at least, go to the authors of the "Truth and Reconciliation" document for adding, at the end,

In related news, sales of pOpcOrn have jumped over 9000%.

[Image via Shutterstock.]