The return of Anonymous

“It’s the vigilante,” Gregg Housh, one of the creators of a 2008 Anonymous anti-Scientology video, told me. Anonymous “was designed specifically to be that way. In its initial founding, it existed as trolls … people doing whatever they wanted, with that hint of vigilantism. It was designed to be totally open. Anyone can be Anonymous.”

In the new video Vibes made, Anonymous represents extrajudicial justice, the superhero entering to right what the normal course of the law cannot—an idea that can seem deeply appealing now that the ordinary enforcers of justice—the police—appear to some to be the source of the crime.

My sources affiliated with Anonymous all told me the same thing: People were flowing back into the chat rooms to coordinate new “operations.” This is how Anonymous has always worked. A viral video generates a wave of enthusiasm. Then the leaderless collective debates what to do. Sometimes it settles on performative acts of protest, such as hacking police scanners or briefly downing a website. But as occurred with BlueLeaks, oftentimes more skilled hackers steal and leak documents intended to buttress a political cause with substantive evidence.

However, both the group of people and the movement have changed over the years. And to track Anonymous’s trajectory, it’s necessary to understand how the entire project began: as a joke by teenagers.