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Joshua Holland writes, "It may not be appropriate to say in polite company, but there's no doubt that some Americans who hold a deep respect for the rule of law also find themselves cheering the information-age ronin who appear capable of waging war against the mightiest states and the most powerful corporations with impunity - the WikiLeakers and shadowy hackers that make up groups like Anonymous."

WikiLeaks and Anonymous, modern-day Robin Hoods, bring powerful giants to their knees. (photo: AlterNet)
WikiLeaks and Anonymous, modern-day Robin Hoods, bring powerful giants to their knees. (photo: AlterNet)



Are WikiLeaks and Anonymous All We Have Left?

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet

03 September 11

 

Are Wikileaks and Anonymous hackers all there is left we can rely on, with trust in business and government at rock bottom? Their ability to bring powerful giants to heel is as compelling as the mythical Robin Hood's battle with a haughty medieval aristocracy.

t may not be appropriate to say in polite company, but there's no doubt that some Americans who hold a deep respect for the rule of law also find themselves cheering the information-age ronin who appear capable of waging war against the mightiest states and the most powerful corporations with impunity - the WikiLeakers and shadowy hackers that make up groups like Anonymous.

They may not approve of all of their actions - indeed, they may find some to be deeply misguided - but for those who aren't instinctively deferential to authority, their ability to bring powerful giants to heel is as compelling as the mythical Robin Hood's battle with a haughty medieval aristocracy.

Consider the environment in which these anti-heroic nerds operate. The United States jails more of its citizens than any other country on the planet, often for offenses as minor as possessing some marijuana. In six states, courts are now throwing people in jail for failing to make scheduled debt payments. An Illinois man was recently sentenced to 75 years for recording cops he alleged were harrassing him. Just last week, a Tennessee woman was threatened with arrest for the "crime" of allowing her 10-year-old child to bike a mile to school; police said she'd be charged with child neglect if she didn't send the kid to school on the bus.

There's very little accountability, however, for the large and increasingly powerful institutions with which we interact every day. It's become extremely hard for individuals to escape from beneath a pile of debt in bankruptcy court, but for corporations moral hazard abounds. Nobody has gone to prison for the widespread fraud Wall Street committed in building a house of cards out of a pile of mortgage-backed securities. In fact, a settlement is being worked out that will let banks off the hook for their scandalous robo-signing fraud with a slap on the wrist, even as they continue to fabricate foreclosure documents. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court made it almost impossible for people ripped off by big corporations to file class-action suits. Nobody at a high level was punished for torturing terror suspects, or for spying on American citizens in apparent violation of the law.

As these increasingly unaccountable institutions - both private and public - have grown larger, we human beings have come to feel ever smaller. We have no means of resisting the myriad small insults that we suffer day in and day out dealing with corporations and negotiating government agencies. We tolerate the rudeness of customer service reps and endless hours navigating phone trees. We try to ignore the rise of the surveillance state even as it has come to surround us. Nobody really knows how to get off the no-fly list once one is suspected by the powers-that-be of being "trouble."

More and more, our democracy feels like a Potemkin Village in which we make a grand show of participating in billion-dollar, ad-driven elections only to see our government captured by elites working behind the scenes. The corruption - the legal kind - is so pervasive that most of us simply turn a blind eye to it, helpless to push back. Sure, the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum, including a majority of rank-and-file Republicans, would like to see the deficit tamed by raising taxes on the rich - people who have seen their burdens decline dramatically over the past 30 years. But tough luck - it's the donor class that holds sway over our representatives and fuming about it only earns one charges of "class warfare."

It should come as little surprise that trust in the institutions that shape our entire society is largely a thing of the past. A poll conducted last September for the Associated Press found that Americans had become cynical about our major institutions. Not one of the 18 institutions pollsters asked about got high marks from a majority of respondents. "Glum and distrusting, a majority of Americans today are very confident in - nobody," concluded the pollsters. Sixty-two percent of those polled by Gallup said they "want major corporations to have less influence in the United States." The most recent Household Survey of Adult Civic Participation four in 10 Americans said politics were "too complicated to understand," and a similar number believed, not incorrectly, that their families "had no say in what federal government does."

Most of us humans are small, but in this interconnected world, these hackers are apparently able to play with large and immovable institutions on a level playing field. WikiLeaks, for better or worse, exposed thousands of state secrets closely guarded by the world's greatest superpower; they've shone a bright light on war crimes and corporate malfeasance. They've made Bank of America tremble in its boots, even as it glides effortlessly above the laws of our justice system.

When the major credit card companies and Paypal decided to intervene and block payments to WikiLeaks, the leaderless hacking group known as Anonymous crashed their servers. LulzSec, another hackers' group, humiliated a number of Arizona law enforcement agencies when they published some internal emails replete with foul, racist garbage. They've breeched the security systems of the CIA and the US Senate.

Last week, I listened online to Bay Area Rapid Transit police responding to demonstrations in response to repeated allegations of police abuse via their own scanners, after a hacker associated with Anonymous posted the feed. As the protesters gathered at one station, Anonymous reported via Twitter on the BART cops' every move. "Do not block exits; police have orders to make mass arrests if egress is blocked," read a typical tweet.

Like most people, I have no idea how they do what they do, and that lends an air of magic to it that may be reminiscent of the cargo cults that sprang up when tribal, pre-industrial societies first encountered visitors from modern industrial ones.

Of course, hackers, by definition, aren't any more accountable than the institutions they plague. There are many whose intentions are purely malign. Most who hold a grudging admiration for the anarchistic activists of Anonymous, WikiLeaks or LulzSec only do so because they humble the powerful - those accustomed to operating with impunity. Anonymous, branded with its Guy Fawkes mask, says it will "always stand with the people." It's only the capriciousness of these inscrutable institutions that hold such sway over our lives that makes that message sound less than trite and self-serving.

Of course, not everybody sees it the same way. These shadowy groups are regarded as an almost existential threat by many of those in power. The US government bent over backward to try to prosecute WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange as a spy; some went so far as to call for his assassination. Law enforcement agencies have devoted enormous amounts of time and energy trying to sweep up members of groups like Anonymous.

Ultimately, how one regards these rogue geeks may be a kind of Rorschach test that reveals one's deference to authority. And here, there's an ideological component at play: as a liberal, I respect authority to the extent that it acts responsibly, and no more. The poli-sci definition of conservatism, however, is a "political philosophy based upon the idea that society needs to 'conserve' traditional structures of authority and morality." Sociologists have long argued that there exists an "authoritarian" personality type, which is far more prevalent on the right side of the political spectrum.

Personally, my first choice would be to live in a society in which a truer form of democracy prevailed and the rule of law applied equally to everyone - to the government and huge corporate persons as well as us little human ones. In an ideal world - one where government remained within its constitutional limits and corporations that murdered people by spewing toxic junk into the environment or operating unsafe mines had the same chance of getting the death penalty as some thug who offs someone with a gun - we wouldn't even feel tempted to cheer on these shadowy tech-heads. But with our regulatory agencies in the pockets of the industries they oversee, a media obsessed with political trivia and a different set of rules for the wealthy and powerful, the fact that some small humans, armed only with their wits and a modem, can strike fear into the hearts of the powerful provides some small amount of comfort.


Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of "The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America." Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

 

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+15 # DaveM 2011-09-03 21:31
"When robbery is done in open daylight by sanction of the law, as it is done today, then any act of honor or restitution has to be hidden underground" --Ragnar Danneskjold, in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged".
 
 
+22 # Isar 2011-09-04 03:46
"This is the way the world ends---This is the way the world ends...This is the way the world ends---Not with a bang, but with a whimper."--T.S. Elliot....or perhaps we can change it to "not with a bang, but with a whisper?" -- We are definitely living in dangerous times when we can no longer believe anything we read or hear in the media.
 
 
+9 # Glen 2011-09-04 03:58
Chaos. Chaotic, regional laws. Chaotic regional persecution. Chaotic lack of standards.

A country too big to rule must be brought down a notch to facilitate control. A country's government wishing extended control will lend the chaos to international considerations and leaders, daring those leaders to object.

WikiLeaks has certainly brought it all to our attention and thank the gods for that, but they have also opened the door a few more inches for those already hacking away in an ongoing cyber war. It is only a matter of time before that war becomes literal in the U.S. with the possibility of shutting it down.
 
 
+28 # dgrhm 2011-09-04 05:40
"Capitalism is the racket of the ruling class." - Al Capone
 
 
+7 # fredboy 2011-09-04 07:18
With the news media no longer dutiful or objective, instead picking sides or ignoring issues altogether, a free and open Internet is the only watchdog left.

Throughout the nation newspapers have now informally adopted the mantels of political parties, with many swinging--and by their coverage policies and practices distorting and even ignoring--news and thus perceived reality to suit political attitudes and beliefs.

Some of the worst cases may be found in Burlington, VT, and throughout Florida.
 
 
+2 # dfvboulder 2011-09-04 07:24
Your playing fast and loose with the facts is irritating. The Illinois man was NOT sentenced to 75 years for recording cops. He was charged with crimes which carry that much of a sentence.

I know that's a minor distinction -- kind of like saying that someone who threatened to kill a person actually killed them.
 
 
+18 # Dale 2011-09-04 08:13
Long live Wikileaks!!!!!! !!!
 
 
+13 # tomo 2011-09-04 19:18
I agree, Dale. Just watched 60 Minutes re-run in which Steve Croft grills Assange. One has to hope Steve was just mouthing the garbage that's been spoken against Wikileaks in order to give Assange a chance to make a case. I thought Assange acquitted himself well. Steve was asking along the lines: "If you're publishing something the government doesn't want published, then isn't it obvious you've committed a crime?" The reason Madison put defense of a free press into the First Amendment wasn't so that the press could investigate the bizarre behavior of Martin Sheen; he put it there and the forefathers ratified it, so that when the government was trying to keep the public from knowing what was going on, it would be hard to keep the press from telling us. It is bullshit to think the primary concern of Obama, the CIA, Hillary, and the Department of Defense is that "the bad guys" will then be able to compromise our security. Their concern is that the American people will find out what's going on.

Also, many in the media--perhaps Steve Croft himself--are shamed to see Assange performing an indispensable function of democracy when they, the media, have failed so miserably. As for Obama, do not be deceived; this husband of the lovely Michelle and the darling girls, has done what he could to destroy the mind of a fellow American for trying to let the facts out.
 
 
+3 # Jorge 2011-09-04 21:53
Good post Tomo. But it is the bizarre behavior of Charlie Sheen, his dad Martin Sheen (born Ramon Estevez) is an active Progressive (arrested 66 times, mainly for environmental activism).
 
 
+23 # Davethinks 2011-09-04 08:26
There is always a need for an underground. Governments may not always need destruction but they always need critics.
 
 
+3 # Anarchist 23 2011-09-04 10:43
For those of us who read SF and other related types of writing, this is quite normal. These hackers much resemble the Erisian Liberation Front (ELF for short) in Illuminatus, or even the young magic users in Dumbledore's Army. Authoritarian movements always use force; libertarian ones use imagination. Artists in their vision are also time travelers. In the present day it really is hard to separate 'reality' from 'fiction'
 
 
+4 # ScottShuster 2011-09-04 11:39
I am reminded if old Western movies. The bandits would come to town and the towns people had limited choices. Suffer, come together or hope a new sheriff comes to town.
 
 
+2 # KittatinyHawk 2011-09-04 12:16
Truth...all we were told to believe in. We were punished for lying, where were these Cretins Parents at the Country Club?

Truth sets your soul free. I have tried my whole life never to lie as I do not have the time to remember to whom I told what, even lil lies need storage space that I so aptly wanted to learn what I could, see what I could before I died. Simple Goal, has served me well.
I enjoy stories, but have read media, rags, watched TV to get truth from Journalists, Reporters....I find such Careers now a joke. If your are Editor of a Newspaper, News rag....what are you bothering to edit if you are not giving your soul into your Publishing? You are now a dime store tabloid...some of them have actual stories that are true.
Televison Newscaster/Repo rter gets to go to site of story good or bad, and then opts to allow GE to tell them what they can report...Quit. Integrity, a need to know, find the truth, Dick Tracy anyone can lie, look the other way. Nice to get paid for doing nothing...your dreams of sitting behind a desk, lights on, camera rolling For What? You have accomplished nothing but celebrity status, no respect of yourself you have sold out that Dream, and we are shutting you off except for weather and sports. It is like the news paper here..sports, obits and police log for nosiness.
 
 
+2 # Inland Jim 2011-09-04 13:13
dfvboulder, I'd be interested in a cite for your rebuttal: "Your playing fast and loose with the facts is irritating. The Illinois man was NOT sentenced to 75 years for recording cops. He was charged with crimes which carry that much of a sentence."
 
 
0 # denishenry 2011-09-04 13:24
There's also the A.L.F. the E.L.F. and SHAC.
 
 
+4 # propsguy 2011-09-04 13:47
go rewatch the movie Brazil. we are close to being that terrible country where a renegade plumber is an underground freedom fighter.

without Anonymous and WikiLeaks, we are doomed
 
 
+7 # tomo 2011-09-04 17:29
I keep hearing, "Well, Obama is better than Cheney." Fools! Obama is the extension of Cheney, and in an extremely dangerous way: He is institutionaliz ing the aberrational behavior of Cheney. He is, at this moment, the tool of Cheney and company, legitimizing their brand of power politics. Obama has already told us "Bush (W.) is an honorable man." It's a matter of time till he says the same of Cheney.

Aquinas distinguishes "authority" from "power." He says a government may have power in that it has effective means to coerce the public into compliance; it has "authority" only if its behavior is in accord with "natural law"--that is, is conducive to the common good. Since the time of the Enlightenment, we say about the same by saying government is "legitimate" only when it acts in accord with the natural rights of the citizenry.

A government which locks up people without due process, which allows banks to use forged documents to evict people from the homes they live in, which sponsors torture while concealing its repulsive details from the public and which punishes those who would reveal these details to the public, LACKS a moral mandate. Obama is a man who has no dignity, no principles, no compassion, no authority, no legitimacy. He is the emptiest suit we have ever seen in the White House.
 
 
+1 # Glen 2011-09-05 06:25
Thank you for reminding everyone of the agenda in place. I agree with you completely and realized all this toward the end of the Bush administration. I don't, however, agree that Obama is "the emptiest suit we have ever seen in the White House". Obama knew exactly what he was getting into and is complicit, as I have said in the past, in the plan.
 
 
+4 # RagingLiberal 2011-09-04 19:01
tomo, I haven't heard it put that clearly in a long time! Obama IS NO BETTER. He is GW Bush dipped in oil. He continues the destruction of our country, perhaps even more blatantly than the Bush/Cheney nightmare. Our entire government belongs to Corporate America, and as we rush headlong into our demise, their adherence to law becomes less and less. If you own the police, who is there to fear? If you own the courts, who is there to fear? No, they fear no one and nothing, for those they fear vanish into Gitmo, or simply vanish. The tales of horror we hear from "uncivilized" countries are now happening in America, and most of America is on the sofa with a beer watching Jeopardy. I wish I had computer skills, I'd BE Anonymous too! Hell yes, I support them, and all groups like them! WE ARE ALL ANONYMOUS! And we'd all better be learning something useful, or WE will all be meeting in yet another corporate run prison.
 
 
+4 # Kax 2011-09-05 09:44
LOVE the Al Capone quote!!! Rings as true as lead crystal...Long live Julian Assange, et al....some "outlaws" have more honor that the "powers that be".

If the rule of law is not being applied equally and in fact is being blatantly flouted by those in public office, why should anyone obey the law? In fact, it is our duty as citizens to be civilly disobedient when those in office do not uphold our Constitution..p rotecting our form of gov't requires genius and courage and honorable motives....my heartfelt thanks to Assange, et al.
 
 
+5 # Pwarren 2011-09-05 10:40
I watched Steve Crofts as well and I have never seen a face more filled with malevolence than his was. Quite frankly for one of the few times in my long life I felt ill from watching a person. Rest asured I am finished with 60 milutes if this is all they have to offer at this point in time.
Mr Assange is a brave, very smart, good man in my book. If I can ever help him I certainly will.
How can we support him now - do any of you know?
 

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