When it comes to dramatic bluster, there are few that can match Anonymous.
The anarchist hacking network has a reputation for targeting perceived injustices worldwide with creepily narrated video messages and attacks on computer systems. But it appears the death of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday pushed Anonymous further than ever -- too far, it turns out.
"Anonymous will not be satisfied this time, as we have in the past -- with simply obtaining justice for this young man and his family," intones the robo-voice on Anonymous' first video message released Sunday. Since launching its campaign -- called #OpFurguson -- the group set its sights on St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar: The group declared that police abuses would be followed by Anonymous releasing troves of officers' personal data, among other retaliations.
"To the Ferguson Police Department and any other jurisdictions who are deployed to the protests: We are watching you very closely," the video message continues. "If you abuse, harass -- or harm in any way the protesters in Ferguson, we will take every Web-based asset of your departments and governments offline. That is not a threat; it is a promise."
Anonymous hit a number of early victories, including shutting down the Ferguson City Hall website on Tuesday morning. (The website has since been restored.)
Confirmed: Anonymous group hacked into the City of #Ferguson website last night. All city emails are down.— KMOV (@KMOV) August 11, 2014
On Monday, Chief Belmar told reporters he wasn't too concerned with Anonymous' exposing his officers' personal information.
"I hope that's a hollow threat," he said at the time.
Anonymous responded by posting the names and photos of Belmar's wife and kids to Twitter, as well as Belmar's address.
Anonymous soon escalated its war against Belmar to a much more disturbing level. Following the Tuesday announcement that Ferguson police officials refuse to disclose the name of the officer who shot Brown, #OpFurguson went after his daughter directly. (The Tweet has since been deleted.)
We promise however that none of Jon Belmar's family will be harmed, our quarrel is with him. We did this as a show of force. #Ferguson— TheAnonMessage (@TheAnonMessage) August 12, 2014
Continue for the surprisingly reasonable conclusion of Anonymous' threat to expose Belmar's daughter.
As the hour ticked down, Anonymous appeared fully prepared to go through with its threat against Belmar's daughter.
(Somebody better tell him. #Ferguson)— TheAnonMessage (@TheAnonMessage) August 12, 2014
However, whoever is running #OpFurguson decided to shut down the plan at the last minute.
We have recognized that releasing vital information on Belmar's family is damaging to the overall message of justice for Mike Brown.— TheAnonMessage (@TheAnonMessage) August 12, 2014
We will therefore cease in releasing any more information on Belmar's family. We still continue to demand the release of the officer's name.— TheAnonMessage (@TheAnonMessage) August 12, 2014
We recognize that Jon Belmar has had enough damage done to him. We will save the rest of our energy for the true perpetrator. #Ferguson— TheAnonMessage (@TheAnonMessage) August 12, 2014
We cannot be responsible for jeopardizing the investigation or demoralizing the movement.— TheAnonMessage (@TheAnonMessage) August 12, 2014
Jon, I hope you learned your lesson. #Ferguson— TheAnonMessage (@TheAnonMessage) August 12, 2014
The tension produced by the Anonymous' brief flirtation with blackmail isn't the only way #OpFurguson has had to adjust since Sunday. Following reports of widespread looting and property damage in Ferguson, Anonymous released another YouTube video on Tuesday:
"The anger shown is being directed towards the wrong source of the problem," the video says. "Your local QuikTrip or your Footlocker store did not cause the death of Mike Brown. The robbing and looting of local black business by young black minorities will not avenge Mike Brown."