We Are Legion: The Story of the Hactivists

Brian Knappenberger (2012)

Film Review

We are Legion traces the early history of Anonymous, the vast leaderless international hactivist community, back to geeky pranksters from MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Model Railroad Club. After branching out to form the Cult of the Dead Cow, they would morph into 4Chan, a website where anonymous – mainly adolescent users – go out of their way to post the most repulsive and/or obscene images and text they could think of.

The fact that most 4Chan posts bear the screen name “Anonymous” would inspire a group of 4Channers to formally take that name in 2006-2007. Their first politically motivated prank was directed attack against Neo-Nazi talk show host Hal Turner. In addition to shutting down his website through a DoS* attack, they charged massive amounts of pizza and industrial supplies to be sent to his address. On learning he was an FBI informant (by hacking into his emails), the widely disseminated this information to his right wing supporters.

By January 2008 when they took on the Church of Scientology (after the Scientology lawyers threatened them for disseminated an unflattering video of Tom Cruise promoting Scientology), they had transitioned from pranksters into a virtual online army.

In addition to repeatedly DoS-ing the Scientology website and tying up their hotline, they staged their first street protest in February 2008 – with more than 10,000 Anonymous members picketing Scientology offices in every major city. It was these protests that first popularized the Guy Fawkes mask originating from the V for Vendetta graphic novel and film.

In 2010 they launched Operation Payback to disable Mastercard, Visa and PayPal websites, after Wikileaks published Bradley Manning’s damning emails and videos about US atrocities in Iraq and the four companies suspended Wikileaks online payment services.

In 2011 Anonymous members provided third party website, dial-up and encryption services and text-based Twitter feeds for activists in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab Spring countries.

It was around this time the FBI began investigating Anonymous – resulting in the arrest of the Anonymous 16 for taking down the PayPal website. Several of the arrestees are featured in the documentary as they prepare to go to trial. Owing the amorphous and leaderless nature of the network, the arrest of dozens of Anonymous activists  seems to have done little to curtail their activists.


*A denial-of-service attack (DoS attack) is a cyber attack where perpetrators seek to make a website  unavailable by temporarily or indefinitely disrupting services. It’s typically accomplished by flooding the targeted website with superfluous requests in an attempt to overload its systems.

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