Mitnick, Organizing, Etc.

From Ernesto Aguilar <>
Date Tue, 15 Aug 2000 13:16:06 -0500

[: hacktivism :]

Figured I'd toss some thoughts...

>not to be *too* offensive, but I think that the whole "Free Kevin" thing
>was counterpoductive, and isolated hackers and hacker-aware individuals
>from anything useful, rational, or, in any way socially beneficail.  He
>[Mitnick] was/is a good posterchild for the way that the FBI/CIA/NSA/theMAN
>can watch people, pinpoint them, and destroy them.  But the reaction was
>useless and weak, IMHO, and almost entirely individualistic.  So what if
>you shut down the FBI website for a few minutes? So what if you deface a
>website that is restored in 15 minutes to a few hours?  Big deal.

You'll find many like-minded people here. :)

I may as well throw this in now since this group-vs-individual politic 
basically wanders this whole piece. Organizations/collectives/"mass 
organizing" and individualism/people acting in affinity groups outside of 
the "movement"/individuals acting alone in furtherance of the goal do not 
need to be in constant tension. The "movement" gets into a bit of tunnel 
vision unfortunately and can't process the fact individuals outside of its 
structure can play a role, effect change and help reach mutual objective, 
and that's a shame. Truth be told, the "movement" will slit its own throat 
by selling the "individuals" down the river, because they can often be 
allies and may even support the overall ideas. To make them the enemy, 
isolate and otherwise make "individuals" open for state repression will 
only hurt the larger grouping later. We're not foes here, and there are 
ways to work together. It's a matter of finding common ground, respecting 
our disagreements and going from there.

>If you cannot either:  1) grab (preferably positive) attention to your
>issue, or 2) hit them in the pocketbook or the voting booth, then you did
>little or nothing.

A few comments...

While I think your posits are fair, they're also about 40 years behind the 
times. The state learned a lot from the civil rights movement of the '50s 
and the antiwar movement of the '60s, and has honed its technique since 
then. It has to -- one has to stay ahead of foes to keep control. 
Unfortunately, popular activist political thinking does need to take some 

I think what's key to understand here IMO is the role of the media. When 
"the movement" does something public it's regularly distorted to put the 
activists in the spotlight as troublemakers (and the police as the 
protectors of all that's good and decent, of course) for doing something as 
simple as marching or engaging in civil disobedience. If we're good little 
soldiers and simply go to the voting booths and shut our traps, we're 
ignored. This kind of distortion (of making these often nonviolent 
activists some sort of subhuman force bent on 
destruction/violence/disruption) opens the door of support for often 
outrageous police violations of civil rights and privacy aimed at everyone, 
activist or not. Worse, the media feeds off sensationalism; we may hear 
about x-thousands protesting the WTO, but it's below the masked black blocs 
or property destruction. The sad part is the media would have probably 
whited out the fact that march ever happened had an uprising not gone down 
(SF Gulf War protest, anyone?) If we're basing the bottom line on sunshine 
press, we'll wilt under the clouds.

This is definitely not to say distance ourselves from anarchists or 
property destruction and don Birks while singing "We Shall Overcome"; the 
media will find boogeymen no matter who we purge from the ranks. It does 
tell us that the major media is hardly our friend and will (generally) 
paint activism in an unsympathetic, even hostile, light regardless or just 
pretend we don't exist. Clearly, that isn't license to go wiping people 
out, but we can't pretend the major media are somehow 'objective' at all or 
that they'd cover the Mitnick case (or other activism) in any way that 
wasn't pro-state. Every activist is, to coin the terms used in the first 
post, far from "useful, rational, or, in any way socially beneficial" with 
their behavior in the streets or their computers or wherever. And whether 
activists personally feel themselves morally right is relevant only to them 
because the media will always make them The Other and their activities 

On the second point, IMO the old pocketbook-or-poll method of activism is a 
failure for progressivism and does not acknowledge the much more pervasive 
commodity that the Mitnick actions strike at: security. Security of home, 
state, et al. has become synonymous with comfort and a "good life," and 
people will generally give away their rights for it. The media whips up 
this frenzy about riots and rock throwers from Seattle, and the people of 
Los Angeles, for example, accept (pretty much) turning the city into a 
police state for the DNC. Protestors pose a threat to the security of 
businesses, so the citizenry remains silent while cops fire rubber bullets 
(just killing them ala Rubeun Salazar and Fred Hampton is harder to cover 
up, so the "nonlethal," intimidatory agents are now in vogue) at crowds. 
We're fed a lot of press gruel about how the Internet/violence/etc. 
threatens our families/children/lives/etc. as a means to win our support 
through fear. But what we may not be told is our support allows for 
dangerous precedents in the name of security and safety. At the same time, 
as society starts to circle the economic wagons and the majority parties 
merge ideologically and fight to keep out other players, security is one of 
the only planes we have access to and rebelling against it can be our trump 
card down the line. Will it bring repression? Yes, but that's coming 
whether you peep or not.

That said, IMO striking against the pantheon of security, the FBI, is very 
effective and was effective and drawing attention to the case. Take this 
all with a grain of salt. I'm obviously a conspiracy theorist. ;)

>I think that the two most important moments (so far) in hacktivism are the
>Zapatista incident and associated activities with the EDT [thus involving
>governments and the creation of at least some public attention which
>hopefully influenced governmental policy], and the etoy(s) incident [thus
>involving industry and real money].

This is a popular sentiment, but here's a question: the Mitnick actions and 
the Zapatista one both targeted governmental bodies/agencies, involving the 
shutdown of sites (I think the EZLN one was euphemistically referred to as 
a "virtual sit-in" if I recall correctly) and both probably yielded 
arguable results. Is the EZLN action judged a success because it's a bunch 
of individuals allegedly tied to a movement (I'm not sure if the EZLN 
actually supported it) while the Mitnick one is supposedly just a bunch of 
individuals? And doesn't that strike anyone else as rather opportunist?

The other thing that's concerned me about movements is that people are 
happy to cheer actions that affect the lives of people in other countries, 
but treat people acting in the same fashion with similar goals in the U.S. 
as some heresy. Old-left activism cheered Che Guevara in Cuba but vilified 
Huey Newton for fomenting a similar revolution stateside. By the same turn, 
it's easy to want to "sit in" (shut down) Mexican agencies' computers when 
repression is happening under the guise of a popular movement, but it's 
adventurism when repression is happening in the US. Not that such applies 
here or is on equal footing. Simply spouting. :)

>  Note that
>both issues here involved large numbers of participants, not the
>hack-this-hack-that individualism of the "Free Kevin" issue.

Maybe it's just me, but I've struggled the last few years with the 
mass-organizing model. I think, while people are somewhat benevolent for 
the most part (i.e. won't devolve into the gang warfare and genocide the 
Randies predict if the state vanished, et al.), many in the Western world 
are individualistic and have a deep suspicion of people trying to "organize 
them" through a legacy of history. The old top-down 
organizational/organizing models, as such, have murky prospects as mass 
tools in voluntary organizations. They work fine in unions, which are 
compulsory in many areas, but can an old model with a new twist 
(technology) really compel people's imagination enough to act? I'd wager 
the people you're citing here to boost your point would consider themselves 
more individuals than some organized massive that's polar to 
"individualism" (insert spooky organ here). Kidding. :)

>The CDC and/or the HKB had some interesting ideas and/or initiatives that
>involved individualistic hacking in ways that might positively affect many
>people re: China, but so far, as far as I have seen, have come to nothing.
>Could be wrong though, might be shit that just doesn't hit the news I read.

I'm a little confused. Could you define what's meant by "positively affect 
people"? I don't know if that's the CDC goal (I haven't seen the 
materials), but I guess part of judging another's (in)effectiveness by the 
goals they've set and how they're progressing. If I applied my value-set to 
a group, I might think they haven't accomplished anything, if that's my 
value-set and I didn't understand the goals they set to a given action. 
Yes, I've read Alinsky too much.


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