Anonymous, the hacktivist clan, has a history that justifies its reputation. Both vilified and vindicated by the media, even the nature of the organisation is hotly disputed, with some preferring to call it a "movement" or "collective", the lack of a leader or single mouthpiece adding to enigma of, well, whatever it is.
The group has emerged from the background again as recent accusations of embezzlement attracted media attention. YourAnonNews, a Twitter feed with more than 1.2 million followers, had raised $54,000 in an Indiegogo campaign, $30,000 of which has gone missing.
Christopher "Jackal" Banks, resident of Denver in the States, has refused to explain what happened to that money, which he took receipt of after the campaign finished. Banks appears to have led the feed, which aspired to be a serious alternative media outlet with 25 contributors and regular updates.
As such, it seems a sensible time to revisit what has made this group so influential.
Since the start the group has been defined by a talent for pointless mischief, and this is a prime example. Between 2006 and 2007 swarms of Anonymous members would log on to Habbo Hotel, a virtual world set to isometric graphics which acts as a kind of social network. As part of the joke they would choose to play as identical black men with a suit and an afro, congregating around a pool.
From there the players blockd up the entrance to the area, arraying themselves into swastika formations. Reports that the move was a protest against a real pool's decision to ban an HIV-positive child from their facilities have been disputed, and others have argued the prank was racist in itself. Yet the episode is important if only because it marks Anonymous' first significant move outside of 4chan, the forum where the group was formed.
The Church of Scientology's reputation for aggressive litigation was well founded when an interview with Tom Cruise talking about the cult was leaked to the internet, but if anything that only increased the attraction for Anonymous.
As Anonymous spread the video around the internet, the church issued takedown orders wherever it was posted. This prompted Anonymous to go on the offensive, flooding the church's website with requests in distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, prank-calling the hotline and sending through black faxes.
The ensuing row led to a number of Anonymous members facing prison, and the group organising protests in cities around the world, many of which were attended by several hundred people. Instructions to protestors advising them to disguise themselves also led to the wide adoption of the Guy Fawkes masks from V for Vendetta, a symbol now inseparable from the group.