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Hacktivists strike Westboro Baptist Church over Newtown tragedy

Published time: December 17, 2012 19:00
Edited time: December 17, 2012 23:55
Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

Hacktivists with the Anonymous movement and other online groups have waged a war on the Westboro Baptist Church following news that the group plans to demonstrate on the site of the Shady Hook Elementary School massacre.

Shirley Phelps-Roper of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church announced Friday that the Topeka, Kansas-based religious group would be picketing in Newtown, Connecticut, where less than five hours earlier a shooter opened fire killing more than two dozen people, mostly children.

“Westboro will picket in CT,” Shirley Phelps-Roper, a lawyer and spokesperson for the group, confirmed Friday afternoon over Twitter. On Saturday, she added, “Westboro will picket Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.”

When the WBC first announced their intentions, the body of 20-year-old shooter Adam Lanza was still inside of Sandy Hook, where only hours earlier he murdered 20 children and six staffers after shooting and killing his mother at their nearby home. In the two days since, members of Anonymous and the UGNazi clan, among others, have launched a full-fledged assault on the WBC and its parishioners, exposing the personal information of church members and attempting relentlessly to collectively clear them off the Internet.

On Saturday, persons claiming alliance with the Anonymous movement released a video targeting the WBC and Phelps family, calling them “repugnant” and the leaders of a cause that is “hazardous to the lives of millions.”

“Since your one-dimensional thought protocol will conform not to any modern logic, we will not debate, argue, or attempt to reason with you. Instead, we have unanimously deemed your organization to be harmful to the population of The United States of America, and have therefore decided to execute an agenda of action which will progressively dismantle your institution of deceitful pretext and extreme bias, and cease when your zealotry runs dry,” the message continued.

“We will not allow you to corrupt the minds of America with your seeds of hatred. We will not allow you to inspire aggression to the social factions which you deem inferior. We will render you obsolete. We will destroy you. We are coming.”

Shirley Phelps-Roper (R) and her daughter Megan of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas church known for its vehement anti-gay positions and for protesting at US soldiers′ funeral, stage a protest across the street from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, outside Washington, on March 1, 2011 (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)
Shirley Phelps-Roper (R) and her daughter Megan of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas church known for its vehement anti-gay positions and for protesting at US soldiers' funeral, stage a protest across the street from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, outside Washington, on March 1, 2011 (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

In an accompanying dispatch, Anonymous provided the full names, emails, addresses and phone numbers of the Phelps family and most of the WBC. Within hours, other information materialized and was published on the Web, including the private Social Security numbers of several church members.

“LOL, BRB GETTING A PORSCHE UNDER FRED W PHELPS,” Twitter user @Shm00pLOL wrote on Sunday while including the Social Security number of the church’s founder.

“What they do is unacceptable, ripping on people who are innocent and attacking funerals of people who are mourning over loved ones,” wrote Shm00p, whose online profile references both the UGNazi group and the Rustle League, two Internets collective separate from the Anonymous movement.

By Sunday evening, Shirley Phelps-Roper’s Twitter account was hijacked, a take-over that’s been credited to a 15-year-old hacker named Cosmo who is currently barred from using the Internet following a conviction for computer-related crimes waged as part of the UGNazi group. On Monday, Phelps’ account remained hacked and had been defaced to include a background image that reads “Pray for Newtown.”

Additionally, a series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks have been waged to wipe websites registered to the church, including GodHatesFags.com, at least momentarily offline. Furthermore, hacktivists have circulated multiple petitions on WhiteHouse.org that they hope will receive enough signatures to have the Obama administration investigate the church. One request to have the WBC’s IRS tax-exempt status reconsidered received over 13,000 signatures in less than a day; another asking the White House to legally recognize the WBS as a hate group garnered the attention of over 114,000 signees during the weekend.

Monday morning, the church’s official Twitter account announced, “I've never heard of Anonymous, but somehow they got our personal info. That is OUR info, not yours to give out! God will deliver us.”

The Westboro Baptist Church has become infamous during the last few decades for picketing high-profile funerals, notably the 1998 memorial for slain gay man Matthew Shepard. When the group announced earlier this year that they would picket the funerals of the victims of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, members of Anonymous asked for help in taking down the church.