For about a year, Anonymous has been the Internet's greatest spectacle: raucous hacks, federal takedowns, scheming, betrayal and giggles. It's hard not to be entertained by the nihilistic marauders—unless they're threatening your life and children.
This is the other side of Anon.
Jennifer Emick is a 40-year-old geek, living an ostensibly average-as-hell middle class life in Michigan with her husband and kids. At some point during any given phone conversation with Emick, she'll probably pause and holler at one of these kids in the same way every mother on the planet is hollering at one child or another. The only difference is that this Midwestern mom revealed the notorious Sabu's personal information (name, address, etc.) long before anyone—perhaps even the FBI—knew who he was.
Emick has spent the last two years battling Anonymous and it sympathizers. In the process, she's had her home, sanity, children, marriage, finances, job, and character attacked from nearly every internet angle—what Emick calls a "group psychosis" that's sucked her right into its bilious hacker vortex.
It didn't start off as an internet slap fight. In fact, Emick recounts—with a mix of boasting and regret—her start as an eager member of Anonymous, not a nemesis. Emick began loitering around the early Project Chanology rallies—Anonymous' massive anti-Scientology movement that elevated the group into the mainstream in 2008—as an observer. She wrote about Scientology regularly for About.com, so naturally the internet-savvy protests against the cult intrigued her. She'd also had some "personal experience with Scientology in the family" that made these masked rallies more than an object of curiosity.
In 2008, both Chanology's activism and Anonymous itself were still rooted to mucous hell pit of 4chan, but it carried few of that site's pejoratives: the group demanded an end to Scientology's dubious status with the IRS, investigations into alleged personal and legal abuses against members, and urged generally skeptical shit-talking against the supremely creepy institution. It was anti-establishment, but the 4chan-turned-IRL group was organized, (generally) civil, and neatly principled. The rallies were rowdy, but not anarchic: "The police loved us," Emick laughs. She quickly befriended others in the community and served as a sort of PR manager for the Guy Fawkes masses. These friendly days were short-lived.
Another side of Anonymous began to supplant the crusading spirit—the Anonymous of LulzSec, Chingra La Migra, teenage arrests, and general middle-fingers-everywhere. The principles no longer coalesced. Rather, egos took over, Emick says, who "wanted to move [Anonymous] beyond Scientology." And onto what? To this day, it's still unclear. The Anon agenda spans anti-capitalism, pro-privacy, Wikileaks, advocacy, video gaming grievances, and defaming tweens. Emick didn't want to be part of the pack anymore. But she did want to profit off it.
Emick took her hacking background and close ties to Anonymous' core and spun them into a business: Backtrace Security. Backtrace, now operating under a different name, specializes in what you might call tattling. Snitching. Ratting people out. Emick expertly collects insider contacts, dossiers, and informants to use against Anonymous. Her most notable colleague, she says, is the FBI, but she caters to other undisclosed enemies of Anon as well. These clients remain secret. It's a simple business plan: she digs up the dirt and sells it.
You can see how she'd make enemies in a hurry. Lots of them. Lots and lots of enemies who hate her guts, and, this being the Internet and all, use everything in their (online) reach to drag her through the rankest web sludge.
And sludge-drag they have: virtually every insult has been hurled at her, every accusation, plausible and implausible. Calls, near daily, arrive on her home and cell phone—the numbers were made public by Anonymous long ago, of course—with the frequency and juvenile menace for pissed off 8th graders. And these aren't just strangers; her former Backtrace business partner—a disabled veteran who goes by the name Hubris online—has joined Anonymous in the mud-throwing after the two suffered a falling out.
The menacing calls are just the start, Emick explains, her voice surprisingly free from—or entirely dulled by—fear. "There's nothing stopping them. They feel like they have the right to do anything they want to anyone who gets in their way." What they want, in this case, is to hurt her and her family. Or at least to jabber at length about maybe doing it.
Jen Emick makes this harder. Jen's gotta go. So let's make her life hell until she quits.
Below is just a small salvo of what hits Emick online almost every single day. (Click to expand)
An Anonymous sympathizer posts her full address, with map, on Twitter. Emick's address is posted and re-posted regularly on sites like PasteBin.
A publicly Tweeted photo of Emick with one her children. And her social security number.
An Anon posts details of Emick's ISP account.
An Anon account repeatedly calling Emick a "bitch" and "cunt," over, and over again.
A fake Twitter account posing as Emick's son, Asher.
An Anon threatens to "teabag sum anal cavities" if he sees Emick's child, which doesn't really make sense, but is still vaguely threatening and awful.
A call to steal Emick's identity.
A threatening reference to the school Emick's children attend.
A rival hacker suggests she'll "disappear" Emick.
Former LulzSec star Kayla joins in.
More threatening references to all of Emick's children.
Another threat from Anonymous.
Emick's Social Security number released, again.
Emick's home address is spammed ad infinitum.
Emick called a "stupid whore" who "needs to have her uterus ripped out."
Hubris, Emick's former partner, asks if she "feels safe" living next to a police station.
Now he threatens to call child services on Emick.
Now she's a demon who must be "purged."
Aaaaaaaand now a torture threat.
And, a cherry on top, "im gonna murder emick irl one day."
Again, this is just a sampler. Beyond this Internet abuse, Emick at times gets hundreds of texts in a single week, messages threatening to put her childrens' photos on pedophile websites, and obsessively picked apart her 16 year old stepdaughter's online life, breaking into her Facebook and email accounts. Emick's even got an entire website (fansite?) dedicated to her own mockery.
Anonymous strategizes about her openly on IRC:
Feb 23 22:18:33 bad news, jennifer emick may no longer be trollable -.-
Feb 23 22:18:39 fuckin gay
Feb 23 22:19:15 lol
Feb 23 22:19:18 threaten her kids
Feb 23 22:19:20 seems to work
They harassed her and her birth mother. She was deeply upset. "It shows though the lengths they'll go to," Emick regrets. The rest of Emick's children have been shielded from the abuse campaign so far, but given their age it's only a matter of time—and it doesn't look like Anon is going to drop its persistence anytime soon, given its apparent inability to go on hacking rampages these days. "The only thing it takes for Anon to go against you is to criticize them," Emick laments. "Especially if you refuse to back down." It doesn't look like she'll be doing any of that—when last I spoke to her, Jen Emick was working to blow the lid off of another prominent hacker, recounting her progress with a mix of joy and dread.
But the real question might be: How is this worth it to Emick? Death threats against your kids, privacy shredded, existence defamed daily? Is it worth pissing off the Internet's high school cafeteria? What can possibly make it okay to personally trudge through Anon's garbage heap every morning? She doesn't hesitate to answer: "It's challenging. I love finding stuff. Also, it's fun to outsmart criminals who think they're clever."