- Did you see this man? (Photo: YouTube/TravisScottGosselin)
"One year. Three phases. A world of change." Did some dude in a Guy Fawkes mask mention this to you last weekend?
That's the mantra spreading across cities in America and beyond this past Saturday, July 30, as part of an event known as "Operation: Onslaught." A loose network of people collectively known as "Anonymous" — once known for Internet pranks, hacking, and lulz — distributed materials to the residents of many different cities around the world as part of what seems to be an essentially peaceful and politically motivated public relations move. As an Atlantic article noted earlier this year, Anonymous seems to be shifting from mischief to a more socially conscious, politically active set of goals recently, with special emphasis on free expression and the corruption of many of the globe's existing institutions. The group has broadly supported WikiLeaks and gone after the wealthy Koch brothers for their anti-union role in Wisconsin's recent labor right.
The first of Anonymous' three phases referenced above is said to last through November, 2011, and the three big principles of Anonymous' new movement are freedom of speech, the promotion of personal growth, and government transparency. To achieve this, Anonymous is pushing viral education, the destruction of faith in the system, principles of unity and tolerance, and valid facts and resources, all to create what the group feels will be a more sustainable new government and network of knowledge. The masked face they assume comes from Britain's notorious 17th-century gunpowder plotter Guy Fawkes.
The collective's representatives spread their materials throughout D.C. as part of Saturday's operation. A YouTube user identified as TravisScottGosselin released the following eerie video showing two individuals, identified as "Wild Goose" and "Lego" in the associated log of the day's work, roaming through the D.C. Metro and streets around the National Mall. They handed the flyers out to strangers, placed them in news boxes, and dropped them on benches and other public, pedestrian areas. Watch their trek throughout D.C.'s Metro and the Mall here:
The two people were, according to the log of the day, stopped by Metro transit police as well as other officers multiple times and had to explain their activities. They appear to have complied with all demands from authority and maintained the legality and peacefulness of their actions, as urged on the official website that they guided people to: whatis-theplan.org.
Not featured in the video are the descriptions of traffic honking in support as well as the "flyer-bombing" of a library and Taco Bell the two men visited on the way to D.C. On the Metro and streets, however, police seemed turned off by the disguises — a transit officer allegedly told them that the masks were making Metro riders and authorities nervous. Consider the following excerpt out of the July 30th D.C. log from the people above:
At the National Mall area, we bombed the benches with flyers and gave them to passersby. Many people asked to take photos of/with us. We visited the World War Two Memorial as well as the Lincoln Memorial, which is where we encountered the threat of arrest.
I was approached by a park police officer who ordered me to de-mask (facefag, again) and give him my ID card. I complied and asked if I was causing a disturbance.
"You can't be wearing masks here.You know better. It's Post-9/11 DC."
I smirked...as if I hadn't heard that excuse before.
Anonymous offered more than enough evidence of how it wanted its followers to spread the group's principles. One of the group's documents says that Operation: Onslaught's mission is to "spread the word that Anonymous is here and we are a force to be reckoned with by posting flyers, stickers, tags, etc. across your cities." There would also be an online component, the document added, that "will be hitting twitter, facebook, youtube, and myspace." The following recent video outlines the nature of last weekend's operation and suggests the group has 31,000 followers at present:
What did Anonymous hope to achieve with the gesture? The goal seems to be to raise their profile among people who don't traffic the Internet quite so much as their own followers. Do they hope to create an authentic, politically potent movement that can drive meaningful change? Some criticisms against authority offered by Anonymous strike me as relevant and necessary, but so much of their presentation, from the Guy Fawkes masks to the ominous music in various videos to the language employed by the proselytizers, remains cloaked in mystery and a cultish, baroque formality ("We are Anonymous," the saying goes, "we are legion ... Expect us ... Join the resistance") and abstraction that begs for more information and specific doctrine. What all this evokes is purposeful mysticism. So far, at least, the ideology seems to be strictly anti-corporate, anti-authoritarian, anti-conformist, and anti-censorship.
A sense of will and broader strategy would seem to accompany this weekend's deployment of street teams, not to mention a greater awareness of how to rally new followers in a sympathetic way. Their website, for instance, announces that any reference to illegal activity or hacking is not to be mentioned or tolerated. Videos of "Operation: Onslaught" participants have been posted from a variety of cities so far, including London, Glasgow, New York City, and from states including Iowa and Missouri and countries as far away as Australia. I'm curious to see just what the group plans next — and whether D.C.'s trains and sidewalks will be seeing any more wanderers in Guy Fawkes disguises soon.
Here's another video from Anonymous explaining in more detail what the group means by "the plan" alluded to above, on the websites, and in all the pamphlets distributed throughout D.C. and elsewhere: