An article by MSNBC has a spokesperson for the group Anonymous, Berrett Brown, saying,
“Our people break laws, just like all people break laws,” he added. “When we break laws, we do it in the service of civil disobedience. We do so ethically. We do it against targets that have asked for it.”
One fact to note is that criminals generally like to think of their victims as asking for it.
The husband who beats his wife will claim that she asked - that she has done something wrong and deserves to be beaten. The same with the parent who beats her child.
The common murderer will tell you that his victim deserved to be killed for some affront or other - in some cases, for the mere crime of showing disrespect for the murderer or some group the murderer belongs to.
To the rapist, the woman asks for it by the way she dresses or the way she is alleged to treat men.
One of the differences between the criminal and the just - between those who act immorally and those who act morally - is that ethical people do not decide for themselves who deserves to be victims of violence and who does not. They subject their case to an impartial judge and jury. They create a set of rules that are posted publicly for everybody to see, they give everybody a voice in what those rules are, and, where those rules are broken, they present evidence to an impartial judge and jury who can make an unbiased decision.
Vigilantes - who claim the right to be accuser, judge, jury, and executioner on all matters - inevitably judge their enemies always to be guilty, and themselves always to be innocent. We see this in Brown's attitude. Anonymous can do no wrong. All of their enemies "have asked for it."
Brown also demonstrates that he has no understanding of the concept of civil disobedience.
We have three paradigm examples of civil disobedience in our history.
The first is Henry David Thoreau who, because he considered the American war with Mexico to be a war of aggression for the purpose of conquering territory belonging to another sovereign power, refused to pay taxes in support of such a war. He openly defied the government and peacefully went to prison.
The second was Ghandi's Salt Satyagraha. Ghandi's intention was to protest the British salt laws by breaking them. He announced to the government that he was going to break the law. He walked 240 miles (over 24 days) to the coast, and there, in full view of the public, broke the law in a way that did no harm to any person, and allowed himself to be arrested. While he sat in jail, 60,000 people followed his example.
The third example are the non-violent "sit ins" that took place during the civil rights movements. Restaurants and other facilities were divided into "white" and "colored" sections. Groups of blacks would walk into these establishments and sit in the "white" section. There, they would get arrested and be hauled off to jail.
There are two aspects of civil disobedience that Brown does not understand.
The first is that you cannot perform acts of civil disobedience behind a mask. The perpetrator of civil disobedience stands up and takes credit for his actions and announces why he is doing what he is doing. When he is arrested. He expects to be arrested. In fact, he plans to be arrested. That is a part of his message - that he cares so much for the principle he is standing for that he is willing to suffer a personal cost in defense of that principle.
The second, of course, is that acts of civil disobedience are . . . well . . . civil. The person who practices civil disobedience destroys nothing - damages nothing - and commits no acts of violence. Anonymous, on the other hand, is all about committing acts of violence against the property of other people.
Among the methods the group is vowing to use: posting personal information about the officials on the Internet, a method known as “doxing.” The group also this week issued a threat over the Internet to “harass” the staff at Quantico “to the point of frustration,” including a “complete communications shutdown” of its Internet and phone links.
These are acts that aim to destroy the usefulness of the property belonging to other people. If it was a house, we can destroy it by burning it to the ground. If it is a computer program or process, we destroy it by making code changes that make it unusable. There is no moral difference between these two acts of violence. Neither of them qualify as "civil".
Anonymous commits acts of violence. Of course, we are told, the victims of their violence "have asked for it" - and they have made themselves the accuser, judge, jury, and executioner. On this matter, please refer to the first part of this posting.
Acts of violence in defense of liberty is sometimes necessary. The Underground Railroad that helped slaves to escape into Canada provide an example.
There is more to be said on these issues than I can fit in one small post. However, one thing I can say is that Anonymous spokesperson Barrett Brown is utterly incompetent when it comes to discussing these issues. Nor do I see any sign from Anonymous itself that it is embarrassed at having such a display of incompetence in somebody claiming to be their spokesperson - suggesting that Anonymous itself, by and large, suffers the same deficiency.
Unfortunately, when a group of morally incompetent people claim the right to use violence against others, every decent person has a reason to worry what the results will be.