Based on its recent successes taking on the considerable forces aligned against Wikileaks, and its ability to take down HBGary, an information security firm, in a matter of hours, you do not want to be on the radar of the hacking collective known as "Anonymous." Perhaps that is why an apparent ultimatum from Anonymous to the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is making headlines. Problem is, it's a hoax.
Let's rewind a bit. First, a little history on Westboro Baptist Church. WBC is run by one Fred Phelps and has made a name spewing vile, bigoted trash in the name of God. It owns the domain godhatesfags.com, and regularly organises protests picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers as evidence that some higher power is taking revenge on our nation in response to rampant homosexuality.
WBC also praised the Tucson shooter and planned to picket the funeral of 9-year old Christina Taylor Green, but Arizona passed a law blocking the protest.
On February 16, an open letter to WBC claiming to be from Anonymous declared that enough is enough. The letter states that, although Anonymous is a staunch defender of the freedom of speech, WBC has crossed the line too often, and gives the church an ultimatum to cease and desist its activities and take down its websites.
It ends with an ominous warning, "Should you ignore this warning, you will meet with the vicious retaliatory arm of ANONYMOUS: We will target your public websites, and the propaganda and detestable doctrine that you promote will be eradicated; the damage incurred will be irreversible, and neither your institution nor your congregation will ever be able to fully recover."
WBC accepted the challenge and told its faceless attackers to "bring it".
On February 20, however, an open letter posted on AnonNews claimed the threat was not sent by Anonymous in the first place. It asserts that the threat is a hoax, and even goes so far as to suggest WBC is behind the hoax just to make headlines. If so, it worked.
The Anonymous press release goes on to chastise the media for taking the hoax bait so quickly, and directs hackers in the Anonymous collective to abandon any attacks against WBC and steer away from what it claims is a trap.
The curious part now is, who perpetrated the hoax? Was it the WBC just playing on the notoriety of Anonymous for some headline whoring? Was it a faction within Anonymous that really backs the initial threat and would like to take down WBC? Was it anti-Anonymous forces hoping to dare the hacking collective to take on a knife fight so it could be lure into some sort of honeypot designed to trap them and track them down?
Based on Anonymous' track record, WBC dodged a bullet. Had Anonymous chosen to "bring it", I don't believe WBC would like the outcome. The rest of us might, though.