Why Anonymous wants justice in the Missouri rape case
CNN — Among the calls for justice in the Maryville, Missouri, rape case is one from a familiar Guy Fawkes mask-wearing face.
Anonymous, the activist hacking collective that has instigated cyberattacks on such groups as the Church of Scientology and the Westboro Baptist Church, made a statement Tuesday regarding the case of Daisy Coleman, the high schooler who says she was raped by a local football player. The 2012 case is back in the news after a recent investigative report by the Kansas City Star raised questions about the way it was handled.
"We demand an immediate investigation into the handling by local authorities of Daisy's case," Anonymous said. "We have heard Daisy's story far too often. We heard it from Steubenville, Halifax and Uttar Pradesh. ... If Maryville won't defend these young girls, if the police are too cowardly or corrupt to do their jobs, if justice system has abandoned them, then we will have to stand for them."
The statement closed with Anonymous' traditional tagline: "We Are Anonymous. We Are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget."
A rape case may seem like a strange cause for Anonymous, which is better known for defending Internet freedoms. But it's not the first time the group has gotten involved in high-profile episodes of of bullying or sexual assault.
Last year, it posted information about the reputed tormenter of Amanda Todd, the Vancouver girl who committed suicide in 2012 after a topless photo of her led to teasing and abuse at school.
Anonymous also threatened to reveal names of students involved in the 2012 Steubenville, Ohio, rape case involving a high school girl who was sexually assaulted by two high school football players. Witnesses to the crime talked about the incident on social media sites, sharing photographs and using degrading terms for the victim.
CNN reached out to Anonymous for comment via a Twitter site affiliated with the collective but did not immediately receive a reply.
The group sees itself as a defender of the defenseless. It was also active in spreading the word of the Occupy movement and making trouble for opponents.
"Anonymous likens itself to the Air Force of the Occupy movement," CNN's Amber Lyon reported in 2012. "When they see evidence of what they believe is police misbehavior, Anonymous strikes back, releasing personal information about specific officers."
Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University in Montreal who's written extensively on Anonymous, says the group has gotten involved with rape cases only recently.
"Historically, Anonymous tended to get involved in censorship and social movements," she said. "But because they have no mandates, there have been operations relating to any and every cause. If there's one that becomes particularly powerful -- and I would say that's what happened with Steubenville -- then it does become part of the repertoire of injustices they get involved in."
If there's a particular perceived injustice, the group is more driven to get involved, Coleman says. In the Maryville case, authorities dropped the charges against the athletes who had been implicated in the alleged rape.
But, Coleman adds, there's also a bit of chance involved. She said Anonymous picked up on the Maryville case after a Twitter message was sent to an account affiliated with the group. It read, "This is what happens when Anonymous doesn't get involved in a rape case," with a link to the Kansas City Star story.
The fact that the case was essentially closed may have prodded the collective, she adds.
"Basically, it's case closed," she said. "If it was an ongoing case, they would still maybe get involved, but it attracts more attention in a situation like this. There are still a lot of questions."
Maryville is the third rape case Anonymous has been part of in a year, she observes.
Though Anonymous originated out of the website 4chan and initially took on activities for thrills, its focus has changed in the past few years, says Coleman. Now, operations tend to be politically motivated -- and there's even some backbiting if things get out of hand.
For example, people involved in the Maryville project have been critical of the Steubenville operation "because there was so much collateral damage," Coleman said.
"They do learn from previous operations," she said, though the nature of Anonymous is that its activities remain fluid.
It's difficult to know whether Anonymous' demands have had any impact on the Maryville case. But Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder on Tuesday called for a grand jury review of the evidence.