Just days after hacking the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website late Sunday evening and replacing it with a memorial for the recently deceased Internet activist Aaron Swartz, hacktivist collective Anonymous has extended its tribute to Swartz by pledging to protect his funeral against a planned protest by the Westboro Baptist Church, or WBC.
Swartz’s funeral will take place at 10 a.m. Central Time at the Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, Ill., just four days after he was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment last Friday. Swartz reportedly hanged himself.
“Twenty-four hours after the death of Aaron Swartz was announced to the world, a heartless cult announced [its] intention to picket his funeral,” Anonymous said in a statement. “In response, Anonymous has launched Operation Angel.”
Anonymous has traded blows with members of the Westboro Baptist Church before, such as when the hacktivist group revealed private information about the religious group’s members after the WBC tried to stage a protest in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. In an apology to Swartz’s parents, Anonymous members speculated that the Westboro Baptist Church’s current plans may be motivated purely by revenge against their hacker rivals.
“It is likely that our continuous condemnation and attacks against this cult is the very reason Aaron is being targeted by them,” the statement said. “We would do anything to stop them from attending Aaron’s services.”
The statement then asked "organizations who would like to form protective human shields near Aaron’s funeral to listen closely for any announcement by the family on this action and respect their wishes.”
The group went on to say that, following Swartz’s funeral, it will escalate “#OpAngel” to protest against Swartz’s prosecution and alleged mistreatment that may have led to his death.
“Partnering with other organizations, Anonymous intends to pursue reform within the DoJ [Department of Justice] and other government agencies to prevent the kind of unnecessary harassment that Aaron Swartz was victim to,” Anonymous said in a statement. “Some of the brightest men and women in the fields of information technology and security are being targeted by agencies that lack a basic understanding of the so-called crimes they are accusing people of. We will do this for Aaron Swartz and everyone like him.
Anonymous has not yet revealed how exactly it plans to conduct this protest against the DoJ or what its final goal is. But the flurry of activity following Swartz’s death shows the passion with which the Internet activist’s death, which has been viewed as that of a martyr to some activists, has galvanized other supporters of his technological and political values to protest against governmental prosecution of their own.
“Rapists are receiving lighter sentences than Internet activists,” an Anonymous Twitter handle said on Monday night. “Are you OK with that? #OpAngel.”