The Other McCain

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‘Anonymous’ and Steubenville: Online Lynch Mob Complicates Rape Case

Posted on | January 13, 2013 | 69 Comments

Call it “The Steubenville Horror”: A 16-year-old girl passed out drunk at a party with members of the high school football team in Steubenville, Ohio. She was sexually assaulted and reports quickly circulated online:

By sunrise, though, some people in and around Steubenville had gotten word that the night of fun on Aug. 11 might have taken a grim turn, and that members of the Steubenville High football team might have been involved. Twitter posts, videos and photographs circulated by some who attended the nightlong set of parties suggested that an unconscious girl had been sexually assaulted over several hours while others watched. She may have even been urinated on.
In one photograph posted on Instagram by a Steubenville High football player, the girl, who was from across the Ohio River in Weirton, W.Va., is shown looking unresponsive as two boys carry her by her wrists and ankles. Twitter users wrote the words “rape” and “drunk girl” in their posts.

That’s from a Dec. 17 New York Times news article, which named two Steubenville players — Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond — as having been arrested and charged in August. But there were many angles to the story, including (a) the fact that others allegedly witnessed the assault and did nothing to stop it, and (b) the involvement of a blogger:

Alexandria Goddard, a 45-year-old Web analyst who once lived in Steubenville and writes about national crime on a blog, heard about the case early on and rushed to investigate it herself. She told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in September that she did so because she had little faith that the authorities would do a thorough job.

All this was known in mid-December, reported in a nearly 6,000-word article in the New York Times, and you might think this would be enough journalistic scrutiny to ensure that justice would be done in the case. It’s kind of hard to orchestrate a cover-up, or to railroad innocent suspects, once the story’s gotten that kind of attention.

Alas, welcome to the 21st century, where everyone with Internet access can play at being an “investigative journalist,” and every random rumor can be portrayed as a serious accusation which is allegedly being covered up by authorities. This conspiratorial motif and the proliferation of the Amateur Detective mentality online has had consequences in Steubenville, as Michelle Dean of the New Yorker reports:

[The New York Times article] piqued the interest of a cell of the hacktivist collective Anonymous. On Christmas Eve, the cell released what its members called a “partial dox” — a list of names and addresses, mostly — along with a threat of more leaks if the alleged perpetrators (and what Anonymous alleges are the officials protecting them) didn’t apologize to the victim by January 1st. When no apology was forthcoming, they posted the twelve-minute video, which suddenly opened up the case to the attention of clip-hungry cable-news machine. Now, coverage is everywhere.
So, apparently, is a feeling of persecution. Over the weekend, a local resident complained to ABC News that the town had been subjected to a “witch hunt.” The young man in the video had to drop out of school and has reportedly received threats, as has the town’s sheriff. Another young man’s family sued a blogger for defamation, then quickly settled and withdrew the suit without receiving any money or even a retraction. A couple of days ago, the foster father of one of the young men charged appeared on the “Today” show and said, “At the end of the day, we have the best judicial system in the world; you gotta embrace the process and let it work.”

Why do people who never set foot in Steubenville, Ohio, feel the need to involve themselves in this case, targeting people they’ve never met, and exposing these people to harassment? Doesn’t involvement of a “hacktivist collective” in this case bring with it obvious risks?

Even as a digital lynch mob is denouncing law enforcement for allegedly protecting members of the “Big Red” football team, Lee Stranahan reported Thursday that some hackers have published the name and photo of the alleged victim in the Steubenville case.

The involvement of an Anonymous cell in the case drew Stranahan’s attention. Yesterday and today he filed a series of reports at his blog:

This represents a substantial effort to establish the known facts of the case, to clarify details and dispel rumors. And guess what? Trolls claiming affiliation with Anonymous don’t like it:

As I’ve been covering the Steubenville story, I’ve been getting attacked relentlessly on Twitter by the same usual group of no accomplishment Team Kimberlin nobodies and their army of sock puppets. They harass anyone I talk to on Twitter, post vile slander about my family and have tried to get me fired.
Well, of course they are. Team Kimberlin is directly connected to the shenanigans in Steubenville. LocalLeaks — the site that has put out the false facts that Anonymous keeps promoting — has an attorney: Jay Leiderman.

Stranahan explains Leiderman’s association with “Team Kimberlin,” and this raises questions: What is Anonymous trying to accomplish by its digital vigilante act in Steubenville? Who is lurking behind those Guy Fawkes masks and sockpuppet accounts, and what are their real motives? What are we to make of “Occupy Steubenville” and their bizarre claims that the local sheriff is part of a conspiracy?

We don’t know the answers to those questions. But the proximity of Jay Leiderman to this story is certainly very interesting.

UPDATE: Huffington Post reports on the case:

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Shortly after Police Chief William McCafferty arrived at the office one day this week, he found an email from someone claiming to be a hacker from Ontario with a tip. Moments later, a warning message popped up, and the chief’s computer was disabled. Within hours, the FBI had the email, and McCafferty’s computer technician was trying to transfer files off the hard drive.
It was another reminder for McCafferty of the attention being paid to his department’s investigation of the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl at a party last summer by two local football players, both of whom have been charged and are going on trial next month. The chief had already been warned to stop using his home computer for fear of hacking. . . .
The FBI is investigating a Facebook death threat against the family of the local sheriff, who took his office’s website down as a precaution. Last week, a threat made on a student’s Facebook page caused a 90-minute lockdown at the high school and led the district to add unarmed guards to its four buildings.

Hacking the police chief’s computer? Threatening the sheriff’s family? Facebook threats to students? How does this kind of harassment help?

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Comments

  • http://boogieforward.us/ K-Bob

    Tents are out of jurisdiction, apparently.

  • Pingback: Lynching Big Red: National Media’s Journalistic Crime Against Steubenville : The Other McCain

  • John Williams

    Anonymous is a bunch of thugs with no idea what is right or wrong. They exist to hack and anything they can come up with to justify their lawlessness is just fine. If they have to destroy a few innocent folks in the process, so be it. They should be prosecuted as the terrorists they are.

  • Brian Buchheit

    Hello. I grew
    up in Steubenville (Winterville, actually).
    I’m also a practicing attorney, who specializes in intellectual property
    rights. I am also a proud father of two
    girls.

    Everyone from the “ville” knows how the
    town feels about Big Red and knows how justice is often more localized than
    many would believe possible in today’s society.
    I’m ashamed to say that it doesn’t surprise me that such an atrocious
    act would occur in my home town. This is
    not the first such incident. The town
    has many buried skeletons, which most residents know. This is another one. I feel strongly for the alleged victim, and
    her family.

    I have a hard time generating sympathy for someone
    who would glorify acts of violence against women, which was evidenced in the
    video that was provided. Similarly, I
    have a hard time feeling sympathetic for the rights of anyone writing posts
    (tweeting) advocating such acts.

    How strongly should be protect the “rights”
    of those who encourage this type of violence and make open jokes about it, at
    the expense of people they actually know?
    What about witnesses who allowed these acts or even cheered them on? How about the owners of the houses (Dram Shop
    Act; Forfeiture laws under Title 29 for Asset Forfeiture of Property used
    during felonies , for example)? What type of environment results when these
    acts are condoned by a school’s administration, the school district, football boosters,
    etc. ?

    What support do you have for “anonymous is not on the
    right side of the story”? This is a
    bold, conclusory statement. The media
    (like yourself) is given privileged to inform, which is the very purpose of the
    instant blog/article. What special
    knowledge (not disclosed) does Mr. Stranahan have – that is used in forming
    this strongly worded, but sparsely supported opinion?

    It appears as though Anonymous has at least taken efforts to protect
    individual identities and to substantiate with evidence/some proof their
    statements. They also have asked for
    additional information – and have indicated that they have withheld information
    that may damage reputations of those who have providing refuting proof or
    argument. Do most media/press follow
    standards designed to preserve innocent people to this extent ? If so, I am unaware of it and can provide
    numerous anecdotal examples to the contrary. I’m not sure if the actions taken
    by anonymous are a plus or minus.

    Where I a prosecuting/defense attorney on the case, I likely would be
    against them, as I would be against most media on any case I was working on. Where I a victim, I likely wouldn’t like the
    increased attention. Where I a participant in a violent act or one glorifying/condoning
    such an act, I would likely fear the actions of Anonymous (possibly even more
    so than I would fear a more constrained system consisting of many locally
    elected officials). I do know that vile
    people who would condone or even witnesses acts like the ones alleged deserve
    my contempt. As a father I am glad for
    any actions designed to ensure my daughters and those of others will not suffer
    acts such as are alleged to have occurred in Steubenville. Tolerance of these alleged acts should be
    zero – yet there appears to be an attitude of tolerance based on some of the
    media focus, which is reminiscent of the tolerance towards these actions that
    somewhat exists in Steubenville.

    - Brian K Buchheit

  • Pingback: Steubenville ‘Rape Crew’? Non-Facts Smear the Innocent in an Ohio Town : The Other McCain

  • Reglate

    No, we’re not. The Civil War was the closest. Please spare the melodramatics. It’s a bit hypocritical to use this case for pushing one’s ideological bias.

  • Reglate

    Did you just watch Batman Returns prior to this post?

  • Reglate

    If I’m a betting man, no apologist for this alleged rape case is going to touch this post with a ten foot pole.

  • Wombat_socho

    Clearly, he’s thinking of the movie V For Vendetta, not the historical Guy Fawkes.

  • Reglate

    Brilliant. You have two amateur nobodies setting up a blog and linking to those with like-minded bloggers accusing the masses are uneducated while I wonder if any of these bloggers are journalists, former or present detectives themselves. The 12 minute video by Michael Nodianos was considered by prosecution as old evidence they knew about yet they had little interest in using him as an eyewitness. Nodianos says Malik and Trent raped the girl in the video along with another boy. He mentions he vomited on Mark Cole’s carpet. There’s no explicit statement he raped the girl or was present though. Cody Saltsman who posted the infamous picture of the girl being held by two males apologized after settling a defamation suit with the blogger running prinniefied.com. But of course his scripted apology claims he’s not guilty of any crimes yet wouldn’t prosection would want to know where he got the picture? I’m looking forward to Lee Stranahan to investigate further instead of posting pages from the 300 court document. At least he bothered but after visiting the Ville, I wonder what sort of investigative journalism will be posted. I agree the mainstream media has been sloppy at times but so what, this blog post itself is selective and simply culls parts of the NY Times article but doesn’t include the eyewitness testimony. Lee, your court document does at times diverge from the NYT account. Can you please post more? Do you think the eyewitnesses are coached by their attorneys? Malik’s attorney has on television said Malik was in the infamous picture posted by Cody Saltsman but of course claims she was not unconscious and appears to seek a strategy that this was consensual sexual activity. Do you think trying to put you penis in a girl’s mouth which the eyewitness admits one accused couldn’t accomplish?

    At the parties, the girl had so much to drink that she was unable to
    recall much from that night, and nothing past midnight, the police said.
    The girl began drinking early on, according to an account that the
    police pieced together from witnesses, including two of the three
    Steubenville High athletes who testified in court in October. By 10 or
    10:30 that night, it was clear that the dark-haired teenager was drunk
    because she was stumbling and slurring her words, witnesses testified.

    Some people at the party taunted her, chanted and cheered as a
    Steubenville High baseball player dared bystanders to urinate on her,
    one witness testified.

    About two hours later, the girl left the party with several Big Red
    football players, including Mays and Richmond, witnesses said. They
    stayed only briefly at a second party before leaving for their third
    party of the night. Two witnesses testified that the girl needed help
    walking. One testified that she was carried out of the house by Mays and
    Richmond while she was “sleeping.”

    She woke up long enough to vomit in the street, a witness said, and she
    remained there alone for several minutes with her top off. Another
    witness said Mays and Richmond were holding her hair back.

    Afterward, they headed to the home of one football player who has now
    become a witness for the prosecution. That player told the police that
    he was in the back seat of his Volkswagen Jetta with Mays and the girl
    when Mays proceeded to flash the girl’s breasts and penetrate her with
    his fingers, while the player videotaped it on his phone. The player,
    who shared the video with at least one person, testified that he
    videotaped Mays and the girl “because he was being stupid, not making
    the right choices.” He said he later deleted the recording.

    The girl “was just sitting there, not really doing anything,” the player
    testified. “She was kind of talking, but I couldn’t make out the words
    that she was saying.”

    At that third party, the girl could not walk on her own and vomited
    several times before toppling onto her side, several witnesses
    testified. Mays then tried to coerce the girl into giving him oral sex,
    but the girl was unresponsive, according to the player who videotaped
    Mays and the girl.

    The player said he did not try to stop it because “at the time, no one really saw it as being forceful.”

    At one point, the girl was on the ground, naked, unmoving and silent,
    according to two witnesses who testified. Mays, they said, had exposed
    himself while he was right next to her.

    Richmond was behind her, with his hands between her legs, penetrating her with his fingers, a witness said.

    “I tried to tell Trent to stop it,” another athlete, who was Mays’s best
    friend, testified. “You know, I told him, ‘Just wait — wait till she
    wakes up if you’re going to do any of this stuff. Don’t do anything
    you’re going to regret.’ ”

    He said Mays answered: “It’s all right. Don’t worry.”

    That boy took a photograph of what Mays and Richmond were doing to the
    girl. He explained in court how he wanted her to know what had happened
    to her, but he deleted it from his phone, he testified, after showing it
    to several people.

  • Reglate

    Yeah, sure, they’re a red flag plant by the gobberment.

  • Reglate

    I believe Obama as the President should of kept out of making comments on such trials. It’s not his place.

  • Reglate

    Mark, Talk about bias. Eyewitness testimony show one accused tried to insert his penis into the girl’s half-closed mouth which he couldn’t accomplish. Do you think there’s some probably cause here or even sexual assault? What about the other situation where she was fingered? She didn’t respond and the eyewitness didn’t say she made any expression or statements that she was enjoying it. If someone stuck their finger in your anus or their penis in your mouth, and there’s evidence you’re in a drunken state, this should be non-consensual sexual “activity” hmmh? If there’s no “evidence” then why do you choose to ignore the testimony which Lee has posted on his blog from the actual court document? The eyewitnesses also have taken picture and one eyewitness responded he didn’t know why he took a picture of the girl. There’s tweets where students ask about the girl and they state she was indeed raped. How come these individuals weren’t asked to testify especially Cody Saltsman and Mark Cole?

  • Reglate

    You sound like a person who would join a lynch mob! Actually Anonymous (and there’s different groups) have came out that violence is that advocated. Even the Sheriff has said he welcomed Anonymous’ involvement and in Occupy protest, he says repeatedly he welcomes Anonymous. Can you tell me who’s the innocents folks being destroyed? Granted it’s not nice being harassed by strangers, but destroyed is going a bit too far don’t you think?

  • Reglate

    Are you going to update this blog where Malik’s attorney was on the TODAY show and says Malik was in the picture with the alleged unconscious or drunk girl being held by two males in shorts? His defense attorney is claiming she was not unconscious.

  • Reglate

    Kishke,
    Are you claiming an internet post equates to or develops into lynch mobs? What bout the well-organized NRA and those voicing their dislike for any gun control or ban. Then some of the posters here are trying to overthrow the Fed government. He’s just expressing his anger. How come you’re not expressing a normal disgust of the video? Look into yourself and you’ll know the answer.

  • Reglate

    Michelle, I have to politely disagree. There’s only one video starring Michael Nodianos where he jokes about the alleged victim as a “dead girl” and she was “so raped” and she was raped by Malik Richmond and Trent Mays. He also says Mark Cole was where the girl vomited on his carpet. Accordingly to one new outlet they have access to the 300 court document and they said there’s two more pictures of other girls. I hope Lee can confirm or deny this allegation if he has access to the same 300 page document.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2260542/EXCLUSIVE-Pictures-cellphone-TWO-MORE-girls-semi-naked-face-basement-16-year-old-raped-Ohio-football-stars.html

    Sickening: A Big Red footballer was told by a judge that he only escaped
    charges because he deleted incriminating photos of the alleged
    assault… but others didn’t and shared them on social networking sites

    Shocking images have been found on a
    cellphone showing two more girls, facedown and partially naked on the
    floor of the same basement where the Ohio rape of a 16-year-old girl
    allegedly took place, it can be revealed today.

    The
    photographs were stored on a cellphone belonging to a teammate and
    friend of the Steubenville case accused, Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays –
    and raise the chilling possibility of two more, as yet unknown,
    victims.

    The images were
    not taken on the night under investigation and it is not clear whether
    their subjects were conscious or aware of being photographed.

    The friend, a fellow wrestler and
    footballer, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was present on the
    night in August when the girl was allegedly raped by the two.

    He provided eyewitness testimony at the probable cause hearing last October at which the rape charges were upheld.

    MailOnline has seen the 300-page transcript of the hearing in which the full horror of that night in Steubenville is revealed.

    The
    existence of these earlier photographs, retrieved by forensic analysts,
    emerged only under cross-examination and the witness repeatedly denied
    all knowledge of them in spite of their presence on his phone.

    In
    a tense courtroom exchange Walter Madison, Richmond’s attorney
    questioned the witness: ‘There is a photograph here of a woman on the
    same carpet as the carpet in xxxx’s basement. Do you recall that photo
    on your phone?’

    The witness replied ‘No sir.’ Asked about a second picture the witness claimed, ‘I have never seen those pictures in my life.’

  • John Williams

    Do you know what a lynch mob is? It’s a bunch of people who take the law into their own hands–THAT’S ANONYMOUS. I said they should be prosecuted–that’s got absolutely nothing to do with mob rule. You need to work on your command of the English language.

  • Sal Belmonte

    Future trailer trash rapist punks. Keeping it real OHIO. You must be proud.