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?


  • Erick Brockway

    Trying to absolve their guilt from the Occupy rapefest?

  • robertstacymccain

    That’s a thought. It strikes me as some kind of opportunistic attempt to assert their continued relevance.

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    I heard about the case. It is definitely disturbing. But I assume people in Steubenville can get to the bottom of it.

    Isn’t it also Dean Martin’s home town? Bob B. would know.

  • Pingback: Team Kimberlin Spreads Its Tentacles | hogewash()

  • robertstacymccain

    Correct: Dean Martin’s hometown.

  • Rebecca Leigh Randolph

    in some ways, this is reminding me of the whole mess that was the trayvon martin shooting where people started assuming that the cops hadn’t done their jobs and they ended up taking themselves off the case….all I know is that I’m definitely disturbed by the effect of rumors that end up having the community and law enforcement at odds!!

  • Bob Belvedere

    Why not both?

    What these people are really about is sowing Chaos, and they certainly seem to have done so.

    We are in The Age Of Nihilism.

  • Bob Belvedere

    Stacy, have you communicated with Mandy Nagy about this? She’s been following the story, I believe.

  • Adjoran

    Just because the Anonymous jerks are acting out again doesn’t mean they aren’t on the right side, at least as far as concerns this high school football team being given favorable treatment to the point of cover-up. There is a lot of history in this regard, too.

    There was an awful lot of incriminating information involving several suspects posted on the internet during and after the fact here which has since been deleted. Two have been charged.

    The idea that there might be “enough journalistic scrutiny to ensure that justice would be done in the case” is laughable. A complete and total joke. Tell it to George Zimmerman. The fact is that without a good racial angle to pursue (although the none of the white participants have been charged here), there is no lasting scrutiny and the local cover-up just plays the old Four Corners game.

    I don’t trust Anonymous, but even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.

  • Patrick Carroll

    Aren’t those moustachioed masks an implicit threat of *knife* violence?

    Oh. Right. Lefties. Never mind.

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    How soon we forget the West Memphis Three, the Duke Lacrosse team, and other cases where there was a rush to convict. Let the criminal justice system, however flawed it is, play out. Watch carefully and report on the facts.

    If you need to chill, watch some Dean Martin videos. Deano was always cool

  • K-Bob

    It doesn’t take the prognistication prowess of a paid “futurist” to fortell the end result of “hacktivism.”

    In short: The end of online anonymity.

    Probably usher in the taxation the government wants to put on the backs of web users, too. (Under the guise of “paying for” the cost of making it impossible for people to hide behind anonymity online.)

  • DaveO

    Anonymous message to state and local governments: you no longer have secrets. Further instructions to follow.
    Steubenville serves a number of purposes: training new blood, taunting non-Federal governments and police agencies, and instilling the perception that the current leadership (mayor, sheriff, police chief) can’t keep order or provide security – so folks will go with the more fascistic alternative to buy themselves the perception of security.

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    Oh yeah the George “White Hispanic” Lynch mob. How soon we forget. And the occupy rapes that were never investigated.

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    But no one investigated or convicted.

  • Bob Belvedere

    Damn good idea!

  • DaveO

    You’re right in identifying that there is a positive. Taking it a step further I would love to see the Judiciary’s (Federal, State, Local justices and judges) cloak of privacy shredded so folks can see how the legal sausage is made.
    Lawyers won’t police themselves, and the law is too important to leave to lawyers.

  • Wombat_socho

    They were (and are) on the right side with respect to the “Church” of $cientology as well.

  • Quartermaster

    LE does not have a good rep in Steubenville, and the place also has a strong rep for corruption. There have been earlier cases where LE didn’t follow things tot heir logical end, and now it’s haunting them. I’ve been through the place a number of times when I lived in Ohio, and always got through it as fast as I could.

  • Lee Stranahan

    The comments are interesting in that a number of people seem to think Anonymous is on ‘the right side’ of this one.

    I said this on Twitter, but when the New York Times, Anonymous, CNN, and the left wing blogosphere all pile on to the same narrative — expect shenanigans.

    I’m working on a major piece on this for Breitbart News but after about 100 hours of research and personally traveling to Steubenville, Anonymous is not at all on the right side of this story. They have posted outright falsehoods and sullied the narrative in a way that threatens a fair trial.

    The story has been misreported and like the Trayvon Martin story, the story is different than initially reported.

  • Wombat_socho

    Looking forward to seeing the whole story come out, and thanks for doing the heavy lifting.

  • Adjoran

    I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned for your final article, then. With all due respect, all you offer here is an assertion and a logical fallacy (the appeal to authority in the negative, by suggesting NYT, CNN, & Anonymous are disreputable).

  • Adjoran

    Of what “heavy lifting” do you speak, precisely? I see Lee’s assertion that he did some, but I don’t see any pallets loaded with goods, do you?

  • Quartermaster

    Does it look like his final article or more like a teaser Adjoran? You need to corral your Gollum and quit letting make posts for you.
    I seriously Lee is going to give a pissant much time on this.

  • Quartermaster

    The end of online anonymity has been in the cards for quite some time. FedGov is at the fore front.

  • Quartermaster

    Blind pigs and all that.

  • Rob Crawford

    What? You think the paper that continues to parade their Duranty Pulitzer — earned for covering up genocide — is reputable? That the “news” network that covered up the genocide and tyranny of Saddam Hussein in exchange for “access” is reputable? That a pack of criminals — who admit they commit criminal trespass and theft — who hide behind masks like a modern-day Klan are reputable?

  • Rob Crawford

    Knife violence? Guido Fawkes planted a bomb.

  • Shootist

    “Why do people who never set foot in Steubenville, Ohio, feel the need to involve themselves in this case”

    Really? You don’t know the answer? Nerds (Anonymous) hate Footballers.

  • rance

    This definitely does not help the case or justice for the victim. If these boys are guilty of what they are being charged with, a jury is likely to find them “not guilty” as a means of justice for the perpetrators and what they see as undue harassment of their community.

  • Lemmy Caution

    They are charged as juveniles and will be facing a judge, but no jury.

  • Michelle Dulak Thomson

    I don’t think there there was massive video evidence in the cases you mention.

  • trangbang68

    The video of the little cretin laughing at the girl’s plight discounts waiting on the facts. The poor little a-hole had to drop out of school. I hope somebody stomps a mudhole in his arse and turns around and stomps it dry again, That was somebody’s daughter.

  • Thomas Beebe

    Sounds like the Zimmerman/Trevon Martin lynch mobs are sill around. I guess we’ll heaar from Obama that “this is the sort of woman he’d like his daughters to be.”

  • TMLutas

    If the Feds want a non-anonymous network, they can publish an RFC like anybody else and enforce it on their own systems. If there is value in the arrangement, it will spread without any need for taxation. The feds like anonymity just fine when they’re avoiding their own fingerprints on their actions. They just dislike it when others use the same tools.

  • markbuehner

    “Why do people who never set foot in Steubenville, Ohio, feel the need to involve themselves in this case”

    Right, the Bull Connor argument.

  • markbuehner

    Look, i’m not exactly an Anonymous fan, or even think they are 100% in the right on this topic. But this has eerie similarities to the Penn State debacle. For whatever reason, some communities are demonstrably irrational about protecting their sports teams. From what i’ve heard, this is not an entirely isolated incident, this anonymous feeding frenzy didn’t initiate from the outside, locals apparently uncovered a lot of it and claim to be sick of the culture of invincibility going on in that town.

  • gtwreck

    Maybe if the folks whose job it is to prosecute the guilty would do it without fear or favor, we might have a little less of this kind of nonsense. How can you trust those in power when they persecute a veteran but let a hot shot TV talker skate for violating the exact same law. They did this when the entire country was watching. They basically told us to get with the program. The Law is for the common people not the celebrities. Juries need to be informed of their right to nullify the laws just like prosecutors do.

  • Kishke Chulentpot

    Eerie? How’s it “eerie?” Do you know the meaning of the word?

  • gtwreck

    And how many people took the MSM to the woodshed for its initial reporting?

  • Kishke Chulentpot

    And b/c he’s a cretin the facts are no longer necessary and the justice system should no longer be employed? Don’t be an idiot. Lynch mobs are formed out of sentiments like yours.

  • Larry Bernard

    Anonymous isn’t here to help: They are here for lulz. NuAnonymous (the folks we have seen rise up in the Anon Community from 08-Present) arent trying to change the world: they are just trying to watch it burn

  • robertstacymccain

    Wait a minute: Steubenville, Ohio, in 2013 is Birmingham, Alabama, in 1961? Does the stunning disproportionality of that analogy not argue against its inappropriateness to this situation?
    Or do you just not care, Pol Pot?
    And I’m sure you won’t object to that comparison.

  • Jane1234

    Not conclusively determined that “a 16-year-old girl” simply “passed out drunk at a party.” Bad start. No, it’s not hard “to cover-up or railroad suspects” once a story’s garnered broad attention. Happens all the time. Faulty premise. Neither 1) open, rigorous discussion of controversial issues nor 2) unconventional methods of inquiry or exposure evince “conspiratorial motif” and “Amateur Detective mentality.” If so, wouldn’t your piece qualify as “amateur” & “conspiratorial” (not to mention paranoid, puny…) National, if not global, citizens have both the right and duty to scrutinize Steubenville events.

    Please read world and US history.

  • Mark Sanford

    No one has been convicted in this case yet it is just assumed that the people involved are guilty of sexual assault. The author of the above blog post states “She was sexually assaulted…”. And this was proven when, exactly? She may, or may not, have been, but the way in which the media is treating this case is so reminscent of the Duke rape case that if you removed the names of the accused in that case and put it in a pile of reports concerning this, case people would be hard pressed to guess about which case they were reading. There is a presumption of innocence here, and the “evidence” revealed by Anonymous doesn’t even come close to dispelling that. Yet every single blogger on this issue, including those who should know better, are simply taking it for granted that the accused are guilty.

    Condemning the actions of Anonymous when you yourself are refusing to afford the accused the presumption of innocence to which they are entitled is hypocritical in the extreme.

  • Mark Sanford

    “…by suggesting NYT, CNN & Anonymous are disreputable”
    Sorry, but no one needs to appeal to any authority to suggest a bunch of computer hacking felons who also issue death threats are “disreputable”. That much should be obvious to anyone with a brain. And their whole “we are the good guys…expect us” nonsense is so ridiculously self-important that it should make everyone gag.

  • K-Bob

    By your thesis then, we should not trust it was a girl, or that she was raped.


  • K-Bob

    Trick question!

    That never happens.