MARIETTA - They wear the stylized Guy Fawkes mask that's become a symbol of Anonymous - the loosely organized international so-called "hacktivist" group - but local members of AmeriSec, an Anonymous subgroup, say their focus is not disruptive behavior, but on bringing people together.
"Actually, Anonymous is not so much a group as it is an idea to give people a voice in society, and it does have its dark side. AmeriSec is a group associated with Anonymous, but we're 100 percent legal and do not want to cause trouble for anyone," said Justin Fort, 23, a.k.a. "Darstin" of New Matamoras, who coordinated a small AmeriSec rally in front of the Washington County Courthouse on Sunday afternoon.
According to its website, Anonymous is "a decentralized network of individuals focused on promoting access to information, free speech, and transparency ... representing many online community users."
“Darstin,” a.k.a. Justin Fort of New Matamoras, left, and friend “Nathan Hale” from Waterford, members of the AmeriSec subgroup of the international Anonymous Internet activist organization, wear Guy Fawkes’ masks as they bring their message to Marietta during a small rally in front of the Washington County Courthouse Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Sam Shawver)
Earlier this month Internet hackers claiming to be affiliated with Anonymous broke into a Federal Trade Commission website, and last month threatened to release sensitive information after hacking into the U.S. Justice Department's Sentencing Commission website.
The Justice Department threat was related to the suicide of an Internet activist, Aaron Swartz, on Jan. 11. Anonymous condemned the department for sentencing Swartz to a potential 35 years imprisonment on federal computer fraud charges, which some in the Anonymous community believed led to his suicide.
Closer to home, a Virginia Beach, Va., resident, who identified himself only as "Noah" admitted in early February that he had gained control of a Steubenville Big Red sports fan website to shed light on a rape investigation involving two 16-year-old Steubenville High student athletes.
The pair were charged with raping a girl, also 16, at a party in August of last year. The case, which has gained national attention due largely to information hacked from the RollRedRoll.com fans website that went viral over the Internet, goes to trial March 13.
Fort said the founder of AmeriSec lives in California - a man who calls himself "Sinister."
"I don't know his real name," Fort said. "The group currently has about 80 members, although many of the people who come to AmeriSec events are not members. Anyone is welcome. We want everyone to know what we're about."
He said the ideas of freedom of speech and Constitutional rights that are supported by Anonymous are also supported by AmeriSec.
"Anonymous is somewhat of a double-edged sword," Fort said. "There are people who will do illegal things under the Anonymous banner, but speaking for myself that's not the way to get the message across."
He said AmeriSec believes in non-violent activism, hearkening back to some of the more peaceful demonstrations during the 1960s.
"You could call us 'hippies' I guess. We just want to get people to show some love for each other and hope to give ordinary people a voice," he said of AmeriSec. "A lot of people are feeling suppressed, not just by the government, but by society in general. And people need to be heard without fear of condemnation."
A masked AmeriSec member who identified himself as "Nathan Hale," 38, of Waterford, agreed.
"Basically the government works for us, but they seem to have forgotten this," he said. "This is government by the people and for the people. But our main support is for freedom of speech. People need to know they have a voice and that they're being heard."
Jennifer Young, 35, of Williamstown, met with the AmeriSec group in front of the courthouse Sunday.
"We're not affiliated with any political party or any political group at all," she said. "The more I saw what Anonymous and AmeriSec was doing, the more I felt that I wanted to be a part of it. I'm also a single mom who wants what's best for my 9-year-old son, and I love the thought of unity with others who believe we should be able to say what we want."
Eric Hereford, 56, who said he's lived in both the Belpre and New Matamoras areas, was curious about AmeriSec, and attended Sunday's gathering to learn more about the group.
"Non-violence is the way to go," he said. "Radical efforts tend to put a group in a bad light."
But Hereford noted uniting people, even for a good cause, in this day and age can be difficult.
"In the 1930s, 40s and 50s it was all about 'we,'" he said. "But now everyone seems to be focused only on 'me.' And how do you turn that around?"
Fort said AmeriSec hopes to hold events in the Marietta area a couple of times each month, and is planning a larger gathering July 4 where copies of the U.S. Constitution will be handed out.
"The Constitution gives us all a voice," he said. "But a lot of our rights are being trampled on - and people need to know their rights."