Way back in 2010, a so-called "white hat" hacker named Andrew Auernheimer, known online as "Weev," exploited a security loophole on Apple's iPad and acquired the names of 114,000 AT&T customers who subscribed to the iPad 3G data service. Following an investigation, Weev, who had "stolen" (his words) the user data was prosecuted and convicted. To his credit, Weev informed AT&T of the security flaw and the company quickly buttoned it up. But back in April of this year, Weev's conviction was overturned because he was evidently tried in the wrong state (New Jersey). He was subsequently released from Pennsylvania's Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex on April 11, 2014. The indictment remains, but the conviction no longer stands.
During his time in jail, Weev apparently became a neo-Nazi, complete with a tattoo not unlike Edward Norton's tattoo in American History X -- a giant swastika on his right pectoral. After his release, he posted a series of racist and anti-Semitic remarks on a website called The Daily Stormer, a white-supremacist site not to be confused with The Daily Caller, The Daily Beast or The Daily Banter. Via Gawker, here are some choice passages:
I've been a long-time critic of Judaism, black culture, immigration to Western nations, and the media's constant stream of anti-white propaganda. Judge Wigenton was as black as they come. The prosecutor, Zach Intrater, was a Brooklyn Jew from an old money New York family.[...]
The whole time a yarmulke-covered audience of Jewry stared at me from the pews of the courtroom. My prosecutor invited his whole synagogue to spectate.[...]
They took control of our systems of finance and law. They hyperinflated our currency. They corrupted our daughters and demanded they subject themselves to sex work to feed their families. These are a people that have made themselves a problem in every nation they occupy, including ours. What's saddest is that we are the enablers of this problem. The Jews abused our compassion to build an empire of wickedness the likes the world has never seen.
No gray area there. Weev clearly hates Jews, African-Americans and anyone he perceives as "anti-white."
Oh, and in addition to his conversion to the neo-Nazi cause as well as his seemingly prolific online hate speech, Weev attended a party in New York soon after getting out of jail. The party was held by none other than Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras to coincide with the ceremony in which the duo received the Polk Award for their reporting on Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency.
Unless he crashed the party, he was obviously an invited guest. But for a moment let's assume Greenwald didn't know Weev was invited. Long before the party, Greenwald had previously defended Weev in The Guardian back in March, 2013, months before the author/reporter rose to international acclaim. Indeed, Greenwald named Weev as a "hacktivist" who was being wrongfully persecuted by U.S. authorities.
Just this week alone, a US federal judge sentenced hactivist Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer to 3 1/2 years in prison for exploiting a flaw in AT&T's security system that allowed him entrance without any hacking, an act about which Slate's Justin Peters wrote: "it's not clear that Auernheimer committed any actual crime", while Jeff Blagdon at the Verge added: "he cracked no codes, stole no passwords, or in any way 'broke into' AT&T's customer database - something company representatives confirmed during testimony." But he had a long record of disruptive and sometimes even quite ugly (though legal) online antagonism, so he had to be severely punished with years in prison.
For a moment, let's set aside the whole neo-Nazi thing. Let's also not re-litigate the past in which Greenwald, during his law-practice days, defended a completely different neo-Nazi. The fact that Greenwald continues to blur the line between hacking and activism is utterly baffling. The manner in which he rationalized Weev's actions is a gross illustration of gratuitous spin and dangerous oversimplification.
Metaphorically speaking, Greenwald essentially made a case for justifiably breaking into someone's house, so long as the homeowners accidentally leave their front door open. After all, a would-be burglar doesn't need to break a window or a lock, he could just walk in through the front door and swipe a bunch of stuff that wasn't his to swipe, right? On top of everything else, how the hell do you get "activism" out of this episode? Weev digitally infiltrated AT&T's system and stole more than a hundred thousand private user accounts. How is this not a punishment-worthy crime? Didn't Greenwald's NSA source, Snowden, say that we're a "nation of laws, not men?" And, worse yet, isn't this a huge invasion of privacy?
Further baffling is the idea that hackers like Weev are somehow treated like free speech martyrs, yet television hosts like Bill Maher and author Sam Harris are excoriated by Greenwald and his publication, The Intercept, as racists and bigots merely because they cited empirical evidence critical of Islam -- a far, far cry from Weev's unapologetic Nazism.
Why is the swastika-adorned Weev, who Greenwald hailed as a persecuted "hacktivist," not similarly ripped to shreds for literally being a Nazi who said Jews "made themselves a problem in every nation they occupy, including ours"? It's nearly impossible to imagine a reasonable explanation for this glaring inconsistency. Simply put: Greenwald and his self-righteous disciples want it both ways. But either free expression, however unpopular, is worthy of defending or it's not.