“Weaponize the Media”: An Anonymous Rapper's War on Steubenville
One night this past December, sitting at his laptop in his bedroom in Winchester, Kentucky, Deric Lostutter donned a plastic Guy Fawkes mask, recently purchased on eBay. He turned on the camera of his souped-up gaming laptop and cued a computerized voice to start speaking.
"Greetings, citizens of the world," the pre-written script said. Behind his mask, Lostutter bobbed his head, as if he were speaking along. "We are Anonymous. We are KnightSec." He was no longer the hard-partying, chronically underemployed 26-year-old rapper who lived in his girlfriend's house on the outskirts of a small town. He was KYAnonymous, crusading leader of KnightSec, an offshoot of the infamous Anonymous hacktivist collective.
And KYAnonymous had a new cause. Lostutter had been reading a lot online about Steubenville, Ohio, where two members of the local high school football team stood charged with raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl. "I literally actually cried over what they did to this girl," he told me recently. "Here is this bright, lovely young girl whose life is forever changed because these people wanted to have a good night, it's bullshit."
So rather than just angrily tweeting about it, Lostutter was declaring war on Steubenville. "Op Roll Red Roll Engaged," the computer voice warned ("Roll Red Roll" is Steubenville High’s slogan). "January 1st. Expect us." Lostutter posted the video to YouTube and tweeted it from his KYAnonymous Twitter account.
Not long after, one of KnightSec's supporters tweeted a photo back at him. "She was on the treadmill at the gym, and she took a picture, and on all the TVs on the wall, I was on every one," Lostutter said. "I was like, 'Fuck.'"
As KYAnonymous, Lostutter had already won some renown for KnightSec by attacking revenge-porn king Hunter Moore and helping shut down a Westboro Baptist Church protest. But the decision to take on the Steubenville case unleashed more powerful forces than he had ever encountered before: international outrage, legions of vigilante followers, and a glaring media spotlight.
It was KnightSec that would obtain the video of a Steubenville teen joking about the rape, turning an alcohol-blurred local crime into a visual that cable news could loop like disaster footage, crystallizing public opinion against the offenders. It was also KnightSec that helped create a toxically false, conspiratorial dossier on innocent parties surrounding the case.
And it was KYAnonymous himself who found an FBI tactical team in his driveway in April, preparing to search his home, investigating the hack of a website during the Steubenville campaign. When he called me at the end of May, telling me he'd been raided and that he wanted to tell his story, I flew to Kentucky to meet him. Was Anonymous' Steubenville campaign a righteous force for justice or an act of mass bullying, doing more harm than good in the town it targeted? I wanted to hear Lostutter's side of the story in the light of day, mask off.
On a recent Saturday, Lostutter slouched in a big sofa in the living room of his girlfriend's house. He wore jeans, and his scrawny tattooed arms poked out from a black t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of Nightshade Records, the tiny local record label that releases his rap albums. Lostutter is a proud country boy, owner of a small arsenal of firearms, a motorcycle, a blue Chevy pick-up, and a hyperactive pitbull named Thor that he swatted profanely off the couch whenever he jumped on it. Sliding glass doors offered a swaying panorama of chest-high bluegrass, in which sat a couple of outbuildings surrounded by clusters of vehicles and old farm equipment. This was not the stereotypical hacker hideout.
“I don't really get down with violence toward women or rape or anything like that,” Lostutter said. He was explaining why he’d felt the need to intervene in Steubenville. “It seemed to me like this girl was taken advantage of. And the people I used to run with and hang out with, and how I was raised, if you did this at my house, or the house I was at, I was going to kick your fucking ass. Period. I was going to take you outside and beat the hell out of you. I can't do that over the internet, so I did the next best thing.”
On April, 15th, the digital beatdown he’d help deliver over Steubenville came back to haunt him. Lostutter had just come back into the house from an early morning turkey hunt among the woods at the edge of the property when Thor jumped at the door. Lostutter opened it and saw what he thought was a FedEx truck. Instead, a swat team poured out, about a dozen guys in full tactical gear who told him to "get the fuck down."
"I got down in the driveway and I yelled at them not to shoot my dog—he jumps a lot but he don't bite," Lostutter said. His brother, who lives in the house too, was upstairs at the time and thought they were being robbed. "He had his .45 in his hand, so thank God he didn't get shot and die."
As Lostutter, his brother, and his brother's girlfriend stood handcuffed in the driveway, agents combed through the house and carted away electronics. An agent sat Lostutter down on the back porch.
"You know why we're here. Who are you?" the agent said.
"I'm KYAnonymous. I know why you're here," Lostutter replied.
During the Steubenville campaign, a Steubenville High School sports fansite had been hacked, and Lostutter was now caught up in the resulting hacking and identity theft investigation. As we talked about the raid, Lostutter's girlfriend came into the living room. (She had come home from work at the very end of the raid that day.) She asked nervously if I would be including where they lived in my article. Lostutter had made a lot more enemies than just the feds as KYanonymous, and she was afraid of what they'd do now that they knew his identity.
“You said half of Steubenville hates you,” she said to Lostutter. "I'm worried about my dogs, that someone's going to come and take my dogs or egg my house."
Lostutter isn’t worried about that. "I feel pretty comfortable in taking care of myself," he told me later. "I'm a registered gun owner. I've been in my share of scraps." He’d run briefly with a gang in Illinois, years ago. He keeps a pair of brass knuckles in the cupholder of his Chevy.
There is no right or wrong way to become Anonymous. It's a loosely-organized group that anyone can swear allegiance to with a hashtag. But the way Lostutter joined Anonymous was definitely not anonymous. One night in September, 2012, he got drunk and created a Kentucky Anonymous Facebook page, and a Twitter account which became his online handle: KYAnonymous. He didn't disable the location feature of Twitter at first so all of his tweets came labeled with "sent from Winchester, Kentucky."
"The rule is I should never be around a computer when I drink," he said.
Lostutter had long been interested in technology, but more in the nuts and bolts of computer hardware than hacktivist causes. His interest in Anonymous was sparked after watching the documentary We Are Legion on YouTube this past fall. We Are Legion tells the story of Anonymous' rise with triumphant hyperbole: Anonymous began as a mob of 16-year-olds mucking about in the cesspool of the online message board 4chan, harassing bloggers and trolling forums. Eventually, as We Are Legion tells it, Anonymous blossomed into noble Internet freedom-fighters, taking down Paypal to support Wikileaks, helping spark the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. (I have a brief appearance in We Are Legion.)
Lostutter had always been vocal about politics, arguing with friends at parties and on Facebook. He identifies as a "Constitutionalist.” He opposed the Iraq war, but is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment who warns that Obama is trying to disarm U.S. citizens. He is a fan of Alex Jones.
“I was like damn, I do everything that these guys do without a mask already. I'm out here preaching all the wrong shit that's going on in the country,” he said. Anonymous, he decided, was where he belonged.
Lostutter has not had an easy life. His parents divorced when he was 7, and he spent the next few years bouncing between his father's house in North Carolina and his mother's in Illinois. During that time, Losutter said, his mother, an ex-Hell's Angel, went through a "pretty bad bout of alcoholism" and ended up in an abusive relationship. His dad "had some anger issues, and we didn't always see eye to eye." Lostutter graduated high school when he was 21.
A few years ago, he hit an especially rough patch. He spent a year homeless in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was working delivering pizza, sleeping in the car he used for his job.
"I'd just gone through a really bad breakup and so I was at the bars constantly, drinking heavily and partying, just trying to forget the fact that I was homeless to begin with," he said. In 2009 he moved to Winchester, where his mom lives, and started putting his life back together. He got a job at a pawnshop, where he met his current girlfriend. She'd come in looking for some stuff of hers' that had been stolen.
"That's the kind of person you want to date at a pawnshop—the one who's looking for stuff and not selling stuff," Lostutter said. "I invited her over, and she never left."
Last fall, his girlfriend’s father died and she inherited his big house on a few acres of property, which Lostutter refers to as The Farm. That’s where they live now. Lostutter took me on a tour of the grounds: We careened down a tiny path in his Chevy to a defunct railroad line, and fished half-heartedly on the banks of a lily pad-clogged pond while drinking Heinekens. “We’re gonna redneck you out,” he said.
In December, after he'd declared himself part of Anonymous, Lostutter learned that Hunter Moore was resurrecting his defunct revenge-porn site, Is Anyone Up. The first incarnation of Is Anyone Up caused a scandal in early 2012, but this time around it would be worse. Moore boasted to BetaBeat, it would include a mapping function that would lead people right to the door of the people who had been posted, nude, without their consent. Lostutter decided to take on Hunter Moore; his friend had been posted once on the old site and it had come close to ruining her life.
Lostutter threatened Moore on Twitter, and Moore responded with characteristic bluster: "You can't do shit my whole life is public. you fuckin tard."
So Lustutter launched Operation Hunt Hunter. He made a video with Anonymous’ spooky robot voice, warning Hunter Moore he would be held "accountable for his actions." He promoted it on Twitter and in Anonymous’ IRC chat rooms, and Operation Hunt Hunter took on a life of its own. Blogs and news sites picked up the story. Before long, Moore’s website was completely hacked, and his personal information leaked online. (Lostutter said he didn't hack it, and doesn't recall who did.) KYAnonymous was an online hero to anyone who hated Hunter Moore, which was pretty much everyone.
"It was kind of personal between me and Hunter Moore," Lostutter said. "My friend was on Is Anyone Up, and now you challenged me personally? You think you're a God? I'm gonna take you down a notch, I'm that kind of person."
The day after the hack, Lostutter tweeted from KYAnonymous, "#Knightsec has been born… add it to your bio.” Like Anonymous, anyone could be a part of KnightSec, but a rotating core of activists did most of the work. The name was a reappropriation of the slur “White Knight,” used by jaded internet trolls to mock naïve online do-gooders. As KYAnonymous, Lostutter was one of the leaders of Anonymous’ turn towards fighting rape and cyberbullying, an odd reformation for a group that started on 4chan.
Later in December, Michelle McKee, a 50-year-old survivor of sexual abuse, tweeted him information about Steubenville. He read up on the Steubenville case, which had already begun to draw attention from the national media, and was touched. Anyone who's been online in the last year knows the basics of Steubenville: Two football players, 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond, were charged with repeatedly raping a 16-year-old girl while she was drunk at a series of house parties on August 11th, 2012. Other students had tweeted callous jokes about the victim, and passed around photos and videos. A crusading crime blogger named Alexandria Goddard reposted the tweets, accusing the town of protecting the perpetrators and witnesses because they were popular football players. The New York Times picked up the story. This past March, Mays and Richmond were found guilty, and a new grand jury has been convened to see if any other crimes were committed.
Lostutter said he could relate to the girl’s victimization at the hands of two football players, because his mother had once dated a guy who abused her. He also sensed something fishy with the lack of charges outside of the two players accused. Living in Winchester, where the highlight of the year is the annual Beer Cheese Festival, he knew how things worked in small towns. "The town of Steubenville has been good at keeping this quiet and their star football team protected," he wrote in KnightSec's first Steubenville statment. Sixteen witnesses refused to cooperate with the investigation.
He’d read online that witnessing a crime without reporting it was a misdemeanor, and he saw the callous jokes and photos shared by other students online. So why had the county sheriff told reporters he couldn't charge any of them?
"He was like, 'I don't know that they broke any other law than being stupid,'" Lostutter said. "You can't really be that fucking country to say that shit. I just Googled the law they broke!"
Lostutter began with the video because he knew this might catch the media’s attention and bring a spotlight on the case, just as it had to Hunter Moore. Lostutter is adamant that throughout his career as a hacktivist he never hacked anything himself. He was a hype man, making videos, launching campaigns, and obsessively tweeting about them—he would "weaponize the media," as he calls it, and inspire other people to join and do the dirty work.
“People go online and they read news sites because they want to know what's going on," he said. "And if it ain't from a reputable site then they ain't gonna believe it. So I gotta make sure that anything I do gets put on these reputable sites.”
In this case, Lostutter’s video went from his bedroom to national news so quickly because he expertly tapped into widespread suspicions that something was not right in Steubenville. The popular narrative that emerged pitted Steubenville against everyone else: Steubenville citizens felt besieged by meddling outsiders; everyone else felt the disturbing tweets and photos produced that night revealed something sinister about the town, which residents were trying to cover back up. The tension was captured best in a New York Times article that featured Steubenville’s head football coach growling at a reporter who had inquired about the case: "You're going to get yours. And if you don't get yours, somebody close to you will." Shadowy hackers threatening the town from cyberspace was an almost too-perfect escalation.
“We’re not really the judge nor the jury,” KYAnonymous, masked and with his voice disguised, told an Anderson Cooper 360 reporter, “But it’s fair to say we are the executioner. They incriminated themselves by posting that information online. They took part in criminal activities. If you think they’re guilty, that’s because it’s your conscience telling you they’re guilty.”
The video that launched Operation Roll Red Roll on December included a dramatic ultimatum: If all of the students who were complicit in the rape—bystanders and perpetrators alike—didn’t issue a public apology by January 1, Anonymous would release the “names, social security numbers, addresses, relatives, and phone numbers” of “every single member of the football team, those involved, the coaches, the principal, and more.” The information dump never happened, and Lostutter now claims he never intended to release the private information of minors. Instead, he said, it was a “scare tactic” to get students to come forward with more information. Information did come, but it was not mainly from the students. When the Operation Roll Red Roll video went viral, KnightSec was inundated with thousands of anonymous tips. At one point, 300 users filled an IRC chat room Lostutter had created to organize the operation.
"It was insane," said Cassandra Fairbanks, an anti-rape activist heavily involved in KnightSec at the time. "People were coming forward with all kinds of links. I was getting contacted by people who had other stories of corruption, who had their rapes thrown aside." Fairbanks lived in nearby Pittsburgh. She was the administrator of the Occupy Steubenville Facebook page, and was instrumental in organizing a 2,000-person protest that took place in Steubenville in late December. Armed with the tips, Lostutter began conducting a real-time, crowdsourced investigation. He tweeted out information he deemed credible from the KYAnonymous account. Eventually he gained 30,000 followers, and they acted as a powerful microphone.
When I interviewed KYAnonymous over Skype during the campaign, he explained how he vetted his information, which came mostly over Twitter:
"I consider the source. If I think it interferes with the original story and they have two followers [on Twitter]… then I don't pay attention unless I hear it from another person. If it can correlate somehow then I'll put it out there for the world to judge. Then the world judges and says ‘Yes this happens in our town, no it doesn't.’
If it were just Lostutter, his tweets might have gotten lost in the ether. But he worked in parallel with the website Local Leaks, a Wikileaks-style website that compiled many of these same tips into a big dossier called the Steubenville Files. Local Leaks is run by Christopher Doyon, also known as "Commander X," a longtime Anonymous hacktivist who made a dramatic escape to Canada from California in 2010 to avoid federal hacking charges. He's been on the lam ever since. Doyon is not a reliable source. Once, he boasted to me in an interview that he had access to "Every classified database in the U.S." Still, Doyon's site became a go-to information source for many interested in the Steubenville story, its claims repeated widely by respectable news blogs.
Presented with the Steubenville Files, journalists seized on the narrative that Anonymous was exposing the Steubenville rape case, just as they had exposed military contractors who had attacked Wikileaks in the past. Anonymous publicized disturbing facts: The victim said she had been drugged; one of the parties the victim had attended that night was held at an assistant football coach’s home. They posted the ugly tweets from witnesses, and the infamous photo of Mays and Richmond holding the victim like a sack between them.
But the most explosive facts Anonymous “uncovered” were false. Lostutter and Local Leaks painted a lurid fantasy where "Jane Doe's" rape was just one of many carried out by a self-identifying "rape crew" of football players, aided and abetted by coaches, law enforcement and Steubenville government officials. A child porn ring, an illegal gambling ring, and a drug ring were all allegedly tied to the rape. Steubenville was a Midwestern hellhole out of a Coen brothers movie.
To date, no proof of any of these allegations has surfaced. Many fell apart at the barest inspection. “It was badly written fiction,” said Lee Stranahan, a conservative journalist who has covered Steubenville obsessively on his blog. He believes the media ignored the facts of the case and built up a sensationalistic narrative that fit Anonymous' crusade. “That whole narrative where they were covered up or protected because they were football players, I didn’t see any evidence of that whatsoever. These guys were arrested, they were pulled out of bed the night before school started.”
Stranahan emerged as the harshest critic of KYAnonymous and his Steubenville campaign. He is not exactly neutral himself, writing for right-wing propaganda outlet Breitbart.com and appearing in Breitbart’s 2012 documentary "Occupy Unmasked," a hit job against Occupy that painted Anonymous as dangerous cyberterrorists. But he is also a competent reporter who self-funded multiple reporting trips to Steubenville and developed sources within the community. And it should be clear to anyone who reads the Steubenville Files today that it is total bullshit.
One of the central targets of the “Rape Crew” conspiracy theory was James “Jim” Parks, the webmaster of RollRedroll.com, a Steubenville High School sports fanpage not officially connected to the school. On December 23, 2012, RollRedRoll.com was hacked and defaced with Lostutter’s KYAnonymous video. Parks’ email account was hacked and his private emails leaked in a .zip file to the internet. This was what brought the FBI to Lostutter’s door in April.
Lostutter and other KnightSec supporters spun the contents of Jim Parks' emails into more proof of a Rape Crew fantasy. In a statement accompanying the hack, KnightSec declared that there was possible child porn in Parks' email, as well as a photo of Savanah Deitrich, another high-profile rape victim. (The woman in the photo was clearly not Deitrich.) From this, the statement concluded, Parks was "possibly hiring the team to go to different parties and send him pics of girls they take advantage of."
Parks decried the “terrorist group” who had attacked him. “The outrageous claims they made while controlling this site were totally false, completely absurd, and totally unfounded,” he said in a statement after the hack.
These days, Lostutter no longer stands by his claims of a sinister football player-child porn ring led by Jim Parks. During the raid, his FBI interrogator informed him that the women in Parks' email were over 18. The interrogator explained that by spreading Parks’ emails and the photos inside, Lostutter had actually created more victims.
“I never looked at it this way,” Lostutter said.
Discussing Parks was one of the few times Lostutter's conviction faltered. "I feel bad, if I could talk to the dude and say sorry, I'd tell him I'm sorry for putting his name out there and putting his business out there," he said. But that doesn't mean he wouldn't do it all over again.
“If I had to go to bat for a victim, I'd do it,” he told me. “Even if I was wrong I would do it. The good guy stands up for the victim.”
The facts were secondary to the mission of avenging Jane Doe for Lostutter. But it’s puzzling why so many others repeated Lostutter's outlandish claims so credulously during the height of the Steubenville story. It may be a testament the power of the mystique surrounding Anonymous, or the irresistible urge to play amateur detective when faced with dubious digital evidence, recently on embarassing display during the Boston bombing manhunt. Stranahan said he believes that Lostutter’s heart was in the right place, but he was caught up in something bigger than he could control.
“I don't think Anonymous should be getting any credit for doing anything good here,” he said. “They did nothing good. They clearly raised awareness, but they spread a false narrative and attacked a guy who had nothing to do with it.”
Despite the false accusations, others still believe that the light Lostutter helped shine on Steubenville was instrumental to the convictions of the two boys, and to the convening of a new grand jury investigation to see if any other crimes had been committed that night.
"If it wasn't for Anonymous," a Steubenville bar patron Yahoo in March, "this would've been swept under the rug." Lostutter and other KnightSec members repeatedly claimed that the victim herself had voiced support of Operation Roll Red Roll through friends on Twitter.
Waiting in the security line at Newark International Airport on my way down to Kentucky, I got a call from another one of Lostutter's biggest supporters, the comedian Roseanne Barr. Barr has emerged as an unlikely Anonymous booster, something that she told me stems from her early involvement in Occupy Wall Street. In an interview with KYAnonymous on her internet radio show she’d gushed that he had "restored my faith in males."
“I think he totally spoke with the intelligence and the voice of a survivor of abuse,” Barr told me. “He is like a lot of these guys that are just like, ‘Wait a minute, I got to be a man and stand up for this. I can't look at this anyway but this one way.’ I think he's brave. Going against power for the right thing, that's scary.”
Even as he spent more and more time on Steubenville, Lostutter struggled to keep friends and family in the dark about his alter ego. When his girlfriend would ask why he was spending so much time on the computer, he simply replied he was "working." At the car dealership where he worked at the time, he spent much of his time hunched over his computer, organizing the campaign. (It was probably not a coincidence that he only lasted a few months there once Operation Roll Red Roll took off.)
Sometimes his online activities would intrude on his real-life ones. In mid-December, fresh off the success of the Hunter Moore campaign, Lostutter launched an operation against the Westboro Church, which had announced it would be protesting the funerals of victims of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting. Someone hacked the Twitter account of Westboro matriach Shirley Phelps. Lostutter was at a strip club with his girlfriend when it happened, but that didn't keep him from gloating on Twitter.
"I tweeted, 'Shirley, I'm in the strip club and these boobs reminded of yours," Lostutter said with a laugh. "That shit got 300 retweets right off the bat."
Once, he was at the supermarket with his girlfriend when someone messaged him on Twitter with dire news: The person claimed an inside source had revealed the Department of Justice was hunting Lostutter: He’d seen “KYAnonymous” written on a whiteboard at an FBI office, somewhere in Ohio.
"I just turned bright white like a fucking ghost," Lostutter said. He had long suspected he’d be targeted—all prominent Anonymous members eventually were. But the realization that it was finally happening sent chills down his spine. His girlfriend asked him if he was OK. "I said yeah, I'm fine, I just ate something."
If the FBI raid had a silver lining, it was the lifting of this weight of secrecy and uncertainty from Lostutter's shoulders.
"The FBI, coming to raid you—they're threatening to put you in prison, but they're also freeing you," Lostutter told me. We were sitting at the Waterfront Restaurant and Lounge, Lostutter's favorite Winchester bar, on a sprawling deck overlooking the muddy banks of the Kentucky River.
Lostutter turned to a woman sitting next to us. "What did you think about that case in Steubenville where the football team raped that girl?" he asked. "And what did you think about that stuff where the hackers took down the team's website?"
The woman gasped. She had heard about the case, but not the hacking. She asked, "Who hacked the website?"
"Some good-looking kid who's sitting at The Waterfront with a reporter next to him writing a story about him," Lostutter said with a huge grin. Later, Lostutter relayed that he had overheard the woman walking around telling other patrons "there's some hacker here.”
Lostutter later asked me not to report the hacking comment. He is adamant that he did not actually hack or help plan the RollRedRoll.com hack. A hacker named BatCat later took responsibility in the Steubenville Herald-Star, saying he broke into the site in 15 minutes by guessing the password.
Lostutter said BatCat approached him one day during Op Roll Red Roll and offered to hack the site: "I formed an IRC channel, BatCat jumped in, said he could hack the site. I said OK, whatever. Everybody says they can hack." However, in our first phone call Lostutter had told me that he logged into the administrator panel of RollRedRoll.com using a password BatCat gave him, then changed the password. Lostutter said he admitted this to the FBI during the raid. This was almost certainly illegal.
Operation Roll Red Roll caused a furor among Steubenville residents, most of whom, it’s safe to say, had little idea what Anonymous was before it came to town. After the initial shock, some began their own public relations campaigns to counteract KYAnonymous’. At the end of January, I spoke with Nicole Lamantia, a longtime Steubenville resident and the wife of a Steubenville High School football coach, who had created a blog to combat the rumors.
One involved a relative of hers, who had been accused on Local Leaks of having orchestrated a complicated revenge plot to set Jane Doe up to be raped. The names and photos of the relative and her boyfriend were splashed prominently on the page. But the girl was out of town the night of the rape and had absolutely nothing to do with it, Lamantia said.
Lamantia said, "You have this 16-year-old girl who lives a normal teenage life, and all of a sudden her name and picture are up there. And granted Anonymous isn't dangerous. But you've got 2,000 people at a rally and you can't guarantee that there are no dangerous people in that rally. Her parents were petrified—what if some crazy person is trying to harm her because they believe what's on Local Leaks?"
When Lamantia launched her blog, she was quickly attacked by KnightSec supporters. She singled out KYAnonymous in particular for terrorizing the town. "We were all kind of bullied into silence by him," she said. "We were afraid that if we disagreed we would get hacked. He didn't try to back up his facts. He didn't take the time to reach out to any of us to hear the other side, and that's upsetting to me."
Anonymous' shadow over the trial may have had the opposite effect than Lostutter intended. The prosecutor in charge of the case, Marianne Hemmeter, said that Anonymous’ attacks had made her job harder. In a press conference after the trial, she said: “We had pretty good working relationships with some of the witnesses that you heard from, but once Anonymous hit, there was a chilling effect.”
But most of the downsides of KnightSec’s campaign have been overshadowed by the undisputedly spectacular leak in early January of a video of a Steubenville football player, Michael Nodianos, drunkenly joking about the rape. When Lostutter began Operation Roll Red Roll, he had been shown a screen shot of the video and told to keep an eye out for it. One day, a random Twitter account tweeted him to say they had an interesting video but didn't want to give it to the Steubenville authorities for fear it would be covered up.
"It clicked for me as soon as I seen that screenshot pass in the video," Lostutter said. "I was like, that's the fucking screenshot, I found the video. Yes!"
The video exploded. Nodianos' disgusting jokes cycled over and over on cable news: “She is so raped right now.... They raped her harder than that cop raped Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction." Although Nodianos was not present during any crime and, his attorney claims, didn’t even know the victim, the video did more than anything else to make Steubenville a household name.
The video wasn’t forensic evidence of a crime, but of the attitude that could allow something like the rape to happen over and over again. When people talk about how Anonymous “exposed” Steubenville, they can’t mean the facts of this case, which were utterly botched by KnightSec and its allies. What they mean is that Anonymous exposed how sexual assault is a bigger issue than bad people doing bad things. That it is enabled and even celebrated by a culture that tells young men it’s OK to laugh off a horrific rape as harmless late-night debauchery, to be instagrammed and tweeted about, then expects the rest of us to feel bad for the perpetrators when they're punished. That’s the valuable lesson of this video, and KYAnonymous alone had uncovered it.
As the Steubenville story got bigger, Operation Roll Red Roll went out of control. The Nodianos video had raised the expectations on KYAnonymous and attracted another flood of frenzied supporters. And when the January 1 deadline Lostutter set in his original video passed with neither apologies from the football players nor the promised information bomb, people began to take things into their own hands. There were death threats to football players. The sheriff said people in Guy Fawkes masks were going door-to-door terrorizing residents.
Lostutter tried to rein things in, encouraging followers to distance themselves from the more violent tactics. But the anarchic structure of Anonymous that had helped him attract mass support was now working against him.
“Half of Anonymous is like 16-year-old kids so they can do whatever the hell they want and you can't tell them nothing," Lostutter said. "It sucked as far as that went because it made me look bad."
Lostutter was simultaneously becoming distracted by an increasingly vociferous gang of critics and haters. A hacker named IcanHazCandy and a rival group called Team Intricate worked day and night to discredit his findings, out his identity, and confuse his allies by sowing misinformation.
By the end of January, Lostutter decided decided he'd had enough. He was sick of the trolls, and of constantly looking over his shoulder. He wanted to spend more time with his girlfriend. Lostutter announced on Twitter that he was going dark.
“Basically I just wanted to really wanted to focus on life for a while,” he said. This would not be as easy shutting down a Twitter account. Minutes after he announced his retirement, a newly-created Twitter account tweeted at him: "Why would you do that, Deric Lostutter of Winchester, KY? And what are you going to do without your twitter followers?!"
Lostutter doesn't know how his identity leaked—he suspects an angry ex-girlfriend or a local Winchester rival who learned his identity back when all his tweets still all said “Winchester” on them. Terrified, he gathered his Anonymous mask, flag, and newspaper clippings about his work as KYAnonymous and burned them outside his girlfriend’s house.
“That’s what I see on TV, they burn everything,” he said. “They're getting raided, they investigate for murder or shit like that, they've got a barrel out back and all their clothes are in that motherfucker.”
Now Lee Stranahan and his other opponents picked up their attacks, armed with information about his real life. They suggested he was making money off of Steubenville. Lee Stranahan noticed Lostutter had been “bragging about his new truck” on Facebook. "Note To Deric Lostutter aka KYAnonymous: Anonymous Is Not Your Personal ATM," Stranhan wrote in a blog post.
Lostutter denies he was ever paid for his activism, or that he engaged in any hacking-related financial crime. He recently bought a motorcycle and a truck, but he pointed out both were used, not new.
But Lostutter's activism did coincide unusually with a new career. In January, while he was still active as KYAnonymous, Lostutter became a contractor at BullyVille, an anti-bullying website. BullyVille had been a strong supporter of KnightSec and KYAnonymous from its earliest days.
When KnightSec hacked Hunter Moore in December, James McGibney, BullyVille’s outspoken owner, was among the loudest cheering. He has a longstanding feud with Moore and recently won a $250,000 defamation lawsuit against him after Moore accused him of being a pedophile and threatened to rape his wife. McGibney regularly shouted out to KYAnonymous on Twitter and a copy of KYAnonymous’ anti-Hunter Moore video was even posted on BullyVille.
When Lostutter was unmasked as KYAnonymous, critics accused McGibney of paying him to attack his rival under the cover of KnightSec. McGibney denies this. He said that he did not know Lostutter was KYAnonymous until after Lostutter started contracting for him. Losttutter approached him with information about some vulnerabilities on his site and McGibney hired him, knowing nothing of his double-life, according to McGibney. “He's doing a lot of good work for us,” McGibney told me.
That work is interesting considering Lostutter’s past. In addition to some computer security work, Lostutter is paid by BullyVille to find the personal information of James McGibney’s enemies on the internet. One of McGibney’s favorite sayings is “sometimes you need to be a bully to beat a bully.” Bullyville sends him Twitter handles of people to track down for naming and shaming for various nebulous offenses.
“I can take it off your Facebook,” Lostutter said. “If you checked in somewhere on a map and checked in at home, it's on Facebook maps. I got your cross street, I know where you live.” Lostutter’s own anonymity was once the most important thing in his life—now his job is destroying others’.
KYAnonymous has been unmasked, but in the wake of the FBI raid, Lostutter is still weaponizing the media. He has yet to arrested or even informed that he's the target of an investigation into the hacking of Rollredroll.com, but his lawyer said in a statement he believes he'll be charged with three felonies under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. (In an email to Gawker, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Cincinnati office wrote, "we are unable to confirm or deny the existence of any potential investigation into this matter.") He wants to put pressure on the Department of Justice before that happens, and raise money for his defense.
"I believe they're trying to make a spectacle of me,” he told me. “They're using me to say that this is what happens when you challenge us. I got in trouble for questioning the government.”
He’s been remarkably successful: Since Gawker revealed his identity a little over a week ago, Lostutter has become a cause celebre online, after outrage went viral over the fact he could face a longer prison sentence than the Steubenville rapists if charged (a technically true, if effectively meaningless comparison). He raised over $30,000 for a defense fund in just a matter of days. (The fund is administered by Lostutter's attorney Jason Flores-Williams, a founder of the Whistleblower Defense League, which specializes in defending hacktivists and leakers.)
"I was shocked, I was stunned, I think I drank a whole fifth of tequila in celebration," he said. Now he’s selling "Free KYAnonymous" stickers on his new website, ProjectKnightSec.com.
When we were at The Waterfront bar, Lostutter grew reflective after downing a couple bourbons on the rocks from red plastic cups.
“I always knew some weird shit was going to happen in my life,” he said. “You work these jobs, you work at Old Chicago, you work at Best Buy, you just feel like you're meant to do so much more.” He remembers watching the livestream on the day of the big protest in Steubenville that he helped organize and inspire. Hundreds of miles away, 2,000 people had braved bone-chilling December temperatures to stand up for Jane Doe and speak out about rape.
“I thought, this is what I'm supposed to do.”
After we finished up at The Waterfront, Lostutter took me to meet Juan Greene, the owner of Night Shade Records and Lostutter’s longtime rap producer. Lostutter started rapping in middle school and has put out a couple albums on Night Shade Records under the name Shadow.
But first we had to help Greene jump-start his Chevy Avalanche, which had stalled in a WalMart parking lot. When we arrived, Greene was sitting in the decked-out vehicle with his wife. Greene is a big, 36-year-old black guy, and as he hunched over the engine next to the scrawny white Lostutter they looked like partners in a buddy cop film.
After a few minutes of failed jump attempts, a towering Dodge pickup pulled up next to the two Chevys. A man with an huge beard and a lush, braided rattail hopped out. His grey T-shirt said SECOND AMENDMENT and was tucked into his jeans to accommodate the handgun on his waist. He noted the puniness of the jumper cables Lostutter and Greene had been using and produced a set of cables the size of a child’s forearm from his own truck.
“Never skimp on jumper cables,” he advised. As the battery charged, the three discussed the merits of each others’ trucks. (It was decided the Dodge was superior.) Lostutter admired the man’s handgun. “Did you see that fucking rattail,” Lostutter said once we were back in the truck, on the way to the studio. “Welcome to Kentucky!”
The studio was a tiny, stuffy room tucked into the top floor of Greene’s house. A soundboard dominated the entire left wall and a couple of CDs tacked above the door, including Lostutter’s album “Nighshade,” were the only decoration. We sat as Greene delivered a lengthy monologue on the importance of Lostutter to Night Shade Records, especially in regards to keeping relevant in the social media era. “Dude has been stupid instrumental to keeping the brand alive,” he said. “Any Facebooks, any Soundclouds, that’s all him.”
Lostutter has developed a small following in Winchester, with upbeat rhymes that glorify Kentucky country life. In "Boondocks," he raps about getting wasted on Bourbon to a sample of the country group Little Big Town’s song of the same name. Green said, “I like that he does some personal music. He keeps it with what's going on. He can 'neck it out a little, with boots and everything. Dude's a people person—his music is about himself.”
Lostutter came to the studio the night he was raided to blow off some steam. He was ready to rap about his life online. “I went to the studio and I freestyled,” he said. "'The feds checked in to see what my trap about,'" he recited, so quickly I could barely write it down. "'I got held up with guns you boys only rap about.'"