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According to Ras, Anonymous is not as much a group as it is the “manifestation of Neuromancer,” William Gibson’s vision come to life. When I ask who they speak for, they reply almost in unison: “For ourselves.” It occurs to me that this loosely affiliated collective of individuals is the new New Romantics, or who Norman Spinrad called "Neuromantics" and described as, “a fusion of the romantic impulse with science and technology” — tech aesthetes with a zealous respect for the untamed nature of the Internet. While the party line is that Anonymous is a postgeographical phenomenon, it is composed of many factions, local and conceptual, all with their own infighting and drama. The three bring up a schism between the “hatefags,” or nonprotesters, and the “moralfags,” protesters. (Side note: Almost everything in Anon vernacular has the word “fag” appended.) Being from different locales, these three influencers do not pledge allegiance to any one faction.
After Daywatch finds a pair of shoes I deem appropriate, we pile into the car they have rented for the occasion: a candy apple–red PT Cruiser. “We’re PT pimpin,’” Solar jokes. They plug in an iPod, and the musical selection ranges from a B-52s song and the music meme “9000 penises” to anime music. “We swear we’re not anime dorks,” Daywatch insists.
As one Anon video implores, “We hope you are having as much fun with this as we are.” And, all things aside, I am. I compliment Ras on the progressive graphic design posted on the chans — headless Anon figures and the like. Ras explains that many of the message boards started as spaces for original thought before they became infected with what they refer to as “cancer” or “old jokes, naked pictures and hookup threads.” If you visit 4chan.org, you’ll be barraged with a critical mass of memes and porn — some of which is extremely racist and offensive to those not in on the joke. Each chan offshoot is competing to be the most “cancer-free,” and 888chan.org is the one currently most in line with my sources’ tastes. The Anons comment that by mentioning it here, I have probably just announced its death knell. “Most of the people on the chat forums are psychopathic.” Solar asks if I know what psychopathic means. “You mean like Barack Obama?” I reply. He looks at me, impressed. “Exactly.”
Dressed now in collared shirts and more appropriate shoes, Ras, Daywatch and Solar have no problem getting into the Edison. It is Thursday, and the crowd is all upwardly mobile and impeccably dressed. We sit down at a table that Daywatch has reserved and order drinks. “So why Scientology?” I ask again. Solar explains that when the Scientology angle happened, “they were the easiest target at the time.”
“It’s not a matter of their beliefs, it’s a matter of their actions,” Ras chimes in. “It’s because their actions interfered with the freedom of the Internet.”
Anonymous, they say, is an experiment in what you can do now that the culture is wired; it is the dark side of social networks. “What does it mean if a kid has a problem with a bully at school, except now he has the power of Facebook?” Solar asks. With the appearance of Flash mobs in 2003, masses of people congregated in order to accomplish seemingly meaningless tasks. Anonymous takes this aimless form and gives it shape. Daywatch refers to Project Chanology as the movement’s “training wheels.”
All three express a desire to move it forward, harness the power of community to do something greater. All three agree that the Obama campaign is the best example of this. After finishing off a plate of Edison sliders, Daywatch emphasizes, “Anonymous is a symptom of a larger condition” — the intellectual side of the Internet liberation front. The mantra “We Run This” is true in the sense that they understand this new period of culture probably better than most — that power and freedom to communicate whatever you want has and will have drastic and yet unknown effects on human behavior IRL and online. Daywatch wants to use the medium to solve problems: “Let’s start getting things done instead of looking for porn.” He is sick of the “off-color jokes and pranks,” and the schism between the Anon members who want “free hugs and people who want to make racist jokes.” His views on DDoS’ing are also somewhat rational: “Breaking the law is taking the risk, and regardless of how big the fine is, you are playing with high stakes.”