Transcript: The Face of Anonymous | May 28, 2021

ANNOUNCER:
You're listening
to a TVO podcast.

COLIN:
Welcome to
On
Docs,
a podcast
about documentaries
and the stories they tell.
I'm Colin Ellis.
NAM:
And I'm
Nam Kiwanuka.
Colin, are you ready
for your one-dose summer?
(Both laughing)
COLIN:
Yeah. I'm still kind of
not sure what that means,
like, what I
can do exactly.
I'm glad that
I got my one dose,
but I really
want that second one,
and I would really like
some guidance
on what it is I'm allowed
to do this summer.
NAM:
Hey, you know, it's
the magic of the pandemic.
It just keeps
giving you
more and more and
more questions.
COLIN:
Yeah. It's definitely
kept us on our toes this year.
NAM:
Right? Right?
So, what documentary
are we talking about today?
COLIN:
Well, we're
going to be looking
at
The Face
of Anonymous,
which explores the life of
an eccentric hacker
named Commander X
and the hacktivist
movement he was a part of.
MAN 1:
This document alleges
that I am the notorious
hacker/activist
known to the world
as Commander X.
I am Commander X.
(Electronic zapping)
MAN 2:
Why did he say that?
MAN 3:
You try to tell him to
shut up. See how that works.
(Piano playing)
MAN 4:
He told me that he
was a cyber warlord.
MAN 1:
I'm one of the most
notorious hackers online.
I've been
called cyberterrorist.
WOMAN:
His alias
is Commander X.
He says that Anonymous
may very well be
the most powerful
organization on Earth.
MAN 1:
I was fucking Batman.
I had powers.
(Mouse clicking)
Anonymous promised an army
would bring unprecedented chaos.
The internet is coming
for you. Get ready.
MAN 5:
What are they after?
What damage could they do?
COLIN:
Nam, are you familiar
with the film
V For Vendetta?
NAM:
It's actually one of my
favourite, favourite movies.
When I lived
in London,
I actually kind of went
to some of the places
that were in
the movie, so--
COLIN:
Oh, wow.
Well, some listeners
might not know
that that movie's based on a
comic book by Alan Moore,
and there's a famous image of
a guy wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.
And Guy Fawkes was this guy
from, I think, the 16th century
who was part of a
plot to blow up
the House of
Lords in England,
and his face became
this very famous mask,
which was used by a hacktivist
group called Anonymous.
And one of
their members
was a guy by the
name of Commander X,
who we later
learn in the film
is actually
named Christopher Doyon,
and he's quite an
interesting character.
This film is a very
interesting look at his life
and his involvement
in Anonymous
as well as the
Anonymous movement.
NAM:
This is one of
those documentaries
where it
just kind of
gets at the why someone
does what they do,
and I think the director says
that Commander X is driven
by doing
the right thing,
but of course, that can also
be very subjective, right?
COLIN:
Yeah. Well, you know, we had a
really interesting conversation,
and honestly, I
wasn't, you know,
all that up on
Anonymous's history.
And I guess I
came to know them
because of the hacks on
the Church of Scientology
and obviously the Guy
Fawkes mask that they wore,
and I would see them outside the
Church of Scientology sometimes.
So, I was really interested in
learning more about them,
and I think this doc does
provide you an interesting lens
into their work and also into
who Commander X is.
And I'm going to be speaking
with the film's director,
Gary Lang, who
is rather candid
about his experience
filming with Commander X
and just how unreliable
of a narrator he is.
So, stay with us.

Well, Gary Lang, thank
you so much
for joining me
today on
On Docs.
GARY:
Good to be here,
Colin. Nice to talk to you.
COLIN:
Well, let's just
start with Commander X,
because he's quite
an interesting character.
Who is he?
GARY:
Well, he is a
boots-on-the-ground activist
from the days before
internet activism,
just at that age
to bridge the gap.
He was an activist in
the apartheid era--
that's where it
started--
and transformed
those skills
to the digital era.
I should also say,
which is important,
he's been homeless
his whole life.
He didn't want to tell the
story of his childhood,
but I do know that he was on
the streets at age 13,
and basically,
by choice,
the only time he's lived
with a roof over his head,
not by choice--
the only time he's lived with a
roof over his head is prison.
He's always chosen
to live outside.
In Mexico, now
that he's older,
he's got a
roof over his head.
That's for sure, but it's
really the first time,
and he's gotten through
some 50 years on this planet
through the kindness of
strangers and sleeping in parks.
COLIN:
Where is he from?
GARY:
He's from the
American northeast, Maine.
I know some
details.
His name is known, so it's not
that hard to figure it out.
He's born
in the country,
raised in
the country,
not in a city,
and he started wandering
the US at quite a young age.
But critically, he was wandering
the American northeast,
including
the Boston area,
in the grand years
of MIT
and the birthplace
of a lot of the ideas
we now know as
digital activism.
So he was exposed to all that
at a very young age.
So, he was-- yeah--
there in the--
born there, and I would say,
by midlife, was pretty much
west coast based
with the great
activist tradition
that comes out of
places like Berkeley,
that whole area,
Santa Cruz.
He's that guy.
COLIN:
What is it that
drives him exactly?
I mean, you mentioned
he was involved
in the anti-apartheid
struggle back in the '80s.
What's sort of, I guess,
his ideology, I guess?
GARY:
Yeah. I can
begin at the end,
and that's probably
the best thing,
is, like, every day,
he could wake up
and use his tools to rob
you or me, you know?
He could, and
he doesn't.
What drives him is a
sense of wanting
to do the
right thing.
Those are his words.
Now, what he thinks is
the right thing
and what I think
is the right thing
are, by far and away,
not the same thing,
but he does wake
up every day
wanting to do
the right thing
and is more on the
side of good than bad.
So, I can say,
what drives him--
partly, he's got an
obsessive personality--
is whatever catches
his attention.
But on the
other hand, you know,
the apartheid story
is a good one.
We touch on it
in the film,
but I would say it was probably
an hour in his interview
of just knowing in his
heart that it was wrong.
And the more he
thought about it,
the more crazy it made him
that the modern world,
the technological world,
a world that
purported to believe
in freedom and
democratic equality,
just allowed that.
It made him crazy,
and that's what
drives him.
He gets dug
into something,
and then he
just doesn't let go,
which made him a
very effective part
of the Anonymous
movement,
for lack of
a better word.
It takes people
like that--
soldiers, driven
soldiers--
to win wars.
COLIN:
And he was even
involved in fighting
against some rule in
Santa-- Is it--
GARY:
Santa Cruz.
COLIN:
It's not Santa
Barbara. Santa Cruz. Excuse me.
GARY:
Yeah.
COLIN:
He was involved in this
fight to end a blanket ban.
This was basically
this law that targeted
people who were sleeping
on the streets in Santa Cruz.
Wasn't he?
GARY:
Yeah. That's the hack
that he's still on the run for.
So, it seems absurd,
and that's worth mentioning
sort of what the film is about.
When I started
making the film,
I have an interest
in certain activism,
and my interest began
with a simple question:
Does the punishment
fit the crime?
A lot of internet
activists
that I've
made documentaries
or told
stories about
have done very
serious time
for what are
essentially joke hacks
or hacks that
didn't harm people
but harmed
corporations
or possibly harmed authority's
sense of authority.
So, the Santa Cruz hack
is a very simple one.
He was living on the
streets of Santa Cruz,
and Santa Cruz has
what's called--
It's a blanket ban.
So you can't have a
blanket outside,
because that would encourage
you to sleep outside,
which is just
an absurd level
of, you know,
Kafka-esque lawmaking.
He took down--
This is the cool thing
about him, okay?
So, he's not
everybody's cup of tea.
He warned the city he was going
to take down their website.
He warned them it
would be on a Sunday
when they
didn't need it.
He warned them it would
be for 59 minutes
and 59 minutes only,
and then he did it.
They still went after
him hammer and tong, you know?
COLIN:
Hmm.
GARY:
No one was harmed.
And he skipped his
court date,
and he went on
the run
and has never
stood trial
for that
silly crime.
COLIN:
Yeah. I want to get to the
government's kind of reaction
to Commander
X and Anonymous,
but before I do, I
guess I should find out
a little bit more about how you
sort of got involved with him
and how you
met him a bit.
GARY:
Yeah. It's
a simple story
when you
break it down.
I didn't know
him at all.
So, for people who
haven't seen the film
or don't know the story, he
was in Toronto for some time,
which is
where I live.
I, at the time,
had heard of him,
and I knew he was
in Toronto for a time,
but I'd never met him, and
I'd never given him
a second thought. I'd
been working
on subjects
about cyber--
let's just
call it cyber--
but both sides. I also have
an interest in the people
who prosecute people
like Commander X,
and I was working
in that space as well.
And his
story kicked around.
It had crossed
my path once or twice
as someone wanted
to make a documentary,
which is a guy
named Ian Thornton,
and Ian had met Commander
X in the streets of Toronto,
on Queen Street,
seen him panhandling,
and developed a very
strong friendship.
And Ian wanted to
tell his story.
So, it took a while
for Ian and me to meet.
We met through a producer friend
named Ed Barreveld,
who is the producer of
the documentary,
and Ed and I and Ian
immediately--
There was a fairly
developed idea for it,
but my idea was more about
the whole freedom part,
the whole "Should this
guy really be on the run
for a couple
of playful hacks?"
You know?
We sold it to--
We took it
to TVO Originals.
That's where we
started and ended,
and by the time that
meeting was done,
much to our surprise,
Jane at TVO Originals
had said yes.
COLIN:
Were you ever
kind of skeptical
of some of Commander
X's claims?
GARY:
I was very skeptical.
So, one of the things
that makes the film
a bit more
interesting than many
is that there is a tension
between him and me.
I remain skeptical.
So, I had
never met him
when I got on
a plane.
We spent maybe two
or three hours
on a secure
platform, speaking,
where I didn't
say a word.
He spoke
the entire time.
This is prior to
my going,
and it was just laced
with threats against me,
which was that if I messed
with his life story
or screwed it up,
he would destroy
me digitally.
He would destroy
me, my family,
my children, and
everything about me,
because he'd
been here before,
and it was just, like,
a absolute rant.
Within three days, I
was on a plane,
rushed off to a
safe house with him
where we had no
digital equipment,
no way that we
could be tracked.
He was very adamant
about that.
I didn't
tell anyone,
other than
my producer,
what city I
was going to.
Everyone knew I was
going to Mexico,
but at that point,
X still didn't
have any status.
So I-- as much as anything,
out of courtesy to him--
didn't want him
arrested because of me.
I didn't want anyone
calling my family,
say, "We know Gary is
in Guanajuato,"
which is now known,
but at the time,
it wasn't.
So, then I--
It's a long story,
so forgive me,
but then I sit with
him for a week,
and I would say that
half of the things
that emerged in that week
I could now say aren't true.
They're not in
the film.
COLIN:
Hmm.
Does it matter?
I don't know.
I don't know
that it matters.
What is true
is in the film,
and what is
also true
is that he was an essential part
of the Anonymous movement.
What he did do--
which was gracious and,
you know, damning--
is, he gave me names of people
that I should talk to next,
because at that point, I
knew a lot of those people,
but I didn't want to call
them until I had film with X.
As soon as
I called them--
and they are in
the film--
they were very
critical of him,
to put it mildly, for
being so loud
and so filled with
stories that aren't true,
to be polite.
And the stories are true. I
just want to be clear.
His role in them is the
part that's sketchy,
but who's going to challenge
him in an organization
that has
no leadership?
He knows that.
COLIN:
Well, yeah. Let's
talk a bit about Anonymous,
because it's, you
know, this movement.
Everyone, I think,
kind of associates them
with those Guy Fawkes masks,
which we can talk about,
but maybe for people who aren't
familiar, what is Anonymous?
GARY:
Yeah. I can
break it down,
and it's not--
It's challenging. I made
a whole documentary
called
What
Is Anonymous?
And it had no
answers,
but I'll
break it down.
It is a movement
without a leader.
How it operates is
essentially not democratic.
It's instinctive.
A bunch of people-- Ah, I'm
speaking in the present tense.
Anonymous as a
name, as a concept,
no longer exists.
When it existed--
let's say around 2010--
a bunch of people
are on the internet,
and they're
just kind of jiving,
chatting in 4chan,
which is a very nasty part
of the internet
that I don't
suggest you go to.
But on
the other hand,
it's a place where--
this is important--
there is
no censorship.
It's absolute anarchy in terms
of freedom of expression,
which is a value
of Anonymous.
Freedom of expression
is paramount to Anonymous.
So, if you
go in there,
you tend to use
the handle--
I wouldn't put in
"Gary Lang."
I wouldn't put in "Colin."
I'd put in "Anonymous."
There were so many of them that
this organization was born,
so many people
speaking anonymously,
kind of with
one voice,
and it started moving like
a river towards causes.
To make a long
story short,
over the
next couple years,
many of those
causes seemed to be
on the side of taking care
of the little guy
and taking care
of internet freedom.
Mistakes were made.
It wasn't always
taking care
of the little guy.
A lot of laws
were broken,
but on the whole,
what Anonymous was was a--
turned out to be
a very large group--
they didn't even know
how large--
that was
shaping history
with digital
activism.
A couple times,
the Guy Fawkes masks--
which is from
the movie
V For Vendetta...
More than often than
a couple times,
they started taking
to the streets,
and that's when we
started seeing them.
And then suddenly,
we knew--
and the film more or less
states it as a blatant fact,
but you won't find it
on Wikipedia--
that Occupy,
certain aspects
of Black Lives Matter,
definitely a huge
part of Arab Spring,
was organized
through Anonymous.
We see those masks
in news footage,
and you're
like, "Really?"
But those masks are there
because those guys--
What Anonymous was doing was
giving movements toolkits,
both digital and
analog.
Sometimes, it
might be simple,
like, "This is what you do
if you get teargassed."
Flyers, you know?
But they were helping
people with causes
to organize.
The most, I think,
pivotal one,
which is worth
mentioning,
is, during
Arab Spring,
the governments of that part
of the world, variously,
kept turning off
the internet.
Anonymous
singlehandedly--
not the CIA, not any
other group--
kept turning it
back on,
to make sure that people could
hear in this town
while they were
being teargassed,
"It's a lie that it's
happening in the next town.
They're also
fighting."
And that kept
the spirit alive
long enough for the
people to turn a corner.
Very effective against
old-school propaganda tactics
done by nation states
to suppress information.
COLIN:
Mm.
That's what
Anonymous did.
I can flash
forward and say,
even though they don't
take credit for it,
I think a lot of what
we saw in the last year
in the
United States
were Anonymous-like ops,
notably when President
Trump thought
tens of thousands of people were
attending his rallies
and it turned out
they were being bought
by Korean
K-pop fans.
(Colin laughing)
And anyone can Google that
to just sort of remind
themselves of those details.
The level of organization
that that took
reeks of Anonymous.
So, I'm not saying
they did it.
I'm saying
that toolkit,
I would almost
guarantee,
came from Anonymous.
COLIN:
It's interesting how
such a decentralized movement
could be so organized. I
wonder why that is.
GARY:
Yeah. No. It's hard
to wrap your head around.
So, you know, my
premise, like yours,
when I went at this
film, was like,
"Someone came up with
the idea for the mask, guys.
Someone came up with
the idea for the name.
You put out
propaganda videos
that someone
cut and voiced.
So I'm not buying
this whole 'there's no
leader' thing."
And they're
right. I'm wrong.
There's no leader,
but they kind
of just threw--
They have
a word for it,
but they just throw
whatever tools
they have at their disposal in
the moment to make stuff happen.
It's like
a meritocracy,
but it's a
little different,
whereby, you know,
"Anyone know how to cut video?"
(Colin laughing)
That's how it went,
and then they
just dump stuff.
And very few misses,
because the people
at the core
have a better understanding
of how, one, the internet works,
and two, how to
manipulate
things like video
and audio and boost them,
pump them, get them out there
in terms of maximum reach.
They understand that better
than most governments,
so they were
very effective at it,
because they were a bunch
of, essentially, you know--
not to be-- it's not a
derogatory word-- geeks,
men and women who have time
on their hands to do it.
COLIN:
Do you know what
their ideology is exactly?
GARY:
Yeah. That's
the hard part.
(Both laughing)
I would never--
And it's the other thing
that makes the film
a departure
from other films
about internet activists
and about Anonymous.
I don't hero-ize
this group.
A couple of them have
become very close friends,
and their ideology is
very different from mine.
And there are a lot of really
bad people in any organization,
and this one,
because it has no--
There is no membership.
It could be anybody,
and what we call trolls
can be really ugly trolls
within this
organization.
So, if it has an
ideology for sure,
I will say that they
are anarchists.
There's no problem
burning anything down.
They're neither left
nor right.
There's kind of a--
As I say, there is
a drive to do good,
but that doesn't always
mean they do good.
A lot of bad things
have happened,
and I could name
a few, but you know,
they're not
terrible things.
But privacy on the internet
is an important thing,
and if Anonymous targets
the wrong person,
then they go down just
like a true villain.
So, it has happened.
So, anarchy
is a thing that is
an ideology.
It's not mine, and
I would say
most of the people that
I encountered
are anarchists.
Now, some of them are
very sophisticated anarchists.
It's anarchists
with an end in mind,
which is to burn everything
down to start again.
Commander X
I found--
I find to be
a bit unwieldy,
because he is
very passionate.
So, I'm not sure how
focused his anarchy is,
but he's
an anarchist.
COLIN:
And his relationship
with Anonymous, I mean,
it's sort of tenuous, isn't
it? Like, it's a bit--
Like, they don't really trust
what he's doing,
and I think his choice to
reveal himself, too,
is also something
I guess
Anonymous would probably
be opposed to, right?
GARY:
Yeah. It begins
and ends with that,
with a lot of stuff
in the middle,
but the beginning is,
no one else in Anonymous
has ever revealed--
They are anonymous.
The name of the movie
is
The Face
of Anonymous,
and it's
an inside joke.
There is no face
of Anonymous.
Commander X saying he's
a face of Anonymous
is a joke.
They're opposed
to anyone being named,
anyone talking to
the media,
anyone making
a film like this,
kind of, because
they're-- (Laughing)
It's an
interesting thing,
because on the
other hand,
because they're supposed
to not stop anyone
from freedom
of expression,
it's a pretty easy
argument to me to make
with my friends in Anonymous
that they can't stop me.
You see? But they
don't like it.
And Commander X
used his links
to the organization
to become famous,
famous in his own mind but
famous for a day,
famous on and off,
famous enough
for this documentary
to be made.
Anonymous is
no fan of that.
They've
never looked for--
You can't get a
spokesperson
to appear
on TV, on CNN,
from Anonymous.
COLIN:
Hmm. But the
gentlemen that you do interview
that I guess are part of
Anonymous-- like Barrett Brown--
like, why would they, I guess,
have revealed themselves?
GARY:
Well, there's the rub,
and there's my
answer. Those guys--
Barrett and I text frequently.
I don't see him right now
because he's
not living close by.
He's moved out of country.
He's a true anarchist
who's thought it through.
Barrett really does
not like Commander X.
Barrett really does
not like
what Commander X
represents,
because Barrett was
in prison.
Why do they speak
to me?
Barrett's done his time.
So has Gregg Housh,
who also appears
in the film.
Both these guys have
done serious prison time
for who they are.
In Barrett's case, it was
directly linked to hacktivism.
In Gregg's, not exactly.
And they're not doing
time again for--
And what we did is,
we went backward
to talk about the things that
are on the public record.
I would say that the level
that the two of them
appeared in this film and talked
about that kind of intimately
is new.
I think that
they were
past their comfort
zone a little,
because my whole
line of questioning
wasn't about the great
things they did.
It was like, "How does
it all work?"
And then it inevitably
leads to them.
Barrett and Gregg
have been asked
to be the spokespeople
for Anonymous,
and they've
both declined,
but both of them
have appeared on CNN
to speak for
Anonymous.
Barrett happens to be a
journalist, so he can say,
"I'm a journalist
interested in Anonymous."
So, he did that for years
before he did time.
COLIN:
Hmm.
GARY:
And everyone knew
when they interviewed him
that he was
in Anonymous,
but he was saying,
"Oh, no, no.
What do you mean,
'in Anonymous'?
You can't be in
Anonymous.
I'm a journalist with
connections to Anonymous."
So, Gregg's position
is a bit more unwieldy,
because he is, you
know, in some ways--
Gregg was there
on day one,
and again, you need to see the
film to know who Gregg is,
but you could also quickly
Google him and find out
that, you know, there
are a few people
who were there
at the beginning.
Gregg's one of them.
So, it doesn't make
him a mastermind.
He would never
claim to be.
But it does
make him someone
who understands
how the thing grew.
And to answer your question
why people like X are necessary
but by no means should
they be speaking
on behalf of the
organization.
COLIN:
I guess guys
like Barrett would be
that type of anarchist
that you mentioned earlier,
who kind of
bring things down
to, I guess, build things
back better again.
Is that fair to say? Like,
he's actually got, like,
kind of a vision in mind
for a better society?
GARY:
It's fair to say.
I mean, I don't think
the film necessarily
cuts around it.
Barrett is not, by
any means--
He would never claim
to be a nice man,
but I'm not sure we
would necessarily claim
that some of the founding
fathers of the United States
were, either.
He feels that he's
one of those.
He feels that he is
on a direct line
from the very independent
minds who are willing
to burn the world to the ground
to start something new.
COLIN:
You mentioned
earlier just to--
You know, I think part of
your interest in doing this
was about just the fact
that the government
took such a hard line
against Anonymous
and against Commander
X for their crimes.
Could you just talk a little bit
about what their crimes were
and why they were taken so
seriously by the US?
GARY:
Yeah. We forget.
There's a hack on
a US pipeline,
and it barely makes
headline news.
You know how terrifying that
was 10 years ago?
Ten years ago, when
the US government realized
that their
infrastructure
by a foreign power or terrorist
group could be taken down,
that would have
stopped the hearts
of the Obama
administration.
Anonymous appeared
in that time,
and they kind of
became the boogeyman.
But the simple
truth is,
it has members who could
attack infrastructure
using cyber tools
and turn off
the Hoover Dam
or, you know--
God forbid--
take control of
the nuclear codes
or, you know--
God forbid--
turn off the grid to all of
New York for a month.
These are
the fears--
and by the way, I interviewed
people in the film--
the legitimate fears of
organizations like Anonymous.
Anonymous doesn't
roll that way.
It tends not to,
but you know,
like anything, you
sharpen your sticks,
and rogue
individuals,
especially in an
organization that has no--
Are these American
nationals? No.
Are these foreign-- Are some
of them Russian nationals? Yes.
You know, it gets very murky
very fast to tell the difference
between Anonymous and
the hacking of US elections.
So, the
Obama administration
took a
very hard line,
much harder than
is recognized,
against all of
these individuals
for being part of the same
problem that we--
You and I probably
wouldn't debate
that hacking
elections is bad,
so how can you
support Anonymous?
They sharpened
the tools.
They handed
the tools out,
and they have no
leadership.
So, it's-- Eh.
It's not even a
grey area.
It needs to be...
managed.
(Both laughing)
"Managed" is
definitely the answer,
and you know,
we need to envision
a world where--
I'm not going to
use the word "policed,"
but it needs
to be managed,
because it's a problem. And
the problem hasn't gone away.
The problem's gotten worse.
So that's why some
of these guys--
many of them kids--
guys and girls, many
of them well under 25--
got busted.
A couple of them are
still in prison, you know?
X, for his little hack and a
couple other little bits--
You know, it depends on
how you squint at it,
but it could have
been 25 years,
which, at his age, is a life
sentence. It's insane.
COLIN:
Mm. I guess the US
government's argument would be--
and I think you even
interviewed Leon Panetta--
GARY:
Panetta. Yeah.
COLIN:
--who is the former CIA
director-- is that, you know,
because these tools
they're using could be used
for, I guess, such dangerous
purposes like hacking elections
and because America's
infrastructure is aging,
I guess they would
argue that, you know,
they really want to discourage
anyone from doing anything
that would, you know,
harm US interests.
Is that kind of,
I guess, the sense?
GARY:
That is the answer.
COLIN:
That's the
sense I took of it.
GARY:
Yeah. That is the
answer. I mean, he's--
You know,
Panetta's answer--
And it's not my first
encounter with him.
We have
spoken before.
But his answer is--
He's a very generous-thinking
man about it.
He's like, "I've listened to
both sides, but it's--
You know, sometimes,
you've got to fall on the
side of what is right,
and what is
right is,
we have to limit this
type of activism."
Now, does
that mean--
Like, I'm
pro free speech.
I'm also kind of
pro Anonymous.
You can
tell from my tone
I've thought
this through, you know?
But what it
actually means,
what he's
really saying--
and it's
not on him--
is that we need to harden
our infrastructure
and the protection of
our infrastructure.
That's what we're
really saying,
which is also a
cyber thing.
You make it
harder to hack,
and by virtue of
doing that,
not only you are leveling
the playing field.
You're reducing
the interest
in kind of the playing around
that's happening out there.
If it's not as
much fun to play,
then people
stop playing,
which is essentially
how Anonymous got broken up.
It was infiltrated
from within,
and it stopped being fun
to go hack stuff.
Not fun because it
got harder,
and also, people were
getting arrested.
So, I'm not all for
the arrests,
but I'm definitely for
a more secure world.
You know, you put
better locks on stuff,
and a lot fewer people
knock on your doors,
including Commander X
and Barrett Brown
or whatever,
you know.
COLIN:
They're kind of, in a way,
showing, I guess, us, you know,
you got to take
your infrastructure,
your cyber security
more seriously,
and I think we're starting
to do that, in a way.
GARY:
Yeah. You know,
I think the first time I
touched this subject
is going on
10 years ago,
and we are thousands
of miles away
from where I
thought we'd be
based on the projections
of people at the time.
And it's all just got to
do with the spend,
and it's got to do with
the number of hacks, you know,
but a little
cyber security
is worth a lot less
than one US fighter jet.
So, there needs to
be some reckoning there,
and I'm not
playing politics.
I don't know whether it was
the last administration
or whether it
will be this one.
There's only so
much money to go around,
and hacking pipelines
is not cool, right?
COLIN:
Yeah.
GARY:
And that's the
sort of thing that,
take that one
more level,
and we've got a
big problem.
So, nothing's
changed.
So, yes, hardening
has happened,
and I can tell you,
you know,
there's a completely
different film--
maybe my next
one-- about that.
I'm very interested
in that,
but it certainly
isn't racing ahead,
you know, despite all
the warnings
that the people who were
arresting the Commander Xs
were giving to the
administration.
The next administration
didn't do any better or worse.
COLIN:
Mm. We have to kind of
wrap up our conversation,
but you know, I guess
we could just talk a bit
about where
Anonymous is at now.
I think you mentioned that they
kind of got broken up,
and Commander X
is obviously in Mexico,
but is there anything
more you can say
about either that
organization or Commander X?
GARY:
Yeah. I mean, I'm
not going to presume
that Anonymous is--
I'm not going to say, because
I'd be breaking a law,
that Anonymous exists
or is active right now.
And I'm not going to say that
I know it, because I don't,
but I did say
already, I believe
that you can see
elements of Anonymous
in things that
happened in our lives
last year.
And more importantly-- and
X would say this--
we've done a couple
of interviews
during the time that
this film has come out--
that Anonymous has
become part of the fabric
of activism on the
internet everywhere.
So, maybe someone from within
Anonymous is involved.
Maybe they aren't.
But the tools of Anonymous
are now everywhere,
and let me give you
an example.
The whole George
Floyd thing
comes down to this
very simple argument
that if it weren't for a
kid taking a video,
we wouldn't know. True.
Somebody boosted
the video.
That didn't go
to CNN.
That went wild
on the internet.
Those tools are tools
that were invented
and spread freely
by Anonymous 10
years ago.
So, you couldn't try to
take down that video.
Ten years ago,
you could.
So, it's the whole idea of
boosting, sustaining,
making sure that it's
in the public imagination,
that you have freedom that
you didn't have
in this
digital space.
That's where Anonymous
lives today.
And I've had this
conversation many times
with people saying, "Yeah. You
know, they're not relevant.
It's gone."
I'm like, "Eh.
Go Google that
and think it through."
You know, like,
if you actually--
And you see
elements,
and I know because I
was making this documentary
during
Black Lives Matter.
Very different from
the last time--
sadly, there's always
the last time--
where Anonymous had a
steady hand on the till
to make sure that when
there were protests,
they were
being boosted.
I was seeing stuff on my
phone through a private feed
that was on the
news the next day.
So, they're
still doing it.
They're just
not called Anonymous,
and what they're doing
is legal, you know?
That's totally legal.
You're allowed to do that.
It's a free country.
Different story than
not that long ago.
So, that's where they live.
That's where we see them
in our
day-to-day life.
COLIN:
They weren't
really involved
in the Capitol
Hill attack, were they?
GARY:
Yeah. There's
the evil, dark side
of Anonymous.
At first--
I think about that story
all the time,
and I've mentioned
it recently--
we just thought it
was a bunch of dudes
who got in their trucks
and onto airplanes
and went to
Capitol Hill.
We are now seeing
very clearly
that that was
digitally organized,
that that was,
you know--
It was a movement that
was planned
using tools
of encryption,
using the tools
that have been propagated
by Anonymous and
organizations like them.
All I have to say--
So, yes, that is
a problem.
All I have to say is, Anonymous
never tried to kill anybody.
So, that is why I'm
not even on the fence
about having to
harden our systems
so that that can't
happen again.
I honestly believe we do
need to harden our systems
so that
organization,
digital organization,
is just plain harder to do.
So, yes. All
of that stinks
of using for
ill purposes--
And it's not got anything
to do with politics,
but they intended
to hurt people.
COLIN:
Mm.
GARY:
My politics aside,
people were supposed to be
harmed, possibly killed.
So, using those
tools to do that,
to stay secret until the point
where you actually strike,
is the downside of
Anonymous. (Laughing)
(Colin laughing)
It's not an Anonymous op,
but they built that
infrastructure,
and that inception, that whole
idea that you can do this,
is out there. And that's
what I mean about,
there's a lot
of very bad people
in the world and on
the internet,
and you can do bad
things with it.
It freaked me out once
I started thinking
about saying it
just looks like, you know,
the dark flip,
the other side
of the coin,
of an Anonymous op.
COLIN:
And is X still
involved in hacktivism?
Or is he kind
of retired now?
GARY:
No. I wouldn't
say he's ever retired,
just because of
who he is.
I get the sense he's
very quiet,
just because he's
tired but not retired.
If a cause catches
his attention,
he's in.
During George Floyd,
I could see that
he was very active.
That's something that's
very close to him.
For whatever reason,
he always jumps up
about that
particular issue,
which is a great thing that
speaks to his character.
But mostly, yeah, he's--
You know, I can
cut this both ways,
and he wouldn't like
me for it.
Did the state win?
He's not in
the United States,
somewhere in Mexico,
isolated without
any of his friends,
out of his
own country,
and is he defanged
and declawed?
One might say so.
You know, did they win?
You could make
an argument.
You know, exile
and imprisonment,
that's the oldest game
in the book, right?
So, he chose exile.
He'll say he didn't,
because he's still got
his computer,
his this, that,
the other,
but it's just
a different thing
when you already had to
run for it, you know?
So, I put it there,
compared to, say, others.
Barrett is right now a very
vocal activist in the UK
and will probably end up
in prison any minute, you know?
So, there's different ways
you can live your life,
and X has
definitely--
and I'm going
to repeat this--
chosen his, because
he chose exile, you know?
He could
have chosen prison.
COLIN:
Yeah. Well, Gary, this
has been a great conversation.
Thank you so much
for joining me today.
GARY:
Oh, pleasure to be here.
It was nice talking to you,
and thanks for
showing interest in the film.
(Music playing)
COLIN:
And that's
the podcast,
and it's also the end
of our season!
Nam, we did it!
We're at the end!
NAM:
We did it! Well, I
did, like, six episodes?
(Both laughing)
But you did it!
COLIN:
You joined us in the
middle of this season,
and you are a wonderful cohost.
I hope you'll come back.
NAM:
Thanks,
Colin. I hope--
Thanks for the invitation
and the opportunity.
It's such a--
It's hard
to call it work
when you get to
watch documentaries
and then talk about them and
then talk to people.
But yeah. Thanks for having
me. It's been great.
COLIN:
Oh, my pleasure.
Well,
The Face of
Anonymous
will be playing
Tuesday, May 25th on TVO
and streaming on
our website at tvo.org,
and you can catch
Commander X
and novelist and
producer Ian Thornton
on
The Agenda
With Steve Paikin
right now at
tvo.org as well.
NAM:
While you're here,
why not give us a rating
on Apple Podcasts and
tell a friend about us?
It helps new listeners
to find the show.
COLIN:
You can follow me on
Twitter @colinellis81.
NAM:
And you can follow me
@namshine, all one word.
COLIN:
Thanks to producer
and editor Matthew O'Mara,
senior producer Katie O'Connor,
production support
coordinators
Nikki Ashworth
and Jonathan Halliwell,
and executive
producer Laurie Few.
NAM:
Thanks for
listening, everybody,
and we'll catch you next
season at the next screening.

Watch: The Face of Anonymous