Anybody who supports or identifies with Anonymous has most likely become familiar with the case of Matt DeHart, a 30 year-old former soldier and hacktivist from the United States who is currently jailed in Lindsay, Ontario. Matt was tortured by the FBI in August.2010 while being interrogated about his connections to Anonymous, a possible Russian spy ring, and a secret FBI document he found on his hidden server that he believes was destined for Wikileaks. Matt and his parents, Paul and Leann DeHart, travelled to Canada seeking asylum from the United States hoping to start a new life. Instead, Matt was immediately jailed, released, and then jailed again over a petty and unintentional breach of bail conditions.
Matts hearing with Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board was on August 20th, and he is supposed to find out his legal fate by early October which could mean being extradited back to the U.S.. Adrian Humphreys, a journalist with Canada’s National Post was able to sit in on the hearing via video in another area of the courthouse, but was not allowed to report any details about the hearing such as names of people involved, criminal accusations or the identity of the judge. But let’s back up for a second: what exactly is going on in this strange and confusing legal case and why is there so much secrecy around it? Why on Earth is this former digital activist charged with soliciting child pornography and accused of being a spy for the Russians? Why should you even care? This is an attempt to make sense of Matt DeHart’s legal case, as well as place it into the larger context of the police state; and the blatant targeting and repression of hackers, whistleblowers, and the technocultural aspect of today’s revolution.
Matt DeHart claims that he played a small role in the 2008 Anonymous campaign against the Church of Scientology, known as “Project Chanology”, in addition to other cyber shenanigans with his hacker friends who hung out on their secret server called “The Shell”. From a young age, Matt had an interest in computer security, surveillance, internet freedom and hacking…so naturally, in the late 2000s/early 2010s, when Anonymous and Wikileaks blew up as political actors, exposing corruption among world powers and outsmarting private security contractors who targeted the hacktivist community, Matt was nothing less than supportive. Before then, he was goofing around on 4chan and running a hacker group called “Kaos Anti-Security Operations Syndicate”, later renamed
“Anonymous Anti-Security” (not to be confused with Operation AntiSec, the “Op” that Jeremy Hammond was part of when he carried out the Stratfor hack). Matts contribution to Project Chanology–under the aliases K, Kaiser, Koenig and KMFDMK among others, was supposedly registering the Youtube account that would publish the famous “Message to Scientology” video, as well as using his expertise in encryption and other privacy tools to protect Anons from being traced while organizing. Other main organizers and public figures of Project Chanology, including Gregg Housh, have said that Matts claims are accurate and that he knows things that only the core group of them would know. In other words, Matt’s history with Anonymous is quite believable.
Here is where things get messy. Before shutting down The Shell in 2010, due to his friend’s alleged visit by the FBI where they asked about it, Matt discovered a file on the server that he claims was a secret FBI document about an investigation into the CIA’s practices. He deleted the file, but later found an encrypted version on another hidden server. Being a supporter of Wikileaks, Matt believes that that could have been the intended destination for the file, and he was well aware that he was treading into dangerous territory, eventually deciding to take down the server and destroy the hard drives; in his own words, “It’s not because you’re paranoid, it’s because you know what the United States government can do and having any affiliation, any peripheral involvement in Wikileaks in any way, shape, or form, makes you a target.” Matt was not wrong about this, and when the police raided his house of all data-carrying electronics except two thumb drives that he managed to hide, he knew exactly what it was about: his past connections to Anonymous, and the document that the FBI didn’t want him (or Julian Assange) to see.
Matt was not arrested when his house was raided, but the FBI’s claim for why they raided his house is particularly horrifying: he was told that they were searching for child pornography. However,
no charges followed for months and when the case was eventually taken to court it was revealed that there was no child pornography on any of his electronic devices, but only on that of his alleged “victim”, whose mothers testimony made no mention of pornography or any inappropriate contact aside from Matt’s “domineering tone” in World of Warcraft, where he led his own guild consisting of fellow Anons. The official accusation by the police is that Matt pretended to be teenage girls interested in the “victim” and coerced him into sending nude photos, but again…nothing was found on Matt’s electronics. Additionally, the Franklin Police Department doctored chat transcripts to make Matt appear predatory, which was shown in court when Matt and his lawyer presented the real chat log sent by a mutual acquaintance of he and the “victim”, a conversation between what appeared to be Matt and a female friend that briefly mentions Anonymous but consists of nothing sexual. But what makes this even weirder is that according to Matt, on the date and time of the chat transcipt (the afternoon of Sunday, May.18th,2008), he was away training at his military base. Is it surprising that Detective Brett Kniss, who was initially leading this investigation, is no longer with the Franklin Police Department and could not be reached by The National Post, who led an eight-month long investigation
into the case? Or are the police embarassed by their unsuccessful attempt to infiltrate Matt’s online social circle?
While accusations of sexual violence should always be taken seriously, when they come from the state rather than people, it is obviously crucial that we dig deeper. A common tactic by law enforcement when trying to trap someone is to destroy their reputation by slapping outrageous, trumped up charges on them so that they will be forever stigmatized. They will be painted to the public as a monster, undeserving of support or a even a fair trial, because very few people want to involve themselves in debates about whether or not accused sex offenders are really guilty of such things…and understandably so, seeing as how we live in a society that perpetuates this violence every single day through rape culture and the neglect of childrens voices. But wouldn’t one think that using false allegations of such violence as a weapon and as a cover for something else, violence that is very real for countless people, is only a further perpetuation of that violence? It is not only bad for innocents who are accused, but it is insulting to survivors. And yet, the FBI has a history of planting child pornography on the computers of both targets and non-targets, sometimes attached to music, images and other innocent files downloaded from FBI-sanctioned servers. The formal name for the tactic is known as “Operation Flicker”, and a real life example of this happening to an innocent is the case of 17 year old Andrew Rose, an autistic youth who accidentally downloaded an attachment through Limewire and was charged, even though he deleted the file immediately and it was clearly an accident. While these two cases are very different, they show that entrapment by the state is something that could happen to anyone. Some call it “character assassination”. It is the perfect tool for discrediting activists of all type, including whisteblowers and hackers who in this day and age, are on the frontlines of directly challenging the state’s credibility when it comes to issues of terrorism, national security, free information, and what we commonly refer to as “human rights” issues but actually meaning the various forms of exploitation that impact us all under colonial capitalist rule.
After being honourably discharged from the military in 2009 due to his depression, his family’s house getting raided and potentially being framed as a sexual predator, Matt was desperate for both employment and an escape. He no longer felt safe in the U.S., and was more than a little angry at how low his government had sunk just to target him as a member of Anonymous, in what would later be revealed through secret documents, 2 years after his arrest, as a National Security and Espionage investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. He drove to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to ask for employment; he was a former drone operator in the U.S. military, after all. Like the FBI, the Russian he spoke to there, who went by the name Evgeny, was actually more interested in Matt’s connections to Anonymous and Wikileaks. Matt claims that Evgeny offered to pay him for information, but he refused, because he was there to seek employment and get out of the country he no longer felt safe in, not mindlessly sell information for its own sake. But according to the FBI report on Matt’s later arrest, while he was in custody, he allegedly admitted that the plan all long was to sell U.S. military secrets to Russia. Matt denies the accuracy of these claims and points out that being tortured would have made him say anything. Still, Matt says that looking back, he would not have gone to the embassy in the first place: “Was it distasteful? Yeah. Would I do it again? No. I was
just kind of thumbing my nose at the United States because I was pissed off they did what they did to me.” FBI raids happen often to Americans who are even slightly suspected of having connections to hacker groups such as Anonymous, and many victims of FBI targeting can’t help but lash out in some way as a result of psychological distress…for example, journalist Barrett Brown, who became known as the “unofficial spokesperson” for Anonymous has been in prison for the last 2 years, part of the reason being his online “threat” against an FBI officer after he and his mother were both raided. Matt’s desperate reaction to his own situation was talking to the Russions, in whatever form that took.
Eventually he decided to relocate to Montreal, Quebec to take a French Immersion course, and in the summer of 2010 ended up on Prince Edward Island to study welding. He still had no charges at this point, and was trying to focus a little less on being mad at his government, and a little more on being a student and shaping his future. But before he started college he needed his student visa to be processed across the border, and as soon as he handed over his passport to the border patrol officer (his passport which, logically, should not have been given to him if the U.S. government had any issue, but he got it before moving to Montreal), he was placed in handcuffs and then taken to Immigration and Customs in Bangor, Maine. He was put in a cell, told he was being charged with soliciting child porn in 2008, but later questioned over Anonymous, Wikileaks, encryption programs, The Shell, the Russian Embassy, his former military unit, and not at all about child porn. According to Matt, he told the FBI agent (in regards to the child porn accusation) “I didn’t do that”, who in turn responded with “I know”. But before being questioned, Matt says he was put in a chair and given an IV. He fully believes he was drugged, and eventually blacked out and was taken to the hospital. According to jail and hospital records, the doctor who treated Matt made note of “eye discomfort, possible pesticide exposure, and acute mental status change, psychosis”, as well as “tachycardia and tremors most consistent with possible drug-induced psychosis such as secondary to amphetamines, cocaine and other stimulant medication.” This was 17 hours after his arrest. Matt was definitely drugged. The doctor also said that he would need to be monitored while in custody due to his psychosis at the time as well as his history of mental illness. Jail records confirm that Matt experienced suicidal episodes while in jail and made more than one attempt before being forced into a suicide smock while he underwent more brutal, psychologically violent interrogations that he claims included more drugging and physical abuse. He was allegedly strapped naked to a submission chair with a bag over his head, drugged into unconsciousness and would wake up with bruises and burns. He was also only allowed to eat and drink during interrogations, but only if he took the unknown drugs they gave him. He also claims to have had bleach poured on him, claims he was kept in a dry cell with no sink or toilet, and was severely deprived of sleep because officers would purposely bang on things every 15 minutes to make it impossible for prisoners to sleep. He recalls looking forward to interrogations: “I thought I was going to die that week when I was in there, that these people were going to leave me here. I couldn’t call any of my family members, I couldn’t call a lawyer. I was incommunicado. You look forward to talking to the FBI even though you know they are working against you.” To this day, Matt suffers from PTSD and has made several suicide attempts in jail.
When Matt was eventually taken to his first court appearance, the judge stated that she did not see him as a threat to the community and he was allowed out of custody. Two different judges have raised concerns over Matt’s child porn charge, their words implying that not only does the charge look made up, but the FBI didn’t even do a good job at hiding it; as Judge Margaret Kravchuk said, “Doesn’t it
strike you as odd that a year goes by without anything happening in this case, and there’s no apparent danger to the community, and then the search warrant’s executed on Matt’s home six, seven, eight months ago now and nothing dangerous happens to the community?”. She was commenting on the fact that Matt was not arrested nor his computers analyzed for evidence months after being seized despite a supposed 2008 allegation, in addition to the criminal complaint not having been drafted until the day of his arrest in 2010, and that he should have been in court much sooner than he had been considering his arrest date (that not even the courts or police could get right since it was listed 2 days after it happened). Another, Judge Aleta Trauger, said “I have learned several aspects of this case which, in the court’s mind, indicate the weight of the evidence is not as firm as I thought it was.”
After being released, Matt told his parents about his inhumane treatment at the hands of their own government, something especially devastating for a conservative military family who’s allegiances were always to the U.S. These events dramatically changed their outlook, which is when the DeHarts decided to move to Canada and claim asylum as refugees. After crossing the border and explaining their bizarre situation, the DeHarts handed over their supporting documents as well as Matt’s two thumb drives he saved after the raid to the CBSA officers (allegedly containing Anonymous information, server logs from The Shell and documents from his former military unit). Matt was jailed soon after, apparently due to the “porn charge”, but he was also labelled a Foreign National engaging in an act of espionage. From then on, Matts case was dealt with in secret and he was ordered to remain in jail after every hearing. Eventually he was released and put under house arrest, but then jailed again after the DeHarts had to switch apartments and notified the CBSA through Science Corps (the GPS monitoring company) rather than in person.
The FBI will not comment on the torture allegations, nor will they or the U.S. government comment on the UN Convention Against Torture and how they were repeatedly breaking it long before it happened to Matt. If the Canadian government decides to extradite him, they too would be breaking this international law banning torture and other cruel and degrading treatment by the state. Extradition treaty or not, regardless of criminality, sending someone back to a country that tortured them is not justice. It is complacency in abuse at the hands of a world power…Something that human beings are all too familiar with. Matt does have one thing going for him, however: he is a white male from the United States. If he were a person of colour and/or from a country other than the U.S., his situation and treatment could be much, much worse.
But that doesn’t minimalize his torture, the potentially life-ruining cover up charge, the secrecy around his case, or the blatant targeting of him for his online politicism. In fact this is a serious trend that everyone should be paying close attention to…the violent targeting of hacktivists, whistleblowers, journalists and their allies as part of the larger agenda to criminalize dissent. This is a trend unique to our particular time, in the age of advanced information technology, and as the military/prison/surveillance industrial complex further dominates the legal sphere and perpetuates various forms of state violence in the name of “justice”. Hacktivists with Anonymous and organizations like Wikileaks keep up with these mediums and directly challenge unjust manifestations of the law, meant to enclose on previous realms of openness (such as the internet), as well as crush resistance in any form including the fight for free information. Exposing corruption within the system can (and should) accompany other forms of direct action to bring about real, open, participatory democracies. Whistleblowers and hackers bringing government secrets to the light is a legitimate form of protest and a social movement on its own that can create meaningful social change. The digital dissent or digital direct action movement beautifully compliments the belief that to create a free society, we must also demand accountability from the most powerful.
This is precisely why there is such a crackdown by the state on internet freedom fighters and their associates–Aaron Swartz (deceased), Jeremy Hammond (10 years in prison), Barrett Brown (imprisoned for 2 years, possibly 8 1/2 more), Julian Assange (trapped in an Ecuadorian Embassy for 2 years while the UK ignores asylum, also facing extradition under false cover-up charges), Sarah Harrison (exiled in Berlin), Edward Snowden (exiled in Russia), Chelsea Manning (35 years in prison)–and even Matt DeHart with his small but significant contributions to Project Chanology. Not only are these people and their various initiatives connected, but they connect to the larger fight for collective liberation. On another note, it is no secret that the United States opened a grand jury investigation into Wikileaks in 2010, the same year Matt was tortured, that remains open to this day. While we should not jump to conclusions without evidence that the cases of Matt DeHart and Julian Assange are any more connected than the possible destination of Matt’s secret document, one cannot help but be intrigued by such questions. Is Matt’s criminalization meant to serve a larger purpose?
Free Matt DeHart. Let his family make “Canada” their permanent home so that he doesn’t have to go back to his torturers. All refugees should be welcome to settle here. Who are we to define these borders rather than share the planet equally? More to the point, no human being should ever have to experience torture, let alone be forced to return to where it happened. Matt is going to live with this for the rest of his life. He is going to look back on his torture every single day. Abuse is not something a person ever fully recovers from…at best, they will experience a lifetime of healing but that healing process will never finish. All over loose affiliations with Anonymous, all over stumbling across a classified document, and all over reconsidering the legitimacy of an abusive world power when it proves itself to be disloyal to its own citizens.
The #FreeMattDeHart campaign, put together by several grassroots activists and Anons, is not only a political cause, but also an attempt to help Matt and his family begin that healing process. We are raising awareness through activist networks on social media, as well as locally in Ontario so that his voice can be heard, and so that everyone who pays attention will hear about this case and the severe injustices within it. A small protest was held on August.16th in Toronto, and we encourage everyone to hold solidarity demonstrations in your city to show support for the DeHarts and send a message to the Canadian government to not extradite Matt, as well as call for the FBI and U.S. government to be held accountable for their actions. At this point in time no one is safe from government persecution and it is obvious that the state will do whatever it needs in order to trap targets. We cannot let this happen. While the internet is problematic in many ways, it is necessary that we “occupy” it, not only to mobilize our movements on a grander scale, but to keep it free and open so that it does not become a state-owned tool for manipulation and control. Matt DeHart’s situation, as well as the situations of all political prisoners under the Anonymous/Wikileaks banner, should serve as warning signs. Those who are targeted need as much support as possible. Please join the campaign and support Matt DeHart until he is free.
*All quotes and factual information about the case came from Adrian Humphreys’ 5-part write up: “Hacker, Creeper, Solider, Spy”: http://news.nationalpost.com/matt-dehart-claims-hes-wanted-for-working-with-anonymous/
Get involved with #FreeMattDeHart
-Facebook: Free Matt DeHart
-AnonOps IRC channel: #freemattdehart
Sign the petition:https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Immigration_and_Refugee_Board_Canada_Uphold_Matt_Deharts_DeHarts_human_rights_against_extradition_to_the_US/
Special thanks to Canadianon & Stacie Korako for encouragement and constructive feedback.