Activists from the hacker collective Anonymous took down the website of the Texas Republican Party in protest against a restrictive law that has the effect of banning most abortions.
The law, SB8, which took effect on Sept. 1, 2021, bans abortions at about six weeks. The enforcement mechanism laid out in the law allows any private citizen to sue “any person” who performs such abortions, or “aids or abets” them.
The law blocks access to an estimated 85 to 90% of medical system-provided abortion services, and provides no exceptions for cases involving rape or incest.
The law was overwhelmingly backed by Texas Republicans and signed by the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott. In response, Anonymous announced a campaign, dubbed “Operation Jane,” to render data collected in efforts to report abortions useless.
As part of that campaign, Anonymous hackers took down the Texas GOP’s website and replaced it with, among other things, an X-rated image of a man stretching out his anus. (There is an archived version of the hacked website, but view with caution: It is graphic.) Hackers also replaced the state GOP’s mission statement with one that read, in part, “WE REALLY REALLY LOVED THE HANDMAID’S TALE AND WISH TO ENACT IT TO IT’S FULLEST. FOOTBALL!!!!!!”
Texas Republicans acknowledged the vandalism with a statement on their website claiming it prompted them to ramp up their online security. The statement was accompanied by fields allowing website visitors to enter their payment card information and make a donation. The statement reads, in part, “Stand with us now against these cyber criminals and their brazen attacks by rushing a contribution to harden our digital defenses.”
Just days after the law went into effect, a website launched by the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life which was intended for reporting abortions that violated the new law was taken offline by domain host GoDaddy after a public pressure campaign.
Anonymous is a loose collective of, as the name states, anonymous cyber activists who emerged in the late aughts to support popular protest movements like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. They are known for making ominous videos addressed to their hacking targets ending with the phrase, “Expect us,” and wearing Guy Fawkes masks to conceal their identities.
Anonymous’ presence peaked around the time of the Occupy Wall Street protests, in 2011 and 2012, but died down after a series of high profile arrests. They began to make their presence known again after the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020.
Beran, Dale. “The Return of Anonymous.” The Atlantic, 11 Aug. 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/08/hacker-group-anonymous-returns/615058/.
“George Floyd: Anonymous Hackers Re-Emerge amid US Unrest.” BBC News, 1 June 2020. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-52879000.
Hollister, Sean. “GoDaddy Cut off Texas Right to Life’s Abortion ‘Whistleblowing’ Website, and It Might Be Gone.” The Verge, 3 Sept. 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/9/3/22656196/godaddy-texas-right-for-life-abortion-whistleblowing-site.
Nowlin, Sanford. “Anonymous Hacks Texas Republican Party Website in Retaliation for State’s Abortion Ban.” San Antonio Current, 13 September 2021, https://www.sacurrent.com/the-daily/archives/2021/09/13/anonymous-hacks-texas-republican-party-website-in-retaliation-for-states-abortion-ban.