Anonymous does, however, have prominent members and often unites a large number of sympathizers. The gap between expectations and reality when it comes to Occupy Wall Street results from the disconnect between those dominant members and fringe elements who hit up the costume shop and start posting YouTube videos.
The story of how Anonymous and Occupy Wall Street intertwine dates back to February 2010, to the birth of "The 99 Percent Movement."
The notion of “the 99 percent” most likely started with journalist David DeGraw in his 2010 book, The Economic Elite vs. The People of the United States. “The harsh truth is that 99% of the US population no longer has political representation,” DeGraw writes. As a follow-up, he formed the 99 Percent Movement, a social network soliciting ideas for a platform of economic and legal reform.
The Dreaded #refrefDuring the summer, the Internet was abuzz over about a new, potent attack tool called #refref. It could take down any type of unpatched online database (of which there are a great deal, according to several security experts we spoke to). Like other hacking tools, such as Low Orbit Ion Canon, #refref would be very user-friendly. People with no technical skill could download and run it.
Even the Department of Homeland Security believed that the tool, if it existed, would appear on Sept. 17 as part of the occupation. But it didn't and still hasn't.
At the Zucotti Park occupation, a self-identified hacker called "not_me" said that #refref was "a troll," a bogus message. "#refref does not exist," he said. Many Anonymous sympathizers agree on Twitter, including Sabu (@anonymousabu), who may have been the leader of this summer’s LulzSec hacks.
In fact, it's likely that #refref could notexist. "We had a lot of conversations about it and we thought, there just doesn't seem to be anything there," said Josh Shaul of Application Security, Inc. He was most skeptical of the claim that #refref was a single tool to attack any type of database: Oracle, IBM DB2, Sybase, My SQL. "They claimed it would work for any database. [But] what works for SQL doesn't work for [others]." Further, Shaul says that when Anonymous announces an "exploit," they publish the complete code of the tool.
A month after the due date, “We still haven't seen anything resembling code,” says Shaul. “I’m calling bullshit on #refref.”
In January 2011, the movement’s host site, AmpedStatus.com, was repeatedly taken down by unknown attackers. It was then that Anonymous hacktivists contacted DeGraw, offering to set up a more secure site. That grew into a collaboration called A99, which published a laundry list of demands in March. And on March 12, A99 announced Operation Empire State Rebellion (#OpESR) with the Arab-Spring-style demand of forcing a man from office--in this case, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. On June 1, A99 hastily called for multi-city occupations on the 14th. (In New York, it would have taken the same spot, Zuccotti Park, that is home to the present occupation.) But the OpESR action was a flop. Just 16 people showed up in Manhattan, and similarly feeble numbers in 22 other cities.
Meanwhile, organizers at activist magazineAdbusters had been developing their own occupation idea since February, which crystallized in a July 13 call to action. “Adbusters has never communicated directly with Anonymous,” said senior editor Micah White in an email.
But Anonymous spread the word vigorously, using Twitter, blogs, Internet Relay Chat (or IRC, their preferred discussion forum) and eventually YouTube videos. A sometime hacktivist named Robert whom I met at the September 17 protest in New York said that he knew about the campaign just two hours after the Adbusters page went live.
“The geek aspect is most important in the early days of a movement,” said Joseph Menn, a Financial Times security correspondent and author of the book Fatal System Error. “Once you get mainstream coverage, it’s self-perpetuating.”