STEUBENVILLE - Hundreds of people are expected to visit the Jefferson County Courthouse for a noon rally Saturday to protest that only two individuals have been charged with the alleged rape of a teenage girl.
The rally, organized by the shadowy Internet hackivist group Anonymous, had more than 700 people committed to attend as of this morning, according to a Facebook invitation page.
The rally is to protest what Anonymous contends is a cover-up of in the upcoming trial of Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale and Malik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville, Big Red student-athletes who are scheduled to go on trial before visiting Judge Tom Lipps on Feb. 13 in connection with the alleged rape. Members of Anonymous claim more than two individuals were involved in the alleged incident, which allegedly occurred Aug. 11-12. Anonymous has hacked into several e-mail, Twitter and other Internet accounts and posted the information on the Internet to prove its assertion that more than two individuals were involved in the alleged incident.
Earlier in the week Anonymous twice took over the homepage of www.rollredroll.com and posted a video message along with links to "tweets" allegedly made by others involved in the incident. Anonymous also posted the names of other individuals they believed were involved and have vowed to release more personal information unless the individuals make public apologies by Tuesday, which is New Year's Day.
Rollredroll.com is an independently operated site that covers Big Red athletics. It is not affiliated with the school.
The case has attracted international attention as a result of a New York Times article published on Dec. 16, and since then Anonymous has been making its case publicly and calling for those concerned to attend the protest rally Saturday. The protest isn't affiliated with the Occupy movement, contrary to previous reports, according to sources affiliated with Anonymous.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said the protesters have the right to make their views known.
"They have a right to protest all they want," said Abdalla, adding if streets are blocked protesters may be required to obtain a permit from Steubenville city government. "If it's a peaceful protest, than there shouldn't be any trouble."
Capt. John Young of the Steubenville Police said he didn't know much about the planned protest but wasn't anticipating any problems.
"I have no (information) about it at all," said Young, adding if streets are blocked, protesters are required to obtain a permit from the city. "I only know about it from what I've read on the Internet."
"I understand this group is peaceful," said Steubenville Police Chief Bill McCafferty, adding the city has hosted other protests in the past with no incidents. "As long as they don't block the sidewalk there should be no trouble. To my knowledge, the city hasn't been (officially) notified (about the protest)."
McCafferty also said if streets are blocked protesters would need a city permit.
Those involved in the Anonymous action are referring to themselves as Knightsec, and one member gave an interview to a Canton-area radio station Thursday.
The Herald-Star was able to contact one confirmed member of Knightsec and Anonymous, who goes under the pseudonym Kyanonymous, who gave the group's reasons for getting involved in the case.
"We stumbled across multiple blogs and then the New York Times article that detailed, it seemed to us, that two boys are scapegoated by (local authorities) when an entire house full of people had the opportunity to stop it," he said. "If you are witness to a murder, you are an accomplice. If you are present during a rape, the same rules apply."
Kyanonymous said people have misconceptions about Anonymous and the group's actions.
"My main concerns are people thinking that Anonymous is a group of Internet thugs," he said. "We are exactly the opposite - we are freedom fighters, we are you, and you are us. We are the 99 percent, and so are you. We are all around, worldwide. This campaign is to make sure that enough eyes are on the case so it cannot be covered up, and in the process many (other rape) victims have had the courage to come forward with their own stories."
Anonymous is composed of a diverse group of individuals in all occupations, is self-policing and entirely peaceful, said Kyanonymous.
"We have 'anons' in local police departments, in sheriffs (departments) and even on the federal level," he said. "We have security set up. No permit is required to protest on sidewalks - that's a constitutional right. There is no mask ban, no legal one anyway, and the American Civil Liberties Union Ohio Chapter will represent any protester and protect their rights. If (a person attending the rally) feels (their) rights have been violated, (they should) get the badge number and call the ACLU immediately or tell one of (the ACLU members) that is present. If an officer tells (a protester) to take (their) mask off, have him state the statute - there isn't one. If (an officer) removes it forcibly, (those protesting should state) they aren't not resisting, and turn the mask around backward and still wear it. Print out and carry protest rights. The Supreme Court upheld (the) right to film police, so now it is (a) right and a civil duty to make sure the law is enforced. The wicked should expect us."
Anonymous reportedly began in 2003 and gained a broader profile several years ago with a cyber attack on the religion Scientology and its affiliated sites. Since then the group has targeted websites of different countries, international banks, formed an alliance with the Occupy movement and most recently attacked and hacked into the website for the Westboro Baptist Church in Texas because of church members' threat to protest at funerals for victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
The Guy Fawkes mask worn by members is borrowed from the 2005 movie "V For Vendetta," in which a man trying to lead a future uprising against a fascist British government dons the mask and ultimately leads a revolution. Some individuals associated with Anonymous have been arrested in several countries in the past five years for hacking activities, but the group has no formal structure.