From about 2006 on, specific actions were undertaken by specific group, groups, or organizations, also self-named as "Anonymous", and often associated with websites and chat systems on the Internet. The general public's mass introduction to the group began with Project Chanology, a protest against the Church of Scientology. The most visible element of the protest was mass protests of many Church sites worldwide, the first being held on February 10 2008. Anonymous, as a protest group, lacks a visible hierarchical structure or leaders, instead relying on individuals to contribute to the group.
Anonymous broadly represents the concept of any and all people as an unnamed collective. Definitions tend to emphasize the fact that the term cannot be readily encompassed by a simple definition, and instead it is often defined by aphorisms describing perceived qualities.
In 2008, Mary Alice Altorfer, a resident of Texas, found a sign of the "pool's closed" poster taped to her apartment complex's gated pool door. Alerting the local police and media, she asserted her belief that the sign was racist and intended to intimidate her two bi-racial grandchildren, both of whom she had brought to the pool the day prior. After initial news reports, she started receiving many phone calls. Several of the calls, which Altorfer saved to her answering machine, attempted to explain the meme and assure her that her grand children had not been threatened. Regardless, the vast majority of the phone calls were prank calls intended to harass. A second sign was anonymously placed on the pool door days later, displaying Altorfer in an afro haircut edited over the "pool's closed" caricature, with a new caption reading "pool's open".
On July 26, 2007, KTTV Fox 11 News based in Los Angeles, California aired a report on Anonymous, calling them a group of "hackers on steroids", "domestic terrorists", and collectively an "Internet hate machine". The report covered an attack on a MySpace user, who claimed to have had his MySpace account "hacked" into seven times by Anonymous, and plastered with images of gay pornography. The MySpace user also claimed a virus written by Anonymous hackers was sent to him and to ninety friends on his MySpace contact list, crashing thirty-two of his friends' computers. The report featured an unnamed former "hacker" who had fallen out with Anonymous and explained his view of the Anonymous culture. In addition, the report also mentioned "raids" on Habbo, a "national campaign to spoil the new Harry Potter book ending", and threats to "bomb sports stadiums". Ironically, the news report became a meme on most of the chan boards, inspiring mass mockery, notably the stock footage of an exploding van, the hyperbole and alarmist phrases used to describe the idea of anonymity, as a "Domestic terrorist" organization and group, the suggestion that buying a dog and curtains could protect victims from Anonymous, and Fox's previous history of criticism over Fox News Channel. This report also sparked "Anonymous" to be a more often used term for users of various imageboards "connected" to each other. Although previously, Anonymous came from imageboards like eBaumsworld, 4chan and 7chan wherein its default alias for a user posting a thread or post would be "Anonymous".
The following day, Wired News blogger and journalist Ryan Singel derided the Fox report, stating that the "hacker group" in fact consisted of "supremely bored 15-year olds", and that the news report was "by far the funniest prank anyone on the board has ever pulled off". In February 2008, an Australia-based Today Tonight broadcast included a segment of the Fox report, preceded by the statement: "The Church of Scientology has ramped up the offensive against Anonymous, accusing the group of religious bigotry and claiming they are sick, twisted souls."
A Global Television Network report identified the group responsible for Forcand's arrest as a "self-described Internet vigilant group called Anonymous" who contacted the police after some members were "propositioned" by Forcand with "disgusting photos of himself". The report also stated that this is the first time a suspected Internet predator was arrested by the police as a result of Internet vigilantism.
On January 14, 2008, a video produced by the Church featuring an interview with Tom Cruise was leaked to the Internet and uploaded to YouTube. The Church of Scientology issued a copyright violation claim against YouTube requesting the removal of the video. In response to this, Anonymous formulated Project Chanology. Calling the action by the Church of Scientology a form of Internet censorship, members of Project Chanology organized a series of denial-of-service attacks against Scientology websites, prank calls, and black faxes to Scientology centers.
On January 21, 2008, Anonymous announced its goals and intentions via a video posted to YouTube entitled "Message to Scientology", and a press release declaring a "War on Scientology" against both the Church of Scientology and the Religious Technology Center. In the press release, the group states that the attacks against the Church of Scientology will continue in order to protect the right to freedom of speech, and end what they believe to be the financial exploitation of church members. A new video "Call to Action" appeared on YouTube on January 28, 2008, calling for protests outside Church of Scientology centers on February 10, 2008. On February 2, 2008, 150 people gathered outside of a Church of Scientology center in Orlando, Florida to protest the organization's practices. Small protests were also held in Santa Barbara, California, and Manchester, England. On February 10, 2008, about 7,000 people Project Chanology protests, February 10, 2008. Many protesters wore masks based on the character V from V for Vendetta (who in turn was influenced by Guy Fawkes), or otherwise disguised their identities, in part to protect themselves from reprisals from the Church.
Anonymous held a Project Chanology protests, March 15, 2008 on March 15, 2008 in cities all over the world, including Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Vancouver, Toronto, Berlin, and Dublin. The global turnout was estimated to be "more than 9,000", a number similar to that of the first wave. The third wave of the protests took place on April 12, 2008. Named "Operation Reconnect", it aimed to increase awareness of the Church of Scientology's disconnection policy.
RealTechNews reported that the forum at the United Kingdom–based National Society for Epilepsy was also subjected to an identical attack. It stated that "apparent members of Anonymous" had denied responsibility for both attacks and posted that it had been the Church of Scientology who carried them out. News.com.au reported that the administrators of 7chan.org had posted an open letter claiming that the attacks had been carried out by the Church of Scientology "to ruin the public opinion of Anonymous, to lessen the effect of the lawful protests against their virulent organization" under the Church's fair game policy. The Tech Herald reported that when the attack began, posts referenced multiple groups, including Anonymous. The report attributes the attack to a group named "The Internet Hate Machine", who claim to be part of Anonymous, but are not the same faction that are involved in the campaign against Scientology.
Some members of Anonymous suggest that the perpetrators are merely internet users who remained literally anonymous, and thus had no affiliation with the web group known as Anonymous. During an interview with CNN, Scientologist Tommy Davis accused Anonymous of hacking into the Epilepsy Foundation website to make it display imagery intended to cause epileptic seizures. Interviewer John Roberts contended the FBI said that it "found nothing to connect this group Anonymous (with these actions)", and that it also has "no reason to believe that these charges will be leveled against this group". The response was that the matter was on the hands of local law enforcement and that there were ongoing investigations.
In late June of 2008, members of Anonymous claimed responsibility for a series of attacks against the SOHH (Support Online Hip Hop) website. The attack was reported to have begun in retaliation for insults made by members of SOHH's "Just Bugging Out" forum against ebaumsworld users. The attack against the website took place in stages, as members of Anonymous flooded the SOHH forums, which were then shut down. On June 23, 2008, Anonymous organized DDOS attacks against the website, successfully eliminating 60% of the website's service capacity. On June 27, 2008, the hackers utilized cross-site scripting to deface the website's main page with satirical images and headlines referencing numerous racial stereotypes and slurs, and also successfully stole information from SOHH employees.
Following the defacement, the website was shut down by its administration. AllHipHop, an unrelated website, also had its forum raided. By the evening of June 27, 2008 AllHipHop.com was back online and released an official statement in which it referred to the perpetrators as "cyber terrorists" and announced that it would cooperate with SOHH "...to ensure the capture of these criminals and prevention of repeat offenses." On June 30, 2008 SOHH placed an official statement regarding the attack on its main page. The statement alleged that the attackers were "specifically targeting Black, Hispanic, Asian and Jewish youth who ascribe to hip-hop culture," and listed several hip hop oriented websites which it claimed were also attacked by the hackers. It concluded with a notice that it would be cooperating with the FBI.
When interviewed, Felicia Palmer, co-founder of SOHH, confirmed that an FBI probe was ongoing, and that each time the website was attacked, data on the suspects was retrieved. Palmer indicated that some of the attackers were "located within the United States, between the ages of 16-21" and that a few of them were based in Waco, Texas. Initially under the impression that the hackers were pranksters, she came to believe they were "beyond pranksters" and the attack was racist in nature.
About that time, one of the readers of the board decided to change the password to stop people from logging into the account, and then warn Palin of the hacking through a mail to one of her friends. However, this person then accidentally posted the new password on the board, and several readers of the board tried at the same time to use it to set a new password. Yahoo! software has security measures in place that triggered an automatic "freeze" which prevented anyone from accessing the account even with the correct password, and the account was later deleted by Yahoo!. The freeze occurred before all emails accessible on the account could be downloaded. Members of Anonymous later passed all the information that could be retrieved before the freeze to Wikileaks, which published it. The individual who originally hacked the account later complained that he had "passed the torch" to Anonymous members after doing all he could do well, and that "the white knight fucker came along, and did it in for everyone".
The FBI and Secret Service began investigating the incident shortly after its occurrence. On September 20 it was revealed they were questioning the son of Mike Kernell, a Democratic State Representative. The handle used by the hacker when making his post at 4chan pointed to him, this evidence was inconclusive because of the frequent pranks pulled at that board, but later, the proxy service provided its logs, which pointed to the residence where he was living. At age twenty the son, David Kernell, is a self described "Obamacrat and a student at the University of Tennessee. FBI agents served a federal search warrant at the Knoxville Tennessee residence of David Kernell in the early morning hours of September 14, 2008. Kernell, according to witnesses, fled the scene when the FBI agents arrived. Agents spent 1.5 to 2 hours taking pictures of everything inside his apartment. Kernell's three roommates were also subpoenaed and expected to testify the next week in Chattanooga. A grand jury is set to convene regarding the case on the 23rd of September. Kernell Sr. told Wired that he was aware that his son was a suspect, but he did not ask him anything about it over concerns that he may have to testify in court. David Kernell was indicted on October 8th, 2008, for his connection to the intrusion.