On Wednesday, Yahoo writer Dan Wetzel produced a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the disturbing ongoing controversy unfolding in Maryville, Mo. Following initial investigative reports from the Kansas City Star, many have followed in looking deeper into a disturbing case of high school sports run amok. The state's lieutenant governor is now involved, calling for, "authorities to take another look."
More significant, however, may be the unofficial organization which has rallied to the defense of then 14-year-old Daisy Coleman and 13-year-old Paige Parkhurst. Anonymous, the loosely organized but profoundly powerful underground, vigilante hacking group, has vowed to deliver justice for Coleman and Parkhurst if civil authorities fail to do so themselves. As reported by Wetzel, the group has already planned a street protest in the town on October 22.
More ominously, Anonymous offered the following statement related to the Maryville case.
"If Maryville won't defend these young girls, if the police are too cowardly or corrupt to do their jobs, if justice system has abandoned them, then we will have to stand for them," Anonymous said in a statement. "Mayor Jim Fall, your hands are dirty. Maryville, expect us."
Maryville, expect us. Those words ring much like the ones that set a vast campaign in motion that eventually brought the town of Steubenville to its knees, whether wholly justified or not. It remains unknown which self-identifying Anonymous member has issued the call against Maryville, but they are likely to be met with just as much encouragement as followed Deric Lostutter's campaign against Steubenville.
There are larger issues at play here, ones that touch on the fine line between pointed civic disobedience and outright vigilante lawlessness. Anonymous brings eyeballs. It brings attention.
It brings a certain degree of accountability, simply because a failure to acknowledge the demands that it imposes will lead to aggressive online campaigns aimed at crippling whatever organization it has targeted.
At the same time, Anonymous can also be seen as a new breed of internet privateer, peddling in the currency of internet fame gained at the altar of prep sports' most dispiritingly out of touch scenarios. A quick glance at both Steubenville and Maryville reveal some troubling similarities: Both are small mid-American towns. Both exalt prep football as the center of the community's culture and civic pride. Both had stakeholders in the enforcement and investigation process who were allegedly willing to look the other way to protect that football pride.
Where one comes down on the organization from there largely depends on one's view of the aforementioned accountability. There is little doubt that Anonymous will speed up the redressing of justice in Maryville. They can't bring the Coleman family back to Maryville, but they can make life incredibly difficult for Matthew Barnett and another teenager accused of rape in the case.
They'll accomplish that with cyber campaigns that will almost certainly go beyond the letter of the law. Whether that is good for prep sports or not is up to all of us collectively, and the effect it has on future generations.
In the short term, one need only look at what has befallen Lostutter as a referendum on the complex morality play incumbent in Anonymous' very existence. Lostutter watched raptly as two teenagers were convicted for heinous sexual acts related to the Steubenville rape case. Months later, he will face charges that could land himself in jail for as many as 10 years.
Perhaps a slightly adjusted version of the Anonymous mission tag line is more appropriate in expressing their current state of play: They are Anonymous. They are coming. They are here to stay, whether we like them or not.