The uproar over the Bay Area Rapid Transit system's decision to shut off cell phone service to stop an August 11 protest took a nasty turn on Wednesday, when somebody posted semi-naked photos (NSFW) of BART spokesman Linton Johnson showing his private parts. It was a juvenile act dressed up as a political protest, and it didn't sit well with some members of Anonymous, the loose-knit group that's been leading the campaign against BART. "If you are going to be a dick to the public, then I'm sure you don't mind showing your dick to the public," read the site, which calls itself BARTlulz. The photos came as BART's board of directors discussed the agency's policy about blocking cell phone service at its Wednesday meeting -- they didn't come to a conclusion, but decided a system to shut down service may be appropriate in some cases.
With journalists and activists live-tweeting from the meeting room, and the Twitter streams for Anonymous flowing with retweets and calls to action, the BARTlulz prank seems to have rankled some more serious participants. "It seems a bit like queer-baiting... not exactly a great position to start from IMHO," wrote one participant in an IRC chat promoted by Anonymous as a discussion of the #opBART protests. On the @opBART Twitter stream, a disagreement appeared to break out between its operators, as one tweet on Tuesday (since deleted) seemed to threaten that if Johnson didn't step down, the photos would be posted. A later tweet recanted that and said the photos would be posted anyway. Finally, on Wednesday, this message went up: "We categorically denounce the previous tweets related to Linton. We will *ABSOLUTELY* not be releasing the information we received on Linton." Then a few minutes later: "It has become apparent that this account cannot be trusted in the hands of many. An editing or approval process will likely be implemented." On the @YourAnonNews Twitter stream, a tweet went up declaring "BLACK FAX TIME" and linking to a file with BART's Johnson's contact information, including a non-BART email address for Johnson. The account @anonyops wrote, "Hey @OpBART, don't be the douche who releases Linton's photos. That's a very low road to take, sir."
But as BART's board of directors stays keen to keep cell-phone shut-offs on the table, it's strange that the ire of these groups has focused in on Johnson, who is, arguably, just the messenger. It's because Johnson has taken credit for the idea to shut down service, saying he passed it on to BART police. "This was the appropriate tool to ensure our customers’ safety and ensure their First Amendment right to the best we could under these difficult times," he said in a Wired Threat Post article. He also has the unlucky job of having to explain to reporters and activists why BART made the decisions it made, even as a policy hasn't been finalized by the board. But another spokesman, Jim Allison, was the one who said early on that BART was "within its legal right" to shut down the service. A Twitter search for his name along with BART, returned nothing, while Johnson's name returned scores, almost all having to do with Wednesday's prank.
The schism forming over the nature of the BART protest recalls the Guardian story from Monday, which reported that Anonymous was "looking less like a force and more like an incoherent rabble as a result of the past two months, when many of its ideals have been washed away in a tide of misdirected hacking, which in turn has led to a number of public defections by people disaffected with its lack of focus." But one tweet sent out by San Francisco transit rider Zain Memon sheds a different kind of light on the bickering:
I'm caught in the middle of Anonymous's BART protests and I just saw a dude with a Guy Fawkes mask get picked up by his parents
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.