All photos by the author
This morning, I sat up front in the federal court house of the Southern District of New York, to hear the sentencing of the Anonymous-LulzSec hacker Jeremy Hammond. In case you missed it, Hammond was today given the guideline sentencing of 120 months in jail for his 2011 hack of the security think tank Stratfor, with three years of supervised release following.
I arrived at the court house early enough to watch as everyone arrived. These were the independent journalists I'd come to know from the court martial case of Chelsea Manning, reporters like Alexa O'Brien and Kevin Gosztola. I eventually found myself in the large Ceremonial Courtroom on the building's ninth floor, seated behind Chris Hedges of truthdig and O'Brien. The outspoken and always-entertaining PayPal 14 lawyer Stanley Cohen was to my right.
The courtroom filled. No one was allowed to take electronics in with them; even cell phones had to be checked into cubbies provided by the court. The bulk of the crowd came in support of Hammond, but on the left side of the room sat a sizeable crowd of grey-uniformed cadets down from West Point Academy. Seconds before court started session, O'Brien walked over to verify (at the behest of Cohen) that they were, indeed, on a field trip. "They're here to learn about constitutional and military law," she reported.
"Which one is this? Military, or constitutional?" Cohen said.
A few minutes after 10, we stood up, and Chief Judge Loretta A. Preska entered the room and asked us to sit back down.
Preska then proceeded in inquiring with the prosecution and defense on which parts of the sentencing would remain redacted after it was over.
"What are they doing?" Cohen asked in a whisper of disbelief. "You don't deal with this sort of thing today."
After some back-and-forth between federal prosecutors and Hammond's counsel, an agreement to redact vulnerable pieces of personal information—including a list of countries where Jeremy had hacked the sites of governments—was finally reached. Of course, an unpublished version of Hammond's statement, which he would later be interrupted from delivering, can be read with context here.
For two hours, the court heard Hammond's counsel and federal prosecutors go back and forth, citing reasons for and against a lengthy jail term for Hammond. The defense reminded the judge of Hammond's charitable nature, his giving spirit, and what sorted him out from ordinary people. Excerpts of letters from Hammond supporters were read by Susan Kellman and Sarah Kunstler, including an excerpt of a letter from the Pentagon Papers leaker, Daniel Ellsberg.
The prosecution argued back that Hammond nevertheless committed serious crimes, caused harm, and opened vulnerabilities to thousands as a result of the Stratfor leaks. Although they didn't doubt that Hammond has done good things in his life, the government said it still won't discount the seriousness of the matters, and cited chatlogs from Hammond to argue that his motivation was "malicious, [and] in contempt for those he damaged."
The defense continuously pointed out that the government had a "one-dimensional view" of Hammond's crimes, and appealed that his actions were no more than "an act of protest against the American intelligence industry." They highlighted that Jeremy sought no personal benefit from thousands of credit card numbers he'd revealed; rather, he was making a symbolic act of civil disobedience. The defense explained that after many attempts to make a difference in the systems with which he disagreed so much, Hammond found hacktivism was the best way he knew how to make a difference.
"Yes I broke the law, but I believe that sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change."
Judge Preska eventually asked Hammond if he would like to speak on his own behalf. After whispering to counsel Sarah Kunstler on his right, he stood and approached the podium. In his statement, Hammond detailed his cooperation and work with "Sabu," or Hector Xavier Monsegur, the FBI informant he'd "been talking to... the whole time." Sabu, Hammond explained, aided him with government-owned servers to store vast amounts of the hacked Stratfor data. (Again, you can read the redacted version the court heard—as well as the unredacted version—here.)
"Yes I broke the law," proclaimed Hammond, "but I believe that sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change."
Later on, Judge Preska asked, "Are there any victims?" which in itself was ironic to actually hear uttered. If you weren't aware, Preska is married to Thomas J. Kaveler, an employee of Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, a Stratfor client and associate (thus a victim). The ironic circumstance of this case, Chris Hedges later pontificated to cameras in Foley Square, was that it was unbelievable that the wife of a victim would judge this case, rather than recuse herself.
"I am a victim," a man hollered, putting up his hand on the opposite side of the courtroom, amongst the West Point cadets. Incredulous guffahs came from our corner of the court room; we peered over to see a short-haired man walking toward the podium.
The judge asked how he'd been a victim, and what his damages were.
The man identified himself as David Suker (whom I'd later ID as a teacher-activist of Occupy Wall Street), and said he was "a victim of the FBI repression." The judge quickly had security escort the man out of the court, him yelling while being dragged away, "I've been under surveillance! I'm having my family taken away!"
Visibly unhappy with the disruption in her court, Preska asked again if there were any victims.
And then, as you may have heard, Vince in the Bay approached the podium and proceeded to troll Judge Preska for at least five minutes. He claimed that Anonymous were harassing him, and making his life very difficult, and at some point Anonymous had his parents' home swatted. "Have you heard of swatting?" he asked Preska.
Quickly, just about everyone but the judge and the West Point cadets was snickering as quietly as possible. Chris, Alexa, Stanley, and I, along with all parties at our sides, had our heads tucked down between our shoulders, trying our damnedest not to burst out laughing in a court of law. I glanced over at Vivien Weisman, her head buried in a steno pad. I looked over my shoulder at Gosztola—he too, about to burst. Preska scolded everyone for being distracting, but continued to hear Vince out, as he explained that Hector Xavier Monsegur had been very nice to him, and sent a girl to his house. They had sex, he said.
Vince complained of having been "pizza bombed and Chinese food bombed" when Preska asked him to iterate the damages. "The emotional damage is the worst. I eventually left the Internet... I went into deep, dark, depression. I literally wanted to kill myself because of Anonymous—because of fuckin' Anonymous!"
"Do you know who Aaron Swartz was?" he also asked Preska.
Eventually, Vince finished speaking and sat back down, presumably allowed to stay in the court room for being more eloquent and less combative than Suker. The proceedings resumed. Exchanges between prosecution and defense about the character of Hammond's motivations were reiterated, re-challenged, re-hashed, and rested. Judge Preska then handed down the sentence.
Hammond received the guideline sentencing of 120 months, with three years of supervised release to follow. Rose Collins, Jeremy's mother, was joined by close family and friends in instantaneously letting out a painfully deep, heartbroken gasp. A dozen people ran for the elevators, to get out of the courtroom to be the first to let the world know of Jeremy's fate.
Preska explained that as a part of his supervised release, Hammond would be enrolled in a monitoring program, under which his Internet activity would be watched closely. Under monitoring, Jeremy is not to use "the Tor," she continued, adding that he won't be allowed to use encryption, or encrypted messaging or data.
As the judge explained the monitoring program would come at Hammond's own expense, people began to get up from their seats, and I quickly headed for the door. Gosztola and I shared an elevator down to the lobby. "Hey man," I said, "crazy shit."
"I know, I could almost run with the headline about him not being able to use 'the Tor,' if today weren't the sentencing."
Reporters and camera were waiting for impressions on the sidewalk until everyone was finally outside. The fate of Jeremy finally known, questions about what it will mean for future whistleblowers were at the fore. Walking over to Foley Square, banners spread out, and signs were held high. I offered my condolences to Rose, Jeremy's mother.
Rose responded, "I'm sorry."
(Update: An earlier version of this story innaccurately quoted Vince in the Bay. The reporter failed to hear him correctly, and changes have been made in order to more accurately reflect Vince's statement.)