Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company has secured the rights to a Rolling Stone article about Anonymous member Deric Lostutter and his involvement with the notorious Steubenville, Ohio rape case. The article, “Anonymous Vs. Steubenville,” explains what led Lostutter to become a member of the online activist group Anonymous, the various operations he launched from it, and why he involved the group in the Steubenville rape case. Whatever his intentions were, his involvement ended up causing Lostutter to become a target of both Anonymous and the FBI, and he is currently awaiting indictment on alleged felony violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). While the two perpetrators who were convicted of rape received one- and two-year sentences, Lostutter could get a maximum 25-year prison sentence if convicted of the charges against him. (The maximum sentences the convicted rapists faced were both greater than 25 years, but the potential exists for Lostutter to spend more time in prison than they did.) Furthermore, the hacking that was committed in the Steubenville case, which would comprise the sum total of charges against Lostutter, was not done by him but by other Anonymous members. His lawyer, Tor Ekeland, says that no “real hacking” occurred in the case anyway. Lostutter is a target, according to Ekeland, because “he’s high profile,” and “anything that has to with Anonymous scares the hell out of the DOJ.” Ekeland added that the government perceives hackers to be “the new communists.”
“Anonymous Vs. Steubenville” talks about Lostutter’s “growing up poor and nerdy.” He was a shy and scrawny kid who was “beaten at home and at school.” Despite being a frequent target himself, Lostutter could not stand for others to be bullied. This led to violent incidents, including fights at school and one episode in which he stabbed his mother’s abusive boyfriend in the stomach. Computers were an outlet for Lostutter, and he taught himself to code. Still, life continued to be difficult. In order to help support his mom and brother, he dropped out of high school. At some point he “spent several months homeless and drunk.” After moving with his mom to Kentucky and working at odd jobs, he saw We Are Legion, a documentary on the activist hacker group Anonymous. It was a galvanizing moment: “I was like, there’s people out there like me, thousands of people out there like me.” It is easy to visualize this particular scene in the movie even before it has been filmed, and it is also easy to see why Pitt would find Lostutter’s story good movie fodder.
After seeing We Are Legion, Lostutter created Facebook and Twitter accounts as KYAnonymous, bought a Guy Fawkes mask, and began launching Justice Ops. Among his targets were a porn revenge site and the Westboro Community Baptist Church. Lostutter’s successes and the number of high-profile ops he was able to start and organize gained him respect both from in and outside the group. One blogger noted KY’s successes and stated, “It sure seems like the White Knight faction of Anonymous is ascendant.” So when Lostutter read a NY Times article on the Steubenville case and tweeted angrily about it as KYAnonymous, he was contacted in short order by two women, one of whom was arguably the reason the NY Times article was written in the first place.
Without Alexandria Goddard’s coverage of the story on the site Prinniefied, it is quite possible that the Times would not have written about the story at all. Steubenville police were having a tough time getting any witnesses, despite the abundance of them, to provide any information about that night. The alleged main perpetrators, it should be mentioned, were football players in a football-crazed town. DNA evidence could not be found in a hospital examination as the victim waited three days before reporting the crime. The victim’s family was receiving threats for coming forward. If it were not for the fact that Goddard took screen shots of partygoers’ videos and photos that were posted and later deleted, then, it seemed to everyone except the victim and her family, no crime had been committed. But Goddard would not let that happen. She accused, on the Prinniefield site, the Steubenville football players by name. She pointed out that they had participated in the suspected assault by not only stopping it but also by disseminating photographs and videos of the crime in progress, and she had those photographs and videos on her site. She was persistent and drew the town into a heated debate via her articles and the website comments they initiated. (She will also be sued for defamation by the parents of one of the athletes she named on the site, who was not charged with any crimes, when the court is able to locate and serve her with a copy of the complaint.) She herself became part of the NY Times story.
Some have criticized Pitt’s choice to make the Steubenville movie from the angle of the white-knight avenger instead of a thoughtful consideration of Jane Doe’s story. Of course, it is difficult to do that when one has little access to Jane Doe’s point of view. Rape survivors are not typically identified without their consent and do not tend to give lengthy interviews about their cases to Rolling Stone. Thus, other public aspects of the case are easier to focus on. In truth, Lostutter and Anonymous’ impact on the Steubenville case is not clear-cut. It could very well be that the spotlight KYAnonymous shined on the case contributed to the recent indictments of an I.T. director, two coaches, a principal, and a superintendent on charges of evidence tampering and obstruction of justice. On the other hand, despite the fact that three people testified in court to taking videos and photographs of the victim, no further arrests were ever made in the case, and the only punishment those three received was suspension from extracurricular activities. Stuebenville through Lostutter is certainly a lot less depressing than Jane Doe’s narrative. As Tara Culp-Ressler put it in her article about Pitt’s possibly-in-the-works movie, “It’s perhaps more compelling to relay a dramatic saga about a small town ripped apart or a vigilante oppressed by the justice system.”
Opinion By Donna Westlund