A Twitter message from Monday suggests that a self-proclaimed “hacktivist” using the handle The Jester may have been responsible for knocking the controversial Westboro Baptist Church offline .
In the message , the hacker claimed to have temporarily taken down the public website of the church “for celebrating the death of U.S. troops.”
The message, however, made no direct mention if The Jester (@th3j35t3r on Twitter ) was also responsible for the unavailability today of several other websites affiliated to the WBC.
Members of the WBC church, based in Topeka, Kan., are known for their strident anti-gay views and for protests at funerals of slain military personnel and others.
The main Web site of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) in Topeka was unavailable yesterday morning, just days the Anonymous hacking collective had denied reports that its members were seeking to attack the site over disagreements with the church’s practices.
Also unavailable yesterday morning were several ‘sister sites’ affiliated with the church. Members of the WBC church are known for their strident anti-gay views and for protests at funerals of slain military personnel and others.
Last week, someone purporting to be from the hacking collective known as Anonymous, posted a letter on an Anonymous site, warning WBC members of attacks against their church public websites if they did not stop their protests. The open letter was posted on AnonNews , a site used by Anonymous members to upload news on the group’s activities.
The letter lamented the “inimitable bigotry and intolerant fanaticism” of the protesters and warned of online attacks that the church would not be able to withstand or recover from.
That letter was later dismissed as a hoax by Anonymous, which has been involved in several high-profile attacks recently. A news release from earlier this week downplayed the open letter and claimed it was a hoax. “Just because it was posted on AnonNews doesn’t mean every single Anon is in agreement.”
Anonymous, which prefers being referred to as a collective rather than as a group, is comprised of an unknown number of volunteer hackers operating largely without a central command or leader.
The collective has been in the news quite a bit recently, most notably for its attacks against HBGary aafter the security firm’s CEO, Aaron Barr, said he had discovered the identities of several Anonymous members and planned to disclose them at RSA Conference in San Francisco earlier this month.
Prior to those attacks, Anonymous members have been associated with several distributed denial of service attacks most recently in connection with the WikiLeaks disclosures and the civil unrest in Egypt and elsewhere.
The WBC didn’t immediately return a request for comment. However, an open letter posted by the church earlier this week challenged Anonymous to “Bring It.”
“Anonymous is warring with God; very stupid for little boys claiming to be so smart,” the letter noted.
This morning, all of the church’s sites were unavailable. It is not immediately clear how long the sites have been down and what role, if any, The Jester or Anonymous may have played. There has been no response yet to a Computerworld request for comment from Anonymous members.
The Jester, previously claimed responsibility for launching distributed denial of service attacks against WikiLeaks last year in response to what it claimed was WikiLeaks’ role in endangering the lives of U.S. troops.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld.