CHICAGO (Reuters) - Jeremy Hammond, the Chicago man charged on Tuesday along with five other suspected members of the Anonymous hacking group, viewed his online activity as a legitimate way to fight for social justice and has served time in federal prison for his activism, according to the federal complaint against him.
Prosecutors say Hammond, 27, was a member of a group called AntiSec, an offshoot of Anonymous, that allegedly hacked into the computers of a Texas-based security research company called Stratfor Global Intelligence late last year, stealing thousands of credit card numbers, email addresses, passwords and phone numbers.
Some of the stolen Stratfor data was subsequently published by WikiLeaks, the online whistleblowing website.
“Hammond himself stated in an interview with the FBI that he intended to use hacking to fight for social justice,” according to the criminal complaint that was unsealed on Tuesday.
Hammond has already served time in federal prison for hacking into a conservative website and stealing its computer database, including credit card information.
He was also a self-identified “freegan,” an anti-consumerist movement whose members try to reduce their environmental footprint by dumpster-diving to reclaim and eat food thrown away by others.
Hammond, who was known online by a number of nicknames including “Anarchaos,” “yohoho” and “crediblethreat,” also used marijuana and had repeated run-ins with authorities as a result.
In a 2007 profile in Chicago Magazine, Hammond said he became interested in computers as an 11-year-old living in suburban Chicago, where he and his twin brother Jason were raised by their father Jack, a self-described guerrilla filmmaker, music producer and guitar teacher.
In the Chicago Magazine piece, Jack Hammond said raising the two boys on the $35,000 he made each year, along with the monthly child support sent by their mother, helped the family become “the world champs of living inexpensively and well.”
Hammond’s political activism - and troubles with law enforcement - began in 2004, when he was detained along with hundreds of other protesters during the Republican National Convention in New York City.
Though he was never formally arrested or charged, the complaint unsealed Tuesday says Hammond was interviewed by the FBI in connection with the convention protests.
In 2005, he was arrested and charged with hacking into a conservative website called Protest Warrior.
Hammond allegedly told investigators probing the hack that he planned to use credit card information he stole from the website to make donations to liberal organizations, though he never did. Hammond said he had a change of heart; prosecutors said he could not figure out how to do it.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in December 2006 to two years in federal prison and prohibited from associating with any anarchist or computer hacking groups until 2011.
As part of the 2007 profile in Chicago Magazine, written just as Hammond was about to go to federal prison, writer Stuart Luman visited the young man’s apartment in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.
In the article, Luman said he found it spray-painted with anarchist symbols slogans like “Bomb the System” and “Fuck the New World Order.”
In 2010, Hammond was arrested again for his involvement in violent protests against the ultimately unsuccessful effort to bring the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago and was sentenced to 18 months’ probation.
Between 2004 and 2011, he was arrested at least three times on drug possession charges, according to the federal complaint, and had other minor scrapes with police as he engaged in often-violent activism against everything from the U.S. invasion of Iraq to a speech by a Holocaust denier.
After his appearance in federal court on Tuesday, Hammond was transferred in custody to the Southern District of New York, where he is charged with one count of computer hacking conspiracy, one count of computer hacking and one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud.
The indictment unsealed on Tuesday quotes one of Hammond’s postings as saying, “We call upon all allied battleships, all armies from darkness, to use and abuse these password lists and credit card information to wreak unholy havoc upon systems and personal email accounts of these rich and powerful oppressors.”
Each count against Hammond carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Reporting by James B. Kelleher; editing by Matthew Lewis