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Update 9:15 a.m.: VIDEO: Hacker group threatens Ector County judge, others in child custody dispute - Odessa American: News

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Update 9:15 a.m.: VIDEO: Hacker group threatens Ector County judge, others in child custody dispute

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Posted: Monday, March 31, 2014 8:30 pm

UPDATE 9:15 a.m.: Judge Denn Whalen, of the 70th District Court, said after the story's publication that he was not "removed" from the case.

"I voluntarily recused myself because of the threat to me and my family," Whalen said in response to the story.

Whalen declined to comment further.

The Texas Rangers were asked to investigate the threats on March 19, according to a Tuesday evening statement from Trooper Elena Viramontes, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Public Safety who represents the Rangers. Their investigation is ongoing.



Someone claiming ties to a loosely affiliated collective of computer activist hackers recently threatened cyber attacks against an Ector County District Judge, his family and the mother and the stepfather of a 15-year-old boy at the center of a custody battle.

A YouTube video was posted March 6 by a supporter of the hacker group “Anonymous” that warns 70th District Judge Denn Whalen and others to “expect us.”

The video is titled “Anonymous Message To Caleb Leverett,” naming the boy’s father who chronicled the dispute in a series of YouTube videos in the past year, one of which drew more than 1 million viewers.

“For the judge: We will begin cyber attacks to you and your family,” a disguised voice declares over footage of someone in a mock newscast wearing a Guy Fawkes mask that is associated with the group. “You cannot run from this.”

The video then addresses the boy’s mother: “We also know who you are. We know your husband also. We will begin cyber attacks to your bank accounts, credit cards, computer and phone bill.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Austin Berry said federal authorities were aware of the video.

 “There are potential federal charges for this type of threat,” Berry said. He declined further comment.

The video bears the logo of Anonymous, but nonetheless it is difficult to independently verify the level of the affiliation with the group and how many people are behind it. Media representatives of the group identified only by pseudonym on an Internet Relay Chat said they were not aware of the video until a reporter linked it to them but did not rule it out as an Anonymous video either.

“[sic] its hard to say where that came from,” wrote one of the moderators of the IRC designated for reporters, “&Donny”. “a lot of times people will put things on youtube and then nothing will happen, it was just something they felt like doing.”

Two others in the relay chat room said they knew of “Caleb” but not the video.

Whalen declined to comment through his court coordinator. An attorney representing the mother of the boy did not respond to a Monday inquiry.

And Leverett was being held Monday at the Ector County Detention Center on a contempt of court charge, sentenced to 60 days last week after another judge found six violations against him for not returning the boy to his mother last year between Memorial Day and mid-August, when the mother and her husband were moving the family to San Antonio. The jail also listed a bond amount of $2,500.

Reached before his Friday arrest, Leverett declined to comment, citing advice from his attorney. An attorney representing him in the custody battle, William Doonan in Midland, did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

The judge who issued the contempt ruling against Leverett was Judge James L. Rex, assigned to the case Tuesday by Presiding Judge Dean Rucker of the Seventh Administrative Judicial Region in Midland either because Whalen recused himself sometime after the threat or because he was removed. It was not immediately clear from a review of court documents, and Rucker did not respond to an inquiry.

The custody dispute attracted wide social media attention after Leverett, who advocates libertarian social philosophy on YouTube and internet radio and decries what he describes as “statism,” began posting monologues and videos involving his other children and the 15-year-old.

The most viewed was posted June 6 of last year and depicts the boy, then 14, refusing to get out of Leverett’s pickup truck at his mother’s house when he is due back. Police eventually show up and allow the boy to go with his father. Court records state he remained with him until mid-August.

The March 6 video — the only one published by TheAnonymousPharoah” — addresses the boy directly.

Anonymous tends to follow existing events or causes, according to the September 2013 paper “Anonymous in Context: The Politics and Power behind the Mask” by Gabriella Coleman, an anthropology professor at McGill University and the author of an upcoming book about the group.

Anonymous contributed to an “astonishing array of causes” in the past several years from publicizing rape cases in a small-town Ohio, targeting perceived enemies of the group Wikileaks and supporting the Arab and African Spring of 2011, Coleman wrote.

On Sunday, Albuquerque police website went down in what authorities said was a cyber attack, according to the Associated Press. The cyber attack followed a YouTube video that emerged days earlier, bearing the logo of Anonymous and protesting police shootings. The video warned of a cyber attack on city websites and called for a protest march, which also happened on Sunday. 

But not all Anonymous activism is illegal and not all activists are computer hackers, Coleman wrote.

“Unlike criminal groups who want to remain hidden, Anonymous seeks the limelight,” Coleman stated. “Partly because of its maverick image and transgressive antics, Anonymous has attracted significant attention, sometimes admiration and sometimes fear. As an entity though, Anonymous is often slippery, evasive and invisible. Its organizing principle — anonymity (or technically pseudonymity) — makes it difficult to tell how many people are involved overall.”

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