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'Hacktivists' assemble small protest at Capitol

Chip Ellis
A small group representing West Virginia Anonymous showed up outside the Capitol on Tuesday.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston's role in the worldwide Million Mask March protest Tuesday drew a strong State Police presence to the Capitol grounds, a wireless Internet service shutdown to avoid hackers -- and less than a dozen well-behaved protesters.

Planned by the loosely organized online collective Anonymous, Charleston was one of 477 protest locations worldwide, according to a webpage devoted to the march.

Ultimately, the peaceful protesters, who stood along Kanawha Boulevard at the "Lincoln Walks at Midnight" statue, were far outnumbered by Capitol police and state troopers who watched from a distance.

Additionally, two State Police K-9 units were parked in the Capitol's West Wing loading dock during the protest.

Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the Department of Military Affairs, said he did not have a precise number of troopers assigned to the Capitol on Tuesday but said the size of the force was based on a Facebook page for the Charleston event suggesting that hundreds could be participating in the protest.

"I get the impression each of the events had its own Facebook page, so you could get an idea of numbers of people who said they would attend," he said.

Also, as a precautionary measure, the Legislative Automated Services Division shut down the wireless Internet network widely used in legislative and other offices at the Capitol.

"We were just trying to be proactive from a security standpoint," said legislative manager Aaron Allred.

Anonymous includes so-called hacktivists who in the past have hacked into government and business websites as a form of protest.

"While these people were extremely polite and well-behaved, it only takes one person to cause problems," Allred said of the decision to shut down the wireless Internet. "There is no such thing as perfect Internet security."

The wireless Internet connection was out of service from mid-morning until about 2:30 p.m.

The march coincided with Guy Fawkes Day, commemorating the 408th anniversary of a failed assassination attempt on King James I by a group led by Fawkes. At public events, Anonymous participants usually wear Guy Fawkes masks, popularized in the movie "V for Vendetta."

Tuesday's participants at the Capitol had such masks, but wore them on the back or top of their heads at the request of Capitol police.

A 1988 state law makes it illegal to wear masks that conceal one's face while on state property, punishable by fines of up to $500 and/or up to one year in jail.

According to websites, Tuesday's protest was to remind participants of who their enemies are: "billionaires who own banks and corporations who corrupt politicians who enslave the people in injustice."

Anonymous listed two other protest locations in West Virginia, in Martinsburg and Morgantown.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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